Wrestling with Pain

As I hobbled around last week because of a sore knee, I realized that this summer marked a pretty important anniversary.

I thought about this because I tried to trace the root cause of my pain. I hadn’t taken a fall or had anything else serious happen. I had been exercising, but didn’t think overuse was a concern since I just came off a week without exercising while on vacation.

A few theories popped into my head, but one thought lingered in my head. I can always blame a lifetime of wrestling when something like this happens.

My career on the mats started about 35 years ago. That’s when I began competing for the first time, but I had goofed off with my older brothers before that.

Since that time, I have had some consistent connection with the sport. I coached for 11 years after finishing my college career (including a couple of years where I still competed) and have officiated for the past four or five.

The few years between those stints mainly consisted of covering the sport for the paper, my non-contact phase. But the injuries still lingered, including my latest issue.

I can’t directly connect my sore knee to what happened 30 years ago this summer, but it does count as part of the cumulative problem. In 1984, I made a long car trip to wrestle in my first national tournament.

The Junior National wrestling tournament pits the nation’s top wrestlers (plus guys like me) in Greco-Roman and freestyle, the two international styles. I never wrestled in the Greco tournament, but competed in freestyle three times.

When I headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa to compete at the huge domed arena on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa, i had no idea what to expect. That winter, I had my first strong season as a high school sophomore and hit the summer wrestling circuit to get even better.

The Maryland contingent at that time defined the term “rag tag.” I made the drive with two wrestlers and two coaches in a Dodge Colt. I sat on the back seat hump. For 24 hours. Next to a guy who never stopped rocking from side-to-side.

I ended up on the hump because both the other guys in the back had won state championships, but I hadn’t. The picture they took for my ID badge when we registered was frightening.

But we got to meet world champion Greco wrestler Steve Fraser there when he showed up to register at the same time. Then I went out and won my first match, beating a guy from New Mexico. At least I think he was from there.

I lost my next two matches and was eliminated. I went 2-2 the next year and 0-2 after my senior year, losing only to guys who were among the top wrestlers in the country. Three of the four guys who beat me in my final two visits ended up winning some sort of national title in their career.

So I can at least say some pretty talented people rubbed my face in the mat. And it all started with that long car ride 30 years ago.

I wonder if my knee hurt as bad after that ride as it did last week. I know I probably recovered quicker than I do these days.

Happy Birthday, ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’

On this day in 1986, something very special happened. I had no idea at the time.

R.E.M. released Life’s Rich Pageant on this day 28 years ago, the band’s fourth album. I had yet to discover the Athens (Ga.) quartet at the time even though I saw them open for The Police a few years earlier. I paid no attention to them.

Pageant came out right before I went to college, and it didn’t take long for me to discover “Superman,” the hidden 12th track on the album. The song – a cover of the 1960s group The Clique – was a popular party song during my freshman year at college. I didn’t need long to find a used cassette of Pageant from Record and Tape Traders the following summer and begin my obsession with the band.

I don’t know if I would have had the same reaction if I hadn’t immersed myself in this album from the beginning. Reckoning may have done the same thing, but that’s about it at that point. I love Murmur and think Fables is underrated, but my favorite songs come from Pageant. I remember the moment at the final R.E.M. show I saw in 2008 when the guy in front of me turned around and high fived me because I knew every word to the “I had a hat …” segment of “These Days.”

Yeah, I can be that guy at an R.E.M. show.

I went full-long into the band when I saw them play on the Green tour in 1989, the first album I bought right after it came out. I don’t recall a ton from that show in Cleveland, but I remember how mesmerized I was at their performance of “I Believe.” They always took it up a notch live. So, I’m celebrating the birthday of Pageant with one of my favorite songs from the album.

No Common Cents

A Pennsylvania bank made a critical error 25 years ago this summer. I want to peg Mellon Bank as the culprit since I lived in Western PA at the time, but I can’t be 100 percent sure.

Whoever it was, they screwed up big time by giving me a credit card.

I can remember getting the unsolicited offer in my college mailbox. Remember, this was 1989, about the time these companies realized they could mine a whole new set of customers by sending them cards out of the blue.

At least I think it was out of the blue. I didn’t remember signing up for a credit card offer, but who knows at this point?

The card came around the end of my junior year in college. I had a trip to Ireland with my sister set up for the very end of the summer. I really needed to work so I could make money to pay for the trip.

But I really didn’t want to go home and shake lemonades at my regular job in Baltimore’s Harborplace. I had worked at the same place for five years, starting there in high school and returning every time I came home on break. I liked the place, but just needed something different.

With no plan to go home and find a different job, I ended up deciding to stay in my college town for as long as I could. A handful of friends were taking summer classes or doing something to prepare for our senior year so I would have company.

The people at the bank had no idea that they sent me a credit card right before my first summer without a plan for making money since I was 16, but they should have a way of figuring these things out. They should also know that I was going to live in my fraternity house right across the street from a grocery store with an ATM that could give cash advances on the card.

Thankfully, I had not yet turned 21 so I didn’t really have the ability to go into a bar and buy everyone drinks using the card. Some places in town turned a blind eye to underage students during the school year, but they were more wary of us during the summer.

If this had been some sort of experiment, I would have proved that the average 20-year-old college student without a job needed somewhere around 45 days to max out a credit card with a fairly small limit. My brother-in-law drew the short straw to come and get me right around the time Wimbledon concluded – I remember watching the men’s final as I waited for him to get me.

I had fallen into a routine of getting cash from the grocery store ATM for food and to pitch in for parties while I spent much of my time reading and watching TV since I didn’t have a car to go anywhere.

I loved every second of it. The reading I started that summer led to the topic I researched for my senior thesis. Plus, I ate a ton of chicken wings.

Maybe the bank didn’t make a mistake after all. I should probably look into thanking them at some point.

Another Bethany Success

The signs that we would have a fantastic beach week with my family started early.

First of all, we saw something we have not seen in ages on our ride down to the Delaware shore – the absence of lines at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. I almost didn’t know what to do when I had the opportunity to drive right up and pay my toll.

We have tried a number of different strategies to try and beat the bridge traffic, all of them abject failures. We just had an abundance of good fortune this time.

Then, we had very few delays along the way. We had a little stop-and-go in a few familiar places, but nothing that really put us behind schedule.

Finally, we had smooth sailing on an alternate route laid out by my brother-in-law to help us avoid construction on the main road leading to our destination.

Since any week at the beach with my family ranks as a good beach week, I saw all these small moments as evidence that we might write a few pages in the family history this time around.

We had much of the same fun as we have had other years. We played the family cornhole tournament, albeit with a smaller field due to some scheduling conflicts. We sat around and talked as long as we could on the beach. We ate a whole mess of crabs one night, so many that the place where my sister buys them informed her that we are the largest order they have to fill all summer.

And all of this on a somewhat down year since some folks could not come down due to my niece’s wedding, which took place on the final day of our vacation. We stayed the whole time at our rental and changed at my sister’s before heading to the ceremony. That’s beach week dedication.

While we did all of those usual things, we also created some new memories.

For the second straight year, a heavy rainstorm flooded the street in front of one of the houses where my sister and her family were staying. That meant we had another opportunity to get the kayaks out from her rental house and patrol the flooded street.

I didn’t take part this year, but to see my nieces and nephews paddling down a residential street once again made me pretty happy.

We also got a chance to mess with one of the lifeguards on the beach, a new family activity. After we saw him input his phone number into the cell phones of multiple attractive young ladies, we sent two of my elementary-school age great nieces to see if they could get his digits. He liked knowing that he was playing to an appreciative crowd.

In the end, however, it’s not about those momentary jokes or how to deal with a quick rainstorm. Beach week means hours sitting on a beach chair with the people who know you best, sharing stories, trading gossip or putting food and other assorted items on the heads of those who fall asleep on their beach towel so someone else can take a picture and put it on Facebook for all the world to see.

That’s what makes vacation with family so special.

Coming Off the Ledge

Sixteen years ago, I remember going out on a ledge.

At the time, I was working as a sportswriter for this very newspaper. In fact, I was only a few weeks from the end of my full-time employment at 135 Baltimore Street. That job change and the risk I took are not connected.

I sat down to write a column and knew I might not get the best reception for my topic. I had probably done it before, giving me some insight into the potential backlash. I forged ahead nonetheless.

My column focused on the upcoming World Cup in France. I professed my love for the sport at a time when many folks really didn’t care about the impact of the naturalization of defender David Regis and how that would affect the US team in the summer of 1998. (Spoiler alert: It played a role in our awful last-place performance.)

As I begin to finalize my plans for the 2014 World Cup, I know that I will have many more people sharing my interest than I did in 1998. No one really got upset at that column, which I might add had a tremendous name drop of young defender Leo Cullen, a player some thought could be a shining star for future US teams. He ended up being a marginal pro.

I feel grateful that I got in on the ground floor of soccer fandom in the US. My fraternity in college had a bunch of players on the varsity team, which infected me with the bug that really exploded in the mid-1990s.

Since then, I have seen the US team play a bunch of times in various locations. I have flown to Columbus, Ohio, and made a kamikaze drive to suburban Boston to root on our national team. I have also fretted alone in my basement during World Cup games and hugged strangers in bars when things have gone well.

I have a network of friends spread across the country who I have met through watching games or at least arguing about them online. I remember the times when we had to follow games through the message board commentary of someone who had the hard-to-find broadcast of an important game.

That’s why writing about the 1998 World Cup represented some sort of risk. Now, I will be able to stream the games on my phone at work. I can choose from multiple public parties showing the games I want to see. I can bring up the US team in casual conversation without worrying that people will think I’m weird.

I mean, I know people will think I’m weird, but it will have nothing to do with talking about soccer.

The World Cup will occupy a lot of my thoughts for the next month, which is nothing new. But the differences between previous iterations and this year’s event are kind of stark.

If the US beats Portugal in their second game, I will celebrate in a bar with a large crowd. When we upset the same team in 2002, I watched alone in my house, careful not to wake up anyone else and sporadically running upstairs to post on a message board.

I’m glad that I don’t have to go out on that ledge anymore , but I kind of miss it.

A Weighty Subject

We all have those things in our life that slowly turn into obsessions. You know, the little daily routines that we do even though we know we might benefit from taking a break.

Maybe you trim your nails a little too close or take an extra critical look at yourself in the mirror.

As we get older, these things don’t always make us feel good, but we do them anyway, if only because we have always done them. I am here to tell you that you can slay the beast.

I have not weighed myself in about two weeks as I write this.

That might not sound like a big deal, but you have to know what the scale means to someone who has spent their life around wrestling. I barely remember a time where I didn’t see controlling weight as an important role in someone’s life.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to really worry about it myself until my second year in high school, but I watched my brother’s friends or my own teammates live and die by the numbers on the scale. Or the balance on one of those old-timey ones.

The numbers became shorthand for self-preservation. “Where are you?” was the common question, second to “How much are you over?”

This wasn’t about self-worth so much, but about making weight. I don’t think we judged one another one how much we weighed or how we looked – in fact, looking bad while still managing to compete pretty much became a badge of honor. We worried about hitting that magic number just long enough to make weight.

Like all wrestlers, I have the stories. The eight pounds in seven hours at Mount Union College. Sneaking into the pool at my high school to make weight against McDonogh while the rest of the school huddled around TV’s to find out what went wrong with the space shuttle Challenger. Stunning new friends at college with how much I could eat in a short time.

I have left those days in the past, and the sport in general has a much healthier attitude to weight management than when I grew up. But the scale still follows me around even though it sits all by itself in the corner of the bathroom.

You have no idea how hard it has been to not step on it the past few weeks just to check. Before I tried this little experiment, I would check at least once a day, sometimes two or three even though I had no weigh-in approaching.

And I didn’t like the number I saw. In fact,. I haven’t liked it for a long, long time. As I started my new workout regiment, I noticed that the number didn’t drop drastically right away.

That’s when I decided to stop checking. I figured if I could make it to the end of May, I could just focus on making strides in other areas instead of walking around with that number in my head all day.

In short, I may have grown up a little in the past few weeks. I just hope when I get back on that scale, I haven’t grown out any more.

Now if I could just learn not to stay up late on weekends when I have actual adult responsibilities the next morning.

All in the Laughs

I have many great memories from growing up. For better or worse, a lot of them revolve around watching television with my parents and siblings.

Back then, before everyone had their own screen, we would gather together to watch our favorite shows, especially M*A*S*H. I developed much of my sense of humor from watching these shows.

We watched some hour-long shows too, but I mostly remember the comedies. Most of my TV watching over the years has focused on sitcoms.

That’s why I felt terrible when the networks announced the TV schedule for next season. A half-dozen comedies I liked to watch will not return for 2014-15. One that does – “Parks & Recreation,” perhaps my favorite – will air just 13 episodes for its final season.

I feel like my best friend has stabbed me in the back.

Now I know that I shouldn’t get too worked up about this because of the many different ways we can experience television. I don’t even sit down and watch shows when they air that often any more.

But I would prefer having my favorite shows come back so I could watch them OnDemand on my own schedule instead of having to go hunting around for new things to watch.

I don’t just watch sitcoms because the evoke a nostalgia for growing up. Comedy gives me something to look forward to, even if I have seen so many that it’s often easy to see the joke coming,

The skill of the writers and actors makes me feel good. They have literally proven that laughter can help improve people’s health so I take my comedy very seriously. It’s not necessarily a matter of life or death, but it can certainly make your life better.

That’s why I hated seeing that not only are some of my favorite shows going away, but the networks have greatly de-emphasized comedies in general. I have a lot fewer choices for my preferred television shows.

I just don’t have the attention span for most dramas or the stomach for most reality shows. I kept up with “Hawaii Five-O” for a couple of seasons, but even the kitschy nature of the show and the physics-defying “everything is Hawaii is a 10-minute drive away) couldn’t keep my interest.

So I figure I will spend the summer trying to figure out how I can make use of my time when the TV season kicks off in the fall. I could try and sound all kinds of smart and say I will read more books, but I know that won’t happen with any great regularity.

I can find the full run of a lot of shows I never really invested time in on the various streaming services, but the irony is that most of those are dramas. I might commit myself to “Breaking Bad” now that it has ended, but that will take real commitment.

I will manage to occupy my time somehow. Hopefully a comedy or two I have never seen will call to me from a smaller network or the Internet. Or I will just watch reruns of shows I love and have seen a dozen times and can quote from memory.

If my wife complains, I’ll tell her to call the networks because it’s all their fault.

Healthy Attitude

Sometimes I worry about things. I worry my favorite TV shows will go away (that actually happened last week – not happy about it). I worry that I will miss out on a good joke. I worry that bad health things will happen to me.

That last one can take up some serious brain space, which is why I broke down a month or so ago and joined a gym.

Even though I hardly resemble someone who had an OK career as a college athlete, I have tried to maintain some sort of physical fitness, especially in recent years.

I have mainly restricted those efforts, however, to long walks and the occasional session on an old, somewhat broken exercise bike in the basement.

Anything more strenuous went on the backburner for a couple of reasons. First of all, I have a lot of trouble running because of knee and ankle injuries from my wrestling days. Secondly, I’m lazy.

But I finally overcame that second recently when I saw an offer I could not refuse. I had looked at buying a treadmill or something similar for the house many, many times, but just could not justify the expense. An affordable membership fee made my cheapness (I guess that is a third reason) a moot point.

With that obstacle out of the way, I have managed to conquer the second reason. By looking for natural openings in my daily schedule, I have put in more than 20 workouts since starting this project in early April. I have even done some long outside walks on days when I either can’t go to the gym or feel like a change of pace.

The bonus is that, thanks to the elliptical machines, I can get a more strenuous workout without having to worry about my bad knees and ankles. I have worked my way up to almost three miles at a running pace.

When I shared one of my successful workouts on Facebook – I rarely do this because I don’t want to be “that guy who is always talking about his workout routine” – a college buddy joked that I had probably never run that far before.

I know he was kidding, but I made sure to point out that when I used to wrestle, I regularly ran more than two miles a day. I credit thank kind of background with letting me get back into the flow of things so easily.

Sure, I had tried to get back into shape before, but my creaky joints and my laziness teamed up to foil those plans. Now that I have found something to make it a little easier on my body, I fell back into hold habits much easier than I expected.

Like any normal person, I never really liked running, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment after a good solid workout. I have started to feel that way again. I even considered breaking into a jog while taking a walk through town  one day last week, but I thought about my knees.

The worries about my health haven’t completely subsided, but I definitely feel better about things. In fact, I feel good enough to consider running in a 5K sometime this summer.

That’s when I’ll really worry about my health – my mental health.


The Right Fit

When I first saw the message, I felt a rush of excitement. A college friend contacted a few of us to make sure we would help with our reunion next year since she had been named as co-chair of the event.

I don’t get to see my college friends much at all even though I keep in touch with many online. We have all spread out and just don’t have many chances to get together with work and family. So an impending reunion made me happy.

Then I did the math. This isn’t just any reunion. This is our 25th reunion.

How could I get excited about planning the event when I had to deal with a reality that I try to ignore as much as I can? I’m old.

A 25th reunion means my post-college experience is older than I was when I graduated. I have managed to deny this fact even though I know some classmates have kids in college and the movies and music we loved back in the day have celebrated all kinds of anniversaries that remind me that the late 1980s were a long time ago.

So if we get together, the images I have in my head of all of us in our 20s may have to fade into the background. It’s bad enough that I think many classmates look like the past 25 years treated them better time treated me. Now I have to see it in person.

I didn’t intend of making those memories at Allegheny College. I had another school in mind as my top choice. Allegheny sat on my list with a couple of other schools under the heading, “OK, I Have to Pick One of These if Plan A Doesn’t Happen.”

The news that my top choice put me on their waiting list hurt until the next day when I went to work and got an amazing pick-me-up lecture from a friend.

“You will do better at Allegheny,” she told me. “It’s a smaller school so you will be able to get more involved, and you will love it.”

She and I have lost touch so I don’t know if I ever got the chance to properly thank her for the best advice I ever received.

College played an important role in my life. I didn’t have the most vibrant social life in high school and used the next four years to take advantages of all the opportunities I had previously let slide by.

That’s why the rush of getting a chance to play a role in an event which will help re-kindle those memories outweighs anything that reminds me I can’t run around with my shirt off like I used to or that I may need to take a pill to make sure I don’t get heartburn from a night of reckless eating and drinking.

The passage of time does have some benefits. If I manage to exaggerate some of my exploits during reunion weekend, I can simply accuse anyone who tries to correct me of having a bad memory because we’re getting older.

Saved by the Shave

I never thought shaving cream could change my life, but that’s the situation I find myself in these days.

A little while back, I wrote about my quest to dress a little better. I had considered trying one of those services which sends you clothes each month based on your style.

prorasoI ultimately passed on that idea, but did enroll in a plan which sends me grooming items along with some personal products once a month. I need all the help I can get.

My first box came last month. Along with some fun socks that make my daughter cringe, I received a small tube of shaving cream. I figured I would give it a shot.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but that first shave made me feel like world hunger had ended, people of all religious and political persuasions had joined in a group hug, and I would find a never-ending pan of pizza in my kitchen every day.

Fun socks and awesome shaving cream? They had a fan for life.

The box had a few other items, but none made an impression on me like the shaving cream did. I even went online and bought two tubes of it so I could have it forever. That’s the whole point of this service – send you sample sizes so you get sucked in and buy the real thing.

My second box came a week or so ago, but didn’t have the same impact. I did get some pretty neat sunglasses that fold up (but also make me look like those really big ones that people with eye problems have to wear.

There was also some shampoo and hair product which I will probably only use as a gag. But for the second straight month, the box included a cologne sample.

I really don’t have anything against people who wear cologne. That’s just not my style. My wife doesn’t particularly like strong scents as well so the thought of trying out a new cologne just doesn’t enter my mind. I have ended up tossing both samples.

Because I don’t want to waste product like that, I e-mailed the company and asked if there was a way they could put me on some “no-cologne list” for future shipments. I never intended to buy the full size product, I explained to them.

They sent me a really nice e-mail explaining that the whole point of the service is the discovery of new products. They said that I could fine tune my personal profile to make sure I received things more in line with my tastes. They told me that they couldn’t possibly have each person pick exactly what they did and didn’t want without running the risk of screwing things up.

Then they said the weirdest thing – they told me I could share items I didn’t like with friends of mine.

If guys could easily walk up to each other and say, “Hey, Hank, I think this cologne will smell great on you,” don’t you think we wouldn’t need to send away for a box if items once a month with items that might improve our grooming?

I appreciate that they think that might happen, but they might as well put something in next month’s box to treat a black eye if they expect me to go around telling guys what scent I thing would work for them.

But at least I’ll have a close shave when my friend decks me.

All in the Laughs

I have many great memories from growing up. For better or worse, a lot of them revolve around watching television with my parents and siblings. Back then, before everyone had their own screen, we would gather together to watch our favorite shows, especially M*A*S*H. I developed much of my sense of humor from watching these […]

Happy Birthday, ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’

On this day in 1986, something very special happened. I had no idea at the time. R.E.M. released Life’s Rich Pageant on this day 28 years ago, the band’s fourth album. I had yet to discover the Athens (Ga.) quartet at the time even though I saw them open for The Police a few years earlier. […]

Wrestling with Pain

As I hobbled around last week because of a sore knee, I realized that this summer marked a pretty important anniversary. I thought about this because I tried to trace the root cause of my pain. I hadn’t taken a fall or had anything else serious happen. I had been exercising, but didn’t think overuse […]

The VCR Connection

As I looked through an advertising circular recently, something caught my eye. I didn’t particularly need the item, but knew I had to share the information with the rest of the family. Someone – I don’t remember the store – had a DVD player on sale for $20. I drifted into old man mode and […]