Monday, February 7, 2011

nugget #22

My wife, Diane, and I are going on a vacation to wonderful. sunny florida next week, so this will be my only post for the next couple weeks.  Here in Buffalo, we have had a very cold winter, as has much of the country, so we are looking forward to hopefully being able to spend several days running in just shorts and aq short sleeve shirt.  Since we will be hopefully warm, I will print a story that I wrote back at the end of 2006 right after Buffalo was hit by an unexpected two feet of snow in the middle of October.  Since the leaves were still on the trees, and the snow was so wet and heavy, thousands of trees were destroyed, and most Buffalonians were without power for days and days.  We had just gotten back from a vacation to Eugene, Oregon, so as we get ready for another vacation, you can read about a past one we had.

The Ducks vs. The Pigeons
By Bill Donnelly

            I’ve just finished raking the leaves at my home in North Buffalo, and boy was it backbreaking work this year.  I think it was tougher this year since the leaves were still attached to the huge branches they grew up on during the past year.  I broke three rakes because of those dang branches.
            Oh, we all have our horror stories or tales of heartwarming events to share of that wonderful mid-October snowstorm that kicked Buffalo right where it hurts.  Two feet of the fluffy stuff that was none too fluffy, but rather heavy and wet like two feet of freshly poured concrete.  It made running such an adventure as you tried to avoid getting clobbered by falling branches, crippled by tripping over said tree pieces, or even getting electrocuted by downed power lines hiding in said debris.
            People called it by different names: Friday the 13th Horror, October Surprise, October Nightmare, October Fest(ivus for the rest of us), October storm, Ach du Lieber.  Whatever one names it, the storm was a cruel reminder that winter is on the way, and it seems to have come six weeks early this year.  Like we need six more weeks of winter around here.  My guess is a long cold winter for training, guaranteeing a record hot Boston Marathon for 2007.
            Any hopes by me that this still might be a mild winter were dashed just days after the storm when I spied a Wooly Bear in the parking lot where I work.  To many people, the Wooly Bear is a sure predictor of winter, especially to the people of Northeastern Ohio where I lived for over twenty years.  The Wooly Bear is actually the caterpillar that becomes the Isabella Tiger Moth, but in the larva stage it is a fuzzy looking black worm with an orange stripe in the middle.  According to those in the know, the width of that orange stripe, which changes from year to year, tells you how long and cold the winter will be.  Holy shades of Punxsutawney Phil Batman (like whether a fat groundhog seeing his shadow or not on February 2 tells us we still got at least six more weeks of winter coming our way.) 
            Anyway, the Wooly Bear tradition is big around Cleveland in large part thanks to local and very popular weatherman Dick Goddard, who has been predicting the weather for a local TV station since way back when weather was first invented.  Goddard is a huge proponent of the caterpillar’s ability to predict the coming weather, and now that I think about it, Goddard was no better at predicting the weather than any other weatherman situated near the great lakes, so why not get rid of the lot of them and just hire a few Wooly Bears and old Punxsutawney Phil, except Phil probably would feast on the poor caterpillars, and that wouldn’t be good for family viewing.  But I digress. 
            Goddard is such a proponent of the squishy bugs that the little town of Vermillion, located somewhere to the west of Cleveland, started an annual Wooly Bear Festival, held right in the middle of October, when the streets are covered by slithering black and orange hairy slugs.  Goddard is always the Grand Marshal of the little festival, thus guaranteeing much free publicity during his weather show, when he freely admits to guesstimating the forecast.  At the festival, they have a big parade where everyone dresses up as Wooly Bears and march through the Wooly Bear covered streets slipping and sliding on the scurrying larvae.  What fun!  I just hope they don’t have a Wooly Bear eating contest.
            So finally back to the Wooly Bear I saw that told me all I needed to know about the severity of the coming winter.  This was right about October 16, when usually we are enjoying wonderful weather.  I don’t remember how wide the little fella’s orange stripe was, but what struck me was that the bug was curled up in the fetal position, frozen to the pavement.  You’re right, I don’t know that a caterpillar has a fetal position since it starts out as an egg, but you get the idea, and frozen solid in mid-October was not a good sign.
            I guess what got me most about the October Storm was that it came just two weeks after I had returned from Eugene, Oregon, where the weather had been a sunny 85 degrees and dry.  What a wakeup call that snow was, as if reminding me that Buffalo aint the land where everyone seems to be either out running, roller-blading, or riding bikes this time of year.  You see, after working over two years for the natural gas provider for western NY, whose name I shall not mention, but which rhymes with Irrational Fool Class, I took my five whole days of vacation all at once, and along with Diane McGuire, flew out to Eugene to visit my sister Kate and her husband, Jim Caher.
            Back in the Day, Jim was an early member of Checkers, a marathoner, as was the time a male under forty years old needed to qualify for Boston.  A lawyer, he was Deputy Corporation Council for the city of Buffalo.  He was one of the runners I ran with quite a bit, and we became close friends, socializing quite a bit.  Through this connection he eventually met my sister.
            I moved to Ohio in 1978, and the last time I saw Jim was in 1982 when he and Kate stopped at my home in Kent for a short visit while on their way to Oregon.  Since then Kate earned her law degree and is now a Judge, and Jim has his own Law office, and is a leading expert on Bankruptcy Law.  He and his brother John wrote the two versions of Bankruptcy for Dummies in the famous series.  He does not run anymore, but he bikes and roller-blades with the same intensity he always put into his running.
            Seeing Jim again was great, and we caught up on what has happened to each other over the years.  We also spent much time reminiscing about Back in the Day.  Bad news readers, for memories came flooding back and I now have material for countless more articles.  “Oh No!” you say?
            Why Jim stopped running is a very interesting story.  Seems about six months after arriving out west, Jim was flying along with the boss of the firm he hooked up with, winging in a small plane towards southern Oregon on business.  While buzzing over the mountains at 12,000 feet, the plane’s single engine exploded with a loud bang.  The windshield was covered with streaks of oil, and then there was the sound you never want to hear at 12,000 feet, the sounds of silence.  And I don’t mean Simon and Garfunkle’s song.
            I do not know about you, but if I were in the very situation Jim found himself in, certain thoughts would definitely be going through my mind.  Almost immediately I would be wondering if I would be able to clean, let alone ever wear my pants again.  Then I might wonder if the others stuck with me in this tragic, cramped space of a rapidly falling airplane would notice the horrible odor coming from my pants.  Next I would realize, what does it matter, as in mere moments, all in the plane, along with my foul pants, would soon become one with the mountain.  With that realization, my pants would become truly unrecoverable, but once again, why care.
            Well, I learned from Jim that he clearly remembers his thoughts.  Initially he thought, “Cripes, how are we going to get home!” as if they were in a car that broke down in the middle of nowhere. But then Jim understood the gravity of the situation and he became a sudden realist.  His final thoughts as the plane descended were “What a waste, I’m too young and there is so much more I want to do, and what about those dummies who will never understand bankruptcy?” 
            Well, fortunately for all those dummies, not to mention my sister, Kate, myself, and of course Jim, he survived the crash.  The plane hit a tree and somehow turned over before landing on the ground, up high in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, and all survived, though upside-down.  So now Jim probably thought “Cripes, how are we going to get home!”  Jim crawled out, as did the others, they were rescued by loggers, and the worse Jim suffered were two broken ankles, thus, the end of his running career, and the start of his looking for other means of exercise.
            So Jim, Kate, Diane and I did much reminiscing during our holiday together.  Oh, how Jim and I relived those glorious Back in the Day days, why I’m in a daze just thinking of those Back in the Day days.  What stories I have to tell, you lucky readers.  My gosh, I’m thinking of putting all these tales into an epic book, one that will have everything.  It will have love, intrigue, running, betrayal, blood, guts and vomit, running, near nudity, dribbles kabibbles, running, more running, and Belle Watling herself.  It will be the grand story of a bygone era that no longer exists.  That wonderful time known to all as Back in the Day.  I may call my masterpiece “Gone with the Breeze!”
            But I get away from myself.  What a surprise!  Since we all have so rudely been reminded of winter, the one short narrative Jim told that I will share with you at this time, and the only one involving snow, occurred on our last full day in Eugene.  Jim, Diane and I had climbed the two mile path to the top of Spencer’s Butte, the highest point in Eugene.  It was a gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky, 90 degrees and as clear as can be because of no humidity.  We sat atop that butte for two hours trading tales, and Jim reminded me of one time we had run together during a winter Back in the Day. 
            The first thing you need to know, before telling this tidbit,  is that I am extremely pigeon toed, meaning my feet point inward when I walk and run.  You all know what I mean, but I mean I’m extremely pigeon toed.  In the mid 1970s I ran the Rochester marathon, and afterwards learned from a friend that a podiatrist he was seeing had been running behind me and wanted to get hold of me to make orthotics for me.  I went to him, he told me that babies born now would have their ankles broken and reset if they were born as pigeon toed as I was,  and he made me orthodics that actually cured a lot of the injuries I had been having because of my condition.  But still when I ran marathons, I often finished the race with bloody ankles because of kicking myself because of my condition.  My feet were so inverted, it was like my big toes were in love with each other and tried going through life looking into each other’s nails. 
            Jim on the other hand is what we call flat-footed, or as those of us with the clever sense of humor of a seventh grader called duck footed.  And as tremendously pigeon toed as I was, Jim was as exceptionally duck footed.  When he ran, pictures of Charlie Chaplin’s the Tramp came to mind.  It was as if his feet were made of magnets, and the toes were the same pole, thus forcing them apart.
            So Jim’s simple tale was of a time we met and were the only ones running around Delaware Park just after a new snow fall.  I so remembered that time, and how as we came full circle to a spot where we had been running single file for some reason, we saw our footprints and almost went into hysterics.  It was as if some strange creature had been running before us, one with perhaps the front feet facing away from each other, and the hind feet facing inward.  Silly, I know, but Back in the Day we got such a kick out of it, imagining some Dr. Seuss like creature running ahead of us.  Perhaps a being that was simply a cross between a giant Wooly Bear and Punxsutawney Phil.  I do miss running with Jim.  

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