Monday, January 6, 2014

New York, New York update (So good we named it twice)

I must start off by explaining that the gestation of this blog post has been similar to Shane Watson’s 2013 UK Ashes tour, plenty of false starts that sparkle with promise but ultimately peter out.  Finally, though, here is an update from the Land of the Free.

Back in September, we attended the Global Citizen Concert in Central Park, with Mandy and Maika. The purpose of the event was to end global poverty but if I am being honest that took a back seat as we saw Kings of Leon, John Mayer, Alicia Keys (firming as the next Mrs Connors) and Stevie Wonder. Natalie, as always, displayed her popular culture naivety when she asked “Does Stevie Wonder have any other songs besides I Just Called To Say I Love You?”  Her query was answered by most charismatic stage presence I have ever seen. The only thing that could have improved on the occasion would be if this occurred:

Also in September, I changed jobs and began working at 24 Hour Fitness on 53rd and Lexington Avenue – a block away from our place, which makes the early mornings a tiny bit more bearable. The gym has an affiliation with Derek Jeter of New York Yankees fame (career salary earnings in excess of $253 million) and he occasionally visits the club, which creates mayhem amongst the members. I have been welcomed warmly by the staff and often referred to as Crocodile Dundee, Killer Croc, Skippy and my favourite Kangaroo Jack.  My colleagues also tend to go in for elaborate handshakes upon passing each other include fistbumps and quasi boy-band routines. Sadly, as Ruiz says, I have white boy disease and I am generally closer to knocking myself out than I am to appropriately engaging in their brotherly camaraderie.

In October, the planets aligned and my little brother Stephen and his girlfriend Carmel made it across the pond for a ten day stint.  Stephen brought with him news of Wagga Wagga and the cocksure strut of a Hawthorn supporter. He and I wagered on the 2012 AFL Grand Final with the loser having to wear the winning teams commemorative t-shirt in a series of photos at local landmarks in our respective cities. Stephen held up his end of the bargain and the photos of him at Robertson Oval and the Oasis Aquatic Centre in a Swans shirt warmed my heart. He arrived in New York with a Hawthorn t-shirt and the expectations I would reciprocate. As you can see from the photo from handover ceremony he will be waiting some time for this.

Stephen and Carmel traversed the city, taking in the sights from the Brooklyn Bridge, increasing their cultural capital with a late night viewing of the Lion King and enjoying beers on rooftop bars at sunset. If there were to be a signature image from their time in New York, it would be Stephen consuming pizza and hotdogs with gusto. Not since Papa Guiseppe has one man done so much for the humble slice. The effect of his efforts buoyed the local economy and resulted in our cistern overflowing. I’m not kidding either, let’s just say it was far from pleasant but nonetheless hilarious – well after the fact.

I celebrated my birthday in November by watching the New York Knicks get beaten like a redheaded stepchild at Madison Square Garden by the San Antonio Spurs. The dearth of a contest did not take away from the grandeur of the location and the thrill of seeing such celebrities as Larry David, Spike Lee and Nelly courtside. Speaking of redheads my good friend Goose and his wonderful wife Rebecca welcomed into the world Alfie on my birthday.  I was really hoping for a no-holds barred jelly-wrestling match with Stacey Keibler, but this was the next best thing.

In November, we were lucky enough to score a ticket each to the hottest Thanksgivukkah in town, at the home of John and Rony. For the luddites out there, Thanksgivukkah is a cross between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah – quite an event in these parts. The next such conjoint event will happen in 77, 000 years from now [Ed: True story], so we were fortunate enough to be guided through the cultural maze of not one but two traditional US holidays.  The 14-pound turkey (that’s approximately 7kg, for those playing at home) was deliciously juicy and all attendees made pigs themselves as expected – but the apple crisps with vanilla ice cream dessert won hands down. Natalie’s favourite was the delectable pumpkin soup.

[--Ed: For a full rundown of the gorgeous food at the event, complete with a downloadable excel spreadsheet of ingredients if you want to recreate this at home: ]

Christmas came and went without a fuss. The separation of church and state means that work here resumes on Boxing Day, which means that celebrations were muted in comparison to The Prawn and Cumquat Gin Bacchanal of 2012 (Richard Taggart and Maggie Connors I am looking at you). We did go and see Betrayal by Harold Pinter, starring the scorching hot newlyweds, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weiss. The latest incarnation of Bond was a commanding stage presence radiating intent and malice, while Weiss dithered between love interests before being left bereft of love and happiness. Ten thumbs up.

As we approach our two-year anniversary in New York in March [Ed: and our three year wedding anniversary!], our plans are to attempt to survive another winter (If we had a theme song, the chorus would be Ruiz squealing “I’m freezing my f*cking face off”). For my part, I cannot wait to see Lebron James in the flesh on January 10th, where I can only hope to witness him scoring 135 points versus our Brooklyn Nets, like this:

We will also be returning to Sydney in late March for two weeks for Snowdon and Rani’s wedding, Natalie’s Dad’s 60th birthday and my Dad’s 69th birthday in Wagga. Can’t wait to see you all!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Invasion of the Gum Leaf Mafia

Things have been really heating up in New York over the summer as the temperature rises and bakes the concrete jungle. The only things hotter than our apartment at 3.30pm are Carlos Danger’s Instagram account, Stuart Broad’s outside edge and Henry Cavil’s shirtless scenes in Superman [Ed: Hottie alert!]. The rise in Farenheit has coincided with the influx of summer visitors at Chez Connors.

Jane Connors conquered her fear of air travel with the help of prescription medication and free flowing airline vino to pay us visit in early June.  Her grandiose boast to complete a Hot Dog Tour of the city both began and ended with a late night visit to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park on the night she arrived.  She told me that it was a non-core promise.

She was most impressed with Carrie’s stoop in the West Village, the Seinfeld diner in the Upper West Side and the Law and Order steps at the courthouse downtown.  Jane left her mark on the city as she is possibly the fastest walker ever to have graced the Big Apple, comfortably outstripping a busy New Yorker's pace with her long strides and determined attitude. It was like watching Usain Bolt racing pre-schoolers as she weaved her way down 5th Avenue to try on yet another pair of denim shorts. She fell in love with Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the hipster, artsy scene appealed to her gypsy sensibilities. If initial reports are to be believed, she is already planning a return trip next summer. We'd love to have you back, kiddo.

Paulie Evans dropped in on us for a week during the Fourth of July celebrations. Dr. Evans had been mixing with the intelligentsia at a conference in Rochester, where he will take up residency next year. It will be great to have a great friend so close to us. He will also help revive our famous Belmore St rendition of Salt N Peppa’s  “Push it”, as Natalie’s dancing talents do not lend themselves to hip-hop vibe that Paulie and I are renowned for. While out and about in Manhattan, he was warmly received at The Eagle , where he danced the night away. Paulie was vague on the evening but from his description I would imagine that the following occurred: 

Paulie also managed to tick an item from his bucket list when we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on a scorching hot day.  He fought through his blisters and Ruiz’s shoe collapsing to complete a journey every bit as epic as Frodo’s to Mordor. In our defence, we did not have a fellowship of nine assisting in our quest, so I think ours was definitely the tougher challenge.

We celebrated Natalie’s 28th birthday for the umpteenth time on the 19th of July. The highlight of the day was the surprise arrival of her sister Tania. Natalie was completely unaware of Tania’s plans and was speechless to see her standing in our living room/dining room/hallway /library/etc. The only person I have seen that has come close to Natalie’s level of incomprehension and incredulity is Shane Watson after the result of yet another failed DRS lbw review has gone against him.

Natalie was impressed by my ability to keep mum on Tania’s visit, as Tania and I had been conspiring for over three months. As I told her, that was just one of the many secrets that I keep from her. I said that Don Draper is not just a fashion icon to me, he also is a role model. Natalie then asked: did that mean she was my second wife and that my entire existence was based on false premises and an elaborate cover up of an unsavoury past? I must admit that I hate it when she uses her logic to puncture my fantasies. [Ed: Is my husband the only one who perpetuates a self delusion that Don Draper is based on him? Anyone? #headcase]

The Ruiz reunion proved to be a tour de force of cocktail consumption, with the sisters testing the stamina of the very best of Manhattan’s bartenders and the limits of their own livers’ regenerative powers. Tania’s non-cocktail related highlight of her trip was being singled out to be serenaded by a barber shop quartet on the subway to Brooklyn. Their version of My Girl by the Temptations was uplifting and capped off a wonderful week, full of laughter, memories and numerous pisco sours. [Ed: Love you!! xx]

In other news, Natalie’s star continues to rise as she has now been given a team to oversee as a result of her solid output and winning ways. She has researched the topic of leadership and management thoroughly and has established her philosophy on the topic. She talks about KPIs and developing synergy and a host of other buzz phrases. I have full faith in my wonderful wife to make a roaring success of this new challenge. However, I don’t think it will be too long before her true colours emerge and her staff have to deal with episodes like this:

Just before signing off, we would like to extend our congratulations to Snowdon and Rani on their recent engagement. I’m still recovering my sight from the F-Off diamond Rani was sporting in our Skype chat. Well done on raising the bar. Congrats and loads of hugs to Rodolphe and Jaqi on the birth of their beautiful daughter, Gabrielle, we’re over the moon for you! We’d also like to send a get-well message to my fitness consigliere, Jonathon Andrews, who has been dealing with some health issues but will soon bounce back to true form. Here’s a photo of us in happier times to aid your recovery:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Manhattan Chronicles (or The time when Nat spoke to Jay-Z for two seconds and wouldn’t shut up about it. Yes, it really happened. Don’t ask.)

As they say in New York, no news is good news. Summer has arrived. We have been quietly establishing ourselves in our new neighbourhood – the aptly named Turtle Bay. We are one block away from the East River, near Roosevelt Island.

Our building is on a cherry-blossom tree-lined E52nd St, which is quite close to the United Nations. We are on the same street as the Consulate General of Thailand, Consulate General of Hungary and the Austrian Cultural Forum. Also, across the road from us is a Norwegian Church, which looks suspiciously like a regular apartment building.

We are in what is known as a “full-service” building. This means that we have a doorman, whose sole purpose is to open the door and greet us as we enter and exit the building, convenient in many regards. In addition to providing smooth passage onto 52nd street, I personally also use the revolving cavalcade of doormen (who are primarily of Latino extraction) as an excellent opportunity to practice my Spanish. Jose says that I am improving.  La lluvia en España se mantiene principalmente en la llanura.

We continue to furnish our apartment, which means more furniture shopping trips. Natalie relishes every opportunity to compare, examine, and after much deliberation, eventually purchase lampshades, salad bowls and cushions. Her attitude towards our IKEA visits is best summarized by this:

Mine is more like this:

We have ordered a blue tufted couch, which is still making its way to us from Canada, after 6 weeks in transit. “Any day now...” Ruiz keeps mumbling to herself.  We still have no curtains or blinds, which means I happily get to satisfy all of my exhibitionist urges, of which, let’s be honest, there are many. However, being on the 8th floor, we don’t really fear any spying from nosey neighbours, much to my chagrin. As I tell Ruiz, I’m just trying to give something back.

The Connors household will soon be undergoing a reshuffle as I have recently acquired my American personal training qualifications. As a result, I officially begin the process of interviewing for positions. I will be attempting to convince potential employers to hire me based my outstanding client results, commitment to excellence and my claim that I invented the chin up. This means that Natalie can no longer expect to have me fussing over her steak dinner when she returns from a hard day at work. So she can say goodbye to this:

(Ed: It is remarkable how when you cross the Pacific your appearance in photos change. Connors calls it the Kravitz syndrome. He assures me the research is legit and has been peer reviewed.)

As I mentioned, Natalie has been working very long hours and she spends many a reluctant “networking” night with her co-workers. Through her new friends, we have been lucky enough to be introduced to some of the finest refreshment establishments NYC has to offer. The hidden bar/speakeasy phenomenon requires all sorts of secret handshakes, “Get-Smart” style false doors and special rituals to be observed before gaining access to the most lethal cocktails known to mankind. Often, Nat has come home “networked” out of her brain, usually in a feisty mood. When I was tardy making her midnight snack of two-minute noodles, she referred to me as a “shit particle”. Haven’t made the same mistake again.

In addition to channeling my inner Betty Draper and studying for my exam I have utilized my time to view several documentaries on Netflix. In keeping with my Aspergers tendencies I will rank my top five:

The story of the 1984 NBA draft, where Sam Bowie was selected second ahead of the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan.

A compelling story of one man’s quest for perfection.

The film explores the rise of cocaine and resulting crime epidemic that swept Miami, Florida in the 1970s and 1980s.

A chronological approach to the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers and related phenomenon.

1. Dear Zachary A beautifully edited tragedy that leaves you emotionally exhausted.
We are preparing ourselves for an Australian influx for the summer, highlighted by the visit of Jane Connors in June. I can only pity the person she is seated next to on the plane as there would have been calmer passengers on the Hindenberg. Too soon?

We have been fortunate to spend time with our good friends Trent and Rebecca who recently had an extended stay in the States. When I asked Trent what the highlight of his trip was, he pondered for a second and spoke at length about the various museums he had visited, concerts he attended and the rich cultural tapestry that weaves throughout New York. Yet, when ultimately pressed, he answered: “The titties at burlesque night at Bathtub Gin.” A true Renaissance man!

Our plans for the summer are as follows:
I am investigating the possibility of joining a softball team, with the modest aim of hitting every pitch for a home run. Natalie has warned me about hubris, but I said I don't care - I play the ball, not the man.
Natalie has made no definite plans, as she is waiting to hear from her new imaginary best friend Jay-Z as to what they'll do this summer. She dreams of sipping Grey Goose at the 40/40 Club in the VIP section. *shakes head ruefully* I'm not going to be the one to break it to her.

We want to offer our belated congratulations to Pachi and Maria Rodriguez on the birth of Nicholas. We are also so proud of JB and Renee for their most recent addition, Sofia.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Manhattan

Ruiz and I enjoyed our New York Christmas, although with the separation of church and state we were reminded that “Happy Holidays” is the politically correct greeting. Seeking to smooth our passage into Heaven we went to Christmas Eve midnight mass at our local church in Bed-Stuy. (That's Bedford-Stuyvesant for those playing at home).

The mass featured performances by numerous school children as they acted out the birth of Christ and performed as a choir of angels, resplendent in tinsel halos and paper mache wings. Despite their sartorial efforts, the children’s choir was so inept they could have been used as one of the teaser ads in Australian Idol, designed to showcase the (hilariously) misguided ambitions of select hapless contestants. The crowning glory came when three oversized teenage girls, who had stuffed themselves into white leotards, performed a liturgical dance for the congregation. This proved too much for Ruiz who erupted in fits of laughter while the trio of Moby Dicks flailed around. I nudged her disapprovingly, remarking that this was most inappropriate behavior for church, until she reminded me of the time I chose to make it rain while placing the offering in the collection place. Word.

After our souls were suitably lifted, we were able to enjoy a typical Brooklyn Christmas. We watched our adopted team, the Brooklyn Nets, lose to the Boston Celtics. Even a foot long hotdog could not diminish the rage Ruiz had for Avery Johnson, the Nets’ Head Coach. Ruiz attributed his firing a week later to her Incan powers (Have you guys seen Apocalypto?). We rounded off the evening of the 25th with a 7-course degustation at Greenwich Grill, a Tokyo-Italian fusion restaurant in Tribeca. Five stars. 

We celebrated the new year with friends, who hosted a dinner party at their place in Brooklyn. The highlight of the night was an impromptu worldwide Eurovision contest at the dinner table, featuring guest teams representing opposing countries such as the USA, Germany, Turkey and the UK. Teams took turns to pick a song from their country to be judged by the audience. Song choices from the Temper Trap, Goyte and Empire of the Sun had us well in the lead. We are proud to report that Australia emerged victorious on the back of a strategic trade with the UK. We were prepared to classify Kylie Minogue as British, provided they also took Peter Andre. That sealed their doom and ensured bragging rights to the Antipodes.

2013 has treated us well so far, with a major milestone being reached in January. We are finally making the leap of faith from Brooklyn to the Big League. We have signed a one-year lease for an apartment in the Upper East Side in Manhattan. The good news is we can now offer you a (cramped, but free) place to stay in Manhattan. Come and visit! Book early to avoid disappointment! Also note: Applicants who come bearing gifts can be assured of preferential treatment.

The process for securing an apartment is quite different to Australia, as you have to earn 45 times the rent per year individually to even get the application form, and once you do, you are subjected to the infamous “credit check”. How do you get a good credit rating? You get a credit card! How do you get a credit card? By having a good credit rating! – you can see where this is going. Once those (relatively) small hurdles are overcome, you can literally construct a new wall in the apartment if you like and modify the space to your heart’s content. We move in on Feb 1. Let the renovations begin.

This new development has sent Ruiz into a decorating frenzy. She now scours the net for furniture bargains and is obsessed with throws, ottomans, prints and shelving options. Sadly for me, it has meant several (tedious) trips to various furniture stores and trekking out to IKEA in Red Hook [Ed: And accompanying temper tantrums from one of us, no points for guessing who...]. On the upside, the allure of IKEA’s 50 cent hotdogs is not yet lost on me, so I can see more sodium erythorbrate and pork trimmings in my future as Ruiz attempts to feather the nest. Photographs to come.

Last but not least for this post: Congratulations to my favourite man-child Nobby and his eternally patient wife Laura, who welcomed their daughter Poppy into the world on December 24th. Nobby’s breathless description of the birth as “epic” made me smile. Thankfully she looks like her mother, which bodes well for her chances of future happiness. Well done, guys!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

White Christmas

I have been lax with the blog updates, which I do apologise for. We have moved from Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) to Williamsburg. In Sydney terms, it is like going from “Mino” (no t needed) to a Newtown-esque Paddington. Coolly detached, young peacocks strut around flaunting their plumage of designer flannel, clear spectacles and immaculately groomed beards. This is mecca for posers, hipsters and tortured artists. Wanker central. Suffice to say, I love it here and feel a kinship with each one of my post-modern brethren.

As Christmas draws near, I can reflect on six months of ‘properly’ living in the USA. While I would love to wax lyrical about the home of the free, I have bowed to my OCD tendencies and decided to list my top five pros and cons of American life.



Truly New York is the melting pot for cuisine. Ruiz and I plan to enjoy Christmas dinner at a restaurant called Greenwich Grill, where we will be feasting upon Italian/Japanese fusion. Classic Christmas fare. The portions are enormous, all budgets are catered for and they have more options than Ryan Gosling on [Ed- While proofreading this manuscript, Ruiz asked “Is Ryan Gosling on RSVP?” She then asserted that she needed to use the computer. Pronto.]

Public Transport

In a city where it seems that no one we know owns a car (sample size of seven), the subway is the easiest and cheapest way to travel. Sure, there are drawbacks. The platforms are perilously narrow, commuters draw dangerously close to the tracks as they navigate the warren of subway transfers. The underground reeks of piss but the upside balances it out. There is a non-stop procession of bucket drummers, break dancing crews, barbershop quartets and general crazies who spice up every ride. The subways are prompt and reliable. And, where else but New York would this happen? 


If you want to get hammered, then New York is the place for you. The low cost, free-pour, seemingly endless happy hours and blatant disregard for anything close to a RSA policy ensures that a cheap night out can be had by all and sundry (though your ID will be thoroughly checked, a process known as being ‘carded’). However, a word of warning: we have underestimated the potency of this combination, and paid the price. The hangovers that follow are as welcome as Alan Jones at the next Gillard family reunion.


The myth of the Ugly American is patently untrue. We have been constantly amazed by how polite and helpful the seppos have been to us. Admittedly, they have struggled to decipher my clipped strine, which has resulted in one disastrous haircut where the opposite of what I requested occurred. Seriously, I looked like Nudge from Hey Dad…

instead of my normal dapper self…

The repercussions of not being able to finish colonizing the New World linger to this day.


Approximately sixty seconds in any store will make you realize how much of a rip off shopping in Australia is. The range, quality and price are second to none. In addition, they cater for larger humans like myself. Where else but America would a 6”2’ 200lb man be classified as medium? USA! USA! USA! [fist pumping]. As a self confessed show-pony, the joy of shopping in New York is only matched by Ruiz honouring my birthday wish to stop regaling me with her seemingly endless cycle of puzzling dreams. Amazing! Another dream where you are fighting someone? Please elaborate…



It seems strange to share top billing on both lists but the processed nature of the food here is unbelievable. You can get things like “cheese-like food” and “ham-like food”, which are neither cheese nor ham. The amount of preservatives and artificial elements included in every food source means that bread can be left on the counter for two weeks and not spoil. Also disappointing is the Asian food here which, with the rare exception, is ridiculously greasy, bland and overpriced. The longings for Cabramatta and Eastwood grow stronger as the months fly by.

Public restrooms

In a city of more than 8 million (and that's not even counting the illegal latino contingent), it is amazing that they have concluded that six public toilets will suffice. Any outing that Ruiz and I undertake involves her asking me “Do you have to go?” like a deranged kindergarten teacher. I maintain that it is good training for her for motherhood. She takes the view that I need to eat less bran.


It seems to be a middle class hobby or a novelty like the vuvuzuela . If there is one lesson that the USA can take from Australia is that we are exceptional at finding new uses for rubbish. Ask Israel Folau of Melbourne Storm, GWS Giants, NSW Waratahs fame. Shit, we even got Danni Minogue a gig after YTT, it might have been Australia’s Got Talent but it got her out of the house.

Sarcasm and Irony

Essentially, they do not play in New York. As a result, I constantly give the impression of being an arrogant, offensive prick. Ruiz says that travel reveals your true nature.


‘Nuff said.

Ruiz and I can look back on a whirlwind start to our New York odyssey with a sense of achievement. In the next month or so we will be braving the Manhattan real-estate circus and looking for apartments. Horror stories are sure to abound. We look forward to sharing them with you in the new year. Merry Christmas. We are thinking of you all and wish you a wonderful 2013.

ps: A special congratulations to our cousins Sooz and Leo on the birth of their gorgeous twins Mya and Jimmy. We are so happy for you all! xx

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rock me like a hurricane

Greetings from windswept Brooklyn,

We have survived the worst of Hurricane Sandy due to a structured plan with an emphasis on routine, logic and higher order thinking. I would take credit for this but Ruiz said that people who know me read this and they would soon realise I was being dishonest.

The onset of Hurricane Sandy created tension and uncertainty in the Connors household as the closest we had been to a natural disaster was when I allowed Nobby to cut my hair in the summer of 2004. I can only hope the devastation and damage inflicted across the eastern coast of the United States does not surpass the horror that I endured thanks to the uncoordinated flailings of a clueless man.

Once the gravitas of the situation became clear we sprang into action. Natalie collated important documents, communicated with our families and set about hurricane proofing our place. I was no less pragmatic as I ensured that my workout singlet, hair pomade and latest GQ were within arms length. The storm was upon us in a flash and our main concern were the ten foot glass windows in the living room. Natalie's engineering background came to the fore as she duct taped - nay, "gorilla taped" - the windows into place as we waited for the tempest. In the midst of the storm she calmly worked on an upcoming presentation, while I jeopardised our future by consuming the majority of our food supplies in a frenzy of panic. I am an emotional eater, don't judge me. Thankfully minimal damage was inflicted to property and people in Bed Stuy and Ruiz's claims as the heir-apparent to McGyver appear to be well justified.

In the week leading up to Hurricane Sandy I decided to give my karma credit a boost by returning to charity work. I selected BARC, a no-kill dog shelter, as my ticket to paradise. I was required to walk dogs that had been abandoned by their owners, the only proviso was that the majority of these dogs would be BIG dogs and generally of the pitbull variety. I think it has been established that "heroic" will never be a shortlisted adjective for my tombstone, so I approached this undertaking with a fair degree of trepidation.

After completing the necessary paperwork and ignoring the briefing, myself and three other dogooders (see what I did there? don't worry if you don't get it, it's not that clever) were marshalled into an area to receive the first of the two dogs we would walk. I strategically placed myself at the rear of the line and from the commotion behind the door it was a sensible strategy. The first three dogs were a female pitbull, a german shepherd and a mongrel of enormous girth and energy. The trio of dogs tested the strength of their leash and the resolve of their volunteer as they dragged them towards the door and out into the night. I steeled myself for an onslaught of pent up canine energy. I was then presented with a pint-sized, docile, snow white terrier called Lola. As we strolled through Williamsburg, I directed Lola to piss on hipster's fixies (and truth be told I helped her out when she was running low).

I thought that the organiser must have decided to soften my entry into the experience and the second dog I would walk would obviously be Cujo's older brother. I again waited to see what the dog lottery would spin up for me. The two dogs I saw dragging their walkers outside were a mastiff that would have nudged 100 kilos and a ginger samoyed that I was tempted to lie down on and take a nap on, such was the thickness and lustre of its coat. I braced myself, and this time I was handed Woody, a minature pomeranian. I could see why Woody would be rejected as a dog as I could palm him if I did not feel like walking him.  Overall, I felt good about helping two very friendly dogs get some fresh air and I will probably return to assist again.

Natalie had been getting harrassed on her way to mass for the past fortnight, so I was enlisted as her chaperone to St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church on Sunday. The journey was uneventful for Natalie, but my presence has the lightning-rod effect of drawing trouble. I drew the ire of a tough 10-year old who, while walking past holding his mum's hand, menacingly whispered "Run, whiteboy, run!" to me. Thankfully my marathon training had not diminished my fast twitch fibres and we had our choice of pews due to our punctuality.

The service itself was like nothing I had ever experienced with people testifying whenever the spirit moved them. If I had ever wondered what had happened to the Commodores once Lionel Ritchie left them, I had my answer now. The funky rhythm they were laying down under the guise of the church band ensured that the congregation were nodding their heads to the good book and the phat beats. I know I will return, especially if the pancakes that Natalie promises me for attending keep coming. Man cannot live on bread alone.

We thank everyone who expressed concern for our wellbeing during the past week. We knew we were going to be ok because as Billy Joel said only the good die young.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rochester 2012 Recap

I have a confession to make, I don't like running.

It seems like an odd thing to say days after completing my first marathon, but I don't consider myself a runner. I realise that I am runner in the sense that I have clocked quite a number of kilometres and participated in numerous races, but I am not a runner in the sense that I glide along and find serenity on the open road. Running is hard work and will always be a grind for me. I really admire several of my colleagues who have a rhythmic quality to their running which is almost hypnotic. They are poetry in motion. They are the kind of runner I aspire to be but theirs is a state that I believe I will never attain. Running for me is a challenge, a deeply personal one that provides me with irrefutable evidence of my progress and effort. You cannot bullshit the clock or spin the distance you ran. That is running's appeal to me.

Two days prior to the 2012 Rochester Marathon I reflected on my preparation, which had been designed to ensure I was in the best possible physical condition to complete 26.2 miles. I had run in thirty degree heat with high humidity and in the cold and rain to prepare for any conditions that may occur on race day. I was quietly confident, but an unsettling narrative ran through my head. If I did not reach my targeted time would the race have less value? Would my effort be diminished if I missed my self-appointed benchmark? My head was spinning with these thoughts as I strove to stop thinking of others’ successes as the barometer for mine. Thankfully, I received some wise counsel from one of the most inspiring women I know, Danila Checchin, who pumped up my tyres with the right mix of belief and humour. I drew strength from her words and the goodwill of others.

Once in Rochester, my nerves started to jangle as I saw the top seeds for the race milling around looking relaxed and confident. The Rochester Marathon is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon, which has famously stringent qualifying standards, hence a number of highly credentialed runners would be competing. They seemed a different species to me with their greyhound limbs and loose and easy gait. I collected my number and the volunteer manning the booth inquired if I had any questions. I asked what was the race record was. Her head jerked up from the desk as she appraised me - I am a fit man but my physique does not scream marathoner - and she stumbled over her reply. Admonished, I thanked her and said "Good to know." The race record was actually broken, just not by me. I missed breaking the record by a mere two hours and twenty minutes. Note to self: don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Race day found me up before the alarm and keen to experience what the day brought. Any number of criteria can be used to evaluate the health of your relationship with your wife but an often overlooked one is having your spouse coating your tree-trunk thighs with Vaseline to prevent chafe at 6am. Natalie's smile and ever-present laughter relaxed me and allowed me to focus on my race plan and my two goals: first, to finish the race under my own power, and second, in a time of 4hrs 30 mins. I resolved to let the race unfold and not to put too much pressure on myself to attain a time.

Over the ten minute stroll from the hotel to the start line, it became apparent that I would not overheat as the temperature had not reached double figures; a strong wind swept the St Andrews Bridge which made finding shelter a priority. These conditions did not abate throughout the day and prompted the race organisers to provide complimentary cups of coffee for spectators. A concession that Natalie was grateful for as she waited for me, she did however remark later that she would have preferred a cocktail to pass the time. She is nothing if not adaptable.
I took the time to survey the field and my eye was drawn to a tall, middle-aged Scotsman decked out in a fetching tartan kilt. He was reveling in the attention he received for his choice of attire. It prompted a couple of pretty young things to slink over and ask provocatively “Is anything worn under a Scotsman’s kilt?” His reply of “Worn? No everything is in perfect working order” had the required timing and projection to leave everyone in the vicinity in hysterics.

Waiting for the gun, the cold was starting to grip me and I could feel the pins holding my right index finger together pulsing, it would take more than half the race to rid me of that unnerving sensation. Another obstacle to overcome was the ear-shattering version of the American anthem. The poor girl who provided the rendition must have been convinced that the untimely demise of Whitney Houston had left a vacancy in the field of vocal pyrotechnics. The four minutes of warbling she produced was far more painful than the run itself.

I fought the urge to explode from the start as I knew I would need energy for the latter stages of the race. I concentrated on running each mile in ten-minute increments. This was also a preventative measure against hitting the wall. I was always wary of accelerating too early. I made a conscious decision not to shadow a pacer as I had trained alone and wanted to face whatever obstacles the race brought solo. Hitting the wall was my greatest fear as I was unsure if I would have the resilience to persist through such hardship.

The majority of the race was run parallel to a canal, which was filled with motley green water and bordered by dense scrub. Hardly the scenery along the front of the Opera House. The path was gravel, which made footing treacherous. The hardest element for me was the lack of spectators. I am a self-confessed show pony who thrives on an audience for energy and praise. I had to reconcile myself that I would have to rely on intrinsic motivation to overcome the lows that the race would bring. This aspect of the race provided me with the most self-satisfaction, as I feel I fought and won the mental battle with my self-esteem and emerged the stronger man.

The race itself was a blur of images and emotions. I began to flag mentally at one stage and took an idea from Paula Radcliffe. The multiple marathon winner has a mantra that focuses on her daughter of “I love you Sarah” which she repeats when she feels overwhelmed. As much as I was loathe to follow the advice of someone who pulled out of a marathon, while leading, to collapse and piss herself in a gutter (, her sentiments rang true for me. I thought of Natalie and the strength that I draw from her love. Her complete faith and positivity was a key ingredient in me undertaking this race with so much confidence. This elevated and refocused me.

I must have been in the fabled "zone" because the finish line loomed up unexpectedly as I turned a corner and saw the digital timing displays and the spectators flanking the final stretch. I heard my name and announced while I scanned the crowd for Natalie. I saw her, dark eyes wide and dancing and that familiar gleam of white teeth as she smiled and cheered for me. I drew near to her and saw a look of relief wash over her, as she realized she would not become a widow in Rochester. I lent over the railing, told her I loved her and kissed her. I then trotted the last fifty metres to finish the marathon elated.

I have learnt a great deal from this experience and I am unable to do it justice. Suffice a message on a tee shirt I saw on the day surmises it perfectly.

Be the moment.