Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Easy 3 Miles...

It was another cool October morning when I stepped out of my apartment and got into my car for the drive to Griffith Park. Still, it’s not so cold that we have to start wearing layers on our runs just yet. Here in Southern California we are still dealing with 80 degree days even though fall has arrived, and yet summer remains stubborn about becoming a distant memory. I brought my black Nike jacket with me in case it was colder in Burbank than I expected, but I was pretty certain I wouldn’t need it (and I didn't).

I managed to make it to the Team to End AIDS meeting spot just in the nick of time, having resisted the almost irresistible pull of those Batman reruns that were being shown on IFC (do they even show indie movies anymore?). The runners were still milling around when I got there, so I didn’t miss a thing. Then Coach JC came out and shouted, “GOOD MORNING T2!!!” For a guy who claims not to be comfortable talking in public, he can now yell so loudly that the employees at A Runner’s Circle in Los Feliz can hear him quite clearly. Heck, I bet even the workers at Sports Chalet could hear him to where those in the shoe department looked at one another as if to say, “What is pronation?”

Today’s run was 3 miles, but some of the alumni were still open to running 5. I decided to just stick with the 3 as I don’t want to overdo it at this point. I was under the assumption I had everything I would need for a short run: my Saucony running shoes, my Nine Inch Nails hat, my red Team to End AIDS shirt, my sunglasses, my water belt with two bottles of water and two bottles of orange low calorie Gatorade and a GU packet leftover from the 2014 Los Angeles Marathon. There was one problem; I forget my watches, one of which has interval timing. I usually bring my iPhone with me in case I need to call one of the coaches or take pictures, but this time I had to use it for a different purpose as it had a timer on it.

When I walked over to the starting line, I didn’t realize I was with the wrong pace group. Chris eventually pointed out that this was the 12 minute pace group, and Coach JC looked at me with a shock as if I was trying to turn this into a race for myself. Realizing my mistake, I was a little embarrassed but recovered in time to join the not yet named 13 minute pace group. JC also informed me that we would not be doing a “Bette Davis” on this run. I’ve been training for the LA Marathon for several years now so that running lingo is something I should know by now, but somehow this term eludes me. Hopefully I will relearn it again soon.

This run took us outside of Griffith Park and into familiar parts of Burbank as we went down Victory before turning left on Riverside. We were again running against traffic like before, and the bike riders we passed by were nice and not the least bit territorial. Let’s hope there’s more of that kind on the road in the coming weeks.

After running with the same people for the past few years, I found myself with a new group of people who I have no business being shy around. I got to meet Winston and John who were nice and, like the other people I should have said hello to, were careful to obey the traffic signs. No one was above the law on this October morning.

This week I found myself focusing on my form as Coach JC gave a speech before hand about running to where our body is open to where it gets the most oxygen. No running in a hunched position and no ridiculously long strides that have us landing on our heels as that will cause irreversible damage that our bodies will despise us for as we get older. I know my knees will never ever let me forget all the marathons I’ve ever ran, and when I get to the age of 60 (at which point I will still look like I’m 50) I know they will be telling me, “That’s what you get fool!”

When we got to Keystone we turned around and went back the way we came. Dammit, the term “turn around” still reminds me of that depressing song by Bonnie Tyler called Total Eclipse of the Heart. My dad loved that song when it first came on the radio back in the 80’s, but it always leaves me sad. How am I supposed to feel after listening to lyrics like these?

“(Turn around)
Every now and then
I get a little bit lonely
And you're never coming round

(Turn around)
Every now and then
I get a little bit tired
Of listening to the sound of my tears

(Turn around)
Every now and then
I get a little bit nervous
That the best of all the years have gone by…”

That last line keeps messing with my head.

Anyway, we made it back to Griffith Park in one piece and Coach JC had to double check his board to make sure that I didn't run a super-fast 5 miles. If only such a thing were possible. The Flash may have returned as a television series, but I have yet to match his velocity. Hey, anything’s possible!
So week two is over and done with, and it feels like everyone (even myself) is getting off to a good start. It also makes me glad that I got those two maintenance runs in this week as my body would have been pissed at me if I didn’t. I say bring on the more challenging runs sooner than later. Bring on the hills!

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: Well I had one hell of a week. As of this week I have raised $586 for AIDS Project LosAngeles, and that puts me at 59% towards my fundraising goal of $1,000. I usually never make it that far until the end of the year, so this just blows me away. If we can get to $1,000 by the end of November that would just rock my world (sorry, I couldn’t find a better way to say it). All donations are tax deductible so you can stick it to the man when the time comes. Trust me, I’m going to be like one of those endlessly annoying NPR fundraising breaks until I reach my goal!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Back in the Marathon Saddle Again!

It’s back in the saddle again! Four times wasn’t enough for me, so now I’m back training for the Los Angeles Marathon for the fifth year in a row. Training with Team to EndAIDS began again on October 18, 2014, and I found myself actually eager to get up early in the morning for a change as a result. All my running clothes still seem to fit me and haven’t fallen apart yet, so I don’t need to get any new threads just yet. However, I may want to consider getting some new running socks.

For once I got to the running site with plenty of time to spare. I was eager to catch up with a lot of friends I haven’t seen in a while and to greet the coaches who approach this training season with a wealth of enthusiasm. It was great to see Coach JC Fernandez, Kerry Quakenbush and Dene Preston back in action as they welcomed us with the usual speeches about fundraising goals and what to expect this time around when it comes to training. We were also reminded again of how territorial the bike riders are when they’re out on the road, and that was before we started running.

One of the best sights to take in when I arrived at the park was the tree planted in the memory of Scott Boliver, our former marathon coach who left this world far too soon. It was planted on the grounds a few months ago and it continues to grow taller. It’s a wonderful tribute to a man who inspired us all.

When it came to meeting friends who I have trained with in the past, I got to meet up with Chris who I ran the 2012 LA Marathon with, and this is the first marathon he has trained for in a couple of years. I also got to catch up with Kerry who, along with me and many others, survived the vicious monsoon that was the 2011 LA Marathon. A lot of our run together had us reminiscing about the memories of that exceedingly wet day, the kind that, ironically, we could use a lot of right now in California so we can get over this drought. Yes, leaping over the puddles back then was impossible as those puddles quickly became rivers we could only hope to levitate over (if only such a thing were possible).

It also proved to be a throwback to our training that year which had us running through a snowy Burbank where frost began forming on our clothes to where steam was coming off of them on our last few miles. It says a lot about us 2011 LA Marathon veterans that we came back for another marathon because that one was a clusterfuck of epic proportions (or a shittacular as others described it). For me, it was my first marathon and a time to realize that wearing cotton sweats was beyond counterproductive.

Today’s run was a simple one to determine which pace group we would be running in for the next few months. We ran two miles through the streets of Griffith Park, and we were encouraged to run at a comfortable pace to where we weren’t huffing and puffing. I did well for a guy who has kind of let myself go since the last marathon I ran, and I never ran faster than I needed to. After the last marathon, my hope was to run in other events around Los Angeles or in other parts of California, but that didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. Now certain parts of my body are much bigger than they should be, and they are not the parts I am eager to see increase in size. Hopefully I can trim a few pounds off my aging body before marathon day in 2015.

When I got to the finish line, I asked JC how badly I did (jokingly of course). He said I did fine and that I would be back in the 13 mile pace group. That sounds perfectly fine to me, and that means I will be again running at a pace of 3:1; running for three minutes and then walking for one. It soon turned out to be the most popular pace group as those who were in the 14 or 15 groups found themselves merging their way into ours. I guess we 13’s are still the hip crowd to hang out with!

So the easy work is done. Next week we will be running three miles and then increasing our mileage from there. I’m looking forward to another great marathon training season.

CAN I GET YOUR ATTENTION??!! Once again I will be raising money for AIDS Project Los Angeles which Teams to End AIDS works to benefit. My fundraising goal is $1,000, but I hope to go farther than that. I’m asking everyone reading this to donate at least $5 to my efforts. If you can donate more than that, you are a rock star (sounds lame, but it’s true). Keep in mind that these donations are tax deductible which will work wonders on your taxes at the end of the year. Please, it’s all for a cause that means a lot to me. Just be glad this is not another email asking you to support this or that candidate or this political party (I’m getting so sick of those). I hope I can count on your undying support.

Monday, October 6, 2014

'Goodnight Marilyn: A Love Letter' Gives the Tragic Star a Much Needed Requiem

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.” 
-Robin Williams as Lance Clayton in “World’s Greatest Dad."

I was thinking about this quote a lot while watching the Los Angeles production of “GoodbyeMarilyn: A Love Letter” at the Working Stage Theater. This play focuses on Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous movie stars on the planet and, as we quickly come to see, one of its loneliest individuals. As beloved as Marilyn was while she was alive, she seemed so sad and isolated from the rest of the human race. She strived for love and affection in many ways but constantly found it denied to her, and eventually she turned to alcohol and drugs to kill the pain that had afflicted her since childhood. Like many celebrities Marilyn looked like she could have anything and everything she ever wanted, but that was never truly the case.

“Goodbye Marilyn” takes place on the last night of the movie star’s life as she sits on her bed waiting for the phone to ring while popping pills and washing them down with vodka. Marilyn has no one to talk to but herself, and she bemoans all the loss opportunities and the things she could never have. But it turns out she’s not completely alone as her two ex-husbands, playwright Arthur Miller and baseball great Joe DiMaggio, come to her in a vision and comfort as her life is cut far too short.

Marilyn’s death remains one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries. It was ruled a suicide, but theories still abound that she was actually murdered. “Goodbye Marilyn,” however, is not concerned with solving that mystery in the slightest. Instead, the play’s writer and director Michael Phillips is far more interested in stripping away the iconic image we all have of Marilyn and looking at her as a human being. This is something I would love to see people do with other celebrities on a regular basis as we tend to see them as superhuman which is fun but does them no real favors.

Playing Marilyn Monroe is actress Melanie Cruz. Does she look and sound like Marilyn? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she fully inhabits Marilyn and gives a truly wonderful performance as she captures the famous actress at her most vulnerable and wanting. Cruz doesn’t make Marilyn completely likable (many said that the “Some Like It Hot” star was difficult to work with), but she does make the iconic actress very empathetic as she bemoans the unconditional love she was always searching for but never fully received. She never stoops to giving us a mere Marilyn Monroe impersonation (and lord knows we have way too many Marilyn impersonators out there), and her performance is all the more powerful because of that.

Darrell Philip plays Arthur Miller and gives the famous playwright a playful sense of humor as he proves to be the most sympathetic to his ex-wife’s needs in her final moments. He also proves to be a good foil for Cruz as they play off of each other with some very clever and funny dialogue. The moments where they talk about why playwrights are the last at the bar to get a drink and why “The Crucible” led to the breakup of their marriage are highlights.

Adam Slemon portrays DiMaggio and shows the famous ball player as still being madly in love with Marilyn even when it’s clear that he didn’t always have her best interests at heart. He is terrific in displaying the jealousy that eats away at him to where you understood why he and Marilyn could never stay together. Also, Slemon has a scene where he gets to portray “Some Like It Hot” director Billy Wilder, and he’s a real hoot as he loses all self-control in the process of trying to get a performance out of Marilyn.

Miller does wonderful work in creating an intimate atmosphere between these three characters and he makes us feel like we are a part of a solemn going away party. The idea for this play came to him during a conversation he had with his mom before she passed away, and she told him how her father and her husband came to visit and comfort her in a vision. Indeed, I imagine he hoped Marilyn had that same comfort before she passed away at far too young an age.

My only real complaint against “Goodbye Marilyn” is that the play’s ending feels a little too abrupt and doesn’t quite have the strong emotional impact I was expecting it to. I guess maybe I was hoping to spend a little more time with these three characters before Marilyn breathed her last breath, and I wanted to fully feel the tragedy of her loss. The actress was only 36 years old when she died, and while she lives on in our memories we are still reminded that all the money and fame in the world couldn’t give her the love she was constantly searching for.

Still, any problems I had with “Goodbye Marilyn” were really minor and watching it onstage proved to be a deeply immersive experience. We tend to put celebrities on a pedestal too high for their own good, and it gets to where we no longer see them as human. That’s a very dangerous thing to do to anyone, and Marilyn proved to be one of stardom’s biggest victims as a result. Miller isn’t out to give us any answers regarding her premature death, and I’m not sure anyone can at this point. What he wants is for us to treat her with some dignity even as we see her in her most helpless state, and it should go without saying that the star deserved to receive the unconditional love of others.

But the main reason to see “Goodbye Marilyn” is for Melanie Cruz who doesn’t take the easy way out and just impersonate the Marilyn Monroe we all know and love from the movies. Cruz inhabits the starlet with a great deal of complexity, and she more than rises to the challenge of playing such an infinitely famous person. She succeeds in bringing Marilyn back to life for a short time, and it’s a gift in getting to know the actress in this way.

Goodbye Marilyn: A Love Letter” is playing at the Working Stage Theater in Los Angeles which is at the corner of Gardner Street and Sunset Boulevard. It is playing through October 12th after which Miller will be taking it on the road to over states around the country. Please be sure to check it out before it is gone.