Sunday, November 28, 2004

From the Post: "One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow is free to stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long."
The Thrill of ...
Every fourth Sunday of the month the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders put on concurrent 5K, 10K and 15K races. In rare possession of a Sunday without obligations I ventured down to Oakland this morning to check it out. There's not much fanfare to these races. No T-shirts. No vendors or over-caffeinated announcers. No lines for the bathrooms! Now add in the fact that the entry fee is a paltry four bucks ($3 for members) -- and that the lovely course in the heart of the city is certified -- and you've got a big winner.

Did somebody say winner?

That's another thing that's great about the LMJS Fourth Sunday Run: It's small enough -- usually between 50 and 100 total runners -- that you might actually end up a winner.

Most of the runners do the 10K, the benchmark distance for weekend warriors, and I was leaning in that direction right up until the woman doing the sign-ins asked me, "5K, 10K or 15K?" For reasons unknown, I blurted, "15K," joining five others at the distance.

I usually have a well-developed idea of how fast I might go in a race, but today, doing a distance that was both unanticipated and which I had never before run, I was clueless. My last run, on Thanksgiving Day, was miserable, a five-mile, leaden-legged trudge. I guess I was hoping I'd break 70 minutes, but I wasn't overflowing with confidence.

The morning was shockingly clear after some rain early Saturday. A cold wind was blowing hard from the north/northeast. Foolishly, I usually don't do much of a warm-up, but today the bite in the air inspired me to move and I ran a very slow half-mile up the lakeshore, and then turned around and headed back to the starting area. Five minutes later, we were off, running either one (5K), two (10K) or three (15K) laps around the lake.

The first half-mile I worked my way past some slower folk, avoiding the many non-racers winding their way around the lake as well, and bracing against that wind. But I felt good. I was running loosely and easily. It occurred to me that doing a solid warm-up regularly might not be a bad idea.

My first lap split was 22:30. I picked up the pace slightly. At the end of the second lap I was at 44:15. Still felt good. As the last lap began, I could see one 15K runner maybe 30 or 40 yards out in front of me (I figured there were others, farther ahead). I made it my goal to close on him if I could do so without killing myself. About halfway around, I caught him and rolled along.

With a last lap of 21:47, I crossed the line in 66:02.

After finishing I wandered around the grassy area where other finishers were hanging out and yacking or stretching in the sunshine. I sipped some water and did a personal post-race inventory, noting that my knees were utterly ache-free and my muscles felt taxed but not at all shredded. The morning chill had eased under the sun's bright assault and I was feeling good about having come out to do this race. Just then, over at the little card table where the race organizers were tabulating entries and results, I heard a man say, "Is Peter Danko here? Peter, where are you?"

I stepped forward.

"Here," the fellow said, reaching into a plastic bag. "I should give you your award now in case you have to get going."

I said, "Oh, did I get top three?"

"You won," he said.

"My age group?"


I won? I was amazed. I said something self-deprecating, something about being fortunate there were so few racers. The man said, "Hey, 66 minutes is a good run."

That's not a time that wins on very many Fourth Sundays, but the first prerequisite to winning is showing up, right?

So with that I took my first place ribbon and made my way home. Driving up the freeway toward Napa, I couldn't help but think about the year I've had. There has been much struggle, at home and at the office. Doubt, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety -- all of it seemingly always hovering, like clouds, obscuring the many gifts that have come my way. And yet here I was, on a sparkling Sunday in late November, a winner. I shed a tear of joy and laughed at myself. Silly me, I thought: Needing a ribbon to know it's a good run.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

W. B. Yeats: Meru
Civilization is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man's life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter's dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Hell, I've got no real complaints. Roof over my head in a nice 'hood. Never lacking for food or the means to make ridiculous impulse purchases (witness the Garmin I picked up a few weeks ago). Still, some days you wonder what karmic debt you're repaying.

First, this morning Niko leaves a cup of water on the stairs. I step on the cup, go flying headlong to the first floor two steps below and, approximately horizontal, bash the top of my head into the hard frame of the doorway between the foyer and the kitchen. Huge gash, blood, dizziness, blurry vision. The works.

However, I can boast of nothing if I cannot boast of a hard head. I was pretty much OK within an hour. We go out, because we MUST get out.

Wildly breezy bright day. Leaves wooshing down off the ginkos in torrents, racing along, gathering on the other side of the street. Yes, that was a good thing that happened today: the other side of the street. Meanwhile, we're off to the northern outskirts of Calistoga to see the Old Faithful geyser. We see the geyser and it's cool -- we especially like the way the wind carries the water onto the folks standing west of the big belch -- but Niko is looking very uncomfortable and complaining of a tummy ache. I thought he just needed to take a dump. It is his policy to hold it until the very last moment, which sometimes leads to generalized agony. After the geyser, we hit the Palisades Deli in town, with me eating a sandwich and Niko downing a pint of chocolate whole milk and the white of a hardboiled egg. Twenty minutes later on the winding Silverado Trail, his lunch all comes up and out, on himself, on the seatbelt, on his kid seat, on the car seat. We finish the drive with the windows wide open but the stench is still enough to … make you hurl.


Niko races to the toilet for a liquid poop.

Vomiting + diarrhea. This does not add up to anything good (or good-smelling).

I give him one of those electrolyte drinks, knowing that the only real worry here is dehydration. He sips it carefully. And over the course of the next two hours, he does nothing but perk up. I take his temperature. It's 37.5C, which I think is around 98F.

As I attempt to install a new printer for our old Mac, the lad continues his perkage. Now it's 8 p.m. and he should be in bed but he's feeling so chipper, I'm blogging and he's watching Food Network.

OK, so it wasn't all bad. It actually wasn't that bad at all. I've been thinking a lot about how much I let shit get to me, especially hiccups in the day with Niko. I want it all to go smoothly, trouble-free. I'm beginning to understand that, yo, he's five. It may happen, but if it does it's strictly by accident. Chill. Pill. Take.

Much easier that way.

So, OK. No big deal. Typical day.

As you were.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Stopping to Smell the Roses
I haven't been to a Cal football game in 20 years -- since the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 1984, when Stanford won by something like 24-10 down on the Farm (I could look it up, but why don't you, and post a comment?). But like every Old Blue, I'm riding the bandwagon now, woopin' and hollerin' Go Bears, and I'm even contemplating making my way down to Pasadena on January 1, 2005, for the Rose Bowl. Barring something freaky, the Bears are going to be there, for the first time since 1959, when that loveable old rockhead Joe Kapp was throwing, like, six passes (five of them seriously wobbly) a game and otherwise playing quarterback the way Butkus would play linebacker.

Now, some party-poopers are going to note that these '04 Bears didn't win the Pac-10, and that they're in line for the Rose Bowl only because league champ USC appears headed for the BCS championship game (the Orange Bowl this year). Yeah, whatever. It's still the Rose Bowl, it's Cal, and it's been nearly a half-century. Isn't that enough? And who knows, it may be another half-century before they get there again. Because, again, this is Cal, and surely Jeff Tedford will bolt for the big dollars and swank facilities at some football factory, Aaron Rodgers will take off for the pros, Marshawn Lynch will shred a knee playing Ms. Pac-Man at Kip's, and within two years we'll be staring at 3-8.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Important Social Commentary
Garth Patil, studying fashion trends while luxuriating recently on the bucolic Stanford campus on a sun-splashed day, observes with a mix of agnosticism and wonder the rising tide of young female butt cracks, a result of the lowering of jeans, if not societal standards. I've noted this phenomenon as well and as of the exposed-belly-button craze, generally approve. However -- and this is just my own peculiar view, which should under no circumstances be seen as proscriptive by anyone contemplating how far south she ought to hitch 'em -- I find it remains the case that on especially rotund women, this look tends not to work so well, whereas those in the svelte or curvaceous classes seem to fare better. One dude's view.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Careful readers have no doubt noted (but somehow have failed to mention the fact) that there has been no discussion this fall of the harvest, no talk of wily maneuvering to get my hands on killer grapes free, as is my policy; no explications on crushing, stemming, water additions, cold-soaks, enzyme additions, nutrient deficiencies, stuck fermentations or barrel management; no winemaking chatter at all.

I made my first wine in 1998. It was 2000 when I finally had a little bit of knowledge and some good grapes to risk it on. That ended up being 15 cases of better-than-average Knight's Valley mountain Merlot. Oh-One was the year Casey Hartlip gave away the farm, bestowing upon me a barrel's worth each of staggeringly good Sangiovese and Cabernet from Eaglepoint Ranch, high in the mountains east of Talmage. Two-thousand two, another couple of barrels were called into service, filled with Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, thanks to Greg Nelson -- God I love those Mendo farmers -- and in '03 Greg offered up Cab.

So why no 2004s in the garage finding their way through malolactic, nearly ready for racking? Too damn much was going in my life. Too much drama, at home and at work; too much triathlon and marathon. And one other thing, which is going to sound strange, but it's true: the garage is a fucking mess and until it gets cleaned (an interesting use of the passive there) there will be NO MORE GRAPES CRUSHED!
What's Happening Over There
It took my good friend Infospigot just a few quick numbers to make the point about exactly how tough the fight for Fallujah has been. So far. Check it out. Reading the post woke me from a post-election war slumber, so later in the day I made rare forays into the land of TV news. I was damn near reduced to tears as the NewsHour rolled 20 names and pictures past, mostly young men, a few guys in their mid-40s, Marines, Army, fathers, sons, brothers, husbands -- you know the story, all dead. Then I flipped to CNN and without realizing what was being shown, assuming it was more or less random war footage, I saw an American soldier note that an Iraqi wounded might not actually be dead, coldly pump a bullet into the prostrate body, then announce, "He's dead now." And the really scary thing is you know that this ridiculous pointless evil shit is not going to end anytime soon.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Not Big County
California's least populous county (1,208 residents) led the state in voter turnout earlier this month, with 86 percent of its eligible voters doing their civic duty. (You'll note I didn't say "going to the polls" -- Alpine County is so sparsely peopled, voting is done by mail.) But what I found interesting was that once again, newspapers could not resist calling it tiny Alpine County. Even before this latest story popped up, Google returned 94 instances of Alpine tinization.

By the way, Alpine County was blue, one of the few inland counties in California to go Kerry's way.

UPDATE: Sacramento Bee story avoids use of "tiny"! Calls it "little Alpine County."
A decade ago I couldn't avoid the O.J. trial. I was working on the desk at a tabloid-style newspaper and Ito, Cochrane, Clark et al. provided us headline fodder for months. But like you, Thinking Reader, I tend to find these high-profile, media-soaked celebrity prosecuctions to be debasing to anyone who gets near them. So it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I paid any real attention to the Scott Peterson case. When a colleague of mine explained the situation -- the body found 80 miles from the couple's home, and just where the husband had happened to go fishing on Christmas Eve, the day the wife went missing -- I said: "Of course he did it." For a brief second I entertained the idea that actual evidence connecting Peterson to the crime might be necessary, but I quickly dismissed that thought. Of course he did it, I was surprised to believe, was good enough for me.

In the weeks after arriving at this view I thought a few more times about the case, testing myself to see if I really believed instinct was sufficient to convict a man of murder. To my continued amazement, I kept saying yes. I heard excellent arguments as to the danger of my view, but to me these arguments began to sound like silly intellectual exercises. Yeah, gut reaction is no way to run a system of justice, and going down that path could be mighty dangerous. But what about the danger of ignoring overwhelming human intuition? What about turning our back on what we know to be true? I remained comfortable with the idea that the pure implausibility that anyone other than Scott Peterson committed the murder was enough to convict.

Now, a jury apparently agrees.

My first reaction upon hearing the news yesterday was relief. The election results had left me wondering about my worldview. Twelve people in San Mateo County agreed with me. Excellent.

Then I saw the paper. The crowds cheering outside the courthouse. The glee at the conviction. The treatment of the trial as a sporting event and the verdict as Our Side winning.

Now I'm a bit scared where this might be taking us.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Internet Never Forgets
Back in 1995 I co-authored an article for the American Journalism Review about journalists leaving the profession. I long ago lost my copy of the magazine, and every nine or 12 or 17 months over the past several years I've found myself Googling the article. Today, suddenly, the piece showed up, right here. It's not a bad bit of work. I actually think it holds up pretty well. You might even say it exhibits a certain prescience. So I'm glad to have found it. Nevertheless, what an alarming development!

Most of my journalism was committed pre-Internet. So I've rested comfortably, sure that my oeuvre, such as it is, was buried deep in the ink and dead tree past. But now I can't be so certain. Busy archivists are clearly at work, exhuming away. They couldn't possibly find their way to the Daily Californian of the early 1980s, could they? One shudders.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Payne in My Brain
Last week I had the chance to see Alexander Payne and his screenwriting collaborator, Jim Taylor, in conversation at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles. I'm tempted to say the event rocked my world, but probably the effect will wear off soon and nothing will be different. I'll stumble along in my prosaic PR position, only occasionally to recall with shame that I ever imagined I'd get off my ass and make some serious changes in my life. Be that as it may, sitting there and hearing two creative men whose vision and sensibilities I find in excellent accord with my own discussing how they approach their craft was exhilarating. It reminded me how inspiring (above caveat still in force, of course) it can be to surround oneself with artists.

Taylor got off some nice lines and struck me as every bit as valuable as Payne in creating the pair's four great screenplays. And yet it was Payne who stole this show. The man is too sharp. I mean it. His sharpness can inflict pain (in addition to hilarity). Ask a question that veers the wrong way and eeek he'll jab you. Only by the least generous interpretation possible did the poor fellow next to me imply that Payne's movies were repetitive in their emotional arc. "So you're saying we've made the same movie four times in a row," Payne answered bitterly. The questioner was shocked and babbled his denial/apology, but Payne stuck the needle in even farther -- not to hurt the guy, but for the great laughs. Finally, Payne did give the guy a sly look of sympathy, and said barely audibly, "We'll talk after." That's Payne: He's got a heart, but he hurts, too.

Anyway, the three things Payne said that I've really been thinking about:

1) That to write is to learn to live with despair. He wasn't talking about that romantic schlocky writerly oh woe is me I am an artiste kind of despair. He was talking about writing and hating what you create and the feeling that comes with that. "A day won't go by when you don't look at something you wrote and say, 'That sucks.' There's the despair. You have to be able to live with that and power through it."

2) Ultimately, the creative process is about "figuring out what's rattling around inside you." Not exactly a new sentiment, but hearing someone who is turning out consistently offbeat and excellent work say it brings the point home.

Number 3? Well, that came when I was introduced to Payne before the event (I was there representing Sanford Winery, and at Payne's request we were providing wines for a post-conversation tasting). "This is Pete Danko. Pete does PR for Sanford Winery," Payne was told. To which he replied: "No,I do PR for Sanford Winery." And he's right, of course; Sideways is the best thing to happen to our winery in years.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Four More Years
One of the standing talking heads asked a bunch of his sitting talking heads if the closeness of the election will inspire the re-elected president to reach across the aisle. By then I'd lost my zeal to get into arguments with the television, so instead of yelling, I just muttered, "You fuckers are so stupid," and walked away.

C'mon. Last time the guy "won" he didn't even carry the popular vote -- and then the only reaching across the aisle he did in four years was to give the Dems the finger.

I don't know. All I really ask of the guy is that he start being honest with us. He's a conservative. I'm a moderate liberal. He's not going to do much that I like and he's going to do quite a bit that I find objectionable. But quit the bullshit when it comes to Iraq and the rest of the foreign policy. Get some straight-shooters in there. Hell, start listening to McCain and Hagel and even Lugar. They're on your side. They support the war. But they aren't afraid to tell the truth about it all.

Time to step up, Mr. President.
Exercising My Right
It's about the only exercising I've done lately, what with this lingering cold. Anyway, I voted. At 7:10 a.m. I was voter No. 14 in our precinct. We've gone touch-screen here in Napa and it was quick and painless.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Halloween Report: Sick Duck
Niko's nearly two-week-old cold took a surprising turn for the worse Saturday and he was no better Sunday. But we did rouse ourselves late in the afternoon to sacrifice one of our pumpkins at the altar of Jack O'Lantern, don the duck suit and hit about 10 houses here on South Montgomery. By the time we got back the lad was looking weak and the temperature checked in at 102.4F. Today, a visit to the doctor revealed the second ear infection of his life. Antibiotics to the rescue! It'll be great to have him back at full strength and I hope he gets a good long stretch of sniffle-, cough- and ache-free days before the next bug rolls through Sunrise Montessori School. He deserves it -- and so does his mom, who handled the vast bulk of the caregiving through it all.