Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

How I became a fan of The Fan, and other alarming signs of middle age

Over the course of the past year, I embraced the surest sign of middle age there is: talk radio.

When I was growing up, radio was my primary source for music. I listened to Casey Kasem’s “Top 40 Countdown” nearly every Sunday, waiting with breathless anticipation to find out which song snagged the top berth and keeping my tape recorder close by to make bootleg copies of my favorite tunes along the way. What I liked best about music on the radio then was the element of surprise. You never really knew which song would come up when – the only way to summon up a song on demand back then was to call the radio station and make a request – and if you wanted to know which song topped the Billboard list for that week, you had to tune in to the Countdown.

If video killed the radio star, the internet killed the element of surprise on music radio (and pretty much everywhere else, too). No longer do we wait to hear a favorite song or to find out where it falls in the ranks of popular music; we Shazam it, type some text into a search window, and we’re done. The efficiency we gained is great, but we sacrificed that sense of suspense that made it fun to listen not just to music on the radio but for it.

And just in case the preceding paragraph didn’t brand me completely as middle-aged, let me remove all doubt by adding that the music that lands on pop radio today, and the way all the stations seem to play the same three songs on an endless loop, doesn’t inspire me to seek it out. I’m not saying there isn’t some worthy pop stuff out there, just that if there’s a modern equivalent of Prince, he’s not hanging out on the FM airwaves. (If my Prince will come at all, he’ll probably arrive by way of Spotify, which is where I look for new music these days.)

And if you’re tempted to shoot down my “music radio was better way back when” theory by pointing to musical atrocities of my youth, like “Pass the Dutchie,” “We Built This City,” and “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” I have two things to say to you: 1) Yes, I know these songs are now stuck in your head –

you got what you deserved by mentioning them; and 2) Like all self-respecting Gen X-ers, I am deep in the process of sanitizing the memories of my past, which means I have re-characterized these abominations as musical foils meant to enhance our appreciation of artists like Prince and George Michael. Now get off my lawn.

So a year or two ago, I began the transition to talk radio when driving around town. I started with WTOP for traffic and weather “on the ‘eights’ and when it breaks” — “and when it breaks” has always sounded to me like the onset of a pox, and maybe that’s about right —  but the repetitiveness and lack of depth wore me out in short order. I switched to NPR. It was a nice enough place to hang out until Campaign 2016 came along and started barfing all over the joint.

Hankering for the sound of live voices and desperate for a haven from the stench of politics, late this summer I skidded to a stop on 106.7, an all-sports talk station known as “The Fan.” I grew up on and love sports, so it made perfect sense, except for one teeny, tiny thing: I don’t like the Redskins. I never have, even though I’ve lived in the DC area for my entire adult life. Both of my parents are from Pennsylvania, Mom is from Philly, thus the Yank DNA requires that we root for the Eagles. (No one roots for the Eagles by choice. It ain’t an easy gig.) This means I must root against all division rivals, including the ‘Skins. My dislike for the ‘Skins might not have mattered had I not made my move to The Fan during the pre-season. The circumstances were far from optimal, but I’d run out of options.

When I tuned in, the Sports Junkies –four local guys who’ve been on the airwaves for 20 years — were on. I’d caught bits and pieces of their show before but had never stuck around long enough to get to know them. In an era when we all need to work a little harder to understand those whose beliefs differ dramatically from our own, I decided it was time for me to cozy up to some ‘Skins fans. And you know what? Aside from learning more about football, a sport I speak proficiently but not fluently, I’ve learned the Junkies and I have some things in common. We’re basically peers, age-wise –with similar physical complaints to show for it –and I get the sense that their musical, linguistic and cultural references haven’t moved much beyond the late ’90s and they’re unapologetic about it. So I’m pretty sure you can get off their lawns, too. And one of them is on a quest to improve his dating life, not that I can relate or anything. Best of all, though, listening to the Junks banter careen from topic to topic takes me back to the days when I’d sit around watching a game with a bunch of my guy friends. Since my cadre of guy friends has shrunk over the years, another casualty of marriage, those hangouts have pretty much fallen by the wayside. The Junkies give me a way to experience that kind of camaraderie again, albeit vicariously, and I love that.

On the drive home, I sometimes catch part of “Chad Dukes Versus The World” on The Fan. Though I suspect my and Chad’s politics differ, I know we have one important thing in common: we both love his mom. She taught music when I was a student at Orange Hunt Elementary School and remains one of my all-time favorite teachers, even if she is technically responsible for the fact that three friends and I burst into a rousing rendition of “The Fifty States Song” at a funeral. I also enjoy the way Chad weaves underused words like “bombast,” “gravitas” and “bloviate” into casual conversation. And as someone who co-hosts a weekly podcast whose episodes last however long we want ’em to, but never more than an hour, I have mad respect for someone who hosts a four-hour show daily and pretty much solo.

So yes, I’ve transitioned to talk radio and the Fan, two things thirty-something me would have mocked mercilessly. This puts me squarely on the middle age track, which doesn’t thrill me, but it helps to know I’m running in good company.

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Middle age: what a pain in the neck

Doctors tell you not to “chase the pain” when you have certain kinds of injuries. By this they mean if you don’t take something to combat the pain before it pancakes you, it’ll do a hit and run, never to be caught. But even catching it doesn’t always help because pain, like an investigative reporter, can be both persistent and totally unwilling to reveal its sources. 

For example, when your back hurts, you might suspect a back problem. This is logical but, with all due respect, incredibly naive. Pain is way sneakier than that. For all you know, it’s just using your back to mask a problem with your pancreas. (Don’t believe me? Read this.) Because “sneaky” doesn’t sound super technical, the medical profession came up with a more elegant term for this nefarious behavior: referred pain. Charming, don’t you think? “Referred pain” makes it sound like your body parts are a bunch of conscientious professionals who have more volume than they can handle but will gladly set you up with a practice that’s taking on new business. My body kindly gave me a referral this past Sunday.

One day earlier, I had run a 5k in Great Falls, Maryland, with a few people from my boot camp group. In the days leading up to the race, I’d felt a nagging twinge in my in the space between my right hamstring and my glute – the “glam-string,” as I like to call it.  My glam-string has bothered me on occasion but never been grounds to place myself on Injured Reserve, so I plowed ahead. I felt the twinge during the race on Saturday, but I hardly noticed because the scenery –rocks, river and trees emerging slowly from a morning mist dissipating under the warmth of the sun — commanded my attention. 

The next day my glam-string was okay but my calf, a muscle that’s never caused me a minute of trouble, went on strike. I suspect it was a referral but didn’t have time to investigate because I was chasing pain in a different location: my neck. That’s not new pain, but it’s been dormant since the spring of 2011, when I went to an orthopedist. I had a bunch of tests done, got a monster shot, and experienced near-instant relief. (I unloaded my marital pain in the neck a few months later, which had to have helped.) 

I never expected that relief to last five years, and neither did the doctor, who I went back to see today. He took a fresh set of X-rays and informed me that the vertebrae collapse he’d seen the first time around had worsened. I’d lost tissue and gained bone spurs and a pinched nerve.

When I turned 43, I wrote a post in the form of a report card, and one of the subjects was health. I’d given myself a grade of 95. Likening the human body to a house, I had concluded the major systems still worked well, the warranties on my joints had held out, and I was generally humming along. Two years later, when I’ve reached an actuarial midpoint, my major systems still work fine but the stairs seem to have collapsed. It’s a threat to my structural integrity, but don’t worry, I’ll get it fixed. I have duct tape.

Our instructor won this medal, whereas the rest of us mere mortals got plastic ones, but I gotta tell ya, the Visegrad 5k is a very, very cool race. Not only do you get to run on the C&O canal towpath but there's a staggering assortment of Slavic pastries at the end!

Our instructor won this medal, whereas the rest of us mere mortals got plastic ones, but I gotta tell ya, the Visegrad 5k is a very, very cool race. Not only do you get to run on the C&O canal towpath but a staggering assortment of Slavic pastries awaits you at the end!

The Tampa Bay Swim and other forms of Capital Punishment

You know how something sounds like a perfectly good idea at the time and you find yourself saying “yes,” only to regret it later?

Well, the Tampa Bay 24-mile Marathon Swim was not such a thing. It sounded pretty sketchy when it was first mentioned to me, if I’m being honest.

Despite that, three things made me say “yes”:

1) A sense of athletic pride. This is a seriously misguided sense, one that forgets I’m 43 and recently injured myself taking out the trash. And I’m not talking about trash that included, say, a grand piano. I hauled out one measly kitchen bag loaded with nothing heftier than coffee grounds and blew out an elbow.

2) My good friend and longtime swimming buddy, BillI like Bill a lot, even though he attended the party where I met my now ex-husband and made no move that night to steer me toward something more harmless, like the cheese tray or a pack of rabid wolves. Anyway, Bill hatched a plan to form a relay team –the only sane way to swim 24 miles–and needed at least one woman to make it co-ed.

3) The team name: Capital Punishment. I have long believed that a great team name can obscure a serious lack of skill, as evidenced by my tenure with the Smash Hits.

 Capital Punishment began as a six-person team, which meant each person would have to swim four miles. This sounded manageable, since all of us are lifelong swimmers who crank out two miles or more regularly(ish). But shortly after registering our team, we lost a dude to injury. (The other members of Capital Punishment are both older than I and responsible for trash removal in their respective homes, so really, it was just a matter of time.)

Five miles per person seemed doable, but then a family event crossed another name off our roster. At six miles per person, Capital Punishment was in trouble and Bill knew it. Desperate to get our ranks up to at least five, Bill enlisted the aid of the race organizer, who helped us draft a dude from Tampa.

I don’t know any of my teammates except Bill, and I won’t meet them until I’m in Tampa, but I’m not worried about that. Because each person will swim for 30 minutes at a time while the rest of us hang out in the boat, awaiting our turn, I figure I’ll have upwards of ten hours to get to know the other boys in the boat.

 I also have yet to see a course map—Capital Punishment’s pre-race prep centered on securing deluxe accommodations  near a restaurant with a rock-solid wine list –and am opting just to be surprised.

But I did force myself to take a gander at the weather. The Saturday forecast calls for air temps between 80-90 and water temps around 80, which sounds great to me. What does not sound so great is the likelihood of a 15-mile per hour “sea breeze.”

In my world, a sea breeze is a cocktail, not a euphemism for a wind strong enough to blow a hat off your head. (I will be wearing a bathing cap, and if the sea breeze blows that off my head, then Capital Punishment is officially on its own.)

For every person thinking, “How could this possibly go wrong?” there’s another asking, “and how can I see it?”

You can watch our progress here. As spectator sports go, this open water swim promises the kind of heart-stopping excitement rivaled only by watching your arm hair grow.

If ever a situation cried out, “Good luck with that thing you’re doing,” this is it.

I've got goggles and a suit that's visible to astronauts orbiting Earth. The only thing I'm missing is a flask...

I’ve got goggles and a suit that’s visible to astronauts orbiting Earth. The only thing I’m missing is a flask…

White with foam

Philippa and I have spent a lot of time writing about our gratitude for the incredible support systems in our lives, but we overlooked one crucial thing that literally keeps us moving every day: the foam roller.  It has changed our lives.

A very good friend convinced me to get one when I complained that running –something I did without incident in my 20s and 30s–had begun to cause soreness in my IT bands.  He happened to have one of these rollers at his house and promptly provided a demonstration.  He laid atop the foam on his right side and moved himself across the cylinder as if he were upside-down pie dough.

“Just doing that a few times every day will fix your IT band, Karen,” he said.

Swayed by his testimonial and demo, I bought one of my own.

My piece of foamy white goodness

As soon as it arrived, I went for a run and then decided to stretch on it.  I attempted to emulate my friend’s technique, but unfortunately, I didn’t roll across it like upside-down pie dough.  I was more like a drop biscuit. But I kept at it, doing it every day, for a little longer each time.  I began to feel improvement in my IT bands, and I soon realized my friend was right: the foam roller was pure muscular magic.  It worked on my quads and calves, too.

When Philippa stayed with me this summer, she saw me rolling across it after a run.  She looked skeptical, but I sang its praises and made her try it.  Like me, she drop biscuit-ed at first, but she got the hang of it pretty fast, and when she left my place, she got some foam of her own.

So today we decided to celebrate the foam roller, that unsung hero of 40 something athletes everywhere.  My tribute is modeled on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, commonly referred to as “How Do I Love Thee?”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I roll thee to the stretch and pull and twinge

My calf can reach, when feeling oh so tight

And desperate to avoid a bandage Ace.

I love thee though you level me every day,

With my Band IT, my buns and hamstring tight.

I love thee oddly, ‘cause at times thou art a blight.

I love thee deeply, tho’ thou sets my quads ablaze

I love thee with thy mashing, put to use

On my old aches, and ‘gainst my mid-aged waist.

I love thee, and the pain thou leaves.  I loose

Spandex restraints. I love thee with the best

Burpees of all my life; and, if God chose,

I shall but love thee better with some rest.

Splitting Hairs

Like many women, I dread going to the hair salon.  Much as I appreciate the results, I don’t enjoy spending two hours sitting in a chair looking like my head has been taken hostage by one-inch strips of aluminum foil.

Yet I was somewhat excited about my appointment with Jessie on Friday for two reasons: 1) I had a date scheduled for that night, giving me a chance to present my coif in a favorable light; and 2) I had reason to believe said date’s hair might not be his own and I hoped Jessie could help me figure out how to conduct a proper evaluation.  I’d never run across this particular dating issue before, as far as I know.

“What makes you think his hair isn’t real?” Jessie asked as she snipped.

“I’m not sure all of it’s fake. I think maybe just part of it is.”

“Ah, so a toupee, then? You know, a lot of men your age…”  I cut Jessie off before she could complete the sentence, which I knew couldn’t possibly end well for me.

“That’s just the thing. I don’t think it’s a toupee because, oddly enough, the top was the part that looked natural. It was salt and peppery, you know? And when he ran his fingers through it, the strands seemed to move one at a time, like real hair does.”

“Okay, so if the top was real, then dot, dot, dot…?”  Jessie sometimes ends her sentences this way instead of framing an actual question.  She’s twenty-six and pixie-like, so she can pull it off.

“Right, so what’s the problem? The sides.  That’s what looked off.  The texture, the color, I don’t know.  Something about them didn’t seem…real.”  She stopped cutting so her mirror image could look me right in the eye.

“Hold on a minute. Are you saying he faked the sides?”  I nodded.  “Seriously? Are you kidding me? I mean, who fakes the sides?”  Jessie’s look of unabashed horror told me that, though she’d seen plenty of hair crimes, this atrocity was beyond even her imagination.

She regained her professional demeanor and offered some explanations for why the walls might not match the ceiling, so to speak.  A couple were benign and gave me hope. I tipped her well for the great hair and intel she gave me and headed home.

A couple hours later I was back in my car, driving to Bethesda to meet “Sam” for our date.  He asked if we could meet at six.  This surprised me and called to mind Jessie’s unfortunate “men your age” lead-in.  Maybe he just wanted to have drinks.

As I entered the restaurant I spotted Sam at the bar.  A big smile spread across his face as he hopped off the stool and walked toward me.  He gave me a warm hug, kissed me on the cheek and said, “It’s really great to see you again, Karen.”

“You, too,” I replied, meaning every word I said, as well as a few that I didn’t, such as, “You’re shorter than I remembered.”

The maître d’ offered us our choice of two tables.  The first was nestled in a three-table alcove with a sign that read “Lover’s Lane” over the entrance. The second sat right next to the drafty front door.

Terrific, just terrific.  One location would require me to spend the evening warding off the chill, while the implications of the other might require me to promote it.  Sam was ready to head to Lover’s Lane but deferred the decision to me.  With some reluctance, I agreed it was the better option.

Lovers Lane: Through street or dead end?

To clarify that my choice was climate-based, I said, “I’m just a huge wimp when it comes to the cold.”

When the waiter arrived he said, “Hi there. I’m Mike and I’ll be your server this evening.”

“Nice to meet you, Mike. I’m Sam,” my date said, apparently mistaking the transaction for an introduction, which it was not.

In my experience, servers tell you their names not because they expect yours in return or intend to establish a personal relationship.  They do so because they want you to know who to ask for if you need something.

Sam’s experience must have been different because he spent the whole night wielding Mike’s name with a frequency you see in a Publisher’s Clearinghouse letter.  It made me squirm.  Mike, too, judging by his body language.

Moments after handing us menus and a wine list, Mike asked if we needed the special Groupon menu, which offered appetizers, dinner and dessert for $40.  Sam said he didn’t have a Groupon, yet the lure of a three-course deal prompted him to fish out his phone and try to buy one on the fly.

I don’t need to tell you how special it makes a person feel to have a first date on clearance.

After half a minute that felt like half an hour, Sam abandoned the search.  I was relieved.  At 6 p.m., I was barely ready for a snack, much less three courses.  But I was more than ready for a drink so I reached for the wine list.  Sam’s eyes followed my hand.

“I love wine, too,” he said.  “In fact, just last night I opened a 1995 Caymus Napa Cab Sav.”

The casual mention of a $150 bottle of wine would have made Sam’s attempt to Groupon me all the more confounding had I not seen such displays of selective frugality on a regular basis when I was married to Mark.

My ex-husband kept an expensive convertible in the driveway, two high-end Italian motorcycles in the garage, and a wine collection worth thousands of dollars, yet he bought generic tuna fish and soda.  Rightly or not, Sam’s comment raised a red flag.

“Maybe I could bring one of those bottles to share with you on our next date,” he said, casting a hopeful look my way.

I picked up my wine glass and took a big sip so I wouldn’t have to say anything.  Apparently I was the only one who saw that the chances of a second date were growing dimmer by the minute.

[To be continued…]