Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Every now and then, an item on your bucket list kicks the bucket.

During our third round of bicycle kicks at boot camp this morning, one of my pals said she was on the verge of complaining about how they wear her out when she remembered that her sister had biked over 100 miles and run another 18 the day before. I guessed correctly that my friend’s sister was training for an Ironman Triathlon.

As we transitioned to burpees and I reflected on the ridiculous amount of training it takes to prepare for an Ironman, I realized that race is one of those things I’d be thrilled to see on my “done” list, but I have no interest in actually doing it.

Long swims don’t faze me, I don’t mind the occasional long run, and I might even be willing to combine the two, but I refuse to supplement them with 120 miles on a bike. I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to like cycling and I just can’t. I find it exhausting and boring.

Some people might have the same criticism about swimming, but at least in a pool you don’t have to worry that some yutz yelling “on your left!” will squeeze into the lone free inch between you and oncoming cyclists, forcing you to divert from the trail and into the nearest bush. Hypothetically. These thoughts and a hefty dose of realism have led me to remove “Do an Ironman” from my Bucket List and, stealing a page from our President, move it over to a different list, the one whose name rhymes with bucket.

Before boot camp ended, I came up with four other items that belong on my “rhymes with bucket” list:

  1. Install a floor in my home, all by myself. Plenty of people I know have learned how to tackle major home improvements on their own, so why shouldn’t I? I spent years telling myself I would do what it took –read books, watch YouTube videos or take a class at Home Depot– and I believed me because, when I sound all independent and empowered, I’m pretty darned persuasive. But I’ve shown up at Home Depot exactly twice, both times in search of weed-killers, and the only YouTube videos I’ve watched have involved plumbing. So unless it becomes chic to lay down a floor comprised entirely of duct tape, I’ll just plan to write checks in perpetuity.
  1. Go skydiving. Someone who falls as often as I do ought to be a natural at skydiving, right? And I’m sure I would be except for one thing: I really hate heights. I know that, as an adult, I have to force myself to do things I dislike sometimes, but launching yourself out of a properly functioning airplane is not one of them. Flossing, by contrast, is. So if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll skip the parachute and stick with the waxy thread instead.
  1. Swim the English Channel. Like the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, this 21-mile swim features jellyfish and swells. Unlike the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, it has water temps that range from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. It also costs upwards of $3400 for registration alone, and that doesn’t even include wetsuits because, whaddya know, they’re not allowed. After reading about it, I’ve concluded that swimming the English Channel doesn’t make you cool, it makes you hypothermic. Pass.
  1. Writing a bestseller. Hey, the prospect of writing a book that might be read by entire dozens of people is daunting enough, but hundreds of thousands? Who needs that kind of pressure? Then again, if I come up with the gumption to move any of those other three items back over to the Bucket List, that book just might write itself. Assuming I have any limbs left…

What’s on your list?

Capital Punishment isn’t dead; it was just resting

In April, the fearless, fun-loving fivesome known as Team Capital Punishment muscled our way through the waters of Tampa Bay en route to winning the relay championship at the 18th Annual Tampa Bay Marathon Swim. As Tommy, J.C., Mark, Captain Bill and I high-fived each other on the shores of Ben T. Davis Beach, we agreed that it was one of the best and craziest things we’d ever done. Over dinner at Bern’s steakhouse that night, there was even talk of doing it again. There were also three bottles of wine that night, but that’s beside the point.

After spending a few months recovering (read: drinking), J.C. sent me and the Boys in the Boat an email about an event that he hoped would inspire us to make our triumphant return.

Until I read that email, I had viewed J.C. as the most sensible of our group, which, as superlatives go, is like being the fastest turtle, but still.

The first sign that J.C. might not be swimming with both arms was the title of the race: Escape From Lewes Open Water Swim Classic. It sounded like an event in the Prison Olympics. The website hails it as “the most exciting open water swimming race on the East Coast,” and a glance at the photos told me why: you start the race by jumping off the back of a ferry. I guess they had to make up for the absence of a robust shark population somehow.

The official race motto is “1000 Swimmers, 1 Boat, 1 Goal…To Finish!!!,” because “1000 Swimmers, 1 Boat, 1 working brain cell!!!” wouldn’t quite fit on a T-shirt.

The race takes place on September 27 in Delaware’s National Harbor of Refuge (and stupidity, apparently), and J.C. informed us that he had already signed up. That set my “why not?” gene whirring, which was handy because it drowned out the sound of my mother’s voice saying, “If all of your friends jumped off the back of a ferry…”

Before I could change my mind, I told J.C. I’d channel my inner lemming and sign up. And so did Bill. If Mark and Tommy join, Team Capital Punishment will be all set to, as J.C. so eloquently put it, “turn lemmings into lemonade.”

 

The starting line, as it were.

A writer looks at 43

I turned 44 a month ago and, like Jimmy Buffett taking a pirate’s look at 40, I’ve decided to take a writer’s look at 43.

I considered doing one of those 360-degree assessments beloved by Corporate America, but since I’ve reached an age where I’d just as soon ignore the view from behind, I’ve decided to go old school and treat it like a standard six-subject report card. I’ve replaced math and science—subjects I excelled at but disliked—with subjects I like and actually encounter in daily life but perhaps do not excel at, such as “love life.”

  1. Health/Sports: 95. If the human body were a house, the major systems in mine are all still humming along after 43 years. If the body were Planet Earth, continental drift has not occurred…yet. And because my parents sprang for extended warranty coverage on my joints at birth, this year’s athletic pursuits included running the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler and doing the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim with four awesome dudes on a team called Capital Punishment. (Capital Punishment is poised to make its triumphant return, by the way, so stay tuned.) I continued to captain the hapless, but not entirely winless, Smash Hits. We even managed to soldier on when our beloved CeCe passed away unexpectedly, though that’s one loss from which we’ll never recover.
  2. House: 71. My home behaved like a high school senior whose college acceptances have already rolled in. It performed solidly for the first three quarters and then just gave up altogether, ending the year by leaving me with a basement that required major waterproofing and an oven that needs a neurologist.
  3. Writing: 100. I finally wrote a book, fulfilling my lifelong dream (and my family’s worst nightmare). Few things rival the joy of holding a bound volume of words you wrote, but pretty much everything beats the pants off of actually writing those words. The process stinks, and anyone who tells you it doesn’t is either lying or not really a writer. But just like going to the gym, if you do it with consistency, you get better (usually), and the results make the grueling, painful, sweaty agony worthwhile. Almost.
  4. Travel: 88. My book dragged me all over the lower half of the East Coast. It connected me with readers at a beer garden in Arlington and a book festival in Charlottesville, as well as bookstores in D.C., the Northern Neck of Virginia, and Elizabeth City and Charlotte, North Carolina. That last stop was a doozy for two reasons. First, it was the backdrop for a reunion with my beloved elementary school librarian, who just happens to live in Charlotte. It is one thing to hold a bound volume of words you wrote; it’s another altogether to read those words to a woman who helped you learn to love and aspire to great writing. My event at Park Road Books also created an unexpected opportunity to get in touch with my Jewish side. I expect to release Mazel Tov With That Thing You’re Doing any day now.
  5. Absurdity: 100. By any measure, Year 42 should have set the high water mark. Any year during which two single men materialize from the ivy in your fenced-in backyard is going to be very tough to beat. Not only that, but that same year I took a trip to Alaska with my parents, both of whom are in their seventies. Over the course of that trip, the three of us went whitewater rafting (referred to more accurately as “getting a glacial facial”), flew in a tiny plane that set us down at the base of Denali, and zip-lined in the treetops of Skagway. You haven’t lived until you see your parents outfitted in construction helmets and a harness that looks like a seatbelt diaper. It had taken some convincing to get Dad to go on that last excursion because he’s afraid of heights. (Every Yankosky fears heights, but Dad’s got it really bad.) Naturally, he was the only one of us to wind up stuck mid-zip, dangling like the lone grape on a vine. Against that backdrop, you’d think 43 wouldn’t have stood a chance, absurdity-wise, yet it met the absurdity challenge admirably. In August of 2014, I got ordained by the Universal Life Church and presided over a wedding. Not only that, but the blog post I wrote about the whole experience led the ULC to contact me. The ULC has a pretty great sense of humor as churches go – disorganized religions are smart enough not to take themselves too seriously –so a fun correspondence began, as a result of which I was featured in the ULC blog, keeping company with ordained elites like Lon Burns, “America’s Favorite Jewish Cowboy Minister.” (And High Priest of Niche Marketing, apparently.) I’ve made new friends in high places, at least latitudinally speaking. My other favorite absurdity from last year? A copy of the book I wrote that started out in the hands of my oldest sister wound up in a sewer, from which it was rescued by my 16 year-old nephew.
  6. Love Life: 53. A score like that would have led my elementary school teachers to dub me “remedial,” but it might not be as bad as it looks. I went on lots of dates last year, and many of them were even with the same person for a stretch. Though nothing fit quite right, articles like this remind me that my struggles in this area are far from uncommon and lead me to view this much like the scores I got on practice tests I took before the bar exam: anything over 50 is quite respectable, and nobody’s acing it.

My average? 84. Not bad, but it makes a pretty good case for staying in school.

karen and mom

I failed to mention that Mom, my #1 fan, was there to watch me get my Yiddish on at Park Road Books.

 

Weekend at Bern’s

On April 25, I and the other four members of a relay team called Capital Punishment swam all 24 miles of Tampa Bay. Actually, thanks to my lousy sense of direction, we probably racked up more like 26 miles. Regardless, the Boys in the Boat and I decided that finishing an 11-hour race demanded a celebration over something a little more luxurious than a chalupa supreme at Taco Bell.

After taking the most glorious shower of my life, I rejoined Bill, Mark and J.C. (Tommy had returned to Sarasota) and we set out for Bern’s Steakhouse. Not only is the restaurant a Tampa institution and regarded by Gayot as one of the top ten steakhouses in the country, but it happened to be right across the street from our hotel.

When I told the Boys in the Boat that I intended to write about our Bern’s experience, they looked at me with skepticism due to an incident that occurred earlier that day. My credibility as a food critic had taken a major hit thanks to the Go Raw Carrot Cake Super Cookies I had brought aboard the boat and busted out somewhere around Mile 12.

“Help yourselves,” I said. “I think they’re pretty good!”

My teammates wasted no time trying them and immediately concluded the orange-ish, bite-sized discs were not carrot cake or cookies, and they sure as heck weren’t super.  In fact, even the “raw” part was in doubt given air temps in the mid-80s.

But I’m not going to let a complete lack of competence prevent me from delivering a restaurant review (of sorts), so here goes. In sum, everyone who told us Bern’s was a Tampa institution is absolutely right, and here’s why:

1. The exterior. As you approach Bern’s, it looks every bit like a place where you’d have someone committed.

Bern's, in all its institutional glory.

Bern’s, in all its institutional glory.

2. The interior. The front doors open into a two-story foyer that’s hemorrhaging red velvet. I went from feeling like I had wandered onto the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to wondering whether we’d landed in a different sort of institution, one where the oldest profession in the world does a brisk business.

3. The menu and wine list. The bordello decor was nearly forgotten when our server arrived, bearing not just an encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine, but what looked like actual encyclopedias. Turns out they were just the wine list and menus, even though in terms of page length and weight, they rivaled my college textbooks and require an advanced degree to understand. For example, the pages dedicated to steaks show six cuts of meat in chart form with rows that list steak thickness (broken down to intervals of an eighth of an inch) and corresponding columns for doneness, weight, quantity and price. I feared I might have to carry the one, something I did not feel like doing after swimming 5 miles. I was also in no mood to wade through the wine list, so I deferred to Bill and J.C.. They might still have their noses stuck in the Old Testament had our server not interrupted to offer a few recommendations. After selecting our steaks by throwing darts at the chart, we settled in with our glasses of wine and a set of high expectations.

Capital Punishment doing what we do best and executing Prong 3 of our strategy, even though we'd finished the race hours ago.

Capital Punishment doing what we do best and executing Prong 3 of our strategy, even though we’d finished the race hours ago.

Three hours and two bottles of wine later, we had savored very respectable French onion soup, lovely salads (accompanied by your choice of about 14,000 homemade dressings), and truly excellent, if not life-altering, steaks. But we weren’t done yet.

Aside from being a renowned steak house, Bern’s is also basically the Disney World of food. It can seat some 700 diners, has a wine cellar that holds over half a million bottles, and is home to a cheese cave. The only thing it’s missing is a monorail, but after so decadent a meal, I was just as happy to tour the joint on foot. The fifteen-minute walking tour describes how the Bern’s team sources ingredients, lets you see the kitchen in action, and gives you a glimpse of the cavernous wine cellar that holds bottles that cost more than my parents’ first home. (Really.)

wine cellar

Tough to make out, but this is just one row in a veritable field of wine bottles in the basement at Bern’s.

But even after the tour, we still weren‘t done because we’d made a reservation for the not-to-be-missed dessert room. A space that’s dedicated solely to sweets and is larger than all seven of the other dining rooms put together speaks to my design sensibilities, so I could hardly wait.

The boys and I were led upstairs and into a redwood-lined alcove where we began to peruse the menu. (With only 50 dessert items and 1,000 wines, it was the CliffsNotes of the Bern’s menus.)

Had the mood hit us, we could have picked up the phone in our alcove and called in a request for “Stairway to Heaven” to the pianist who plays near the maitre’d’ stand. But what hit us instead of a mood was a gigantic wave of fatigue.

Like the Tampa Bay Swim, a meal at Bern’s is a marathon, not a sprint: by the time we sat down for dessert, we’d been at the restaurant for nearly four hours. Bill decided he’d had enough of endurance events for one day and abandoned ship.

J.C., Mark and I, determined to leave no maraschino cherry behind, powered through a sundae together. We relished every bite and were glad, just this once, to win the race to the bottom.

An unfair wind, some following seas, and four world-class dudes

The starting line on Friday, when the water was so flat you could almost walk on it.

The starting line on Friday, when the water was so flat you could almost walk on it.

Capital Punishment is alive and well, by which I mean my five-person relay team survived last Saturday’s 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim.

This was no small feat, considering I’d done little to prepare and knew almost nothing about the race beforehand. Then again, it was probably best to find out after the fact that the TBMS has been called“the toughest organized swim race in the United States” and that roughly a dozen species of sharks call Tampa Bay home.

Because a full-blown account of our 24-mile adventure would take you longer to read than it took us to swim, I’ll just give a chronological recap.

Friday afternoon:

  • I meet J.C. and Mark, two of the other members of Capital Punishment, and they’re great. (Our fifth guy, Tommy, will come up from Sarasota the morning of the race.) Team captain Bill’s excellent taste in swimming buddies almost allows me to forget that he’s the guy who introduced me to my ex-husband.
  • The boys and I head to the Magnuson Hotel Marina Cove Resort in St. Petersburg, site of the pre-race briefing and the starting line. The waters there are warm and unruffled by wind or wave. In twelve hours, all of that will change except the warmth. We also meet Lee, the captain of our escort boat. Aside from helping keep swimmers safe, escort boats carry the provisions that will get you through the race, such as your teammates.
  • We pick up course maps at the meeting. I pretend to study it even though I have no hope of staying on course in a “pool” with no lines on the bottom. I’m relieved when one of my teammates whispers, “Can’t we just follow our boat?”
  • Capital Punishment adjourns to an Italian restaurant for our last supper. There, we formulate our race strategy, which has three prongs:
    • Prong 1: Swim for 30 minutes at a time
    • Prong 2: Follow the boat
    • Prong 3: Drink wine
80% of Capital Punishment executing Prong 3 of our strategy.

80% of Capital Punishment, concentrating on Prong 3 of our strategy.

Not ones to get hung up on sequencing, we go straight to Prong 3 and down two bottles of Valpolicella with dinner.

Saturday:

  • 5:30 a.m.: Despite our flawless execution of Prong 3 ten hours earlier, we’re in a cab and on our way to the starting line. The driver, a New York transplant, finds out where we’re going and why and asks, “Are you kidding me?” no fewer than three times. He doesn’t insert an f-bomb between “you” and “kidding,” but it’s implied.
  •  6:00 a.m.: We wait for Tommy at the marina, where the steady headwind is too obnoxious to be called a “sea breeze.” Bill, J.C., Mark and I exchange nervous glances –we have no experience starting a race in conditions like this. Showing the kind of can-do spirit that makes this country so great, we all nod when Bill turns to us and says, “Let’s get Tommy to do it.”

    IMG_5418

    A stiff breeze has our boat flag a-wavin’

  •  6:30 a.m.: Tommy arrives. When he learns of his plum assignment, he does not resign on the spot (as I would have) and seems almost excited. “Sure, I’ll do it,” he says, “but I want to make this your day.” We assure him he’s made our day.
  • 6:30-6:50 a.m.: We apply sunblock in preparation for a full day on the water. I watch as a solo swimmer coats himself so thoroughly with zinc oxide that he could be a full-body mime.
  • 6:55 a.m.: Lee takes J.C., Bill, Mark and me to a waiting area and we look for Tommy as the race gets underway. Though Tommy is a bright white guy wearing a bright green bathing cap, we have trouble spotting him because we’re looking in the middle of the pack (where we’d be) and he’s out front, powering through the chop alongside the guy who winds up winning the men’s solo swim division.
  • 7:45 -8:15 a.m.: Capital Punishment is still facing headwinds when Mark takes over. I’ve volunteered for the leg after that and spend the time preparing. Between the regular swells that rock the boat from side to side and my nerves, that preparation consists of trying not to vomit. When Bill gives me the cue to go, I feel like heaving my guts off the back of the boat but I somehow manage to heave my whole body off of it instead.
  • 8:15-8:45 a.m.: I’m engaged in hand-to-water combat. While swatting at swells, I ingest enough salt to start my own personal mine. I can’t see past my fingertips, but that’s okay because I’m a lifelong devotee of the “If I Can’t See It, It’s Not There” philosophy of co-existing with marine life.
  • 10:45-11:15 a.m.: We round a bend and trade the unfair wind for following seas. Tommy, a veteran ocean swimmer, claims following seas can pretty much make you a dolphin if you time your stroke and kick correctly. I try to achieve the Flipper Effect during Leg 2 but am hampered by the fact that even following seas will ditch someone if her sense of direction is bad enough. I know I’ve gone off-course when I see the boys in the boat waving their arms like an arrhythmic dance team. As I climb back aboard, Bill tells me I’ve achieved an altogether different Flipper Effect: porpoises kept me company part of the time.
  • 11:15 a.m. -12:15 p.m.: Bill and J.C. also enjoy following seas. Capital Punishment is cruising and we start thinking we might be transitioning to Prong 3 as early as 5 p.m.

    While J.C. swims up in the far left corner, Captain Bill supports enthusiastically.

    That splashy dot in the far left corner is J.C., swimming his heart out while Captain Bill lends enthusiastic support.

  • 1:15-3:15 p.m.: Leg 3 feels like we’re in a washing machine, and it’s not set to “gentle.” When J.C. gets in the water, the “If You Can’t See It, It’s Not There” theory yields to an “Unless You Touch It” exception. He pops up seconds after entering and yells, “I hate jellyfish!” We consider telling him the truth — “Don’t worry, those are manta rays!” –but opt instead to yell an all-purpose, “Don’t worry, they don’t sting!” Despite encounters with blobby sea creatures and the fact that we’ve gone too far west, Capital Punishment is somehow leading the relays. We attribute this to Tommy and conclude that he trains inside of a Maytag.
  • 3:15-5:15 p.m.: Due to our trajectory, both the finish line and Prong 3 are a lot further away than we care to admit. We look on the bright side and note that at least we haven’t seen a shark. J.C. and I are lawyers and take full credit for this professional courtesy.

    The police paid us a visit. Needless to say, they did not cite us for speeding.

    The police paid us a visit. Needless to say, they did not cite us for speeding.

  • 5:15-ish p.m.: We’re on our last legs in every respect. Tommy takes another one for the team and does a 30-minute solo leg. The rest of us decide we’ll jump in with him at 30 minutes so we can swim the last half-mile or so together. I summon up some determination, along with the smile I reserve for festive occasions like root canals, and hop back into the Bay.
  • 6-ish p.m.: Capital Punishment pulls off a staggered finish, by which I mean we stumble onto Ben T. Davis Beach. Our time of ten hours and 58 minutes wins the relays. It’s not half bad for a team with a combined age of 246, but not good enough to beat a 26 year-old woman who did the whole thing solo and 20 minutes faster.

While collecting some hardware and a few hugs from spectators, I collect my thoughts. This slow-motion adventure through the estuary Bill calls “the world’s largest buffet table” has taxed my body and mind in ways that leave me exhausted but exhilarated. Ten hours and 58 minutes makes for a long day, yet with the boys in the boat, it goes by pretty fast. Each of these men is a blend of kindness, enthusiasm, humor and insanity, and I adore them.

The phrase “we’re in the same boat” often refers to a shared predicament, but in this case it was a privilege. In fact, I just might want to do it again…IMG_5428

 

[Next, I’ll recap Capital Punishment’s post-race dinner at Bern’s Steakhouse...]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…