³Let's go down to the Lake and listen to music². I ran into the room, looked at Cheryl, and grabbed the signal spliter, and spare headphones.
At about 5:30, I'd started listening to ³You Can Call Me Al², my collection of mellower music seared especially for pre-Ironman use. I'd kept telling myself I would stop listening when a song I didn't necessarily want to hear came up. I'd gone out on the front lawn of the Barager House, splayed across the lush, new-cut grass, and plugged in. The set starts, oddly enough, with Paul Simon's ³You Can Call Me Al², there mostly for the title, although I especially like his phrasing on ³duck down the alley way with some roly-poly little bat-faced girl². But then I heard him say ³I need a photo-opportunity, I need a shot at redemption.² Well, what could be more apt, with Cheryl making my life a constant photo-op, and begging me a year ago to not leave Ironman racing with my DNF. Hmm. What's next? A couple of piano chords, then Paul McCartney launching into ³Once there was a way, to get back homeward ... sleep ... and I will sing a lullaby... Golden slumbers ...² God, there comes a time about nine hours into the race, when all I want to do is just go to sleep; then, I realise that ³Boy, you're gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time ...² Don't I know it. But why did you have to remind me? I thought I was listening to this music to FORGET about the race for a while, to relax before I have to work. ³And in the middle of the celebrations, I break down ... carry that weight a long time!² Well, at least they finish with ³And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make² The best closing line to a career I ever heard.
What's next? ³The sky was falling, and streaked with blood² - Bruce Springsteen's eulogy to the FDNY boys who went up and never came down, ³Into the Fire². Exactly where I'm going tomorrow. ³May your strength give us strength, may your faith give us faith, may your hope give us hope, may your love give us love.² Enough to put tears in my eyes - but not yet; I know what's coming later on. But first, Mick and the boys, doing the two songs I always associate with the most improbable of comebacks, the Mariner summer of '95: ³Tumblin' Dice² and ³Sweet Virginia². My father was visiting us that year, the last one he had before he got really sick the next year and died in December of '96. It was the first sweet innocence of a pennant race for the former sad sacks of the diamond, who snuck into the playoffs a day after the season ended; and the last summer of strength I had with my dad, although at the time I didn't know it. Each night, after the Mariners won (and they seemed to win every night that summer), I'd put these two songs on and go outside into the cool forest air, letting the music swirl around me and just wash the power of youth and guileless success all over me. My father, who never did see John Elway and the Broncos win the Super Bowl, after faithfully following them from Aspen the last 15 years of his life, seemed to take a detached amusement from the efforts of Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodruiquez, Edgar Martinez, and the others as they tried to work a miracle. Well, I told myself, I can't stop yet - I'll wait until the next song, if it's not as good a memory boost as that.
Uh-oh, another piano intro, then Don Henley rasping, ³Desparado... why don't you come to your senses ... these things that are pleasing you can hurt you somehow...² The song perfectly captures the world seen from a 22 y/o male point of view; and yet, ³your pain and your hunger are driving you home...² I mean, what is a 55 y/o man DOING this for, anyway? Well, maybe it's because, ³You're losing all your highs and lows, ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?² The cymbals clash, the strings crescendo and fade, and I realize, I'm never going to be able to turn it off on a song that doesn't really get to me (after all, I did make this CD from songs I really, really like!), so I turn it off anyway, and go in to find Cheryl, take her down to the lake, listen with her.
Chip's sitting on the porch, staring dreamily at the steamy evening sky. Down here, Coeur d'Alene seems exactly like a sleepy midwest town, one with big old houses, surrounded by trees planted when the homes were new. They crowd the air, shading the sun, keeping only a hint of heat, enough to keep us in shorts and tank tops, to be sure, but not the searing sun up the hill by the big box stores. Chip smiles, whispering into the cell phone plastered on his ear. I wave, and find Cheryl just inside the scrolled screen door.
She says, ³Sure², like she'd been waiting for me all week to ask this. And now, the night before the race, at last, we get to hold hands and walk the block and a half down to the shore.
³What a great spot!² I murmur. ³Why isn't everybody staying at the Barager House?² We pass the tree where, the afternoon before, Dave Scott had set up for his interview with who knows which pro, for the OLN video airing who knows when come winter. A few steps later, the VW pop-up EuroVan in the driveway, housing another Ironman hopeful. Across the alleyway, and onto the grassy slope at Lake's edge. On the way down, I've been fiddling with the mini-plug splitter and two headphones we've brought. Finally, I get them working right, and we can both listen to the next track.
³A-wah-oo-wah; a-waa-oo-wah² syncopates through the velvet African barber-shop like quartet harmonies, then Paul Simon incongruously croons, ³She's a rich girl, she don't try to hide it, diamonds on the soles of her shoes. He's a poor boy, empty as a pocket (empty as a pocket) [how does anybody come up with a phrase like that?!], he's got nothing to lose... She's got diamonds on the soles of her shoes ...² This song has NOTHING to do with racing, but I love it - I wish I could write one-tenth as good as he did in this little New York minuet.
Next, applause, then ³Wake up Maggie!², and Rod Stewart does it un-plugged. Between his voice and Henley's, you could saw down a redwood. Everybody's known a head kicking, bed wrecking girl like Maggie Mae. But what that has to do with my race, I have no idea. However, I feel tears start to well in my eyes, maybe because I married my Maggie Mae, or maybe because I know what's coming up.
First, Bruce, doing a live version of ³Living Proof². This one opens up with a little boy crying in his mother's arms, but not a ballad or lullaby, rather a pile driving rythmn to emphasize it: ³On a summer night, in a dusty room, come a little piece of the Lord's undying light, crying like he swallowed the firey moon ... like the missing words to some prayer ...² Kids. The ultimate expression of the permanence and value of the universe, an unmeltable glue between the two folks who made one. ³I went down into the desert sand .. trying to shed my skin, to burn out every trace of who I've been ...² Hmm, maybe THAT'S why I'm doing this crazy race, or maybe, it's just to remind myself I'm alive - Living Proof.
Then, the Gothic organ of Neil Young's "Like A Hurricane". This is it, I think, this is the message for me. I'm going to be ³like a hurricane" tomorrow - swirling with awesome power around a calm center, a steady eye. Thanks, Neil. But my eyes swell up a bit more. Why, I wonder?
³Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train². Now, they way Janis Joplin rasps makes both Rod Stewart and Don Henley sound like a mellow version of Bing Crosby. ³Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose². Yeah, if you worry about that, worry about the RESULT, then, you sure can't be free to succeed. Who wouldn't cry about Janis, leaving us with only 5 years worth of her songs and tears?
Uh-oh. Jungleland. Now, there is nothing on the PLANET that gets to me like Clarence Cleamons' sax solo here. EVERY time I hear that, I get transported. The version I've burnt on this disc is the live one, when it seems to take forever. I could live in those notes, just stop in time and feel that rising breath, the backing band, Bruce's melody transmuted by the sax player's vision. The drummer, building with the horn, cymbals urging Clarence to hold it just one moment longer, to raise his bar and pour all his passion, power, memory, courage, grace and skill into that one note, into one perfect moment. When it comes, I drain the tears down each cheek. Because I'm lying down, they water the grass under my head. Cheryl notices, and wipes them away.
I reflect, as Bruce finishes his opera about the Rat and the Barefoot Girl, that I've seen some perfect moments - a book, a movie, a sentence, a scene - something where an artist's skill, his entire history, his self-confidence, all come together to transmit directly on the emotional throughway - no thought, no knowledge, just pure feeling. An artist performing, in the end for himself, to satisfy himself, achieving what he always knew he had in him. I know I've got a perfect race in me; I know what it would feel like, to go as fast, as hard as I can (not at top speed, but at the RIGHT speed) for the entire journey, for however long it has to be. I've seen athletes morph into artists, so I know it can be done: Florence Griffith Joyner in her Olympic 100 meter win, only thirty steps or so, but each one perfect; Greg Louganis, converting his body into a torquing, falling work of art; Lance Armstrong, pulling all his endless hours molding his body - muscles, heart, mind, spirit - and his machine - aero, light, an extension of himself - into a three week long collection of Perfect Moments. The speed, the achievement is not the goal; it's the feeling of, ³Yes. This time, this ONE time, I got it right. That's what I can transform myself into, if only for this one race, this one moment in time². Just like Clarence Cleamons did for those three minutes with his saxphone.
I think this is the end of the disc, but ... Paul's piano pounds in, ³When I find myself in times of trouble ... speaking words of wisdom, Let It Be.² Let it be. Tomorrow, I can't control things. I have to let it be.
We sit up. The sun still grazes over the slightly choppy water below us. Thunderclouds drift away from the hills across the bay, leaving pink and purple bruises in the sky. A seaplane rises from the resort dock, and circles to a low pass over the lake before heading south for a sunset cruise. Some kids to our left kick off their shoes and shirts, and race each other to the sand, jumping, splashing, shoving, then shrieking as they hit the water, quite cold compared to the air. A couple of wetsuited swimmers lap back and forth between Independence Point and our tree. They're not in the race, or at least hiding their silver bracelets if they are. Seems like a perfect time and place to marshall my inner eye, and head for ... what?
We get up and walk down to the point, where, in about 12 hours, 2000 ironman wannabes, and maybe five times that many volunteers and spectators will crowd the sidewalk and generate enough buzz to run all the Starbucks in town that day. I'm ready for my race, whatever it will bring.
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