Sunday, August 22, 2010

Song of the Day: Mutt, Blink 182

Roger Ebert has been running through my mind.

He’s popped up on several occasions recently, including about 10 days ago when NPR’s Fresh Air broadcast (or podcast) an old interview with him and Gene Siskel to honor the curtain coming down on At the Movies, the movie-review television program they created 35 years ago. Then, old friend and photographer Scott Lewis posted this link on his Facebook page, which outlined Ebert’s thoughts on the Islamic Cultural Center being built near the old World Trade Center site. (If you haven’t got time to click on the link, about all you need to know can be found here: “The Bill of Rights has a parallel with pregnancy. You can’t be a little pregnant and you can’t be a little free. Nor can you serve yourself from it cafeteria style.”)

It’s that sort of pithy commentary on a wide variety of matters that ensures that you won’t have to scroll too far in my browser history before Ebert pops up. In fact, he’s got a bookmark in my Firefox ( abbreviated “rog”) and every Friday I get the email update from the Chicago Sun-Times that provides links to his latest reviews.

I was spoiled growing up in the Chicago suburbs and living there into adulthood as I got to read Ebert’s reviews every week, see him on the television and, in the Sunday Showcase section of the Sun-Times, got to read his Great Movies feature or his Answer Man column. It took me a while to recognize his genius and eventually came to take it for granted. I imagine it’s kind of like the people who were alive in New York during the 1920s and 30s and got to see Lou Gehrig play every day. Sure, he was good, and you realized it and you appreciated it. But you didn’t realize just how good until you went across town and watched the other team’s first basemen for a few days. Nor did you notice how good Ebert was until you picked up a different paper and read their reviewer. Inevitably, that guy wasn’t as informative. He wasn’t as funny. He was nowhere near as witty. He wasn’t Ebert.

In addition to all those movies he reviews, Ebert maintains a blog that gets, ahem, a few more visitors than mine. There he writes about just about anything that comes to his mind. And a lot comes to his mind. You don’t win a Pulitzer for criticism, as Ebert did, if all you know how to do is write about movies. I throw around the word “genius” a bit too loosely at times, but the label fits him. In recent years he’s also become something else. Something that most people who saw him on television all those years would have never guessed. He’s graceful. Most folks are aware of Ebert’s ongoing battle with cancer. Many of those who weren’t got an up close look at it in the March 2010 issue of Esquire, which included a beautiful story along with some less than beautiful photographs. He’s aging more gracefully without his jaw, and his ability to eat and speak, than do most people who have no such issues. It is an inspiration.

I’ve watched movies with Ebert on two occasions. OK, OK. When I say I’ve watched movies with him, I mean I’ve been in the same theater as Ebert while a movie was playing. I wasn’t nudging his arm off the armrest. We weren’t sharing popcorn and knowing head nods. He didn’t even know I was there. But I was certainly aware of his presence.

The most recent time was in April 2004, when I drove over to Champaign, Illinois, from Bloomington, Indiana to take in a film at the
Overlooked Film Festival that he hosts each year. I got to see him and Errol Morris as they presented and talked about Morris’s film “Gates of Heaven.” Ebert calls the movie one of the 10 best he’s ever seen. I’m partial to Morris’s “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” but the fact is that I probably wouldn’t have ever become a fan of Morris’s had I not been a fan of Ebert’s first.
The first time I “met” Ebert, though, is why I think of him when I hear Blink 182. It was five years before our second encounter and it was only slightly more intimate. I was working at a newspaper at the time and the movie reviewer there offered me two passes to a screening of the teenage sex comedy American Pie. Apparently all the guys in the sports department were busy.

I was delighted, even if it meant that I’d have to drive to Chicago to see it. I called a guy who was a bit closer to the movie’s target audience, Nick, my youngest brother. He was 19 at the time. I figured he’d leap at the chance. He didn’t. He, like many people who live in one of Chicago’s dozens of suburbs, was reluctant to drive the hour or so it took to get into the city under any circumstances, except maybe a Cubs game. It was if I’d asked him to go on a
Cannonball Run with me to California. That mentality is something I never quite understood, but it has a corollary that’s a bit more annoying: the folks who move from the suburbs to the city and then, when asked to make a trip to the suburbs, they react like you were going to make them walk it. And guaranteed that they’d get dysentery, Oregon Trail style, along the way. Hey, Dick, the highways lead out of the city, too. The traffic, unfortunately, still sucks.

Anyway, it was obvious that Nick was going to need some persuading. So, I did what any 27-year-old who was desperate to see the second coming of
Porky’s would do: I lied.

“It’s the world premiere, Nick,” I said. “There’s going to be a bunch of celebrities there!”

“Like who?” Nick asked. His bullshit radar was triggered.

I blurted out the first celebrity that came to mind.
Ben Affleck is going to be there,” I said. “And I think he’s bringing Matt Damon with him.”
Nick was unimpressed.
“Ebert’s going to be there,” I said, knowing that there was only slightly more of a chance of Ebert being there than Affleck, and that only because Ebert is from Chicago.
“Is he bringing Siskel?” Nick asked, knowing full well that Siskel had been dead for a couple years.
“Really nice, Nick,” I said. “Yeah, Siskel will be there, too.”

This, apparently was enough for Nick. So we hopped in the car and headed to the downtown theater. After we arrived we stood in line waiting for popcorn, and I felt Nick nudging me in the arm. Softly at first. A love tap. When that didn’t get my attention off the list of goodies at the snack counter, he started hitting me. Finally, I turned to him.

“What?” I asked.
Nick was dumbstruck.
“What?!?” I asked again.
He pointed to the left of where we were standing and there stood Roger Ebert.
“Yeah, it’s Ebert,” I said, nonchalantly. “I told you he’d be here.”

Nick couldn’t speak for at least another 60 seconds. His brush with fame had rendered him all but catatonic. God only knows what he would have done had he seen Ben Affleck walk through the place. I’m sure he would have soiled himself.

The movie, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, was awesome. It had a pretty good soundtrack, too, including Blink 182’s
Mutt. The movie was credited with ushering in the second golden era of raunchy teen movies. Few were as good as American Pie. Hell, even Ebert gave it three stars, saying that “it is not inspired, but it’s cheerful and hardworking and sometimes funny, and – here’s the important thing – it’s not mean.”

I’d like to think that his opinion was influenced by my brother Nick. For our brush with fame didn’t end in the popcorn line that day. After the movie we headed for the toilet and after we got done peeing, we headed for the sink. In the mirror, we saw Ebert walk right behind us and head for a urinal.

Nick, not going to let this chance slip away, turned toward Ebert, who was standing at a urinal.
“Ebert!” he shouted, drawing the attention of the critic as well as about everybody else in the bathroom. “Thumbs up, man. Thumbs way up!”
Ebert, both thumbs currently occupied, turned to my brother, cocked his head to the side, and said “OK.”

I'm pretty sure he'd heard it before.

Running Update:

Saturday: OFF
Yesterday: 20 miles in 2:49:10
Today: OFF
Tommorrow: 8 miles

Monday, August 9, 2010

Song of the Day: You Can't Always Get What You Want, Rolling Stones

It’s been about 250 miles since the last installment – you probably figured I’d bailed on the marathon training. Nope. Still going (relatively) strong, with just eight weeks away from the big day.

My technology, on the other hand, hasn’t been faring so well. I’m typing this on my new Macbook, which I needed to get after the hard drive on the old one took a poop. It was my second Apple-related disaster over the past several weeks, as I dropped my iPhone (which often doubles as my iPod) down a storm water drain in downtown Denver a short time before that. Assuming we don’t experience any more technological difficulties, we should have some more regular songs to write about. This one by the Rolling Stones has been bouncing around my head for a couple weeks.

Some of my earliest musical memories are tied to the Rolling Stones. Before Start Me Up became an overplayed way to open up a football game (shame on you Kansas City Chiefs), it was a 45 spinning in my brother Brad’s room in the first house I ever lived in, in a neighborhood obnoxiously named Camelot, in a town without much regality, Joliet, Il.

We would play Start Me Up while we were playing Nerf basketball, a plastic piece of junk that you hung over a door and usually ended up having to Duct tape together within two days. The hoop was so flimsy and the ball so light, that the only real way to score was to dunk it. This presented a problem for me, as I was up against my two older brothers, who at that point were eight and 10. While they weren’t the most athletic fellas around, they were unmerciful in exploiting their height advantage over me. Come to think of it, they were unmerciful to me about most everything. They regularly zipped me up inside several sleeping bags, like some sort of sweaty Matryoshka doll, a maneuver that either exploited my claustrophobia or caused it. They shot at me with pick up sticks using rubber bands as propulsion. Hell, I’m still waiting for those bastards to give me my turn on the Odyssey*. If they liked me, they had a peculiar way of showing it.

*I wonder how this guy would have done on the Odyssey.

In addition to reminding me of my sweaty, youthful Nerf Hoop games with my brothers, the Rolling Stones get me thinking of another guy who, in many ways, is like my fifth brother -- my cousin Jim. I saw the Stones with him at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri in September 1994.

The truth is I don’t remember much about that Stones concert other than they had a gigantic snake that hung over the first several rows of the audience. At some point, probably during Start Me Up, the thing breathed fire. A lot of fire. As in, so much fire that I thought for a second that it was going to start us aflame. I was sitting in the fifth row close enough to get my eyebrows singed because Jim had secured tickets there through some sort of student lottery. That’s how it is with Jim. Whether it’s the Cotton Bowl in Texas, a baseball game at Busch Stadium or Wrigley Field, a Bears game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, he’s always getting tickets to things and inviting me to accompany him, usually refusing to allow me to pay him for them.

So, it was completely in character when he called me with a proposition a few months ago: he was going to fly me out to his home in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a game to be seen or a concert to attend. Jim, who’s an officer in the Army, needed someone to watch his truck for him while he was deployed in Afghanistan. Would I drive it from Colorado to Tennessee for him and, during the year or so that he’s gone, start it up every now and again and take it for a spin to make sure it stayed in good running order?

Would I? Even if he had lived in Alaska I would have.

This is the guy, after all, who can still quote complete sentences to me that I’d written a decade and a half ago in our college newspaper.

“Man, Kap,” he’ll say after rattling off words I faintly recognize as my own. “That was really funny.”

The stories about Cousin Jim are legion. They range from the absurd, like when he chased after a would-be gunman on a side street just outside the French Quarter during Mardi Gras; to the comical, like when he helped me carry my bags onto a train in Jefferson City but couldn’t dismount before the train took off, and ended up spending the day at the next stop, the dream city of Hermann; to the fortuitous, like the time two years ago he befriended an employee at the hotel bar where we were drinking the evening before the Missouri Tigers played in the Cotton Bowl. Jim, our friend Brett and I ran up a bar bill that exceeded $400. Jim’s new friend picked up the tab.

Heck, the story of how we met is even a doozy. He’s my cousin, but he’s my cousin in the way that many Greek people are cousins. That is to say, distantly.

I had never heard of him when I showed up in my History 20 class on my first day of college at the University of Missouri. We went around the room introducing ourselves and I declared that I was from Joliet and that I’d come to study journalism.

Jim, I’m sure, said he was from Nixa, Mo., and that he was there studying business. I wasn’t paying much attention. As the class ended and we headed for the door he approached me and, in a voice that gets more and more Southern each time I tell the story said: “You said you was from Joliet?”

“Yes,” I responded, bracing myself for a question about the Blues Brothers. Or prison.

“I got family from Joliet,” he said.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “What’s their name?”

Rousonelos,” he said.

Uh-oh. Did they really make Greek hillbillies?

A few phone calls to family members later, we realized that we were related in the Greek kind of way. His grandma and my grandma were first cousins. Or maybe their husbands were second cousins? It's hard to tell and it's quite possible that both are true given propensity of Greeks from that era to insist on marrying within your kind. Either way, we became roommates. His unwavering loyalty turned us into lifelong friends.

He’s the kind of guy you want on your side in a fight, whether you were using your wits or your fists.

Jim’s usually the smartest guy in the room, and long before he got his law degree he could and would argue just about anything with you. He's conservative, which means we always have plenty to argue about. Unfortunately, he knows how to make your argument much better than you ever could, and knows how to dismantle it just the same. In the end, even after he’s won, he manages to make you feel like a real rhetorician.

I’m going to miss those arguments while he’s away.

Jenna and I made the drive back from Colorado a couple weeks, one computer and one iPhone ago. Jim, meanwhile, landed safely in Afghanistan. I got an email from him the other day letting me know that it’s hotter than a fire-breathing snake in Kandahar. He also said he’s living near the airport’s lone waste-water pond.

“The extreme heat really does wonders for the odor,” he wrote.

He’s supposed to be moving to another base soon, or may have already.

I haven’t heard from him for a few days.

The Rolling Stones were right.

Running Update:

Saturday: 16 miles in 2:05:19, with 12 @ 7:35
Yesterday: 3 mile recovery in 28:55
Today: OFF
Tomorrow: 8 miles

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Song of the Day: Short People, Randy Newman

Randy Newman’s Short People was released in 1977, when there was still the possibility that the song wouldn’t refer to me.

It inspired much backlash from people who I’m ashamed to have anything in common with, even if it’s something as superficial as height. (Short) people burned copies of Newman’s albums in protest and the Maryland Legislature even considered passing a law that would prohibit the playing of the song on the state’s radio stations. I can't imagine how the same folks would have reacted to some of Newman's other songs. Some of them, I'm sure, would embrace this as solid foreign policy.

In addition to prompting protests, Short People also inspired what was perhaps the greatest presentation in a senior-level religion class in the history of my high school, Joliet Catholic Academy.

The task (as well as I can remember it): find a classmate to be your partner, put your heads together to identify some sort of injustice and make a 7- to 10-minute presentation about said injustice. The instructor for the class, a relatively young guy named Brother Raphael, highly encouraged incorporating an audio visual component into your presentation.

My group’s presentation somehow involved the trough-style urinals at Wrigley Field. We held them up as an example of open mindedness because it required people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds to stand uncomfortably close, usually on both sides, to men who were drunk and peeing. In a crowded Wrigley Field bathroom we were all equals. Or something like that.

Not only was our presentation shallower than one of those troughs, but it also wasn’t anywhere near as creative as the one done by my classmates Shawn Trusty and Bob Muhich. Shawn had long ago established his bona fides for creative scholarship, frequently inventing outlandish stories and people to help push along the narratives in any class in which we had a) a gullible teacher and b) a written assignment.

“Fortunately for me,” Shawn told me recently, “JCA had an abundance of both.”

He was Jayson Blair before Jayson Blair could even read the New York Times. The more preposterous the stories, the better. In one of our classes Shawn submitted a paper that suggested that a drug addict named Butch Book ingested a pound of acid daily. Usually, the names of his protagonists were more unpronounceable than alliterative.

“I had names of people with 33 letters, 29 of which were consonants,” he said.

His crowning achievement came when he submitted a paper in our psychology class on porn star John Holmes. The paper suggested that at the height of his popularity Holmes appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and stood behind a silk screen, pulled down his pants and revealed his 13-inch penis. He was the porn equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock. Instead of being incredulous, the psychology teacher seemed genuinely shocked that he missed the broadcast.

“Fascinating!” he wrote in the margin.

Perhaps emboldened by his Holmes experience, Shawn convinced Bob that they should do their presentation in the religion class on discrimination. It wasn’t going to be about run of the mill discrimination, however. There was nary a mention of woman’s suffrage or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in their work. Rather, they chose to focus on some more obscure types of discrimination. Things like height discrimination, for instance, which they claimed was most readily apparent when folks who were 7-foot-tall were confronted with the choice of either bending down to get through a doorway or smash their head into the overhang. There also was the discrimination against people who had gigantic feet who were regularly forced to try to navigate their way down stairs that weren’t big enough to accommodate overgrown phalanges, often resulting in awkward falls down the stairs.

These obviously weren’t the sort of folks Congress had in mind when they passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nor, for that matter, were the examples of discrimination in the least bit truthful. But when Shawn and Bob delved into their greatest example of size-based discrimination they used what was likely the only legitimate part of their entire presentation: Newman’s “Short People.” Of course they held the song up as perhaps the most egregious example in the long, sordid history of size discrimination. And then they played it.

There wasn’t much meat on the bones of this presentation, as you might imagine. You can only make up so many stories, it turns out, about discrimination against tall people and those with feet too big to make their way down stairs. Short People, at 2 minutes and 55 seconds, wasn’t helping flesh things out.

“Short People,” Shawn said, with a hint of regret in his voice. “Short song.”

When you added the nearly-three minute song to their presented material it still left them about a minute short of the seven minutes the assignment required. So, rather than bulk up the presentation with some actual research or invent another aggrieved group of people, Shawn and Bob did the next most logical thing: they tacked on to the end of Short People a portion of the Fleetwood Mac song “Tusk.”

This wasn’t a seamless mashup on par with Danger Mouse’s work with Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles white album. Short People is a sparse little song with piano and little additional instrumentation and Tusk is a drum-heavy song that was recorded with the USC marching band.
About the only thing the songs had in common is that they were both released in the 1970s, which, in retrospect, couldn’t have been worse for Shawn and Bob.

“We probably shouldn’t have picked songs that were extremely popular when our teacher was 20 years old,” Shawn said.

Still, he said, they might have gotten away with it had they not been laughing during the entire presentation, especially during the musical portion.

“(Brother Raphael) was not pleased that we did not take the assignment seriously,” said Shawn, who remembered somehow getting a “C” on the project. “He wasn’t as amused about it as we were.”

Every time I hear Short People (or Tusk, for that matter, although it happens much less frequently) I can’t help but be amused. I love the story so much that I shared it with my friend and bandmate, Bill Gillis. Almost 20 years after Shawn and Bob ingeniously combined Short People and Tusk in a presentation on discrimination, Bill immortalized their work when he recorded the song “Short People --> Tusk.”

The chorus says it better than Randy Newman ever could: “Some things just go together/Like Short People and Tusk.”

Running Update:

Tuesday: 8 miles at 67:40
Yesterday: 5 mile recovery in 47:27
Today: 10 (very rough) miles in 88:27
Tomorrow: OFF

Friday, June 25, 2010

Song of the Day: Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars), Stan Getz

One of the best things about having more than 4,000 songs on your iPod is that often something comes up on shuffle that you haven’t heard in a long time. Sometimes, in fact, something comes up that didn’t know you had. Or that you haven’t ever heard.

Corcovado is one of those songs. Its a jazzy number that I have a feeling I got on a mix CD from my friend Tyra. A pretty song, it’s sung half in French, which I’m pretty sure makes it twice as good.

I should probably understand the French portion much better than I do, having taken two years of it in high school and three semesters worth in college as mandated by the University of Missouri. At the beginning of my matriculation there I actually harbored thoughts of getting a minor in the language. That dream, it turns out, was only slightly less realistic than the one I had about playing second base for the Chicago Cubs.

For even after those three classes and the hours spent in the foreign language laboratory practicing my pronunciations into a headset that would have made Judy from Time-Life books envious, the truth is my French is “tres merde-y,” as my friend Matt could attest. He stood next to me at a gas station one night as I tried to get directions out of Athens, Greece, from a woman who spoke French but not English. Our minute-long conversation involved a lot of nodding on my part, as if I was channeling the Bill Murray character from the Saturday Night Live Olympia Restaurant skit. When I sat down in the passenger seat and Matt asked me which direction to head, I sat there dumbstruck.

I was having flashbacks to Bruno Wambi.

Wambi, from Congo, had a name that conjured up images of an African assassin. The freshman French students who had him as their teacher would say that he was. I was lucky. I didn’t land in Wambi’s section for my freshman-year, five-day a week class. I did, however, find my name on Wambi’s hit list when it came time for my oral examination, which had to be administered by someone other than your regular teacher. This ensured that you would be embarrassed in front of at least one more person that semester.

They conducted the oral examinations in the foreign language department, which, on every campus I’ve ever been on, seems to be the equivalent of the high school shop department. That is to say they’re headquartered in dirty places, far out of sight and funded with whatever money is left over after the maintenance folks get paid. Mizzou was no different. Judging by the messy cubicles, they crammed about six teaching assistants into each of them. I imagined the TAs cursing each other in a variety of languages for not maintaining a clean work environment.

It was into this morass that I stumbled in search of Wambi. I was only slightly less nervous than this kid. It was as if I was going to a job interview only it was going to be conducted in a foreign language. And my professor made it abundantly clear that, no matter the circumstances, you weren’t to speak English during the exam. This made my preparation even more difficult because it took me at least 30 minutes to learn to say “I think I’m having a heart attack” in French.

I found Wambi and we exchanged pleasantries, which contained several utterances of my go-to phrase, “Comme ci, comme ca.” As far as I could tell the phrase could be used to answer everything from “How are you?” to “How would you like your steak prepared?”

Then Wambi got to it.

Apparently, the bulk of the exam was going to deal with Wambi asking for directions to places throughout Columbia, Mo. I’m not sure if every examiner asked the same questions, or if Wambi was just new in town. This was a challenge for me, and not just because I was like a 3-year-old when it came to knowing which was “gauche” and which was “droite.”

I’m terrible at directions. I don’t remember street names. I get lost going home on a regular basis. I can’t remember which street places I regularly visit can be found on. My brothers bought me a Garmin GPS for Christmas a couple years ago because they were sick of me getting lost on the way to family functions. You could tell me that something is on the 1000 block of West Addison Street and you might as well be speaking French. I won’t find it.

Complicating matters even more, at least in terms of my conversation with Wambi, was that I didn’t have a car during my freshman year in college, having sold my 1981 Mercury Capri to the junkyard for $50 on the day before I left for school. At that point, I’m not sure that I’d ever been to the mall and if I had, I certainly didn’t drive there. I tried to convey this information to Wambi in my halting French. He, not surprisingly, didn’t understand that while I understood what he was asking, I couldn't tell him how to get to the mall -- in English or in French.

So, Wambi, like anybody who is confronted with an interlocutor who doesn’t speak his language, started speaking slower and louder in French. And here it must be said that Wambi’s mandible seemed to function independently from the rest of his head, almost like Ike, the toddler from South Park. If it was possible to be double jointed in the jaw, Wambi was. So now, as I tried to shuffle through the 40 or 50 French vocabulary words I knew that might help me answer Wambi’s question (“La plage?” Nope, there was no beach in Columbia, as far as I knew. “La bibliotheque?” I hadn’t been to the mall, so I sure as hell hadn’t been to the library. “La fenetre?” The window? Really?), I couldn’t concentrate because I was distracted by this anatomical wonder before my eyes.

I found myself just staring at him in the same way, eight years later, I’d be staring at the woman at the Athens gas station. I could see the disappointment in Wambi’s face as he looked at his clipboard, jotting down notes that I’m sure said something like “Homme est tres stupide,” only in grammatically correct French.

Needless to say, I failed the oral exam. And while I passed the class, my dreams of getting a minor in French, or, for that matter, being able to ask for directions in Paris, died in the Arts and Science building on the campus of the University of Missouri back in the fall of 1992.

I should have taken Spanish.

Running update:

Wednesday: 4 mile recovery run in 37:18

Yesterday: 8 miles (with middle 4@7:06 pace) in 63:40

Today: Off

Tomorrow: 14 miles (Yikes!)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Song of the Day: Rearviewmirror, Pearl Jam

It’s fitting the first blog entry deals with a story having to do with me and my brother Paul, as he’s the one most responsible for my achy knees and my aspirations of running 26.2 miles nonstop. He came to visit me in Jackson in March with his wife and beautiful daughter and practically made his visit contingent on me running a half marathon with him in Nashville. He’s three years my junior and has run 9 marathons, most recently the Boston Marathon, after which he filed this report.

In spite of the fact that the last race I ran was a 5k in 1991 as a member of my high school cross country team, the Nashville half marathon went off without a hitch. Paul beat me by more than 15 minutes and didn’t seem to break a sweat while doing it. I figured if 13 miles didn’t kill me, I could do 26. Math is not my strong suit.

Anyway, back to today’s song. Lately in Tennessee we’ve been experiencing, like much of the country, some oppressive heat, the kind that has my dog Lou panting the moment we step off the elevator and into the foyer of my building, knowing what awaits him.

How hot has it been? It’s 10:20 p.m. as I type this and it’s still 83 degrees with a heat index of 89. Yesterday was the first day of summer, but the lowest high temperature of the last 10 days was 90 and the rest have had highs of at least 93 and the humidity highs have been at least 93 percent each day as well. But still, it’s got a ways to go before it’s as sweltering as the summer of 1995 in Chicago, where 521 people died from heat-related causes during the month of July. I was interning at the newspaper in Joliet, Ill., that summer, writing stories and sweating in my 1985 Oldsmobile Firenza, a gem of a car whose inability to cool air was rivaled only by its inability to attract women. I still blame the hatchback.

That summer Pearl Jam was on their Five Horizons tour. I had attended their show at Summerfest in Milwaukee on July 11 with my friend Brandon. The lead singer for that show's opening band wore a green frog-like suit and gigantic wings. Other than the time we we spent pulled over on the Interstate 90/94 because the Firenza was overheating, it was a great night.

But one Pearl Jam show just wasn’t going to be enough that summer and my brother Paul and I vowed to get tickets to the show at Chicago’s Soldier Field a couple nights later. This was before the days of Stubhub, so we called around to ticket brokers in a desperate attempt to secure the tickets. We finally found one who said he could get us lawn seats for $120. This seemed like a great deal to both Paul, who was getting ready to go off to college in the fall and was working at my mom’s restaurant, and me, with my $8 an hour gig at the newspaper. Neither of us majored in business.

The ticket broker actually had a window in the back of a restaurant and when we arrived we weren’t handed the ducats, but rather told to have a seat and a drink.

“Don’t worry,” a rather harried gentleman told us as he took our $240, cash. “We’ve got the tickets.”

I immediately started to worry.

Eventually, several more people showed up and were told to join us. We all sat there, somewhat puzzled, awaiting instructions. We soon got them. We were all going to be hopping into a small bus and heading to Soldier Field. I was pretty sure that I’d seen a story on 20/20 that unfolded the same way and ended up with the bus riders ending up being sold into sex slavery. We ran to the bus.

My brother and I were trying to figure out what we’d gotten ourselves into and as we pulled into Soldier Field the answers weren’t forthcoming. Our leader hopped off the bus and left me, my brother and a handful of other really gullible people and told us he’d be right back. He wasn’t. And as the minutes passed, our attitudes worsened. One guy in particular was cursing the ticket broker. He was doing his best to organize an uprising on the bus, as if this were 1955 Montgomery. He successfully convinced at least one other person that rather than sit around and wait and be screwed out of money and a chance to see the most popular band in the world, that they'd demand their money back as soon as possible. When the broker returned they did just that.

“Just be patient,” he pleaded, but the angry dudes weren’t having it and walked off the bus, refunded cash in hand, hoping to find a ticket scalper with a bit more legitimacy.

My brother and I started discussing getting off the bus and trying to find another source for tickets. But we didn't have cell phones, hell, we didn't even have beepers, and for some reason we had faith our ticket broker, even though he had done nothing more than smile, take half my weekly paycheck and give us what amounted to a $120 bus ride to the stadium that would have cost us $1.50 on the CTA .

As hope was dwindling, a guy in a yellow security guard jacket pulled up on a golf cart and talk to our ticket broker friend. Two people were grabbed off the bus, hopped on the golf cart and disappeared toward the stadium. Who the hell was this guy? And where the hell was he taking them? And, most important, was he going to come back for us? At that point, I would have ridden anywhere with this security guy, especially if it meant I was getting off the damn bus and closer to the stadium.

A few minutes later, back he came. My brother and I positioned ourselves so we could be next for whatever next was. We hopped on the cart and headed toward the stadium, disappearing into the bowels of Soldier Field. Our escort started giving us instructions.

“Give me your hands,” he said, taping wristbands on us that he said we’d need to get onto the field. I still didn't believe that's where we were actually headed.

“We’re going to come up to a T up here and I’m going to go left and you’re going to go right,” he told us.

And then, like the 16-year-old in a floppy hat and bow tie taking tickets at the local cinema, his last words to us were "Enjoy the show.”

Sure enough, we made the right turn and walked about a hundred feet and suddenly, almost magically, we were on the Soldier Field turf. The entrance we emerged from seemed to close behind us.

We made our way toward the end zone and got about 20 feet or so from the stage and the opening band, Bad Religion. We did our best to avoid the mosh pits where sweaty, shirtless men were beating each other up while running around in circles. Ah, the '90s.

I’ve always wondered whether those angry guys who took off from the bus ever got in. If they didn’t, they missed a great show, a 155-minute masterpiece that still goes down as the best I’ve ever seen.

The story of the actual concert and the near-death experience Paul and I had there will have to wait for another post. The good news is there’s plenty of Pearl Jam on the iPod and about 16 more weeks worth of runs to hear their songs.

For now, here’s a pretty good rendition of Rearviewmirror, a great song about the emancipating feeling that can come from leaving behind a bad relationship. This footage isn’t from that Chicago concert, but judging by the sweat-soaked Eddie Vedder it may have been about the same temperature at this show as it was in Chicago back in July ‘95.

Oh, yeah. This blog is ostensibly about training for a marathon. Here's what I've been doing lately other than listening to music to help in that quest:

Sunday: 13 miles in 1:44:56

Yesterday: Off

Today: 10 miles in 1:26:26

Tomorrow: 4 mile recovery run

Running on Full

An old friend sent me a message the other day after he’d heard that I’d be running my first marathon in the fall in Chicago. (I write he “heard” it as if it led CNN’s coverage that night. He saw it when I announced it on my Facebook page).

His message: “I once knew a guy named Michael Kapellas who told me this when I was training for a marathon: `Why would you want to do that? People shit themselves.’”

If only I could go back in time about 15 years and talk to that guy. He seems so wise.

By the time I got that message, it was too late to back out. Today marked the start of the third week of the 18-week training program that will have me ready for the race on October 10.

Having survived the first 79 miles of the training program, I’ve decided to begin my blog about the experience. These days I think it’s required of all marathon runners, especially first timers. You get the expensive shoes, the durable headphones, a book on running marathons, the running shorts that would make Daisy Duke blush and then you head over to to stake your claim to your corner of the blogging universe.

Many of these blogs document the painful experience that is preparing for a marathon. I’m not very interested in telling you about how the training is going. Oh, you’ll get some of that, but the truth is I know it’s going to be hard. I know I’m going to be sore. I know there are going to be ups and downs, good runs and bad. But I’m not the first person to do this, won’t be the last and, frankly, won’t know enough about what the hell is happening to me or my body to offer any valuable insight on that front. Focusing on those inevitable struggles and the corresponding aches and pains seems rather uninteresting and I could imagine my reaction to reading day after day of it. I’d be shouting: “Then stop running!” at the screen.

Of course, it’s pretty presumptuous of me to believe that anybody would be interested in reading the personal stories that I’ve decided the blog will focus on instead. My response to that is, of course, “Then stop reading!” (This is, I realize, a great recipe for a well-read blog. Tell the readers to stop reading before any of them have started. Oh, well. I'm new.)

So while you’ll hear that I ran eight miles today, I’m more interested it writing about what I was thinking about while doing that running and, more specifically, just as the blog’s name suggests, what one of the songs that I heard on my iPod made me think about. The blog will be a running musical memoir in several senses of the phrase. You’ll meet people and events from my life as well as any other type of memory that happens to get, uh, jogged by what I’m hearing in my headphones.

Here’s hoping it’s an enjoyable, poop-free journey, all the way to the finish line on October 10.