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

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