Friday, September 29, 2006

Grin and bear it; I dare you. I'm having a great time suffering this week. I realize that I just went online to boast about it, so I won't get into the specifics. I do still dare all of you to not only suffer quietly, but also to achieve quietly. The moment that some misfortune or fortune occurs, the impulse is to rush to the nearest available phone, keyboard or person to crow endlessly about how utterly helpless the idiot on the phone was or, "oh my God, I'm starving!" The motivation to abstain should not be from extremes on either end. That there are people with bigger problems and bigger achievements should not be what motivates you. Instead, quietly accepting frustration and failure should be the product of a desire for happiness and dignity.

It is no doubt corrosive and pointless to launch into a "rant" or "vent" at a customer service lackey, friend, acquaintance or total stranger. The only thing that is accomplished by doing so instead of calmly accepting what has happened is, ironically, further suffering. By going online to "rant" about how miserable your day was simply prolongs the suffering for the five or ten minutes it takes to construct a poorly written account of that day. By going online to boast that you didn't eat for 21 hours but still managed to run 10k, as I have just done, you come across as vainly seeking attention and glory. However, all the glory and all the pity received, be it via cell phone or comment box, can never satisfy in the way of an absence for that desire.

I am not saying that it is both useless and harmful to talk about your life and what happens within, be it good or bad. I am saying that it is useless and harmful to talk about your life when done out of a naked, unabashed desire for attention. To launch into a thunderous fulmination for mistakes made in a retail environment is to be motivated by the same entitlement that might allow a slaveowner to have a slave beaten. It is done for no other reason than it can be done. The semi-literate serf at Bell Canada has to accept your fruitless abuse and say "thank you for choosing Bell" at the end. Your friend has to listen to your barrage of complaints and is obliged to offer some consolation. In both cases, however, it is better to be the person who is already happy and therefore not in need of consolation or the dispensation of abuse.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Nothing hurts like watching everyone else struggle against the challenge you blissfully managed to skip, because inevitably you will feel as though you are missing out. Because I ran the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon today, I opted not to fast today, the first (or second, depending on who and where you are) day of Ramadan. It sounds incredulous, but I did do my research when I signed up for the race a month ago, and it showed Ramadan as beginning one or two days after. So much for staking life decisions, major or minor, on Wikipedia.

As for the race, let me first say that running long distances takes an appropriate balance of patience and aggression, this balance is commonly known as pacing. The best races are ones that only have involve aggression: I once ran a 10k that was a long, sustained drive for home from 3k onwards. The setup for today was a race that started in the dark (the sun came up as we started) with winds swirling around downtown Toronto. Sometimes on special days I wonder if the day knows just how special the day is; the press release had clearly been received on this day.

Warming up in the dark, I made eye contact with a thin man wearing a bushy mustache; who else could it be but the ageless Mr. Carter? The first mile was too aggressive (6:15) and it was here that Mr. Carter, the high school cross country coach whom I still call sir, blew by, muttering about the split. The easterly wind on the waterfront was vicious, making it impossible to run at times and wreaking havoc on the 4,000 runners behind me for kilometres 2-12. At times, it didn't even feel like a race was on.

I was on pace through 6 km (24:02), but I was working too hard in the 40 km/h wind. By 10k, I was 40 seconds off target (40:40) and almost a minute by 14 km (56:54), the two-thirds mark. The next three kilometres were some of the hardest I've ever run in a race (13:16). I lost a minute during this stretch. I settled down at that point and finished respectably in 1:26:48, placing me 68th in a massive field. Mr. Carter faded even worse than I did and was less than a minute and six spots ahead, though I had no idea. All things considered, this was a very good race, though I could use some lessons in patience when it comes to half marathons.

A big city race, marathon or otherwise, is a lot of fun to run and watch. No matter how distasteful the commercialism or the claustrophobia, the cheering crowds, cowbells and blaring music are a distinct element of road racing. Catching a glimpse of just how many people were behind me was simultaneously unnerving and embarassing. Most importantly, the streets of the country's largest downtown are closed off to have three huge footraces.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The only artistic idea I have ever had in my life would be a series of photographs in Toronto that looked as though they were not from Toronto. Ranking very high on that list would be a picture of the south shore of the Toronto Islands, which is the absolute south end of Toronto. There is just nowhere else to go except Rochester, New York. I really can't say a lot about what there it to see, it's beautiful but nothing exceptional. What is exceptional is that if you turn around, you can see the CN Tower and a few skyscrapers looming nearby. The rest of the skyline is obscured by trees, in turn obscuring the fact that you're less than three kilometres from the mainland.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how far you can get from somewhere in just 15 minutes, be it by car or by foot. When living in Mississauga, I can run into Toronto and run to a stereotypical meadow surrounded by trees. It actually takes about 14 minutes and because the surrounding highrises aren't visible, it's okay to forget about the city. A couple of weeks ago, I ran from the heart of downtown, where I work, to Cherry Beach and back in 29 minutes. Try it sometime, even mentally, to see how different of a place you can find from the one where you started.

What prompts this is my time on the Toronto Islands yesterday, where I ran a first-rate 10k race, the Longboat Toronto Island Run. It was a lot like running in high school. I spent two hours before the race reading a newspaper, I warmed up with Riyaad, and the race did have an odd mix of road, grass and boardwalk. Just like in high school, I ran a slow first half (19:33) and picked it up (19:07) to finish in 38:40, my fastest ever. Just like in high school, I actually set a new personal best, having last achieved one for any distance 16 months ago. Just like in high school, there was good competition for a small race (I was 25th) and I left the winning to the real athletes. This is the best race I've run all year, though I held back in the middle, expecting the race to get tougher in the end, though it never did.
Is North America obsessed with 9/11? The all-news television channels, American and Canadian, seem preoccupied with following up on every minute angle of that day. I turned to CBC Newsworld to see a piece on Gander, Newfoundland, where many flights were diverted when air traffic was grounded. It seems impossible to escape: I turned to Teletoon, but conflict erupted between Caillou and his younger sister Rosie when Caillou built the "tallest tower in the world" out of blocks and Rosie knocked it over.

The murders of 2,749 people on this day five years ago were and remain significant, both in itself and for the way it has changed the world. I am at a loss when searching for the wisdom in omnipresent recreation, at times grasping desperately for relevance and meaning, of those murders. Are we doomed, no doubt in part due to our ability to obsessively and compulsively document that day in so many ways, to egregiously re-live it in its entirety at five and ten-year intervals?

My grandfather died five years ago this April and yesterday was the 67th anniversary of Canada's entry into the Second World War. At least the former was marked quietly, but marked nonetheless; I didn't lay out a timeline of the night and early morning in question for my grandmother. I was aware that yesterday was the anniversary of the start of a war that killed 67,000 Canadians, but it unfortunately passed without any mention from newspapers. Remembering does not mean recreating, and doing so gratuitously at that, guided by greed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

These days are pretty tough for me on a number of fronts for reasons I can't/won't get into. I also don't have time to write about anything else, but fortunately for you, right after I wrote my last post, Riyaad finally uploaded the movie he made out of our camping trip two months ago. I'd grumble about how incredibly slow he's been, especially for someone who spent all day working with computers, but the movie is just really good.

Seasoned Adeel-watchers looking for delicious nuggets will definitely want to watch. This video features at least two clips of me singing rock hits from the 90s, and maybe even a certain theme song for a hit movie written by a certain French-Canadian songstress. I don't know, I haven't seen all of it.

If that scared you off, there's a bizarre stand-off with a trumpeter swan, not featuring me at all, that you just have to see.

A Tent Too Small. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What I did over my four-month summer vacation:

  • This was, whether I like it or not, the summer of A-Money, Beans, C-Dawg, Heavy D, Big E and Littlefish. I worked full-time for the first time in my life and hated it. By the end, I was resorting to the awesome power of civil law by declaring that I was simply "not it" when it came to helping potentially irksome customers.

  • I read The Iliad. It took me a little over two months' worth of subway rides when I was lucid and in the mood for Homer's craftsmanship.

  • I read newspapers. I tried to read the New York Times and Globe and Mail on a perfect day, but I often wound up reading just The Star. Other newspapers I read this summer include the National Post, Metro, 24 Hours, Toronto Sun, USA Today (it's awful), Arizona Republic, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune and, yes, my own Varsity.

  • I went to Phoenix and took a daytrip through the mountains of Arizona as well as the splendid wealth of Scottsdale, the Beverly Hills of the desert.

  • I slept with two other guys in a tent half the size of a compact car in a remote backcountry site accessible only by canoe. We went portaging but gave up and then enjoyed the quiet by the lake.

  • I have run 1096 km since school ended, with a few more to go. I ran seven races, okay but nothing special, with another one to come before school starts. I won a flashlight and a medal to add to the hat and maple syrup I already won for my exploits this year.

  • I drank a lot of coffee. A lot. I know it's a cliche thing to say, but I really did drink a lot of coffee. I also drank very little water relative to how much I ran. Consequently, I spent a lot of time at coffee shops.

  • I said goodbye, in a way, to some of my closest friends who are off to university this fall. Their departure hit me harder, in a way, than my own, since none of my friends went off to British Columbia...or Guelph.

  • I went to Friends sports bar in Brampton more times than I care to admit.

  • I ran in 46-degree humidity, pushed a canoe up a hill, had a $90 breakfast and sold more shoes than I care to admit.

  • I spent most of my break missing philosophy, late night studying and walking around downtown at night, though it's not to say that I didn't enjoy my summer.
  • Monday, September 04, 2006

    Chess is the fad du jour, along with copious quantities of quality running (75 minutes yesterday with 30 minutes of intervals, 125 today and 75 tomorrow), and nothing reminds me more of football. Using my bishop to reinforce a check with my queen or using a pawn to guarantee the safety of a knight from a retaliatory queen is a lot like using the run to set up the pass. Tonight, I unintentionally set up a pocket of pawns around my king. My king, unfortunately, had all the mobility of Drew Bledsoe.

    On, then, to the 2006 NFL season, which starts Thursday when the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers take on the reconstituted Miami Dolphins. Before I discuss this any further, let's have a look at last year's predictions. It turns out that I didn't make any in September, but I did refer to the Steelers as "world-beaters" on October 11.

    Since football for me is localized in the AFC East, let's begin there. The reconstituted Dolphins with Daunte Culpepper should be good enough to take second behind the Patriots, who remain as good as ever. The Dolphins will mix it up with either the Steelers or Bengals and the Chargers for the wild card.

    The AFC South will be won on the strength of Peyton Manning's arm, but I don't see the Colts going as far in the playoffs without Edgerrin James. Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai should be serviceable, but I still think that Peyton Manning missed the best chance of his career at a Super Bowl last year.

    I don't know which of Ben Roethlisberger or Carson Palmer is more fragile; whoever is less fragile will lead their team to the division title. The Steelers, I think, are the better team but Cincinnati and Carson Palmer have a bigger upside and fewer distractions.

    Finally, in the AFC West, Denver can only get better with the addition of Jay Cutler while San Diego is going to falter at least slightly with the inexperienced Philip Rivers. I want to single out the Raiders for their incomprehensible stupidity in assembling the football equivalent of the Titanic's deck chairs. Aaron Brooks, Randy Moss and a recently resurrected Jeff George will be some of the ingredients in this unsavoury hobo stew of a team.

    In the NFC East, I want the great-on-paper Dallas Cowboys to win the division. The Eagles will be back this year, however, and Washington also has a great team put together. I think the Redskins, with Mark Brunell as good as he was ten years ago when his upstart Jaguars reduced me to tears, not to mention Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, will win this division. This is easily the most exciting division in the league.

    The NFC North, by contrast, is the dullest and I want to say nothing about this division except express my undying love for Brett Favre. I hope the Packers make the playoffs by squeezing 9-10 wins out of what's left of his abilities.

    The Panthers are not only the best team in the NFC South, but I think they're the best in this conference. Sorry Bedir. Tampa Bay has a good team in a maturing Chris Simms, good recivers and a good running back. The defense, the best in the league last year, should be at least good this year. Atlanta still sucks because they have a one-dimensional offense led by a quarterback who can't pass.

    The Seahawks are as good as they were last year and should avoid the "jinx" of Super Bowl losers, if only because they play in a weak division, but their conference is tougher this year. They will be hard-pressed to advance deep into the playoffs. The Rams, like the Eagles, Chiefs and others, are a team that's still trying to recreate a team from seasons past. Like the others, they will have mixed success.

    In the AFC Championship game, the Colts will lose to the Bengals while the Panthers will trump the Redskins. The Panthers will win a Super Bowl by playing very well in all areas of the game, as tends to be the case with Super Bowl champions.

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    I went downtown today to take care of the business I have neglected while cheerfully selling overpriced shoes and socks all summer, and downtown very nearly took care of me. I had lunch a little ways off campus and then walked back along the south side of Bloor, a perpetual and seamless construction zone, and saw a crowd next to an ambulance at St. George. At first I thought that someone was hit by a car or collapsed, but then I noticed that the intersection was blocked with police tape. In fact, the whole block to the west (Bloor from St. George to Huron) had been closed off.

    As if to answer my question, the bomb squad pulled up alongside the half dozen or so police cars parked on St. George, north of Bloor. While I had been having lunch, a man got into a taxi and told the driver that he had a bomb. A crowd had built steadily in response to the closure and the heavy police presence. The mood was laid-back, carefree and even a little festive. There normally is a hot dog vendor on the northeast corner of the intersection (the closures were on the west side). I don't think he was there today, but a popcorn vendor would have been just as welcome.

    I kicked myself for not bringing a camera and then went on with my business, figuring that the police would eventually search the cab and find no bomb. This is the third very serious bomb threat that I've walked into on the street, along with a fourth at work that we ignored, and I recognize the sometimes excessive caution exercised by the police. What I didn't know was that there was someone inside the cab, which would've probably made me stay.

    I came back a half hour later and the situation was the same, but the crowd had swelled immensely. This was street theatre at its finest, and by now the TV cameras and newschoppers had arrived. The police now faced a two-front battle, the nutjob inside the tape and the burgeoning crowd around it. About fifteen minutes later, as I skirted the tape for a better look and maybe a cup of coffee, I saw an ambulance next to the taxi. I'd missed the tear gas takedown, someone informed me, doubling my regret. Next time I just might jog under the tape, hold open my wallet while yelling "homicide!" and pull out the red wire. That's about how threatening the entire situation was anyway, though I am, of course, being farcical. I'm surprised that the police didn't urge the crowd to move on for their own safety.