Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Friend Mike: The First Time I Ever Flirted

Believe it or not, this band-choir-theater-nerd had a not-so easy time meeting the ladies in high school. I suppose it had a lot to do with the fact that I was terrified of them. I worked my ASS off trying to be a perfect gentleman, to the point that by the time I was 17, I'd only had 3 "girlfriends", one of whom I was with for about 45 seconds.

Mike? Mike was the Ferris Bueller to my Cameron. If you don't pick up on that reference, odds are you've been very confused by my entire blog.

Dude had girls ALL OVER HIM. I kid you not, one night, we were at a party wherein Mike was juggling three, THREE different girls, all of which he was dating, and none of whom knew the others existed. It was straight out of an episode of "Three's Company", making him Jack Tripper and me...Mr. Furley.

Down to the cravat.

One night, when we were 15, Mike decided that we were going to the main strip in Elmhurst, Illinois, a well-to-do and charming community of very, very white people. Nearby York High School housed some of the cutest girls in the western Chicago suburban area, and weekend evenings, packs of them, wearing their designer jeans and Member's Only jackets would descend on the strip to, well, walk up and down the strip.

Mike lived about 5 miles from me and another 2 miles from Elmhurst. Both of us being 15, we had no way there but to either walk, like normal human beings, or...hop the freight train like two idiots.

Guess which one Mike talked me into.

I am TERRIFIED looking back at what we did, nearly as terrified as I was in the moment. But Mike had a knack for sniffing out danger. So my mom dropped me off at his place (I'm assuming because I didn't want to reveal to her that we were going to chase skirts), and we walked the few blocks to where the train would be ambling by any moment. And when I heard the locomotive's "WHOOOOO!", my stomach turned into a pile of dogshit and I nearly puked. Not letting on to Mike, who was howling and laughing up a storm.

"This is gonna be AWESOME!"

Yeah. Awesome. Awesome like, oh, I don't know, GETTING RUN OVER BY A FUCKING TRAIN.

The train couldn't have been going more than 5 miles per hour (a pace we could have nearly kept walking), and I remember him shouting to me, "Run alongside it, get to speed, and then jump forward and up into the boxcar!" Perfect. I'm going to die like a hobo, I thought.

My heart was thumping like it wanted to bust through my ribcage, but there I was, right behind Mike, jogging alongside the train until an open car pulled beside us and BAM. In and up he went.


My legs pumping, shit nearly running down my leg, I kept pace and thought, I HAVE to do this now - he's in the car already, which was a stupid rationalization on my part, I realize now. I sucked in two lungfuls of air, held my breath and rocketed myself into the car, landing on Mike.

"YEAH!" he screamed and slapped my arm.

10 minutes later, we jumped off the train as it pulled in to Elmhurst, screeching to a stop. I think I may have been in shock for the first hour of our wandering around, because this entire night is as vivid in my head like it happened today, save for that first 60 minutes.

Mike was a fucking rock star. He had no issues walking straight up to a group of tittering, giggling girls and introducing himself, usually, at the very least, getting them to chat for 5 minutes while he and I did "The Russ and Mike Show", which resembled street comedy improv fused with the stench of desperation and failure.

So in other words: Street comedy improv.

We dicked around for a couple of hours, grabbing frozen yogurt at "TCBY" (The Country's Best Yogurt, which, at the time, it was the ONLY frozen yogurt in the country, so a job well done!), avoiding the annoyed stares from adults that I myself now give amped up teenagers, and finally, curfew time rolled around.

Well, MY curfew time. Mike treated the concept of curfews like I treated the concept of flirting with girls: Not with a ten foot pole, man.

So in Mike's usual impulsive haste, we were left stranded 2 miles from his house and 7 from mine. I broke into a sweat, worrying about not making it home in time. I voiced my concerns, which Mike waved off like the stench of a fart.

"Hang on," he told me, striding away toward a gaggle of giggling girls.

Within minutes, he spun on his heels and signaled "come on!" to me with his hands, a smile spanning so wide, it wrapped around his head.

"This is Russ," he introduced me to - I kid you not - the most ADORABLE 3 girls I'd ever laid my pimply eyes on, "and he one funny son of a bitch."

No pressure.

"My car's over there," one girl said through her Lipsmacker-glossed smile, pointing at a tiny Toyota that in no way was built to house 5 people. But, our advantage? We were teenagers and couldn't care less.

One young lady in particular seemed to laugh at every voice-cracked word that dribbled from my mouth: Light blond hair, skin as clear as daylight, and a grin that lit up the car. As she sat. On my lap.

Holy shit.

In my mind, I was just trying to be funny and get her to laugh, and I'm sure I. Was. Hilarious (sarcasm intact). Mike was faring well up front with the driver, making small talk, exchanging phone numbers, and once in awhile peering over the headrest to give me a wink of confidence. That's when it hit me:

Holy crap: I'm flirting. And she's flirting back!

The ride lasted far too short, and before I could even get her name, I was out of the car, Mike riding as the solo male in a car filled with bubbly females. As I began waving goodbye, Mike told them to hang on a second and jumped out to say goodbye.

"Have fun?" he asked, devilish smirk on his perfect face.

"Yeah, yeah," I responded, unsure of what I'd just gone through.

"Did you get her number?"

I paused.

"You have to get her number!" he whispered, punching my shoulder.

I heaved a nervous sigh, as I felt the same terror that had visited me while jumping aboard a moving train. I, in fact, was longing to be risking my life sprinting alongside a train at that moment.

I don't remember her name, but she did write it down, her perfect fingers handing over her perfect phone number in her perfect penmanship.

I never did call her: Baby had just learned to walk and wasn't about to run a 5k at the Olympics. But that wasn't the point, I realized. Mike had just given me a coaching in self-confidence. And every day after that night on the town, I had an instilled confidence that hadn't been there until I'd met my friend, Mike.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My friend Mike: Part 1

His name was Mike. Michael. Last name started with a "K". And he was my first, albeit most unlikely, best friend in high school.

You only get to have one first, best friend. Just like you only get one first true love (her name was Stacey, and we met at - yes - CHOIR CAMP). Mike and I met sophomore year in a pre-geometry class that I'd opted to take since I'd sucked it HARD at algebra my freshman year and was looking to actually comprehend mathematics (Spoiler alert: It never worked).

Mike was handsome. And tall. My teeth were wired with miles of steel braces, and his cast a confident, even glow. My face was peppered with one thousand dots of acne while his was clear and white. Well, tan in the summertime, because Mike's skin turned a golden brown from the sun, while mine went from "Snow White" to "DEFCON 1" after 30 minutes of exposure. Mike's face was angular and even, and mine looked like Picasso and David Duchovny had pumped out a bastard love child.

As I sat in Mr. Thorn's pre-geometry class the first week, I knew about Mike, had heard stories about what a renegade he was, how even the female seniors at Proviso West High lusted after him, and that he voiced his opinion whenever questioned.

Meanwhile, I'd been crafting myself to be a strident student, a head-down, books-up, "yes sir" and "no ma'am" learner when teachers pointed a finger at my sometimes wandering attentions.

On one magical weekday afternoon, Mike and I became friends. And my life-view completely changed.

I think these photos sum up our relationship, snapped about 6 months upon befriending one another:

I will never forget the first time we actually "hung out" after school: Riding on his bike, me straddling the bar behind him as he pumped the pedals, riding past our high school to his home, my hands thrust above me, feeling a freedom I'd never yet experienced.

And that was only the beginning.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sheesh, the hell I been?

It seems that having an incredibly active creative life is - while a dream come true - exhausting. I currently am juggling:

1. Hosting a running podcast - 3 Non Joggers

2. Editing an audio piece to submit to This American Life on The Western States 100.

3. Helping my dear friend Carl get his documentary off the ground by mid-August.

All three of these projects are coming to a head only within a few weeks of each other, and then I suddenly found myself muttering, "HEY, YOU HAVE A BLOG, DUMBSHIT!"

Okay, it was a yell, not a mutter. But in my head, so that makes it okay. Or does it make me crazy? Don't answer.

So tonight, after pre-interviewing our next podcast guest, I returned home to help Carl with some paperwork for an hour so we can get up and running to raise funds. After, I popped open a beer (Green Lakes Ale by Descheutes Brewing) and something caught my eye.

It was my ukulele.

I sat strumming some Beatles on the sofa, surfing the 'net, and before I packed up L'il Ukey (not an actual nickname), I jokingly tried to make the weirdest sounding chord possible. So I figured out an A 7+5 and strummed, quite literally about to put away Ukophone (not an actual nickname) and then strummed a G chord. And then went back and strummed the first. Then back to G. And then on to adding more chords for another 30 minutes.

Suddenly, I found myself writing a song. Something I have never before done.

It seems creativity breeds more creativity. I logically know this, and have experienced it before, but I've never had so many different pokers in the fire. And it is a little bit magical. Thus, my return to blogging after a month of absence.

Expect to see me 'round these parts more often.

Friday, December 17, 2010

3 NJs do it again!

This week, 3 Non Joggers break it down and interview Yassine Diboun on the podcast. But that's not all: Carl the Mailman lets iTunes HAVE IT during an F-Bomb-riddled-rant.

Here ya go!

Friday, December 10, 2010

And introducing...

I am happy and proud and ecstatic to announce that the 3 Non Joggers have a very special guest on this week's podcast:

Amy Sproston, winner of the JFK 50 miler, Pine 2 Palm 100, Massanutten 100 and top finisher in SCADS of other ultras! Take a listen by following this here link!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'll begin this post on a positive note: I love, Love, LOOOOOVE the PS22 Chorus. Seriously. I could watch/listen to their videos all day and night with tears streaming down my cheeks. And frequently have:

Director and teacher Gregg Breinberg has given these children an incredible gift: The ability to reach inside and call forth the innocence and beauty within us all.

Okay. Positivity intact, I can now move on to:

"Glee" is a sensation, a phenomenon, a 5 star hit for network television. It's also - in my opinion - a turd polished so brightly that you can see Jane Lynch's reflection in it.

"Seriously, Steve, I am the only entertaining part of that show."

For me, the show is so incredibly unaware of how hokey it is (save for Jane Lynch), I get diabetes even from watching the commercials. But this isn't about whether I enjoy/can't stand the 2000's version of "Coprock".

Who in the WORLD designed that logo?!?

In 1981 - aged 11 years - I discovered that I could sing, and sing fairly well. This was called to my attention (which at that point focused on why girls were starting to look "funny" to me) by the music teacher at my middle school, Nancy Guiterrez. Already involved in band, I quickly was learning that if you really want to alienate yourself from the young, developing ladies, joining the chorus would seal the deal like iron-cast welding.

But my love for music was as such, I didn't care.

I remember watching the middle school's production of "Westside Story" from the front row and - not thinking it odd at the time that 11-13 year olds actually grasped this tale of love and death - I got the itch to audition for the next year's musical.

For musical accompaniment, Nancy played every song on the piano throughout the play's duration. Again, not completely understanding the kind of physical and mental energy that involved, I took it for granted that, hey, EVERY middle school does an adult musical whose music is played solely by a single person.

I auditioned the following year for "The Wizard of Oz" and landed the part of Mayor Munchkin (in the musical, versus the film, he has a slightly larger role...LARGER! Munchkins! Ha! I am awesome). The hook was further set, and in 8th grade, Nancy revealed that that year's musical production would be "Fiddler on the Roof".

Yes: The story of a Russian-Jewish family during the era of the pogroms. To be performed by children. SOunds crazy, no?

Again, not knowing that there was anything at ALL odd about this, I got my chops ready through private singing lessons (thanks, Mom, for the support and driving and, well, everything!) and by late winter, when auditions were being held, I was prepped like a soprano Pavarotti to audition for the male lead, Tevye.

If I were a pre-teen...

I don't recall the actual audition, but I do remember that it came down to me and another l'il guy, whose voice had already changed. I. Was. TERRIFIED! After all, my singing range was that of an alto - Tevye, a 50-something milk farmer - couldn't hit a high C, right?

Despondent, I resigned myself to Nancy's eventual decision because, as stated, I didn't care which role I played. I wanted to perform, no matter how big or small my character!

And then I got the part.

Me and my pal, Melissa - who played Golde - pre-show. Yes, the whiskers are real, as is the gut. Naturally.

Looking back, again, Nancy, coached us ALL, and got us tuned to the point that yes, this show actually happened, and in a tight, humorous, and astounding manner. I honestly don't know how we pulled it off, but I have recorded evidence (never to be shown on this blog) that each note, every scene, and even the grand, final exit of Tevye and his family during the pogrom, was SPOT. Effing. ON.

I sobbed for an hour after the final performance, such was the release.

Nancy guided us towards stellar musical goals, not at all once letting us know that what we were doing was mind-boggling. And at our middle school graduation, blessed us - in decades ahead of her time - with lyrical passions from the Broadway show, "Fame":

We sang the body electric

Seriously. We are singing that song in this very moment

I remember parents being confused, even slightly offended, by the fact that 13 year olds were dealing with such hefty concepts as who we all are, and where we're headed as beings. And yet, our voices carried these melodies into the rafters of the gymnasium, unaware of the message we were sending. And lo, these 26 years later, the ears of millions are excited by the idea that little children can teach us all about the vastness of the human experience.

I don't know where you are, Nancy, nor do I even believe that you grasped what you gave us all, but these gifts...they'll never leave me.

And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I, like Huey Lewis, have some news.

Okay, for realz, for serious, this shit is ON(I have no idea what I just said, but I'm sticking to it):

As I'd mentioned, over the past 6 weeks, my friends Carl The Mailman and Gary have joined me in my basement on a weekly basis to record a brand-spankin' new long distance running podcast.

And here it is. Ladies, gents and otherwise, I present to you:

3 Non Joggers.

The title is in reference to the fact that Carl The Mailman™ cannot, for the life of him, call running "running". Instead, he refers to running as "jogging", to which I was quick to point out that NONE of us "jog": Two of us "run".

Very engaging conversation. And you can hear every syllable during episode one.

We're still honing our mad skillz (no idea what that means either), so there's a gradual learning curve you'll likely notice from episode one to four (like George Lucas, but in reverse). Overall, we're really happy with what we've laid down thus far.

Remember: You can check us out on iTunes and download the podcasts for your long runs, or drive to work, or when you're soaking in the bath, enjoying a fine port wine and feel the need to hear 3 bozos fucking around and - once in awhile - talking about jogging.

Er, running.

Make sure to rate us and leave comments on iTunes if you use it, as those ratings and comments will bump us up higher and higher in the "Sports and Recreation" category. YES, THIS IS A SHAMELESS PLUG.

We'd love to hear your feedback, show suggestions, or otherwise, so hit us up at and let us know!