gray.

FullSizeRender (7)

I’m not ready. But I kind of have to be.

Until very recently, the milestone I’m approaching — that would be turning 50 in almost exactly 14 months — has mostly been a source of comedy for me. It’s easy to joke about the difference in ages between me and pretty much all of my friends and colleagues in Pittsburgh; I’m older than nearly everyone — by two decades or more in some cases — so when I hear you guys gripe about how far away we are from eighties and nineties, a smirk and a glance over the tops of my glasses will almost always get a laugh. And if I can get a cheap laugh, I’ll go for it, nearly every time.

I think I’ve said here before — and I know I’ve talked about this to a bunch of you in person — I have no idea how someone who is almost 50 is supposed to act. I don’t wake up in the morning and think about having survived nearly a half-century on this planet. I supposed it’s possible that I’ll wake up one day and realize that I’m trying to behave like someone ten (or 15, or 20) years younger than me, and that I need to knock it off. But I definitely need more sleep these days, and it takes me longer in the mornings to loosen up to the degree that I’m not shuffling around the house like I’m an old guy.

The upshot: I feel older, but I’ve never felt like I’m almost 50.

And that’s why the discussions I’ve been having with our new doctor are so disconcerting.

Mrs. Crappy and I both took on a new doc at the recommendation of friends who have been seeing her for a while. I like her a lot. Her manner is similar to what I’ve always guessed being a patient of the Coochie Doctor would be: she is positive, energetic, willing to joke a bit while still being matter-of-fact about what we’re doing. I liked our previous doc too (the change in jobs meant a change in insurance carriers and, therefore, a change in doctors), but in retrospect, I think we were too close to being contemporaries to deal with the things I’m going to have to deal with.

And there is a list.

I’ve seen New Doc twice now. The first time I visited, my blood pressure was sky high, something we’re attributing in part to being nervous about that first checkup; on the second visit, it was 125/85, a reading she was very happy about.

The other good thing: between the first and second visits, I had bloodwork done. And in her words, it was perfect — all the cholesterols, all of that stuff, all much better than she expected to see, especially for someone with a family history of heart problems.

Except for one thing. Blood sugar.

There will be another blood draw next week and another appointment the week after that, but New Doc was careful to make sure I understood this: given my family history, diabetes was likely to be a thing for me from here on in.

And man, I am unhappy about this.

The obvious things that could help are going or already gone. There is no more sweetened cereal in the house. Those freaking fruit popsicles that I used to satisfy my powerful sweet tooth. The Pepsi Max-and-Pop Tart breakfasts are a thing of the past. I don’t know what all the rules are now — I’ll see a nutritionist sometime here in the future — but that stuff is easy to figure out.

And then we discussed carbs, and all that entails. New Doc mentioned a list that includes replacements for many of my favorite things, pasta being chief among those. Sweet potatoes instead of those giant baked ones from Idaho. Beer is an issue. I think about how much I love food, trying new restaurants, visiting the homes of friends who are willing to cook — and there are a bunch of you — and I think about having to give up nearly all of that.

And suddenly, life looks pretty gray.

I will do what New Doc and the nutritionist ask me to do. I will do everything I can to control this without insulin, because that’s a complication I don’t want to have to deal with.

And, eventually, I will remember some of the things I’ve heard in the 14 months since I started yoga — setting aside the attachments to the things that brought me here in favor of appreciating what’s in front of me right now. When I’m able to do that consistently, I’ll be in much better shape.

I’m not there now. Acceptance will take some time.

When I was home for my high school reunion in July, I was struck by how many of the people I see only every five years had become old, not so much physically but in action and attitude. I left feeling thankful that I wasn’t there yet.

I’m doubting that now.

This feeling will pass. I will become accustomed to a new routine, a new normal. Sweets will be a rare treat instead of a nightly habit. I will find a brand of whole wheat pasta that doesn’t make me want to cry. I will be healthier and better for the effort.

But for now, I just feel old.

bricked.

As mid-life crises go, getting a tattoo is way less expensive than a sports car. And when you’re working with a print-journalism salary, that’s kind of an important thing to consider.

But once that decision is made, you’re faced with another: What’s the tattoo going to be?

I’ve known for several years that I wanted to get one, and I realized late last year that I didn’t care to follow the original plan, which was to get one in observance of my 50th birthday.

Nope. Not waiting. But then — what’s it going to be? Ohio related? Yes. Something football? Nah, that’s too easy. A design featuring the state’s borders? I’d never come up with one as cool as Bethany’s. Something related to OU? That’s closer, but still — a green paw print didn’t seem distinctive enough, and I wanted something to emphasize Athens rather than the university.

And then I came to the things that have always served as my favorite icon of the town that still feels like my spiritual home, the thing that we’ve given to friends as wedding presents and that we’ve used as decoration around our apartments and houses. They’re pretty much ubiquitous in town and, since I left town, they’ve even spawned a merchandise line.

athens street

If you’ve lived in Athens, these will look familiar. They pave the main streets Uptown, and you don’t have to look hard around the rest of town to find them (like, say, in the lightly traveled alley across the street from my apartment on West State at Shafer — which is definitely NOT the source of Athens Block bricks I’ve relied on for several years. Ahem).

With that in mind, I set out to find a Pittsburgh artist who, based on a pretty vague description from me, could draw a convincing, detailed brick on my arm. And as it turned out, I didn’t have to look far — Erin at Kyklops was recommended to me by a couple different people, and because I knew her a little bit already, the decision was easy.

And now that it’s done? The decision seems even smarter now than it did before. With just one brief meeting with our brick — and the previously mentioned vague set of instructions from me — Erin came up with exactly what I had in mind:

FullSizeRender (6)

Answers: No, it didn’t hurt, until Erin finished up with some detail stuff right at the end; beyond that, the physical part of getting a tattoo is just kind of annoying, an irritation. No, I was never concerned about getting one, not from the standpoint of any kind of risk (seeing the attention paid to cleanliness at Kyklops actually reminded me of being in a doctor’s office, with much more interesting stuff on the walls), and not from the standpoint that OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE THAT ON YOUR BODY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE — which is why I was certain about the design, the shop and the artist. And yes, I’m probably going to get more.

FullSizeRender (5)

A final word about Erin: She’s really good, and she’s fun to hang out with for a couple hours while she pokes at your skin. I will go back to her; if you’re in or around Pittsburgh and you’re looking for an artist, you should go see her too.

In the last few months I went from having a vague notion that this would be something I’d do in a couple years to realizing that it was kind of dumb for me to wait this long. This is the kind of outward expression of who I am that I’ve always done — this version is just a little more permanent. It feels right to have this on my arm. And it will feel just as right to get a couple more.

getting lit.

icicles2

Confession: this post is for me as much as it is for you.

This is our sixth Christmas in our Pittsburgh house. I don’t think I’ve ever hung our Christmas lights the same way twice. And this post is going to help me remember what I did this year — because it was really easy.

For the first few years we lived here, we strung white lights into strands of garland. It looked terrific, but it was an incredible pain in the ass. If a string of lights wasn’t working when we hauled everything out of the attic, I had a choice: find the single bulb that was causing the problem or unwrapping the entire string and replacing it. This process is why decorating the front of the house used to take multiple days.

I gave up the garland two years ago, opting to just wrap the lights themselves around the porch railings. This presented a different challenge: I had to figure out how many strands I needed — and how many times each strand should be wrapped around the railings to make sure we didn’t have gaps on either side of the porch. And should I wrap all of the porch supports? Just the ones framing the door?

(Does anyone else struggle with these questions every December? Just me? OK. Fine.)

Just after the completion of The Game on Saturday, I ran to Home Depot to buy a few boxes of strands to replace the ones that died since last Christmas (How do Christmas lights die when they sit in an attic, untouched, for 11 months?) and hung the lights. It was … easy. The numbers worked out well. No gaps or overhangs (with one exception that I’ll fix later today).

And that, boys and girls, is the actual purpose of this post — I want to remember what I did, so I can do it again next year.

buhses

The bushes on the side of the house haven’t actually changed over the years. The little one gets three red strands, while the large one gets four (reminder for 2014: make it five on the large one).

shortside

The short side of the porch has always been a puzzler. Wrap the whole railing? The entire post, or just the front? What I did this time: Up the railing’s back post, wrapped once per spindle, down the railing’s front post and then around the front of the porch post. A second strand of 100 lights is enough to up to the porch roof.

icicles1

Fortunately, the icicle lights have always been easy. Two strands of however long they are. Rinse, repeat.

maple

It didn’t occur to me to light the Japanese maple until last year, when I found I had extra red lights. Three strands of 100 does the trick.

railing

And then there’s the rest of the porch. This is where I’ve changed my mind the most over the years — and I hope I have put that to rest from this point forward. Two 100-light strands, wrapped just once per spindle, cover the entire railing, the handrail along the steps and the handrail’s front post. To do the other porch post that frames the doorway, connect a strand of 100 to the connection between the two icicles, run it along the roof frame until you get to the post and start going down. The one thing that didn’t work Saturday night — I need one strand of 50 to finish that post. We’ll fix that soon.

front

That’s it. Easy. And it turned out pretty well, don’t you think?

on the record.

When we visited the library last week, Mrs. Crappy found a book she thought would be right in my wheelhouse. And she was correct.

Record Store Days is an ode to the romance of the dingy stores that occupied much of my time — and my money — from about age 10 until fairly recently. When I was younger, I had places close by where I got my comic books, but somewhere around 1976 or 1977, a couple things happened: I was given greater leeway by my parents to ride my red Schwinn 10-speed beyond the boundaries of the immediate neighborhood, and I started to really pay attention to music.

And when I found I could get to the Buzzard’s Nest record store on Henderson Road in about 20 minutes on my bike? I got a backpack big enough to hold LPs, and off I went.

Transportation was a key, here. My parents are exceedingly patient people — and my father, especially, understood the obsession — but I realized quickly that the legitimate number of requests I could make for a ride or a stop at a record store was limited. So the bike — and later the moped and the Pinto, my first car — got me to the nearby Buzzard’s Nest, the chain store (I think) on Lane Avenue and — the Holy Grail — the used-record stores on High Street on Ohio State’s campus.

Especially when I was still pedaling up to Buzzard’s Nest, I know I was in awe of the people who worked there. They were, in my pre-adolescent mind, my people. They knew the disco records, but they were rock ‘n roll guys, long hair, cheesy 70s facial hair, black t-shirts — they were what 10-year-old me wanted to be.

I grew out of the black t-shirt phase at some point in junior high school — that had something to do with discovering the Grateful Dead, which sent me off down a less-metallic path — but my love for the record store never wavered. I enjoy the ease of buying music now — and I will admit that I’m not a vinyl purist by any stretch, because the music itself is still more important to me than the medium — but I miss spending an hour in a store, flipping through bin after bin of treasure and coming across something I’ve never seen.

I’ve mentioned Buzzard’s Nest already. It was the local chain in Columbus, and I think it managed to stick around sometime into the late 1980s. I loved my local Buzzard’s Nest, but the real treasure was to be found elsewhere. Here’s a taste of what I remember about my record stores:

Magnolia Thunderpussy. Easily the best name for a record store I’ve ever heard. This campus staple is still around, although it seems like it’s moved at least a couple times since I’ve lived in Columbus. I remember it being the biggest, but not necessarily the best of the campus stores. Thorough selection, but almost as pricy as Buzzard’s Nest.

The one at the bottom of the stairs. This was up High Street a bit, almost to Lane, in a basement spot customers reached via a double stairway on the east side of the street. I don’t recall if this was the Columbus version of Schoolkids Records, but I know it was my primary stop. A good selection of new stuff, and always a reliable flow of used records to pick over, at prices that accommodated my paperboy’s income.

The one above Bernie’s. Was this Schoolkids? The name wasn’t really the important part; the 25-cent and 50-cent bins were. This little place was hit-or-miss, but when you hit, you hit big. Used records were sorted by price per disc — a quarter, 50 cents or maybe a buck if the vinyl was really clean. On a good day, a five-dollar bill was enough to fill my backpack and make my ride back home a little uncomfortable — because of the weight of the LPs and the fact I was in a hurry to get home.

Schoolkids Records, Athens. Last time I visited OU, this was no longer a record store, and that’s a shame — it was a great one when I was a student. They mostly had switched to CDs by the time I returned from the Army, but I had as well, so no biggie. Excellent selection, including some difficult-to-find stuff. They did the midnight sales on Tuesdays for big-deal releases, and I attended a couple of those; once they got to know me, though, they would also hold copies of stuff on the promise I’d be in before lunch to pick it up.

The one downstairs, Athens. This was on Union Street, below a Chinese restaurant and next to the old carryout where I used to buy 12-packs of Weidemann beer for $5. It was small and dark, with used vinyl only. I scored some good stuff there, and was sorry to see it was gone when I returned to Athens after getting out of the Army.

A couple big ones:

Tower Records, NYC. From the moment that Juan moved to Brooklyn after he finished school, I made it clear that the first weekend I visited we would be heading to the village so I could bask in the glory that was Tower Records. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The place was huge, and it had everything. I was smart enough that I showed up looking for a few specific things — records to fill out a catalog of a couple bands, if I remember — and I think I left with nearly everything I was looking for.

ear X Tacy, Louisville. Upon completion of basic training, I was informed that I would be staying at Fort Knox in Kentucky for the remainder of my time in the Army. That was good, mostly; I was a fairly short distance from home, so I could get back to Columbus pretty much whenever I felt the need. But I still needed to explore Louisville a little bit, to find out what my home for the next couple years had to offer. Most of the guys in my platoon recommended the gigantic mall just south of town, but there was one guy who lived down the hall on my floor in the billets who knew better. His nickname was, appropriately, Pig; I met him when I heard astonishingly good banjo coming from down the hall and found him playing in the bathroom. Pig’s advice? “Go find ear X Tacy.” It was maybe the best independent record store I ever came across; killer selection, knowledgeable-and-friendly staff, the perfect vibe. It also served as a community hub in Louisville, or at least it did for me; at the end of those weeks where I was struggling with Army life, I’d drive up to the store on Saturday morning, spend a couple hours and a few bucks and come back happy. The closing of record stores isn’t news these days, but I was crushed last fall when I heard that ear X Tacy was shutting down.

Border’s Books and Music. Yeah, I know. Chain, box store, blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. Border’s — especially the one in Northway Mall — always felt comfortable to me, and when they were able, they were a kickass record store. But I’m including them here for symbolic reasons more than anything else, because the demise of music sales at that particular store was really the final thing that drove me to the world of downloads. The shift, at first, was subtle; if you went a couple months between visits, the music section would shrink by a row or two. The more obscure genres vanished first, and I didn’t really miss the Russian folk music CDs. But when the reggae section vanished? Jazz got reduced by half? The quirkier rock and pop musicians disappeared? At some point I walked downstairs and found that nearly the entire thing was gone; what had taken up nearly the entire floor had been consolidated down to two lonely, pathetic racks in the middle of the sprawling room. And I felt like crying.

We have good record stores here still. I stop in when I think to, but I generally can count on one hand the number of physical CDs I buy each year these days. For me, the hunt these days is in iTunes, at eMusic, on etree or the archive. I get what I need there, and most days, that’s enough. But I miss old version of the hunt: digging through bins, pulling the LPs from the sleeves and grinning when I found a clean one in the fifty-cent stack, pedaling home as fast as I could to give it a listen. That feeling I will never have again.

I don’t often do this, but I have questions: What was your favorite record store? What made it so?

8. not feelin’ it.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about college football here.

There are a couple reasons for that. Most of what I have to say goes on Killer Nuts Tailgating, the blog I set up for that express purpose a couple years ago.

And then there’s this: I haven’t had much happy stuff to say about college football recently.

Ohio State plays at Nebraska tonight. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been waiting for this game since the very day we heard Nebraska might be joining the Big Ten. And now that it’s here … I’m just not nearly as engaged as I should be.

Some of that has to do with my expectations of what will happen in Lincoln tonight. I’m generally OK with the notion that this is going to be a rough season, but that isn’t going to make it any easier to get ready for a game that Ohio State doesn’t have much of a chance to win.

Some of it has to do with what I’ve been calling The Unpleasantness at KNT, and the fact that it hasn’t really let up with the dismissal of Jim Tressel and that other guy who would have been starting at quarterback this year. The newest suspensions, particularly those of players who had already been suspended because of the tattoo thing, is disheartening. I’m not naive, and I know no college football program, including the one I support with everything I have, is completely clean; it’s almost impossible to do. But every single time this year I’ve thought the university has turned a corner and I could get back to cheering for a program that I could also be proud of, something else — cash at charity events, no-work summer jobs — buries me again.

We’re going to a party tonight, a going-away shindig for a very good friend of ours. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on the game — as I would have done if this had been a more typical football season — but I’m not expecting to have to watch very closely.

And I’m not sure I’ll want to anyway.

4. i didn’t die.

It was still dark at 6:45 this morning. A little misty, a little cool.

And not once did I think about going back to bed.

No, I wandered around the neighborhood for about two miles. A little more walking than running. The running part felt pretty good, and when the nice British lady on Couch to 5K told me to go, I tried to avoid lapsing into a shuffle. It worked.

About 35 minutes later, I arrived back at our house. I didn’t throw up in anyone’s yard. I didn’t feel like collapsing in a heap on the floor when I went inside.

And I even thought I might do this again.

Something that helped: The reaction from a bunch of you to yesterday’s post and the links I posted elsewhere. And the reaction I got when I signed up for Daily Mile this morning. I am set up with a list of races that’ll come around at just about the time that I’m finishing C25K, and I already have a couple volunteers to run with me when I pick one. Very gratifying stuff, especially for someone who’s just starting.

And that’s the point of doing it this way. I’ve tried before, but I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing — and that made it way too easy to quit. I know I have a bunch of people watching — and supporting me — this time; and I know they’ll let me have it if I slack.

Again — no promises beyond the short-term stuff. But I feel pretty good about the start.