Monday, January 31, 2011

Intelligence is Bliss

Found out from my sister that my lives-at-his-mom’s-but-is-also-going-to-college-so-go-easy-on-him nephew has a girlfriend. Serious girlfriend. A whole 2 months serious. So serious that she spends more time at my sister’s house than my nephew does.

She’s 19, tiny, very sweet, well-pierced, more than a little tattooed, and very good for the boy. She’s also in the National Guard and headed to Iraq in a week.

My sister’s taking the happy couple out for dinner before the pierced one ships out. Seeing as how she’s the one going to a sand-blown baking-hot corner of hell, she gets to pick the restaurant.

Her favorite restaurant is Olive Garden.

Did that make you chuckle a little? Me too. “Silly girl...”, I thought.

In the past year I’ve had the pleasure of dining in some of the best restaurants in the country. I savor every second of every meal... the first smell, the first bite, the textures, the complexity, the genius of a well-crafted recipe. I’ve had food that's so good, it almost makes me cry. I’ve also had checks at the end of those meals that almost make me pass out. Totally worth it.

I’ve had wines that taste like what heaven would taste like if it existed. And was made of wine. I can close my eyes and feel the luxurious, almost chewy Kuleto Danielli cabernet, like it’s still covering the roof of my mouth like a very tasty coat of paint. I remember the feeling of awe when I first tasted Stag’s Leap Cask 23, never thinking something so delicious, and lovely, and perfectly drinkable could come from a glass.

I loved these wines so much that now I get wines delivered to me from these vineyards, a few times a year, through ridiculously complex measures, and for an equally ridiculous price. When the charge hits, I cringe. Yet when the box arrives, I scurry for a knife, as eager to open it as any Christmas present. More, actually. I don't care for Christmas, much. These great wines have driven me to hunt for more wines, wines that are also great, for wholly different reasons, but expensive in the usual way.

I remember when I thought Corona was a great beer. That was before I took the leap, and some recommendations from friends like BiHo, Dafforn, and Marty, and tried some craft beers. Ok, a lot of craft beers. Who knew that what most people call beer is actually carbonated clydesdale urine. You didn't think they kept those horses around just for the parades and Super Bowl commercials, did you?

Knowing what pleasures are out there, and finding some of those that you truly treasure, is a great gift.

It’s also a curse.

I refuse to think about how much money I’ve spent on all of that fabulous food and insanely great wine. On the rare occasions I buy a 6-pack of beer I like, I try not to notice that I could get a case of “making love in a canoe” beer for the same price.

If only I had never tried those things, life would be easier.

The nephew’s girlfriend will be thrilled to be at Olive Garden. When the food comes, I’m sure she’ll giggle with delight. She’ll “Oooh” and “Ahhh” and make yummy noises over the salad and the pasta and the breadsticks and leave totally satisfied, and thankful for the chance to enjoy such a fulfilling meal.

People with simple tastes may be missing out on some things. They may not know the difference between what they like, and what they are supposed to like. But they may not care. They’ve set themselves up with a simple life, with simple pleasures, and simple rewards. It’s easy. They’re happy. That’s all that counts.

Low expectations are easy to satisfy.

For the last month, I’ve been facing the pain of unsatisfied expectations. And it blows.

No, Brockway didn’t plug their taps into the back end of a Bud Light truck. And the wine is still making it’s round-a-bout trips to my basement rack.

My problem is that I’ve been unable to run. For a month.

I realize that to most people, that's no big deal. If would be no big deal to me either, if I didn’t know what I was missing. If I were a couch sweet potato, I wouldn’t care that my legs have lost that first bit of bounce. I wouldn't notice that my temper is shorter, and my patience thinner, and my mood darker. I would be content to take root in front of the TV as my mind and body wasted away.

This nagging scourge in my heel would be nothing more than a reason to walk less, park closer, take the elevator.

But no. I'm a runner. I know what it’s like to scream down a street, feet barely touching the ground, wind whistling in my ears, mailboxes going past in an ever quickening rhythm, until I hit my finish line, heart pounding, lungs heaving, with a giant smile plastered on my face beaming the pleasure and deep satisfaction of hauling ass.

I’ve been out on a trail, miles from another human, with a million trees around me, and a thin dirt line stretched out before me, beckoning, daring me to continue. I’ve felt the dirt give ever-so-slightly as I zip through a tight turn around a tree. I’ve felt weightless on a descent, my legs churning as fast as they can, each foot just meeting the ground in time to keep gravity from sucking me, face first, to the bottom.

I’ve sat in a chair, having run hours before, still feeling the warmth in my legs. I’ve walked around the office with the relaxed, easy stride that strong, flexible, well-used legs give you.

I’ve been in bed, totally at rest, totally relaxed, totally ready for sleep. My run that day has left me tired, but fulfilled. My head is clear, my mind at peace and looking forward to tomorrow’s run.

Just like true love, really great food, excellent beer, fine wine, and running will spoil you. Once you have experienced these things, once they are in your life, you know their value. You know their beauty. And you know that without them, you wouldn’t be totally you.

I’m a “better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” kinda guy, but not everyone’s up for that.

Look before you leap. Think before you step up to that restaurant you've always wondered about, the next rung up the dining ladder. Don’t experiment with “fancy” beers unless you are willing to pay the tab. And don’t buy any wine you can’t afford, or the ones you can afford will just piss you off.

And don’t take up running lightly. You may just find yourself wanting, needing to do it every day, and missing it terribly when you can’t.

Good running,

Image from here, me, and here, and me again.