Hubris Can Hurt

Mrs. Curtis, an English teacher at Marietta High School, taught a Greek mythology class.  I took the class my senior year, and one thing I never forgot was a sentence she wrote on the blackboard and never erased the entire semester: Beware excessive pride.  (She was a bit of a grammar Nazi–I’ve been called that as well–so I suspect that was why she never wrote the rest of the sentence, for it is a failing we are all open to.  There were certain things up with which Mrs. Curtis did not put!)

“Beware excessive pride” is a maxim that lay deeply buried in my subconscious until this week.  As I’m sitting here in my study typing this entry, Susie is downstairs watching a video, I have Jethro Tull comfortably blaring from my speakers, and I am in pain.
The pain is an aftereffect of my own hubris (“excessive pride, presumption, or arrogance (originally toward the gods)”, per  A co-worker of mine has been ribbing me for weeks about my avoidance, if not complete aversion, to joining the gym at work.  He has even offered to pay for my first month’s membership.
He and I trade barbs about my lack of physical fitness and I come back with remarks about his age.  (He is several years older than I am, and played football and baseball in high school, and coached track when he was in the Army.  He spends every lunch hour on the treadmill or working out with weights.)
Last week, he challenged me to walk with him from our floor in the William Green Building (the 10th), all the way to the topmost floor.  He knows that I enjoy walking long distances and for hours at a time, so I guess he wanted to see just how fit I truly was.  (According to body mass index charts, I’m constantly straddling the dividing line between overweight and obese.)  I shrugged this off, thinking, “Piece of cake.”  Walking was walking, wasn’t it?  After all, I reasoned, I did plenty of walking during the six years I lived in Cincinnati, and no two neighborhoods are on the same level there.

Chuck, my co-worker, said, “Tuesday morning, 10 o’clock.  Meet you at the door to the stairs.”

I told him I’d be there.  When I got back to my desk, I logged into GroupWise (our combined email and scheduling software platform) and under October 25, 10 a.m., I logged, “Walk to the top of the building with Methuselah,” making sure he would get a copy.

So Tuesday at 10, I met him at the door to the stairwell.  Usually, I spend my 10 a.m. breaks in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation library, reading The Columbus Dispatch or The Wall Street Journal, but I decided that I would forego this until lunchtime.  So there I was at 10, and Chuck was at the door.  We exchanged the banter about whether we had the paramedics on standby, should we have a defibrillator waiting, etc.

The William Green Building, my workplace since 2004.

And then he and I began trudging.  I knew he would be faster, since he habitually uses the Stairmaster in the gym.  I sailed up the first two or three flights, and then I took 10- or 15-second breaks after I had gone up four or five floors.

The William Green Building is 530 feet tall, and it has 33 floors altogether.  I did not realize, until this trudge was in progress, there were three additional floors.  The Industrial Commission’s executives’ offices are on the 30th floor, known either as “Thirty” or “the Vatican.”  I had assumed that was the topmost floor.  But, as we kept going upward, Chuck informed me that there were 33 floors altogether.  Floors 31-33 contain the air conditioning equipment, the elevator mechanism, and generators.

The walk up to 33 was not fun.  I have occasionally walked from the lobby to the 10th floor, and came through the door at the conclusion of the walk thinking someone would have to jump-start my heart.  My legs were aching, but I felt okay as far as my breathing was concerned.  Chuck told me later he worried a little when I stopped to take the mini-breaks.  My legs were hurting a bit by the time I triumphantly placed my hand on the door to the 33rd floor, like a mountain climber planting a flag.

Then came the trip back down.  When I’ve started the day (or returned from lunch) by going up to the 10th floor by stair instead of elevator, at least I could be sure that I’d be sitting for awhile thereafter.  According to my stopwatch, Chuck and I took 8½ minutes to go 23 floors.  I shut the stopwatch off once I touched the door with “33” painted on it, so I didn’t time the trip back downstairs.

We hadn’t descended very far before I felt like my legs were going to buckle.  I’ve heard expressions such as “It’s all downhill from here” all my life, and that would lead me to believe that downhill would be easier.  Wouldn’t gravity be doing most of my job for me?

Yes, it would, and if I wasn’t careful, gravity would be doing the job too well.  I had to make sure my shoes were firmly planted on each step, and I held onto the handrail until my knuckles were bloodless.  This was one of those situations where you just had to ignore the pain.  I had taken Monday off from work, so the untyped ex parte orders and doctors’ reports were piling up on my desk.  I couldn’t just stay in the stairwell indefinitely.  So I paced myself, gritted my teeth, and made it back to the 10th floor.  “I’m proud of you, man!” Chuck said.  He had been worried when I wanted to take a break on the way up, but I did it.

Once I got back to my desk, that was when I began to sweat, and that was when the pain in my gastrocnemius muscles really began to hurt, and the pain hasn’t let up yet.  Since Tuesday morning, I have dreaded stairs, especially when I have to go down them.  When it’s necessary, I hold my legs rigidly, like a wishbone, and you can tell from my expression that it’s an ordeal I want to finish as soon as I can.

Compare this to when I was at Ohio University, in the fall of 1986 through the spring of 1987, when I steadfastly refused to use elevators, in an effort to lose weight.  (During high school, I resembled Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! cartoons, more so when I grow the scraggly goatees that preceded my first real beards.)  I drove my friends crazy by insisting on using stairs, thinking I would burn off any excess weight.  Never mind that I was going to bars almost nightly and drinking beer by the gallon.)

So where do I stand right now?  The pain is still there, and it’s not limited to when I’m climbing stairs.  I usually carry a bottle of Aleve in my knapsack, since I’m so prone to shin splints, and I’ve been using it pretty heavily these past few days.  Tonight, I walked the 1.2 miles from Giant Eagle to my house.  (I had gone to the Whetstone library to pick up reserves, and, as I left, Susie asked me to pick up some bread.  I took the bus from home to Whetstone, and from Whetstone to Giant Eagle, but decided to walk back home.)  I’m not sorry I did it, but I was hoping I could walk out whatever cramp or knot I gave myself during my marathon stair climb on Tuesday.

Pride goeth before leg cramps.

Reduced Moonlighting, But No Spike in My Energy

From now until after Labor Day, I’ll only be working Saturday mornings (9 a.m.-noon) at the Discovery Exchange.  I happily greeted this news, but with the reduction in my moonlighting responsibilities has not come a jump in my energy level, or any motivation or desire to put any effort into the activities that I yearn to do whenever my time is occupied with work.  In The Journals of John Cheever, he frequently describes “cafard” as his current state of mind, and that matches mine.  So far I can truthfully write that I haven’t followed his lead and tried to dull or reverse the cafard by a return to drinking.

A case in point is the fact that I didn’t make it to church this morning.  (During the fall, I am pretty conscientious about attending services, but this slacks off in the summertime, when the services are almost all lay-led.  Many Unitarian congregations discontinue services altogether in the summertime.  The flip explanation for this is “What other denomination could God trust out of His sight for three months?”  The truth is that 19th-century Unitarian ministers were anxious to get out of Boston during the summer.  Boston in the summer makes Washington, D.C. in August seem like a deep freeze.)  This summer would be when I’d make one of my rare appearances, because the erstwhile president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, John Buehrens, was speaking.  I was so exhausted and/or unmotivated that I didn’t even bother to set my alarm before going to bed last night, and by the time I finally summoned enough energy to get to bed, there was no way I could get showered, dressed, and out of the house in time to make it to the 10 a.m. service.

Thanks to Susie, I was able to perk up a bit during the afternoon.  We spent the day in Clintonville, eating lunch at the Golden Arches, and then she had a hair trim at Lucky 13.  I posted on Facebook later in the afternoon that we exhibited mutual respect.  I was bored while Susie’s stylist shampooed and trimmed her hair, but the time would be too short to really concentrate on the book I had with me, or to take out my ballpoint and write in my diary, and none of the magazines in the rack interested me.  I knew Susie wanted a hair trim, so I stayed there and waited, and she looked great when she stepped from the chair.

We walked up to the Whetstone Library, but I was distracted on the way by a cluttered antique store we passed a block or so from Lucky 13.  The very petite Corona portable typewriter in the front window called to me, but I didn’t feel like paying $30 for it.  Nonetheless, I ignored Susie as she ostentatiously tugged at my wrist and tried to pull me away from the store, and we went in.  She and I had just spent 20 minutes or so in Wholly Craft, an offbeat craft store she loves, which sells everything from jewelry to journals to clothes, all of it hand- and locally made.  I indulged her browsing, and she was gracious enough to indulge mine.  I looked at several typewriters (still searching in vain for a Simplex toy typewriter, circa 1925, which was the first machine for my friend, novelist Robert Lowry), and a $20 Teac reel-to-reel recorder briefly tempted me.  I was not tempted to buy them, but a suitcase full of Edison phonograph cylinders selling at $3 apiece held my attention for quite awhile.  (As I write this, I’m typing with Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator” blaring from my laptop speakers.  Juxtapositions, anyone?)

Probably just as well there was no phonograph for sale.  That would have made buying the cylinders all the more tempting.

Susie and I went to a “poolnic” this afternoon at Olympic Swim and Racquet.  (In case you haven’t figured it out, this word is a portmanteau of “pool” and “picnic.”)  Susie and I made a quickly-in-quickly-out trip to Kroger and bought two pies, and she was in the water more than she was poolside with the food.  (Although I brought my suit, I never did get in the water… although I kept meaning to.)  The other people from the poolnic brought much good food–macaroni and cheese, beans, watermelon, assorted vegetables, so Susie came home quite sated.)

Yesterday afternoon, after the bookstore, Susie and I went to a joint birthday party/graduation celebration near the Walhalla Ravine.  The college graduate was a young woman who was Susie’s first babysitter, and this woman’s daughter just turned a year old.  (I still remember the mother, age eight or nine, carrying infant Susie around the church and proudly announcing, “This is my baby!”)  One of the other guests graduated from Parkersburg High School, 12 miles from my hometown of Marietta, Ohio–although he graduated in 1994 and I in 1981.  (When two intellectually inclined people from the Mid-Ohio Valley leave the area and meet each other years later, you’d swear you’re listening to two former POWs comparing their Hanoi Hilton experiences.)

I found myself admitting that the people of Marietta High School weren’t as provincial and bigoted as I have described them previously–either in one-on-one conversations or in this blog.  Maybe I was in a charitable mood because my 30th-year high school reunion was last night in Marietta, and I wasn’t attending.  But I told this person that my classmates were tolerant of my always reading books, or always holding a pen, or announcing at an early age that I wanted to be a poet–instead of a race car driver or a Marine.  The attitude was pretty much like, “Don’t make fun of Billy.  He can’t help that he was born blind.”


During my senior year at Marietta High School, one of the final classes I took was Public Speaking, under Mr. Tom Miller.  (I had been on cruise control academically for most of my secondary school career, and this was a class, I knew, that would provide maximum grades for minimal effort.  That was pretty much the story of my entire high school experience.)

One class activity screamed “I don’t have a lesson plan in mind!” in letters four stories high.  That was when we came to class and found the day would be for impromptu speeches.  Mr. Miller would call your name, you’d go up to the podium, and he would hand you a slip of paper with a topic.  So, without notes or preparation, you were supposed to discourse, while he kept one eye on you and the other on the second hand of his watch.

(I thought of this because when I logged onto Blogspot tonight, I logged on without the slightest idea of what the hell I would write about.  I just felt guilty that I haven’t posted for a few days.  That was when I wish someone had handed me such a paper, so I’d be able to write about something.  That’s how I ended up writing this impromptu about impromptus.)

I distinctly remember the one he handed me.  It was Mud.  That required some major effort on my part.  I discoursed for about a minute on the mud that was on the cuffs of the jeans I was wearing that day.  (The mud came from my walk the previous Saturday from Marietta up Route 550 to a bookstore a guy had in his garage, along with the chickens he raised.)

Then I added a second D to the word, and ended up giving a very pedagogic and exceedingly pedantic speech about Samuel A. Mudd, M.D.  (The M.D. could stand both for his native state of Maryland and the fact that he was a medical doctor.)  He was the physician who set John Wilkes Booth’s leg after Booth had assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.  (Booth had broken his leg while jumping to the stage from President Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater.)  For this, Mudd was arrested and found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Dr. Mudd, while imprisoned at Fort
Jefferson on the Florida Keys.

At the time, I’m pretty sure I was convinced of the usual take on his case.  He was a humble country doctor fulfilling his Hippocratic Oath by taking in and treating an injured stranger, and for this he almost paid with his life.  I am more aware now that he was quite active in the Confederate underground in that part of Maryland, and that he knew Booth before the assassination, and that once he realized who his house guests were (Booth was with David Herold, who knew that part of Maryland intimately because he had hunted there since childhood), he did not tell the Federal authorities and Secret Service that were scouring the area.  I did emphasize that he did leave prison four years into his sentence, imprisoned at a hellhole on Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.  (He saved the lives of hundreds of prisoners and guards during a yellow fever epidemic.  President Andrew Johnson pardoned him shortly before leaving office in 1869.)

I think even the teacher was impressed that I had managed to achieve this feat.  I think I went over the designated time allotted for my impromptu speech.  I think my classmates, whether interested in Dr. Mudd’s life and trial or not, were hoping that I would keep on running off at the mouth until it was time for the final bell (and the end of the school day).  It was a weird type of Scheherazade situation.  The longer I kept up there telling the story, the less likely those that hadn’t been up to the podium would be called.

There ought to be an Impromptu Website for us bloggers who want to write almost daily, but come up short with subject material on any given day.