Feitlebaum is alive and
It's not getting up at the crack of dawn that bothers me; it's getting up in Naples when the dawn is still cracking over Ulan Bantor. So now I'm in the shallow end of an outdoor pool at 6 a.m. for the start of the Mini-Triathalon, surrounded by Jim Thorpe clones. They swim, they bike, they run, they say "mama," "papa," and "unnh—more meat!"
My first clue was when I showed up on my borrowed bicycle, a fine machine made for normal human beings. Then I see the enemy: expertly balanced on aerodynamic hula hoops, they are reptilianly sleek in their form-fitting racing jerseys and tights. They shimmer in the dawn, going in and out of focus as they beam down. They wear helmets and look like alien invaders with very large exo-brains or maybe alien peasants carrying styrofoam cantaloupes to market. They are talking about gear ratios and so-and-so's run up the North Slope of Everest: ("Yeah, faded bad on the swim, too. Barely made it to Hawaii".)
They see my socks.
"Slows transition time." I make a mental note:
no socks—transition time. Those
of you who have read Stephen Hawking's A
Brief History of Time imagine that
"transition time" involves quantum physics or
group sex. Not so. It's the time it takes to
change disciplines: Bam! outta the pool;
bam! into your shoes, bam! onto
your bike, bam! back off your bike and
onto your gams. Pool, bike, run—bam!
bam! bam! They also warn me about tying
shoe-laces. ("Slows transition time—get
lace locks." I do not know what lace locks are,
but I make another mental note to get some and
to learn the
There are 22 of us crowded into eight swimming lanes at the pool. There's the gun and suddenly there is Amazonian thrashing all around me—it's Cow McNugett time in the piranha tank! I envision myself going down for the last time, utterly and completely swum over, like a raft slapped to the bottom of the mighty Mississippi by the paddle wheel of the Delta Queen.
Sudden silence. I am reminded of the times I have got lost while out running, "Excuse me, have you seen 37 other people just run by?" But how many wrong turns can you make in a swimming pool? I turtle up and look around. The field has merely spread out: 22 swimmers are now bobbing and dodging. I veer hard to starboard to avoid another bobber and dodger suddenly looming up. Through my cheap swimming goggles that fog up, everyone else looks as if they're wearing cheap swimming goggles that fog up. And though my love handles would refloat the Titanic, I am not fast. Some are. One has craftily smuggled an outboard motor into his trunks and looks like Johnny Weissmuller out patrolling for crocs. He leaves a wake high enough to flood rice paddies in Bangladesh, and is doing racing turns, just like the guys in the Olympics! Flip-turn-kick, flip-turn-kick. I try it: flip-kick-turn, and though it sounds much better my way, I swallow enough chlorine to make the chairman of Dow Chemical remember me generously in his will.
I have wandered into
the horse race in the old Spike Jones recording
of the "William Tell Overture": "it's cabbage by
a head, girdle in the stretch, banana is now
moving up through the bunch, and ten lengths
behind in last place... yes, it's
Feitlebaum!" I am Feitlebaum. The
mythological embodiment of slowness. The Great
Anyway, bam! outta the pool, bam! over to my bike. I have mistakenly left the gears in high and am now teetering upright on the pedals, trying to kick and pogo them around their first few revolutions. Flailing up and down, I look like someone who is not doing well in Kangaroo 101. Pedalling out of the park, I refute a Scientic American article which once argued that, except for having others carry you in a sedan chair, the bicycle is the most efficient of all forms of locomotion.
Out on the road I meet the three large dogs affectionately known to the community as Froth, Snarl and Chase. They are enraged because I am still in the wrong gear. Bam! 45 minutes later, off the bike. Now, however, my brain is still sending signals to my legs: go in circles, go in circles. This will not make you run. This will make you fall down. There are phantom limb bowling pins attached to my knees. Also, someone talked me into wearing a so-called "triathalon suit": tights with shoulder straps. Even with that large red "S" emblazoned on the front, it still looks like the get-up that old men with handlebar moustaches wear in silent movies about Coney Island. I feel silly and hide in the bushes every time I think another runner may be looking at me.
I stagger in. I'm
going to try another one soon. The incipiently
middle-aged among you will recall that in the
Spike Jones recording, Feitlebaum wins the race.