Peter Shelton

Warm Coastal Waters (3)

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Personal History, Uncategorized by pshelton on November 7, 2017

I’m convinced he was in charge at the end. After the rehab fiasco, he was ready to go.

When it was time to leave the hospital, Dad’s doctor prescribed a week at a nursing home to finish the antibiotics and continue the physical therapy. But it didn’t work out. He had his doubts, even before we left the hospital. A new nurse struggled to get Dad’s socks on preparatory to getting him into the wheelchair. He couldn’t even sit up on his own. I had to stand on the opposite side of the bed and prop him up from behind. “See this man who’s got my back,” he told the beleaguered woman. “He can bounce. He can jump. And run. I’m quite envious of him.”

At the rehab place, instead of slowly regaining strength, he gradually lost it. Supported walks became shorter. The hoped-for goal of getting himself to the bathroom unaided slipped farther out of reach. Staff did not always respond timely to his calls. He soiled himself in bed and was mortified. After a week, the antibiotics course had finished. His internist wanted him to extend his stay: You just need to work at it, Bob; you can regain that mobility, that pre-fall independence, and then go home.

Dad agreed, reluctantly, to another week. He worked at it. He really did. But the results weren’t coming. He wanted to go home. He wanted it to end. The indignities. The complete dependence on others. Wendy thought he was depressed. And he probably was. But who wouldn’t be at that point? He was ready, and he knew it. His doc ordered hospice.

I flew south a second time. Wendy drove down from her home in Truckee. Tom borrowed an electric keyboard, a “full 88,” from a theater where he played on weekend nights, crammed it into his vintage Prius, and reconstructed it in the hall outside Dad’s study. Tom played Joplin. Slow ragtime. He knew Dad loved it. It was exquisite. It was heartbreaking.

One afternoon I took a break and drove to the cliff overlooking the Big Beach. There, surrounding the harbor, was the city Dad built. No, that’s too grand. And not true. He was the city’s first city manager, starting when they adopted their charter in 1955, and helped guide what had been a sandy, isolated, commercial fishing and summer-cottage town to become… What? Dad would be the first to say he didn’t approve of much that characterizes the place today: a city squeezed to the last developable square inch; a crushing, shiny river of Bentleys and Beamers; ugly politics; $20 million homes; a mooring on the bay for your boat, if you can find one, for half a million more. Dad’s hospital window looked out over a piece of the bay and a small sampling of the 10,000 yachts moored there. A youngish hospital orderly (too young, really, to know) caught me gazing out the window and told me, “I grew up in Newport Beach before it was ‘The O.C.’”

Back then, when Dad was fresh out of the war and out of school, growth was an unquestioned good, progress a straight line rising. Back then we drove 20 minutes on surface streets through orange groves to get to the Santa Ana Freeway. Disneyland hadn’t yet opened. Dad’s job was to manage the growth as rationally, as intelligently as possible. Many people think he did just that. In later decades, though, he’d cringe at his own naiveté, his failure, if it was a failure, to perceive the onrushing future.

A brown pelican, endangered when I was a kid but making a comeback, glided right over the rock on which I sat. So close I could hear the air whistling through its feathers.

I have long believed, and I think Dad came to believe, too, that his signature professional achievement was the preservation from development of a stretch of wild beach between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. He was working at the time for the Irvine Company, developer of the City of Irvine, the Irvine campus of the University of California, and large, terraced chunks of Newport Beach. They had plans to develop this four-mile strip of beachfront, too – one of the last pieces of undeveloped coastline in southern California. I’m not sure whose idea it was initially, but I do know that Dad spent years negotiating with the Coastal Commission, the State of California, Orange County, the surrounding city governments – and succeeded eventually in transferring the land to the state parks system, where it remains wild and open to the public, its honey-colored cliffs and rock-strewn beaches, its tide pools and pelicans protected.

Tom played Joplin. Our mother came, briefly, to pay her respects, driven up from Laguna Beach by somebody… Eliza? Diana? They, Mom and Dad, had remained civil, often friendly, living just a few miles apart, in the years since their divorce. She stood at the foot of Dad’s bed, her expression hard to read. Later, at her house, I asked her what she had been thinking, assuming she’d say something about his spectral appearance, the handsome skull beneath papery skin. But she just said, “It’s complicated.” Of course it was. We left it at that.

Dad’s wife, Barbara, never completely comfortable around Sheltons, disappeared or padded purposefully around the house that would soon be hers alone. It was in part to spare her the burden of caregiving that Dad was so determined to go. I don’t know this for certain, but I believe it’s true.

As Dad marched on, I sat next to the bed, hand on his shoulder, and talked. Talked about letting go. I reminded Dad of a recurring dream he used to tell me about. A skiing dream in which he had to push through typical dream obstacles to get to the actual skiing part, but then, when he did get there, the skiing was exquisite, like nothing he’d ever done but as he imagined it could be. He was floating down the mountain, and it was effortless.

I told him about a dream I have had more than once. I’m underwater, way down below the surface, I’m holding my breath and I’m not at all sure I’ll make it back up. I’m swimming, breaststroking, my lungs about to burst, I have to exhale, and then… slowly at first, but with increasing awareness and pleasure, I realize I don’t have to breathe. I’m fine. Not exactly like a fish with gills, but something like that. I’m getting plenty of what I need: oxygen? air? neither one? In the peculiar logic of the dream, it doesn’t matter. I’m ecstatic. This was something I’d always known, or should have known, but discovered only now. And I’m freer than I’ve ever been. At ease.

Wendy touched my arm. I had drifted off in the lounge chair with a blanket over me. Tom slept on a day bed nearby. “He’s gone,” she said. It was 4:00 a.m. She’d been sitting with Dad the last couple of hours. His breathing got slower, she said. And then it stopped.

We decided to motor northwest along Catalina’s lee shore, out beyond Avalon’s last moorings, past the Casino, the 1930s-era Art Deco ballroom, past the towering cruise ship, past the faux Amalfi Coast condos terraced into the cliff, my tension dissipating with each nautical mile. Past the dive boats at anchor that were the last sign of civilization.

We wouldn’t get as far as White’s Landing, where Wendy, Tom and I (and sister Polly, who died 10 years ago) had slept many a summer night rocking gently in the Good Grief’s bunks. Days spent in and out of the water, mostly in. Dad, lithe and tan, salt crystalizing on his forearms, rowing us back from the beach in the dinghy. White’s was the cove we knew best. But it was too far on this day.

This spot, though, was far enough. It was perfect. We killed the engines and drifted in silence, our two boats linked by arms and hands, my starboard alongside Tom’s port. There was still no wind. The water lapping against the hulls was the deep blue of Concord grapes, but clear, clear down deep, like looking into a sapphire. Ellen and I passed out the tins. We’d already talked with the little ones about what we were going to do, how special this was, and that they were to be reverent, although we didn’t use that word. And they were. Splendidly so, in spite of their excitement. In spite of, or perhaps because of the (for them) entirely new sea on which we bobbed. The warm coastal waters off Catalina Island.

I don’t know who first sprinkled from his tin of ashes. In time, each of us leaned over the side and reached down close to the water before letting Geegeepa go. When I sprinkled my few spoonsful I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. The finer, lighter bits formed a cumulus cloud billowing just below the surface. (I don’t know why I thought they might float.) The heavier pieces drifted purposefully downward in a sparkling column that flashed and glowed in the sunlight. The deeper they went the darker the blue background, but they never stopped catching light and throwing it back, like individual flakes of gold.

Eventually there were 12 clouds and descending star columns – each angling slowly away as the boats drifted closer to shore.

Ellen has written a lovely, rhyming book called “A Cat Named Clyde,” in which Clyde dies and is transformed, over time, from his backyard grave into a cloud, and rain, a grain of sand, and eventually a pearl “… that was worn by a woman who liked to twirl…” Ellen had read “Clyde” to Alex and Lily, at home in Bend. Maybe that’s where Lily’s comment came from, for, just when it was time to pull the starter cords on the outboards and head back, a young sea lion poked its sleek, whiskered head above the surface and regarded us for a long moment. And Lily said, “Maybe that’s Geegeepa come to say goodbye.”

Advertisements

Warm Coastal Waters (2)

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Personal History, Uncategorized by pshelton on November 6, 2017

It wasn’t his heart.

When, weeks later, Dad lay dying, at home with hospice care, his two nurses Dahlia and Leticia, who took turns keeping him clean and (more or less) comfortable, gave me diametrically opposed advice. One said, your father can hear everything you say; talk to him. The other said, no, he’s not hearing anything now.

I chose to believe the first. Dad hadn’t opened his eyes or responded to questions for the last day and a half, so there was no way to know for sure. He was done eating. And the little bits of water we trickled into his mouth with the popsicle sponge were less and less welcome.

He didn’t need sustenance. He was concentrating. Working hard at breathing. Or at stopping breathing. The animal brain, of course, wouldn’t countenance a voluntary cessation. Thus the resistance. Why it was taking this long. The man, the cerebral, dignified man who had thought long and hard about this, and whose body had finally betrayed him, was marching steadily toward the end. His breathing came in orderly – labored but orderly – patterns, like waves in and out on a beach. Then every once in a while there’d be a big exhale, a lengthy sigh. Pause. And the pattern would recommence.

Sitting there, I was reminded of his time in the Navy in World War II. He’d joined up in 1943 as a college sophomore and enlisted right away in a quickie officers’ candidate school that turned out “90-day wonders.” Three months and you were a Navy ensign. During this training period, Dad had led a precision drill team. I’ve seen pictures. They were a near-perfect machine, a white-capped, white-gloved cube of synchronized movement – marching straight, pirouetting right, stopping on the exact dime – with my fresh-faced dad off slightly to the side calling out the cadence. They won competitions. They were magnificent. Later, he taught his four children how to salute and how to march, tongue ever so slightly in cheek, across the living room rug. “For’ard, harch! One-two… About… Face! At ease!”

Now he was marching again, or so I imagined. Working hard. Working at precision. Getting there. So, maybe he wasn’t hearing me. But I talked anyway. I talked about our boats and our time together on boats. Long ago but still vivid. (A portrait, an actual oil painting of the Good Grief, at anchor on a glassy day, hung on the wall around the corner from Dad’s rented hospital bed.) I reminded him of the time we’d started out for Catalina, the two of us in a pea-soup “marine layer,” on the Mister Robert’s. (The name painted on the hull referred to Dad’s given name, but also steered an alert reader to the 1955 movie starring Henry Fonda and Jimmy Cagney. It’s the story of a small, humorously fractious Navy supply ship on the fringes of the action in the Pacific, and it roughly paralleled Ensign Shelton’s experience.) That foggy day we set our compass course for Long Point, near the center of the 20-mile-long island, just in case. We took turns steering and blowing the foghorn. At one point during the morning an overloaded cabin cruiser veered suddenly out of the mist into shouting range. “You headed to Catalina?” “Yes!” “Us too!” And they roared off, vanished. I don’t think either of us mentioned it, but the encounter brought back the grisly memory of three bodies laid out on the Coast Guard dock. Dad was city manager of Newport Beach at the time. A very hands-on manager who showed up and sometimes got wet or got his hands dirty supporting city employees. And sometimes I happened to be there with him when he got a call. The bodies on the harbormaster dock were the first dead people I had seen. They’d been nibbled on by sharks. Bloodless white meat after days in the water. The autopsy later decreed (kindly, I thought) that all three had drowned first. Their powerboat had sunk somewhere in the Catalina Channel and they had put their life jackets on backwards, which pushed their faces in the water.

At some point mid-crossing the fog lifted, and Dad and I were stunned to see we were aimed, not at the island’s midsection but at its east end. A strong cross current had shoved us left by almost 10 miles. Had we continued to rely solely on the compass heading, we’d have missed the island altogether.

I talked to him about the marching he had taught us kids. I asked him if that’s what he was doing now, marching. He didn’t show any sign of having heard, but kept on with the metronome, open-mouth breathing. One of the last things I did hear him say was, “I’m organizing on deck…”

Every once in a while he would grimace and stiffen as if in pain. We had struggled with morphine dosages. The hospice people had left a set of guidelines but stressed that we could give more if needed. Cloe, who is a doctor, said on the phone from Oregon that as a rule she favored easing pain. She didn’t think we were giving Geegeepa too much. Wendy, on the other hand, remembered conversations with our father in which he stated his desire to be “present” at the moment of death; he very much wanted to experience the passage. (This is a man who wrote his own obituary. He didn’t like the fluffy scripted ones he read in the paper. We all thought his was overly modest, cleaved of much accomplishment and honors bestowed, but it was in character and included, near its end, the sentence: “As for the afterlife, I’m not telling.”)

Most of the time when these grimaces took over Dad’s face, he just needed to pee. He never quite got the catheter thing. That he could just let go and urinate without violating that age-old prohibition against wetting the bed. He’d grimace, eyes tight shut, and I’d peer under the sheet and see that, yes, the prophylactic was still attached and despite his psychic discomfort, the dark urine had begun to flow.

Back when Dad was in the hospital, following his living-room collapse, he’d suffered from what one doc labeled “hospital psychosis” and another referred to as “hospital delirium.” It happens, she said, especially to old people who are ripped from their routines. And it did perhaps explain Dad’s discombobulation. One time soon after I’d arrived, Dad lurched upright as if to get out of bed just as the day nurse, Desiree, walked in.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Is there a urinal?” Dad indicated he was heading to the bathroom.

“You’re in a hospital!” Desiree said, grabbing him, mildly put out.

“Oh, that’s a good place to be,” he said, giving in, lying back down as Desiree explained about his catheter, not for the first time.

Desiree was a natural blonde with a lovely curve to her back. Dad never stopped appreciating what he called “female pulchritude.” He actually used those words one time when we were at the beach. He was in his 80s and the two of us were body surfing small waves at the Corona del Mar State Beach. The Big Beach, we called it. It was warm and windless. Clear green water, refracted sunlight off a sand-gold bottom. Bikinis everywhere one looked.

Dad didn’t exactly flirt with Desiree, but he was solicitous to her commands. He remained, I couldn’t help thinking, a handsome man, despite the slightly skeletal look. Our mother, Miriam, a great beauty herself when they met at Pomona College, is a sculptor who often comments on bone structure. Dad had great bone structure. They were married for 27 years, divorced for 42. Other women told her, she delighted in repeating to us kids, that Dad was “the handsomest man in Newport Beach.”

Early in his hospital stay, Dad said to Desiree, “I hired you to work at the Nature Center.” Which hadn’t happened. (In retirement Dad had been instrumental in founding the Environmental Nature Center on Newport’s back bay.) This was during the delirium time. He also talked, with no context, about “the tools.” And once, out of the blue, he called me “Bo.”

The condition manifested in more powerful flights of fancy, too. He had hallucinations, or dreams, or visions, he wasn’t sure which. So vivid, so potent, he thought they might herald a new reality. He said he could see out of his bad eye. In his 70s he’d suffered a detached retina, which ultimately hadn’t been reparable. He was blind in that eye. But he insisted from his bed, to me, to nurses, to anyone who would listen, that he could now see things with that eye.

“If I deliberately put the left eye in service,” he told me, as rational-sounding as always, “then I can see things I normally don’t see.”

For example, he saw his car there in the room. The new Ford hybrid he’d proudly driven up to Bend, to see us, two years before. He “saw” a meal being prepared, with my mother’s help, for a kids’ camp taking place in “open space” next door to the hospital. There was no kids’ camp. There was no open space.

“If I get to believing what the left eye sees… it might become a spare…” His voice trailed off. And then, as if awakening to something, “…it might be a problem.”

Dad had always had a dread of lingering, as his father had, for months, following a stroke. My fear was that Dad was deteriorating neurologically to the point where he, we, none of us could prevent a similar fate. But my fear abated the following day when Dad’s head cleared considerably. He knew where he was and why: his collapse had been the result of sepsis, a blood infection probably related to a wound on his leg that had not healed. His trusted internist (in essence his GP for the last several decades) said, “You’re not dying, Bob.” And put him on a course of strong antibiotics and gentle physical therapy.

Back on more solid ground, we talked baseball. The World Series would be on television that night. Cubs versus Indians. In Cleveland. The seventh, the deciding game. The Cubbies, the snake-bit Cubbies, attempting to come back, on the road, from a 3-1 series deficit. Baseball had been a second pillar, along with the boats, of our father-son relationship. He’d taken me to Dodger games beginning soon after they moved from Brooklyn to L.A. He taught me the game’s wonderful grammar. How a throw across the diamond can be “on a rope.” When to steal and when to bunt. Why third base is the “hot corner.” We went to a World Series game in the fall of 1959. Dodgers versus Chicago White Sox. A hundred thousand people filled the L.A. Coliseum. We parked about a mile away (or so it seemed), on the front-yard grass of an enterprising family in South Central.

Just as memorable, in aggregate, were the games we listened to coming home from Catalina. Sunday afternoon day games. Fair winds whipping up a following sea. The Grief rolling through the troughs, exhaust burbling the aft wake. Me at the wheel, age 12. Vin Scully’s melodic, unhurried, fatherly play-by-play emanating from the transistor radio. At home, with the sports section spread out on the dining room table, I learned how to calculate batting averages and earned-run average. Warm evenings after supper, Dad would grab his old college mitt, black with spit and neatsfoot oil, and we’d play catch until we could no longer see the ball.

I came back to the hospital that night to watch the game with Dad. He fell asleep early on and missed the Cubs’ stunning comeback: 8-7 in 10 innings. An amazing finish. The end of the Loveable Losers’ historic, 107-year title drought. Dad, hands folded on his hospital gown, snored next to me.

 

To be continued…

Summit Day

Posted in Personal History, Ski evolution, Uncategorized, Weather & Climate by pshelton on January 4, 2016

The wind was not so loud I couldn’t hear the words of the volunteer patrolman at the top of the Summit Chair. My hood was cinched tight, and for the last thousand feet of the lift ride I’d held my gloved hand up to shield a bit of exposed cheek. It was a sunny morning, single-digits cold, with the wind ripping out of the southeast, rivers of snow like airplane banners streaming from the peak, gusts rolling over the mountain’s ribs like waves breaking over jetties. (more…)

A Live-In Work of Art

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on January 13, 2013

The front door of the house opens into a gallery, a high, white-walled room that was once the center bay of the barn. Antonio Marra’s abstract sculptures people the space. There are bronzes and plaster studies that have yet to be cast. Some were inspired by the movement, and womanly forms, of ballet dancers Marra observed in his past life in New York City. Others recall great angular slabs of sandstone sheared from the cliffs in canyon country west of Ridgway, the sculptor’s new home. (more…)

Veteran Receives his Medals 68 Years Late

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on September 7, 2012

World War II veteran Cleo Elliot got his Purple Hearts, three of them, and his Bronze Star for valor, 68 years after he earned them on Iwo Jima. (more…)

A Modest Proposal for Michael Phelps

Posted in Olympic Games, Uncategorized, Watch columns by pshelton on August 12, 2012

When Tyler Clary talked that smack around the time of the Olympic trials, about Michael Phelps not working his hardest, and coasting on his talent, I just had to laugh. What does Tyler Clary know? And look at Michael now: 18 gold medals. I mean, come on!

I like to think Michael and I bonded in 04, before he became famous, before he won his first six golds in Athens. And yes, I was the one who took that picture of Michael huffing on a bong after Beijing.

I sold it for some sweet moolah to that English tabloid. But I feel bad about it, I really do. I didn’t mean for Michael to get in trouble. I just wanted to encourage him to follow through on that deal we talked about the time he visited my grow-op out in Mendocino. He was just 19; he didn’t have the big sponsorships he has now: Visa, Subway, Nike, AT&T. And, of course, he hadn’t yet discovered his mystical connection to the dolphins.

I told him I was willing to take a chance on him. If he would be spokesperson for my Mendo Medicinal, it’d be a win-win for everybody. I’d supply him with bud. My licensed, legal-in-the-state-of-California grow-op would prosper. And the acceptance of herb nationwide would get a boost. He seemed enthused at the time.

Here’s what happened that day. We were sitting on the beach out by Gualala, and Michael’s telling me about all the pressure on him to be perfect. He was just a kid, you know, but the pressure was huge, from his coaches, from his mom, and already from the media. He swam five hours a day, every frickin’ day. Fifty miles a week. Talk about chlorine brain. He barely had a life, you know? Everybody telling him he was blessed with the perfect swimmer’s body, the biggest flipper feet and the hugest lungs. They expected so much. And he wanted it, too. But he didn’t know what it was.

So I fire up the ole bong and pass it over. He takes a drag, and I mean he drains the whole bowl. And then he holds it in for I don’t know how long. After about 30 seconds I bust out laughing, and he’s still going strong. Like it was nothing, like he could hold his breath forever. Like he was Superman, or a fish or something. Which he was, I guess. Sort of. In the pool.

Anyway, he does finally exhale about five minutes later. And he’s got this little smile on his lips, and we pound a couple of PBRs and some chips. And then he stands up and rips off his shirt and his jeans and starts into the shore break. I followed the best I could but, you know, he’s Michael Phelps. And pretty soon we’re bobbing out beyond the break, laughing and looking at the sunlight sparkling off the water.

And then we see fins.

At first I thought, Shark!, and my limbs made involuntary moves toward the beach. But Michael stroked straight out toward them with those pelican arms of his. And like that he was in with them – dolphins – arching their backs, diving and leaping over one another, ripping around. And then they disappear. All of ‘em. Michael too.

And I’m trippin’ over rocks working my way back in, and looking out to sea at the same time and just tongue-tied, you know. I mean, what was I going to do, call for help? There was nobody for miles. And I’m sitting there shivering, hugging my knees, thinking this didn’t just happen, when way off I see this clean wind-milling of arms. And it’s Michael, alone, just a speck at first but comin’ fast, cruising back in.

“They know,” he said when he was finally sitting beside me in the sand. “They showed me. You have to embrace the water.” And that’s when I figured I could hitch my water pipe to this kid’s wagon, as it were.

So, Michael, if you’re reading this, now that you’re a retired gazillionaire at 27, I’m sorry about the tabloids, man. No harm intended. I understand you had to say what you said, that it was just a youthful indiscretion and that you promise your sponsors and fans that you won’t do it ever again. You had to say that. You were on the frickin’ corn flakes box. I know that. But I was hoping maybe now we could rekindle our friendship. You know, hang out, fire one up, maybe go for a swim.

You could go in a different direction, sponsorship-wise. Instead of Speedo, see, you could go with Quicksilver, or Da Kine board shorts. And instead of corn flakes you could lend your name to a granola. And maybe to one of my premium sensimillas? See what I’m sayin’?

You could be the man, Michael, the truth-telling man. Our last three Presidents admitted to smoking pot. Half the people on the planet smoke weed. They say it isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. But you know better. You and the dolphins.

Medal Count Fever: An Olympic History

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on August 3, 2012

I still get a patriotic tingle when I look at the Olympic medal count. The emotion runs deep, like rock-and-roll, like “The Silent Service.”

As I write on Monday, Day 3 of the London Games, China and the U.S. each have 17 medals, but the Reds (sorry, old habit) have more golds than we do: 9 to 5.

It used to be the Russians we were up against, or rather the Soviet Union. You see, the roots of the obsession go back to the Cold War. They should have been expurgated – I thought they would have been erased completely by the injustices of Vietnam and the shame of Bush II – but apparently it’s still there, this identification with a national sporting “we.”

As a kid in the 1960s, it was war. The chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” hadn’t been invented yet. Neither had the term American exceptionalism come to roost with conservatives as a way to justify war: We do it because of America’s special mission (sacred even) to lead the world to liberty and democracy.

Back then, it was purely us versus them, bombast and bomb shelters, Ralph Boston versus Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, John Thomas versus Valeriy Brumel. The 1960 Games, in Rome, were the first ones we watched on TV. That summer the Soviets crushed us 103-71 and 43-34 in gold medals. Long jumper Boston soared past his pale Soviet rival, as did Thomas in the high jump. But Soviet giantess Tamara Press put the shot way farther than our girl Earlene Brown.

We lost the medal race in boxing 4-5, but made up for it when Cassius Clay took the heavyweight gold. In gymnastics, we got skunked: the Soviets won every available medal but three; we took exactly none to their 26. We turned the tables in swimming (bourgeois capitalists have way more swimming pools?), winning the medal war 15-0. Wrestling produced a funny result. (I wasn’t aware of this at the time; only Wikipedia reveals it now.) The Soviets took all three Greco-Roman golds; the freedom-loving Americans took all three in Freestyle.

The Games on either side of 1960 were a disappointment for red-white-and-blue boys like me. In 1956, we got handled, 98-74 by the state-sponsored, plucked-from-the-cradle iron men and women with CCCP on their shirts. In Tokyo in 1964 the final tally was closer, but we still lost 96-90.

1968 brought big changes, in me and in the Olympics. I was 19, just two years away from the end of all college deferments and the waiting draft. Civil rights and Vietnam were turning my assumptions about the country inside out. In Mexico City a transcendent event was overshadowed by a courageous political one.

I competed in the long jump in high school, so when Bob Beamon, on his first attempt, uncorked a leap that was almost two feet longer than anything in history, extending the world record to 29’ 21/2” (a mark that stood for 23 years), I cheered in near disbelief. Then came the men’s 200 meters and the gold and bronze performances of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It wasn’t the race itself that upended the Olympics’ (supposed) apolitical innocence, it was their raised-fist black power salute during the national anthem that rocked the world. They were, of course, banned immediately from the village, the team, and the Olympic movement.

That’s when things began to fall apart. Munich in 1972: The massacre of 11 Israelis by a Palestinian terrorist group dominated the news. That was also the Games when, out of nowhere, suspiciously masculine East German women crushed everybody in swimming.

In 1980, we boycotted the Moscow summer Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So those medal numbers don’t count. Neither, then, should the numbers from Los Angeles in 1984, when the Soviets returned the favor. L.A. was the first tasteless, over-the-top capitalist Games, during which McDonalds’ “When the U.S. Wins, You Win” campaign could net you a free Big Mac.

No one with blood in his veins could have resisted the “Miracle On Ice.” When a bunch of scrappy U.S. college boys beat the Soviet Red Army pros in ice hockey in 1980, that was indeed a miracle. But not long afterward Ronald Reagan usurped the symbolism to declare an end to the national nightmare of Vietnam and the return of American pride, American exceptionalism. The trouble was, as a Californian who had suffered through his governorship, I knew him to be a bully, a genial-sounding liar. We purposely didn’t own a television then. I couldn’t look. Blind patriotism, Olympic or otherwise, had become anathema.

The nadir came in 2004. The summer Games were in Athens. George Bush was about to be reelected. The U.S. had decided on a path of preemptive war, torture, and domestic wiretapping. On a trip to Chile that summer I was, like the Dixie Chicks, embarrassed to be an American. A sympathetic stranger put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I am so sorry.”

But the Olympics that year somehow transfigured both the world and my mood. Michael Phelps won his first eight medals, six of them gold. The U.S. women’s 4×200 swim team eclipsed, finally, the world record set by those East Germans. In a measure of justice the U.S. men’s basketball team lost for the first time since NBA players had been allowed to participate.

And finally, in 2004 China won its first-ever gold medal in track and field, when the automatic gazelle Liu Xiang took the 110m hurdles, foreshadowing a dominance to come.

But, crucially, we won the medal count, 102 to 63, over the Red Chinese.

Compassion Fest: Grumpy Pete Hangs Back

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 27, 2012

My wife attended the Compassion Festival in Telluride last week.

I didn’t go. My mother’s maiden name is Cross. Enough said?

We Crosses are a critical bunch. We renamed a maiden aunt Grumpy Mae because she was so caustic. With her gravelly laugh, waving her ever-present cigarette, she went along; she knew the name fit. She was very funny in a Dorothy Parker, black-humor way, even to a ten-year-old. But very dark. Unforgiving.

And that’s what Ellen came home from Telluride talking about, forgiveness and empathy. These things, when you can muster them, are good for your brain, good for everyone, they said. And one way to foster compassion, to open the door to it, is to meditate. The audience at the Opera House was even led in a guided meditation. Ellen said she could see, with her eyes closed, that it could lead to good places.

My meditation is movement through space. I suspect a lot of people who have chosen to live in the mountains do the same. I’m talking about skiing and hiking and my current summertime favorite, boulder hopping up nearby dry arroyos.

I suppose one could get a related benefit from tennis or hockey. But the best out-of-body experiences, in my experience, happen beyond the courts, in the natural world with its surprising terrain and infinite patterns underfoot. These things are not games; they don’t have winners and losers. But they do have consequences. You don’t want to fall down out there in the wilderness.

So you pay attention, you give the task at hand – ascending this ridge, jumping this creek – the full engagement it deserves. The action itself wipes clean the chalkboard of verbal clutter. The combination of hyper-focus and continuous movement creates the blank mind. Or, as the Buddhists say, the mindfulness.

I like another Buddhist term I’ve heard: liberating discernment. You’re not just going through the motions out there. I haven’t talked to Hilaree O’Neill about walking on the edge at 28,000 feet, one foot in Tibet and the other in Nepal, but I’ll bet she feels pretty darned discerning while she’s doing it. And pretty liberated.

I went up the third arroyo today, and it was extra focusing thanks to the recent rains. Some of the streambed boulders had been loosened by the brief, violent flows; they weren’t as trustworthy as they might have been. Others wore a frosting of beige adobe mud. If you stepped on wet adobe, that sole was greasy slick until it wore off. Not good when you’re jumping from rock to rock and trusting your feet to stick.

The object is to hop from boulder to boulder without touching the ground in between. Lickety-split when possible, in tai chi slo-mo where necessary. Sometimes I can go a hundred yards without touching dirt. And on the best stretches, the bounding flows without stops, syncopated by the spacing of the spilled, gully-bottom boulders. My job is to keep going, unconscious, like water – water flowing uphill.

There are always awkward moments, balance gaffs, but the best sections move like a guitar riff that has no gaps in it, nothing extra and not a note out of place. Afterwards, I think about riffles in a river. Do the words have a common root?

Does meditating – sitting or bounding – make you a better person? I don’t know. Does it work to take selfish time in order to become a less selfish person? I’m not sure it works that way. Ellen does say, when I come back from carving on skis or rock hopping on the hill, that I am a happier husband.

It may lead to addiction. Look at those nut cases in the Arizona desert, on silent retreat for three years, three months, and three days. One of them murdered. The world left behind.

The Compassion Festival wants, I think, for us to be in the world, to try to improve our communities, and the planet, through listening and empathy and altruism. Their program listed an event called “Bodywork as Compassionate Service to Humanity.” The speaker was a Rolfer, so I’m pretty sure they meant that bodywork on other people’s bodies is compassionate, even noble work.

So, does bodywork on ones own body count? Given that we know the mind and body are one? And that endorphins, born of pointless, graceful movement, make me feel magnanimous and mellow? Even though I am a Cross?

Grumpy Pete.

In Which the Author Wins a Stage

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 19, 2012

Peter Shelton (Team Boulder-Rock) won the ninth stage of the Tour d’Ouray bicycle race Sunday with a bold solo assault on the Beyond Category Col de Piñon. (more…)

When Nature Is Nurture, Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on July 12, 2012

In 1964 Harry James decided he was too old and retired the Trailfinders Camp for Boys. He didn’t retire from Trailfinders, he ended the franchise. He had no heir apparent. (He and his wife Grace had no kids of their own.) It was a one-man show from start to finish. (more…)