I went to bed hungry last night.
No, this isn’t about poverty; it’s about running… and childhood… and football.
Last night, Friday night, was the first home football game of the season. Not professional, not college—but high school—the Gettysburg Warriors. I went to the game, but under duress. I consider football to be the least elegant sport ever created. It lacks finesse. Sure, on occasion the quarterback drops a pass right where it needs to be, but this is more luck than skill in high school play. Football relies on brute force. What we saw last night was short energy bursts; one player running headlong into the opposing line. Lots of grunting and pushing. The crowd erupts, elated over a two-yard gain. And then an interminable wait for the next down. I’d much rather watch soccer. Or distance running. Or croquet.
We don’t watch football in my house. None of us like it. In fact, the four of us each watch a maximum of a half a game each year. We’re invited to my mother-in-law’s house for her annual Super Bowl party. More food than we can eat—ribs, wings, pizza, chips—and at one point as much beer and wine as I needed to enjoy the game. But I stopped drinking right before last year’s Super Bowl. Susan all but quit, too. Now it’s simply salty food and club soda.
Our tradition with Susan’s parents is to watch the game through the half-time show, which is the only thing we’d watch at all if we stayed home. Then we blast back home to go to bed. I teach a Monday morning spin class. I need to be setting up by 5:00 AM. I always worry that no one will show up, Super Bowl Monday and all, but four or five people always come.
Before last night’s game, we ate a quick and early dinner. Sophie was due at the stadium ninety minutes before the kick-off for marching band. It was just under ninety degrees when she hopped out of the car in her multi-layered band outfit. Baggy bib overalls, a cummerbund-vest, a zoot-suit jacket and a cowboy hat. Why the “Warriors” wear this outfit is a mystery to me. The fight song is punctuated by one of those Indian tomahawk chopping motions, but the band looks like jazz cowboys from the forties, not Indians.
Eli wanted to arrive early too, so he could walk stadium circles with the other preteen boys. They form small predatory packs—on the hunt. It’s not clear to me what they’re hunting, and I don’t think Eli really knows either. It’s probably practice for when he’s interested in girls. All the boys looked the same – sporting a cool, bored stare—but tense and electrified just below the surface. The girls hang out in packs, too. They talk and giggle. The boys just circle and stare.
By the end of the first quarter, Susan, Eli and I had enough. A quick wave to Sophie, and we left to get Italian ice. Even though we’d been out for hours, we were home and settled in by 8:30. If I didn’t need to pick up Sophie after the game, I probably would have gone straight to bed. By the time Sophie was home with the rest of us, it was 10:30, and I was starving. A few corn chips and then off to sleep.
Saturday morning is about running. In the summer, this starts before dawn, but ends long after sunrise. My Saturday mileage is always in double digits and usually in the mid-teens. Today I planned on fourteen. Because I’m slow, and my runs are on rocky, rugged trails, fourteen miles is an event—it takes planning. I bring a half a gallon of water and about 600 food calories on runs like this. My menu: Gatorade chews, sport beans, dill pickles, balled melon and a Payday bar. My food choices aren’t always exactly the same, but the pickles and the Payday are always in the mix.
Before I left, I decided to throw a Power Gel in my pack. An unusual step for me, I don’t really eat gels. They are a concentrated sugar syrup in a small metallic pouch. To open them, you need to tear the top of the pouch wrapper completely off. So these scraps become one of the most common litter items I see in the woods. Plus, gels make me gag. When I squeeze them into my mouth, the syrup oozes down my throat in a consistency similar to winter phlegm. It feels like having a finger jammed in the back of my throat after eating a second piece of cheese cake.
While I don’t really eat gels, I always have some around the house. They come in the swag bag at most of the races I run. Because they have value, I don’t throw them away—not until I realize that last year’s gels expired months ago.
My previous evening’s lack of calories was messing with me. After my large breakfast of cereal and banana, I was still hungry. That’s when I made that rash decision to bring along the gel. This one was a “Berry Blast” with 1x caffeine—whatever that means. I sucked it down at mile three. And I spent the rest of my run thinking about the Fluoride Treatment.
When you say Fluoride Treatment, the words need to spit out of your mouth with a certain disgusted emphasis. The same emphasis you would reserve for the phrase Electro-Shock Therapy.
The Fluoride Treatment was an injustice my brothers and I were forced to endure back in the early days of dentistry—the seventies. My kids have it easy today. Just like me, they are growing up without fluoridated water. I can’t say why this is. The Gettysburg area has to be one of the last places in the United States that refuses to add fluoride to its water supply. Possibly it’s due to the heavy libertarian mindset in this rural area… “Don’t tell me what’s good for my teeth!”
Regardless, my kids get vitamins that contain the daily fluoride necessary for healthy, protected teeth. When I was a kid, I got my fluoride in a twice-yearly concentrated dose. A dose that was eerily similar to my Berry Blast with 1x caffeine oozing down my throat.
The Fluoride Treatment was a berry flavored gel squeezed into something that looked like a pair of football mouth guards. These contraptions were carefully inserted between my teeth, and egg timer was set. The hygienist would exit the room to avoid seeing the gagging that would ensue. I don’t know how long the Fluoride Treatment stayed in my mouth: Three-minutes? Five-minutes? It seemed like twenty. The gel would slowly seep out of the mouth guard and run down my throat. My choice was to either block my throat and mentally resist my gag reflex (which I couldn’t do) or swallow the poison mixture and risk death.
Certainly, readers who grew up in a more enlightened time think this is hyperbolic, but no. Dentistry was far more barbaric back then. Without fluoridated water, I typically got a cavity or two per year. I’m not sure how insurance worked back then, or if we even had dental insurance, but Novocain was seen as a luxury. Something to be purchased as an add-on for mandatory dental work. Something that was seen as superfluous by my father.
The dentist would prepare to drill and remind us that our parents said “no Novocain.” His instruction was “raise your hand if it starts to hurt.” In my early days of these procedures, I would endure as long as I could. Wait until tears were welling up in my eyes, and I would raise my hand to indicate it was time for the shot. Every time, the dentist would respond the same way “well, were just about finished now.” And he would drill for another thirty or forty seconds.
As an adult with children of my own, I find this horrible. I can’t believe they would drill into my healthy nerve without any numbing whatsoever. My insurance doesn’t consider this unnecessary. I’m not sure why my father and dentist did.
I brought this up recently to my father, and he gave the same excuse he always does when questioned about my childhood: “Oh, that was your mother’s decision.” This started shortly after she died when I was twenty-one. As a young professional, while clearing out my childhood belongings from my father’s basement, I frantically searched for my baseball cards. Baseball cards were unbelievably hot at this point in history. Cards from the sixties were selling for $10 or $15 apiece. With a grocery bag filled with hundreds of cards, I was looking at a down payment on a house. After rifling his basement six separate times, certain that I overlooked this innocuous appearing treasure, I finally asked my father where my cards were kept. “Oh, your mother must have thrown those out.”
In time, I learned the trick to enduring the Fluoride Treatment. If I kept my head bent forward, the goo would run out of my mouth and onto that paper bib they always clipped around my neck—not down my throat. But I only got to use this technique once. The treatments abruptly stopped after that. Possibly, the water supply had recently become fluoridated. Maybe, because I learned this trick, it was pointless for the hygienist to waste her time torturing me. Most likely, I left the staff so grossed out, they simply refused to give me the treatment anymore. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter now. I am truly scarred from the experience. I’m unable to take advantage of a quick and easy energy hit that all of my running friends take for granted.
It looks like I’m going to be attending football games on a regular basis over the next four years. While I could care less about the game, I do want to see my daughter perform with the band. I just need to make sure I ingest the proper calories each Friday so I don’t have to repeat this morning’s battle with the Power Gel. Last night, just before we left the game, a woman sat down in front of me with an order of fried chicken and fries from the snack bar. It looked heavenly. I think this might be the perfect way to stave off hunger on the night before my Saturday long run.