Reality doesn’t bite, it gnaws and gnaws

Lots of people who were around before the advent of the World Wide Web blame the Internet for the apparent decline in people’s respect for one another in the past 25 or so years. They imagine that the ability to remain anonymous, the tendency of people on social media to form thought-bubbles, and even Donald Trump’s Twitter account have made inroads on people’s sense of honor and dignity.

I’m an optimist, so I accept that little has changed since I was a kid, and that in any society, most people are dishonest, uninformed, corrupt, incompetent, and self-serving by default and to varying degrees at different times. This has always been true and always will be until the warm, although admittedly abrupt, embrace of a multitude of glorious mushroom clouds erases us all in a giddy thermonuclear rapture.
Continue reading “Reality doesn’t bite, it gnaws and gnaws”


I’m reluctant to formally review and grade my performance in life over any well-demarcated time frame. When someone asks me, for example, “What were the high points and low points of April for you?” my mind’s natural tendency is to recognize but downplay the highlights and successes, and home in on and exaggerate the lowlights and failures. The fact that I know this is a common cognitive distortion does little to diminish my indulgence in it.

But here we are at the start of a calendar year, and I seem to frame everything in my life in terms of lists and numbers anyway (a natural tendency for someone who’s been a distance runner or involved in distance running for 33+ years). So, I can produce a list of things to be pleased about, almost none of which I claim credit for orchestrating from scratch, but all of which I at least showed up for. Continue reading “MMXVII”

Boulder’s unique flavor of unruly citizen

We’ve all dealt with assholes, and I mean the metaphorical sort, not the anatomical aperture. Most of us have, intentionally but often unwittingly, been one at various times. Some parts of the world are unquestionably home to a higher proportion of obnoxious, rude, or just plain dismal people than others, with most of these cities being, in my experience, in the northeastern U.S. It’s sort of the Asshole Belt. I love the big city in whose far outskirts I grew up, but I won’t pretend that Boston, or large swaths of it, isn’t a teeming display of drunken, racist louts who in the main would rather see the Red Sox beat the Yankees than save the life of a randomly selected newborn baby.

Yet the sneering, overt assholism of Boston, along with New York, Philadelphia, the entire New Jersey Turnpike, and many proud communities I’ve omitted for want of an attention span, if nothing else leaves no room for mystery. If a guy reeking of Budweiser and a series of poor life decisions tells you to get the fuck out of his way because he’s late for his flight, you may wish ill on him and hope that either he misses his plane or it crashes into the ocean en route to whatever asshole-peppered destination he hopes to reach, but you won’t scratch your head over why he acted as he did. He’s just one more person who unabashedly takes out the stressful comings and goings of his life on total strangers, and in some ways it’s even easy to root for him, the thing about the plane crash notwithstanding. Continue reading “Boulder’s unique flavor of unruly citizen”

Things I wrote today that were not blog posts

I didn’t time how long it took me to write the following e-mail, but it could not have been more than four minutes. I only wish I could generate words and paragraphs that quickly in my other, for-profit and for-creativity writing endeavors. The only context you need is that I was trading messages with someone who was joining me in a pointless but fun tirade about a subset of the generally self-deluded American populace.

I will also take this opportunity to point out that, as grim as it is to admit, having a Facebook account has largely laid waste to my contributing to this blog. I find it all too easy to fling thoughts that used to be the seeds for blog posts into status updates instead, and I can’t really claim that I regret this because in the end I don’t waste as much time. And while blogging is a dear pastime to me, or has been, that’s all it is. I don’t even read them much anymore, much less contribute to my own.

And most of them are still fat, they’re just staying that way through inadequate workouts and a new form of extra calories instead of pure ass-sitting and traditional empty calories.

This is just classic American bullshitting of each other and ourselves. Remember when we were in college and fat became the devil? All of these fat-free foods hit the market, and it was supposed to mean epidemic weight loss and nirvana for people who embraced these new, magical snacks. Problem is, they still have a lot of calories (many non-fat desserts have even more calories than their fat-rich counterparts — ice cream sometimes does).

So the U.S. continued to bloat, and it was back to the bullshit drawing board, and WOW! Carbs are the problem, that’s it! Shoulda fuckin’ known it all along! So people went the way of your cottage-cheese-slathered co-worker, and they lost some water weight, but their moods blackened and in the end most of them were still big slimy tubs of goo. Whoops! Looks like that one didn’t work out either. NOW what the fuck? We’re out of macronutrients to pick on and target for isolated destruction!

So most of the people on [Web site redacted] seems like dumbasses, and while this is true, unfortunately they’re pretty representative of the American middle class — educated enough to ignore the stink of their own self-righteous shit, but only smart enough to be dangerous instead of visionary. Christ, how much insight does it take to realize that people stayed fit and lean well before all of this paleo and vegan trendiness arose? I even have evidence — photos of thin people from the 70s and 80s! Not photoshopped. And they did NOT do it by trying to fit a 60-minute cardio session into 5 minutes or taking the right combination of nutraceuticals and yoga classes.

You’re not in Boulder anymore

So yesterday afternoon I decided to incorporate a visit to my parents’ house into my run. It was in the single digits, and they have an energetic 1 1/2-year-old Golden retriever named Izzy who needs exercise every day regardless of the weather, no aspects of which she finds daunting regardless of the opinions of her humans. My parents are always happy to let me run her around for a while and I’m always happy to oblige. I figured that I’d hang out there for a while afterward and get some work done using their reliable Wi-Fi connection, so I packed my laptop and cell phone into a backpack, dressed as best I could for the weather, and made the two-mile trek from my place to theirs.

Once there, I farted around for a few minutes to warm up, then took Izzy out for three miles or so. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing training schedules, putting the finishing touches on an article about the Olympic Marathon Trials that had taken place the day before, and harassing putative running fans on the Internet, and along the way prepared and consumed some pasta and broccoli, putting the leftovers in a tupperware container. I had the equivalent of a social engagement at 8:30 and then, calling Ohio from my parents’ place, took part in a radio show on WXUT at about 11 p.m. I then took Izzy out into the now-2-degree-Fahrenheit evening for one last excretory salvo before packing all of my stuff up again and heading back toward home.

It was about 12:30 a.m. I’d had a productive day as a freelancer on multiple fronts and the radio show had been fun, so I was on a high even if the mercury in local thermometers wasn’t.

Benign enough, right? Well, it was all a set-up for a brief and annoying comic interlude. Continue reading “You’re not in Boulder anymore”

BoCo vs. DoDo: The Trails of Two Cities

I’m writing this from a Starbucks in West Roxbury, a neighborhood in the western fringes of Boston close to the more upscale suburb of Brookline but also not far from the worst of the city’s ‘hoods. (That’s the charm of this compact place: Back when the Combat Zone still existed in its full fury 25 years ago, if someone had put a blindfold on you and asked you to walk for 15 minutes from downtown in any direction, you wouldn’t have known if you would wind up in the midst of crackwhores or on the lawns of Beacon Hill mansions.) And I mention Starbucks only because she’s a bitch I can’t get away from even though I don’t respect her, a place I go to for a couple of assets I could get most anyplace else and in higher quality–in this place, wi-if and coffee–only because of habit and a craven unwillingness to explore neighborhoods.

I move around a bunch. I’m not talking just about my day-to-day hyperkinetic ways — running, overcaffeinated tours of neighborhoods with equally rambunctious working-class dogs, tapping out blissfully agitated e-mails at a Mach 19 despite using only three fingers — since 2002, I’ve been comparatively sessile in the past few trips around the sun, managing 18-month-long stints in Dover, N.H. and Boulder, Colorado between December 2008 and today. The Great Front Range Experiment is now history, and since a lot of what a place like Boulder has to offer fits seamlessly into my wants and needs, it stands to reason that moving away — even if back to the state where I’ve spent most of my life — would be a jolt.

The title of this post includes a couple of neologisms of the pithy type I despise, with syllables based on place names, e.g., SoHo. But I couldn’t resist “DoDo” (for “downtown Dover”) because it’s just do frigging witty and mimics the name of a friendly but impossibly stupid Madagascarian birds from centuries ago that asshole colonists recreationally blasted into extinction. But really, with “Dover” I’m referring to all of suburban and exurban Boston, as right now I’m actually in the city and will be settling soon enough back in N.H.

Anyway, regarding the Boulder-Greater Boston comparison, it’s impossible to state a firm conclusion without some thought, as it’s a multifaceted trade-off. SO I thought about it for five minutes and decided that these areas represent the most glaring vis-a-vis aspects: Continue reading “BoCo vs. DoDo: The Trails of Two Cities”

How to clear airport security without a photo ID (if you’re as lucky as I was)

About two weeks ago, I lost my driver’s license and Social Security card (the latter an item that only idiots like me keep in their wallets in the first place) . Fortunately, the rest of the contents of my wallet remained in my possession, so I still had my credit and debit cards and a Circle K coffee club card edging ever closer to free-cup status; this combination allowed to me accomplish the major tasks of my day-to-day life as a tentatively scheduled trip across the country fast approached. I ordered a replacement copy of my out-of-state license online a week ago Saturday. the 12th, and booked a late-Tuesday-the-22nd flight from Denver to Boston, figuring that this would allow enough lead time for my ID to arrive before I had to deal with the TSA. It didn’t.

Until a few days ago, I figured that without a government-issued photo ID, I had no chance of boarding my plane last night. Then I started doing some research as the likelihood of my not having my license in time to travel home appeared greater and greater. As a result, when yesterday’s load of mail bore nothing of use, I wasn’t all that distressed as I rode down Route 36 toward the infamous DIA demon horse. Continue reading “How to clear airport security without a photo ID (if you’re as lucky as I was)”

Head games

In early June I was wandering along a sidewalk on my way to a dog show in a neighboring down and happened across a Boston Red Sox hat hanging on a parking meter. It was one of the rogue ones that’s emerged in recent years — olive-green instead of navy blue, but with the same red “B” with a white border on the front. I took and kept it for a while, but wasn’t really keen on it and ultimately left it for someone else to find. (This wasn’t the first time I’ve kept a had I have found during a walk or a run.)

About six weeks ago, I was walking down Valmont Road in North Boulder and found another Red Sox hat, this one in the traditional style. Given that this was the second Red Sox hat I had found in a five- or six-week period — in Colorado, no less — and that I did grow up a Red Sox fan, I figured that this was either an entertaining coincidence or a sign from God, so I held on to this one and now wear it daily. Continue reading “Head games”

Crazy choices explained, maybe

It’s often difficult to comprehend why people choose the mates they do. There’s the classic case of the attractive professional woman paired off with the layabout and perhaps abusive man, a situation that comes in a variety of flavors. There’s the quiet guy with the overbearing, endlessly carping wife. There are the women who seem determined to wind up with an active alcoholic or drug addict, and date not just one but a parade of such types. Why do people make the choices they do? I am not a psychology expert and have no interest in what those who are have to say, at least for purposes of this post. Instead I’ll do my best to explain my own patterns and how they have been both adaptive and maladaptive. Continue reading “Crazy choices explained, maybe”

The lesser-known hazards of McDonald’s

I haven’t had any cool dreams since abandoning my PRN sleep medication (I’m almost tempted to take it every night even when I know I won’t need it just for the cortical audiovisual effects). Last night I had an interesting one.

I was in a McDonald’s with my girlfriend and a mutual friend who, I knew, was interested in her. This was in the morning. I think all three of us were staying in a hotel across the street, in separate rooms. There was a fourth person, another male, who was supposed to show up at the restaurant at some point, but the three of us believed (and don’t ask me how I knew what my two companions were thinking, since we didn’t discuss the issue out loud, but I did) that there was tension between my girlfriend and this guy for some reason, maybe because they’d had some kind of fling or near-fling before she and I got together. Continue reading “The lesser-known hazards of McDonald’s”

Yeah, it’s a slow day and I found this on a forum where I engage in compassionate trollism

“Does anyone have a pet on phenobarbitol? My 10 year old mastiff has 4 seizures last week during the night and we rushed him to the vet in the morning. The vet didn’t do any bloodwork or nothing, just gave us a prescription for phenobarbitol….after reading about this I am nervous about him being on it. It says you can’t stop the drug once its started because it could cause a seizure. We don’t know what the seizures were from but my boyfriend noticed that our back yard was full of mushrooms, the flying kind too i guess. He could have eaten one of these? Anyway, has anyone else had good/bad experiences with phenobarbitrol?”

I don’t think the dog is alone in eating these mushrooms if the writer has seen them flying around. Also, it’s noteworthy that this person managed to misspell the word “phenobarbital” three times in two different ways — on a writers’ forum.

On the same forum (and sorry, I can’t link to it because you need a login) I chimed in with this on a thread titled “Where will Casey Anthony go next?”:

“I’d be happy to take her in. She’s undeniably gorgeous (when she doesn’t have the jailhouse pallor, anyway), she’s resourceful, she’s soon to have a lot of cash, and best of all it’s doubtful that she’ll ever want kids! People have been rough on the young lady. I think if she were guilty the jurors would have maybe picked up on that?”

My guess is that the overwhelming majority of respondents will take this seriously. (As of this moment, someone has already helpfully told me that I am entitled to my opinion.)

More right than I realized

Recently I made a note of the exorbitant prevalence of OCD or OCD-like behavior in copy editors, specifically those associated with a company I do a fair amount of “work” for. (It’s a content mill and nothing more, and I’ve become so disenchanted with the whole operation that I no longer write under my real name.) Since I posted that stuff — and possibly because I posted it — things have taken some amusing and spectacular turns for the worse, or better, depending on your taste for schadenfreude. Continue reading “More right than I realized”

Blogging *at* people

In messing around online yesterday (in other words, while doing something I do only on days ending in “y”) I stumbled across a very old, very inactive blog almost entirely dedicated to taking me to task for taking this person to task on the blog I had at the time. I wasn’t named, just as this person hadn’t been explicitly identified in my own posting, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that this person expected me to read the blog and that if I did I’d know damned well that I was the topic of the one-sided conversation. The fact that I might be the only one to grasp this — and be one of maybe five people to even know that the blog existed — was not important. At issue were only the message and its packaging.

This person and I are very friendly now and so we enjoyed a mutual laugh about the whole affair, and it got me thinking about the general phenomenon of, in effect, sending people coded messages in publicly accessible places. In one realm it’s known by the portmanteau “vaguebooking” — posting status updates on a social-networking site that not only target an unnamed person but do so in a manner that will arouse the curiosity of others to varying degrees depending on their familiarity with the parties involved. But it’s part of blogging as well. Continue reading “Blogging *at* people”

Rocky finds a home

With some help from Craigslist, widely and rightfully regarded as an Internet sewer but not devoid of utility (I’ve found jobs, laptops and other niceties there despite the profligate scamming and spamming on every sublist), Rocky the Boxer mix now has a home.

I got a message last night from a woman who is a recent transplant to the Orlando area from North Carolina and has been looking into adopting just this kind of dog for some time, largely for basic companionship and a sense of security (Boxers aren’t aggressive in general, but they are fiercely loyal and too rippling with muscle for most sane would-be assailants to consider messing with). I called her today and we were off for a 20-mile ride in the car — I could tell it was one of the few times Rocky has been in an automobile because he kept looking out the back window and seemed unduly enthralled in general.

Once we met Amanda, it was obvious that we were relinquishing Rocky into capable and caring hands, which was the best that we could ask for. Of course I’m sad to see him go and it really does seem as if I spent far more than three and a half days with him; on returning here, I was immediately aware of having quickly adopted certain habits, like keeping a few key doors closed and placing things like my phone and wallet out of low reach. I even miss the little guy’s smell. But given the limitations of my current situation, I can only be happy that I crossed paths with Rocky — who gets to keep his name, for what that’s worth — and was able to be part of shepherding a wonderful animal in need into a mutually beneficial situation. It would be selfish to go any further than that, and although a handful in ways, he has made the past batch of days very special.

WordPress sucks

This is a blog. You may not be able to see this because we have purchased the domain and set that up to point to because it looks cooler.

Make no mistake: WordPress sucks. When we first left, which uses Movable Type, I decided that WordPress would be a good option because at the time it was the only free blog platform that allowed for the importing of posts from a Movable Type blog. So we went forward, and since then I’ve been gratified to learn how many shortcomings WordPress has. Continue reading “WordPress sucks”

Perhaps you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here today

The existence of this post, which I’ve been looking forward to with much the same combination of feelings I had before the first running race of my life (dread mixed with let’s-do-it adventurousness), is a by-product of competing influences. On one hand, it addresses an issue that is intensely personal in more ways than one, and is part of an effort to nudge a memoir in desperate need of book covers toward publication. On the other, it’s been years since my last serious race, I can quite efficiently operate from a platform of damning self-contempt, and have every reason to avoid spending too much time rambling into the welcoming but time-cannibalizing void of the Internet. But in the end, it was no contest. I’m doing this for a reason I can convincingly describe as both irreducibly complex and hopelessly simple. I think I have to. And hopefully I won’t ruin it with the kind of pithy overstatement that infects most of the posts on my own own blog, where that kind of flavor serves my self-appointed role as scornful gadabout.

In 1999, shortly before becoming a contributing editor and then a senior writer for Running Times, I supplied the magazine with an article titled “The Thin Men.” It dealt with a subject that was, and remains, a weakly explored one –eating disorders among male distance runners. It garnered a modest amount of appreciative comments from affected men and (more often) concerned wives, partners and family members. It also included a lie of omission, one I suppose can be overlooked given my position as a feature writer rather than a columnist: I myself had been carrying around an on-again, off-again eating disorder for about a decade.

Where do these things start? I don’t want to turn this into a deep general or personal treatise, but everyone’s story is different, and mine started after I got to college and started conjecturing ways to turn myself from a decent high-school runner into a solid university-level one. I wasn’t particularly weight-conscious as a high-schooler, but at some point around my nineteenth birthday settled on the idea that I had to weigh under 140 pounds. It didn’t matter if that meant 139.5, which was as good (sort of) as 136 or 137; it just meant that 140.5 was fail writ large and undeniable. And so one day, after a typical post-practice trip to the all-you-can-eat dining all at UVM, I decided I had put away too much ice cream on top of whatever shitburgers had been on hand, and I threw up the whole mess on purpose. I don’t want to get into the mechanics and you don’t want me to either, but for a rookie I found it frightfully easy, and I’m sure kindred spirits have undergone the same ugly, instantaneous transformation. It was fucking gross, but even before I left the stall, some demented but perfectly lucid part of my mind had decided the matter: I now had a sure-fire way to keep myself at the “right” weight.

The short version is that I didn’t do what I told myself I would do, which would be to limit this kind of thing to “special occasions,” whatever those might have been. I didn’t. I told myself I’d quit this nonsense and just stay at <140 the healthful way. I didn’t. I ran 80-mile weeks for the first time. I improved throughout my freshman year, but in spite of, clearly not because of, what I was doing. And by the end of spring I had gone from an 8:50ish 3,000 meters indoors to barely being able to run under 17 minutes for 5K. I was anemic, with a serum ferritin of approximately tap water’s.

Several things happened in the next bunch of years. One of them was fostering a serious binge-drinking habit. This was not uncommon, and at the time I had my share of fun, but despite keeping a very high GPA in a challenging major I knew deep down I was playing with fire, and that something would give. Later I’d learn that excessive drinking, general impulsiveness, and being raised in an emotionally bland alcoholic household (and please do not take this as an indictment of either my parents, who asked for none of the pain I’ve thrown their way over the years) were all hallmarks of bulimics.

And so it went, and by my junior year I was too tired and quietly miserable to keep running for the team, so I stopped. I told myself it was because I needed to spend more time with academics, but that was bullshit; I was just too toxic, mentally as well as physically. When I headed down Interstate 89 for my next round of higher education, I knew for sure that I had to get my act together because everything I got away with as an undergrad was not going to fly here, including the purging. And I somehow kept myself stable and sober for a good spell, and carried on well in my consuming endeavors, and resumed running seriously. I was training for marathons now, and was enjoying it more than ever. After a tepid first marathon in 2:39 just before I turned 25, I decided, like a lot of shlubs my age running under 15:30 for 5K. to try to get to the Olympic Marathon Trials standard–then 2:22:00–before 2004.

Well, I gave it a fine effort. On the surface, a highly focused and even single-minded one. I posted my training logs on my new Web site for a coterie of dedicated buddies and random observers to pore over, comment on, whatever. This told the story of someone who was hammering out 100-mile weeks, with some blowout tempo runs and all that jazz, and who steadily edged his way down to 2:30 at age 27 to 2:26 at 29 to 2:24 at 31 and now just needed one more push and a little luck. What I did not post on my site, not surprisingly, were the recurrent relapses into binge eating and purging. By this time I wasn’t even weighing myself; it was not, at root, about running anymore, really. It was an emotional crutch, no different than a drug in most important respects. In fact, when things got really rough I’d alternate between using food to avoid alcohol and then booze to stay away from bulimia. How’s that for a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound? But I didn’t care, or so I told myself, and after a while believing it. In the meantime I missed the Trials by a few minutes but ran a new set of PRs at five distinct distances at age 34, seven years ago now. Make no mistake–I had some lengthy periods in which I stayed “clean” across the board, or else none of this would have been possible. But there was surely a cost of indeterminate value, and it seems evident that half the reason I ran my fastest times at a comparatively advanced age (considering I had been running more or less continuously for two decades) was delaying my best running to a time that lay my genuine physical peak because of the dysfunction.

That year, although it seems hard to believe now, was the last year I trained and raced seriously. I had a brief comeback from my first real injury in a long time (a sports hernia) toward the end of 2005, and then when I moved back north a lot of things went quickly to ruins. I was running a lot, but was unfocused. I’d basically abandoned a number of important relationships because I was so volatile, not so much on the outside but in my own head. I started really giving up in a lot of ways for the first time and wishing people would just go away, yet I couldn’t stand the quiet even as I sought it out. And I got to a point where I was just so damned ashamed that I was ready to do some very bad things, lonely and private things, because I didn’t think I could get back to living as the sane and wholesome human being I remembered being at…what, 17? I mean, how low does a dude have to sink when he sees his late teens as the pinnacle of his psychosocial existence, right? But oh, self-pity does burn brightly in the flame of far-flung addiction. And the guilt at how I was treating the good people I had managed not to shove away was incapacitating.

I’ll only say that I came to a decision in the not-too-distant past that is probably the most significant one I’ve made in my adult life, a part of embracing the fact that I’m not unique or even much of a blip on the ass of this planet, which paradoxically relieves me of the burden of treating myself like shit and trying to live with a measure of stability and dignity. And I can list one thing I have started doing in the past couple of years that I never dared to in the past, and that’s telling people the truth. The first person I told about my eating disorder was a crazy but brilliant aunt, a psychiatric nurse, who then proceeded to matter-of-factly tell my mom and dad about it. (I had told her this in a phone conversation and have still never met her in person, and frankly I don’t care to.) I was devastated. I’d been protecting the hell out of that secret for years and had been certain I would go to my grave without telling a soul, and when I finally opened up, my confidant let the cat out of the bag. But, upset as I was, she did me a small favor, because people knowing what I was going through took some of the power out of it. Since then I’ve disclosed this side of myself to various others, at first limiting these people to fellow ED pilgrims and then moving on to a greater range of friends. Now, I evidently don’t mind. Like fungi, sicknesses of the psyche thrive on darkness, and like vampires they don’t do well in the light of day. I have found that telling on myself takes a lot of power out of my compulsions in this area, and although I’ll never know until it’s over if I am truly “healed,” I have the sense that life is more purposeful than fighting heroically to punish myself. I have a feeling–no, know for certain–that it’ll be a few years before a light inside becomes bright enough for me to fully understand the extent to which people have supported me through all of this. And many of them are surely reading this, and know who they are, so please understand that I am grateful, even though I’m a douche in certain ways and will continue to let this charming aspect of my personality predominate from time to time, and you don’t have to forgive for that, but you have to try to laugh. At me, not with me. I do.

My new fetish


It’s a Zuni fetish representing the badger, one of six primary fetishes, or spirits, of the Zuni people of the southwestern United States. The badger is associated with the color red, a southward direction, and aggressive goal-seeking and perseverance. I got one made mostly of dolomite (not Dolemite) as a present today and it was a very nice marker or something important to me.

Anyone else want to go into detail about their fetishes?

Not your mother’s race report

So I found myself sitting in a car with a bunch of Central Mass Striders teammates, anticipating the start of a 5K and interspersing the usual light trash-talk with some desultory complaints about the weather. The verisimilitude started and ended there, but as is usually the case, every rock-solid indicator that I was dreaming meant nothing while I was in the throes of this phantasmagorism. Continue reading “Not your mother’s race report”

Picking one’s nose, farting in church, and pounding one’s pud

If you identified these three behaviors as being related in the sense that they are generally considered rude, congratulations–you’re awake. Higher praise will be awarded only to those that recognize this collection of 15-letter phrases as the backbone of a 225-square crossword puzzle I designed roughly 20 years ago.

It usually went like this: I’d be on summer college break, and my dad would come home from work and start doing the crossword puzzle in the Concord Monitor while sitting on the back deck we had recently joined forces in building. (Well, I didn’t help that much.) I would grab my grandparents’ copy of the paper, flip to the same puzzle and join him outside. He treated these nightly ventures as research projects, using dictionaries almanacs, and whatever other resources he could (this was a few turns of the globe before the Internet) to bludgeon his way toward completion; I’d solve the thing in the traditional way, normally coming within a square or two and as often as not finishing with zero errors. (The NY Times puzzle this was not.) If this was a competition, neither of us acknowledged it. Over time we built up our respective and overlapping vocabularies of words and names found almost exclusively in crossword puzzles: “ort,” “Asta,” “St. Lo,” others.

Finally I decided to assemble a puzzle of my own. It was a decent effort; I made sure that the 15 x 15 grid had no more blacked-out squares than the usual puzzle of its dimensions, and, as noted in the first paragraph, even settled on a coherent “theme.” I think the clues for those three words were “Faux pas,” “Social taboo,” and “Public no-no.”

That was a real highlight. Now any idiot can design an elegantly dirty crossword puzzle without even working hard. And no, “licking one’s ass” was never in contention, so don’t go getting any gross ideas.