Scrabble & Running – Anderson Valley Advertiser


I had two main problems in life: I was fifty pounds overweight and my next-door neighbor beat me at Scrabble every time. Actually over the years I did beat her once, by one, and we tied once. (I would walk home from her house just before ten every night so I could listen to Doctor Laura on KFI thinking, “This is my life. This is the fun in my life: Playing Scrabble with Yerba.”)

On a flight back from Indiana, where I’d been hanging out with my depressed father who was recovering from one of those major surgeries you tend to get near the end of your life instead of being floated off on a patch of ice like a good Eskimo, I studied the Official Scrabble Dictionary culling all the weirdest and highest-scoring words I could find on the four hour ride in the sky. (I found about 538, or maybe that was the mileage from Austin, Texas to Real de Catorce, Mexico, or both.)

Visiting my father was a stressful experience. Once after he had said one more disparaging thing to me I replied, “You don’t really like me, do you?”

He thought for a moment and said, “No.”

“Well, I don’t really like you,” I said. “You’re not the kind of person I would choose to hang out with but I love you and I’m here for you now.” A moment of truth.

Another time as we sat down for the dinner I made every night, which he continually raved about but the swells on Quarantine Kitchen would scoff at, I began berating him. “Why are you so depressed?” I said. “Just stop being depressed!” He got this fearful look in his eyes like a cornered rat, picked up his full plate of food, and smashed it down on the table, glass and flounder flying.

I made an appointment with my nutritionist neighbor who helped me organize a healthy diet program. She taught me a serving of chicken was three ounces, to switch to non-fat milk, and to not eat extra servings. (Even that seemingly innocent apple juice had almost as much sugar as Pepsi.)

Whenever I smoked weed I got the muchies, usually eating about three bowls of crunchy dry cereal an hour or so after smoking or delicious pancakes at midnight with walnuts and sliced bananas, then covered with butter and a lot of hot maple syrup, often with bacon or sausage, eggs, and yogurt on the side. No wonder I was 270 and heading for 300.

I stopped smoking pot, adjusted my diet and started walking, first two miles up to the mail boxes and back, and then a three mile round trip to the school where I played sports with the kids and picked up the daily SF Chronicle from the communal mailbox. (One day I carried my set of golf clubs up the hill on that trek.)

Then I started walking two and a half miles up hill from my place at the bottom of the Yellow Dirt Road to the top of Whale Gulch, where you could see the lights of Fort Bragg at night. (Sometimes I’d walk the Lost Coast Trail over Chamise mountain and that would be a five hour extravaganza.)

I took along a dust mask and when I heard a car coming I’d dash up into the hills a ways to await the inevitable cloud of dust to settle along the road. Sometimes there were just steep cliffs with no way to run so I stood gamely on the side of the road hoping the car would slow down and not dust me out too badly.

A neighbor who lived along the road, a sexy jogger, noticed that I walked it every day so when she went to Mexico for a vacation she asked me if I would feed her cat as I went by. I went daily into the utility room under her house where I scooped out the cat food. I noticed her joggin’ bra on top of the laundry basket and enjoyed visiting that every day. (I should have stolen it as a fragrant souvenir so I guess I had some ethics.)

I lost a lot of weight walking and decided to start running. I transcribed those 538 odd Scrabble words into a reporter’s notebook. On each page I wrote twenty-six obscure words from A to Z, from aalii (a vowel dump) to zebu. Each day on that flat run over dirt road and path from The Meadow to the Monastery I memorized those twenty-six words, glancing repeatedly at the page until by the end of each forty-five minute workout I could recite them without looking.

After a few weeks of that I began to beat Yerba about half the time. (It annoyed and perplexed my father, a college English professor, that I would spend so much time learning archaic words that would never be used outside of a Scrabble game.) I did take the exercise thing a little too obsessively and got down to a skeletal 190 when my goal had been about 205.

The next year I moved to town, started smoking weed again, ate a Hagen-daz every night, and put most of the weight back on. The next year I took it all back off and it’s still mostly off twenty years later, a success story no doubt.





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