By the winter of 1981, I’d completed much of the fictional book Admissions that I’d written on the train while commuting to Chicago. One of the main characters in the book was a professor that invented a concept called Life Tectonics. His theory involved psychological assessments that analyzed how the people and events in life combine to create the person you are.
We writers obviously draw on our own life experiences to create fictional characters and ideas. During the early 1980s, the geological theory of plate tectonics was finally becoming clear in the scientific world. I was fascinated by the way it explained the movement of the continents across the face of the earth, and how mountains form when landmasses collide with each other. That’s where I got the idea for Life Tectonics.
Plate tectonics also explained the workings of seafloor spreading, earthquakes, and volcanism. So it was that the theory of plate tectonics fit perfectly with the theory of evolution in explaining how the world and its living things came to be where they are.
I thought that concept fit perfectly with how human beings evolve and develop as well. We’re all impacted by forces, both seen and unseen, that form and shape us. So I wrote that construct into my book of fiction. But in reality, life tectonics was having its effects on my world even though I didn’t know it. The impinging forces included work, women and wondering how much to run. My art and friendships were also heavy on my mind. All these forces were shoving me around like an island between continents.
My new relationship with Linda Mues deepened by the week. A best friend took me aside and said, “Cud, don’t blow this. She’s a good one.” Of course, that best friend happened to be the same guy banging my woman friend from work on my living room couch, so I took his counsel with a grain of salt. But by the middle of November, he stopped by to have a few beers and informed me that he’d just purchased a ring for his soon-to-be fiance. I guess in some strange way, he was looking out for me.
He was right, however, because I saw special qualities in Linda. She even went for a couple runs with me with her long blonde hair flying behind her. But having been burned a while back and only recently emerging from a year-long relationship with an older woman, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted in a long-term relationship. But I was forging ahead.. “Called Linda for date tomorrow night,” I wrote. “Threw pride and distracting concerns aside. I figure I have to act without considering every damn other person.” We went for more runs together, and during one four-miler she announced to me, “You know, I probably shouldn’t have had those four glasses of wine before we go running.”
I stopped, laughed, and said, “You drank four glasses of wine? Do you want to turn around?” She replied, “No, let’s keep going. I’m fine.” That’s how I learned that she was one tough cookie.
Merit at Van Kampen
On the work front, I met the new marketing VP hired to run the department out of the Philadelphia office. We began having weekly conversations by phone. He seemed nice enough, in an Eastern intellectualist’s way. I wrote: “Talked with Townsend today. May be a ticket to knowledge.” Little did I know how those conversations would soon affect my life.
Overall, I was struggling to simplify my thoughts somehow. As the relationship with Linda deepened, we shared kisses and stayed together overnight in my little coach house. Yet within me, there was still a restless aspect to my nature. Perhaps I sensed bigger changes to come. I knew that she’d been deeply hurt in a somewhat abusive relationship before she met me. I didn’t want to be the one to hurt her in any other way.
Plus, truth be told, a sweet young blonde woman at work kept stealing my thoughts. I didn’t consider dating her, exactly. She was just 18, and I was 24. But we talked quite a bit about life and love and relationships. She was smart for her age, in a kind of effusive way.
And she was youthfully compelling as well. During the summer months, she invited me along with her work friends to sit in a park north of the office while they sunbathed. One day she’d changed into short blue shorts and a tight tank top for our noon “picnic.” When we got back from lunch we walked into the office together only to come face-to-face with the firm’s President, Robert Van Kampen, in the lobby. She gave me a wink and a short little wave as she waltzed into the first-floor restroom to change. RVK gave me a stern glance that was equal parts envy and disapproval.
She loved to dance, and the artist in me was eager to capture some of that young form. So she invited me to visit her dance class and do some drawings. So I showed up like some poor-man’s version of Edgar Degas, to do life drawings. The other women in the class did not seem to mind my presence, as she introduced me beforehand. Yet even though I’d spent plenty of hours doing gesture drawings during college, I drew as fast as I could to prove that I was worthy of the task at hand.
She’d also earned a “walk-on role” as a campus hottie in an 80s film Class starring Rob Lowe and Andrew McCarthy, Cliff Robertson, and Jacqueline Bisset. Her job as an “extra” was to jog past the camera in a set of tight-fitting grey shorts and an equally tight sweatshirt offering just the right amount of jiggle for 1980s screen stardom. She did a great job. Such as it was.
I visited her house one afternoon to hang out. We sat on the floor while her grandfather was snoring away in the other room. She played the Olivia Newton-John video “Physical,” with all its innuendos, so the tug-and-pull of youth was hard at work between us. Then another work friend showed up and we went outside to goof around in the pool and bounce around on the trampoline. Obviously she enjoyed the attention, and who was to blame her? Not me.
In her young-and-female way, she was making her path in the world. Later that winter, we joined another work friend to attend a downtown Chicago party where a bunch of uptight Reagan youth sat around on couches sporting popped-up polo shirt collars and talking about banal shit that none of us cared about. So we grabbed a dance album and tossed it on the turntable and spun the volume up high. We started dancing and in her tight white pants and black sweater, she seemed to be channeling Brigitte Bardot. She was completely unabashed in that circumstance and we shook our asses and thumbed our noses at those stuffy, stuck-up conservatives with their bitchy attitudes. I was always thankful for that.
We all recognized that there was an ugly brand of selfish conservatism rising up in the United States. That included the workplace, where a Pentecostal brand of religion was felt everywhere. One self-righteous woman middle-aged woman once told me at work, “I don’t have to answer to anyone, because I’m saved.”
Even as I got more involved with Linda during the winter months, I ket the avenues open for seismic fun as needed. I figured as long as life tectonics were pushing at me from all sides, I might as well quake and holler a bit.
All the while, I was plugged away running 30-50 mile training weeks. For all that running, I was still burning the candles at both ends. “My ears are always ringing,” I wrote in my journal. “Too much loud music? Wax? Too much sugar? The airplane flight? What is up?”
To close out the year I entered a four-mile road race on a snowy December 26 up in Wayne, a tiny town northeast of St. Charles. We raced two miles out and back with poor footing, and I managed a 22:54 even though I’d felt half-sick on Christmas Day. My best friend talking me into running anyway. He was always talking me into doing crazy things. Life tectonics, you know.
Then a big snowstorm hit and my buddies and I got in some really long cross-country skiing days. For New Year’s, Linda and I drove to Decorah to celebrate newlyweds Keith Ellingson and his wife Kristi. We skied along the Upper Iowa River with giant snowflakes falling through a windless grey day. It was romantic and calm, and Keith and Kristi were as sweet to us as could be.
I wrote up a year’s training summary that read, “2040 miles in 1981. 170 avg per month. 5.1 miles per day. 194 avg during peak training. 48.5 miles per week average during peak. 6.7 miles per day.”
Those weren’t big miles. Yet I’d shown racing improvement in 1981 and even placed high or won the day in a couple road races. Looking toward 1982, it was hard to imagine what lay ahead, or what was coming up from behind to push me even farther in the coming year. I’d written about it in my book of fiction, but for me at the time, life tectonics were indeed real.