In March of 1982, I picked up training mileage as the weather slowly improved. February saw a series of thirty-mile weeks, but March jumped to the mid-forties and then the mid-fifties. Then disaster hit.
“Took ill at end of March,” I wrote. “Bad cold, well, not too bad. 5-day course. Then pushed all week, miles, tension stress. By Friday I knew I was in trouble. What followed was severe sinus headaches, (missing good running weather) a helluva case of pleurisy (visited the hospital) and wound up with a raw sore throat (whitish red spots.)All on the back of my throat. Penicillin for four days (no running) knocked that out. Health turned in the second/third week of April.”
That brief summary doesn’t describe all that took place during the siege. Rather, the headaches were so severe I was incapacitated. Migraines, really. The kind that make you nauseous and incapable of functioning. Whether caused by the cold or hormones, or whatever, they were beyond awful. Such as, “the top of my head feels like it is on fire” awful.
I wound up in the hospital in an odd way. My two older brothers were in town, so we snuck into Geneva High School through a loose back door that I’d learned about from other open gym players. That gave us access to the upper gym, so we were playing hoops when my left arm suddenly went numb. I’d never felt anything like it, so I stopped playing and sat on the sidelines. “You better get checked out,” one of them said.
But the doctor’s office wasn’t open, so I drove over to the Community Hospital building in Geneva and was put through a series of tests, including a chest x-ray. That showed a fluid buildup near my lungs, and the diagnosis was pleurisy.
See, I’d been taking strong doses of Tylenol with codeine to counteract the headaches. Something in that combination sort of collided with my lungs. As I kept on running, the problem got worse.
“You need to go home and get some rest,” the physician advised. So I drove home to the coach house and laid down for a few hours. Then my brothers showed up in late afternoon. “Hey dude,” they told me. “We’re going downtown to Mothers (a Chicago bar), You’re coming with us, right?”
Down to Mothers
Not wanting to disappoint my older brothers (I’ve always been eager to please) I got dressed and we drove into the city. My brother’s future wife was one of the women who joined us, along with her elegantly beautiful friend Marie. She was what sealed the deal for me. The bunch of us danced well into the night.
At least, that’s how I recall the evening. My brothers were always far ahead of me in terms of their knowledge of the world. About women. About life.
So I dragged along with them, but came home feeling ten times better. The alcohol seemed to help clear up my lungs. Or perhaps it was the dancing. At any rate, my March came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. My common had been put through the test those first few months of the year. Coming off the illness, I realized that takine care of myself really was necessary.
But once March was over, and I had some time to train without hacking up bits of lung, I was eager to race. In late April, I found a 5K to race on the track. My training by then included quite a bit of speedwork, with sets of mile repeats (“4:58-5:04-5:17 whooo”) and quarters (12 X 400 at 70-73). In any case, on April 30 I ran a 14:57 three-mile during a 15:29 5K.
“Good kick even! Cool, 65 degrees. NO WIND! NC College track. Legs not too sore. Linda and (my friend from work) watched.”
That “friend from work” was a soul mate to me on many fronts. She and I first started talking when our company offices were downtown. Our friendship carried over after we both moved out to the suburbs. One cold January night, she and I were driving around after socializing and the tire on the borrowed Honda Civic we were driving went flat. We got out and tried to get the tire off, then realized that the bolts were rusted shut. It was six below zero outside, and the winds were horrific. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan saw us by the road and stopped to help. He used some sort of power tool to spin the nuts off the lugs that we could not move by hand. Otherwise she and I might well have frozen to death that night.
Frankly, I was a little in love with her, but I knew she was technically spoken for with a longtime boyfriend. So while she and her fellow college friends often partied at my coach house, and she even messed around a bit with one of my running buddies, I took a “hands off” approach myself. She looked on as my relationship with Linda grew, and approved. So we took a trip together to watch Linda play softball in Addison one night.
We were also dealing with some strange goings-on at work. The entire company was invited to attend an outdoor fireside event at the home of the company president, Robert Van Kampen. I’d been to his home and property several times starting in late high school when he purchased some of my paintings. His house sat on a hill in the north part of West Chicago, and his property included a large field on which a herd of exotic deer and other animals roamed. The animals turned into a local attraction of sorts, and he seemed to like the attention. Apparently, it was all part of his belief in the concept of Noah’s Ark. His obsession with the Bible was deep and real, and everything about the man was ‘biblical’ in one way or another. .
But that kind of gave the rest of us the creeps.The night of the fireside gathering, my friends from Van Kampen and I warily walked on the property. We were greeted by a scene that had all the makings of a tent revival meeting. During the evening, Van Kampen invited people to step forward and give testimony to their faith. I remember one of my co-workers stepping forward. He was normally a reserved and rather uptight fellow, but he talked about his personal faith in terms that would surely be pleasing to the boss.
Those of us standing on the fringes sensed the pressure and felt like the testimony we’d just heard was calculated and fake. It all had a cult atmosphere, so we slipped away, climbed into our cars, and drove away. To be sure, it was made clear all along that attendance at the meeting was not mandatory. The internal audience at Van Kampen Merritt was already strong. There were a great number of associates whose Christian faith was an open-face sandwich. But the revival event felt like head games to those of us that did not come from a confessional tradition. Trouble was, we didn’t know if proclaiming our personal Christian faith was the only way to get ahead in the company.
For all of Van Kampen’s strong beliefs, I still really liked the guy. He was smart and talking with him was never boring. But I didn’t share same biblically literal worldview that he did. Bob was massively committed to promoting that worldview, and even formed his own churches a few times. On a bigger scale, he was apparently active in funding efforts to find Noah’s Ark. Or at least, some of his Christian associates across the country wished that would happen. Some of the nation’s top creationists were known to visit our offices. I know that because I engaged one of them in a lively discussion one afternoon while the guy was waiting to meet with Bob.
As the creationist dude made point after point about his beliefs; I listened carefully to hear him out. He contended, with great fervor, that the Book of Genesis was meant to be taken literally. He insisted that the earth was quite young, about six thousand years old by his calculations. And yes, all the animals we knew in the modern age were direct descendants of those gathered up by Noah and rescued from the flood.
Then I casually disassembled his contentions one by one, using what I’d learned in geology, field biology and yes, my religious upbringing–– to debunk his entire narrative. He grew flustered as I outlined the integrated way in which the theory of evolution and the emerging understanding of plate tectonics fit together to explain the age of the earth. I was in the middle of explaining how living things fill niches and adapt to environmental conditions around the world when Robert Van Kampen emerged to invite the creationist into his office. The man turned quickly away from me and slipped inside as Bob gave me a quick glance. He knew me well enough to figure out what transpired. I didn’t care. I was just being honest.
Once the creatonist and Bob were back inside his office, one of the professedly Christian women in the room chided me, “Don’t you know who that is?”
“Not exactly,” was my response. “And I don’t really care. Because I buried him.” Then I walked out of the room. Despite my relatively lowly status within the firm, I had no interest in playing head games to please anyone. I figured that if Robert Van Kampen could have his principles, I was entitled to mine as well.
There would be no Christian confessionals from any of my peer group at the company either. They were smart people with their own ideas. And while there was some reward, it would seem, for those who climbed on board the Van Kampen ark, the business grew so rapidly it was no longer possible to hold employees’ feet to the Christian fire. To his credit, Van Kampen grew the firm to the point where he sold it for $400M to Xerox, and was later sold to Invesco.
Sadly, Bob Van Kampen developed a disease in which his muscle tissues hardened, including his heart. That’s what took the man down. But not before he made a giant mark on the world around him, including a book titled The Sign in which he used his enormous bible knowledge to write a book about the prophetic end of the world and The Rapture.
I was deep into the music of Neil Young by that point in my life and particularly loved his live album Rust Never Sleeps. The lyrics described so much of what was going on in my life at the time.
It’s better to burn out…Than it is to rust
These are some of the head games we play without ourselves when we are young.