Life Lessons from a Pamby
by, January 19th, 2009 at 04:22 PM (2710 Views)
Q & A with Jim Thornton
Second in an occasional series
Interview by Jim Thornton
Q: Jim, I don’t want to get too personal here, but a lot of your fans—myself arguably foremost here—are desperate to know: How is your health?
A: Jim, first of all, thanks for asking. And believe me, I’m not trying to duck your question. It’s just that health is not something Clint Eastwood, Troy Polamalu, Vince Spiegelman, and other men of our ilk think about. Truth be known, we probably suffer a form of emotional leprosy. That rusted railroad spike through my scrotum? Oh, I suppose it might hurt if I thought about it. That’s the approach guys like us take to “health” and “pain” and “weirdly unnerving somatic sensations that seem like they could prefigure bird fancier’s lung or maybe a humongous myxoma.” So, to answer your question, “How am I feeling,” I ask you in return, “What is this feeling that you are talking about?” Maybe you should talk to Paul Wolf. I understand he postponed his 500 short course yards freestyle while moving up an appointment with his masseuse. Paul probably knows what his “feelings” about his “health” are.
Q: Yeah, yeah—I know Paul: the guy with the occasional big toe gout.
A: You know, there was a recipe for squirrel in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today. It sounded delicious...until I read that you have to kill the squirrels before you ingest them.
Q: Okay, I think we get it now, Jim. You’re no namby-pamby like, well, you know. Or his friend, well, you know. Or him, her, and the other one, too.
A: Listen, Jim, I don’t mean to sound like a hard ass here, though you probably could roll out pastry dough on my buttocks, so hard and cold and marble-like are they. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. True, I’m no namby. But I am, at least occasionally, a pamby. I have a softer side. I emit the occasional inarticulate keening when things don’t go my way.
Q: (chuckling) As if!
A: No, really, I kid you not. This pamby has known plenty of loss in his life. Yesterday, for instance, I managed a pathetic 4700 yards during the 1-hour postal swim. Do the math. This works out to an “anaerobic threshold” pace of 1:16.6 per 100. Last year, I could hold 48 and a quarter x 100’s on 1:14.61. A couple years earlier, I managed 49.96 x 100’s on 1:12.06. The reaper’s gaining, and his stench makes you want to cut off your nostrils, believe me.
Q: Marvelous phrase, that! Jim, your whole approach to life—so hard-boiled and tough guy and testosteronated to the max, while allowing the occasional pamby keen to break through, too—well, if you’ve got emotional leprosy with a softer side, I say, how can I get me some of that, too?
A: It’s easy, Jimbo. All you gotta do is lose. Lose everything that was ever anything to you. A decent AT time. Skin unmottled by buboes. An esophageal passage that hasn’t been scraped crimson with nails. A 1998 National Magazine Award followed by three subsequent nominations in 2005, 2006, and 2007 that all came to naught. Lose these things, then regain them, then lose them again. Losing makes winners what they are: really, really, toughened up losers.
Q: Man, Jim, that is a great paradoxical philosophy. Losers are the new winners?
A: And there’s a flipside to it, too.
Q: What’s that? That winners are the new losers?
A: Jimmy, I think you’re going to have to find out that one on your own. Here’s a little movie about me in my non-swimming life. Watch it a couple times. I think you’ll learn something.
Q: Is there a prize to encourage viewership this time? A swim cap, perhaps?
A: Maybe. Then again, maybe not. You’re gonna have to find out for yourself. After all, what have you got to lose but a small chunk of your remaining life? And so what if you lose this? At the risk of beating off a dead horse, let me repeat: Losing makes winners what they are: really, really, toughened up losers.