Saturday, December 19, 2009

Model Role

Among the panoply of personal or professional titles one does not expect to hear in one's lifetime, I'd include "Dan Quayle, Neurosurgeon", "Bill Gates, Mac User" and "Ron Abramson, Male Model". Yes, that last one would be me, and the absurdity of the juxtaposition cannot be overstated.

Yet, your intrepid blogger decided to have some fun, after receiving the following message in connection with a casting call for a national advertising campaign:

It's that time again for _____ to cast fine athletes for our upcoming photo shoot. We'd love your helping finding twelve special people for the next production. Kindly review the criteria, and pass along or post to anybody you may think suitable.

YES! It's completely fine to apply for more than one position (i.e.. a tennis position if you're also a runner as long as you've got the experience).

Many thanks for your assistance!
- ________ Casting Crew

* CASTING for select athletes
We are searching for very experienced or semi-pro runners, tennis player and personal trainers for a high-end photo shoot in the Boston area.

Please read the details of our casting needs :

OF 18-30 within the following categories:





About our photo shoot:
- The client is __________, well-respected fitness retailer with a worldwide presence, This is a professional photo shoot. No nudity.

- You MUST be able to report to our CASTING on Thursday 12/17/09 in Newton MA. Sorry, no exceptions.

- You must be free to work on one or all of our photo SHOOT DATES: 1/5-1/8 in the Boston area

- Rate is $200 an hour, minimum half day shoot.

Naturally, I opted for the "runner" category, and though I have no idea whether I have good running form, I figured I could bluff my way through. I completely missed the age parameters during my first read, but the fact that we wouldn't be getting naked put my mind at ease. ;-) The pay sounded pretty darned good (especially for a guy who just walked away from a steady paycheck), and I know I'm in no immediate danger of having a professional athletic career or of "being sponsored". So, call me nominally qualified, or perhaps "not completely unqualified" for this assignment. I don't watch "America's Top Model", do not really know what "smize" even means and have only seen "Zoolander" once. So, after giving it some thought, I realized I may be in over my head.

Yet, at the suggestion of my beloved (and sometimes hilariously supportive) wife, I sent the following photos:

Not long after hitting [send], I received the following response:

Hi Ron,
Thanks for your interest in our ________ casting! We liked your photos and think you are a good candidate for our shoot, we would love to meet you.

Please report to our casting to meet the client and photographer who will make the final casting decisions. Sorry, we cannot consider you for this shoot if you cannot attend the casting.

So, on my second-to-last day of work, I headed off to Newton, MA, a little over an hour from home, for about 15 minutes of living the life of an aspiring athletic apparel/shoe model. Bear in mind that my son had stayed home from school with a bum tummy, so I dragged him with me. I can only imagine how he'll look back on this day. We followed the twisty Mapquest directions, found the photo studio and experienced the following sequence of events:
  • As soon as we walked in, a hiply-dressed guy asked me, "Name of agency?"; he wrote "None" on the appropriate line and handed me a clipboard with a questionnaire to complete; I was Applicant #57 for the day, having arrived around 11:30 am
  • I left the "Age" line blank; if asked, I planned to say, "Fill in however old you think I look"
  • I changed into a triathlon-style singlet, medium-length running shorts and running shoes, opting for an orange/gray/black color scheme
  • As I waited my turn, I was getting a bit nervous, until I saw C give me a thumbs-up; I looked around and realized that I was not completely out of my league, though I had seen a very attractive, fit-looking couple leaving as I was arriving; other folks seemed to come in various shapes and sizes, with some obvious tennis players and personal trainer types
  • While the clipboard and applicant-shepherding duties fell onto a few young men who had similar clothes, haircuts and facial hair configurations, the apparent brains of the operation belonged to a crew of about 4-5 women, including a photographer, some sort of supervisor person, and a couple of young women working on notebook computers; some were dressed in dark gray, others in black; that was the whole color pallette; I've rarely felt less hip or cool, but that's probably not required for a glorified piece of meat
  • The photographer and supervisor engaged in a brief discussion about whether I should remove my form-fitting shirt; it stayed on; the photographer then had me stand with the information sheet; she snapped a photo, and then things got really silly:

    "We need to see your quad"
    "Um, okay, should I flex it?"
    "Sure" (said by the supervisor with a slightly suggestive tone)
  • So, with some trepidation, I raised the right side of my Saucony shorts and flexed my quadriceps; this is filed under the heading of "I did some things I'm not proud of"
  • The photographer then took some close-ups ("Turn your head this way, eyes looking back at me") and thanked me for coming; on my way out, I asked whether she could airbrush my ears, and she said that she could "airbrush anything"; the supervisor, though, said, "Nah, the ears are cute" and laughed; I've been saying that maybe they'll refer me to be a hearing aid model, since my ears will make any such device look small
  • They said they would let us know next week, and so ended my moment in the fashion world's sun

I have zero expectations, though I'll admit that I do hope to get the job. How can such an opportunity present itself like this just when I'm leaving my day job, and thus able to pursue it? My wife thinks it's very amusing, and she's been embarrassing me accordingly with friends and family alike.

Truth be told, I'll confess that I kind of enjoy the attention, but I also think it's a complete crock. Yes, I've spent the past couple of years turning myself into a runner, and the dedication to that level of training has caused my body to respond in kind. From head-to-toe, I look (and feel) very differently than I did not so long ago. Still, all my life, my primary personal strengths have been above-average intelligence and a decent sense of humor. Being a prime physical specimen was never really part of the equation. However, I seem to be aging relatively well, and - at the tender age of 41 - I attended my first casting call to appear in a fitness-oriented advertising campaign. While I'm not exactly planning to forego setting up the new law firm in favor of pursuing a full-time modeling career, I do have to ask, "How cool is that?" ;-)

Yes, whatever happens, I'll follow up. Those of you who suffer through this blog certainly deserve to know.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Off the Clock . . . or Clocks

"I must govern the clock, not be governed by it." Golda Meir

This week's post addresses the two major "clocks" in my life. One, of course, is the clock which measures my running. Since late 2007, that timekeeping has existed primarily in the form of a GPS running watch made by Garmin, with my latest model being the Forerunner 405. The other clock is the one which measures my professional output, in the widely-reviled ten-slices-to-a-pie increments known as "billable hours".

My Garmin has been having problems for the past few weeks, since I noticed ever-increasing condensation forming under the glass. It died completely on Sunday, December 6th (coincidentally and fortuitously, the day after my 5K PR race). My other clock has been having "problems" for at least 18 months, and I finally killed it on Monday, December 7th, when I gave two weeks' notice at my current job, so that I make take the big professional plunge and start my own law firm.

Now, to be fair and clear, I have not purged myself of clocks, nor have I decided that time is irrelevant to both running and legal work. But, I did get in a week of watch-free running, and I will now focus on working on a flat-fee basis as much as practicable.

A replacement Garmin arrived on Friday, and on two runs with it, I've found myself checking it only very sporadically to see how far I'd run. I still like poring over the data afterwards, but I don't need the constant real-time feedback like I used to.

In the realm of being someone whose livelihood depends on being paid for turning my knowledge into solutions to some people's most pressing problems (I focus primarily on immigration law), I have only a finite amount of time with which to provide my services (i.e., a limited supply of my "product"). I cannot simply discount the role time plays in my profession.

Yet, this week taught me valuable lessons about running without a watch, as well as about finding a way to focus on a client's needs without giving in to the base urge to squeeze every last drop of time out of a case.


I was grateful that my watch hung on long enough to get me through last Saturday's race. On Sunday, it froze up for good, and I waited for the replacement to come by running familiar routes, running for time and running on the treadmill/indoor track during the coldest and snowiest stretch of the week. Ditching the heart rate monitor strap was also nice. It's one of those things I don't think about when I run, but running without is so much more comfortable. One non-running friend calls it my tiny bra.

Not worrying about a watch allowed me to think, look around and otherwise "just run" in a way in which I normally don't do. I'm hardly a convert, but I already feel less clock-o-centric. Disclaimer: all bets are off when Boston training gets into full swing on January 4, 2010.


Despite some indication to the contrary, I do realize that running is an avocation, and that I need to pay more attention to my actual vocation. I have been lass-than-satisfied at my current job for a while now, and things have come to a head recently. The difficulties come from two related sources: (1) the substantive work is boring, and (2) I don't feel like I'm improving the lot of the world or anyone in it by working primarily on behalf of businesses.

None of this is meant to disparage my current firm, which boasts some talented lawyers who do excellent work. Instead, I could best describe it as my being a "square peg in a round hole". The way I would like to practice (e.g., representing primarily individuals and charging fixed fees) simply does not fit within the framework of a larger law firm.

So, with equal parts excitement and terror, I will be working through December 18th, taking two full weeks off for the first time in over 5 years and am setting up my own immigration and international specialty law firm in Manchester, NH. I expect to be fully operational by Monday, January 11, 2010.

At the same time, I have applied for a legal contract position in State Government which would be fast-paced, exciting, challenging and which would go a long way towards giving me a guaranteed revenue stream during at least the first year of the new gig.

Having spoken to about a dozen or so lawyers and other professionals who've made a similar move, I'm buoyed by the universally positive feedback. After all, I have a specific (hopefully useful) skill set (aka, a "niche"), will run a lean operation and tend to be pretty good with people. I should have enough clients coming with me to "prime the pump" and I expect things to ramp up pretty quickly. This time next year, I expect to be asking myself the common question others shared: "Why did I wait so long to make the move?"

So, while I attend to myriad details and try to keep the demons of doubt at bay, I'll share an observation from Alexis Carrel upon which I recently stumbled: "Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia."


Now we arrive at the obligatory moment where I feebly attempt to tie together life and running so as to impart some pithy little lesson upon the poor reader. Well, as cliched as it may sound, running has really given me the fortitude to take this big step, to trust that I am up to the challenges ahead, and to know that each and every obstacle along the way teaches valuable lessons. Our paths then take us squarely into the den of those obstacles again in the future, when we arrive ready to conquer them, or they deviate so that we find a better way to get to our destination.

No more than any other can I escape from the restrictions of time, but I can choose to be less of a slave to the clock which sometimes ticks so loudly that it drowns out the sounds of our lives. I want to hear the literal and figurative sounds and rhythms of my heart more often, so the running watch and the billing timer will need to lay quietly in the background while I do.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Close, but still a PR

Today is my 41st birthday, and I started my day with - of course - a running-related goal. The local Jingle Bell 5K always falls on this weekend, and it is the only race in which I've ever taken a DNF ("did not finish"). Turned out I was sick on a zero-degree day in 2007, but that's another story. This year, the goal was a new 5K PR of 18:41 (41, get it?) in honor of my age.

For reasons that will surely get more profound treatment in a separate blog entry, I have been under a lot of stress. I'm not eating or sleeping very well, yet I continue to depend upon running to help me stay focused and relatively sane. It's working.

The race starts and finishes at my oldest daughter's school, and brings out close to 500 people to support the Arthritis Foundation. The weather was gray and cold, with snow on the way. I ran the almost-4 miles from my house to the race in long pants and a jacket. Then I registered, changed into my race gear (including my evil-but-unbelievably-light-and-comfortable Nike LunaRacers). My friend Steve's advice rattled around in my head: keep it together in the second mile (which is the toughest mile of the course, with two decent hills). I saw my friend Jim, who said that I looked like I had my "game face" on. I told him that I was mainly coming to terms with exactly how much I was willing suffer on this cold day. I had run a barefoot mile as part of a 7-miler on Thursday, and my calves (but especially the right one) were pretty sore. A good thing in terms of building lower leg strength, but not so great in terms of trying to run as fast and smooth as possible two days later.

I debated about what to wear, but got down to a sleeveless shirt, arm-warmers, headband and gloves. As the start time neared, I ran a quick 1/3 of a mile, with a couple of bursts, and found my way to the starting line. Pre-race nerves coursed through me a bit, as I tried to identify which runners I might want to key off of during the first mile, and which ones to let go.

The gun went off, and I watched the instant pace on my defective Garmin FR405 (it's got ever-worsening condensation on the inside of the glass, making it hard to read; no worries, as a replacement is on its way) carefully to avoid going out too fast. I saw 5:4x and then 5:5x on the display, but I settled down. The race played out as follows:
  • Mile 1: 6:03 - A couple of sharp turns and a slight, longish uphill. I kept sight of the leaders for longer than I expected, but I tried to stay smooth; I was not cold, or hot, or anything; just felt like I was working hard, but not too hard
  • Mile 2: 6:02 - This mile was an unequivocal triumph of race execution for me, and perhaps my best race mile ever. I stayed steady, and then increased my effort on each of the two uphill climbs. The women's leader and I exchanged places, and I dropped several male runners throughout this mile. I was working as hard as I can remember ever doing so in any race while still staying in control. It was amazing to find that balance. My HR topped out at 199 bpm in this mile. As I descended the second hill, I finally pulled ahead of the female leader (a lovely young woman with whom I've done some training runs) and visualized the relatively straight shot to the finish.
  • Mile 3: 6:00 - Pure maintenance mode. I just kept pushing and pushing, thinking about how close it was to being over. I caught up to a couple of guys, and passed my friend Pete with about a half-mile to go. I reminded myself that with about 2200 miles already logged this year, I could certainly hold on for a little bit longer.
  • Final 0.1+ at 5:25/mile pace - I saw the entrance to the school parking lot and ratcheted up my effort. Then, just after I turned right, I heard a loud commotion, which turned out to be my entire family hooting, hollering and cheering for me ("Go Dad!" & "Come on, Ron!"). They'd surprised me by coming to the race on my birthday, and said that I surprised them by finishing so soon (yes, they had me at "hello"). I smiled as best I could, and crossed the finish line, feeling as completely spent as I've been at the end of a race. I could not even manage to push the stop button on my watch for a few seconds.

I went inside to get some warm clothes, talked with my wife and kids, and then did a couple of cool-down miles with Jim and Pete. The 9:00+-minute pace felt great. The results went up, and all the times were off. My "official" time went from 18:52 to 18:50, but I'm calling it 18:46, a 33-second PR from April and a mere 5 seconds short of my goal. Hills, cold, sore calves, stress, etc. might have cost me those few seconds, but I cannot say that I did not run the best race I could have run today.

The only downer for me was that while I had somehow managed to finish 14th overall, I was 7th in my way-too-competitive age group (40-49). So, I hung around to cheer my friends who won awards, and then ran a shorter route home, for a total of about 11.6 miles for the day.

Today's race is a satisfying way to end a very successful running year, while starting off a new "life" year on a good note.

In the meantime, my virtual running buddy "SpiderPig" qualified for Boston at the Memphis Marathon. Congratulations to him. Also, on Sunday, a number of my friends will be running the California International Marathon. Best of luck to them.

Thanks for reading. -ESG