Monday, August 07, 2006

Wading in a Very Deep Sea

WARNING TO SPORTS LOATHERS: This posting contains gratuitous references to sports. I'm still trying to work off the elevated testosterone levels from excessive guy activity from the past week. ;-)

I spent the better part of Sunday at a well known auto race that is held in town around this time of the year. It's the sixth time I've attended that race, starting out as a courtesy to my wife's best friend's husband. I've gotten hooked on it over time, and it's now one of the few times a year that I actually get out of the house, away from both the wife and the kids.

The allure is a mixture of things.

The race track itself is steeped in rich history and traditions. You can't be a resident of this town or a race fan without realizing that you're standing on sacred ground. It's akin to the sanctity of walking the turf of Notre Dame Stadium and pondering the deeds of Irish football teams under Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz. I know because I had gone to school there in the waning years of the Holtz era, witnessing both the magnificent upset of Florida State and the following heartbreaker of a loss to Boston College in 1993.

The engineer in me marvels at sheer power of the vehicles. The first time I heard the rumble of the field of 43 cars, each powered with an 800 HP engine that cost more than I paid for my house, making their way out of turn 3 and into the north short chute, I got a tingle in my spine. The collective din is like a low flying, slowly moving jet. I still get that tingle every time I go.

Then there is the human element. People who don't know the sport don't realize how punishing the environment of a race car can be. The temperature is easily in the triple digits, and drivers lose a substantial amount of weight in fluids during the course of a race. The clockwork efficiency of the pit crew performing rapid fire maintenance under the watchful eye of a laptop toting crew chief is a testament of how far the sport has come from its humble origins.

But that's not what I came to talk about...

Attendance at the event is believed to be on the order of over 200,000 people. It is indeed a people watcher's dream.

Contrary to the stereotypes that one may have of stock car auto racing, you get a glimpse at a wide cross section of society. The racial makeup may not satisfy the diversity demographers, but you will see both black and hispanic fans among the masses. None of them seemed to be intimidated by their minority status.

The kind of diversity I'm talking about is in ages and lifestyles. Yes, you might see a few drunken redneck types, but that's far from the complete picture. There are packs of young males with more machismo than sense baking their tatooed torsos in the unforgiving sun. There's whole families making a day out of it, providing a much needed bridge across the generation gap. There's groups of middle aged guys, perhaps friends or business acquaintances who don't associate with one another of, who have gathered just to bond.

Then there are the women... Lots of them. The shapes, sizes, clothing choices, body art preferences, personalities, facial expressions, and postures are almost limitless. And being of the male persuasion, it's hard for me not to notice and evaluate them. Perhaps it is this sensory overload, rather than solar exposure, that leaves me so drained by the end of the day.

Being in a precarious space within my own marriage, I found myself looking much more than previous years. A gathering like this makes one realize just how true that old fish-in-the-sea cliche is. This was but a cupfull of a larger ocean. Some of it desirable, others less so.

This year, I noticed that there were women who were happy to be spending the day with their men. They were enjoying the day, not whining. Most of them expressed affection in some way. I found myself feeling very lonely and envious, for I knew that my wife would never accompany me on a day like this. She'd complain about the miles of walking. She'd cry misery over the heat and the sun. The bleachers wouldn't have enough elbow room to her liking. The complaints would be endless.

I know it's wrong for me to give up now, especially with us in marriage counseling and her getting ready to start sex therapy. But the urge to look elsewhere is becoming fiercely strong.

In the short term, there is nothing I can really do about it. I need to be patient and give my wife a chance to mend.

In the meantime I will most likely focus on getting into better shape so that I will be a more attractive catch to either my wife or perhaps someone new. If I am to swim, I will need to slim. Tonight, I walked over a mile with my daughters in tow aboard their wagon, and that proved to be a nice workout.
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