Me and the Running Man

runningman (1)

No, not that one!

 

First he was smiling. Then falling.

If his pelvis had been a shovel, the heave of dirt would have landed on me. I had just pressed the rectangle of the angry red “stop” button with my knuckle. My water bottle, mobile phone, and balled-up borrowed towel waited in the recesses of the treadmill to the left and right of the console.

His cell phone started it all. He stepped on the adjacent machine. From the peripheral view, he looked like Alex, a guy I knew in high school who later went in the Army and lost lots of weight. He was a sandy blond with close-cropped hair. About 6 foot tall and barrel-chested.

He started his workout routine, then within about 15 seconds, the phone dropped like a lead zeppelin (mind you, he wasn’t on the stair-stepper to heaven) and flew off the back of the treadmill, looking like a small, sailing gray claymore mine before the steel balls explode out of it.

Thunk, whirr.

I turned at the sound, and our eyes collided. His were an electrocuted blue. Still, he smiled.

Perhaps that was his biggest mistake.

He hit hard on his left hip, which I guess was better than hitting face-first or knee-first, the latter of which I’ve done on a home treadmill (or dreadmill, as I often call it).

In short, his manparts were probably saved, but I doubt his pride was. He bounced off the back of the treadmill and out into the aisle as I winced inwardly.

Of course, he didn’t need help. He was a dude, and, as such, refused my knobby little proffered hand. Two other people, both women, rushed over to his aid. Perhaps it was his lucky day, or his unlucky one, depending on how he narrated the situation to himself.

Either way, I second-guessed. Should I have called out I’ll get it, then hopped down and scooped the phone off the sparkly blue carpeting? Should I have looked at him? Did I breach gymnasium etiquette by not ignoring the phone-drop? Could I have done anything to prevent his fall? Should I have grabbed at him as he fell? (Yeah, as if I could have stopped him.) Do I dare to eat a peach? (Never mind those singing mermaids.)

I apologized to him and asked him if he was okay. At least twice.

I was sorry I’d seemed to distract him, I said. Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking, in addition to being at least a little self-centered.

In any case, now perhaps I should go polish my best Blanche DuBois accent. With fading youth as my focus.

Clearing throat and rolling out the drawl (yes, I’ve still got it way down in the bag of tricks):

“I don’t want realism, I want magic! . . . Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!” (from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams)

 

 

 

Summer on a Stick: Six-Word Recipes

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I’m trying to be more of a “green thumb.” I hope the cantaloupe will make it — wish me luck!

For many, summer spins around a loose center of salivary satisfactions. That’s no less true for me.

Enter the Six-Word Memoirs/SMITH magazine Six Contest #32.This contest seeks your six-word summertime recipes or reminiscences. For those in wintertime, perhaps you can channel favorite warm-weather fare.

Here are some of mine (not submitted for the contest; you do that on SMITH‘s aforementioned Web page), broadly about recipes, food, and summertime rituals:

 Dew-drizzled raspberries: all hands grasp.

Homemade cantaloupe freeze pops: Di-vine decoction.

Crushed mint: sweet violence stains fingertips.

Thymus serpyllum — feral herb gentling weeds.

Tender perennial, savagely decapitated: ubiquitous tomato.

Garden sprinkler after a nine-mile run.

Runningwoman, water douses head, H20 halo.

Tomatoes_20140728_0376

 

Six Words on Spring Renewal

Boing, boing. No, that’s not the sound of my last wit snapping.

Here in the States, it is Spring, and for the religious, a series of holidays/holydays are occurring. If nothing else, it is a time for a renaissance of Nature.

To that end, Six Words/Smith magazine is seeking—but only until 3 p.m. CST today, so get hopping—your six-word ruminations on renewal. If you don’t participate over there (technically, I’m not participating with them either), feel free to direct me to your six-word post.

Here are a few I played around with; hope you enjoy them. Likewise, your day and weekend!

Six-Word Meditations on Spring

Last year’s tomatillos, diaphanous snow globes.

Noticed hole in soul; went running.

Chives sprouting, daughter’s skin like onions.

Violets bouquet the grass with bruises.

Bunny ricochets yard detritus: Spring’s harrier.

Ornamental pear flaring; beetles begin awakening.

Doing LSD with Hunter S. Thompson

Welcome, readers. This is Part Two of my Hunter S. Thompson-inspired vignette, which was itself an enchanted foray into a recent weekly WordPress Daily Post challenge. My Part One shall live forever, ever, ever at the link. And now . . . Pinch-hitting for Pedro Borbón, Manny Mota.

To discover why most runners do LSD nearly every week, please read on. And feel free to comment, share, or commiserate–I get lonely in here with only my echoes and memories of funny films to keep me alive.running-cheaper-than-therapy-square

PART TWO

E-GAD! IT’S (T)HIGH ANXIETY

The small sandwich board-type sign stood at the front of the store, where the sidewalk was wider to accommodate more foot traffic to the restaurant and bar nearby. A brief stab of panic slipped through my ribs when I saw a woman in a long, dark coat outside the store. She could’ve been waiting for someone or maybe just the “walk” light to cross the street. Something told me she wasn’t there for the seminar, so I wasn’t petrified of her so much as I was of the entrance to the meeting. As a child and teen, I’d begun to build a slippery precipice of fear surrounding any entrance into a public forum, room, or get-together. Think classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, or anywhere people were already present and I wasn’t. Likewise, exits, though those were far less problematic. Had I the vocabulary then, I’d probably have been able to brand the perplexing condition as social anxiety. But an argot of the mind had not yet been sifted into my soul, so I always got dubbed “shy” or “bashful” and was told “you should smile more,” “you should talk more,” or, the real kicker, “you’d be pretty if you smiled (more).” As if it were impossible to think a serious person attractive or remotely admirable.

If you want to slurp the more memorable alphabet soup of psychologic plagues, I suppose you might spoon out GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Not to be confused with GERD, though GAD can certainly cause GERD in some people. One almost imagines a satirical psychotropic label as such, malicious though it is:

GAD Sufferers: ‘GERD’ your loins for one hell of a ride for your overly sensitive stomach. What, you don’t have sensitive stomach? It must mean you’re abnormal. Have you checked lately to see if any giant green thing is stuck in your teeth, if your breath reeks of garlic, if something nasty is dangling from your massive proboscis? If you do have gastroesophageal reflux disease, you really ought to have that checked out–it’s probably cancer. I’m surprised you’re not dead already; it’ll probably happen when you least expect it or can control it. While sleeping, for instance.

But seriously, the little acronym with the big, bap rap can be likened, I think, to some Tim Burtonesque mouse with serrated shark’s teeth in its jaws, which miraculously unhinge and grow to gobble up a person’s mojo, if you will. However, as I think of it, the affliction of GAD really reaches its apex as shyness on steroids.

And so, as the panic-stab muscled its way around my innards, ricocheting any china in the bull-shop so that it buries itself in some soft place or other, I begin to picture it like one of those hooks that movie criminals use to break into the museum. It’s thrown into the air, is attached to a rope, and miraculously lands just on the lip of the ledge and can be expanded to grasp ahold better by increasing its circumference. Once it imbeds in a weak spot, it’s darn-near impossible to shake it off, for at least a few minutes anyway. And those minutes stretch as if taffied, but it’s sour candy. And you abhor sour candy.

Here was the terrorizing thought pattern, as best I can reflect the inner chaos of the lizard brain, thankfully brief though it was: ohmygoditstartedalready. itwasatsixnotsix-thirty. i can’t go in, i can’t go in. peoplewillstareatme. peoplewilllookatme. peoplewillseemebeinglateandwrong, a total frickin’ idiot coming in late. I mean, we’re runners. We’re supposed to be obsessed with time, right? They’ll think this probably is emblematic of how good a runner I am, too.

Sigh. All that mangled baggage in the time it takes for a propelled sneeze to leave one’s body, that one nervous-Nelly neuron fired out of control. Dang, if only there were better neuron-control laws in this country.

RUNNERS’ LEXICON

The sandwich board doesn’t give a clue as to the start time, but suddenly I see a man approximately my height come from the left. He was slowly jogging, not a jog-jog as if he were out for a recreational jaunt, but rather a purposeful “I am going to catch up to something, and then I will stop” kind of gait. As he neared, I saw it was James, though I seriously doubted he remembered me since it had been ages since I’d done LSD with the group.

Oh, that? Yeah, I do LSD regularly. Not as of late, however. For LSD, of course I need to direct you to the runner’s lexicon. LSD in this context means long, slow distance. It’s typically the one long run a week someone does, usually on a weekend, to maintain their aerobic base. In my case, I do trip with semi-regularity and could tell tales on myself, but I won’t inject that into this story, which is a novella as it is.

CHASING AVOIDANCE

We say our hellos and he opens the door for me. I’m glad it’s not a prolonged encounter, because I have so much to do. It drains me to interact with people sometimes. Suddenly, the merch in the store, a vast majority of which I cannot afford and none of which I truly Passing Dudeneeeeeed becomes The Most Interesting Thing I’ve Seen in Months, Maybe Years. It’s a great avoidance tactic, because the store is crowded. For a little store, maybe the size of an average dining room and kitchen, it’s nearing about half-way packed. The crowd is about half-and-half. No brown, however. Only white, sadly. It’s split along the male-female line, with approximately 8 of each present near starting time.

There’s Ray, the silver-haired extrovert who could be a Jonathan Pryce impersonator if he wanted to. There’s thin and graceful Sarah, looking years younger than her age, an age range I know only because I’ve seen her name in race results, not because I’ve become a close friend (owing to my social anxiety, and nothing else). Then Brandy, yet another woman I don’t know, but whose name I’ve also seen in race results and who wears the exact-same blue-black glasses as I, I discover tonight. (In my mind, I make an ever-so-witty comment like “I love your glasses,” but it doesn’t come to reality.) Then numerous others, some of whom I feel I’ve seen here and there, but can’t place them according to names, occupations, running speed, or favored events and PRs (i.e., personal records). I inwardly damn my disintegrating memory. It must be Alzheimer’s, a catastrophizing, pathologizing thought chimes.

Roughly in the center of the store in dark-blue, acid-washed blue jeans and a backwards-turned black ballcap stands a younger man with at least a five-o’clock shadow, which was appropriate as it was almost six-thirty, placing him well under the time.

He seems to know a few of the men and one of the women in the store.

“Was your husband playing basketball at the ‘Y’ over the break?” he chats with a woman.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I think I saw him there.”

Then they talk briefly about kids. His or hers, I’m not sure, as I don’t want to seem like I’m eavesdropping.

As I observe, trying to stand casually, coolly even, calculated to look less nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as my Grandaddy was apt to say, I begin to gather that this must be Scott, the guest speaker. He is from the area, but has moved away to pursue a career as an elite runner. He now works for a shoe company out West, where most running-shoe companies in the States seem to reside. Where a higher density–number-wise but not weight-wise!–of America’s fittest people are. It makes perfect sense.

SHOE-SPOTTING

His black polo is emblazoned with the bold red lettering of his company. His shoes, company brand of course, aren’t brand-spankin’ new, and this I appreciate. My own Nike Frees are spackled with dried mud enough to make any cross-country runner (or “cross” as many of us elide it) envious. Another mini-pastime that fits well with my sometimes-nervous nature is shoe observation. I’d noted many of the folks in the room–those who weren’t dressed up as they’d just come from their job–had clean, new-looking or almost new-looking athletic shoes on. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be running on a treadmill that evening; almost certainly it wouldn’t be outside, for it was both dark and frigid, with a forecast of snow slated to start around 8 p.m. CST, so I’d dressed accordingly–bummily–in a tech shirt, overcoat, and sweat pants.

As I’d cruised the perimeter, a red-haired youngster in his 20s asked, “Can I help you?” quickly realized his error, then said “are you here for the talk?” He ended by complimenting my hat, so I guess I had someone in my corner.

Even Sarah had recognized me from behind the counter. I didn’t usually wear glasses, so again I wasn’t sure if I’d be identifiable. “Hi, Leigh” she called across the store. I moved closer to say, “How are you? It’s good to see you running again.” She related a few tidbits about her recent trail race, not much beyond what she had posted on Facebook, and gradually the conversation lulled and I faded away shyly.

It must have neared 6:30, for the young guy in the middle motioned us all to the back of the store. I had expected a somewhat more-wizened runner, not someone the approximate vintage, I’m guessing, of my “William and Mary Cross-Country Invitational” T-shirt from 1990.

THE (S)TREE(T) OF KNOWLEDGE

I was about the third in line to wind our way past the running supplements and in-race or pre-race gels and to the bright-white back of the store. Two doors led left to bathrooms and a sink sat outside in an open room that usually bore two or three round plastic, picnic-type tables with bench seating. Instead, about 20 individual chairs had been brought in, most white plastic as well. A table full of shoes of every size, color, and “gender” sat to the left of the room, I suppose to beckon to the gear hounds among us.

I made the quick decision to sit near the “front” of the talk in order to better soak up the running-related knowledge–or else make a quick exit, if need be, a tiny subconscious voice urged. Or maybe it was feng shui gone wrong? In any case, I took the third seat along the wall in the single-file line. Toward the back of the building, there were 2-3 rows of about 3-4 seats crammed in.

“First, I apologize, guys. I’ve been around the world lately and my voice is so hoarse,” Scott began. It turns out that the “young guy” is the grizzled running veteran. Lime-green and black shoes with sliver lines and all. He looks every bit the male elite runner, however. He’s a compact five-eight or so, slim-limbed, short-haired. I’m sure he has a down of fine, dark hair dusting his legs and chest.

“People are always asking if I should land on my forefoot or midfoot or heel. There is no one correct way to run. You need mobility . . . to tap into different muscles,” he begins.

At the outset of the talk, which I didn’t know was going to be focused on a certain brand of shoe (i.e., I didn’t even know he was a shoe rep), he promised we’d cover three main topics: strength, mobility, and coordination, doing a few quick tests to ascertain each.

“Okay, guys, now I’m going to need you to take off your shoes,” he urged. “You can leave on your socks, but it will be easier if you don’t.”

Gawd. I’m so embarrassed. My feet look like hell.

The woman next to me quietly laughs with her neighbor to the left–who so happens to be Sarah–“I won’t look at yours if you don’t look at mine,” so I guess it was a gender thing. I didn’t hear any men self-deprecating about this scenario.

I hate to say it, but the room did get a little smellier after that point, but I adapted. Heck, I’d been an athlete throughout my teen years, lived with non-human animals of different types, worked or volunteered at humane societies, visited various senior-living homes for relatives and relatives by the grace of marriage, and changed my share of cloth diapers via the so-called wet method using the toilet (upon which I won’t elaborate except to say that if you have a squeamish stomach, this experience is probably every bit as nauseating as it sounds)–so I was used to irksome smells. No biggie, not one of my trigger issues, thankfully.

Not only was I embarrassed about my funny-looking feet, but I had the goofiest socks imaginable. I was probably about to be exposed as the female Urkel in the room. I thought, at most, I might run on the treadmill and/or try on shoes, but I never expected a sock or foot inquisition. Nobody expects that!

But seriously, I would have worn my runner-y socks had I known. Instead, I had the “Banff, Canada” socks darned with red moose and black bear silhouettes on them. Even though I really liked the socks, given to my husband by a volunteer at his workplace, with the geekiness of the garb calling to me like E.T. phoning home, I thought I’d be outed as a complete dork. It was high school all over again in that moment, but I still cheerily removed the shoes and socks.

GEAR LUST RISES AGAIN

James sat to my right, relating to Scott how he had several pairs of the brand shoes. So he was one of the gear nuts among us. Not that I didn’t want to be a gear hog at times, mind you, I simply lacked the resources. Other times, the passion for acquisition.

“Pass, pass, fail, pass . . .” I was one of a few who fail the big-toe test. Apparently I lack range of motion in that toe on each foot, so Scott grabbed my dorky sock and quickly rolled it up. The table had been moved back into a corner by that point to expose three small rectangular blue exercise mats. He explained that you can “block off” the big toe and do wall stretches to improve and stretch it, as well as roll around a golf ball using the toe and foot. I quickly recalled that I’d read similar advice in a running magazine in the last 2-3 years that I’ve been keenly re-interested in running.

I do better with the calf-muscle test and the hamstring test, too.

I can’t help but notice the three signs, stacked like steps above the small sink in the room. The path to paradise is not always paved and Maybe getting lost is the best way to find yourself and Today is your day to get on your way. Really, it was boilerplate text for the running community.

Among other advice: do some pick-ups during your race warm-up to be ready to go; this is especially important for the shorter races. He mentions Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule, and I later locate a recent Gladwell piece on it. I’d read in the last year a science piece on the Runner’s World Web site discussing new data about Kenyan schoolchildren vis-à-vis this concept and how far they walk or run daily, out of necessity, to fetch water, attend school, and the like.

He advocates “every 500 miles, or 6 months, replace your shoes,” to a spectator question. Ray, the Jonathan Pryce-a-like, flaunts his extroversion, but I like him nonetheless. He’s friendly and self-deprecating, which definitely saves it: “what was that exercise again that you recommended for better coordination?” He laughs at himself as he almost loses balance during one exercise.

I couldn’t believe myself, almost, when I participated on the mats in several exercises, though I took the same mat each time out of force of habit.

Speaking of force, I also made myself to go up to Scott, ever so briefly, after the talk. I took off only my left shoe, realizing afterward how imprecise and, thus, dumb it was. [I should have shown both shoes, because there can be foot-to-foot variations.] I wasn’t prepared to club the poor guy Khrushchev-style, however. “Before you go out to your car, I’ve got a quick question.” I thrust the dirty old thing forward: “I’m not good at interpreting wear patterns. Does this look to you like I’m a forefoot striker?” I inquired.

IT WEARS ON ME

He confirmed the wear pattern that I’d suspected and even ended up giving me a red business card–his last one, for which I apologized and laughed nervously. I felt a little bad for the guy; he was so thin his jeans kept falling down, exposing the tops of red-and-blue plaid boxer shorts that paunched out from the top of jeans that said “1969” along the back band. But perhaps that was calculated, too. I never know with “young whippersnappers” these days.

Making my way back to the cold car, after just hanging on a little bit longer than 90% or more of the people to peruse the gel flavors in the store, appearing like I might be able to afford to buy some shoes or something pricey any moment now, and, thus, avoiding the hated exit scene, I began to let relief crystallize around me, a cocoon to the winter air.

I hadn’t had any LSD tonight, and I hadn’t tripped. Except maybe on the tangly, banged-up, bandaged-up pathways of the brain. I just hope I don’t stand up with any fresh bouquets of bruises.

Benefits-of-Running-from United Nations Road Runners dot-org

Runners Do LSD Weekly–Mostly Without Tripping

running-is-crazyYet another week of 2014 has passed, and still I write. The “assignment,” as I have chosen to accept it, is part of the weekly writing challenge at the WordPress Daily Post. “Gonzo” journalism, not to be confused with Gonzo Muppetism, is the name of this writing game. And it doesn’t even involve taking shots (or dropping acid, for that matter) every time someone uses the word trope, metaphor, meme, or even allusion.

So-called gonzo journalism was popularized by writer Hunter S. Thompson and features stream-of-consciousness, first-person narrative jam-packed with slang-laced dialogue and over-the-top descriptions often limning drug scenarios. This form makes no pretense of objectivity as in traditional journalism.

In defense of what you are about to read; fall asleep during reading; or partially read then tear your hair out in utter frustration over, then abandon, I picked up Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I’m pretty sure, my freshman year of college, which was a long time ago now.

I wish I could say I remember the book with crystalline precision, but I do not. Nonetheless, I think the writing imprinted upon my younger subconscious. It must be said that, although I am not a drug-user, I appreciate Thompson’s writing style and will attempt in my paltry way to do it homage, minus the, erm, chemical stimulus. I apologize that it’s once again late for the weekly challenge deadline, so, alas, I get no pingbacks. One of these days, I’m going to get fully in gear and get some serious blocks of writing done, on time, for these WP challenges! So many projects, so little time.

And now, for something completely different. A gonzo take on the “recreational” runner’s peripatetic life going to shoe seminars and such, viewed through the prism of a . . . Well, you should be the judge of that. (Owing to the lengthiness of this post, I’ve decided to break it into two parts. I’ll share the next part, which is already done, by the end of the weekend, if not earlier, so people can have adequate time to read it.)

*****

Weekly Writing Challenge:

Runners Do LSD Weekly–Mostly Without Tripping

by Leigh Ward-Smith, ©2014

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” — From Confessions of a Story Writer, by Paul Gallico

PART ONE

For starters, the parking lot was full of cones. Not pleasant waffle-wrapped or chocolate-topped ones either. Garish orange, even in the night, with reflective swirls all over. Really, it was a series of shared parking lots for several businesses–“city” life makes for strange bedfellows or parking buddies as the case may be–and most of the spaces were filled. They seemed filled almost without reason, whenever I would travel by. So much so, that I’m going to comically imagine the biggest parking-lot hogger: Our Lady of Perpetual Movement. In this created world, there’s a nearby church devoted to the worship of motoring and the concomitant sins of self-ambulation (via walking, running, cycling), misplaced ambulation (as through carpooling or public transportation), and nonambulation (staying at home). And, as I am deep in the corn belt, just adjacent to the nation’s bread basket, you’d better believe these ideals are worshipped. I just don’t know what to call the priest. Reverend Newton would particularly apply to the unfolding story/event, but that ideal would extol the virtues of motion. So, maybe I’ll call him Father Ford instead. You can decide whether he goes by Edsel or Henry or some other gleaming name that rises from the hood, called a “bonnet” in the UK, from what I understand, in the form of a naked woman-goddess or swan or the Mercury of Greco-Roman myth or any other form.

In any case, the logic of a delivery pizza ship a few paces down from a pizza restaurant . . . flees me. But, hey, again, the whole bready-corny issue. It is a small town, population mushroomed up to about 18,000 or so, that the husband and I lovingly abbreviate as “E’ville” when we’re feeling beneficent, but jokingly “E’vil” otherwise. It is a nice place in a lot of ways, especially in just the ways that you might posit: low crime, generally high hospitality, a rugged sense of work ethic, and so on. It has even been called a “bedroom community” in recent years, and not for the fact that it mildly itches with the dull lustre of looking into an old bureau mirror in an antique shop.

It was dark, but not stormy–thank you for the line, Snoopy, borrowing from Bulwer-Lytton for the wording. The gravel skittered and gritted its tiny teeth under the tires of our small, white compact car, a Nissan Versa purchased through the largesse of the government in the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program of 2009. I should say it was rather like a confused zebra, with an upper exterior of white paint but whose nether regions featured blackened bands and tendrils plashed up by road detritus and ice-busting chemicals. The zebra could call to mind a cartoon horse who’d dropped its black drawers, in tatters, around its belly, legs, and hooves (aka tires and undercarriage)

Finally, in the last row, I locate it. The Holy Grail of parking spaces. I passed up one spot next to a set of two cones cordoning off two parking spaces, unsure whether to chance parking next to the work area. My negative-focus mind’s eye could just see some neon work truck dumping debris on the formerly white car or dinging it or crashing into it. As I will elaborate somewhere later, practically everything to do with driving traumatizes me at some point.

DANTE’S CROSSING

I can’t believe the lot is still under construction, though it looks like it’s at least nearing completion. I’m coming around to thinking of it as the Nine-Years’ influenza. It causes brain-ache; is never finished; and is very, very, very, very hyperbolic! I think it was November, maybe earlier, when I’d last taken our four-year-old to the public library across from the lot running parallel. Miffed I had to park on the other side of the library, across a much busier street, I remember waiting–and waiting and watching and waiting on waiting and waiting just to be at the point at which I could be classified as waiting–to cross the road, wiggly child desperately clasped in spindly arms. It was only two lanes (with a short third only for turn-offs), but even two lanes with a darty and cranky (that day) preschooler . . . let’s just say we waited for probably 7 or 8 minutes to cross. Talk about the eighth level of traffic hell and we weren’t anywhere near Los Angeles. Abandon all hope, ye who wait here at the “do not walk” electronic sign in E’vil. Finally, I got tired of standing there and pushing the black rubbery button to get the “walk” signal, which began to feel like it’d be a sighting, however fleeting, of Shangri-La or El Dorado, if it ever did come. “Let me go! Let me go!” he had begun to squirm-scream by the end-point, gnashing itty-bitty, perfectly white but gapped teeth, whose spaces were probably lengthened by a serious thumb-sucking habit that first surfaced in the womb. We’re working with him on some recent acting-out tendencies, but still he began to rain small blows on my shoulders and arms as I walked farther down the street. Most of his abdomen was now exposed to the chilly air as he attempted to touch feet to concrete–to be free, at long last. Though I was devoted to him, at that moment I was no less a warden than if I’d been the super of Sing-Sing.

So, we walked about 50 meters down and waited only about a minute then ran across, one carrying the other. In this case, fortunately, I carried him. Ironically, given that one of my favored avocations is running, I resented that I had to walk “so far” with a preschooler who ending up kicking off a well-worn black Cars tennis shoe in the miasma of babytoddlerkidangst. Thank goodness that was only in the drugstore parking lot as we waited for the second time to cross. I sure wasn’t prepared to dart into the road to retrieve the shoe.

And yet, here I am tonight, at the running seminar–wondering how many people can wedge into the store as I negotiate a full parking lot, having driven the half-hour drive from home under the threat of later snow. I hated night driving almost more than anything, but I had kicked myself in the rear and gotten out of the house, if only to pick up some magnets at the craft store so my husband could help my daughter finish her Pinewood Derby car.

NO SPRING CHICKEN

I only complain about the drugstore parking lot to library walk because I’m a chicken. A prairie chicken these days, I guess, but a thin-armed, earth-bound critter skittishly pecking at things, nevertheless. A sort of Middle-America ostrich am I. I can run decently pacey, at a good clip in most race situations, but I suffer with pull-ups and push-ups. Or practically any exercise involving “ups.” I snicker now thinking about it; this scenario could be because I sure am a downer at times.

I don’t have bicep bags (yet), but it’s only because I make up for them with the raccoon canals under my eyes and the stretch marks on my thighs and stomach. As to the eyes, allergic shiners, yes, but I like people to think I’m up late every night, slaving over . . . what, I don’t know; just so long as they know I’m suffering for my art or something.

Until the AllerFlu Vortex of 2013-2014 smashed into our household, I was cross-training by doing light weights about two times a week, which didn’t include any sets or reps of preschooler-lifting. The holidays, of course, shredded the itinerary, but my arms didn’t carp about the break.

And so, carrying a 35-pound weight, no matter how adorable and semi-tow-headed in his “rawr” dinosaur long-sleeved henley, was no picnic. Mainly because it was not childless. True picnics should only be shared by consenting adults, sans children. Okay, young-childless at least.

MY FRIEND, AMY G. DALA

But, back to the present and back in the Versa, it was a headgear change to make Super-Man leap tall buildings in steely admiration. Do I leave on the reflective neon-orange and blue reflective baseball cap that I’d won at the bank giveaway or do I instead keep the red “12+ styles” headbandkerchiefaclavaneckgaiter at a hippie angle to cover up the stray grays? I opt for the ballcap alone and shoulder the pumpkin-and-black canvas bandolier-style workout bag (say that five times fast) with the single too-long cinch-strap. It slack-drag-scraped the ground and slapped nearby objects if I walked too “femininely” with a sashay of the hips, and I secretly feared it would conk a living being someday. It’s only a matter of time, you klutz! my socially anxious amygdala shrieks. Now there’s a great combo: clumsiness and running. I won’t even assault your senses with my one and only prom dress-wearing experience and how it relates.

I thumbed the “locked” symbol on the black, white, and red key fob. Bip, bip, booop. “Three locks. That’s a good number,” I think. The Versa’s head and tail lights flashed orange, but they were lighter than and thus didn’t match the hue of the Day-Glo cones in the lot.

Auditory assurance, check. Ready to face the crowd . . . nope.

GEAR LUST . . . OR BUST

I swiveled my head several times before setting out diagonally then straight, then heading right. This direction, you had to pass the dumpster in the mini-parking lot between the back of the building the running store shared with a photography business and the auto-parts store. The trash smelled vaguely like what I imagined a curdled-cheese pizza splashed with antifreeze and basted in cat’s piss would.

The sidewalk parallel to the side of the running store/photography shop makes me a tad nervous. It’s very close to the street–I’m thinking only about 4 to 5 feet–which causes me to glance over my left shoulder a couple times as I’m walking down toward the front of the store. My puffy, purply winter jacket shushes against itself as my arms work.

Had I chosen wisely and well? Even in a runner’s world (allusion intended), gear takes on a prominent role. I must admit, gear lust sometimes rises its ugly flashing LED headlamp-covered head even in me. Certainly this cash-poor hoofer could never hope to compete with the monied runner who’d no doubt make an appearance at the event. He or she was the one who always had the latest, “greatest” possession to “enhance” a hobby that was supposedly about getting back to the basics of Nature, getting down to the nitty-gritty and knocking back the miles, with a minimum of gear and expense and hoopla. This gal or guy had closets- or basements-full of running shoes to make Imelda Marcos either jealous or proud. Nonetheless, I basked in my own smugified essence, hoping I projected a not-giving-a-damnedness about others’ opinions of my gear or lack thereof. If anything could be said for me, I was a frugal shopper, out of both necessity and a weird thrill generated when ferreting out a bargain.

The side door to the running store wasn’t in use tonight. Drat. I couldn’t make a stealthy entrance. It was nearing a blacker dark by then, so I opted to continue to the front of the store. Normally, for community runs the side door would be ajar, with runners in various stages of personal renaissances egressing and entering. By and large the crowds, which ballooned up to probably about 35-40 during 10-kilometer training runs, were white, aged 30s to 50s, and presumably middle- to upper-class folks, which could be quite a drag to me sometimes. I fit within the not-too-buoyant curves all right, I suppose, but I craved a different diversity. I missed the African-American man who briefly chatted me up during one 10K run, but whom I seldom saw again. The hats hid my grays pretty well, but I still probably gave off the “old and married” vibe like crazy–and it wasn’t as if I was looking for a date. Hey, even I am permitted a few vain moments, aren’t I?!

PART TWO COMING SOON TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU