Yet 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
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.
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