Saturday, December 16, 2006

I do a strip in front of thousands

Bundled up and ready, the winds kept cutting into whatever portion of skin was left exposed, we jammed packed ourselves into two lanes of huffing and puffing runners. There was a lot of stretching and pulling being down and a lot of just standing still waiting for it all to be over.

Of course, eight hundred yards into the 10K run I realized I had on WAY too much clothing. Rule no 1. of winter running is: if you are warm at the start of a race you are going to boilover before the end. So, a half a mile down the road I stopped, took off my headset, took off my hat, my glasses, and pulled my sweatshirt up over my head, all while about two thousand people trotted by me. Then I took off one of the long sleeve shirt I had on, what was I thinking?

I recovered nicely and clopped around the rest of the park at an easy, hey-look at those beautiful clouds- sort of pace. Still ran it in less time than last year, that's good, but less exciting for me now.

The real challenge for me was to get to work after the run. I had to get my bag from the little fenced off place. (I cut in front of 500 people to get in and get out.) Then, after already running six miles I had to jog over to Central Park West (uphill) and get a cab.

The getting a cab part is always the hardest part. Usually about two hundred runners have the same idea that I have and are out in the street with their hand up, but this Sunday was different. No one was looking for a cab, in fact, there wasn't any traffic on the street at all. For a second or two I thought the street had been closed for some reason and was dreading the run over to Broadway (the next nearest downtown street) but a taxi appeared out of the distance and (after I mumbled something about please go as fast as you can) we caroomed through the Park and around Grand Central to my gym.

Sometimes a hot shower can be electric.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"How can you ask someone to be the last to die... .?"

I find myself wondering if most Americans are so removed from this war that they don't have any real connection to it. It's as if we have achieved a kind of national scotoma, as if this war was happening to some other nation, that it was some other distant event being reported on the national news every night, as if it were some kind of really long sports story about a couple of teams no one really cares about. Tonight I am walking through Chelsea to the A train and I see the guys at Station Fourteen setting up their tree.

The NYFD lost 333 firefighters on 9/11, scores more are now dying from working in the Pit in the days and weeks after. We have allowed George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to completely screw up our nation's response to the 9/11 attacks. The war in Iraq is a national disgrace, yet we don't seem, as a nation, disturbed or disgraced by it. I am walking with my camera in my hand listening in my headphones to James Baker of the Iraq Study Group declare that the conclusion of the report is that we can no longer stay the course. That there is great peril in continuing as we have these past four years, five years, whatever. But where is our peril?

I am nearly knocked over by a couple taking home their tree. and my eye is drawn across the street to the GAP store window. Where I see that corporate America has finally (maybe I missed it before?) co-opted the symbol of America's anti-war movement. Our senses, including our sense of justice, have become so dull that we cannot even feel the war. So when I ask "How can you ask someone to be the last to die... .?" America responses with "What you talking about?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

One Loop in the Cold

The December sun was shining with all the power of a 40 watt light bulb as the 5,000 or so folks made their way down the paths to the New York Road Runner's Holiday Five Mile on Saturday morning. The mood of this race is festive, you see a lot of reindeer horns and Santa Claus ( or his representatives) is seen in various garb. I was taking the morning off of work to do this one, it was my insurance race. A runner has to do nine races in 2006 in order to qualify for next year's NYC ING Marathon and I entered this race in case I had failed to finish in one of the others in my list. I didn't. I'm in. I did my ninth race a couple of weeks ago.
So why was I here? For the fun of it. Which makes it a transforming moment, doesn't it? Up until now it was all about the training and getting ready and wondering if all the training and getting ready were actually training and getting me ready for anything. This was a lark. All I had to do was trot around the park once and then go and sip hot chocolate with the other 4,992 finishers.
And it was fun. I bopped along at my ten minute a mile pace until the last mile when I tried to pour it on a little AND succeeded. I did the last mile in the underwhelming time of 9:17 and met my goal of beating 50 minutes.
At the end there was a bunch of us all huffing and puffing and pushing each other to finish strong. Yea us! This has happened to me twice, right at the end of a race with about a half a mile to go, someone says "Hey, you're doing great!" and then we run together to the end just as if we had been best buddies through the mornings. I think I could have run another five at the end which is a good thing because the next race is Sunday.
It's the 6K Joe and it's kind of the anniversary race for me, it's the one where I really felt like I had passed some kind of marker in the change from being a huffer trying to lose weight and (dare I say it?) a runner.


Everyone knows about the middle ear and how there is something there that checks on your balance and helps you know if you about to fall, but few know there is something at the center of our brains which checks ever few seconds on your mental equilibrium and reports to the rest of the mush that your universe is in order, that it is in balance. That little something is always on edge.

Okay, you have to know about the trucks. You have to know because I consider one of my worst, and one of my best, times. Where to start? Oh! At the beginning.

I got the trucks when I was five. There was an orange steam shovel, a long green bottom loader with big wheels and a yellow grader. Down the hill from the Valley Street baseball diamond was a section in the woods where the State of Connecticut had dumped about fifty tons of sand for no good reason, it just luckily made a giant sandbox surrounded by birch trees. The bunch of us neighborhood kids played in that sandpit for days on end. Everyone had trucks, but my trucks were the best, there was nothing like them in the world. They were heavy and had big wheels and were just the right colors. It was such fun. We made roads and holes, lots of them and then the rain would wipe everything away and we would do it again. Our mothers had to walk all the way across the ballfield to call us for supper, if they hadn't I think we would have played until pitch dark.

Then I turned seven and discovered the wonderful smell of baseball glove leather and the pleasure of hitting an outside pitch.

Fast forward
I am now 22 and listening to my sister-in-law telling the story of how Wayne, her dad, had given her older brother a train set one Christmas, but then decided that it was too good for him to play with and put it up in the closet. From then on it was taken out only at Christmas and only Wayne got to run it. It was sillier than how mean that sounds, but I told myself I would never do that to my kids.

Fast Forward
There is a new baby and Mom and Pop have driven out to Oklahoma and with them they have brought the box of my stuff that Mom had kept through the years. There is my stamp collection, record albums, three Hardy Boys books, my marbles, some copies of Sing Out that I thought I had left in Boston, papers from high school, poems from sixth grade and, holy cow, my trucks.

I was so happy to see them. The yellow grader's blade was bent and the treads of the steam shovel were gone, but the green loader looked great and the doors at the bottom swung open nicely.

I was busy with so many things then, the baby's frailness, the unhappiness of the baby's mother, the other little kiddo, trying to find the money for school, the little place in my brain looking for balance, I put the box up in the attic.

Fast forward
After the divorce, the second one, another story, I am packing my stuff to take to the apartment, I find the box and the kiddo, who is now eleven, -yeah, well I forgot about it,right?--when I tell him he can have the trucks to play with. He loves them like I did!! In a stroke of genius he uses two black book bands for steam shovel treads. He builds Lego walls and rolls those trucks around on the carpet in the living room and has a grand time.

Two years later
Kiddo rides up to the apartment on a very nice red bicycle. In Tulsa then, as I am sure now, there are Swap Meets. You bring stuff to trade. If I can get you to take my crap for some of your crap that I believe is better, everyone is happy.

"Wow! Nice bike. Where'd you get it?"
"I traded those old trucks for it. Cool, huh? Can we paint it with pinstripes?"

I am thunderstruck.
I am dumbfounded.

"I was thinking maybe black ones or yellow"

I am incoherently croaking out a question about the whereabouts of the swap meet. I am flying down the street to the corner, I am flying across the ballfield to the sand pit, I am trying not to panic the part of the brain which checks every few minutes on the balance of the universe, I am making roads and holes and above us the birch trees are waving and whispering.

They are long gone. The last few tables at the swap meet hold only stuff that no one wants, even the people who brought it.

I am stomach punched.

I cry all the way back to the apartment. I have to stop once just to remind myself of Wayne and the train and just how silly, how crazy, these feeling are.

Fast forward a week or so.
It took most of an afternoon and evening, but we took the bike's wheels off and then carefully made spirals of tape down along it's top tube and bands around the chainstays and front and back tubes. We did yellow and black. There was nothing like it in the world and the little place in my brain relaxed.

Then it started checking again. It always does that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On the Loss of a Favorite Bowl

No one knows when they will meet a traveling mercy.
They arrive in the hands of travelers,
sometimes lovers,
sometimes no one is there at all, it seems.
They take such odd
and infinitely differing forms:
a bowl,
a piece of brown glass,
a long black dress forsaken, but not forgotten,
a collection of stones brought together
on summery early evenings
filled with grandmother smiles and cicada songs.
Not everyone realizes
when they are in the presence of,
or in possession of,
a mercy.
Flown in from the outer reachs of the universe
across a billion trillion miles to the hands of strangers, and sometimes lovers,
reaching out to us
in the plain and simple act of compassion,
of understanding,
of seeing the real you under and between all those layers.
They are hardly ever anything but ordinary,
for, in the rest of the universe,
mercy is the norm.
We here on earth are still works in progress and tend to ignore the ordinary.
Which is why we sometimes lose our mercies.
Everyone realizes when a mercy is lost,
no one ever loses one without a long and serious stretch of tears and grief.
We weep,
we cry,
we shake in mourning for the lost love,
the lost time,
the lost vision of ourselves as something true
that was somehow contained in that little ordinary thing.
Then we go on as if something has been left behind,
but, if we know true mercy
down deep we know
that the power was never part
of the stones
or the glass
or the dress
or the bowl.
It was in the hearts and souls and memories of those who brought it to us
and those never leave us.
Out there in the universe beyond,
they fly circles waiting to zoom down to us,
just as we stumble,
just as we fall,
just as the words of hate strike us,
just as the doctor finishes his speech about cyto something or other,
just as we think the first thoughts about never finding love,
just as we think we are finished -
--they arrive.
You can hardly feel them,
they enter open eyes and open hearts and open minds
and take the form
of stones in a box,
or a long black dresses
or something as plain as a piece of brown glass.
All you can tell is the daylight seems sharper,
more in tune with the moment,
and so do you.