"Things that interfere with writing well: Earning a living, especially by teaching."

-William H. Gass

Sunday, April 29, 2007

There's nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman

“Rapid motion through space elates one.”

Well that’s according to James Joyce. After running the annual “James Joyce Ramble” (a 10K) this morning, I can assure you that even leisurely dawdling through space elates one when one receives free beer all afternoon. My second year running the race, I managed to beat my time from last year by just a hair. And, due to colder weather, it seems the more serious runners were hell bent on stretching for longer periods afterwards, so I wasn’t last in the beer line either.

The race takes place in Dedham, Mass. Since getting all that hate mail from angry Worcester residents regarding a recent blog, I won’t go into a lengthy description of Dedham. Let me just say that getting to Dedham via public transportation is impossible. That is, if you ask the MBTA. (Out-of-town readers unable to discern meaning through context, that would be the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which I believe may be operated by FEMA.) The MBTA website has a handy little trip-planner device into which you type two locations and it offers viable bus/subway/rail combinations along with timetables and estimated walking distance. Kiss my grits, how convenient. So at five forty five (5:45) am (in the fucking morning) I type in my home address and my destination and the MBTA, the AUTHORITY on the subject literally tells me, “You can’t get there from here.” I was in my slippers drinking mint tea and reading a book at 9:30 on a Saturday night because I was going to wake up early and go run a race the next day and now I can’t get there?! Okay that’s pretty much what I do every Saturday. But STILL.

Fortunately, the folks organizing the race anticipated car-phobics like myself and provided directions on their website. I leave my door at quarter to seven and arrive in Dedham promptly at 9:13. Maybe the MBTA knew it would take that long and was embarrassed to even put in on the trip planner.

Dedham Square contains several quaint little buildings and businesses, my personal favorite is the Greek restaurant. They actually named it “It’s all Greek to Me.” I’m not sure when they opened, but I’m sure that name stopped being funny about two days after whenever that was.

I walk the half mile to Endicott Estate where Subaru is inflating a blimp. Hood and Dunkin’ Donuts offer all comers the classic pre-race favorites: coolattas and chocolate milk.

I am immediately reminded of why I love races. It is not just the love of running. Running and races are two different animals, and loving one does not guarantee enjoyment of the other. Running, like writing, is a solitary activity. There aren’t any plays to make, balls to catch, etc. No team. There is an I in running. So it’s conceivable that someone who loved the solitude of running might hate races. But as any city-dweller knows, it is completely possible to be amid thousands of people and be pretty much alone. There is something immensely comforting in surrounding oneself with strangers who, simply by virtue of being in a given space, share a great passion. Now combine the passion for running with a love of literature and free beer and I’ve pretty much got a cozy crowd to hang in.

Besides, runners are weird. Most summer evenings for several years Bostonians watched Nomar Garciaparra do that weird pre-batting thing with his gloves and his hands flip flapped all over, you either know what I’m saying or you don’t. But it was weird. All runners of the world, however, found this totally normal. Before every race, about fifteen minutes before we start to line up, you can scan the crowd and it’s as if you are in the waiting room at McLean. Hopping on one foot. Rubbing hands together rapidly for one minute then placing them on the calf muscle. Pressing one another’s legs back and to the side. Taking off, shaking out, and putting back on socks. Walking around in gaits formerly reserved for Monty Python sketches. Push ups. Murmuring “one foot then the other” “put em down” “go go go” “win” or whatever.

Every single day I pop in my headphones and wish for the freedom to just sing along. But I don’t. I don’t want to be judged, I admit it. EXCEPT on race day. I walk around, hopping and skipping whenever I feel the need, and sing my heart out. NO ONE THINKS ANYTHING OF IT. Right before the gun fires I am running in place Flashdance style, singing Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. Next to me is an AARP-aged runner who is swinging his hands around himself and clapping them once in front, once in back, and swinging them faster and faster. I think of Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold about to jump in the pool with Christie Brinkley. Christie Brinkley was married to Billy Joel. That’s so WEIRD. With that totally stupid thought process fresh on my synapses the gun fires and we’re off.

The race itself is a different experience for each entrant, another interesting element of this sport. For me, it’s a combination of many emotions that exist in my mind as a conglomerate and are probably akin to what others have referred to as runner’s high. During this race, it’s heightened by the fact that people in costume line the course and shout lines of Joyce toward the road.

During the last two miles of the race it becomes clear that I am going to beat last year’s time. Yet another reason to love running. I’m sure for some runners, it is about beating the guy on your tail. We average runners are in competition with only ourselves. It’s incredibly convenient for those of us whose competitiveness is second only to our athletic ineptitude. When I see, upon crossing the finish line, that my AARP starting line mate already has a beer in his hand, I try to remind myself of this. I switch my iPod to the “cool down” playlist, take my complimentary bottled water, and head for the beer line.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A rare foray into the world of poetry...no title

She says, strength that can’t lift things is called grace
and knows that it takes balls to just admit
when even your taste buds are full of shit
for the price, dessert is bland in this place.

Tea lights in glass houses cheaply attempt
ambiance, flickering epileptically
while she’s snickering condescendingly
at some small grammatical misprint

in a letter I wrote. Eyes at half mast
she says, at last, it’s good, almost great
substantive pause, looks at her plate
while I provide lame conversational ballast.

In the manner brilliant Boston sunshine
guilt trips those indoors, her complimentary
commentary woos by sheer rarity,
things scarce become delicacies, in time

I do find her barricades disarming,
the old “because it’s there” mentality
moths me to the light of her brutality,
her soft, female cruelty, rather charming.

We find recourse - political discourse
obviates her admitting inability
to write loving letters for anybody
since impulse lost its original source,

now she only changes the addressee.
Despite her swift, careless unkindnesses
Her voice holds not a trace of mindlessness
and her hands, her hands know some secret me.

By midnight, our mouths are red with wine
cannibals both, we fuck with the rhyme,
throwing the form from before on the ground,
swearing like a sailor, lighting her incense
her ocean is cold, but I like to be drowned
we find rhythm in rhythm’s absence.