Monday, November 29, 2010

Why I Run

Just for reference,  I have to tell you that I have been running pretty consistently for over 30 years. Some years have been more consistent than others. But, I've probably done some amount of running, even if just a couple of miles.

I started running in the 8th grade. I had trouble making it around the track once. It was the most painful, harrowing thing I had done to my body up to that point. My legs felt like lead. My lungs worked so hard I thought I could taste blood. I wondered why anyone would want to jolt their body from the serenity of idleness to the gates of hell.

For some reason I kept at it. It certainly wasn't the joy; maybe it was the threat. When the oldest kid in the neighborhood told me I wasn't cut out for football and that I would be joining the cross country team in high school or else (of which he was the captain), my decision was sealed.

Luckily, many of my friends were also given the same ultimatum. Eventually, I was able to run further distances and grew to be more competitive. And, occasionally, as a team we did something phenomenal together - winning races, getting personal records, enduring long grueling practices. This forged our camaraderie for the sport and for each other and has given running a special place in my heart (legs and lungs). And I hate it.

Running has been one of those things that always nags at me. It never lets me rest. I feel guilt if I don't do it, and I believe it has turned me into a schizophrenic. While part of me asks - why am I doing this? why am I putting myself through all this pain? why am I running when it's dark and cold outside? - the other part goes out for a run.

Finally, after all these years, I believe I have come to an answer as to why I run.

Perhaps, it was because this past year left me in one of the most unique, personal situations I have experienced yet. Through a generous severance package I was able to leave my corporate job and not worry about finances - for a while. At the same time, due to a horrendous financial climate, I began to worry constantly about finances and if I would ever find a job again. I began to question my self-worth - what was I doing all this time? how much pain have I brought upon myself? why is the world so cold and dark?

I began to run more continuously because I promised myself that I would not turn into someone who is fat, in their forties and floundering. It would be easy to make excuses - too old, too strenuous, too hot, too cold. None of this would hold water when all I had now was time.

So why do I run?

I run to feel useful. I run because if I do nothing else during the day I have accomplished something. I run because in these times of uncertainty, running is the one thing I can control.  I run because it is hard. I run because it's not easy, but sometimes it's easier.

I run because sometimes the sun is in your face and the wind is at your back - even on cloudy days. I run because starting is bitter but finishing is sweet. I run because in this great recession, I can beat depression. I run because after four decades of slogging through shit, running relieves the numbness that has caked upon me.

I run to be alone, to escape from the encumbrances the world has heaped upon me. I run because the only noise I hear bearing down on me is the wind, my breath and my shoes touching the earth.

I run because the elderly woman who has walked religiously along part of my running route everyday has finally acknowledged me.  I run to say "hello" to people because it's something I don't do when I walk.

I run because sometimes I get better. I run because I only need a pair of shoes. I run because when it's over I feel better than when I started. I run because I like what's in the mirror.

I run because it is my time machine - youth and hope eternal. I run because I know one day I may not be able to do so. I run because I still remember the first time I tried and the many times after.  I run because one lap turned in to thousands of miles, and I did what I was certain I couldn't.

I run because a man in Chile - who was trapped some 2000 feet underground for 69 days wondered if he would ever see daylight again - ran to calm his fears. I run because this determined man said it all: "Running makes you free."

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Cleaning Lady Hates Us

We have a lady that comes in once a week to clean the house. She's been working for us for about five or six years. She's in her 40s and from Mexico. I only know her first name - Bertha.

She does a great job cleaning our house. She leaves the house smelling fresh and clean,  like clorox. I really look forward to the day she comes to sanitize the place and kill all our nasty germs.

We've been paying her the same amount since she started. No raises just a holiday bonus each year.

I'm sure she hates us.

But I'm sure money is not the reason. I know this because there's one room in the house she won't clean. It's a spare bedroom that was used by a live-in au pair we had when our kids were younger. Even though the au pair has been long gone, Bertha refuses to clean the room as a matter of principle. She doesn't clean the "help's" room she said. But for an extra 20 bucks she would do it on special occasion. It ain't the money.

She hates us because of who we are and how we live. I know this because each time she finishes cleaning the house she leaves venomous reminders of her feelings towards us.

For example, she hates the fact that we have shoes.

Yes, shoes. Shoes cannot be left in her sight when she comes to clean.

I usually have a slew of shoes near my bed. I have my dress shoes, my running shoes, my slippers. And in the summer, I have my flip flops and sandals. I like them all to be accessible even if I don't ever use them.

I line them up neatly in a row alongside my bed. I thought I was being helpful. I realized I struck a negative chord with her when each week my little assembly line of foot protectors would go AWOL. At first, they would be placed at the foot of my closet. Over the weeks and months to follow, they were hurled into a vicious, uncaring pile at the back of the closet. I've only seen similar images of scattered heaps from old pictures of book burnings.

She hates our faces.

When I arrive home at the end of the day, I find all our picture frames on the wall on a downward tilt. It's as if she hopes our portraits tumble out the side and splat onto the floor.

She hates our lamps.

Each lampshade is left askew. I imagine her aggressively dusting the covers, slapping them back and forth with her cleaning rag. Her satisfaction comes from knowing that when we flip on the light switch we become temporarily blinded by the protruding light rays.

My wife thinks I'm crazy, that I'm imagining all this. But I see these signs each week. And if I'm crazy then why does she announce the night before Bertha arrives that we need to clean up the house?

It's because she's scared of her, too. She doesn't want to Bertha to know what pigs we are. She doesn't want to face her scowl. I mean, who cleans up before the cleaning lady? That's like washing dishes before putting them into a dishwasher (which she does too).

Perhaps Bertha does these things to get attention, to communicate, so we take notice of her work. I'm sure I'll never know the answer. And I'm not going to ask. I don't want to offend her.

She doesn't steal. She doesn't eat our food and watch TV. And she doesn't show up late. [Prerequisites I have to mention, right?]. Good help is hard to find.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Moon Swings

I've been tracking this for some time. There's actually some (pseudo)science to it. At least once a month I notice a strange bodily change. Usually a positive one and it's all due to my little visitor.

No, it's not the fluid seepage you may be thinking. It's the bloody moon phases, fool!

Typically, when the moon is full, things are good for me. I feel elated. Happy. Positive. Energetic. Feelings that are not normally part of my DNA.

Now I know I haven't discovered anything new, but I have finally discovered how it affects me. Much has been written about the effects of lunar cycles like the rise in murders and crimes (lunacy) during the new moon. Or, that more babies (lunar babies) are conceived on the waxing moon rather than the waning. And then there's the whole thing on solar winds and its effect on magnetic waves and their disrupting force.

The moon is in this phase for only about 3-4 days each month. So this doesn't give me too many other days in the month to be happy about. So the full moon has increasingly become a phase I look forward to. And when things like job rejections, threats to unemployment benefits and general malaise greet me, I just chalk it up to the moon, check the calendar and wait.

Whether it's science or superstition doesn't matter. I know what I know - or rather what I feel. And feeling good for about 10% of the month is a pretty good bargain when your living in hell.