“I want better music. And breath freshener.”
I’m trying to decide which pack to use for running in the canyon. The faithful nathan? One of the big fanny packs? The new Ultraspire? Maybe the Arcteryx? I can’t decide.
Then I look at it.
The old Ultimate is sitting there quietly. I think back.
He was my first serious running pack. Ultimate Directions was a new company back then. They were runners making packs for runners, something that had never been done before. I bought this one around the time I started doing long trail runs. We’ve been pals ever since.
He went with me on a million runs to work and back when I first moved to Arizona and didn’t have a car. He was there for the rim-to-rim. We ran across Texas together. And then.
Technology evolved. Ultimate and other companies kept innovating. Hydration bladders. Mesh. Pockets in the belt. Better. He was relegated to the closet, a busted zipper and a broken heart. A hundred packs have come and gone (they’re my biggest weakness. ask mo) but he’s always been around.
I looked at him. He looked at me. Let’s do it.
But first, we have to get this zipper fixed. What to do?
I googled zipper repair, and the search ended at Myrna’s. She works out of a little storefront that is a trip back to the ’60s. A drawing of a glamorous woman. Polaroids of brides in their gowns. A little couch in a musty, narrow room with a dog looking over the barricade that separates the store from her apartment. Piles and piles of clothes in progress.
The woman ahead of me is dropping off sequined jeans that Selena would have been embarrassed to wear. No rush, she says. And then it’s my turn.
Myrna looks closely at the zipper. She tries it over and over. She cuts open the cloth where it attaches. With impossibly long fingernails she threads the zipper. But it won’t catch. Broken, she declares. Do you have a replacement, I ask. She waves around the room. I have zippers, but they’re for wedding dresses, she laments. She gamely goes off to the other room to rummage, and comes back with a zipper that looks like it came from a discarded Donny Osmond outfit in the ’70s. I could try this, she says. But I’ve outgrown my Donny and Marie phase, and it just seems a bit undignified for a badass trail pack. Thanks, but I guess not, I say. What do I owe you. Nothing. I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry, she says. Mental note: If I ever need alterations for a muskrat wedding dress run, I’m coming to Myrna’s.
I decide to make one more try before giving up. I find a military alterations place near the naval air base. Military, right? Heavy duty zippers galore! I’m feeling good about this.
I drive over to the little standalone store, a small room full of uniforms. This feels promising. From a doorway to the left covered by hanging beads walks a 4-foot-tall Asian woman. I explain my dilemma and ask if she can help.
NO, NO, NO. YOU NEED THE SHOE GUY!!! she says.
THE SHOE GUY!!!! THE SHOE GUY!!!!!!!
I ask where he is. She seems surprised I don’t know. You know Altex? No. You know Sprouts? Yes. You know Dairy Queen? Yes. It’s right by Dairy Queen. Get some ice cream.
And so I’m off to the Shoe Guy. Sure enough, there’s the store. I walk in. Out walks a 6-year-old girl. Hello! she exclaims. Hello, I reply. She returns to the back.
A minute later, she returns. Hello! she says. Hello, I reply. I think I’ve got this game figured out.
A couple of minutes after that, the Shoe Guy comes out. He’s mid-30s, boot repair t-shirt, gold chain with a cross, very serious. This guy knows his shoe repair.
I have a broken zipper, I say. Can you fix it?
His brow furrows. Hmmmmm. He takes the zipper and slides it back and forth. Hmmmm.
It sort of works, but won’t catch, I tell him. Hmmmm. Hmmmmm.
Yes, I can fix it, he says. 10 dollars.
Perfect, I exclaim! Ummm, can I get it today?
He frowns. This was not a good request. I’m really busy, he says. Lot of work ahead of you. I’ll have to charge you more.
That’s OK, I assure him. How much?
Fifteen dollars, he says.
The little girl smiles. Perfect, I tell him.
And now I’m waiting for a pal to be restored to his old self. We’ll go down together, me and him.
Trail running is an adventure. But it can’t compare to getting a zipper fixed.
postscript: As I return an hour later, I’m worried. What if the Shoe Guy couldn’t fix it? It’s too late to go anywhere else. What if it’s totally screwed up? I would hate for anything bad to happen to my pack, and I’ve just handed it over to a total stranger I know nothing about.
I walk in to an animated discussion with another man about a pair of work boots. Lots of sweeping hand gestures. It’s all in Spanish, so I have no idea what it was about. The other guy finally leaves. No idea who won. Then the Shoe Guy looks at me for a moment before realizing who I am. Oh, the pack, he says.
He goes in the other room and brings it out. It’s perfect. Little piece of leather hanging from the zipper. Expertly stitched back together. Glorious. Ready to run.
Ten dollars, he says. You told me 15, I reply. Ten’s enough, he says.
I give him 20. Buy the kid some ice cream. He smiles.
Life is full of Big Stuff. Sometimes you just have to hang on to those little moments that make it special. Welcome back, old friend.
Off for adventure …
me: So I’m thinking we take kaibab down and then back up bright angel.
mo: Think we can make it OK?
me: Sure. We’ll pack light and we have all day. We can run the easy parts and walk the rest.
me: Won’t need much. It’s still turned on along the way.
mo: Bring oil paint?
me: Um, we sorta need to pack light.
mo: Right. I’ll take watercolors.
Life with an arteest …
Don’t eat the entire pecan pie. Trust me on this one.
Wond’ring aloud –
will the years treat us well.
As she floats in the kitchen,
I’m tasting the smell
of toast as the butter runs.
Then she comes, spilling crumbs on the bed
and I shake my head.
And it’s only the giving
that makes you what you are.
– the prophet ian anderson
What to do when you’re bordering on deafness with a side order of insanity?
Turn it up to 11.
As I round third and head for home despite the coach frantically waving for me to stay on base, I am trying to avoid the inevitable slump that comes with knowing that your demise is near and you’re never going to sell as many jerseys as Jeter anyhow, so what’s the point?
Rummaging around for a 30-week training plan for life, I recalled that my mantra for happiness as a kid was The Big Three: work, run, music.
If all three were going well, life was perfect. If two were clicking, things were OK. One? Tolerable. None? Trouble.
Maybe that’s my problem these days. Work is not so great anymore, the consequence of thanklessly toiling in a forgotten industry. Running will always be dubious, given the limitations of a monkey transplant heart. So what’s left? Musica musica musica!!!! Accordion sold separately.
I pulled out the guitar after a five-year sabbatical (what the hell was THAT about?) but have no idea what the ridiculous tunings and chord structures were on the majority of my songs. Shoulda listened to Tom Petty. Two chords is plenty. So what’s left?
Reveling in the recorded music of others. I love music more than pretty much anything but the Medium Chocolate Frosty and Lucy at 4 a.m. Surely a drastic injection will bring me out of my slump.
The problem? I jettisoned all stereo equipment during the Great Purge of 19-something-or-other. So I’ve just been listening on the iPhone and laptop. Every song in the world is available. Quality, not so much.
I asked Mo if I could buy a new stereo. Sure, she said, in that sort of way your best friend says even though she thinks it’s a bad idea. It will cost about 800 bucks and then I will need a Listening Chair, I pointed out. She shrugged and said whatever you need. Mo’s a keeper.
But then I started digging around and found an old pair of Bose headphones that had met an unfortunate fate when a friend borrowed them for a trip to Ireland. After a few minutes of gluing the headphones and my left hand permanently together, we were in business. Or maybe a small nonprofit saving baby penguins. Anyhow, it sounded great.
The iPhone has many good traits. It allows you to find out what Jenn Shelton’s up to at any given second while maintaining a Hipster Presence standing in line at the Dollar Family Store. Which is pretty much all you need. What it does NOT offer a volume capable of killing small animals at short distance.
As I approach the years that are lovingly referred to as “dead,” I find that my hearing is not what it used to be. That being, well, functional. Apparently standing 5 feet from the PA bank at rock concerts in your misspent youth isn’t the best long-term strategy for longevity. Who knew? That’s OK. Baby concert totally worth it.
What to do?
After months of research over the course of 10 minutes (ok, i have a short attention span), I found the perfect headphone amp. Huge power, two gain settings, equalizer, tiny. Once again, I can hurt myself while listening. (Music to cut down parking meters by, Baby called it.) They say listening to headphones at high volume in your golden years with bad hearing is the worst thing you can do. Good enough for me.
So as I’m typing this, I am listening to Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” for no other reason than it came up while searching for Smelly Dog Polka Band.
A series of Jethro Tull albums were the soundtrack of my Kit Smith courtship. No, I never even got to second. I wasn’t much of a baseball player, and Kit’s dad was third-base coach. As best I can recall, our high school romance ended only because we realized that because both of our last names were Smith, the wedding would be way too confusing. When I listen to Ian Anderson, I think of her and those simple times and how your first love can become intertwined with a guy standing on one leg playing a recorder. Isn’t that what music should be? A celebration. A memory. A tear. A smile. At least for the course of an hour (and the subsequent visit to “Thick as a Brick,” I’m happy.
And if I end up totally deaf by the end of the week, it’s worth it. Look out, Jeter. I’m coming for you.
Now if I can just get these headphones unglued from my hand …
postscript: Just switched to Soundgarden. Superunknown. The Day I Tried To Live. Lordy god what a glorious album. Who knows what would have happened if THAT had been the soundtrack of the Courtship With Kit …
youtube search: “Smelly Dog Polka Band.”
youtube: No results. Did you mean “Smelly Dog PIKA Band”?
youtube: No results.
me: Well, bite me. Why did you suggest it?
youtube: 38 billion results for bite me.
I suppose the Internet is all a matter of learning the terminology.