it’s not what you thought when you first began it

No, it’s not going to stop
‘Til you wise up
No, it’s not going to stop
So just give up.
— the prophet aimee mann

I DNF’d the 1984 Houston Marathon.

I was in pretty good shape and things were going well until around mile 21. It was a cold day, good for running fast, and the miles were clicking by.

And then it started to rain. A lot.

At the same time, my body decided it was done for the day. Everything started to shut down, so I slowed to a walk. Which meant I was wet and freezing and my body had lost its warming mechanism.

But it’s just 5 miles to the finish line, right? Walk it in. Save face. Mind over matter. Death before dishonor. You can do it! Almost there! All downhill from here! Not a problem. And Houston finishers got an etched beer mug. And I do love an etched beer mug.

But then I saw the bus by the side of the road for people who were dropping out. Doors open, heater blaring, filled with others, heads lowered, enduring the same fate. I wasn’t alone. I stood by the bus and looked down the road at the runners going by. And then back at the bus.

And then, I quit.

I’ve still got the T-shirt from that race as a reminder that decisions that seem insignificant at the time can haunt you decades later.

I thought about that race a lot today. I’m only on the third day of this thing. I’m trudging along at a mere 14:30 pace in hope of picking up the pace gradually over the course of almost a year. But it was another 97-degree day today and I Was Not Having Fun. Why again do I run at 2 p.m.? What’s the point of doing this if you’re not having fun? I am not. It’s not going to stop. So just give up.

Maybe you keep going because you have to look way down the road in the hope of seeing a finish line. Sure, I’m unlikely to live until May 1, but if I do, there’s that chance for One More Great Race before I go. If grinding out July gets me there, then maybe I can ignore the metaphorical bus on the side of the road with popsicles and air conditioning through the summer.

I went on to PR at Houston a couple of years later. I went on to finish today’s jaunt. Maybe there’s more than one way to wise up, Aimee.

All downhill from here. Not a problem. Maybe I’ll wear the Houston shirt.

5 miles, 1:11.11  (14:12-126)
gumbo-bird, 2 p.m., 97
160  0.71  2.8  v38
13:41 (12), 13:54 (129), 14:30 (124), 14:25 (122), 14:30 (129)
blue kazoo 80.6
163

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moving meditation

“I began to see her mind like an old television set,
one with a dial you had to turn to change channels.
she had gotten stuck between channels,
and all that was broadcasting in her mind
was crackling white noise,
which drove her mad and scared me to death.
The medicine was like turning down the volume.
The channels might still be stuck,
but at least the set was no longer spewing the deafening static.”

— Mark Lukach, “My Beautiful Wife in the Psych Ward”

That’s it. It’s that deafening static.

The news has become so overwhelming, so all-encompassing, that it’s always broadcasting in our minds. It’s impossible to turn off, to change the channels. We’re stuck in this horrible endless re-run. Another cascade of virus records, another flurry of warnings, another round of blues.

How does one avoid ending up in the psych ward, beautiful or not?

Maybe the key is finding the right distraction. For Mark Lukach, dealing with his wife’s mental struggles, it was running. Me too.

Thirty minutes of fartlek in the heat today. Part suffering, part strolling, all bliss. No thinking about elections or state flags or masks or why you call them Oreos if they’re not chocolate on the outside. Running turns down the volume, tunes out the madness.

The channels might still be stuck, but at least the static is gone for a while.

Plus you get to giggle every time you say fartlek.

Sanity restored, if only for a little while. Now if I could just do something about the troll night light in the bathroom giving me the Stink Eye …



2.4 miles, 30:18 (12:35-139)
long chap, 5:30 p.m., 97
168  0.76  3.5  v38
12:29  (130), 12:29 (144), 5:20 (148)
blue kazoo 75.6
163

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the bullwinkle chronicles

The answer: Two Klondike bars, three popsicles and a peanut butter sandwich with some questionable organic sugar-free preserves.

The question: What should you not eat just before running when it’s 100 degrees?

It’s Day 1 of what I swear will be my last attempt at this silliness before I give up forever and die. I have once again signed my credit card over to Uncle Hal, who has devised an Official Training Plan that did NOT mention abstaining from ice cream before running. But, really. How hard can 3 miles at a 14:00 pace be? A humbling start.

Some guy driving a BMW is blasting Bob Marley while running three scrawny kids through passing drills. Shouldn’t there be some sort of qualifying test before you’re allowed to play Marley like that? I’m running the T-Rex loop, so I get six choruses. Note to self: Always bring headphones. And maybe a popsicle.

Do not chase the missing dog, the sign warns me. Like a 14-minute pace is going to catch a dog. And I am forbidden from exceeding the pace. Uncle Hal is watching.

The governor today finally shut down bars and gatherings and pools and movie theaters again in the face of overwhelming evidence that we’re all going to be dead soon. Which raises the question of why the hell am I beginning a training plan at such an odd time, when races are unlikely to happen forever. I guess it’s just to have something, anything, to look forward to. It’s got to get better eventually, right? Maybe?

So I’m making a run for it. If 14-minute pace can be considered a run. Maybe if you squint and eat a Klondike bar. Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be alright. So why am I still worrying?



3 miles, 41:44 (13:56-126)
T-rex, 5 p.m., 100
162  0.71  2.9  v38
13:54  (119), 13:54 (129), 13:58 (129)
blue kazoo 73.2
163

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joseph cross

He has traveled in a sacred circle
He has traveled on a white man’s train
He’s killed for hunger
his buffalo brother
He’s killed for anger
and a white man’s name
— eric taylor

We’re driving home from a lake up north. An entire day with no people, no sound, no chaos, no news. Just peace and silence and miles and miles of charred saguaros, the aftermath of a wildfire that reminds you for the millionth time: Nature always wins.

We’re driving across the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. 52,600 acres of dirt and empty land dotted by small, humble homes, abandoned trailer houses, decaying pickups that sit where they died decades ago. It’s a land that is both sad and proud, radiating a defiance that continues since it was formed in 1879.

Native Americans are getting slammed by the virus. Data from UCLA says that if infection rates were scaled per 100,000 people and if tribes were states, the top five infection rates nationwide would be tribes. There are many reasons, I suppose, but it’s my day off, so I try not to think about it.

We’re driving down the little two-lane road toward our home in Fancyville. We pass irrigation dams decorated with freshly painted murals of people in masks, an American flag flying at half-staff, endless fields sitting vacant between crops. The 110 degree heat radiates off the road, Arizona’s summer in full force. I begin to nod off while driving in the warmth, a pleasant nap at the end of a happy day.

And then. It’s a sign.

Sometimes signs point you in a new direction in life. Sometimes signs bring an epiphany, a revelation. And sometimes signs just say that someone is selling banana bread up ahead.

We had been talking earlier in the day about ways to give money to people who need it. But it all seems so impersonal. Also, you don’t get banana bread as a result. And I love banana bread.

We turn right onto a small road. About five socially distanced homes later, there she is. Standing in the triple-digit heat next to a small table with banana bread loaves stacked like Fort Knox gold bricks. As if you could slather butter on a Fort Knox gold brick and eat it for dinner.

I fumble for my obligatory mask, wary of being a white guy on the rez spreading the vermin. She isn’t wearing one. I wonder for a second about the implications of buying food from a stranger on the side of the road in the current era. I figure “died from eating banana bread” would make a swell obit.

We ask her how much they are. She says 10 dollars each. We buy two. I pretend I’ll share one with Char and Bruce, as if I won’t eat them all before sunset. She says thank you and means it. I say thank YOU and mean it as well. How many loaves can you sell on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere with no advertising but a poster board sign at an intersection? 1879. They’ve survived this long. I’m betting they ride out this storm as well.

The Onk Akimel O’odham and Xalychidom Piipaash tribes. A proud history that withstood an attack by invaders, an eviction to a land of poverty, a life in a desolate desert. We live next to them in our opulence and comfort, giving them our casino money and coronavirus.

“I hope my music makes people uncomfortable and makes them laugh and makes them think,” Mr. Eric Taylor once said about his songs. Maybe buying banana bread is like that. Happy and heartsick and wishing I hadn’t stopped after the sixth slice.

We say a prayer to the kachinas that reside on our wall. Show respect. Native American Lives Matter.

But really, what can we do?

So we eat banana bread.

p.s. it was really, really good

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you are the most beautiful widow in town

 

I knew this must’ve been a dream
Cause you’re mother would never let me in her house
— mark linkous

Sylvia Plath killed herself.

I suppose I knew that, stashed somewhere in my subconscious next to the recipe for s’mores and John Nance Garner’s middle name (dammit what WAS his middle name?)

But it was only after reading her journal that I looked up her biography. I suppose a lifetime of sorrow, therapy and electric shocks would be a tipoff. But I’m smitten with her writing., which led me to an uncomfortable realization: Many of my favorite creative people committed suicide.

John Kennedy Toole. “A Confederacy of Dunces” will always be one of my most beloved books.  Published 11 years after he run a garden hose into his car.

Mark Linkous. Mo and I saw him once in Tempe a long time ago. He was in a wheelchair after an unfortunate drug incident, but still tried to get in a fight with a guy who had thrown a projectile at a stage. The best albums I’ve ever listened to in total darkness in a quiet house. A genius. Shot himself in the heart with his own rifle in an alley.

David Foster Wallace. You either love or hate “Infinite Jest.” I’m in the first camp. So much creativity in a life filled with depression, Hanged from a rafter in his house.

Chris Cornell. My running soundtrack. I used to play “Ty Cobb Roulette,” in which you put three albums on shuffle and run until “Ty Cobb” comes up in the rotation. “Nothing seems to kill me, no matter how hard I try,” he wrote. And then he hanged himself in a hotel bathroom.

Doug Hopkins. A local guy who was the genius behind the Gin Blossoms. I saw them a million times as a bar band before they hit the big time for a short while. They kicked him out of the band just in time for his song “Hey Jealousy” to go into heavy rotation on MTV. He came home and fatally shot himself in his kitchen with a pistol he had just bought.

If you don’t expect too much from me
You might not be let down

Hunter S. Thompson. There aren’t enough journalists in the world who double as heroes.  “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

So many others. Elliott Smith. Cobain.  Jean-Michel Basquiat. Townes, more or less. On and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

I get it. Creativity requires walking a tightrope, balancing soaring highs and crashing lows. Epiphanies come with a steep price.

If they had solved their problems, somehow found their way back from the ledge, what would have become of them? James Taylor survived, and records happy Christmas albums where once he had written about fire and rain. It’s better to burn out than to fade away, the prophet Neil Young wrote shortly before living to be 140 years old and living with a mermaid. Maybe he was right after all.

I feel guilty. I love their music and books and art so much. And their music and books and art  was possible only because of the constant, excruciating torture going on in their minds, a pain so intense that they escaped the only way they knew how.

And now, I’m left to think about Sylvia Plath. Reading her journal is such an ordeal.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

She was found dead with her head in the oven, not unlike James Incandenza’s suicide by sticking his head in a microwave in “Infinite Jest.” She was 30 years old. My heart breaks for the millionth time.

I suppose death is all around us in the days of the virus. Maybe it will lead to some great art. Such a high price to pay.

I hope you found some relief, Ms. Prath. And I hope you’re keeping a journal in heaven or Terlingua or wherever the afterlife leads us. I’d love to read it someday.

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