mister pants, part 15

And that was the day Mister Pants became a Serious Runner.

He was out on the Ed loop, still waiting for Ernie Pook, who seemed to be homesteading in Mesquite. 14-day quarantine or three-day bender? One never knew with Ernie.

The day’s run was a relaxing 3-mile stroll, a chance to rest the legs and escape from the dull roar of the vermin’s relentless assault.

And then. The phone rang. It was the boss.

When one gets a call from the boss in the morning, it likely is not good news. The boss does not call to chit-chat, to exchange pleasantries, to discuss sports. Especially since there are none.

Mister Pants reluctantly answered the phone. And the boss began to spew a string of F-words.

Yes, furloughs.

Apparently the crushed economy has not been as good of a thing for the newspaper industry as the right-wing pundits imagined. Who knew, given that the media was apparently responsible for the rapidly growing toll, that it would lead to its demise?

As a result of the plunging economics of the company, everyone was getting a free unpaid vacation, one week per month, for the next three months.

This, of course, could mean only one thing. MISTER PANTS, RUNNING FOOL!!!!

One quarter of the next three months could be used exclusively for running. Since there would no longer be money for food, he could finally develop that gaunt Kenyan marathoner physique he always dreamed of. The worldwide lockdown meant he would never be tempted to go anyplace, ensuring he could adopt the mindset of Cassidy in the cabin in the woods. He would run constantly till he got the vermin. And then he would die. But first he would run. Seemed like a fair swap.

He computed his finances mentally as he ran. He had none, so it didn’t take long. This allowed him to go back to daydreaming about the happy times ahead. The weather was warm, the Ed loop trail was starting to trample down nicely, and he had a stockpile of caffeinated Tailwind. He was set.

A kid shared a wagon with a dog on the loop ahead of him. A reminder we can still be happy. We just have to pull each other’s wagons along. We’ll get there.

He still had his job and his health and a Hershey bar and a new reason to be excited. That was enough.

And that was the day Mister Pants became a Serious Runner.

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mister pants, part 14

I can’t see anything, not the trees,
not even my own frozen breath, but that’s okay.
I don’t need to know what’s next anymore.
I watch the night until the tea kettle starts to sing.
— kate

The day had started out well enough. Dr. Fauci said only 200,000 people or so would die in the U.S. from the vermin. TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND??? Luckily, Mister Pants always started drinking before the Sunday morning talk shows to numb the news, so this didn’t seem so bad.

And, at last, he had gotten a postcard from the prodigal Ernie Pook, who had made it as far as Mesquite, Texas. What could be a more Texas name than Mesquite? Ernie expected to arrive by late Wednesday, barring quarantines or barbecue hangovers. Let the party begin.

So Mister Pants went to the mad dog course with high spirits and low expectations for Sunday Suffering — five 400 meter intervals.

As he pulled into the lot, he remembered what his mom used to tell him when he was young — “Never Park Next to a Lacrosse Player.” He assumed it was some sort of metaphor, and growing up in West Texas he had no idea what lacrosse was. Probably some religious terminology.

And yet, there he was, parked next to a lacrosse player. Two seconds later, the nice young man opened his monster SUV door and smacked the holy beejeezus out of Mister Pants’ car, reaffirming his suspicions of the link between the sport and organized religion.

The lacrosse player looked apologetically at Mister Pants, who gave him the death stare. He looked again, and Mister Pants continued to scowl. The lacrosse guy finally walked away, feeling the glare of the disgruntled geezer following him as he sat in his car.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, it was nothing. Mister Pants had smacked his share of doors across the years. These things happened. But not now. Not today. Mister Pants was outraged.

As he began his warm-up, he plotted his revenge. Action was needed. What could he do to get back at the guy? There were four lacrosse players, all large, and they were only a few feet from their vehicles. Somehow, they must pay.

But as Mister Pants continued to run, he thought about things. Life and vermin and humanity and “Melrose Place.” What exactly was the big deal? It was clearly an accident. The guy was quite remorseful when it happened. Mister Pants had been right. Action was needed. But that action was not revenge.

“Don’t be a dick,” his mother told him when he was younger, but that was during the Nixon years and he was never sure what she meant until now.

There was only one thing to do.

Mister Pants paused between his intervals. He walked on to the field and up to the lacrosse player. “Are you the guy who whacked my car?” he asked him. The lacrosse guy nodded and tensed up. Lacrosse guys are a lot more muscular up close than you would think.

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” Mister Pants told him. “I was a jerk.”

The lacrosse player started apologizing profusely. He said he never saw Mister Pants pull in and he was looking the other way and the door just got away from him and blah blah blah.

But Mister Pants said it was just an accident and he reacted so badly when it really wasn’t the guy’s fault. Too much stress these days.

And that was that. The lacrosse player reached out his hand. Mister Pants pulled away. Touch another human? Mister Pants had his limits. They laughed and waved and went back to their suffering.

The rest of the intervals didn’t hurt so much. Life is relative. You can’t choose what happens, but you can choose how you react. Mister Pants filed this away under Lessons Learned, next to “always make sure you have the cinammon can and not the pepper can before dumping it on the oatmeal” and “don’t pee on electric fences.”

He went back home to another day of wrestling with the virus and waiting for the triumphant arrival of Ernie Pook at last. At last.

He didn’t need to see what was next anymore. He was content to wait for the tea kettle to sing. He wasn’t sure what a tea kettle was. Probably some religious terminology. But always trust Kate. You can do worse than eating peaches …

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mister pants, part 13

“It’s a new adventure.
Nobody’s been through any of this,
and we are all figuring it out as we go along.
Every day is something new.”

— Patrick Gorman,
Gorman’s Food Market in Lansing, Michigan

Mister Pants, under the ruthless tutelage of Uncle Hal, was ordered not to run Saturday. Luckily, since he was a copy editor in his spare time, he worked on three newspapers across the country to while away the hours. He thought it should be wile away but AP style said otherwise, and one must never look behind the curtain to see exactly who makes up those rules.

He realized how different things were now. Generally, disasters followed a predictable timeline.

Day 1: Coverage of tragic event.
Day 2: Details, fallout, reaction, vignettes.
Day 3: Look ahead at recovery.
Day 4: On to the next tragedy.

“We’re going to learn new ways of doing things.
Because we have to.”

— Eric Farrell,
a developer in Burlington, Vermont

But the vermin was different. It was everywhere. His city. His country. Everyone’s country. And there was no end to the initial coverage. No way of knowing when things would get better. They would get better, wouldn’t they?

“In the immediate,
I’m trying not to freak out.
But long-term, it’s hard not to look
toward May and June and get some anxiety.”

— A 22-year-old single mother
in Fort Collins, Colorado

He read about the fearless workers like Mo and Kate, going to battle in the midst of the vermin’s spread while most people had the luxury of staying at home. He read about the poor souls grappling with the realization that their lives and livelihoods were falling victim to something you couldn’t even see. He worried about whether he would die if he became infected, and if he should eat the last of the ice cream immediately just in case. He thought about how billions — BILLIONS — of people were thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Mister Pants had lived through many decades of big news stories. He began his career shortly before the bells on the AP ticker tape machines in the Standard-Times newsroom went crazy when Elvis died. That seemed like a tragedy at the time. Little did he know.

“I have confidence in human resiliency.
We’re going to need it.”

— Joe Larkin, chief financial officer
at Burlington’s Larkin Hospitality

The confidence in human resiliency. Maybe that’s the thing we look to, Mister Pants thought. We’ve been through a lot. War. Terrorism. The financial collapse. Jar Jar Binks. Maybe, just maybe, we were going to survive this one too.

And then he ate the last of the ice cream. Just in case.

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mister pants, part 12

“I can make nachos! I have everything except chips!”
— the quotable mo sheppo

You’re doing your end-of-the-world shopping and you can only buy one go-to comfort item. What would it be?

Mo had just cleaned out all the Kraft macaroni and cheese from the store we were in. Kraft mac and cheese was the food she turned to in times of stress. It wasn’t fancy or nourishing or glamorous, it just filled the spot in her head, and her belly, that needed to be filled.

Mister Pants realized that’s probably how they ended up together. Mister Pants had been a mac and cheese guy since his early days as a starving journalist when they were five for a dollar. Yes, Mister Pants was old. Only many years later did he discover that you were supposed to add butter and milk to it. Like starving journalists could afford butter and milk. And he enjoyed the grittiness of the powdered cheese anyhow. Mister Pants liked food that showed grit.

It had always been an abstract question until now. But the current rush through supermarket aisles to snap up any food item left standing made him ponder the question. Sure, you need essentials like coffee and … well, just coffee. But what would be the item on the list that’s there not because you need it, but because you love it?

Mister Pants asked Mo’s Ya-Ya Sisterhood for their divine secrets. Mo’s mom, being Mo’s mom, said mac and cheese (not knowing this had been Mo’s choice.) This reaffirmed Mister Pants’ theory that Mo was basically a Mini-Me of her mom. Sister the Elder said barbecue Fritos. Mister Pants was skeptical at first but then realized this seemed very Texan considering she was a Washington girl, so he approved. Sister the Middle said milk, which isn’t a comfort food at all, but would come in handy if one had mac and cheese and butter. Whatever, Sister the Middle responded.

Isn’t that what’s really important? Sure, you can focus on toilet paper and hand sanitizer and beenee weenees and other “essential” items, but when push comes to shove, what you really want is food that makes you happy. And there was a lot of pushing and shoving these days.

Char, Mister Pants’ friend and go-to source for celebrity voiceovers and obscenity-laced rants against Salazar, settled on a box of Cheerios and a book of crossword puzzles. When you’re 90, you can’t go to the casino and bar so much these days, but she seemed to be OK with the essentials as she continued her isolation. Although Mister Pants suspected that despite her promise not to, she would still be headed to Lowe’s as soon as he left to buy a plant. Rebels never stop being rebels, and sometimes you really, really need a plant.

Mister Pants ran 4.5 easy miles on the mad dog, dreaming of mac and cheese and nachos and and a day when the runners on the course would no longer be swerving away from each other because of the vermin, and go back to swerving away from each other just because they were runners and that’s what runners do.

And then he realized. Maybe the secret of comfort food wasn’t the food at all. Maybe it was the person you were sharing it with.

Except, of course, the last two Heath Crunch ice cream squares in the freezer. Mister Pants would wait until Mo was asleep so he could eat them both. Sharing can be way overrated.

Mister Pants had everything he neeed. Except chips. And a good excuse as to where the ice cream had gone …


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mister pants, part 11

“It is a problem when you are talking too much.”
— Sarah M. Broom’s brother

Scenes from a pandemic:

■ Going to a hospital during the virus mambo seemed a bit like flying a kite on the beach during a hurricane. But then flying a kite on the beach during a hurricane sounded like it might be fun, so here he was.
This was the day Mister Pants had been dreading: His Hospital Visit.

The hospital allowed people through one door only, and required taking a lie detector test to gain entry. Mister Pants was met by an anesthesiologist who asked him a series of lie detector questions. Mister Pants marveled at how expensive it must be to use an anesthesiologist for this particular task, but he didn’t say anything in hopes of being sedated in the process. Sadly, he was not. Sorry, Ramones.

He was met with the usual barrage of questions. Have you had a fever? Have you been coughing? Have you changed out of your pajamas in the past week? Have you ever watched “Melrose Place”? The nice man started intently into Mister Pants’ eyes as he asked each question. Mister Pants said no to each, hoping his blushing at the memory of Courtney-Thorne Smith wouldn’t give him away. It did not. He was in.

The clinic was in full pandemic mode. The check-in people wore gloves. The chairs were taped off with crime scene tape to ensure people stayed six chairs apart. The place was almost empty, the result of all unnecessary procedures suddenly becoming unnecessary. Mister Pants waited. And then, he went in for his blood test.

He sympathetically asked the guy poking a needle in him how he was holding up. “It is what it is,” the guy said.  His eyes turned dark. “I think it’s all overblown. The question is, who’d behind all this? What is their purpose? And what will they do next?”

Mister Pants was speechless. On the one hand, he wanted to ask the guy EXCUSE ME WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT AREN’T YOU A HEALTH CARE SPECIALIST SHOULDN’T YOU HAVE A CLUE AND IF NOT IS THIS REALLY SOMETHING YOU WANT TO BE TELLING A TOTAL STRANGER? On the other hand, the guy had a needle in Mister Pants’ arm. So he nodded politely, left quietly and refrained from stealing the large bottle of Purell in the lobby on the way out.

At home, Mo was making pottery in the living room, the byproduct of her pottery studio falling victim to the vermin. “I feel like I’m going to die,” she said quietly. Mister Pants found himself without a clever answer. He would have hugged her, but 6 feet and all that. When in doubt, pottery. Always more pottery.

And then, of course, came the run at the Mad Dog. Uncle Hal said 12:30 was his fast pace. Mister Pants was skeptical until a couple of miles in, when he realized he would never doubt Uncle Hal again. Perfect. The park was lovely. A kid was flying a kite, even though there was no hurricane. Runners and walkers and cyclists and frisbee don’t call it frisbee it’s disc golfers were everywhere.

And at the 3-mile mark, there they were. An older couple walked while holding hands. And suddenly, it was a normal day. Just people enjoying life in the time they have left. None of us ever knew how long that would be. Maybe we’ll think about it a bit more, appreciate it. Listen more, don’t talk too much.

It could be a pandemic. Possibly it’s a conspiracy. Maybe both. Whatever. Mister Pants has his kite. He’s standing on the beach. Bring it, hurricane. Bring it.


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mister pants, part 10

Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream she said.
— the prophet robert smith


Salazar had posted late Sunday on another of his post-Fox tirades.

Mister Pants wondered. Could the Cure be worse than the problem itself? He investigated.

He assumed that “the problem itself” he referred to was actually the punk bank The ProblemAddictsFl, a fine punk band. They reminded Mister Pants of the Mamas and the Papas, if the Mamas and Papas had been a fine punk band.

But still. Could the Cure be worse than them? Come on, we’re talking Robert Smith here. the hair and mascara alone are hard to compete with. But those songs. “Just Like Heaven.” “Friday I’m in Love.” “Lovesong,” the word’s saddest ode to romance.

But the tipping point would have to be Robert Smith’s guest appearance on “South Park,”  where he turned into a giant monster to protect the universe from harm. Mister Pants figures the world could use a little protection from harm these days.

How could Salazar assume the Cure worse worse than the Problem Itself? Maybe he’s a big punk fan. Or maybe he’s a big punk. Or maybe it’s the 3,285 cheap shots he has endured on “South Park. In any case, Mister Pants decided he would agree to disagree.

On the bright side, Ernie Pook wrote him to say all was well and he was on the way. Mister Pants headed out for an easy 3 miler on the bird loop, a song in his heart and doom on his mind.

Show me how you do it and I’ll promise you
I’ll promise that I’ll run away with you, I’ll run away with you …

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mister pants, part 9

I want my records back
and that motorcycle gas tank
that I spray painted black
The owls have been talking to me
But I’m sworn to secrecy
— the prophet linkous

And that was the day Mister Pants realized: He had become One of Them.

The day started innocently enough. A 30 minute Tempo Tuesday under the Tempo Tutelage of Hal Higdon. Mister Pants loved his alliteration, although he should likely change his name to Mister Muskrat if that’s the case. Especially since the End of the World Working From Home Mandate means pants are just a distant memory, much like Mister Pants’ 401(k), which was now a 40(k) and falling fast.

The run went OK, an early morning three bears excursion of not too fast and not too slow and Mister Pants wishing he were still in bed. But he was a Wire Editor this day, which meant he got to ruin people’s lives in five states. Four states if you accept the premise that North and South Carolina are basically the same place but need to feel Important.

He was editing merrily when an ominous knock rattled the door, followed by a shadowy figure flying past his window. That could mean only one thing:


And then he remembered. Mister Pants, panicking over the global frenzy to snap up unneeded items, had ordered more running shoes. Mind you, he already had four pairs  he hadn’t run in yet, three he ran in regularly with plenty of shelf life, and Ernie Pook, whose whereabouts were still a mystery.

But that’s only eight pairs.  What if shoes would no longer be available in the New World? They were made in China or Vietnam or San Luis Obispo or some such place being ravaged by the vermin. So he had snapped up a pair of totally unnecessary, overkillishly, pointless shoes. And now here they were.

He felt shame for succumbing to the hype and joining the feeding frenzy. He felt remorse for throwing away money as others were being forced to tighten their belts to unbearable extremes. He felt bad about refusing to shut down Florida. But dammit. It’s shoes. You gotta have shoes. Especially if you have no pants.

He didn’t even bother to open the box. He placed it in the closet with the toilet paper and oatmeal and hastily bought bulk cereal (Mini Spooners? Seriously?) that would see them through the Nuclear Winter, even though winter in the desert only clocked in at around 65. Salazar had just said he might end the shutdown on April 15. Long-term shoe plans no longer seemed like much of a concern. Bastard.

Mister Pants promised himself this was the last time, the usual junkie’s lament. He would participate in no more binge buying, even though he liked alliteration. He might have mentioned that already.


Char needed a case of soup, a box of rye crisps and an extra toilet seat. Because when you’re 90, you can’t have too many toilet seats. Mister Pants hoped the toilet seats weren’t made in San Luis Obispo.

The owls were talking to Mister Pants. He pretended not to hear.

He went back to reading news stories about people going insane. But now it felt different.

He had become One of Them.

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