24 frames too many

jason isbell: “This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing.”
mo: “oh, you poor thing. whatever.” switches to joni mitchell. who is never whiny at all.
on the bright side, jason isbell turned out to be prophetic.
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life is funny, part 372

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I run past him almost every day. He stands at the corner of the intersection I cross to get to the greenbelt for my daily run. He’s depressingly cheerful. He likes to high five me. And he always wears a dress.

I think about him a lot, the endless symbolism running a loop in my head like intervals on the track. I assume he’s desperately poor. He’s either Hispanic or Pima, two groups we try so hard to repress. He’s posing as the Statue of Liberty while pushing a tax service. Ironic, even in the Marty Cortinas sense of the word. And still, he seems happy.

I finally stop today for a photo. I’ve tried to shoot him guerrilla-style for a long time, but it doesn’t work. I worry that he’ll take it the wrong way that I want a photo. But he seems OK with it. I shoot, we high five, I start to run again. Then I hear a “hey!” and turn around.

He has struck a pose. The Lady Liberty pose. He has one fist raised where the torch would be, and the advertisement has become his tablet.

It strikes me that whether intentional or not, it’s the perfect rebellion pose. Fist clenched, defiant, surviving in a world where it’s increasingly difficult for the marginalized. But I  LIKE margarine.

I take the photo, say thanks again and head off on my run. I go past rich golfers, frisbee players, dog walkers, retirees on bikes. People with privilege, with money, with no fear of the future. It’s a different world on the greenbelt. A safe one.

They say Congress would pass meaningful health care reform if they were forced to have the same insurance as the rest of us. Maybe if rich people had to spend eight hours on a hot day standing on a corner in a dress twirling a sign, things would change. Or at least I’d be entertained.

But the world fails to change in the hour and a half it takes for the mad dog loop run. I come back by and he’s still there. “There’s the man of the hour!” he exclaims as I come by. I smile and wave. He goes back to twirling.

I worry about him.

I worry about all of us.

I worry that the torch is fading. Or maybe it was never there at all.

Life is funny …

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and don’t get me started on his converse all-star band

Hello, fellow conspiracy theorists. I’m sure we’re all a bit shocked by the sudden demise of Chuck Berry, inventor of those simple basketball shoes with the little round logo. I must admit I never owned a pair, or even rented one for an extended period. But I suppose they were cheap and functional, and what more could you ask for in a shoe?

Which made me think about the cost of running shoes. I remember reading somewhere about the cost of the shoes Nike is making for the sub-2 hour marathon project, and while I don’t recall the exact price, the term “reasonably priced” didn’t come to mind as a read the story. I was thinking 250 bucks, so I just googled “$250 running shoes.” Which turned up this.


It’s the asics metarun. It has the “amazing cushioned comfort we’ve come to expect with innovative performance technology. Impressive features include the long-lasting FlyteFoam® cushioning as well as a modern, jacquard mesh upper, and a high-level hybrid gel technology called X-GEL™. This advanced creation is perfect for runners considered to have a neutral gait to those with mild overpronation. Also, “Guidance Line® vertical flex groove decouples the tooling along the line of progression for enhanced gait efficiency. AHAR® (ASICS High Abrasion Rubber) placed in critical areas of the outsole offers exceptional durability and traction.” But the best part: It costs $250.

If you’re going to charge me 250 bucks, the shoes better have a frosty spigot or at least lights that blink off and on when you step. My  reaction was NO WAY IN HILL WILL I SPEND $250 FOR SHOES. But then I thought of how many times I’ve ordered two pairs for $125 each without a thought, so I guess it’s not the money, but the principle. And I still find myself snatching up beloved shoes in ugly colors when they hit the clearance rack at 60 bucks. I don’t know. Shoes are weird. That one item (other than a Garmin), where all bets are off. Although you really shouldn’t wager on shoes. I remember thinking 100 bucks was insane. Then Piranhas (a 4 ounce piece of nothing) were $120 and I adjusted, and then Hokey Pokeys were charging $150 and I sucked it up, and I suppose it’s just a matter of time before $250 is what shoes cost. Luckily I will be dead by then. I just don’t get it with the asics metarun. They just look like shoes.

OK, I’m off to shop for some vintage Chuck Berrys …

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That’s just khaki

I couldn’t place my finger on it. Khaki shorts. A revolutionary idea for faster running. It seemed so obvious. Why had nobody thought of this before?

And then I remembered. Before the St. Louie boys had taken their SATs, before it became trendy, before there seemed to be a reason for it, one guy was rocking the khaki short and taking names. It’s harder than you think when someone takes your name.

That guy, of course, is my friend, mentor and parole officer, the mythical El Señor KhakiPants.

I always wondered why he was so fast. It’s gotta be the shorts …


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once a runner

“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
— John L. Parker Jr.

Spring break. A time for beaches, for beer, for babes.

Or maybe a 20-hour drive for no reason other than the chance to run an endless series of 400s in an effort to make your lungs explode.

I’m at the track with Mo. If you were to bottle up the perfect day to sell on the weather channel late-night infomercial, this one would be a good choice. I had forgotten how much I love this weather. It’s coming back to me.

We’re sitting on the bench theorizing the warning signs of a nuclear strike when they walk by. Six runners. College. That middle-distance physique that combines a muscular body with legs that are cartoonishly too long for the body to which they’re attached. Gazelles. They’re all wearing black shorts, no shirts, except one guy in a T-shirt and khaki shorts. One in every crowd. Matching backpacks. That quiet confidence of being the biggest cat in the jungle. We sit, awed.

They walk over to the corner near the long-jump pit and sit down to stretch. Who are they? Backpacks would rule out the local team. We’ve been awaiting the Dartmouth guys to mark the official arrival of spring, but there aren’t enough of them, and there are no coaches and no green.  We wait. They’re in no rush. Someone has to make the first move. It’s us.

We head on to the track, taking lanes 7 and 8. There’s a guy upside down almost in 8. Mo kicks him out of the way and we head into the turn. Who are these guys and why are they here? A quarter mile later, Mo can’t take it anymore. She violates the Sacred Code of Silence and asks.

One guy has been left behind as the others have gone out for their warmup runs. His right calf is having quality time with a tennis ball. Seems like a nice guy. Mo asks him to fill out the index card telling their story.

They’re on spring break from Southern Illinois University. They have a weeklong break from running, so they’re running even more. They have a condo in Flagstaff and came down to Scottsdale for the day. Live high, train low. Mo asks how they like Flag and he gives sort of a puzzled look, like how the hell would I know we’re running all the time. I mention there’s a rather large canyon just down the road from there and he says they might go tomorrow. So there’s that. But mostly, they run.

Three of the guys head off the track and onto Dog Road, a stretch of dirt that leads on to the Hopi reservation and certain death from packs of wild coyotes. But I figure these guys can outrun the dogs. Good to break the mongrels’ spirits.

The other three trot slowly around the track. It’s amazing what sharing the track with gazelles will do to you. I feel myself involuntarily picking up the pace. There’s an energy you feed off. I love that feeling. The guys are all business. They’re half a country away from home, but it’s a 400 meter home away from home. Track, sweet track.

We run in the outside lanes and my mind wanders. You have a week off from school. Early 20s, endless possibilities. You can do anything. So you hop in a car and drive an entire day to get to one of the most beautiful destinations in America. Which you proceed to ignore because you’re running an insane number of miles. Removing, molecule by molecule, the rubber on the bottom of your training shoes. Then you hop in the car to lose 5,000 feet so you can run even faster. We’re home to the Cactus League, currently underway here, but for them, spring training has an entirely different meaning. 

The three guys are ready to crank it up. We place our bets. Mo insists the thin guy with the graceful stride will prevail. I’m sure the other guy will kick his ass. He’s got a bit more of an upper body but it’s solid muscle. Built for speed. They’re accompanied by the guy in the T-shirt and khaki shorts. Good luck, pal.

They run a couple of 400s. Mo’s guy is hanging back in third, but nobody’s pressing. They run a cooldown the other direction, and get ready to suffer. And then.

Khaki guy takes off his shirt. Oh. They do the mark set go and take off. My guy is in the lead, followed by khaki guy, with Mo’s loser falling off. But maybe he has a kick? He does not. He fades in the back stretch. Khaki guy kicks going into the last turn, never looking back.

Another lap, same result. Khaki guy, my guy, Mo guy. We’re sitting on the bench next to the finish. You can see the suffering. They’re hurting, interval after interval. You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout, Parker wrote. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months and (if you could finally come to accept it), years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. You don’t understand till it parades past you. 

Spring break. A time to relax on the beach. Or to try to kill your best friends on an endless set of death runs with no consequence other than the hope you’ll be 10 seconds faster in three months. Runners are weird. And heroic.

3.7 miles later, we head out. The Dog Road boys are flying in as we walk out. They must be doing sub-6 miles as they glide by, barely having broken a sweat, silent except for that graceful slapping of flats against sidewalk at 180 strides a minute. I look over my shoulder at the 400 runners, still trying to crush each other’s spirits a quarter at a time. I make a mental note to cheer for Southern Illinois this season.

They’ve earned it. They know The Secret.

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silver shoes

I ran on the track today. It’s the best time of year here. Upper 70s, sunny, perfect. I came out to see what it feels like to run on the track when not dressed like a Santa navigator. Refreshingly cool.

I was running a nudge over 3 miles, just moseying along and enjoying the day. And watching him.

He’s big. Maybe a lineman kind of guy. Tall, broad, muscular. I made a point to keep a respectable distance between his backpack on the bench and my diet coke. He died doing what he loved. Being pummeled by an irate football player over an aspartame mishap. Bad obit.

He’s wearing some sort of oxygen deprivation mask. Old T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, totally soaked. Baggy shorts, the way the kids wear them.

 And silver-sequined football shoes.

How does one even go about getting shoes like that? Is there some specialty store for aspiring stars? These are shoes that say “I am a star don’t even think about pouring your diet coke in my backpack.” And why would you wear them on a day when it’s just you and your thoughts alone on a football field working out next to the sign that says “don’t work out on this football field”?

He’s got one of those little things that looks like a hopscotch course for football players. He’s doing a drill where he starts on one end, does a series of lightning-quick step step step step step step drills, working his way down. Left right left right forward left right left right. It looks incredibly hard to do that quickly. He screws up occasionally. When he does, he stops and goes back to the first. Repeat as necessary.

I watch as I do my loops. He’s very intense. Burst burst burst rest burst burst burst rest. It’s humbling as a casual jogger to watch workouts like this, when someone is absolutely pushing his limits with nobody watching, answering only to the demands he puts on himself.

Another guy is doing a series of 40-yard sprints, but he loses interest pretty quickly. I thought they were together, but that guy leaves. The one with the silver shoes stays.

I finish up my 3.2 or so and sit on the bench, pretending to check my phone while I watch. Is he a college guy on spring break, working out in hopes of landing in the NFL? Is he a big deal who I don’t recognize? I laughed at a TV reporter who interviewed Adrian Peterson for a man-on-the-street interview without having a clue who he was. Is this something similar? I’m the moron who shared the track for a year with the decathlon world champion before realizing who he was. Beats me. Sometimes I hate being an introvert, unable to ask.

I think you learn a lot about athletes by watching when they’re alone. Slap on the breathing apparatus, lace up the silver shoes, and work until you fall down. Not because you have to; just because you need to. To satisfy that voice within.

I walk off the track, humbled for the millionth time in my running career. I’ll try harder. Really.

Someday I would love to deserve silver shoes …

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you never know 

To live is to fly
Low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes
— the prophet townes van zandt

sure, it’s probably not going to happen. but you keep watching. just in case.

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