we’re all in the mood for a melody

the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
— the prophet william joel

i’m running half-mile loops around the arts center while mo communes with her clay. it’s one of those days — warm, sunny, happy.

i take a break after a few miles and sit down at the piano on the course. i begin to play, before realizing i don’t how. i resume running, oblivious to the fact i don’t know how to do that either.

ernie pook is in good spirits. it’s one of those days you wish would never end. i’m thinking it couldn’t get better.

and then it does.

coming around the corner after 6 miles or so, i see his head peeking over the piano. a scruffy guy has parked his well-worn bike and is playing.

i hit pause on a weird bowie song on pandora to listen to him. i expect a simple song. i get a symphony.

he’s wearing a sweatshirt that’s too big on a day that’s too hot. his head is down, immersed in the music.

he isn’t toting his stuff, so i’m guessing he’s not homeless, just on break from the halfway house across the street. and he’s clearly madly in love with the piano.

i stand awkwardly, listening. it’s a classical piece i don’t know, but it’s beautiful. i give him the guy nod. his unshaven face nods back.

i listen for a while from behind him and resume running, thinking back to the reno to san francisco race and the night the russian guy i had been running with for a week sat down at a steinway in a restaurant lobby and revealed himself to be a virtuoso pianist. people are complicated. why must we stereotype? un hombre del mundo, he called himself.

when i come around on my next lap, the guy in the sweatshirt is riding away on his bike, safely back in his clark kent persona.

i finish up my run, hoping he finds his way back to his life.

when he gets there, i hope there’s a piano waiting for him.


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taxing times

we’re working on our taxes. and by “we,” i mean mo is grappling with a huge pile of papers while i read a david sedaris book. it’s good to have specific roles when tackling a major task.

i was always a 1040ezzzzz guy, while mo tends to take things seriously, so i’m content to drink zamboni coffee and listen to the cat snore while she squints at ways to write off Fancy Gelato and Americanos as a business expense.

I figure she knows what she’s doing. what could go wrong?

but then.

as i toss the old coffee grounds, i see a piece of paper on top of the trash, apparently part of her discarded tax paperwork. it consists of a series of seemingly random words that could have been typed endlessly by jack nicholson midway through “the shining,” and a drawing of a startled cat wearing a mask and earmuffs. my legal liability is in the hands of a wildly creative but mildly deranged arteest. i suspect this will not end well.

oh, well. art, and income tax, are in the eye of the beholder. we both are doomed to die of cadmium poisoning soon anyhow.

i hope i get to meet aunt becky in prison …

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i hope she was wearing her helmet

i’m drinking my first cup of coffee on a too-early morning. but not just any coffee — it’s zamboni coffee.

when mo and i first became a couple, we set out to find the World’s Best Coffeemaker, that being the sort of thing i always envisioned newlyweds doing. after an exhaustive search (googling “World’s Best Coffeemaker”), we acquired the zamboni.

the zamboni had everything you could hope for in a coffeemaker — its name started with the letter z, and it had an elephant on it.

we were the perfect threesome. i didn’t bother asking mo which of us she would choose if it ever came to that. duh. the years went by like late-night refills at a dank 1970s denny’s after a missed deadline.

and then something happened. mo and the zamboni had a falling out. i never asked what happened. one day it was just gone. no note, no nothing.

we ended up with an espresso gizmo and a motel coffee pot and an Evil Keurig, but the joy the three of us had shared was lost.

and then.

i was hanging out with mike and laura a couple weeks ago, and the zamboni’s twin was sitting in a pile of Stuff. they had gotten a zamboni shortly after we did, since it’s the World’s Best Coffeemaker. but they’re moving and have Too Many Things. i snatched it up.

i smuggled it across the border and set it up at home. mo stared at it the next morning, thinking something was odd, but she hadn’t had her coffee yet, so i don’t think she’s certain the zamboni was ever gone.

now the three of us are back together. it’s a spring morning and i’m drinking a second cup. mo is telling me about a dream she just had in which BK, our cat, was riding away on a bicycle with another cat, which worried her because she didn’t know if BK could find her way back. mo has great dreams. catnip, i suspect. i figure bike-riding cats have gps, but it’s her dream, so whatever.

we drink more coffee while discussing lyle lovett’s cowboy boots. The zamboni sits contentedly, waiting for the next round. mo needn’t ask me which of them i will choose if it ever comes to that. duh.

BK basks in the sun, plotting her escape.

i hope she wears her helmet.

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whatever happened to owsley?

on the first loop, mo points out that we have new neighbors on the course. “they’re huey and louie,” she says.

on the second loop, she points to them again. “zeus and thor,” she exclaims.

“i thought they were huey and louie,” i ask.

“they needed empowerment,” she points out.

so if you’re ever running on the jackrabbit trail and a couple of empowered owls kick your ass, don’t blame me. all mo’s fault.

still, i suppose it’s better than being roughed up by someone named huey and louie …

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it’s all downhill from here

we’re on i-17, flying down the screamer downhill from flagstaff. i push down on the brake. And Nothing Happens.

it’s been uneventful up to this point. day trip to flag. pizza, hike on the buffalo, coffee. i’m listening to marie kondo on an audiobook as she tells me to throw away everything that doesn’t spark joy. i tell mo that’s her problem. she’s too joyful. i suppose a person could have worse traits.

and now here we are. i’m in the right lane of the interstate, coming up too quickly on a white suv in front of me. traffic is heavy; moving into the left lane is impossible. i push down on the brake pedal as the car gets closer. the pedal goes to the floorboard. nothing.

i am instantly gripped with fear. i glance at the dash. no warning light. i turn off the cruise control. nothing. i pump the brake. no effect at all.

what do i do? i think of the 737 pilots who crashed. i get it now. you have fleeting moments to make a life-or-death decision.

i swerve onto the shoulder on the right, narrowly flying past the suv. he blasts his horn in anger, but it doesn’t slow me down. in front of me next is an 18-wheeler. i’m in a tiny honda fit. i don’t know if there’s room to squeeze past him. and i’m picking up speed as we hurtle down the hill.

my life flashes before my eyes. in it, i’m wearing a jaunty cowboy outfit with six-shooters. little gary has no idea what he’ll face at the end of the movie.

i’m not sure what mo is doing in the co-pilot seat. we’re both just trapped in the moment, that little flash where everything went from normal to oblivion.

the truck is almost on me. i tighten my grip on the steering wheel, bracing for the worst.

and then.

i realize i mistakenly have my foot on the clutch. i had taken my feet off the pedals while on cruise control and ended up on the wrong pedal. i step on the brake, and we begin to slow.

we drive the rest of the way home at a speed Granddad would have liked in his later years. we give up on marie kondo. it’s just stuff. not life and death.

mostly you forget. the thing that truly sparks joy is life. don’t throw it away.

i wish i still had that cowboy outfit …

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life lessons

and then one day, he realized he had become an old man sitting on a bench with a hunk of banana bread. that made him sad. but the banana bread was good.

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the last time i saw richard

Closing time
unplug them people
and send them home
It’s closing time
— the prophet lyle lovett

For someone who prides himself on his pessimism, I’ve been way too hopeful about the track. I’ve been going there and running the mile loop around the perimeter in hopes that it might magically open again.

It’s been ominous lately. The Wizard of Oz gate is always locked. None of the usual scofflaws who jump the fence have been around. The place is abandoned.

The security guy told me a long time ago that the Board of Regents was probably going to shut the place down. Since then, it’s been off and on. I feared the worst.

But today, a glimmer of hope. As I started down the dirt road near the track, I could see two Football Guys with a stack of footballs around the 20. They were kicking into one of the abandoned soccer goals. And Sprint Dude and his young accomplice were there. Back in Business!

I made the loop around the soccer fields, past the baseball field, in front of the batting cages, and up to the gate, expecting it to be open. And it was!

Problem: The cop cart was parked next to it. And the cop was out talking to the Football Guys.

I continued on my second loop. I pondered the possibilities. They were:

— The cop is a big football fan and wanted to talk with the guys about Gronkowski’s sudden retirement.

— They had jumped the fence and he had unlocked the gate to kick them off.

I came around the dirt road again. They were still talking. Hopeful? It wouldn’t take this long to give them the boot. I ran the back road, hopeful my third mile could be on the glorious confines of my beloved Lane 9. As I came back around, HE WAS STILL OUT THERE! I was baffled.

But then.

As I came back around on the end of lap 2, the gate was locked. And the Football Guys were gone. But the sprinters were still there. Maybe just a football field thing.

I spent the third lap thinking a lot about the track. I’ve been running here almost 20 years. It’s part of me. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

As I came back around for the end of the third mile, the cop was locking the gate behind the sprinters. I violate the sacred rule of Never Talking to Strangers, and asked him what’s up.

He said it’s officially closed forever now. The track team is dead, the football team is dead, the stadium will be dismantled and turned into a lovely open field. It may not happen for a while, but they’re going to close it permanently till then because of the liability worries.

He was a really nice guy and he sympathized. He’s older, a retired cop, and understands. But they’re rules. We get no money from the county or state, he said, heading off the indignant “I pay for this track!!!!” argument. Things used to be different, he said, and his mind drifted off.

I asked him if it was OK to run the mile loop without getting shot and he said probably. So I guess that’s the course for now. He said I should take up swimming instead. I told him I sink like a rock. We both laughed.

And that was that.

Funny. You think back to the last time you saw someone before they died. What was that interaction like? Did you part in a grand way? I don’t remember what my last run there was like. But I’m sure it was pretty damn great. The track always had that magic.

All good dreamers pass this way some day, Joni said.

I’m sorry the dream has to end.

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