songs for beginners

We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It’s dying,
to get better.

— the prophet graham nash

“Look out!!!”

She has just swerved in front of me on her way to the skate park. I’m out for a stroll in violation of the uncle hal code, and she is about to leave wheel marks on my Beacons. I suspect this would increase my street cred immensely.

But she decides not to run over me, or is guilted by social distancing, or is a bad aim, and sneaks past just before impact. Old T-shirt, cutoff jeans, black high-top Converses, battered backpack with a second skateboard hanging out. And then she’s gone.

I meander along the mad dog, wondering what life must look like through her eyes. I’m never around Generation Whateveryoucallthem. Does she worry about the coronavirus? Has she joined the BLM protests? Does she fear the future? Does she want to change the world? Is she aware we’re counting on her?

I always wonder when it will finally happen; when the young people of the world will say enough is enough. When skin color and sexual identity and religious beliefs and accents won’t matter. When young women will say enough is enough and end the insanity of patriarchy; when young men will stop allowing themselves to be part of it. When equality becomes a way of life and not just a slogan scrawled on a cardboard sign, discarded in a parking lot after another march.

I truly thought my generation would be the one to change everything. I was wrong. But maybe it’s this one. They’ve seen so much awfulness, so much hate. Maybe they won’t take goodness for granted.

Somehow people must be free, I hope the day comes soon, the prophet Nash wrote of the protests in 1968. More than 50 years later, we’re still waiting for that freedom. For how long?

On my way back, I see her in the distance, sitting contentedly on her board as the hundred-degree heat radiates off the concrete between runs. She’s young, she’s tough, she’s confident. She’s ready. So is the world. It’s dying, to get better.

All she needs to change it all is a voting registration card.

When she gets it,

look out.

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at least i’m enjoying the ride

A homeless guy is sitting on a picnic table at around the 1 mile point of the gumbo loop. He’s watching a group of frisbee golf players as they size up the course. They’re youngish, deadheads had they been born in a different era. He’s old, beaten down from his harsh life.

He surveys them, looks down the green lawn at their target and asks: “You trying to throw those things into that basket?”

“Yup,” dreadlock guy says.

The old guy looks puzzled. “Why?” he asks.

They don’t have an answer.

I think about this a lot for the rest of my run. I’m sticking at 13:00 pace with the theory that my half pace will be a minute and a half faster than that. I’m obsessing over trying to keep my heart rate between 130 and 134 at that pace. I’m trying to keep my strides per minute close to 180 while stretching stride length to .75 or so. Why? WHY?

I’m slow. I’m not going to get much faster. And yet here I am in a yearlong training plan to oblivion. Why? Why do we run?

Beats me. Maybe because I want to see if I can improve. Maybe because in my soul I’m still a runner. Maybe because most of my life savings is tied up in running shoes.

But when I’m out here, I’m me.

I’m not sure why frisbee golfers throw discs at baskets.

But I know why I chase dreams.

Because they’re there.

That’s what runners do.

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things i wish i had said, part 86

“It all flowed over me with a screaming ache of pain … remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted. When you feel that this may be the goodbye, the last time, it hits you harder.”

— sylvia plath, writing in her journal. She had the soul of an old runner.

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Dear Dad

“Dear Mother.
My life is

— unfinished letter found in a Boston prison

Always be prepared in case of an emergency.

I learned this as a kid. Keep enough provisions on hand in case of Doomsday. Toilet paper, coffee, Hershey bar, done.

When I got a new car after three decades or so, I drifted back to the lesson my dad had taught me (happy father’s day!): Always Keep Stuff In Your Car in case you have trouble. Over the years, he bought me a couple of those little emergency toolbox things you stash in the back, with stuff I would never be able to use like “wrenches” and “screwdrivers” and “jumper cables.” Once I discovered AAA’s 500 mile safety net, I was done.

But still. Old habits die hard. Was that a Bruce Willis sequel? I’m looking in the back of the car, wondering if in fact I have a spare tire somewhere, when I notice our supplies that have accidentally assembled themselves in the event of calamity.

We have:

■ An extra pair of road shoes.

■ An extra pair of trail shoes.

■ An old flannel shirt.

■ A box of chalk for sidewalk art.

■ Charcoal stolen from a park campfire stuffed in a wool hat.

■ An assortment of pottery tools.

■ A ridiculously large cowboy hat.

■ A 30-year-old singlet I still run in. The secret to its longevity: never washing it.

■ A bag containing Vaseline and sunscreen, neither of which I have ever actually used.

I figure this is enough to live on for several decades, assuming one develops a taste for Vaseline. I wish they hadn’t discontinued Powerbars.

Dad would be proud. Or confused. Or just amused. He never really understood me, but he was OK with that, as long as I packed some wrenches just in case. And maybe a screwdriver. You never know.

He taught me a lot of lessons about life and honor and respect, most of which I ignored until it was way too late. But I will never forget this one.

Always make sure your car is  prepared for an emergency. The zombie apocalypse could be nearer than you think.

Thanks, Dad. Done and done. Happy Father’s Day. Maybe we’ll play “Smokey and the Bandit” at 160 decibels this weekend in your honor.

p.s. I have a little four-point screwdriver in the middle console. Zombies, beware.


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desert solitaire

“The desert says nothing.  Completely passive,
acted upon but never acting, the desert lies there
like the bare skeleton of Being,
spare, sparse, austere, utterly worthless,
inviting not love but contemplation.”
— Edward Abbey

And so you head to the desert. No news, no yelling, no hate. Just lizards and rocks and cactus blooms and 100-degree heat radiating off a trail that keeps whispering, “oh, come on. One more mile.

It’s too hot, but that’s OK. No other hikers. No rattlesnakes. Just a roller coaster trail and happy hallucinations.

Tomorrow, you’ll return to worrying.

Today, you are content to contemplate.

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