Wordsmith Wednesday

Warning: it’s a long one, folks.

They say jogging can clear the mind. I suppose that’s true, but once the mind is cleared, it fills right back up again with new stuff. Maybe it’s just the XX chromosomes that always demand a dozen Chrome tabs open, finding resolution and closing them, only to CTRL-SHIFT-T them awake again to edit and research and reference. In any case, while my mind doesn’t find a John Denver mountainy sense of calm and peace in jogging, there is always the road to “fill up my senses.”

This morning, after a restorative and unheard of eight hours sleep, I awaken with hope in my heart. Nearly 355 days a year, I sleep a “patch,” lie awake for hours, and then sleep another patch, if I’m lucky. The other days are filled with zero sleep or (like hier soir) a full media-designated eight. It’s 9am now, or in my mind, time for “Live with Kelly and Ryan.” And whilst I hate to miss their shtick, I have to lace up those Asics and hit the pavement.

This is a special day for me because only a month ago, I threw my back out. Actually, I don’t fancy that term; most times it just takes a sneeze or a step off a curb to “throw” the back out. Just the tiniest of movements (a “toss,” if you will) that send the muscles into a frenzy and make you ACHE for your 20s again. It’s not just the beautifully unwrinkled skin and pert everything; it’s the way you could move and twirl and do the centipede and roller skate and perform amazing herkies and David Lee Roth Texas T’s on trampolines that I miss the most. The freedom to move without hindrance. Without FEAR that you’ll be out of commission, out of work, out of EVERYTHING for days or weeks.

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And while I skip the why’s and how’s of this particular incident, I will say that I did not leave home for 10 days, save one twice-postponed dentist visit which I should NOT have attempted, and confirmed to me that if my later years have this in store, I should prefer to go see Jesus tout-suite. So the fact that the quad cane is no longer necessary, and I can go out and walk again, knowing full-well the luxury that even walking is to some, is liberating.

As I say, it’s past nine now, so Ellis, the ZZ Top-bearded crossing guard and his Wham!-colored vest are in absence. In his place (at least several yards from his place) are several workers, who have evidently knocked down the fences of half a dozen neighbors and rebuilt them with shiny pine, an HOA project that was approved last year. Refencing has commenced! The homes that face the street will now have welcoming shiny brown pine instead of crumbling, paint-peeling 2008 pickets. The rest of us will make do with what we have. Same as it ever was.

I jog toward the city middle school, recognizing that each time I jog this path, something new is going up. And it’s not just the fences. The middle school is getting a whole new wing. Foundation has been poured, and workers and machines abound. That bouncy red track that has been ripped up and redone over the years, the grass that has been mowed and been resodded, the bus and car lanes that have been directionally-switched and amended, the new left turn lane for the new elementary school. I would say it’s brand-spanking, but corporal punishment is no longer allowed. Everything is making way for more people, and it never stops. La la la la, life goes on.

I have jogged this track on days when it was 110, trying to lose weight and sweat out toxins. I never lost a pound, and Adam Ruins Everything will tell you that you can’t sweat out toxins, just water. One day, my little one would attend this red brick building and be a tiger and go through the ugh of adolescence. And the days passed, and he became a tiger, and three years later, he left, never to associate as a tiger again, because as we all know, high school trumps middle school. Unless perhaps you are a Hutto Hippo and cannot stand being a lifelong hippo.

The thing is, I don’t jog that track anymore. It’s not just the lack of trees from a harsh Texas sun; it’s that you’re going in circles. Literal boring circles. Yes, you don’t have to dodge cars or wait on corners. You probably will not get jumped and raped on the school track or get jarringly honked at. But you miss out on the little things the townspeople do. The men trimming the trees near the power lines of the trailer park, whose unpaved drive is oft-filled with unleashed beasts. The folks mowing their yards, hanging Christmas lights, the Methodist church filling their lawn with hundreds of pumpkins. The mailmen sorting unnecessary junk mail at the boxes and the electric cooperative and cable trucks parked at homes, ready to fix, fix, fix. The kids flying by on bikes, the ones whose parents don’t worry about the safety of their lone nine-year-old in bustling morning traffic, as though it were 1975 again with nary a care in the world.

Across from the track is a laundromat, and it ever sends out fabric softener scent into the air, falling onto the lawns of dilapidated neighboring mobile homes, several of whom always seem to have enviable newer model cars. The flashing sign is particularly bright neon pink and attention-getting in this gloomy overcast weather. It’s been drizzling for 15 minutes now, and I have to wipe my lenses with the hem of my navy tee, then stare at the sign again. It flashes O-P-E-N, letter by letter, and then the word in its entirety: OPEN, OPEN, OPEN in rhythm. I hate spelling rhythm.

But you see, that’s where the mind-clearing ends, because rhythm reminds me of the docushow I saw on Elton John ayer, and how they mixed “Bennie and the Jets” into sounding live, though it wasn’t, and how producer Gus Dudgeon (isn’t that the BEST name ever?) jazzed up the track by making it sound like an audience was clapping INTENTIONALLY on the 1 and 3 because Brits, in their soulless inability, only clap on 1 and 3. Can you imagine? The horror!

And now—rather than elaborating on all of the rest of the jog/walk, I shall leave you with this earworm. B-b-b Bennie and the Jets. You know I read it in a magazuh-EEEEN…

Ramblings Of A Suburban Jogger

If you’ve been a longtime reader, you may know that I sometimes jog. I’ve endured 20+ years of back pain, and the docs advise against it, but sometimes I just need to pound that pavement to clear my head. If you’ve got some extra time today, please enjoy these ramblings of a suburban jogger:

I pull my curly hair back in a denim scrunchie and pop a visor on my head. I haven’t jogged in over two weeks because my left heel throbs non-stop. It feels like someone’s holding up one of those lighters at a concert, but under my heel instead. It hurts to put any pressure on it, but NOT jogging hasn’t helped, so what the heck. I like to get out the door by 8am, but that just doesn’t happen today. So just past 9am, I lace up the Asics (which teens call “Dad shoes” FYI) and hit the pavement. Ah, yes, my friend, Shooting Pain, joins me immediately, and I give her a nod, for she is familiar and expected. She travels from my heels to my hips and likes to make it interesting.

What a difference an hour makes! What a difference a day makes… Sorry, my head is always full of song lyrics. An hour really does make all the difference in the world. An 8am jog has the sun at the edge of the sky, rising higher with the possibility of the day. At 8am, cars and school buses sit bumper to bumper as I jog in and out of school zones, past people in a rush to begin their day, listening to radio talk shows and forcing overpriced Seattle java down their gullets.

But the 9am jog is a different breed of cat. Rare is the car that passes by. The kids are all in school. The adults are all in fluorescent cubicles, counting down the minutes till their morning coffee breaks. How long till I can escape? Is this what I went to college for? Why did I bother? Why does college cost so much now? Who the hell can afford that? Why is a semester the same price as a year’s salary? How am I gonna put my teen through college? Good Lord, how am I?

I shake Satan’s voice off. He comes at me hard, especially in the quiet moments of a jog. He’s always loud and persistent and drowns out the Lord. I think about how if I were a Christian songwriter, I would write more songs about telling Satan to step off. Less “Spirit in this place, fill me up with Your holy holiness” and more crushing of my stiletto into Satan’s reptilian head while the blood spurts out and the enemy is vanquished and victory is mine, so saeth the Lord. But that doesn’t make the Billboard charts like contemplative “make me clean again” songs. Guess I’m in the minority.

It’s mid-May in Texas, so it’s already in the 90s, and it feels like that underworld down below. I’m sweating in two minutes, before I even hit my subdivision sign. My pricey HOA fees have made it possible for this fresh mow job that’s just been done. The grass is as tight as a moon mission astronaut’s hair, a veritable acre of crew cut. I imagine what it would look like if we ever had measurable rainfall around here, how lovely the grass could be if rain ever actually fell out of the dark clouds that always pass us by, as though this town were the ugliest hooker on Rundberg Lane, constantly passed up by sugar daddy rain clouds.

I can smell the syrupy blossoms dangling from tree limbs that really should have been trimmed from a public sidewalk. I exchange glances with the blooms, as if to convey that although I acknowledge their presence, we both know they will be withered and dead by the first of June, and all will be brittle and brown till October. Texas summers bite. I feel the heat bearing down on my skin. I can either douse myself in sunblock that spills down my forehead and stings my eyes or use that crappy Walgreen’s glue stick or the spray that tightens the skin up like pursed lips. I hate sunblock but I also I hate blotchy brown patches that appear literally by the minute as the sun beats down on me. But, whatever, my glory days are gone. Bring on the nursing home forearms.

As I near the bridge, I notice it’s, as-ever, covered with shards of brown glass. Why is every bridge covered in brown glass? Are bridges magnets for drunks who happen to have beer bottles at the ready? Have you ever thrown a bottle out a window? Is it that exhilarating? I’ve never thrown anything out a window, but that’s because I was always told not to mess with Texas. I look up from the glass, and a truck with a county sticker comes around the bend, with a smiling red heeler in the truck bed. The driver waves at me, and I wave back. Twenty years ago, there were honks. Now there are encouraging waves, as it to say, “You go, chunky Gen Xer. Keep it up. You can do it.”

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At the 45 minute mark, I go into Billy Joel mode. Don’t forget your second wind. Sooner or later, you’ll get your second wind. But the sun is so dang hot, I can’t focus, and now all I’m hearing is, “We didn’t start the fire…”

I can’t keep up this pace. I don’t know if it’s the heat or the humidity or the fact that I’m middle-aged and corpulent, but my heart is beating tip-top at the apex where my stationary bike would be flashing little hearts on the screen to show me I was in the zone. The target zone or the stroke zone? I don’t know. I pass the middle school track with no kids in navy shirts and shorts, as per the usual. They’re all gone today. Instead, there’s a bulldozer and a handful of laborers, shoveling dirt along the trackline. Another job I wouldn’t want.

I pass piles of pink primroses and Indian paintbrushes and think about how those are some of the first memories of childhood in Texas. Bluebonnets and Indian blankets lining the roads, scrubby mesquite trees and acres of live oaks. Nobody could argue that an oak tree is prettier than a pine or a cottonwood. An oak tree would never win the pageant. But when you grow up here, the oak tree is like that unattractive aunt. She’s not much to look at, but she’s family.

The song “Forever Young” comes on my shuffled MP3 player, just small enough to shove in my sweat shorts pocket. Our senior song. May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam and may sunshine and happiness surround you when you’re far from home. I’m about ten minutes from home, and sunshine definitely surrounds me. Past the school, the weeds that were waist-high two weeks ago are now shoulder-high, and I’m not a petite woman to start with. In my salad days, I was 5’7”. Now I’m 5’5”. Tell me life doesn’t literally beat you down. I may just be able to post those “short girl problems” memes in another decade.

A car passes by with the windows down, and cigarette smoke smacks me in the face, like I’m at a bar in 1997. I so rarely smell cigarette smoke these days, that it’s like a relic from the past. However, cigarette butts always litter the path I jog. So somebody is still ponying up $10 a pack for smokes and tossing them out the windows. I remember working at the local lakeside waterpark the first year of the millennium and the bar selling smokes for $5 a pack. It was outrageous! Who would pay it? Smokers did. And they will when it’s $20 a pack. Then again, some folks pay $6 for a cup of coffee that doesn’t even have free refills. Crazy talk.

Now I’m back at the glossy-leaved magnolia trees of my subdivision, venturing up the last long hill. “Eye of the Tiger” comes on, but I’m not having it. Neither Survivor’s nor Katy Perry’s version. All motivation is gone. Keep your eye, tiger. Not even Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” could get me going at this point. The sun has won. Its energy has sapped my energy dry. It scoffs and tells me to run inside and take calcium supplements and drink lemon lime Gatorade and sit in the recliner and read the latest Magnolia Journal with the lovely and pregnant Joanna Gaines on the cover. Fine, sun! As you wish. Aaaaas. Youuuuu. Wiiiiiish.

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The Heat Is On*

In a few hours, it will be 95 degrees. I dare not doubt the weatherman’s forecast, as I just left the pre-noon outdoors, and it was already volcano-lava-hot. Any exercise must be done in the wee small hours these days.

Despite getting only three hours of sleep last night, and despite the forecast of a Martha Reeve’s heatwave, I donned my jogging apparel, headed to the local soccer park, and began climbing the hills around the perimeter.

Perhaps the path was once grassy, but now it is a knobby rubble of limestone, ripe for ankle injuries and displaced hips. Save a lone runner wearing what appeared to be a long-sleeved shirt made of shimmery black Glad trash bags ( a self-sauna?), I had the path to myself.

As I ascended, I passed evening primroses, Indian paintbrushes, and daisies, bending into candy cane shapes in the 20+ mph winds. I cinched my ballcap tighter, to the point where I almost felt I was being birthed again. Small white butterflies suddenly appeared, staying two steps ahead of me, swerving about like hybrid cars steered by texting teenagers. There must have been a half dozen of them, apparently delighted by spring. So, too, was I, inhaling the syrupy scent of wafting chinaberry blossoms. I love me some chinaberry trees!

Nearby excavators kicked up limestone dust, as they prepared yet another new subdivision, rising like weeds around here. I turned away, shielding my eyes from the dust, avoiding a head-on collision with a shrubby mesquite tree, and noticing my butterfly friends had departed.

The ridge was steep, and my quads ached, but I thought of our friends at church who do marathons in wheelchairs, and, of course, I always think of Nick Vujicic, the motivational speaker who has no limbs. It hasn’t stopped him from enjoying the beach with his wife and son.

When I got to the top, I took in the sight of rooftops stretching to the horizon. There I was, queen of all I surveyed, lording over the peasant village. It felt good, being so high above other things, looking down on the soccer fields, the tennis courts, the swimming pool (getting freshly-chlorinated), and the parking lots. Perspective changes everything.

I jogged my hour, and that was enough. I didn’t want to. But I was glad I did. Did it burn off the calories I ate in a handful of raw pistachios this morning? Probably not. But sometimes Nike is right. Just do it.

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* not to be confused with another cattier post, The Heat Is Not On, Glenn Frey