Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thirteen Miles of Friends

Things to avoid doing the night before a race: drinking coffee after 4 pm; listening to Rachael Yamagata's 'Elephants' CD; I was wide awake at 3:45 a.m., wallowing in sadness.
Things to avoid doing the morning before a race: relying on any subway on the weekend. To my surprise, I was looking forward to running this morning's half marathon in Central Park. I hadn't done a half in over a year, and felt it was time to test the endurance of this speed-chasing dreamer. Waiting on the 1 train platform, it didn't dawn on me to check the weekend subway schedule. I felt reassured by the sight of other race-ready people waiting too, easily identified by their funky orange D-tag looped and looming around their shoelaces. I heard a train, and prepared to board. Strangely, the top half of the train was missing, and in the spots normally occupied by strap hangers were sitting dozens of bags of city garbage. Well that was a dirty trick. One anxious runner exited the turn style and then turned around and asked if any of the runners wanted to share a cab. I thought I'd test my luck, and wait a little longer. The start of the race was a little over half an hour away, which means I was mildly frantic. Well, actually normally I would be in a state of near hysteria, but somehow, it just didn't seem to make sense to worry about something out of my hands. Besides, I had to take off my track pants in front of a car full of strangers to save time. I didn't realize how much talent was involved in changing into race-gear during a subway commute. Most people were sleeping anyway, and the rest somehow knew to avert their stares. I think I've picked up this teacherly look which commands lots of power when it comes to fending off unwanted behavior. When we got to the 72nd st stop, I broke out into a slow jog. The park was only a few blocks away. I checked my bag, and jogged to the port-o-potties. With less than twenty minutes before the gun would go off, the lines were amazingly long. I heard a female voice call out my name. Heidi! I love Heidi. She was one of the first runners I met in the city. She's from the Mid-West, and just a very good person. She was about three places away from her turn on line. I ran up and gave her a hug. I remembered that she had sent a 'friend request' about a year ago to me on Facebook, and I had not responded to it. I always hoped she wasn't offended by that. As I ran off to find a shorter line, I told her, 'I think about you all the time!' She smiled, and must have thought I was crazy. I do really like her though, and thought there's nothing wrong with letting her know. Then I see Julio on line! This is really funny. He works in a Running Store, and he runs every single race in New York City, and I know him casually through an old running club. I was in a more anti-social mood than I'd been aware of when I walked into that store two days ago. I didn't know he worked there, and was so not in the mood to be friendly. He seemed to have enough friendliness to cover for both of us. We briefly exchanged that we would both be running in this race. As I exited the store, he said, 'I'll see you Sunday!' I smirked as I told him there was no way he would see me Sunday, there would be over 5,000 runners. And there he was, standing on that port-o-potty line, living up to his claim. OK, fast forward to the main event: I always have goals for races, but was having a tough time gauging what to expect today. The hills in the park had been taking their toll lately, and I was not running up to par. So the race begins, I am in the second corral, and I feel like most of the runners here are running a lot slower than I was. So I get this boost of energy in an effort to catch up to the main field, and pass about 100 people. My third mile is actually under seven minutes! I'm so ecstatic I make some crazy face and do a little cheer on the spot for myself. A short, very blonde woman and I keep taking turns passing each other- she me on the uphills, I her on the down. At one point I decide to grab some gatorade at one of the aid stations, and she happens to be right next to me. I offer her the rest of my cup. She takes it after considering if this is a good idea. Clearly it restored her energy, as she whizzed past me going up one of the many hills. She cheered me on as she did, which was such an unusual and nice gesture. At one point I saw my friend Joann standing on the sidelines with her dog Scout. I screamed out hello to her, and then hello to Scout too. That seemed to sap any residual energy I had, and I made a mental note that focusing on the race takes precedence over greeting friends' dogs. With three more miles to go, my quads felt like they were being ground up in a meat grinder. My hips and legs felt so tight, I was wondering if everything would just buckle as I got to the descent portion of the hill. Finally mile thirteen was in sight, Heidi had finished, and was sprinting the course in reverse to greet people. 'Great job, Tamar!' I smiled and fed off of her positive energy; I guess I picked a worthy person to stalk. I finished the race, elated that I'd run under 1:37. The blonde from earlier came up to me to chat. She looked so calm and relaxed, like she'd just finished a 2 mile jog, and not a grueling 13 mile race. I went off to put some warm layers on. I didn't see anyone that I knew. I felt content to stretch and contemplate my experience in my own little corner.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Uptown and Downtown

I have to admit, after three years of intuitive living, sandwiched between small intervals of behaving as a sensible employed adult, the latter lifestyle can really frazzle my zen. Or my laziness. Whatever it is, I make a funny grown up.
My friend Liza called this morning, sheepishly asking to borrow some survival money. I had blacklisted her from further loans due to proper follow-up repayment, but she had been a good friend to me these past few years. And how can you turn someone down who doesn't know if their train card will go through en route to work? You would have to be pretty heartless. We tried to figure out the logistics of her picking up said funds. I had to take a complicated trip to the Bronx that morning, and she too was on a deadline. She was thinking of people in my neighborhood that I was friendly with where I could leave it for her. Given my freakishly strong desire for privacy, that was an interesting exercise. 'What about the guy at the bagel place? You said he was nice.' I laughed under my breath. 'Yeah, he's not talking to me. I didn't smile at him one day, and now we just don't say anything to each other. It's OK, I hardly go there anyway.' Then I remembered Justin. He worked at the stationary store a few blocks away. He was from Senegal, and we got into a conversation when I first moved into the city. I was struggling to accept how much more expensive everything was in my new urban home, including his overpriced notebooks. I thought he would give some pat excuse and be annoyed that I was disparaging his wares, but he was genuinely empathetic, and even gave me some tips on where to shop. We became friends. I'd stop in and we'd chat about running, my progress in the teaching profession. I developed a platonic crush on him, and one day brought him a lavender butter cookie that was made in the local bakery. He was pleased, not shocked at this obvious show of affection. Unfortunately, he couldn't identify the floral essence in it, so my crush dissipated. So Justin would be the recipient of Liza's money envelope. I sealed it, and considered putting a sticker on the seal, in case there was a different guy in the store, I imagined this would prevent him from opening the envelop. I realized that was absurd, because Justin was one of those people who you could trust your life savings with, and he wouldn't have anyone like that working for him. I was running late for my Bronx excursion. I walked into the stationary store, and Justin's face lit up upon seeing me, as usual. 'Hey, Tamar, how's it going?' I tried to be brief, but after accepting my favor request, he started telling his helper about my marathoning prowess. I chatted a few minutes, and then began my long journey. I was heading to the FedEx location in the Bronx that was holding my important item. Money for school! I had to dip into a retirement fund finally. A worthy cause, if ever there was one. This trip somehow involved taking four separate subways. Shady characters seemed to be strategically placed in the cars I entered. Red eyes giving me the once over, baggy jeans and over sized leather coats. I wanted to read but realized there were too many fast and confusing train changes to do both tasks successfully. Besides, I may need to fend off a purse-snatcher. When I finally ascended from the final train, I looked around, and felt like I was in the middle of a gritty transient industrial town with nothing more than factories and highways. As I started the foot portion of the trip, I discovered that drug dealers were part of this scenery. I felt lucky that I listened to my instincts and waited until the daytime to do this. After getting lost a few times, both on my way to and back from FedEx, I started losing my gateway skills as well. I saw an above ground train, and felt relieved that I was near a station. But after walking another ten minutes and not finding Cypress Avenue, I felt a little hopeless. I turned around, and there was one limping little guy coming towards me. He looked mean. I went right up to him. He pulled out his earpods, I said 'Hi' cheerfully, and asked him where Cypress Avenue was. He stopped looking mean. 'Oh, it's right back there. You see that check cashing place on the corner? Just figure out which way you're going, and that's where it is,' he said, now smiling as though to an old friend. I thanked him profusely, and started heading in that direction. My mind had temporarily forgotten that most subway trains operate underground. In the absence of overhead trains, I wondered how I would ever make it home again. He was right, I did need to figure out which way I was going. One of these days I just may.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


She was running late to meet her date. She really didn't consider this a date, because in their short phone conversation, it was apparent that he was already fumbling for words and coherency, revealing an over eagerness to be liked. She couldn't think of him as anything more than a potential friend. She noted with annoyance that he left her a message an hour before their appointed meeting. He stated exactly three times during the message in one form or another, that he was looking forward to seeing her. She wondered if he had some type of social disorder. She started feeling a tug of compassion for the guy. It can be very stressful meeting new people. She left the house determined to be kind, regardless of any impulse to behave otherwise.
When she finally arrived at the coffee shop, she easily spotted him in a bright purple sweater sporting a boyish smile at her presence. He looked sweet, like someone's little brother on a first date. She wanted to start shedding some of her many layers of winter-wear as the heat was blasting, but she thought better of it. This man did not have custody of his eyes, and they gazed steadily in the region of her chest. She was not too sure how to deal with this bit of Neanderthalism. She tried to distract his attention with conversation so she could at least remove her coat without feeling violated, but his gaze remained chest-height. Her physical comfort took precedence, and off came her coat. His eyes remained transfixed. 'Maybe he's too shy to look into my eyes,' she reasoned. She really wanted to remove her sweater too, but couldn't imagine what might occur in that event. She decided to wait until they were seated. She didn't know what they were talking about, but her companion was laughing heartily at her jokes. Good time to take off the sweater unnoticed. As soon as she did, to her surprise, he adjusted his glance to her face, and left it there until they parted two hours later. Conversation flowed, she felt comfortable with this person. Then he pulled an awkward maneuver. She shared some recent coup she had achieved, and he put his hand up for a high five. That alone was unpleasant enough, but when she complied out of politeness, she felt his small dry hand try to linger into a handhold! This guy must have been out of his mind. A handhold?! A handhold! She couldn't believe the gall. She quickly retreated her paw, and buried it underneath her leg to ensure protection from future ambushes. Mind you, this was all done in her subtle manner, never missing a beat in the warm conversation. At one point, the talk got depressive. She shared a recent sadness with him, and immediately regretted it, as she knew this would illicit another attempt at hand-holding. She wedged both hands under her legs this time. Then he looked down and confessed he had never been in a relationship, and she could see tears welling up in his dark brown eyes. She told him he was better off, but he didn't seem to think so. She wondered why men were always crying around her, and told some more jokes to lighten the mood. Then she decided it was time to end this meeting. They walked to the corner, and exchanged niceties. She walked up St. Marks street and remembered the night when she was 15 and had a crush on David Hinchman, a gay actor. He lived on that block, and she spent the night on his roof once. It was too cold to walk around she decided, and she ducked down into the warmth of the subway. On the semi-crowded train, she noticed a gay couple. The more effeminate of the two caught her attention. At first she wasn't sure why she couldn't stop looking at him. He was making a dramatic expression with his eyes. But when he relaxed his features, she understood. His face reminded her of someone she had once cared about. The slanted brown eyes, the strong handsome nose, the sullen pout. As long as he wasn't smiling, she could imagine it was him. Suddenly he noticed her staring at him. She looked away. She started remembering things she wanted to forget. She looked back, and saw him whispering to his partner. The partner glanced at her. She looked away, but then had to look once more. She felt an overwhelming longing. One tear rolled down her cheek. She looked away, this time for good.