For My Next Selection, a Little Ditty Called ‘Stuffing Newspapers into My Sopping Shoes’
My response was to start singing, to the tune of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,”
Jam it once
And jam it twice
Then jam it once again
As I warbled, I did a little soft shoe, gave him a spin, and finished with a “reach for the rafters and then bend to the floorboards” flourish.
See, I like to pretend that life is a musical in which I’m all-too-often awarded a solo (strangely, the other cast members don’t seem a bit envious; rather, they act as though they were too busy paying the bills to show up for the casting call). For me, though, everything in life, from the making of pancakes to the folding of laundry, takes on a whole new sheen if it is accompanied with high kicks and jazz hands.
Yesterday, however, I realized that sometimes I’m just not in the mood for drama.
The stage has certainly been draped with dramatic scenery in recent weeks: our October has been grey, grey, grey, with ominous clouds hanging overhead all day, every day, usually unleashing after sundown into pounding sheets of rain that gradually seep under the door jam and soak the stone threshold. With such a dreary backdrop, I’ve been reluctant to explore new valleys and canyons around the village when I go out running, telling Groom that I’d rather venture into new landscape theatres on bright, sunny, classically-autumn days and avoid the combination of stark tone and unknown places that would smack of Ibsen more than Gershwin.
But since the weather doesn’t seem to be shifting, and my time in this place is clicking away, I decided yesterday to throw myself out there and break a leg.
In late afternoon, I headed up towards the crumbling monastery outside of town and started piecing my way through the warren of trails that jigsaw throughout the valley below. Humming a little, listening to Terry Gross’s silverbell voice on Fresh Air, I stuck to garden roads as much as possible, deciding to take a left whenever the trail diverged. Eventually, I realized I was in sight of a panoramic overlook frequented by tour buses, which pull over and disgorge French and Korean travelers in need of a cup of conveniently-available pomegranate juice.
After a couple of minutes, I noticed the panoramic tourists noticing me, so far below them on the stage of the valley floor, a living, breathing part of the spectacle they’d been ogling, and I was tempted to belt out an echoing “Everything’s coming up roses and daffodils” a la Ethel Merman in hopes that my performance would be rewarded with a shower of Turkish lira, raining down from the appreciative onlookers.
At just that moment, I entered Act III, during which the action began to rise with a long roll of thunder resonating across the valley. Looking up, I saw not stage lights but a black cloud moving with startling swiftness directly towards my mark. Just above the rapidly re-bussing tourists, the sky popped white with lightning.
Oh, there’d be showers raining down upon me, all right, but suddenly it looked like my show had received the worst of reviews, and early cancellation was imminent. Actually, the storm was so majestically Broadway compared to my off-off-off production that I immediately quit the profession—and, mercifully, all attempts to weave corny theatrical metaphors into every thought.
Because, dayyyyy-um. I was a half hour’s run from home, standing on the edge of kind of a cliffy thing somewhere in a confusing valley in the middle of Asia Minor, and the sky was roiling with noise and light.
I was a little scared.
Time to turn up my podcast and use NPR as a mechanism of danger denial while I skeedaddled myself out of there.
It was okay for the first few minutes. Even though I was being pelted by raindrops, I could still see well enough to find the trail, and Terry Gross was telling me that Teddy Roosevelt’s amazing legacy to the United States is a system of national parks and public green spaces that are one of its greatest treasures, which is, indeed, pretty cool to think about, even when booming thunder obscures some of the words, and you think author Timothy Egan just said “mild tires” are a huge concern in the parks, which—HELLO—makes no sense and so why would you want to read this lunatic’s book, but then you rewind a bit and realize he actually said “wild fires,” and so, okay, Timothy Egan, I will read your book.
As my vision blurred into nothingness (damn glasses!), and the raindrops hardened into stinging, my mood slid into alarm. There I was, out in a huge public green space, watching lightning strike all around me in fire-making fashion, and so maybe, no, I didn’t need to read Egan’s book after all because he didn’t seem to realize he was my only source of comfort at that moment, a job at which he was failing dismally, so why on earth would I ever give him a royalty when he couldn’t even talk about innocuous things like camping and picnics and wildflowers when I needed him most?
The combination of my annoyance with Timothy Egan; a complete inability to see where I was going; a tragic sense of direction; clothes that had gained five pounds in water weight; trails that had turned into rushing creeks; impulsive shrieking whenever lightning zapped around me; and a sky that had turned so dark and misty that I could only see grey fog in every direction
all synergized into A Seriously Lost and Jumpy Jocelyn.
With less than an hour until dark, I felt a certain pressure to keep hacking my way down and back up dead-end trails, knowing that eventually I’d find my way. There was one huge, distinctive rock formation that I could consistently see, and I knew it had to stay to my right. I also knew that if the torrent of the storm slowed a bit, and if I were heading in the right direction, I would eventually be able to hear traffic from the major road in the area, at which point I could just bushwhack towards it.
However. The lightning was truly on top of me, and that created a danger bigger than dark. The Wise Lost Jocelyn would find shelter.
I’ll be a Hittite if it didn’t turn out that, in this region with literally hundreds of thousands of abandoned pigeon alcoves, cave homes, lemon caves, and churches, there wasn’t a single carved out opening anywhere that I could pop into. Were I able to find the trail back to my starting point, it would take me only a few minutes to get to the monastery—an idea that roused my sleeping dramaturge and made her muse, “Hey, then you could always tell people that you once sought shelter in a monastery!”
Effing monks didn’t know jack about signage, though.
At some point, as I kept running and trying trail after trail, unable to find any overhang or refuge, I decided, “Well, hell. I guess this is one of those points where I become a Christian of Convenience—nice job not winning me over in any lasting way, Dumb Monks—and start muttering, ‘Oh, God. Please, God. Oh, holy Jesus. Please, please, please.’ Because what else can I do? Keep plugging away at finding a route, and hope to the high heavens that I don’t get sizzled by one of these bolts.”
Chortling with power, my God of the Moment chose just then to kick up a cold wind.
On the positive side, that meant being lost had suddenly dropped to #3 on my list of worries. Completely soaked and well into the second hour of running, I started mulling over the ins and outs of hypothermia. The uncontrollable shivering that overtook my body seemed a reasonable start, and I do so enjoy seeing textbook explanations manifest into real-life experience! If only my kids had been there, it would have been an illuminating, dare I say dramatic, homeschooling science lesson.
Perhaps my thinking of the children in this time of crisis softened God of the Moment, for that three-headed, snake-haired creature took mercy. Although there would have been fitting drama in my kids reporting, for the rest of their lives, “My mother was killed by a freak intersection of lightning strike and hypothermia one day when she got lost in a wild valley in Turkey,” it apparently wasn’t time to drop the curtain just yet (but apparently, it was time to start up with the corny theatrical phrases again). Suddenly, the sky got lighter, and the storm blew past, leaving behind only a gentle, continuing rain.
Naturally, it was at that moment that I spied an abandoned pick-up truck off in a field. Ah, well, it lacked tires—mild or wild—anyhow, so it wouldn’t have grounded me from the electricity that had stabbed at the earth.
After five more false starts down wrong roads, I finally happened upon the road leading towards the monastery, which I promptly renamed The Timothy Egan Of-No-Help-To-Me-When-I-Needed-You-Most Monastery.
Soaked to the marrow, but with a song in my heart, I trotted the last fifteen minutes home, down the main street of Ortahisar. Each step squished loudly. My hair dripped down my back and forehead. My pants refused to stay up, due to the weight of the water pulling them down. My shirt clung to my torso, serving as an anatomy lesson for onlookers brought up in a culture of billowing, layered clothing.
And really? I’ve never before had a more rapt audience than I did on that long stretch to the village square. At one point, near the taxi stand, I actually stopped and took a bow for three men who couldn’t believe the soggy apparition that had emerged from the raindrops. Had one of them not finally blinked, I would have been forced to burst into a few verses of “Sunrise, Sunset.”
All things considered, I’m pretty sure my next run is going to be Standing Room Only.
(*fade to black already*)