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running

The Gap

I parked in the lot by the grocery store so I could buy a few things after my run. I had an hour and a half before the afternoon’s storms were to hit, giving me plenty of time to get some exercise, buy scallions, and be home before the skies unleashed.

It was a good plan.

But then. The thing happened that sometimes happens: just as I reached the far point of my run — when I was high up on the trails, miles from the parking lot and the grocery store — the sky turned black, the darkness interrupted only by bursts of lightning, and what the folksy weatherman calls “thunderboomers” started making it hard for me to hear my podcast WHICH WAS SUPER FRUSTRATING BECAUSE MAURA MURRAY HAS BEEN MISSING SINCE 2004, the night when she cleaned out her bank account, bought a bunch of booze, and crashed her car; thunderboomers needed to shut the hell up so that I could hear about the eye witness who saw someone smoking in the front seat of her car just after the crash. Or maybe not. Because eye witnesses…BOOOOOM!

Running is supposed to elevate the heart rate, but running in the woods during massive thunderstorms does the job even more effectively. For half an hour, hustling my way to safety, I slipped down mud slides and leapt over puddles. Every few minutes, passingly, I considered the concept of “God.” Even more frequently, I prayed to Thor for the continued health of my iPod, my phone, and my corporeal being.

Thor’s my bitch.

Dude totally ran interference between the storm and the skin sack of shuddering meat called The Jocey. I MADE IT TO THE PARKING LOT ALIVE, thank the great hammer-thrower in the sky!

Although I considered going home to change clothes, what with the ten pounds of water weight that were pulling the shorts off my hips, it seemed silly not to dash into the grocery store and grab them scallions. Sugar snaps. Asparagus. Bananas, like Maura Murray probably enjoyed for breakfast at West Point before she was expelled on the grounds of questionable moral conduct. A cucumber. Maybe some feta.

Squelch, squelch, squelch went my shoes, with every step. A waterfall cascaded from my body as I grabbed a basket and headed in. Such a sight as I merited comment. I was no further than the cheese display when a friendly worker ran his eyes over my ridiculousness and noted, “Looks like it’s pretty wet out there.”

Perhaps in his job at the grocery store, this fella was, as we say, “working to maximum potential.” Yes, it was very wet out there. And that’s why you’re meeting my nipples here by the gruyere, New Gap-Toothed Friend in an Apron.

A few minutes later, as I brushed droplets out of my eyelashes, all the better to differentiate zucchini from cucumber, NGTFiaA came up behind me and cleared his throat. Turning, I saw him extend something: a towel.

“I ran to the back room and found a dry one,” he offered. Quickly, I apologized for dripping all over and making the floors wet. “Oh, not to worry,” he assured me. “You just look uncomfortable and cold, and it was nothing for me to grab a towel.”

Chatting pleasantly while I scrubbed rivulets off my arms and legs, he stacked a few rogue tomatoes and empathized: once, he had been caught in a downpour outside by the Red Box and gotten wildly soaked in the time it took him to cover the fifteen feet to the door of the store. So he totally understood and knew a dry towel could make the difference between despair and okayness.

Significantly less drippy, I handed him the now-damp towel, thanked him again, and promised I’d be out of there quickly, before I made the floors dangerous. He tossed the towel onto his shoulder and smiled, flashing the full, glorious gap, before shrugging. “It’s no big deal, and don’t you worry about the floors. They’ll be fine.”

I picked up my basket. He turned to a box of nectarines that needed unloading. Squelch. I stepped towards the asparagus. Squelch. I grabbed two thick bunches of spears. Squelch. I thought about the continuum between despair and okayness. Squelch. I decided he was wrong.

It’s not a dry towel that can make the difference.

Nope.

The difference is made by an easy shrug, a quick trip to the back room, and the thoughtfulness of a gap-toothed produce worker in an apron.


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Sloggin’ in the Rain

SONY DSC

I like to pretend that life is a musical wherein all the Best Moments are enhanced by atmospheric lighting and the promise of a standing ovation. For me, everything — from the making of pancakes to the folding of laundry — takes on a brighter sheen if it is accompanied by high kicks and jazz hands, all the better if someone emerges from the wings wearing crinolines or drops from the rafters strapped into a harness.

One autumn day in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, however, I was forced to concede that sometimes drama is overrated.

Three months into our whimsical sabbatical year of living abroad, my family had experienced stunning summer heat, but the change of seasons introduced us to a new genre of weather. That October, the stage had been draped with striking scenery: the skies were unrelentingly grey, with ominous clouds hanging overhead that unleashed into pounding sheets of rain which seeped under the door jam and soaked the threshold of the 400-year-old stone house we were renting. Contemplating this dreary backdrop, I was reluctant to explore new valleys and canyons around the village when I went out running, thinking that I’d rather venture into new landscape theaters on sunny, classically-autumn days and avoid the stark topography that smacked of Ibsen more than Gershwin.

Since the weather didn’t seem to be shifting, though, and my time in Cappadocia was ticking away, I decided to throw myself out there and break a leg.

Late in the afternoon, I headed towards the crumbling monastery outside of the village and navigated the warren of trails that zigzagged throughout the valley below. Humming, I took a left whenever the trail diverged. Eventually, I was beneath a panoramic overlook frequented by tour buses that disgorged French and Korean travelers in search of a photo op.

Soon, I realized the overlook tourists were noticing me far below them on the stage of the valley floor–a living, breathing part of the spectacle they’d been ogling, and I fought the impulse to belt out an echoing “Everything’s coming up roses and daffodils” à la Ethel Merman in hopes that my performance would be rewarded with a shower of Turkish lira, raining down from the appreciative audience.

At that moment, a long roll of thunder resonated across the valley, and the action began to rise. Looking up, I saw not stage lights but a black cloud moving with startling swiftness towards my mark. Just above the rapidly re-bussing tourists, the sky popped white with lightning.

There’d be showers raining down upon me all right, but it looked like my show had received the worst of reviews, and early cancellation was imminent.

Crikey. I was a half hour’s run from home, standing at the foot of a cliff somewhere in a confusing valley in the middle of Asia Minor, and the sky was roiling with noise and light.

I was shaking like an understudy who’d forgotten the lyrics.

Taking stock of the situation (dire), sorting through the options (limited), I felt panic dancing in my balcony. Before that moment, my greatest stressors had been adjusting to life in a dusty village, living next door to a donkey, learning to eat drink salted yogurt, and attempting to communicate without verbs. All of that seemed like ice cream at intermission, however, compared to the fast-moving blackness that hung over my solitary figure, threatening genuine danger.

Exposed and alone, I stifled a scream as a bolt of lightning burst from the clouds and connected with the dirt fifty feet away. Fear-driven clarity entered my mind. No one knew where I was. No one was coming to “save” me. No one and nothing on earth was going to fix this for me.

Quite unintentionally, I had been cast as the star of a one-woman show. Quickly, I decided that crouching down and balancing on the balls of my feet felt too passive, too much like allowing the scene to unfold rather than being an active player in it. Despite the cautionary voice in my head telling me to hunker down in the open until the worst had passed, I threw my shoulders back, inhaled from my diaphragm, and took charge of my fate.

Feigning confidence as lightning continued to stab down from the clouds, I ran well for the first few minutes. Even though my glasses were being pelted by raindrops, I could still find the trail. Minutes later, however, my vision blurred into nothingness. The raindrops hardened into stinging. My mood slid into alarm. My pace slowed. There wasn’t a jazz hand or high kick in sight.

A complete inability to see where I was going; a tragic sense of direction; clothes completely sopped; trails that had turned into rushing creeks; impulsive shrieking whenever lightning zapped around me; and a sky that had turned so dark that visibility was nil—all of these realities synergized into a single thought: “Keep moving.”

With less than an hour until dark, I hacked my way around dead-end trails and decided to believe that if I just kept trying, eventually I’d find my way back to something familiar.

However. The lightning was truly on top of me, and that created a danger bigger than dark. More than anything, I needed to find shelter.

In an irony so sharp it could have been scripted, I discovered that, in a region with thousands of abandoned pigeon alcoves, cave homes, lemon caves, and early Christian churches, I couldn’t find a single carved-out opening. If I could find the trail back to my starting point, it would take me only a few minutes to get to the ancient, crumbling monastery—an idea that roused my waning dramaturge and caused her to muse, “What a lark! Then you could tell people that you once sought shelter in a monastery!”

Early Christian monks didn’t know jack about signage, though.

As I kept running trail after trail, unable to find any overhang or refuge, I lapsed into a chant of, “One foot. Now the other. One foot. Now the other.”

Just as I convinced myself that dogged diligence would see me through, the Great Director in the Sky decided to kick up a frigid wind.

On the positive side, the onset of shivering meant being lost suddenly dropped much lower on my list of worries. Completely soaked and well into the second hour of running, I imagined my children introducing themselves to their future in-laws with a fraught summary of youthful tragedy: “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.”

Naturally, states of heightened dramatic tension always break, and it apparently wasn’t time for my grand finale just yet. The orchestra in my heart swelled as—trumpet fanfare!–the sky magically lightened, and the storm blew past, leaving behind only a gentle, steady rain.

I smeared my glasses “dry,” and after five more false starts, I finally happened upon the road leading towards the monastery. Soaked to the marrow, but with a song in my heart, I trotted the last fifteen minutes home, down the main street of the village. Each step squished loudly. My hair dripped rivulets down my torso. My pants refused to stay up, due to the weight of the water pulling them down. My shirt clung to my torso, providing show-stopping burlesque for onlookers accustomed to body-obscuring, layered clothing.

I’ve never before had a more rapt audience than I did on that long stretch from the monastery to the village square. At one point, near the taxi stand, I 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 the chorus of “Sunrise, Sunset” to snap them out of their reverie.

By the time I made my way through the center of the village, the square was Standing Room Only. As had been the case for the previous two hours, I pointed my eyes to the ground and just kept moving…albeit with one hand holding up my sagging pants.

One foot. Then the other.

Nearing home, I considered the power generated from placing one foot in front of the other. Pushing back against fear, carrying on in the face of uncertainty, and moving forward blindly had brought me out of the storm; months before, these same abilities had given me the gumption to pack up my life and plunk it down 7,000 miles from home, in the midst of fairy chimneys, headscarves, and The Call to Prayer.

None of it had been easy. Much of it had been nerve wracking. All of it had been amazing.

A grin spread across my drenched face, and my free hand rose and pointed to the still-clearing sky. Fingers splayed wide, palm pulsing, I saluted the clouds with a triumphant jazz hand of joy.

———————————

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In a Fog


It was full-frontal foggy the other day. This wasn’t just film noir, dry ice kind of stuff. Nay.

This was, “Holy Haunted House, but I’m holding my hand up in front of my face, and I can’t see it!”

Okay, it wasn’t my actually my hand, but I was waving something vaguely hand-like up in front of my face–a glazed bear claw from the donut shop, in truth–and I couldn’t see it a bit. Which makes it all the more fortuitious that pastries can be eaten by touch and require no sight.

Indeed, it was so foggy last Monday that a person might have been forced, there, outside the bakery

–as if she were slow dancing with a man named State of Desperation–

to use only mouth feel and feather-light fingertippling to feel her way around yeast and glaze and buoyant dough, until the claw disappeared and only chin crumbs remained. Yup, it was Sticky Face Foggy the other day, friend, the kind of day where pride is unnecessary, as you can’t even see yourself falling upon 500 calories of wickedness in a frenzy. You might as well eat three, for only the shadows know.

Some hours after that person Helen Kellered her way around a baked good, she awkwardly high-fived her healthy self and went for a run on the Superior Hiking Trail. Getting to the trailhead was an adventure in itself, as visibility was down to approximately 15 feet, which meant, once she knew roughly what part of town she was in, she had to flip on her blinker and then drive another 400 yards in the turn lane, muttering, “They ate Hutchinson Street. There is no Hutchinson Street. Yoo-hooooooooo…Where are you, Hutchinson Street? Maybe Hutchinson Street looked like a bear claw to someone this morning, so they mauled it with their teeth. Whoa, jinkies! There it went. That little curb thingy back there was Hutchinson Street. Looks like nobody’s behind me–but who would know, on a day like today?–so let’s throw it into reverse and hit it on the rebound.”

Eventually, our nameless bear claw ravener, also named me, forwarded and backed herself to the trailhead. I parked, pretended I was Catholic so I could cross myself dramatically, and headed into the woods.


Blundering through the fog, I listened to the Halloween podcast of “This American Life,” which featured the anxiety-inducing tale of a woman outside her country home who was attacked by a rabid raccoon on the driveway. Only after she managed to pin the ‘coon by its neck and feel around in her pockets for something–anything–did she find her cell phone, with her that day by a fluke. She called her son, and within minutes she had the aid of her family. But, get this: after her husband bashed at the rabid beast with a stick for several minutes, trying to kill it, the thing only got angrier and more aggressive. So they got a tire iron, the ultimate meat tenderizer, whereupon it only took another twenty whacks to put the poor, diseased creature out of its misery.

As I listened, I was reminded that going for a trail run is really relaxing, especially when you’re making your way through the forest juggling an enormous branch, a shard of broken glass, a granite rock, and potentially-rabid-animal-blinding confetti made of leaves.

What? I heard a puma.

And a badger. Discussing, in an exchange of hisses and gnarf-gnarfs, which parts of me looked most tender.

I had the children to think about, as I armed myself, intent on self-preservation. Wouldn’t want Niblet and Girl to grow up without a mother and all. Who else would dissect for them the talents of American Television Icon Chuck Woolery? (one day, when they’re ready)

Equally as heebiejeebie-ing as the thought of being stalked by rabid monsters was this worry: in that soupy fog, was my face going to melt?

Or in a slightly-brighter scenario, I posited that I might get back to my car and look in the rear view mirror, only to see this:


I’d have to gasp and be all, “Where’d my hair go?”

Fortunately, nothing used its cougar fangs or bear claws to tear at my flesh that day. And my face didn’t decompose into a smoky masque.

In fact, the whole thing turned out unexpectedly well. The scary podcast ended with David Sedaris visiting the morgue for kicks and giggles. The carbo-loading I’d done earlier in the day kept my tiny cat feet happily gliding over the trail. And the best bonus of all–that which keeps Bono looking 48 instead of his true 87 years old–is that mist and fog are hella good on the pores.

When I finished my run, flushed and trail tangled, I dropped my arsenal of weapons and hopped into the car, doing a quick check of my look in the rear view–for stray branches that might be dotting my hair.

HAWP. Looking back at me was this:

Oh, joyful, face-tightening fog, you made me ten again! I am glorious! I am magical!

Then the curious goiter on my shoulder bit me.

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Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want: This Key

I wasn’t kidding. This story is a continuation of the previous one. I know you’re all, “Well, even though I didn’t read her last post, I’m not about to go back now and waste my precious time on it. No, I’m NOT. I’m just going to read this one here and piece it all together. I’m smart. I can do that.”

Yes, honey. Yes. You’re smart. And you’re pretty and sweet, and the other kids just don’t understand you.

But go back and read the previous post anyhow.

I’m waiting. (*taps foot and begins humming “Ina-Gadda-Davita”*)

What, you again?

You haven’t even scrolled down to it yet, ya Big Faker. It was called “Like Searching for a Grain of Broken Rice in a Bowl of Particularly-Soggy Shredded Wheat,” and it involved my talented girl parts and a 95 minute run, so you really don’t want to miss it.

Schlep off now.

I’ll wait. (*starts filing nails and practicing some “Mr. Bojangles” soft shoe, further proving her ability to multi-task when fingernails and vaudeville converge*)

—————————————

Oh, HI. I’m glad you’re back, you upstanding and honest reader who’d never skip a preliminary post in an effort to cadge four extra life minutes during which you dreamily picture what Sarah Palin looks like with her glasses off, hair down, her “energy plan” a’roarin’. Now that you’re up to speed:

So yup. There we were the next day, the Assembled Family Jocelyn, ready to fan out the family’s collective vision and scan every stick, leaf, and dead raccoon on a very particular stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail, in search of my shiny silver Camry car key.

(if you have no idea what I’m referring to and are just kind of nodding and smiling blankly after that last paragraph, that’s because you are one seriously lazy cuss and didn’t EVEN go back and read that previous post, Mrs. Pants On Fire…like it’s so onerous to take a few measly minutes out of your life to catch up with the rest of us. You’re just a living, breathing, personified “War of the Worlds” broadcast, fooling the entire audience into thinking one thing’s happening when, in truth, you’re just sitting in your lazy chair drinking Diet Mt. Dew and pretending to be “an avid blog reader and defender against alien attack”)

Before the family gathered around, I had done some kitchen-table triangulation and narrowed down the most likely area for the key loss–to a spot called “Pee Alley.” Knowing this, we could park on a nearby road and hike in a few hundred yards, looking all the while for browning ferns and a mish-mash of footprints that indicated a Woman/Ipod scuffle.

But first, we had to get the kids out and on the trail, the motivational script of which read,

Me: “Okay, now that you’re both home from school, we’re going to drive up to the spot where Mommy was running yesterday when she lost her key.”

Kids: “Mommy, why do you talk about yourself in the third person? It creeps us out.”

(okay, they didn’t say that, as they’re still learning–and will be for at least another decade–that anything beyond first person exists in the world)

Me: “So, listen, we’re going for a lovely hike on this sunny fall day. Our mission: to find a silver key.”

Kids: “Don’t wanna and are not.”

Me: “This actually wasn’t a request. We. are. going. out. to. the. woods. And. we. will. make. this. an. adventure. And. FUN. You. poopshoots.”

Kids: “Not going. Don’t like hiking.”

Me: “In what universe do children of mine not like hiking? This is unimaginable–preposterous–like women over thirty wearing leggings under a tunic blouse! Clearly, you are not the true people I grunted out from my body; anyone fostered under my care is destined to have a life-long fixation with sumacs and granite and singing The Smiths amongst them. Pod-people, you are clearly not my children. Either you hike with Pappy and me, or I love you not.”

Kids: “Hey, Mom? You’re kind of a dinkus.”

Me: “I know what you are, but what am I? Now get in the car.”

Kids: “Not going. No hikey. Can’t make us.”

Me: “The key is very shiny, you know, which means it’s glamorous. Only the cleverest of people could ever find the treasure that is a lost key in the woods. Let me tell you a tale about the kind of person who only wishes he could find a key in the woods: there was a guy once who seemed, on the surface, to be clever, a guy named Johnny Keyfinder. One day, he plunged into the woods, in search of a key. After many hours, he emerged, keyless, having fooled himself that he’d found something better: a hand full of appleseeds. Listen to this: old Johnny ‘Keylacker’ Appleseed then wandered the country for years after, holding his seeds in one hand and shaking hands with the other. Now how clever does he sound to you? Not very, eh? Not bloody clever at all. Kind of dumb hickish, if you want to use real words about it. Seriously–how did he think he’d wipe himself or cut a steak, what with both hands already so busy? This man was NO keyfinder. He was just a busy-pawed gladhander. Eventually he keeled over, appleseeds in hand, with his last words being, ‘I never did find me a key, so what’s it all been about?’ His legend pales in comparison to the one you two are going to create today, when you hit those woods and find Mommy’s key!!!!”

Kids: “Gracious! He was hebetudinous. We must differentiate ourselves from that dolt. Hie now–to the horseless carriage. Oh, and thanks for the thesaurus last Christmas, O Maternal Matriarch.”

Me: “Huzzah! The afternoon is ours to seize.”

So then we, like, drove there and stuff.

The second we stopped the car, as predicted in a secret wink-wink-eye-rolling exchange between Groom and me, the kids did shape up and forget their hatred of Woods. They ran to the trail and began bushwacking, peering, and


herky-jerking on the balance beam known as “uprooted and suspended birch.”

Two minutes in, the true beauty of the afternoon became apparent, particularly to the Star Warsian Wee Niblet:

We were in Ewok country.

Vexingly, Ewok Country is rife with stands of browning ferns, each looking more like a possible pit stop for a full-bladdered runner than the last.

But the Jedi Youngling was not daunted.

Picking up speed,


Niblet gathered light saber sticks, thrashed the bushes in search of battle droids, and continued his Jedi training, which has advanced considerably in the last few months. Specifically, his ability to harness The Force has gained finesse.


Concentrating, the lad raised his hand and channeled all his fledgling powers into using The Force to find that key.

Fortunately, Jedi Master Groom was in the lead. Stopping suddenly and staring intently at the ground, Groom called to his Padawan, “This looks like a spot in need of your attention, Boy. Focus your powers here, and let The Force do its work.”

Skipping along, humming a new song learned in kindergarten (“Hell-ooow/How are you?/I’m so glad/To see you”), holding his Force-channeling hand in the air, Niblet abruptly pulled up short.

He stared hard for a minute, soaking in the quiet of the immense trees surrounding him, and then carefully bent down.

When he straightened to his full height–equal to that of the brown ferns cloaking him–he peeled open his hand, on which balanced–

by the Original Light!–

a silver key.

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Like Finding a Grain of Broken Rice in a Particularly-Soggy Bowl of Shredded Wheat

Blissy.

That’s an apt word for how I felt during my run on the Superior Hiking Trail last week.

Maybe Glimmery.

Possibly Elysian.

Having my feet off asphalt, dodging rocks and roots, listening to the creek burbling nearby, I very nearly wanted to whip up a quick fire and cremate myself right there and then, just so I could pay the place tribute by scattering my ashes amidst those trees.

The truth is I’m a tragic slogger of a runner; I might have popped my ankle on an unruly slab of the Canadian Shield at any minute; I could’ve been mauled by a crabby badger; yet I couldn’t have been more happlefunky.

As I huffed along, a googly smile on my face, I twigged to something: I’m a very simple soul.

Oh, yes, I is.

With nothing but time on my hands and mud on my shoes, I started cataloguing the tenets that result in my simplicity. Clearly, I think trails are crunk. But I’ve got other values, too, Luther. Like four of them. Pretty much, I think–

1) Stuff should be fun
2) I should stop and holler about stuff when it’s fun
3) Profiteroles should run for president, and then I would have something to vote for
4) People should say what they’re thinking and let the hell go of all that blah-blah-blah namby-pamby fake nodding and smiling. If there is any discrepancy between what people are thinking and what they are saying, their bodies should explode into rainbow-colored confetti and fall gently to the earth.

My values brainstorming continued throughout my 70 minute run, taking a breather only when I crouched down in a stand of browning ferns to empty my bladder…and then for the two minutes after that, as I struggled to retrieve my wayward Ipod–it suddenly fancying itself a speculum and me in for a pap smear–from the general region of my cooch. After the bathroom break and intimate struggle with technology (“Look! A very talented part of my nether regions pressed ‘Play’!”), I hopped back on the trail and revved it up again, adding, revising, tallying, working very hard to keep my values list tight, lest I overreach my calculated and complex hope of simplicity.

As the podcast I was listening to during my mental shenanigans ended, the playlist shifted to music, and I tell you, Moses, that if listening to The Cure on a fine fall afternoon while flitting through low-hanging branches doesn’t convince you that Friday you’re in love, then you need some cotton candy and a hug from your mama because you’re lolling in some serious doldrums.

The Cure morphed into Morrissey, and, perhaps trying to outrun the existential morosity, I sped up, racing the last twenty minutes back to the car, tacking on a final triumphant 100 meters at the end.

Out of habit, I stopped the timer on my watch and started digging into my shorts’ ultra-secret key pocket.

Or as I now call it, my ultra-secret lame-ass lose-your-key pocket.

Yup, mostly likely during my ungainly cha-cha with the Ipod after that powder room break amongst the ferns, roughly 35 minutes back, the key had tinkled to the ground, alongside my Mr. Peebodies.

Fer feck’s sake.

It was dusk; Groomeo was awaiting my return so he could have his go at running and peeing in the woods; and I suddenly had miles to go at a slow, slow creep. What to do?

Re-clipping the Ipod, restarting the watch, and turning my face downhill, I was off, a veritable Steve Prefontaine sans cheesy mustache (my mustache is much more delicate and feminine). Twenty-five minutes later, I encountered the whole family at our neighborhood playground, where Groom greeted me with a hearty, “So help me, if the kids ask one more time ‘When will Mommy be here?’, I’m going to duct tape their skulls together.”

After my brief-but-inspiring narration of the key-loss saga, Groom took off on his run, which he finished at the still-locked Toyota Camry near the trailhead. Nice job, that: having a ride home.

The next day, with daylight and refreshed spirits and cooches on our side, the entire family would join in on Key Hunt 2008 (not to be confused with Key Hunt 2006…and, man, wasn’t that a David Blaine fiasco!)

–a hunt which, in the dense foliage of the Northwoods, would be a challenging search akin to finding even a lick of foresight in one George W’s blindered brain.

By the end of that day, thus, I was back to my usual morally-nebulous self, finding that I’d failed to live up to even the simplest of my values:

1) I’d had some fun, but it had ended rather crud
2) I’d made some noise while I was having fun (who can’t sing along with “Please, please, please, let me/get what I want/this time”?), but then I shut up when the crud hit
3) Profiteroles were still not president
4) The only frank thing I had to say was, “When the Mara Salva Trucha gang offered me those ride-ganking and hot-wiring lessons back in ’97, I damn well should’ve taken them up on the offer, even if it would have relegated me to a year of payback as their international drug mule.”
——————————————-

(this story to be continued anon in “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want: This Key”)

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You Finish My Post”

Here are some photos from the big race this past weekend (I’m in the blue shirt, #2409). Because I was in a state of severe oxygen debt, I have no recollection of a single thought in my head.

So you tell me: what was I thinking, as I tripped through the trails?

I’ll give you a little starter:

“As Jocelyn ran the Trailmix…”
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“Trailmix: What Doesn’t Choke Me Makes Me Stronger”

For the last five or six years, I’ve run a spring race that’s held in a nature reserve outside of Minneapolis. When registering for this race, which is called The Trailmix, there are three options:

  • I could run the 50K solo race (translation: 31 miles, all on my own screaming feet). But since I often feel as though I’m going to expire just from carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement or heading into the kitchen for another snickerdoodle, I’m pretty sure I’d be dead by Mile 12, and I would like for my children to know their mother. So that’s out.
  • Or I could run the much-more reasonable 25K solo event, which would have me out shuffling 15.5 miles on muddy trails for, oh, let’s say, five hours or so. Here’s the thing, though: I need to eat sometimes, and if I were out there, frolicking with the spring peepers for such a long period of time, I would need some serious sustenance–none of that Gatorade or little cookie business they have at the aid tables, either. I would need a catering van to meet me mid-course and lay out a spread of corn puffs and brisket and scones and espresso panna cotta if I were to have any chance of getting through the rest of the mileage. After ingesting such a fine meal, however, I’m pretty sure I’d head back out onto the trail and need to hurl it all up the moment I ascended the first hill. And, frankly, paying for a catered meal only to vomit it up shortly thereafter sounds way too much like being a 21-year-old bride at a wedding where Kool and the Gang covers are played during the reception.
  • So I have always opted for the third choice in this race: the 50K team event. Under this option, four of us break up the 50K distance, which means that we each run 7.75 miles. This distance is still long enough that I take walking breaks, especially when the course snakes up the back of a downhill ski hill (and then we all get to careen down the front of the thing, like out-of-control Hot Wheels cars, on the other side). And sometimes, when it’s really slippery, and I’ve just stumbled for the 50th time in three minutes, along with realizing I’m just about the last person out of 400 runners still remaining on the course, I cry a little.

But my tears are all part of the fun, I’m sure. Indeed, good weep generally spices up my day and breaks up those endless “hours of contentment.”

Mostly, I do this race because it’s a chance to be on a running team, and Paula Radcliffe only knows when I’d ever get to be on such a thing otherwise. My lot in life, historically, is to be the kind of person who is drafted for a Trivia Night at the Bar team, where I slam a beer and ring the bell simultaneously, shouting out, “Wink Martindale!” Thus, it’s a rare thrill for me to be part of any team that taps into my physicality rather than my some-would-say-“useless” knowledge of gameshow hosts, film directors, and Reese Witherspoon’s love life.

Unlike at Trivia Night, the first requirement of my Trailmix teammates is that they have to enjoy losing.

Okay, I put that wrong. Rather, let’s just say they shouldn’t be competitive for, rest assured, our team is going to place about 42nd out of 60 teams. Or maybe 59th. In fact, with me as Team Captain and literal anchor, I hold my team’s standing to the back of the pack; my sluggish form keeping me at well over a ten-minute mile, I’ve even approached race directors and offered to be a “sweeper”–the person who takes the flagging down off the course and who, encountering injured strays upon the race course, helps them hobble to the ambulance at the finish line. I did this once for a little kitty I found on the path, and he licked my face repeatedly with his sandpaper tongue before the nice paramedics strapped him to a stretcher. I’ll never forget his woebegone little face peering out at me from the back of the ambulance as they drove him away.

At any rate, I’m a slow runner, and I don’t care a whit. Many of the students in my English classes are poor writers, but I don’t begrudge them their efforts. It’s okay to participate enthusiastically in something you’re not inherently good at and not to measure yourself against others but instead against your own possibility. For my students, this sometimes means using a comma correctly (I give them a big “Woo-hoo” and ring my Trivia Night bell when that happens). For me, with running, it means covering almost-8 miles on trails with a grin on my face.

All runners at the Trailmix start at the same time, and then teammates’ final times are all added together to arrive at the team’s total time. My goal, one day, is to find teammates who are both swift and humble, who would be willing to engage in this proposition: I would like their three times to equal my one time. Maybe they each could run the course in 45 minutes, and then I could finish in 2 hrs, 15 minutes. For no good reason and with no real purpose, that plan still has an intriguing elegance to it.

Interestingly, though, my efforts at this past Saturday’s Trailmix overthrew tradition. Having felt quite certain that I was ready for little more than a leisurely jog up and down the hills of the reserve, viewing the race as, really, just another chance to save a kitty, I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself possessed of the Eye of the Tiger.

See, at the starting line, I took a notion: instead of starting out really slow and then slowing down, mile by mile, I might try starting out with a bit more exertion and then slowing down mile by mile. My eyes got a little buggy, then, when, two miles into the race, I wasn’t having the solitary run I’m used to; in fact, I was still in the middle of a pack of people (they were all clacking to each other so loudly that any plaintive mewings in the woods would have gone unheard; fortunately, they rather toned it down after I bellered, “SHUT UP, FELLOW RUNNERS, ALL OF Y’ALL. SOMEWHERE OUT HERE, THERE MAY BE WOUNDED FELINES WHO NEED MY HELP. HOW WILL WE EVER HEAR THE CRIES OF DISTRESS IF YOU INSIST ON THIS RELENTLESS BLABBING TO YOUR FRIEND ABOUT THE NEW TIRES ON YOUR CAR?”).

And then, mile after mile, despite the mutters swirling around me about “watch out for the crazy lady,” I just felt good. The course was relatively dry, there was good cloudcover to protect my Southern Belle skin from burn, and the kitties had all stayed home. Stress free, I was having a fine ole toodle. The fact that I’d also selected a “rabbit” to follow, a determined woman who chugged along in her snazzy little green sports bra, helped, as well.

There she is.

Whoops, there she goes. Better ramp it up and dog her heels. Slow down, Cinderella! What is it, midnight, and your carriage is about to revert to a pumpkin? Rein it in, princess.

At one point, Rabbit Lady took off, out of my sight, and I feared I’d lost her for the duration. But then, in the last mile, there she was again, taunting me with her sweaty greenery.

The Rabbit firmly back in my sights and plenty of steam still in my engine, I plucked her off efficiently and made for the finish line, grinning at the cheers of my family and teammates (yea, of course they’d all finished already, but they hadn’t had time to change clothes, exfoliate, do some coupon-clipping, and have a roast beef sandwich before my finish, as has been the case in the past).

And when I looked at my time on the clock, I just about had to grab my cell phone and dial up Paula Radcliffe right there and then, to holler joyfully to her: “Paula, Paula, sweetmeat, I beat last year’s time by 20 minutes. Do you hear me? 20-friggin’-minutes! That’s beyond outrageous! I am fleet; I am zippy; I am a veritable winged sprite!”

But then I remembered I don’t own a cell phone and that Paula changed her number after my last call anyhow.

So, instead, I just hummed a few bars from a little-known song called “Jocelyn Rules All Things and Saves the Kitties” and jigged over to the t-shirt table.

Tired.

Beaming.

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