don’t take fez for an answer

I’m never gonna do it without the fez on
oh no
— the prophets fagen and becker

I blame the Fez Monkey.

I’m now working at a job that doesn’t require me to leave the apartment. So I don’t.

I work in the spare bedroom, which isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. I am accompanied by a deranged troll (is there any other kind?), a birthday panda, a road lizard, and the aforementioned Fez Monkey.

It’s odd, having no contact with the outside world. I’ve got Mo, of course, but much of the day it’s just me.

Except for the daily run.

Sunshine, sweat, Steely Dan. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the daily run more.

I was thinking about that today when the Fez Monkey mentioned the marathon.

It started innocently enough. Mo ran into a woman at work who said she was a runner. Mo, speaking in runner shorthand, asked what her marathon PR was. 2:34, she said.

Mo, not being quite the junkie I am, did not know to fall to her feet and kiss the woman’s shoes. And she didn’t quite remember her name. We’ve been sleuthing for two days nonstop and I think we figured out who she is, and Mo misunderstood slightly. It was actually a 2:44. But lordy god, that’s fast.

Which got me looking at local marathons to see how she did around here. Which led me to look at races. Which led me to think, what if. Which led the Fez Monkey to dare say it out loud: Yeah, do it, you moron. Go train and leave me alone. Fez Monkeys are sort of rude.

It’s been so long. Is there even a chance? Nah. But it’ll be fun pretending for a while.

Where to chronicle where nobody will possibly find it? And then I remember I still have this joint.

So it begins.

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don’t let it bring you down
it’s only castles burning
 find someone who’s turning
and you will come around
— the prophet young

They’ve been sitting in hallway for a week, hanging out next to the Smokey Bear stencil and some suspicious spray paint. Two shiny pairs of asics zantes. The foam is so fresh you can almost smell it. Well, I have a cold or something so I can’t smell anything, but still. With my infamous shoe collection stench, the inability to smell is a huge plus.

I bought them because they were 43 bucks each and wouldn’t be at that price for long. I just started running with my last pair of Zantes and I seem to get about a million miles out of them, so the shoes may be a hallway fixture for a while.

Letsrun has been on a blah blah rant about how only suckers buy trail shoes. But lugs and rock plates!!! Shoes with less padding, shoes with more padding, shoes to bring out the color in one eye or the other. Our closet is testimony to the problem. You can’t have too many shoes.

Mo drives me to work now and then. It’s about a seven-hour jaunt from our place to work, and it’s nice to have company. She then wanders around downtown Phoenix shooting murals and peering through the windows of art places and possibly painting Smokey stencils on corporate buildings.

A million homeless guys live downtown. When she picks me up late at night, she parks next to two guys who sleep on the little grates on the sidewalk because they’re warm. It’s jarring when you see them the first time. You’re 5 feet away from a grimy guy who has nothing in the world except a dirty blanket and a bag holding all his life possessions. The fine line between a homeless guy and a runner in a 100-mile race.

But still, she’s been haunted this week by the image of one many. He’s a really big guy. Disheveled. Six layers of shirts. Pushing a shopping cart. One shoe is on. The other shoe is tattered and flops around. His heel is hanging out. She says he must be walking all day, because that’s what homeless guys do.  She wants to buy him some shoes, that one small thing you can do in a world where you can’t save every puppy.

She’s been looking for him since, but she never saw him after that first day. Maybe he’s next to the plaza that society spent so much on while neglecting the poor, she says. She has devised a plan. When she sees him next, she asks him for a shoe size. Then she sets up a meeting place for the next day to deliver the shoes. What kind, I ask. I don’t know. Shoes, she says. The important thing is to try.

I run through the possibilities. He seems like a minimalist. But he likely covers long distances. Maybe he could use some Zantes. I seem to have a lot of them these days.

Maybe I’ll be there someday. I’m in a profession that has lost 60 percent of its jobs in the last decade. Homeless guys weren’t always homeless. I’e been laid off twice from dying papers. It happens. At least I’ll always have shoes.

I hope she finds the guy. I hope she gets him shoes. I hope I eventually stop feeling bad about those two pairs sitting in the hallway …

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our beloved revolutionary sweetheart

I’ll never forget my first Sony Walkman. I hadn’t yet started running but I loved music. It was the mid-70s, and apple was still a fruit. My Walkman was crude by today’s standards — an eight-track tape player discarded from Ronny Lane’s Ford Falcon and a Sears Diehard (bruce willis sold separately). Sure, it was ugly and heavy and looked odd tucked in my cutoff Levi’s, but I was listening to Grand Funk untethered. Life was good.

Thankfully, Sony upped its game shortly thereafter, and the little yellow cassette player showed up. Now, in addition to listening to the horrible sound of my Little Feat mix tape spooling out at home and in the car, while I ran I could do it on the road. Which at last answered the question of what the Evil McCartney was talking about in the song of the same name. Life was good. Except of course for the Evil McCartney, who is just evil. Life was even better.

I found cassettes to be too much work, leading me to decades of finding the Perfect Sony Walkman Radio Thingy. As time went on they became smaller and smaller. I was living in Austin in the early ’80s, providing the greatest radio stations ever to exist. Life was perfect.

I bought the first Sony Discman shortly after its arrival. Featuring an outdoor battery pack that rivaled my original eight-track car battery, its sound was pristine. The only problem being that it skipped constantly while I ran. Police’s Outlandos d’Amour took only three minutes to play in its entirety. But still. No more hiss. No more commercials. No more Evil McCartney. Life was still good.

As my distances got longer, I found the radio was the best option. After an endless series of Sony Walkman Radio experiments, I ended up with a small, squarish thing. FM only, five presets, a local/distant option. Long battery life, good signal. It would become my best friend on the endless South Mountain doubles. Weekend Edition, Car Talk, Wait Wait. You knew how long the run was by how far into the day’s NPR programming you could make it. Life was bliss for many, many years.

And then the whole phone thing showed up. Now I have an NPR app that lets me load up any show. No more getting up at 5 so I’d be at the mountain at exactly 6 a.m. for my Scott Simon greeting. No more concentrating on Tom and Ray so I wouldn’t miss anything. And, given the limitless options, I found myself abandoning it altogether. The spontaneity, the mystery, was lost. Life was not so good.

I have a Spotify subscription now, so I run with pretty much every song ever recorded, with the exception of Camper Van Beethoven and the second Huffamoose album. But there’s no mystery now. No “what the hell was that?” moment when you hear the best song in the world and have no idea what it was. No shift from the classic rock station to the classic country station to the classic grunge hardcore accordion. When faced with a million albums to choose from, I can’t choose. I found myself missing my old Sony Walkman. Life sucked.

And so I was giddy when a review for the latest Sony Walkman showed up on my Facebook feed. It’s been a long time. It must be pretty great by now, right? I surveyed it nervously. Still says “Sony.” Still butt-ugly yellow. So far, so far. Seems like a good running companion, a way to reconnect to my past an hour at a time.

And then I saw the price.

I remember my Sony Walkmans tended to have the shelf life of a Milli Vanilli Grammy. I’m a prolific sweater (the air of unattainability), but at 30 or 40 bucks, it was no big deal. $3,198 seems a bit pricey to reconnect with my youth. Life is the worst.

But then I thought to myself, WWDD? (what would dave do). I’ll just paint my iPhone yellow. Maybe hook it up to a car battery, for old times sake, and crank out a couple choruses of Roxanne. Life is good. And then you die.

Now if Camper Van would just show up on Spotify …


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Lane 9

Longtime readers will recall that I was outraged by walkers stealing Lane 9 when last we were on the track. So it’s funny that people were sitting in 8 and 9 today, and I was more than happy to steer around them.

I read a story yesterday in the NYT about Seasonal Affective Disorder, the fallout from a long, bleak winter. I’m almost certain that’s why I have been down lately. It’s been consistently around 60 or a little below for the last week, and a couple of days were partly cloudy. That’s not horrible for a day or two, but when you put together a solid week of it, one starts to go a bit wonky. I remember once on Northern Exposure, Walt had a visor with lights on it and it seemed to help. But I had none, so I tried the next best thing, running on the track on a sunny, 75 degree day.

The gazelles from a week ago were back. They were running 100 repeats and then went for a long run on the dirt road before coming back and homesteading on 8 and 9. It was fun to catch snippets as we went by each lap. “more 1500s.” “it’s all about quality of life. “two days of treadmill ahead.” I’m still guessing they’re on holiday from the frozen tundra of the Northeast. They looked so happy just sitting in the sun. I could’ve stepped on the guy’s hand as I came by in Lane 7, but that’s likely bad running karma. Four runners, two coaches (one with a British accent.) What’s their story? We’ll never know. They seem to be really fast, but I’m the guy who sat on the bench next to the gold medal decathlete for a year without figuring out who he was.

Today felt crappy for no reason. I am beginning to suspect that running on sidewalk might not be the best thing for old knees. Why has no one ever reported this? But we meandered and got in the daily 5K. On the last mile, a 100 meter guy took over Lane 9, which has become insanely popular ever since I claimed it as my personal domain.

He had an elaborate shoe-marking system going, so you know he’s good.

We sat down on the bench after finishing our run. It’s only a lane away from the sprinter. It’s odd to sit so close to someone going so fast. A blur. Sprinters aren’t like real people. They’re little machines, all pistons and quads and regimented breathing.

Same with the gazelles. We had watched the two guys running 100s for a few minutes before we started. Mo calls them “floaters,” runners who glide so effortlessly around the track. You don’t see it on TV; it’s only real when they’re a couple of lanes away.

And there, hanging on the fence of the front stretch, was a black cap. I ran past it four times before I finally stopped to look. If it was the French beret, I was going to be totally weirded out by the whole Lane 9 thing. But it wasn’t. Just a beanie left over from those miserable days of 58 degrees brrrrrrr.

Lane 9. It’s all about perspective. Is it for the slowest runner, or the fastest? Maybe both. Seasonal Affective Disorder? Lane 9 is waiting for you. If you don’t mind a little swerving …

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the day my garmin saved my life

What if we run the mad dog today, Mo asked.

One never questions an artist, given their existence on a higher plain, so I said, ummmmm ok.

This meant no Red Bull. There is theoretically a convenience store on the way to the mad dog, but it contains a clerk who is friendly. And once someone is friendly to me, I am obligated to shun them for life. Yes, I exist on a lower plain.

So there I was, no caffeine, no taurine, no wasted two and a half dollars, standing at the start line, when Mo, from out of nowhere, said the unthinkable: What if we do a mile loop?

See, there are only two loop options on the mad dog: a 3.7 mile loop and a .3 mile loop. One can also go out and back for any distance, which was what I assumed we would be doing for a 5K. To speak of another option would be heresy. Or possibly hearsay. I am neither a clergy nor a lawyer, although I once watched Matlock, wondering why Andy Taylor looked so old.

Um, what’s the mile loop? I asked. She pointed out how we could turn right at the playground, run through the trees and back on the normal loop. Should be about a mile, she said.

A mile loop on the mad dog? A bathroom and two water fountains? Sounded perfect. But I was skeptical of the distance. What if it wasn’t exactly a mile?

We set off, and I must say it’s a great loop. It’s the prettiest part of the park. Goes by the playground, past the soccer fields, through a winding sidewalk and a canopy of trees, around a bird-filled pond, and ends next to The Big Tree full of herons building nests. I looked down at my watch as we came by the post that’s the start line. And there it was: 0.95 miles.

A thing you should know: I’m kinda compulsive about mileage. Before GPS, I owned my own measuring wheel. A loop had to be EXACTLY 1 mile or it did not exist. Mo knows this all too well. She looks at me, trying to gauge my reaction to the short course. I shrug. No big deal, I say.

That’s the thing with Garmins. In the old days, with my trusty Timex, I would need an exact one mile loop to time the splits, requiring an annoying zig and a zig off course somewhere to make up the difference. No run could be made on an uncertified, non-official course. If the pope runs in the forest and the course isn’t measured, does he poop? I think not.

But with a Garmin, I realize it no longer matters. We go happily around the course three times for 2.8 miles. The Garmin records the splits at random spots along the course. Then we take the mini-loop for another 0.3, and that’s a 5K. It’s truly the perfect run loop, other than a lot of sidewalk and the total absence of shot putters and a weird guy lurking on the last turn and a homeless guy eating Pringles while I’m starving. Upside: not a beret to be seen. And there are a lot of birds.

In the pre-Garmin days, I would have refused to run the loop because it was .05 miles short. Mo would have killed me, chopped my body up into little bite-size pieces and fed me to the herons. Instead, we have a great new course. The Mini Mad Dog. And just in time for the Stark Raving Mad Dog. Life always works out fine.

I hope the pope enters …

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Oui oui oui will rock you

It’s all about consistency. The consistency of mud, but consistency nonetheless.

11:00 running society. A matter of getting down the routine. Granted, today’s 11:00 start happened at 1:00, but still there’s a 1 and a couple of zeroes involved.

I’m running 5K a day at roughly the same daily pace, in the ballpark of 13:30. It’s got to improve eventually, right? But mostly it’s fun. Mo comes along and we get high on Red Bull and admire the views. I trot the straight, walk the turn. Patience. I have a race this weekend. In the words of the guy pretending to be president, we’ll see.

Today’s Discovery of the Day: Someone left a sun hat on the bench next to the track. Mo declared it made me look like a creepy elderly woman. Only later did I realize she didn’t mean it as a compliment. Oh, well. Back to the baseball cap. I hope she will still let me wear my running skirt.

There’s nobody on the track. I’m running in Lane 9. I should point out that there are nine lines on the track, A couple of laps in, two people show up to walk. And where are they walking? LANE 9!!! This is a breach of etiquette of unfathomable levels. I hate them so, so much. And to make things worse, the woman is wearing a jaunty French beret. There is no room for jaunty French berets on this track, missy. I trail them, quietly seething, and then swing around to Lane 7 as I pass them.

As it turns out, the woman is chatting in a heavy French accent. Obviously, the Track Rules of Etiquette state that a jaunty French beret IS acceptable if you’re actually French. And when I come around again, they have thoughtfully moved over to Lane 7. They are now my best friends. I love them so, so much. Is it to early to start worrying about what to get them for Christmas? Maybe a matching beret for the guy.

By this time, Mo has left the track to do the dirt loop, also annoyed by the couple. Mo has no patience.

Although it’s still freezing (barely made it to 60 today,) we had the first sign that spring is on the way: The first shot-putter sighting.

She’s wearing a “Canada” sweatshirt before peeling down to her workout clothes. Serious Shot-Put Shoes, two shot put thingies in their separate bags. Real deal. All shot putters here are serious, given that the pit is locked and you must have a key to get in. She has great form, big efforts. Fun to watch as I go around the track. I hope she hangs around a while.

And that’s that. I hit the stop button. The Garmin says I only need 24 hours to recover, which maybe is a good sign because similar paces before have wanted two days. Or maybe the Garmin is just making stuff up. Never trust a Garmin with a baby blu band.

We sit for a while in the sun. I think about how lucky I am to have spent so many days at this glorious place. This has got to be what heaven is like, except maybe nobody there wears French berets with funny accents. Jesus was an American.

We get into the warm car. It has the bubble gum scent of Red Bull. I lament having to wait 24 hours before we get to do it again. It’s all about consistency …

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divine intervention

Here comes the sunshine
Here comes the sunshine
The sunshine
Here it comes
— the prophet matthew sweet

We’re sitting in the parking lot at the track. I’m desperately hoping to see raindrops on the windshield. Nothing.

It’s the kind of day you dread in the Valley of the Sun. It’s cold and cloudy and blah. I hate blah. I ask Mo on the way if this would be the kind of day where we skip and go to Einstein’s for a lovely bagel and cup of coffee. Oh, just a couple of miles, she says.

And so here we are. The car in front of us is covered in rain. How is that even possible? Two raindrops on the windshield and I’m justified. “We were going to run, but then it started to rain.” But nothing. And so, we run.

Paula Radcliffe’s stuff is here, but that’s the only sign of life. I start to shuffle, waiting for the taurine to kick in. I keep singing Randy Newman’s “Taurine, Taurine, Taurine. I’ve always been crazy ’bout Irish girls.” Whatever it takes, I suppose.

The weird thing is, I’m pushing harder today, but going slower. The HR is about right, but my pace is slower than the last few runs and I’m running more of the corners. But I guess whatever. Miles is miles.

Paula Radcliffe eventually comes by. She appears to be doing the dirt road loop. Mo keeps a safe distance away from me, still fuming over a disagreement this morning about whether it’s a good idea to drive four hours to another state to take photos of a homeless camp. Volleyball players in a tournament are bouncing a ball around nearby. Just another day at the track.

I keep waiting for the clouds to part and for Mr. Sun to make his triumphant appearance. Isn’t that the way the story goes? “He finished his run under a sunny sky, his heart full despite a bad Randy Newman pun bouncing around in his head.”

The sun never comes. But the rain does. Just as the watch buzzes the 3-mile mark, the rain starts. I see Mo grabbing her jacket and starting toward the car. I knock out the 0.1 for the 5K, hit stop and make a run for it.

My brain switches the Randy Newman soundtrack to “human kindness is overflowing, and I think that it’s going to rain today.” But isn’t that the best kind of run? When you didn’t want to do it, but then the weather holds out till exactly the time you stop?

We drive home with the windshield wipers slapping time. A song in our hearts. A run that happened even though I desperately didn’t want it to.

We’re all counting on his divine intervention. The prophet Sweet is wise indeed.

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