Running and Walking
When my parent’s separated, I started running. Long distance along the winding dirt trails that veined through the pine barrens of New Jersey. This was in seventh grade and I think I just did it so I could be as far away from the house as possible, for as long a window.
I never grew to love running. But the small torture of going five miles on foot through the woods with a pack of other students, and not having to talk to them was something that basketball couldn’t give me. Football or baseball couldn’t. I liked listening to my Walkman and mix tapes that I was swapping with a girl from class I liked. I’m deaf in one ear, but I wear both headphones. Hood up. Lungs burning. I ran every day after school for months. Winter cross-country through a frozen New Jersey. When it was all over, I stopped running altogether. Just a temporary crutch that something else filled up later. Guitar. Girlfriends. Driving my car. Writing.
First job I ever had was mowing lawns. I got the job myself. I pushed the mower around the development and knocked on doors that had shitty yards with high grass and I asked the people inside the houses if I could cut the lawn. Most said yes.
Everyone except for the woman who lived in the house that looked like it was haunted. She was this kid’s mom who lived on our street that went to a special school. The kid who’d lit the woods on fire. The kid whose dad was in jail.
Every once a while a dog would jump a fence and chase me down the street.
Here’s a trick though for you if you are ever chased by a dog down a suburban street and you just so happen to be pushing a lawnmower.
When you hear the vicious barking, Just reach down and pull the cord until the machine whirs to life.
Then you have loud on your side and loud usually wins.
The summer before my parent’s split, I mowed enough lawns so that I could buy a Gibson SG guitar.
And a car.
I was going places.
That was the idea.
But the engine of the car exploded, so I was back to the school bus and the bicycle and flat foot Vans old school sneakers.
Now I exercise. I have to. I drink too much beer and I sit in a chair too long writing things down.
We just moved from NYC to Jersey City and now there’s more rooms. I lift weights in the new room that will eventually become my office. Right now the room is beige but I’ll paint it blue soon and get rid of all the cardboard boxes stacked against the wall. Life changes and your habits change too.
The closet is full of weights. Rubber coated Olympic weights. A 45 pound bar. A bench. Squat racks. A different bar for deadlifting.
I’m doing the chapbook workout.
I drag the weight lifting crap out of the closet and I’m real careful not to break my toes when I do that. I’m also careful not to destroy the hardwood floor. It’s not like I rent any longer. What I destroy I’ll have to fix.
I set up the bar on the squat rack and do what the app on my iPhone says to do. It tells me the weight. It tells me the number of sets. Inbetween sets, I sit there like a sweaty slug and read two or three poems. That way by the end of the workout, I’ve staid off death a little bit and I’ve also read something new.
When I was a kid we used to live on a dead end street. The woods that pushed up against the dead end street had trails that weaved through the pines.
One day after school, there were men in suits and aviator sunglasses walking out of the trees. They walked over to where my friend and I were playing basketball and said, “Have you seen any strange people walking in the woods?”
We said, “Just you.”
The guys in the suits said, “Tell your parents if you see anybody else. And also, stay out of the woods.”
Later on that night I found out that one of the kids up the street had a father who’d escaped from prison and the guys in the suits were FBI agents or close to it.
We found out the kid’s dad had gone to jail for attempted murder and rape.
Of course, that week after school my friends and I hunted through the woods looking for the escaped convict. We wondered what our reward would be.
Another day, I was walking through the woods by myself and I got scared because I heard the people on their dirt bikes. I was worried they were Satantists, because this was the late 80s and that was a supposed big problem back then. Satan and Satantists.
Some kids jumped out of the trees and said, “Hey! We’re gonna kick your ass!”
I backed peddled away from them.
I said, “I can’t fight right now.”
“I’m wearing my dad’s shirt. I can’t fight in my dad’s shirt.”
They looked at me stupefied.
“I’ll be right back, I’ll go home and change my shirt.”
I turned and walked out of the trail and then when I was out of sight from the older kids, I ran back home to my mom and dad’s house at the mouth of the dead end street.
My mother didn’t live with us any longer. The guy who owned the auto shop where my father worked agreed that I could work there. I was always asking everyone for a job.
I showed up for my first day at work. It was a hundred degrees out. I figured I’d be sweeping the shop. Helping change oil. Being a gopher. The parking lot had a huge boat parked there.
My job for the day was to scrape the barnacles off the bottom of the boat.
I got under the boat and started to scrape. The sun got hotter. The asphalt got softer.
At lunch time I tried to get a drink of water from the cooler inside the office at the auto shop and the guy who ran the desk said, “You smell like a bad date.”
I took a drink out of the water cooler and went back into the heat to scrape more barnacles under the goddamn boat.
Two things I’ve never had: a desk job, and a boat. I hope I never have either. Both those things suck.
When I was done with the boat, I walked back up the highway to where my mom used to live, I got the lawnmower. I walked through the development to one of the three houses I had on my route. The haunted house looked more haunted than usual. The family had been forced out.
When I lived in NYC, for a brief period of time I used to jog/run across the George Washington Bridge as a way to stay in shape.
The view of Manhattan glowing in the distance was half the attraction. The other attraction was I had an iPod filled to capacity with music my friend had given me, stolen off torrent sites and it felt like being a teenager again, discovering all these new bands while I was running.
The runs across the George Washington Bridge didn’t last long. Partly because I got sick of it and partly because one time when I came running down off the bridge I saw a wallet sitting on the sidewalk.
The wallet was open and sitting there like a teepee.
I bent down and picked the wallet up.
Inside was a note that said:
I’M WATCHING YOU
I looked up at the windows overlooking the base of the bridge, I couldn’t see any signs of life in the windows. It reminded me of the haunted house on my childhood dead end street, just magnified, expanded exponentially less personal. I walked home to my apartment. I got online. I bought some weights to lift in my apartment in stead of running across the bridge anymore..
It felt a little safer. And you can squat in running shoes. Same shit.
There was a race at the end of seventh grade winter cross country.
I remember sprinting up this hill that led up to the mouth of the middle school and seeing my dad standing on the sideline at the top cheering me on.
I ran harder.
As I got closer his jacket was open a little bit and I realized that he was wearing my Soundgarden t-shirt.
I got mad as hell.
Why the fuck was he wearing my shirt?
When the race ended, I doubled over in the frozen grass and nearly puked.
I felt better though, when I talked to my dad in the car and he said that my mom was coming home.