Running With Stories
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
Note: Been unable to post anything for several months. I usually like to put articles here that I don't have a home for like Arcadia Lake or "Your Corner of the World." But I've had four articles going at once, and still finishing up two. This will be a rambling blog post!! I'm going to try not to edit this but just let it out. Although I've already almost retitled this piece, "the Weirdness of the Writing Mind."
I need a run, a long-ish run. They are my release, where I get things out. Empty the
cup like the old Chinese saying goes. Or like my buddy in Manhattan says, "get the horn out."
I take my phone and head to the Bronx River Greenway. It's a nice, shady path that winds from the Kensico Dam to Bronxville. Ten steps in, and I get a text from a family member. She tells me she just got out of the hospital on Friday. I had no idea. She's had a rough year. I text her back my prayers for her health and sanity; it's been a tough year for a lot of people. I love her and miss her. She's a good person and deserves to be happy.
A mile in, I feel the old rhythm come back. I've been running more recently. I've needed it. I've been writing more and no complaints there. As I feel the wind through the trees and bushes and into my lungs, I try to let out my stress. I push out a long breath, cross over a small wooden bridge and trot along by the winding stream. I try to let go of stories for a moment, but... that doesn't work.
I got to thinking of Rob Apple. This morning I got a text from Rob Apple. He says at his last ultra, a lot of people came up to him and read the article I wrote on him. If anyone deserves one he does. He's run 761 ultras! With this last one, I assume he's up to 762. And he has the brightest personality I've ever seen. It surprises me that no one has ever written about him. I need his positivity and sense of self-purpose.
One story I've been working on for a magazine is in it's 30th draft. It's been a year and a half. The photoshoot was yesterday, so my finger's are crossed that I will only have to go through one, possibly two more edits. The next time I work on something that long, I hope it has a hard cover on both sides. Then, there is the Ted Conrath story. It's been on the backburner. I had to put it there to get things done. It's a long, epic tale that goes back through war and prison camps and personal tragedy. In the meantime, I've got to focus on Marge. She's my next one: a beautiful lady of power and grit that's determined to run the gnarly Leadville 100 trail race at 71 years old.
"Stop thinking about this and run," I tell myself. The run is to release all this, not to shake it all up like one of those glass trinkets with the falling snow. One mile in, I see another runner coming my way. He's wearing the exact same running shirt that I am. It's a race shirt from the 2016 Queens 10k. He gives me a thumbs up. "Nice shirt," I say.
The damage from the recent flood is obvious. Trees are down, cut up. One makes me stop and take a picture. An old beech tree, initials and peace symbols still adorn its skin. Soon (but not too soon) the county will come and take the remnants away. Gone will be those memories, lost in time "like tears in rain." A lady with earbuds is the next runner on the trail. As we cross paths, I hear her singing some tune and shuffling with a weird gait.
I come to the town of Tuckahoe about three miles into the run, feeling good. Only been doing three-milers recently. Surprised I feel so energetic. It was another tough night of sleep. Too many stories in my head; I can't stop writing, editing, re-working. Even now I'm thinking how I've got to ween myself of the excessive use of colons, semi-colons, and buts and justs. Okay, keep running and shut the mind up. I hear a tree groan in the wind. Not the good kind either. That thing is going to take a fall at some point. Seeing the trees bend over the water to fight for sun always reminds me of middle school. So many underneath will barely get the scraps of the late day sun, others a glimpse in the morning. A few grow tall and lean far out over the others. Those are the ones we look at and admire.
How unfair it all is.
I come to a crossing and see something I've never seen. They must have put this here during the pandemic. It's a box on a post with a little glass door. Inside are several books. It's a lending library. I ask the lady if she minds if I take her picture. She says not at all. I tell her I'm a writer and I might have to drop one of my books in here. "That way someone might read them," I joke. She asks me what I write. Biographies, I say, and magazine features. She asks about whom, and I find myself telling the Al Howie story again. I've told it so many times to people that I often fight with myself with the conundrum of how to tell it the best way I can. Stop overthinking. Too much of that. I tell her how I came across his story through an eccentric friend who was looking for him and how I found him in a nursing home. She seemed interested, and we had a good chat. She looked my book up on her phone and bought it right there. I laughed, embarrassed at the price, which is too high, and the fact that I was running to let go of the clutter in my mind and here I am telling another story.
I run on and reach Bronxville. Halfway. There, I see Ted Conrath's old apartment. Every time I see it, I'm reminded of the oddity of it all. Do you believe in serendipity? When I first moved to Westchester five years ago, I often ran on the greenway to Bronxville and was always captivated by the apartment building that hung over the Bronx River like a Lloyd Wright home. It's so bizarre that years later, I would wander into a thrift store and our lives would meet. Such an odd thing. And to then find out that he had lived in this very building that used to motivate me on my long runs. Speaking of which, I start back towards Scarsdale.
Not as soon as I got back into a good pace, a guy on a bike blows by, nearly slamming into me. I hear him talking into his phone which he has in his left hand as he holds the bike with his right. "Uh, yeah... Tuckahoe Road," I hear him say. He has his shirt pulled up in an odd way with only one arm in the sleeve. This lets the world see his pudgy back and his underwear which is hiked up high as his shorts have slid down attached to his bike seat with sweat. He disappears over the hill and I hear a screech and a yell. I crest the top and see it happening: he's sliding right between a family with a little girl and her dog. He almost plows her over. He doesn't stop but keeps on biking, talking, being an ass. I feel rage. I want to... no, I really want to fight him. I feel it well up in me. As I pass the family, I smile at the little girl and the doggy. (Yes, I smile at dogs.)
Past Tuckahoe again, and again I hear the tree groan. It's just a matter of time. Hope no one gets hurt. And then by the town of Crestwood, I see a marker I'd never seen. Two flags are stuck in the ground beside it. It's dedicated to Kevin M. There's a message there: "Give Yourself a Great Day." What a fantastic thing to put there. An ambulance screeches down the road at a crossing. I can't help but wonder who's in there? Where are they going? What happened to them?
Back into the heavier woods towards Scarsdale, I'm all alone on the path. I can feel the miles now. Exhaustion is starting to set in. Sometimes, it makes issues worse. Yes, running makes me feel good, always makes me feel better, but during the runs, when it gets hard, I can get negative. All ultrarunners go through this. Today, it's being bummed about my lack of friends in Westchester. I have several that I meet about once a month, other than that it's "hello's" and "how are you's." One couple in our complex is closer to our age than the others, who are mostly older. But they are impenetrable. Last night, I even resorted to inviting myself over... just for a sec. Nope. Even though we are "friends" in the Westchester sense, coming over to each other's place (yes, we are all vaccinated) is a bridge too far. That depresses me. "Run on." That's Marge's saying, the lady I'm currently writing about. And I like it. So, I run on. Coming the other way is the same guy with the same shirt. I stop and talk to him this time. His name is Andy. He's in finance and runs for the release as well.
Two miles to go, and I can see in the look of the walkers on the trail that my face is showing my fatigue. It must be red, full of blood, and probably has that scowly look that I always get in running photos. I don't know how these people run these amazingly long distances and take such happy-go-lucky photos.
I run up behind an elderly couple. There are two sections where you need to hunch down and plod along underneath bridges on the course. I'm stuck behind them when I notice they are speaking Japanese. As we come out the other side, I say hello in Japanese. They answer back in English. (I've been speaking Japanese for 20 years, studied it at two different schools, and taught Japanese businesses for 10 years) I say in Japanese that it's great to hear the language and that I haven't had the chance to speak Japanese in quite a while. The man, carrying a walking cane behind his back, gives me a condescending look. It's difficult to describe how I know this so quickly other than to say experience. "Oh, can you speak Japanese?" He asks in English. I respond with "a little," which I say in Japanese. Then, the wife uses another word for "little," which of course I'm very familiar with and says it in a way as if she is correcting me. Suffice it to say that many Japanese people, especially older Japanese don't want to speak Japanese with Americans. Don't ask me why, that's a long, complicated story. I reply to her with the word she just used and say in Japanese, "I could use a 'little' Japanese vodka right now on such a beautiful day." She doesn't respond at all. So, I say "good day" in English and keep running. I feel down about it. Even though this has happened to me a thousand times. What's so WRONG with learning someone else's language and trying to connect? That and my neighbor's story and the negativity of exhaustion mix in my head and I just feel like going home and writing this, haha.
The last mile, I give it a kick, and I'm surprised I've still got the energy for it. I breeze past a woman in a shirt that reads, "Allergic to Mornings." I feel that. Then I see a black lab. He's chubby and happy and free as the breeze. That reminds me of a three-legged dog I saw on a run two days ago. It too didn't seem to have a care in the world. What's my problem? Why am I so serious? Why am I running so hard right now?
I stop and catch my breath. In the distance, I hear a jazz band playing. That is nice. As I walk across the bridge toward the parking lot, I see a sign where the park had been closed after the storm. So much of the world is closed. How much longer? A Hispanic family is on the bridge taking photos of each other. The mother is beautiful. Her long summer dress is tight-fitting and she's curvy. Her eyes beam with the glow of her warm skin. Her husband is proud. He snaps photos of her with the waterfall in the background. I hear a man ask them if they want a photo together and wonder to myself if this man realizes that this man is having a blast. He's in the thralls of a passion: he's recording his magnificent wife amidst the current and flow of nature. Maybe, that's all in my mind.
I stop my watch and walk across the street to video the jazz band. But as I get there, they are closing up shop. I record it anyway. All our stories are in various stages of change anyway, in flux; that's what makes it alive and worth telling. I went for a run to take a break from stories... just for a minute, but I found myself somehow surrounded by them.
As I got into my car to go home, I felt my heartrate ease back. It was an interesting eight miles. Patience, I remind myself. Stories are everywhere. It's who we are. Though I find it hard, even frustrating, these days to tell them in person, writing them is a great privilege. Maybe, it's the only way some of us can communicate.