Thick, the air was thick,
Sweat started to flow
Just about as soon
As I stepped out of my car.

A quick Mr. Rogers moment
Where I changed into some trail shoes
Preceded a Shackleton glimpse of the map,
This being my first time running on this track.

Into the tropics I went,
Hitting a hill within the first hundred yards,
The heavy air was hard to breath.
My heart rate skyrocketed.

All I could do was walk a bit to encourage my lungs
To relax, to work efficiently, to help my heart.
Before long I was running, listening to my easing breath,
A steady pace allowing an inner smile.

Because I don’t really smile on the outside,
But that’s not the point, I was really happy on this path,
The dirt slick from rain and humidity, the trail narrow,
Single track, made more slender by summer’s vegetation.

Light streamed through the trees,
But there wasn’t a hint of a breeze, and
After one lap, I committed to another,
This time turning right at the fallen tree, a different way.

Which was awesome, a new look, a random connection
Taking me on a novel journey through the woods,
Over the slick trail, while the heavy air
Gradually became nothing but an afterthought.

The third lap followed the original route,
Familiarity was coming quickly, that root, that rock,
Each a marker to remember and an alert
That I must not forget about this special place.

After most of an hour, I exited the woods after being alone,
A place I was all too prepared to be as I dried off,
But a guy named Dave came over
Fully intent on having a conversation.

He was restoring the old mill house, along with Jeff and Mike.
The house had been slated for a controlled burn
So the fire company could get some experience,
But conservancy won out and now Dave had some work.

He talked about blending old construction techniques
With modern appearances for his contemporary jobs.
I shared that I used live in colonial homes that were built
Back when his techniques would have been modern.

He was the first stranger conversation I’d had in a long time,
Maybe since March, nearly four months ago.
He went back to work, I squeezed the sweat from my shirt,
Pulled my Mr. Rogers move again, and drove home.

Smiling.

It was just a moment,
A little bit of honesty
In a day filled with hypocrisy.

One where the innocence of youth
Pierced the hardened heart of experience
To bring laughter, the crying kind, out.

Thirty kids, sort of playing in gym,
One, an outcast, simply because he’s different,
A gamer, socially awkward, frustrated by everything

He put himself in the worst spot…again…
As goalie during a team handball game.
We prepared for an angry outburst, surely it would come.

It always had before.
He would yell like the other kids were game consoles,
Like the action was a video game,

But this time the shot came hard,
A big yellow sponge ball taking aim at an empty goal,
Only to be denied at the last second by the gamer kid.

He punched the ball to the side,
Assumed the ready position for a rebound shot
Which never came as the ball moved to the other end.

“What a play!” I said to my colleague
Who looked up just in time to see a Platoon Rhah-like
Chest pounding moment of masculine joy.

My guy doesn’t experience much success,
He fights the world because his world is so different
Today, though, he showed the kids he was one of them,

Playing a sport,
Making the team better,
And happy to brag of his success.

We continued to watch him
As he fake skated back and forth across the goal
In a tribute to the greatest hockey goalies.

He visualized pucks coming at him from all angles,
There were imaginary kick saves,
He was adept at using the blocker and the glove.

He was on fire,
Lit, en fuego, and for once
He seemed happy.

And we laughed,
Sharing in his moment of success from a distance,
So appreciative of his moment that we cried laughing tears.

He needed the save,
We benefited from his save,
It was great.

So many songs,
Filling the air around my brain
With musical memories
Serving to sooth the anxieties of the day.

Not that there are any,
Only the ones I conjures
In the silence of detrimental thoughts,
The absence of easy going.

It’s the music,
The patter of running feet,
The sounds of leaves falling,
The guffaws around a coffee meeting table.

They all play well on the nerves,
Keeping the darkness at bay,
Letting notes massage an attitude
To keep the day light.

Where have they gone,
The happy ones?

Where have they gone,
The appreciative ones?

Where have they gone,
Those who don’t complain about others.

Those who are cool
With people being who they are,
With people doing their thing,

The ones who don’t pass judgment,
Who don’t mock,
Who don’t put their shit on others.

Where have those people gone,
Because I’m looking for them.

Where have those people gone,
I hope they are still out there.

Where have they gone,
I want to be one.

“Remember to play after every storm.” Mattie Stepanek

“There’s redemption in this chair,” I said
After inhaling a syrup-less Monte Cristo,
Tots, several cups of coffee, and an overly tall beer.

Saturday started with a wet nose to my face
Because my dog does not know how to sleep in,
So I went Mel Robbins and counted, “5-4-3-2-1,”
Rose from the pallet, and pulled my physically rested body
From the mental heap that flattened pillows absorbed.

The way to the chair proved to be inspirational
When I heard a movie clip on the radio
That might have come from Easy Rider and said something like,
“If is the middle of life,”
Which left me talking to the steering wheel and Siri
As I attempted to capture an idea for a writing project.

After picking up my non-dog owning son,
Which meant he had sleep past the time of
Our agreed upon arrival,
We headed to a diner for the awesome,
Dare I say, “ecstatic,” inducing brunch?

Too full to drive, we waddled around the mall,
It’s design conjuring visions of a wheel
With its open center area and shopping halls leading like spokes.
We talked of over-consumption and the idea
That malls are relics of waste and greed
All the while laughing at the zombies wandering around
Without a smile on their faces.
Then a Trump guy sat down and we changed our conversation
To the impotency of the current administration
With respect to morals and a broad interpretation of the Constitution
When my son said,
“Anybody who says Kaepernick is not American is un-American.”
I added, “Yeah, I wonder how far up the President’s butt Jerry Jones is.”
That’s when the guy with the boots, jeans, tucked in Polo from 8th grade, and
The mesh baseball cap with an American flag sewn on it got up and left.
He forgot to take the snicker he threw our way along with his baited anger.

We sat there for a moment, taking in the patriotic machismo and
I said, “I was totally f#@&ing with that guy.”
My son, being me said, “Me, too.”
We laughed and headed to Friday’s for a beer.
The consumption was not to be enjoyable,
Both of us were still too full,
So the trip was extended in BAM, Books-a-Million.

My thoughts on gifting books are shallow,
I don’t really do it, too risky,
Today, though, I felt like it was in the cards, so
I bought a copy of Christopher Moore’s, Lamb,
A humorous and possibly plausible explanation of what happened
To the childhood of Jesus Christ.
My gift of spiritual on the edge of blasphemous sarcasm was a knee-jerk reaction
Bordering on fatherly advice for a conversation about life with my son
In the same restaurant where we used to share occasional Tuesdays and Thursdays
Under quite different and less reflective times, far more angry back then…

Then, he and I talked of middle school and the stresses of blended families,
Now we talked about the ramifications of a friend’s offering and the importance
Of friendships where the forbidden fruit is concerned.
We shared thoughts of the compression of time, the interference of technology
In the truest parts of our human existence, and then we shared stories
Telling of the mundane parts of our lives that somehow brought

Joy

To who we are.

The funny thing, if you like the kind of gallows humor that makes my meter move
Beyond a poker face to a beaming smile, sometimes called a smirk,
Is that this was the best conversation I had been a part of in weeks.
It covered the cosmos, ranging between metaphysics,
Existentialism, and horniness.
I was in heaven enjoying every minute of my time today,
Serious, sarcastic, and ensconced in “If,” that middle part of life.

When I sat in the red roadside rescue chair, the one I swore to never sit in,
I got the same feeling I have when I pick up the copper ball on my desk,
Or when I touch the weeping Buddha that is next to it,
Or when I pick up the crucifix or St. Christopher’s medal that rests there as well.

“Or,” it’s the middle of “word,”
That must mean something because Dennis Hopper planted a seed,
Now I’m thinking differently or maybe I’m not.
I just said, “Word,” like an old guy trying to be cool.”

With joy, really, because the ideas bring solace to the ifs that I live
Where I don’t know what the heck I’m doing,
Even at this age, unsure of what it means to be me,
Unable to accept that an aura can be hard to shake.
Not sure how to be what others need,
And positively sure that don’t like the way I am.

So there I was, feeling the constriction of anxiety being pulled from my body,
Wondering if this chair had a power to suck whatever it was in my constitution
That need to be pulled out and
I began to feel the energy of the room, noticing the old school construction,
Solid doors, antique door handles, and simple 1×4 trim.
The rustic architecture was accented by cheap college kid carpet,
Old attempts at cubist painting, and pages of books taped to pitched walls.
Simple, inviting, comfortable…
The chair, the room, my son.

No judgment, peaceful. No authority, equals.

Maybe we harbor the same confusion of “what,”
“Ha” is in the middle there (funny…),
And the absolute respect for the messed up works that drive each of us.

Love.

The time came to leave and while driving, I got lost in the Grateful Dead,
So happy to have them in my life,
Something my son gave to me.

Getting home brought the pressure of trying to explain
How these insignificant moments make me so happy,
Even though my face and body language fail to convey the beauty I felt today
In grubbing, nerding out, talking about the creative process,
Exploring the unknown, hypothesizing about the meaning of things,
And then just sitting in a chair and going Puddy while staring at a room
Full of positive energy, one bereft of expectations, emotions, and egos.

To find out how great this day was,
To be able to share exactly what it was that made me warm,
Happened because of as my son said, “I’ve got to capitalize on this anger.”
He was talking about writing songs.
He meant finding the stuff that troubles him and putting notes to it.
He is not out there ready to destroy the world.

I knew what he meant,
The confusion raking at my soul
Makes me angry, mostly at myself,
For allowing the lightlessness to reside.

In the middle of a documentary about the making of The Dark Side of the Moon,
I realized it was go-time,
Time to “capitalize on the anger,” by writing.
With Spotify tuned to Pink Floyd’s, Time, the repeat button activated
And nearly an hour later…

Here I am
Happily banging on the keys of my computer
With a desperation that is less the English way and more a me ranting monologue,
But it feels so good.
I’m home, tired, fired up, and using it to move myself along.

Alas, though, anger is fleeting,
Creativity is fickle, and proofreading is a killer.
A quick change of songs,
Her voice, her soulfulness, her utter release of pain,
The acceptance of loss, or some orgasmic moan for a lucky dude,
Has taken the last of my Saturday along with the full moon and winter winds.

I liked today.

An IT-band can be an awful running mate. The fibrous tissue runs from the hip down the side of the leg to the knee. It’s the gathering place for muscles in the front and back of the thigh. I bet the IT-band thinks of itself as community builder with all of those muscles coming together under its protection. Today I think it is a scam or trap for it has brought a pain to my knee that has stopped me in the middle of a trail about six or seven miles from my car. To go forward on the loop would allow me to finish the miles I needed for my training, but the distance back to the car was shorter if I simply turned around.

How had it come to this?

People run for many reasons, vanity, health, competition. I was running for vanity. My son commented that I looked like a whale and I believed it was true. Sure it hurt, but honesty is best, right? Running was cheap, I could do it at night by myself, and it was an old demon I thought I might exorcise. High school cross country had put a mark on me that I never really ever got over. I started running minutes, then miles, and one day on the White Clay Creek trails in Pennsylvania I had the bright idea to run a marathon. My health was good, the whale was back at see, and after a couple of marathons the competition virus took over.

I set goals. I followed crazy running programs. I went faster, harder, and farther than I thought possible. Things at home had become bad, so I also ran angry. My running face was more of scowl than expression of effort. I had become sick of the nagging, tired of the union, and afraid to move on. To compensate I ran more, raced more, and generally scheduled my runs so I would be away from the one who caused me such pain.

There were morning runs in the dark before work. Runs in the dark of night. Long runs on weekends at far away trails. Distance charts and heart rate graphs became my support system. A shoe rotation system became my higher order thinking. Running was about all I had. My barber used to laugh at me and say that I was too big to run marathons. Soon my body would agree and on a visit to my parents’ house I decided to hit the trails for an extra thirteen just because I loved running in York River State Park.

My legs were beginning to feel the wear and tear of all the running. My hips were tight, my hamstrings were short and there was a knot in my calf that I just accepted as normal. Despite all of the aches, I laced up my trail shoes and shouldered my Camelback and took those first few ginger steps towards something I have a hard time explaining. I don’t think I conjured this up, but who knows.

A normal run started as a struggle until the blood and breath found a balance that let the parts move freely. The first few miles of a long run are about the mind finding a peaceful message and then thinking only of that. Sometimes I counted. Other times, I concentrated on the sound of my breathing. On this day, my mind raced from argument to argument. The energy of it all becoming an obstacle that I could not avoid. To quiet my thoughts, I picked up the pace exerting an energy my IT-band would not ignore. I brushed off the first shooting pains and then there was one step that might be the closest I will ever come to being hit by a musket ball. My knee locked and I hobbled to a stop. After resting and stretching, I tried a few more steps, but the pain was too great. Even walking was too much. All I could do was wait the pain out and then get back on the trail.

“Hey, Chris, what’s going on?”

There is no way that after six miles on a cool and cloudy day that I should be hallucinating, but I had to be. Standing in front of me and dressed for a run was my grandfather, Big Daddy. I knew this could not be true because he had been dead for two years and before that suffered with cancer and lung issues that made him more sloth than trail runner. Besides those obvious maladies, my grandfather would never have worn shorts or a headband.

“Why’d you quit running? You were fast today,” he said.

“It’s my leg. I have a kind of tendinitis,” I said.

He nodded his head like he always did. His eyes were penetrating, but my grandfather was a man of few words. I’m not sure I ever had a conversation with him. He would ask a question and get an answer and that was it. The same worked in reverse, no extra words. He would take me on jobs and errands with him and all that either of us heard was the wind coming in the windows. He always had his hand resting on side mirror and I started doing the same just because it seemed like that was what I was supposed to do.

“You know, I ran ten miles to get to a football game once,” he said.

“I heard that story at your funeral. Why didn’t you just ride the bus?”

“My father made me work all day and I missed the bus. He was a tough man. Anyway, I just had to run. Come on, let’s go.” He held his hand out and helped me up.

Standing was tough. My muscles had cooled and the IT-band was tighter than ever. There was no way I was going to be able to run. Big Daddy had other plans.

“You’ve already been there,” he said pointing back down the trail, “let’s go somewhere new.” He started running down the trail with the bullish gate I would have expected from an old, dead man. I still had a hard time believing he was there, but I followed dragging my pain along with each excruciating step.
“Yep, my father was a tough man. He was until I put him in his proper place.”

I knew very little about my great grandfather. He seemed to have been a rough man who got what he wanted with force and very little sympathy for the feelings of others.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I let my father go. I made a life without him,” he said.

“And what did that do for you?”

“It made me happy.”

On the word “happy” my grandfather began skipping. He was smiling and light in the air. His movement was infectious and I found myself skipping too. Each step-hop took me further down the path with a physical ease and an uncluttered mind. There was a joy the skipping that had been absent from the hundreds of miles that I had run over the last few years.

I lost track of time. It was like we were riding in his tar splotched Dodge listening to the wind whistle through the cab with one arm out the window. Before long, he made a turn and we were heading into the parking lot.

We stopped skipping and he turned to me and said, “Life’s too short. Run away.”

Then he was gone.

I quit running for many years. I never stopped skipping though. His advice was solid and my new life has brought the kind of joy I felt that day on the trail. Recently, the vanity returned and I’ve been running again. This time, though, there is no reason for for aches, pains, struggles, or angry faces. I may as well be skipping because life is happy and if running is not in it for the day, I’ll row.

Thanks, Big Dad.

There’s a treadmill commercial on tv.
Those people did it.
They got to their better place
At just thirty minutes a day.

Be happy for them.

I just hit a few peanut M&Ms and a Pop Tart for breakfast.
Sure I’ll get on the bike later and
I’ll throw some weights around,

And I’ll be happy doing so…at about twenty minutes…

No commercial for me.