Strange Jeff Fact: I call a military cadence to myself as I run.
Stranger Jeff Fact: I misunderstood it until a few days ago.
There’s been some construction in our building’s basement, between the apartments getting new custom windows and a haphazardly constructed plumbing-related monstrosity. (again, C.I.L.L)
The de-cluttering and re-cluttering of the laundry room revealed a door to a room I’d always assumed was empty, save for one large metallic shelving unit containing Cat Lady Stuff. But I went in!
And I turned out to be completely wrong. There was indeed a mostly empty room, and there was indeed a single metallic shelving unit, and said shelving unit was indeed full. But the stuff on the shelf wasn’t Cat Lady’s. It was MINE. MY stuff. JEFF stuff.
And not even 2005-Jeff stuff, the boxes that I trudged over when I moved into this building from the building immediately behind it, a building that was once called the Marburg Hotel. I lived in the ground floor unit on the left, and Good God I miss dinners on that deck.
But the cache consisted of several boxes that fiancé rather callously heaped into my non-operational Ford Tempo as it languished on Ludlow Avenue obtaining parking ticket after parking ticket. Yes, THAT ford tempo. (the day I saw this on Best-of is STILL the greatest day of my life.)- so Time Capsule Shelf yielded stuff that was often MUCH MUCH older.
Long Lost Diploma, College Papers, Mom’s OCD recording of every episode of Deep Space Nine, Pic of me with Dinosaur Feet, Pics from Leslie’s Wedding, and about seven books I forgot I owned.
One of those books is Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, which I
borrowed shoplifted in about 1991, while an overweight and clinically depressed Junior at Michigan State. I a took one-credit general conditioning class that may have saved my life, because it turned the mere idea of running into a lifelong savior, one who is still there for me every time I beg my body for one last chance. I still think about those solitary jogs down the pathway of the Red Cedar river past the Beal Gardens in the evening. It’s still why the smell of Lilac makes me cry.
Imagine how those first jogs felt to me, and the little bargains I made within my brain as I huffed and puffed along:
Okay Jeff. You’re going to go from Mary Mayo to Wells Hall today. (huff) Your lungs are going to feel like they’re going to collapse, but you’ll make it. And then tomorrow you’re going to go about ten steps further. Notice the changes already? Notice that you’re taking deeper breaths? (heave) Notice that you’re sleeping just a tad bit better? Tomorrow the Library to the Dungeons and Dragons Guy manhole. You’re sleeping better and you’re stretching better and now you’ve got RUNNERS HIGH. It clears your head out, doesn’t it? Your body is going to make those endorphins even though your heart-rate as slow and its boy without needles and nearly that addictive and you still get to eat six baked potatoes a day if you want and you’ll think about Robin (ffffwww) and her VU tape and how Chicago is cursed because of that day in Hyde Park. You can concentrate and listen and remember things and in planning your runs out you’ve already made a decision to stay alive because you have pre-supposed the existence of a tomorrow, and you can make a mixtape and plug it into your Walkman and it’s just… going to be…okayyyyyyyyyy.
Then the cadence started.
One lesson I learned is that your body will need a day off now and then, and that it’s a good idea to do a significantly more DIFFICULT run once a week or so. This run needs to be a little harder and a little faster and more aggressive, which makes it sound like I’m writing a Tinder profile here, but it’s really just a more intense run.
Yates wrote a short story about a gang of cynical army conscripts in boot camp, driven by a fierce loyalty to their hard-ass drill instructor, a character Anthony Quinn would later refer to as “an unlovable martinet.” One of their last days in camp, Sergeant Reece led them in a chant that stuck with them as the streeet-smart New Yorkers went off to kill fascists.
“Oh you had a good job and you left…” RIGHT
“Oh you had a good girl and you left…” RIGHT
“Jody rolled the bones when you left…” RIGHT
“And there aint no use in goin’ home… Jody’s got your gal and gone.”
“And every time that you retreat… Jody gets a piece of meat.”
Yates’ story is one of my favorites, and it’s obviously worth reading. When I worked at the Brighton Center, one of my colleagues, briefly, was a writing student of his in Tuscaloosa. We talked about the central message of the story, that, when you’re good at something, that’s your starting point and the thing you lead with. Being skilled, in and of itself, is inspiring as fuck. I joke a lot about certain movies simply being “Competence Porn,” but how many movies endear us so much because the main character is just… GOOD at something. I’ve linked to my favorite but you have yours. I’m looking at your entire career, Matt Damon.
But. Somehow, I remember Jody being the girlfriend. Maybe because the J in JC was Jody. Who knows? I still call the cadence, and it still works because it makes me run harder so that the pace makes sense.
So, again, I’m sitting here at a time when I feel struck by this paradox: that everything is going so well and yet absolutely nothing is working. My depression is gone, possibly forever, but I’m now so riddled with anxiety that I have roughly 30 backup keys placed strategically around town. I’ve lost over 100 pounds now and still agonize over every bite of food I eat. Mix CDs don’t sound the same, and I still have… wait for it… overdue parking tickets.
You know the proverb, “I loved the earth but I could not stay?” As much as I’m home here, I need to re-center my life around what I love, and where most of my love is. I just hired a piano teacher. Out West. Eleven months. Sign up for the garage sale.