Tramps Like Us

I haven't been good about running lately. I could slog through my usual litany of excuses (that mammoth evaluation project for education nonprofit which I cannot seem to wrap up, dental visits, lots of company, outrageous contract debacle with book publisher, Thanksgiving events) or just say that I haven't been good about running lately. Or apparently I can have it both ways by including the litany as a parenthetical and pretending to sidestep it. Maybe a New Rule should be that instead of ever mentioning how busy I am, I should take that time -- even if it's just that one second -- to do something constructive. It could just be sharpening a pencil even. Or here's a better one -- squeezing the toothpaste up from the bottom of the tube so it's collected at the top. I burst out laughing every time I see the misshapen tubes in everyone's bathroom (including my own) that show the desperate, panicky, I-can't-even-stop-long-enough-to-squeeze-properly habit so many of us have. 

A few years back my parents, upon realizing that they were always late no matter what and inevitably had a reason ranging from the neighbor's cat to a leak in the basement, finally told my sister (who is oddly always on time) they were running late for two reasons--Mary and Ed.

It really is so empowering to take responsibility for things. I haven't run much lately because I haven't chosen to make time for it. But I did at the gym today run 6 ten-minute miles, which anyone whose read my previous posts knows is a feat for me. (Afterward Alex, who watched the last mile, said "10-minute miles? But you were going so slowly." "That is slow," I told him. "That's jogging." I'm somehow still at the point where it feels like a great clip. Maybe someday it will feel like what it is.) These milestones I reach sometimes are a mirage: I'm not really at that point in my training, it's just that I can do it on a good day, when I'm not hungover, don't have a headache, slept reasonably** well, running inside on a flat surface.

I love how the mind starts getting clearer after about a half hour. Is that when endorphins kick in, or does that happen later, after you stop? Anyway that's when I stop counting every lap, stop feeling overwhelmed. In the beginning, when I'm just starting to slog along, every single task I have to do that days seems daunting. And the great turn-around (even though I doubt it almost every time) is that at the end very little seems daunting at all. 

Now it's much later in the day. We're done with dinner. Alex is on the porch with his friend Pete and I'm in the livingroom. I’m tired. A good tired. One that feels earned, not punishing, not like the kind that comes from playing musical beds all night or from keeping a toddler hell-bent on getting hurt from getting hurt in a city where it’s so easy to. New York feels particularly like desolation row in the middle of the night. When Wally is crying then, sometimes I think: Where could I take him if I wanted to get out of here, away from neighbors, away from sirens and trucks barreling down the avenue? The apartment feels like a total trap in the middle of the night. Like there's absolutely no way out of things at all. Then the first sign of daylight, and it’s back to the center of things.

The pen I am writing with (I’ll later type this in, but wanted to be alone in the livingroom) is from The Norwich Inn across the river from Hanover. I stayed at that Inn right in the middle of so many changes: after Wally was born, but before Grandma Miriam died, after my parents started talking about moving, but before they left the house where we grew up, after I returned to work, but only a year before I got laid off, six months after we sold the cottage, before we had new holiday traditions, back when we still had Sky, but knew our days together were numbered, that there was some horrible, protracted, mysteriously slow countdown going on in the background.

In the background now there are voices from this Elmo workbench Wally inherited from my nieces. It's just going off randomly. “Let’s get to work!” Phantom cheerful monsters in the candlelit room. “Let’s build something!” They’re motivating statements, I suppose. A good way to begin the day, but I am just about ready to end this one, fighting sleep. Solitude more important than sleeping enough sometimes. You know when you’re too lazy to accomplish even the simplest task? Right now I am putting off getting up to turn off that chirping Elmo toy. It's annoying me to no end, but not enough to motivate me to get up, walk 10 feet, and turn it off. Perhaps I need a new definition for "to no end".

Wally’s been enjoying the Hanukah candles but keeps trying to blow them out. We forgot to bring the wooden train and matching game my parents had for him, so he hasn’t associated the candles with gifts, which I'm kind of happy about. Last week after Thanksgiving my brother-in-law’s mom Ellen gave him a monster car and one of those pet mice that make a lot of noise and zoom around the floor. What are they called? Zoomie Pets? What Wally calls Ellen is the same name my nieces call her, Jewish for grandmother. She wrote a really nice reply to my thank-you note saying, “You can never have too many kids calling you Bubbie.” 

When the candles burn down to the end and finally go out Wally says hopefully, “Do again tomorrow?” Kinda cool that we can say "Yes" to that, at least for a week. Many things are, “Maybe. I'm not sure,” which is probably a little vague for a 2-year-old, but presumably understood as it’s met with a sudden full-body drop to the floor and a giant wail. Those are his tantrums these days; they’re lightning quick and no trouble at all. Onlookers assure us that “Terrible Twos” is a misnomer and it’s actually “Terrible Threes” so we should get ready. There’s probably some good comeback to that, but it would require knowing the age of the onlooker.

(Now it's the next day, I'm typing this in.)

Alex has a show tonight at the Mercury Lounge. Can't believe I'll be out and about on the town again. It's hard to even picture. Like it's hard to picture that I'm moving so slowly during those 10-minute-miles even though I know I am. Yet I'd take it as a compliment these days if someone watched me with Wally and said I looked like I was going slowly. That's a goal now. He won't be two again. Those terrible perfect (amazing song -- look it up) twos will be gone soon.

Wally has this way of saying something's gone, a train or a person or the moon. "Gone now" he says, but in the most wistful way imaginable, melancholy, but resigned, very Irish. It reminds me of something an old Irish guy said to me and my then-boyfriend inside this lovely, cozy Dingle Bay pub years ago. There was a giant storm outside. Lots of people were dancing. Others were gathered around looking on, some even reading. Given that there were like 500 people in that town and 50 pubs, we were surprised to find such a crowd. We had traveled down from Galway that afternoon.

"Arre ya stayin' hare fer a while?" the old Irish guy standing next to us asked. We told him just for the night. He turned his head to look out the window to the rain pounding down. "Away in tha mornin'," he said, about us rather than to us. Away in the morning. It was melancholy, but resigned. Surely the idea of someone heading out at daybreak must have some collective cultural reverberation for the Irish that we can't imagine in a country where immigrants have always flooded in, not the other way around. But "Away in the morning" is hopeful too. The feeling of a road trip. Of travelin' on. I remember before I moved to New York I felt like I was setting out for a road trip, that living here, even if I stayed in one place, would be like being on the road. The band always felt like that too, never knowing where you'd end up eating, or what time you'd go to sleep, or who you'd meet, or what might happen. But there you have that circling, crazy energy. So much to see in the span of a quarter of a mile. The events of a New York minute exceeding those of a New Hampshire season. In some ways. Maybe mostly outward ways. It makes it all the harder--and more important--to stay quiet on the inside. More of a struggle. Maybe some people--even if they don't look like it, certainly not on the track or the treadmill--are just born to run.

**Based on revised, mom-lifestyle definition of "reasonably" 


  1. Zhu Zhu pets!

    So you're HAPPY he doesn't associate candles with presents?!?! I love presents! I think all candles everywhere should mean presents, and so should everything else! haha

  2. Yes! Zhu Zhu pets. That's it. I like that he enjoys the candles themselves so much. Wonder how long we can make that last. I think he'll miss them tonight; we'll see if he pulls his usual melancholy "gone now" tonight. Don't get me wrong I do love presents, and it's not like he won't be spoiled with gifts from grandparents, Dara, aunts/uncles (with Christmas still coming and birthday soon). Alex and I never get each other anything. Some people find that offensive (grounds for divorce or it's partner-equivalent). Ha!

  3. Last year I bought myself 8 presents and wrapped them. I got just what I wanted! hee hee. This year I told Josh to have the kids pick. So I got a lot of things that the kids like, like a giant popcorn maker.

    We do the shabbos candles every Friday - sounds like Wally would like that too :)

  4. Giant popcorn maker sounds great! Funny Alex and I were just laughing over different popcorn-making styles. He makes in a saucepan on the stove. We always had either the hot air popper or Jiffy Pop for a special occasion (babysitter). I actually never heard of simply making it on the stove. Great idea re: shabbos candles. So what are your Christmas games this year?

  5. There are so many lovely scenes in this sharing...
    May Wally always be drawn to the light. May you find the quiet center available in the middle of the blaring world. May every word your neighbor francais hears be muffled by a wall of respect for the mystery each person and family represents.
    The narrative is very you run for for the light, sit still in the light,seek to be free in your night time apartment- and to write in the light.

  6. Thank you Jeanette --that's so lovely. And a new way to find and seek the light that I want to try at least once a week -- not to use any at all for a day (or night). We'd probably all get so much more sleep if nothing else.


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