daily preciousness

Friday, February 23, 2001

jogging in spring

Someone asked me the other day why I like to jog. It was difficult to put into words why I do it. So I sat down over zucchini bread and an au lait to explain my addiction. Let me share a few of the sensations of the experience.

My white sneakered feet hammer away at the rippled pavement below me. I am skimming above the ground in an unintentional imitation of a beautiful brown pelican. The bird is just a few inches above the water, deftly dodging the cypress knees that seem to bob near the shore of the University Lake.

It's my thrice-weekly day of jogging. It's like a religious act for me. Once again, I sacrifice an hour, some perspiration and a few thousand calories for the chance to achieve a few moments of endorphin-fed bliss.

And, I beg the gods of physiology for their continued favor. I race along a footpath, lined every 30 feet with antique lamps. The shore of the lake is thick with elephant ear sized lily pads. There are crickets and frogs croaking. Once in a while, I'll see a yellow-toothed nutria (a Louisiana swamp rat) or a turtle sunning itself.

I pass by overweight single women, walking in polyester tandem. To me, they look like secretaries. (There names are probably Kathy with a "K" and Cathy with a "C.") The women laugh a lot and are likely gossiping about real and imagined office scandals too racy for water cooler communication.

Another regular cast member during my jog is the man who's had a breathing hole put in his throat. I've nicknamed him squeaky, because you can hear the piercing whistle of his throat hole from a distance of about 20 yards (even above my operatic earphone music!). It sounds like sonar pings performed on a piccolo.

Then, there are the ubiquitous soccer moms. In packs of three or four, they take up half the road. They are pushing their infants in modern three-wheeled prams. These vehicles come loaded with moon roofs, racing stripes, shocks and, of course, padded grips for Mom's delicate hands. I imagine them discussing lemon icebox pie recipes and one-upping each other with baby stories. "My Alexander just changed channels the other day when he sat on the remote control. Harold and I were watching Bravo and Lexy switched it to the Independent Film Channel -- we think he'll grow up to be the next Bertolucci!"

But I can't hear a word that they're saying. They pass by me with their designer sunshades. They are a blur of forest greens and dark purples. I keep my eyes on the ground 5-10 feet ahead of me. I am in a world geography composed of my own breathing, surrounded by sounds of my body.

There is the thunder-in-the-distance sound of my footfalls They vary from 100-120 beats per minute. They form tiny storms, smashing against the road below.

My breathing is a hissing of air through nostrils, a whisper of spent vapor blowing out of my mouth. I exhale, my lips shaped like an umlaut, puffing out carbon dioxide. These are the steadily shifting gusts of the jogging Jeffreyverse.

Little streams of perspiration form on my brow, salty and stinging my eyes. If I'm forgetful enough to put gel in my hair the morning of a run, I get a sticky , gelly, messy forehead, too. (Even my little world has its pollution problems, I suppose.)

There are also seismic events. From time to time, I can hear the popping of knees or wrists. Thankfully, they're not that common. These are distracting and annoying -- reminders of the mortality of my inner world.

Above the background sounds of my body, I listen to a selection of pieces by Paul Schwartz. His music is a marriage of the classical and the electronic. When I can spare the extra breath, I hum to his "Ave Maria."

Ave Maria

It's melodic enough to distract me from exhaustion yet rhythmic enough to increase my energy level.

And there are moments of ecstasy in his music... moments of brilliance when the simple regularity of my pace combine with the blood red of the sunset reflecting in moving tesselations on the surface of the water. It is during these moments of clarity where the natural beauty and the lovely music make it all worthwhile.

My aesthetic sense can't help but appreciate watching cherry blossoms bursting into bright red mushrooms of color. As I jog past these springtime wonders, I crane my neck like a child on a train, passing by the blinking lights of a crossing. But my joy is more unencumbered. I simply appreciate the surroundings as I bound by, through and around them. It's inspiring to be exhausted and yet full of wonder by such simple joys.

The blissful simplicity of my exhaustion reminds me of the lyrics of one of Schwartz's recent pieces. It's a reworking of an old Shaker hymn:

"When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend and we shan't be ashamed.

To turn, to turn will be a delight,

'Til by turning, turning,

We come 'round right."

The song is a motivation to rid oneself of all externals, to focus on the utter perfection of the present moment. The ultimate reward for this Buddhist-like bliss is, of course, only fully realized "when we find ourselves in the place 'just right...' 'twill be in the valley of love and light."

On one level, I am astounded by this philosophy being promoted by such a religion. It's all very Buddhist-sounding to me. But the Shaker spirit is appropriate for jogging. I mean, these are the people who would gather to celebrate God with such fervor that their bodies would actually go into fits of shaking during their ceremonies. As a former raver, I have to respect that kind of spirit.

Recently, I've stopped jogging 1/3 the way around the lake and then circling back. I have started jogging the entire 4-mile loop. It winds gracefully around the lakefront. I have wonderful views of the state capitol building and the Mississippi River bridge at sunset. And the fraternity brothers toss their footballs over my head when I pass by their house. The Sigma Nu house is always engaged in a testosterone fest -- balls flying every which a way.

Towards the end of my run, I come across the maids as they leave the grand mansion-like homes of the sorority girls. The little coffee-colored maids walk to the old Cadillacs and wipe off their hands dismissively.

Soon, I'm back to my car. My hands are inevitably weak from the run, so steering requires more effort and care than usual. (Fine motor control, no pun intended, is virtually impossible for me, after an hour of jogging.)

All in all, it's a pleasure to go on these springtime jogs around the lake. The little muscle pains the day after and the sweat-stained socks are a small price to pay for the overall well-being and sense of accomplishment I get from a run. And the moments of transcendence that I achieve during a particularly good run are worth all the trouble.

Saturday, February 17, 2001

the perfect time of day

It's nearly the perfect time of day. And I'm perfectly silent, except for my heart, which is drumming like a timpani.

I'm under the overturned plastic wading pool in the back yard. Corki was sniffing around the cedar chips nearby. His big pink doghouse was too obvious a hiding place -- but under the pool -- Wick would never find me here.

Pulling the edge of the pool closer to the ground, I notice the sidewalk chalk still on my hands. The gritty red powder colors my fingertips. I fan out my hand for a second, admiring my glamorous nails, also pink from the chalk.

I check my Snoopy watch. Woodstock's only made 3 revolutions since Wick ended his countdown. We're at the three-minute mark. Hide and seek is a game of strategy and hiding ability. I have plenty of both.

There's a rustling of leaves just around the corner -- I hear him getting closer.

He's making a lot of noise while he's searching for me. Definitely, a good baby-sitter -- he plays hide 'n' seek beautifully, making sure Christian and I are having a good time.

Without a doubt, the best part of the game is being found. He would grab me under my arms and lift me up into the air, until I was looking him eye-to-eye. Perfect green eyes would smile at me and I'd grab his dirty blond hair, threatening to pull it out. I would breathe in the scent of him. It made me dizzy; at age 8, even Old Spice is exotic.

But I have a few more minutes of anticipatory delight -- he hadn't located me yet.

Where is Christian? He wasn't as good at hiding as I was. But he is three years younger and not as wise in the ways of the world as his big brother.... Where is he? I can't see very well from under the pool. All I can see is a sliver of the setting sun, sparkling through red and yellow maple leaves. The bough above creaks a little in the breeze.

The scent of cedar chips and musty dog near the ground nearly triggers a sneeze. I wipe my nose for a second before I notice the powdery sensation of chalk dust on my face.

Where is he? Is he in the bosom of the maple tree? Is he in the moldy orange treehouse? Is he crouched down behind the stick pile, watching the lizards slither and scramble around? I lift up the pool carefully, just a little, peering towards the treehouse. I still can't see him.

Corki must have heard me. Or smelled me. Or he just wants to bother me. He runs over, ears perked up and alert. He came over and licked my face. "Sshh!" I whisper at him. But the sound is lost in the rustling of dried leaves underfoot. It was Wick. He is right up on me!

"Where is that boy?" he yells playfully, as if he couldn't hear me whispering to the dog. I'm so excited that my stomach fills with helium, like a party balloon. In a few seconds, he's going to rescue me from my lonely, quiet hiding place.

He doesn't disappoint. "Don't look under here; it's just Corki," I growl in my best small dog impersonation. My voice is shrill and sounds louder under the dome of blue plastic.

Ever so slowly, he lifts up the pool. The light around me shifts from aquamarine blue to the gold of sunset. It's the perfect time of day: the golden hour. I can feel the breeze through the holes in my gym shorts.

I see Wick's Kangaroos tennis shoes first, then his threadbare blue jeans. The hole at his knee reveals white skin and a few short strands of curly hair. Next, I see his Dukes of Hazard belt buckle.

He laughs and reaches to pick me up. But stops short. He kneels down and ruffles his brow.

"What's this?" He peers at me and spreads the slender, graceful fingers of his right hand over my left ear. He smiles and the lines around his eyes wrinkle beautifully.

I'm laughing. I hold his head the same way he is holding mine. With his thumb, he wipes the chalk from my nose. He's so gentle that his thumb feels like a butterfly's wing brushing me. I catch my breath from laughing and I pull him toward me. Our foreheads touch and rub against each other in an abbreviated eskimo kiss.

Inside me, I feel a rush of warmth. If feelings can be assigned specific colors, I know which one I am.... I feel more golden than the sunlight streaming down upon us.

Catching a movement out of the canopy of fall leaves above, I pull away from Wick. I see Christian in the tree above us. He's looking down and smiling. His Superman T-shirt barely visible, he's back lit by the setting sun.

Wick sees where I'm looking.

"There's the other one!" he shouts up at Christian. Game over. "Get down from up there, Monkeyboy!"

He shimmies down the rope to the tire swing.

I give Corki a demonstrative kiss and grab a quick drink from the hose, washing the chalk from my face. The water's warm and metallic. I put a little water into Corki's dish. The water beads up in the dust. The droplets, first splattered apart, roll together, forming little puddles.

The sun has set and it's getting colder. We go inside for frozen dinners and cokes, the traditional baby-sitter supper, leaving Corki as he sniffs the cement blocks under the pool.

I close the gate behind me as quickly as I can, careful to keep Corki fenced in. The gate clangs shut and the "beware of dog" sign clothespinned to the fence glimmers a little in a beam of light. It was the perfect time of day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

walking with Andre

I was walking to work when I noticed a strange-looking man get out of a white Volvo at the crosswalk.

He had dark round spectacles and a tan overcoat. Immediately, I knew it was Andre Codrescue, poet laureate of the university and one of my favorite writers.

We had a nice chat about the dadaist game "exquisite corpse," from which the name of his blog is derived.

The game is actually called "le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau," or "the exquisite corpse drinks the young wine" and is named after the trial run of the game.

I told him about how I had heard his wonderful stories and commentaries on National Public Radio a dozen times before I went to his site. Then, only a week later, I happened to be at the Art Institute of Chicago where I saw some examples of the game by Max Ernst.

After that, I tried it myself with my family at our Thanksgiving gathering. The results were so hilarious that I had to post them to my diary. Great stuff. He told me that he adored the creative possibilities of playing the game with his fellow writers at parties. He said that it seemed like a great name for a collaborative journal of creative writing.

So I walk with him for a few minutes, then we realize that we're going to the same place, Hill Memorial Library, where his papers are. What a stroke of luck!

Finally, I walk him in and announce him to the front desk. How fortunate. He told me about his new novel coming out -- it sounds wonderful -- then we talked about how handy-dandy online journals are. They are such a great way to share intimate thoughts, he agreed.

Post script: I wonder what he would think if I told him that just a few years later, my misspelling of his name would lead Google to point people who spelled his name phonetically (with an "e" at the end) to this entry. By estimation, I've had about 744 visitors because of that little misspelling.

Friday, February 09, 2001

ladybird morning

I woke to a conversation of wind chimes. Tinkling and sprinkling my room with metallic drops of sound. I spread my body over the bed, stretching my neck at a harsh angle. It's my "ready to take off" pose right before I triumph over the gods of sleep.

The clock radio clicks on with a whirring and a crackle. The morning's reality creeps up on me with each news story of my public radio.

I stretch out, turning my head the other way. My limbs feel tight and I warm the muscles with a full-body stretch. Lifting up the covers, I sit up and put on my favorite flannel shirt, jeans, socks and shoes. A shave and a hair brush. I get lost. Grabbing my bag and my wallet, I rush out to the coffee shop for a sweet potato muffin and my usual two or three mugs of cafe au lait with chicory. (It's a ritual; once a week, I treat myself to breakfast out, next door at the community coffee house. I am going to miss this cherry-wooded den of java when I leave.)

The speakers above my head provide more entertainment than the clientele. The shop is busy, but full of uninteresting people. The students are studying, the businessmen celling, the socialites alighting. And me? I'm just swilling down my chicory au lait and reading the newspaper. I listen to the sounds of hissing, steaming, machines. The machines are creating an unobtrusive accompaniment. The noise combines seamlessly to the music from the overhead speakers. I hear a familiar song. It's "Ladybird," a jazz classic. But it's not the classic. It's a new cover. And it's trip-hop of the most subdued variety.

A restrained female vocalist takes center stage. "Stay; stay for our time is near. Be what you want to be," it suggests. "Love; love like a ladybird. Never leave -- leave me." It's haunting. Behind the lead vocal is a chorus of crickets and echoed rap snippets. "Fire!", shouts a background vocalist. "Cha-cha-cha!", screams another. It's a lush arrangement. The crickets are very effective.

The machines behind the counter whistle with steam, spitting out frothy milk. They wheeze, fizz and whoosh under their operator's skillful hands. Another breakfast bevvie is served up.

I bite into my buttery sweet potato muffin and take a big gulp of the au lait. Delicious. It's a ladybird morning.

Wednesday, February 07, 2001

first week of February

February is coming along rather oddly.

The strangest thing happened the other day. I got an e-mail from the president of the LSU Young Republicans Club yesterday. He wrote:

"Jeffrey, this is a note to apologize and beg your forgiveness for clicking on your shower cam link. I'm now so incredibly ashamed and mortified at myself, that I decided to go back and look at the boxer gallery instead. Can you ever forgive me?"

For a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, he's very sweet! We exchanged a few more messages and it turns out that he's a really great guy. His site is really impressive, as well.

I went to his site and found that, according to his journal, he's quite often being mistaken for being gay. But he's very gay-friendly, which is cool. I might invite him out for cafe au lait and

try to "convert" him -- from the right wing to the left wing. Wouldn't that be fun?

The other item on my life agenda this week is a new cast member. Andrew is somebody that contacted me while I was in DC. He and I have talked on the phone several times since I've been back. What a gem. I don't know when I've found someone more supportive, warm and sweet. Can't wait to learn more about him.

I am now hopelessly addicted to Queer as Folk, the new Showtime weekly drama about four late 20-something guys. The characters are likeable -- very believeable. I can see some of myself in most of them; maybe that's why I like the show so much.

Jim, my roommate, bought the original British version on DVD, so I'll check those out soon.

I saw Jimmy Fallon Sunday at the student union theater. His show was good. He did a lot of pirogue jokes -- understandable. They're very exotic to outsiders, I guess. (It's a little shallow swamp boat that's common in South Louisiana.)

Fallon managed to be very down-to-earth and likeable, even as he picked on people in the audience. But the entire time he was on stage there was a car alarm going off just outside of the theater. It was outrageously distracting. Almost as bad as when car alarms go off during class.

All in all, a good show. Well worth $5. My face ached from smiling so much.