Thursday, June 01, 2006

"The Marathon Post" Second Installment

click here to read The Marathon Post sequentially

It’s here, walking gingerly along the river in the long shadows of the late evening sun that I start to make some connections. The physical manifestations of river and city serve only as backdrops to the many dramas that have played across their stages. As the evacuation of New Orleans finally began, each commandeered school bus took with it pieces of the city that would not return without being changed, if they were to return at all. For months the vibrant, eclectic, and quintessentially American culture of New Orleans came to a halt while its participants scattered across the country to experience new environments and rituals, and to alter those destinations with their presence in much the same way that the Mariel boatlift had changed the face of South Florida twenty-five years ago. The months-long abandonment of New Orleans would have been enough to alter its unique character forever, but the storm’s destruction had erased many of the physical reminders needed to jog the memories of its former occupants on their return.
The experience of New Orleans or Tampa or any other city is immersive, temporal, and elusive: a leaf in the stream of the city’s people, history, geography, and culture. The city’s personality, like that of a man, is a product of these competing and ever-changing forces that can never again be duplicated. Just as a man’s DNA can theoretically be extracted to produce “exact replicas” of himself, the infinitely complex set of influences that created his personality can never be reproduced. In New Orleans this scenario was multiplied by the hundreds of thousands. Katrina dragged her hand slowly through the ant trail of New Orleans, and its occupants had lost the scent and scattered.
The plane to New Orleans had been crowded with hard-hat-toting construction workers, project managers, and government-official-types, each with their own concept of what New Orleans was and, more importantly, what it would become. Most of their ideas had originated in far-flung government offices and had little or no relation to the city of New Orleans, its people, and their unique set of circumstances.

All of my life’s most memorable experiences have started well before dawn. From childhood fishing trips with my father to college road trips, touring with the band, backpacking, and mountain climbing; it seems like anything worth doing requires the use of multiple alarm clocks and a coffee maker that is pre-loaded and ready to go. The morning of February 26th, 2006 is no different. Like some sort of numerologist’s dream, I have chosen to run 26.2 miles on 02-26-2006.
At three o’clock I awake and start my now-familiar long run ritual. Drink thirty-two ounces of water standing naked in the dark at the kitchen sink. Turn on the kettle and see the room lit only by the blue flame of the gas burner. Shower by candlelight. The thought of the kettle boiling away on the stove helps to keep me from luxuriating in the shower’s warmth for too long. Still wrapped in my towel, I pour the steaming water into the French press and stir with a wooden spoon stained a dark brown to the middle of its handle from years of this routine. I turn up the dimmer in the kitchen, letting my eyes adjust gradually to the light. As the coffee steeps, I dress myself slowly. First comes the BodyGlide; a generous coat applied to any surface that might even think about blistering or chafing, then I powder my feet and slather my upper body in sunscreen. My clothes are laid out on the dresser like a seven-year-old on his first day of school, and I slip into them quietly while Jan sleeps. I take my shoes and socks out to the couch and sit down, deliberately lining up each seam over my toes, making sure that everything lies flat and straight. There is something about the act of putting on my shoes that always gets me lost in thought. Somehow, this final act in my morning ritual sets me to thinking about what lies ahead and I sit, one shoe on and the other in hand, “locked in a stare” as Jan would say. I’ve done this all my life, and I’m not the only one in the family. A week ago I watched my brother do the same thing as he got ready for an early flight back to California. Coming to, I think of the nursery rhyme that my stepmother would tease me with as a child, “Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John/ Went to bed with his stockings on/ One shoe off, and one shoe on/ Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.”
A large portion of marathon training, I have come to believe, is not directly related to the physical act of running. There are certain adjustments that one’s body must make in terms of metabolism, pacing, stamina, and overall tolerance for abuse, but the vast majority of what is accomplished in the months of training is a little harder to quantify. It is only through constant repetition that the runner begins to gain control over the more subtle and less conscious elements of their performance. The “involuntary” smooth muscles of the digestive tract begin to obey signals from the rest of the body, and on mornings before a long run there is a cleansing that takes place as the body tries to free itself of all unnecessary baggage before embarking on the journey ahead. I have experienced this effect several times now and it has become part of my pre-run ritual, but the last few days have been slightly different. Something inside of me knows that today’s race carries with it the weight of all my previous efforts, and this has manifested itself as a week-long obsession. I have an insatiable desire to do the three things that, according to Lenny Bruce, led to the first laws of civilization: Eat, Sleep, and Crap. I’m locked in the grip of a full-body peristalsis, and I can’t seem to get enough.

Friday, May 26, 2006

"The Marathon Post" First Installment

“I would like to say I remember, but a person only remember(s) if they remember what they remember.” – Allen Toussaint

Bernd Heinrich’s “Why We Run” is written from his own present-tense perspective as he runs a 100 kilometer (62.1 mile) race at the age of forty-one. The majority of the book is presented as a series of flashbacks interspersed throughout the narrative of this seriously long run. I thought that the experience of running my own marathon would help to put the previous six months in perspective for me, and somehow I would finally figure out where I was headed with this project. As I ran the 26.2 miles of mostly familiar territory, I thought that perhaps the connections would start to form and I would cross the finish line four-and-a-half hours later with the Great American Novel perched atop my head like a delicately balanced bowl of water. This of course didn’t happen. In the intervening weeks and months I have gained some insights, but in some ways my obsessive mapping has only gotten me more lost. I have spent most of the last few months without running, writing, or even thinking much about this project, and this I think is where the real perspective has come from.
Near the beginning of this project I went to Alaska on a medical escort that flew directly over New Orleans about twenty-four hours after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. The pilot dipped the left wing of the plane as we passed to the north of the ruined city, and we all craned our necks to see the shredded roof of the Superdome and the streets glistening in the sunlight as water began to pour in from the breeched levees around the town. At the time we had no idea of the horrors that New Orleans would experience in the weeks, months, and years to come. My post from that day makes mention of the Good Friday earthquake that struck Anchorage in 1964, but it says nothing of the human catastrophe that was unfolding directly below us.
Six months later, and two days after New Orleans’ first post-Katrina Mardi Gras, I’m doing a medical escort flight from Beaumont, Texas to New Orleans for a nursing home patient who was evacuated after the storm. It’s only been four days since the marathon, and two full days of flying on a thirty-seat turbo prop has done nothing for the condition of my legs. I shift restlessly in my seat, convinced that at any second I will dislodge a blood clot from the distended veins in my ankles and I’ll keel over dead from the ensuing pulmonary embolism. My patient is not concerned at all. Her advanced Alzheimer’s disease has erased most of her memories of home, and the recent tragedy of Katrina hasn’t even registered with her. As our plane comes in over the blue-tarp roofs of suburban Jefferson Parish, I think about the memories that we each hold of the ruined city rising up below us. The New Orleans that exists in my patient’s mind began to disintegrate years before the levees finally let go. Undoubtedly, the nursing home to which she is going will look a lot like the one in Beaumont; a facility which could not have been much different from the one she first left in New Orleans. Her connection to the present is tenuous at best, and the city of her past was swallowed long ago by dementia’s rising tide. Her only connection to reality is a persistent and misguided belief that she is waiting to be picked up by her daughters. The nursing staff in Beaumont confirmed that she had three daughters in New Orleans, but none of the staff had had any contact with them in the six months that their mother had been in Beaumont.
Back at home, I’m thinking about the countless personal histories of New Orleans that now seem so irrelevant. I remember the book “Beautiful Crescent: A History of New Orleans”, one of the first unabashedly subjective histories I had ever encountered, loaned to me by a friend ten years ago and never returned. He had just gotten the book back from an extended loan to another friend and he gave it to me with the promise that I would return it promptly. Today I find the book in a stack of boxes at the back of the house and I read the forward that had impressed me so much ten years ago. “We maintain that there is no definitive history, only stories told with more or less documentation.” As I thumb through the old paperback’s yellowed pages, I find a hand-written letter tucked in at the back cover dated February 19, 1996.

There’s something so sad in that letter. There is an undertone of resignation that I just can’t put my finger on. Here I am ten years later, reading a letter that I could have written myself. A portent of some kind. I haven’t seen S. in at least five years and although I can make no claims as to my continued sobriety, it was in many ways his steadfast refusal to see things from any sort of sober perspective that led us apart. Maybe I’ll get there sometime…
I’m out for one of my first runs since the marathon, and what used to be a simple four mile route is about to kill me. How can this possibly be so hard? I have repeated before that I am not a natural runner, but I think through my six months of training there was a secret part of me that began to feel I had become one, and I was right, but this recent hiatus has permanently altered my development as a runner in the same way that my six months of training forever changed my life as a non-runner. I’ll recover, and I’ll get back to where I was at least, but I am changed.
I am only what I do, and the history of what I have done doesn’t enter into it any more than does my desire for things I would like to do or my lies about things I claim to have done. I am right now, and right now I feel like I’m going to shit my pants. I’d better walk for a few minutes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New Posts

I know, I know. It's been a long time coming. I've been struggling with how to present my post-marathon writings, and I have decided to post them in a serial format because the post seems to be reaching novelesque proportions and I don't want to hold up whatever readership I have left while I continue to tinker with it. As a sidebar I will be publishing the work in its entirety for those who missed prior posts or simply want to read things sequentially. There will most certainly be additions, deletions, and other changes made to this complete work as the writing evolves which may not be reflected in the day-to-day (or week-to-week/month-to-month) installments. Enjoy.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Now What?

Just a quick note to say that I ran the Gasparilla Marathon this morning. I stayed pretty close to my goal time, and most importantly, I finished! 26.2 miles in approximately 4 hours and 44 minutes. I'll have a complete posting soon. Special thanks to Jan and Carlo for getting up at 3am to be my support staff, and to everyone else who showed up to cheer me on. It's nap time.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Hypnic Jerk

Marathon Loop 26.2mi

“Well, Mom, remember my dream of owning a big house on a hill, and how I used to wish for a living room with a plaster lion in it from Mexico? And how I always wanted a large-seat dining table in a dining room with original paintings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt? And remember how I always wanted a rotating bed with pink chiffon and zebra stripes? And remember how I used to chitchat with dad about always wanting a bathtub shaped like a clam and an office with orange and white stripes? Remember how much I wanted an all red billiard room with a giant stuffed camel and how I wanted a disco room with my own disco dancers and a party room with fancy friends? And remember how much I wanted a big backyard with Grecian statues, S-shaped hedges, and three swimming pools? Well, I got that too.” -- Steve Martin “The Jerk”

Quality sleep in a fire station is often elusive. The beds aren’t comfortable, the air-conditioning is always too cold or too hot, and the roommates snore. Then there are those pesky alarms.
I’ve never been the type to fall asleep immediately after laying down. It usually takes awhile before my thoughts begin to slow and eventually stumble under their own weight. On busy nights at the station, this may be as far as I get before the tones go off again and I’ve spent another evening in the twilight shadow of sleep’s precipice. These hypnagogic evenings do provide some degree of rest, and in some ways they fuel the imagination and lead to connections that I would not have made before.
I think of past evenings spent in a slowly swaying Mexican hammock, lulled to sleep by the hammock’s gentle motion and the distant roar of howler monkeys in the Chiapan jungle. We would light mosquito coils and place them below us in a futile effort to keep the insects at bay. The sounds of the jungle, the bugs, and the constant motion kept me in what seemed like a waking dream where I hung, wrapped in smoke, as the earth turned slowly beneath me. Without the black timelessness of a deep sleep, the days became circular as night was experienced in its own right. At home, things were sequential. Day after day. Here time was a continuum of slightly varied dreamstates.
These days I’ve taken to listening to my headphones in bed, and I’ve found that the spoken word provides a sufficient distraction from the litany of late-night thoughts so that my mind can drift, and soon I’m off to sleep, guided through my dreams by the voices in my ears.
My lullaby for the last month has been Scott Carrier’s radio piece “Running After Antelope” produced for This American Life in 1997. This piece, along with Bernd Heinrich’s “Why We Run”, was part of what sparked my initial interest in running as a contemplative endeavor. Both authors explore the idea that man is biologically predisposed to long-distance running. Carrier believes that man’s bipedalism allows him to breathe independent of his stride, and this gives him an advantage over even the fastest of four-legged prey. Carrier makes his seemingly impossible quest to run down an antelope appear totally logical, and the mysticism and power of this pursuit provide an explanation for the primal appeal of running today.
I drift off to the soft, lilting cadence of Carrier’s voice, imagining a run through the desert’s blank canvas with no destination at all. “I have a plan, and I’m trying to follow it. But it’s hard. It’s a hard plan to follow. I’m trying to get in shape, and I’m trying to live like a primitive man…I want to wake up naked and alone in the desert. I want to eat sand and drink piss and pass out screaming from sunburn and spider bites. But I know it won’t work and I know it won’t happen, either because I’m a coward, or unable, or it’s just not possible at all for anyone.”
After my last failed long run I’ve had doubts about my own ability to complete this quest, but after enduring a few weeks of my own defeatist nature and the unsolicited advice of a few soothsayers along the way, I set off for my final long run before I start to taper for the race. I’ve laid out a marathon-length route made up of three separate loops focused on my house, allowing me to stop twice for minor adjustments, nourishment, and shoe changes if needed.
I immediately forget my plan to run the Rome Avenue loop first so that I don’t have to ascend the MLK bridge after running 12 or more miles, and out of force of habit I head north along the Sulphur Springs route. I’m taking things slowly and paying special attention to the road surface, looking for the flattest possible line. My knee feels good and my new shoes seem to help in relaxing my stride.
I feel like I’ve started to learn a few things from these long runs. A precise rationing of effort is what it takes to complete these runs, and over the last few months I’ve become more adept at the delicate titrations necessary along the way. On the Rome loop headed south I can feel my pace quicken on the flat, level surface of the sidewalk, and I short-stride my way to the top of the bridge without much of a problem. Despite the greater impact associated with running on concrete, the even camber of the sidewalk is what my legs have been craving, and I decide to modify my route for the last loop, to head for Ybor City along Central Avenue’s long, straight sidewalks.
Around mile twenty I realize that I’ve run the last few miles without thinking about my legs, my breathing, my watch, or anything else for that matter. I’ve been moving for so long now that this feels like the normal state of affairs for me.
It is in this trance-like state that, despite the dictates of common sense, running becomes a form of meditation and, consequently, a passable substitute for sleep. A dark, overcast haze has hung over me all morning and now a gentle rain begins to fall, keeping me cool and slowly rinsing the salty crust from my face. I press my face to the mist and run home, the ground moving easily beneath me like a quiet Mexican night.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

And Also You're Drunk

River/Davis 17.3mi
1/26/06 10:00 am

"Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you're drunk" -- Jack Handy

I like to do my long runs during the week because the neighborhood streets are virtually deserted in the daytime, and I can run down the middle of the road, keeping an ear out for traffic coming from behind. The road’s camber is always more noticeable along its outside edges, and although it doesn’t play much of a role on my shorter training runs, it can take its toll on a run of more than twenty miles. I know because I proved it to myself today.
On an unseasonably warm Sunday morning, I start out running south along the river’s eastern bank with a twenty-three mile route in mind. Today’s forecast calls for temperatures as high as eighty-four degrees, and I’m well equipped with Gatorade mix, sunscreen, and a vague idea of the water fountains and convenient stores along the way. The first six or seven miles pass in relative comfort, and I make my way onto Davis Islands and south along the eastern shore as the temperature starts to rise.
Near the Marjorie Park Yacht Basin I see two young girls stop their bicycles to investigate something in their path. Sunlight glitters off of the surface of the road, and as I get closer I can see the outline of a large possum with the broken shards of a beer bottle scattered around its head. The scene has all the elements necessary for a great and ridiculous painting: two innocent girls bathed in the Florida morning sun peer over their tassled handlebars at the glittering mandorla of a deceased marsupial while the palm trees sway in the breeze.
As I pass, one of the girls is lifted from her reverie to give me an expression that is at once puzzled, sad, and slightly amused. I’m the only adult around and she looks at me as if to say “How could this have happened?” I don’t have the time, the energy, or even the ability to explain the complexities of this question to her. I simply shrug my shoulders and give her my best non-vocal “beats me” expression. As I continue to the south, the image of her face stays with me, but it begins to fade as the pain in my knee starts to make itself known.
Nearing the airport, the trees start to thin out and soon it’s just the sun, the heat, and my knee. The weekend traffic has forced me to the far edge of the road where I weave in and out of the double-parked BMWs that clog the streets for today’s NFL playoff parties. My knee is simply not having it. It’s hot and I’m pissed. I’m trying to think of positive mantras to get myself through, but the only thing I can come up with is one that I heard fifteen years ago at a protest against the first of the Gulf Wars. A group of middle-aged mothers and their young children were marching through the frigid January streets of Washington DC chanting “We’re tired! We’re cranky! And we don’t like the government!” Strangely enough, it seems to be working. I am! I am! And I Don’t! I need to get off of this island.
Eventually I make my way back across the bridge and up North Boulevard to the river’s western bank. At Blake High School I realize that I’ve never run this route from the south, and the hole in the chain-link fence that I usually squeeze through is like a one-way valve pointing in the other direction. I’ve been swimming upstream for the last three hours, and now, as I try to force myself through the opening, the analogy is complete. I’m a salmon caught in a gill net. I writhe around on my stomach as the barbs dig into my back and catch on my fanny pack. I try my best to ignore the pontoon boat full of Sunday smolts, but they have stopped their saltwater migration to gawk at my struggle on the shore.
Finally free of this mess, I hobble north towards Rick’s On The River. I’m still almost six miles short of my goal, but my knee is screaming and I remember the cell phone in my bag.
“Hey Mike, it’s Devon. Yeah. How’d you like to meet me for a beer?”

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Second Runner-Up, "Bitten To Death By Rats"

Woodlawn Loop 8mi
1/14/06 3:14pm

I have a confession to make. Despite my mapping obsession, when it comes to the finer details of training - the statistical “facts” that so many runners become obsessed with - I usually just give myself the benefit of the doubt. Distance, pace, and time may all be relative terms with me.
Most days I walk from my house to the corner and I don’t start my watch until I actually start running. Of course, when I map the route I always start at my front door. The difference is only about 1/20th of a mile, but it does skew the pace calculations in my favor.
I always round off my finish times to the nearest minute. Anything between one and forty-five seconds gets rounded down.
If I get stopped by traffic or pit-stops for water and bathrooms, I subtract those times from my finish time. I don’t actually measure how long these things take, I just estimate. Liberally. There’s a lot to be said for the power of positive thinking.
Today, after a protracted struggle with an arsenal of new gadgetry, I’m finally ready to take the Forerunner out for a test run. I decide to run against the “Virtual Partner” and I set the pace for a ten minute mile. The Virtual Partner feature allows you to run against an imaginary friend (or foe) over a set distance and pace. I’ve laid out an eight mile course, and I feel like eighty minutes should be a good healthy finish time for me.
Unfortunately, technology has no regard for my feelings. My virtual partner, That Little Bastard, just keeps right on running his ten-minute pace, attempting to pass me at each red light and stop sign. A few quick calculations show that I need to have about a 250 foot lead on TLB if I want to stop for a one minute walk break (a mile is about 5000 feet and I’m running a ten-minute pace, so I’m covering about 500 feet-per-minute. If I slow down to half that speed I’ll need to be 250 feet ahead of TLB for him to catch me in a minute’s time). This changes the usual dynamic a bit. Previously, the reward of a walk break was solely time-dependant, and it came around every five minutes with amazing regularity. Like clockwork. Now if I want to take a break I’ve got to work for it. It’s like I used to run for the county and now I’ve moved to the private sector.
I'm learning quickly about the things that ruin a good pace. The first time I stop to stretch my calves I watch in horror as TLB goes screaming by me and I’ve got to really dig in just to catch him.
I used to assume that Stopping came immediately after Walking in the hierarchy called: Actions Which Are Slower Than Running. It seems obvious now, but I hadn’t realized that the difference between ten minutes and fourteen minutes was miniscule in comparison to the difference between fourteen minutes and not moving at all. Skipping, Staggering, and Somersaulting all come well before Not Moving At All, the list is not alphabetical. In fact, all of these actions are infinitely faster than stopping. Now I find myself speeding up at the end of each walk break in an attempt to fend off my attacker for a few more precious seconds.
I make it inside the Woodlawn Cemetery for the first time, but I’m still being chased and it’s hard for me to concentrate on the graves of Tampa’s second-generation pioneers. Italian, Cuban, and Jewish names mark the headstones alongside the carnival workers of Showmen’s Rest, and the monuments to Union and Confederate soldiers. Woodlawn is newer and more carefully maintained than downtown’s Oaklawn Cemetery, and its history may not run as deep, but it is a good demonstration of the diverse population that was responsible for Tampa’s unique cultural heritage.
A few weekends ago we took a Sunday afternoon trip to Oaklawn Cemetery to pick our way through the low hanging branches of live oaks, looking for the headstones of some of Tampa’s earliest inhabitants. This is not a place to run but to stroll slowly, head down, trying to take it all in. Many of the graves here appear to have been vandalized over the years, and some of the headstones are so weathered that it would take a careful rubbing to decipher their inscriptions. Others speak so clearly they give you chills. The stones range from the slick polished marble of the McKay family, to the cast concrete markers bearing the names of Cuban and Italian immigrants.
Here is the Coller family plot; the first civilian settlers to the area, Levi Coller ran the sutler’s store that supplied the troops at Fort Brooke.
After some searching we find the famous grave of William and Nancy Ashley. William Ashley was Tampa’s first City Clerk and the namesake of present-day Ashley Drive. He is buried here next to his former slave Nancy, with whom he lived in common-law marriage. “Here lies Wm Ashley and Nancy Ashley. Master and Servant. Faithful to each other in that relation in life, in death they are not separated. Stranger consider and be wiser. In the Grave all human distinction of race or caste mingle together in one common dust."
Although I like the tone and the sentiment of the inscription, it’s the matter-of-fact descriptions that I like the best. How can you beat an epitaph like “Mr. Hubbard, a Cuban pirate, found dead in woods June 18, 1850.” According to Julius “Jeff” Gordon’s genealogical study of Oaklawn, Hubbard was killed by a group of Indians who were hung from tree limbs before they could be brought to trial. Hubbard was buried in a “pirate’s casket” for the sum of seven dollars.
I had always said that I wanted to be cremated. This was before I knew about pirate caskets. Even with the conversion to modern-day dollars it’s still a bargain at $163.88. “Found dead in woods” has a nice ring to it, but I think I’m going to go with “Torn apart by wolves.”

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Goddamn Mick Jagger

Bayshore Loop 20.5mi
On weekend mornings as I drive home from the station, sometimes I feel like it’s just me and the street corner paper sellers. I’ve usually been up for a few hours already and I’ve had two or three cups of coffee. At least. Being a habitual late sleeper myself, on these days I feel like I’ve been given a glimpse into the secret world of weekend mornings. Today in the center of my driveway I see the telltale accordion fold photocopy that could only have come from an individual that I have come to know as The Evie Man.
I’ve been receiving dispatches from The Evie Man since we moved into Seminole Heights eight years ago. The first things that we received were hand written notes stuffed into our mailbox without envelopes or postage. As a young interracial couple in a new neighborhood, the often blatantly racist tone of the letters was especially disturbing to us, and without any evidence to the contrary we assumed that they were directed solely at us. I didn’t save any of these early letters because I didn’t see any connection for awhile, but eventually I began collecting the strange communiqués. Soon the letters began appearing in a standard format; a strange, obsessive accordion fold photocopy distributed throughout the neighborhood in a seemingly random fashion. After realizing that I was not the only one receiving the letters, whenever I found one in my yard or driveway I would set out to canvas the neighborhood in search of others. Sometimes they were all the same, but usually there were several different versions distributed at one time, or the same basic letter would have subtle changes made to it in the other versions that I found.
Eventually, what may have begun in the mind of the Evie Man as a simple neurosis and a bit of paranoia about the changing demographic of the neighborhood had slowly morphed into a full blown psychosis. “There’s a giant spider in my mind,” began one of his more ominous messages. These delusions finally gave way to the classic paranoid schizophrenic notion of persecution at the hands of Hollywood celebrities. The Evie Man felt especially oppressed by the Rolling Stones and a Norwegian gospel singer named Evie Tornquist.
One morning several years ago I found an unmarked cassette tape lying in my yard carefully packaged in Saran Wrap. I popped the cassette into my truck’s tape deck and immediately I knew where it had come from. “An eye doctor put drops in my eyes that blinded me, however, I went on a twenty-five day water fast and I can read the bible again…this is a song by Evie.” I sat transfixed and listened to the tape in its entirety. The depth of psychosis and the rhythmic repetition of delusions was dizzying. This man was the John Coltrane of paranoia. A few months later, when I had a copy of the tape burned to CD, I took Mike L. out to my van to listen to it after we’d had a few beers at New World. We sat in the parking lot listening to a twenty minute tirade about “Hollywood Queers” and The Evie Man’s twisted logic spiraled in on itself faster and faster until Mike opened his door and vomited on the asphalt (Listen To The Evie Man's Audio).
I have never seen The Evie Man. His deliveries always come in the middle of the night, and they are spaced far enough apart that I have usually forgotten to be on the lookout before the next one arrives. I had always assumed that he lived somewhere in the area until I mentioned him one evening during an appearance on WMNF. A listener called in to say that they had received dispatches from The Evie Man as far away as Valrico.
There must be some kind of a pattern here.
A comprehensive GIS study of The Evie Man’s movements could provide a valuable insight into the cartography of psychosis. The Evie Man exists somewhere in the nexus of points occupied by The Rolling Stones (Audio), Evie Tornquist (Audio), and an Australian surfer named George Greenough.
For the first five miles of today’s run I’m consumed with the details of the Evie Map. I find a few more of the papers as I run west on Fern Street, and I stuff them into the pocket of my Camelback. I’m keeping close tabs on my pace and forcing myself to slow down until I finally lock into an 11:30 pace. I know the mile markers for about the first ten miles and I’m able to stay right where I want to be. After running this pace for the next two hours I’m locked in the groove and I can tell where the mile markers are by looking at my watch. But I’m not there yet.
At mile six I round the corner onto Hillsborough and I notice something strange about the house to my right. The palm reader’s house has a gaping hole in its side as if someone has driven their car through it, providing me with a clear view of the kitchen and living room. I don’t see any tire tracks or other evidence of an accident, just this huge hole in the concrete block wall. I snap a few pictures with my camera phone and I am putting it away when I see a skull capped biker eyeing me suspiciously from around the corner of the house. He glares at me, glares at the hole in the house, and glares back at me again. I give him the perfunctory runner’s nod and quickly run across the street. From the median I hear someone yelling from behind me and I turn around to see another mustachioed ne’er-do-well standing on the sidewalk and screaming in my general direction. The confidence that I have in my ability to outrun most construction workers over long distances does me little good when I have anything less than a three mile head start. Plus, you never know, this guy could be pretty swift. That mullet does make him look like a horse. I decide to try my luck and the mullethead stays where he is, pawing the dirt at the edge of the street.
The next fourteen-and-a-half miles flow by with comparative ease. My strict attention to pace has paid off.
People must be making up for the time lost to the holidays as everyone seems to be working today. The UT campus is bustling with construction workers, the bleachers are being set up along Bayshore for the Gasparilla parade, and downtown is gridlocked with minivans full of circus goers.
Gradually the crowds thin out and it’s just me again, putting things in perspective and ticking off the miles twelve minutes at a time. “It’s sort of like being on a mountain and looking down at a farm, and then you see what others don’t see, a giant spider.”

More From The Evie Man

Thursday, January 05, 2006

They Are?

Epps/Lowry 4m1

I’m not a total Luddite. I’m more of a technological skeptic…the kind that loves gadgets. While I enjoy solving the problems of design and manufacture in a variety of different materials, computers with their hidden architectures and perpetual incompatibility issues can send me into fits of blind rage. While I may be in the mood to pimp my house or my furniture, I want my computer to behave like a Honda Civic right off of the assembly line. I want to turn it on and have it take me from point A to point B. I’ve been switching things over to a new system for the last couple of weeks, and I’m starting to think that changing residences would be easier. If I had a wooden shoe I would throw it deep into the gears of this machine.
Not being the type who enjoys tinkering with buggy software and devices of questionable usefulness, I generally wait until it is impossible to hold out any longer, whereupon I become immersed in the technology and immediately start extolling its virtues to the true technophobes that I know. This has cemented my position amongst the truly tech savvy as a hopeless neophyte, however people who haven't yet figured out how to open their department mandated email accounts have decided that I'm some sort of systems administrator.
Recently, thanks to Dan D, I acquired a powerful suite of GIS software that I will be using to produce maps for this project. Dan showed me a few things about the software, and we were able to quickly produce a dangerous dog map of Tampa by accessing the county’s GIS server. It turns out that the frequency of my encounters with presumably dangerous dogs has a lot to do with the fact that I run through all of the worst areas in town. I will be posting some of these maps as soon as I work out a few of the kinks.
I also ordered myself an MP3 player and a Garmin Forerunner 201. The Forerunner GPS unit should, among other things, allow me to upload my routes directly to Mapcard instead of having to input them manually as I have been doing. The MP3 player doesn’t figure into my Running Through Tampa plan very much because I refuse wear headphones while running on the street, however there is a tangential benefit in that I will be listening to instructional podcasts while I’m on the elliptical trainer in an effort to improve my Spanish.
For the time being though, my running is still technology free. I’m following Monday’s route in reverse for a slight change of scenery. As I pass the first mile marker on Ola just north of Broad, I hear what sounds like a swarm of bees coming from up ahead. Rounding the bend I see five or six full grown men standing in the road, radio controllers in hand, as a swarm of gas-powered toy trucks buzzes up and down the street, through lawns, and over makeshift plywood ramps where they tumble through the air and land on everything but their wheels. There is a woman doing a sort of Wimbledon-ball-boy routine, running back and forth turning the trucks back onto their still spinning wheels while another man in a wheelchair sits watching gleefully from the sidelines. Everyone is laughing at me as I try to pick my way through the melee, the trucks playfully strafing me from all sides, and I think about stopping to take some pictures but I’m running an 8:30 pace and I think I can push it through to the end.
This area has a long-standing appreciation for juvenile behavior, from these guys and their trucks to the Hampton Terrace go-kart racers as well as my own ill-fated moped gang and the Seminole Heights Marching Band.
In the early nineties, Andrew and I were the only people amongst our friends who drove SUVs. I had an old Isuzu Trooper full of garbage and Andrew had a Dodge Ram Charger with a nine-millimeter in the console. One of our favorite weekend pastimes was to load up our trucks with revelers from the constant party at the Baldwin house on Hiawatha, taking them on high-speed night tours of the alleys of Seminole Heights. Years later, when we both lived in the neighborhood, he and I would retrace these routes on our Sunday afternoon moped tours of the area.
Riding a moped is a lot like being a fireman. The children are really impressed. Almost everyone else thinks you’re an idiot. Almost.
One Sunday afternoon, as Andrew and I pull the bikes onto Broad Street from the Alpine Liquor parking lot an aging, bemulleted rocker stops his muscle car to lean out the window, throw us a goat, and yell “those things are TITS!”

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Popemobile Would Be Nice

Epps/Lowry 4mi

Fearing that my resolution may already be slipping away, I step out into the fading light armed with my headlamp and a few other “essentials”. Until recently I had done all of my shorter runs without carrying anything. No water, keys, or money. Not even an ID.
I’ve always held that I’m in very little danger on my runs because everyone knows that runners don’t carry anything with them. When I reached the point where I started needing water on my long runs I started taking my Camelback. This allowed me to bring a few other things along (cell phone, house key, ID). As the runs got longer I started to need sustenance and I added gel packs, Clif bars, and a few bucks for Gatorade along the way. Sometimes I even threw in a credit card just in case. If I bonked downtown I could just get a room.
What had started out as a kangaroo’s pocket was slowly calcifying into a turtle’s shell. My rig was making me slower, thus more vulnerable, and now I needed protection. Lacking the funds for a Derringer and an ankle holster, I opt for the only slightly wimpier can of pepper spray. If anyone makes fun of me I’ll mace them.
Originally I only carried this setup on my long runs. I still did my short neighborhood routes without support, but the more close encounters I had with dogs and other non-human assailants, the more I thought I’d really feel like an idiot for leaving the pepper spray at home when something did happen. I couldn’t just carry it in my hand though. I needed some place to put it. On went the hip pack. Since I’m wearing it I might as well throw a few things in it. Cell phone. Keys. ID. It wouldn’t hurt to take some water. Maybe I should just drive.