I've just been away for a long weekend in Vermont, so I didn't have time to write on a new topic this week. Instead here is a meta post about other posts.
Runner Girl was one of the first two things I wrote for this blog, before its launch. The other was an early version of the college stories that will never appear. But I decided to start with In a Bag Concealed just to kick off with something short and not personal. Then, caution to the winds, Runner Girl.
She's in the photo. Did you notice that? I had the camera with me that morning because I was going to take the photos for Amiable Child that day. I had already written a draft of Runner Girl. When she ran past me I suddenly flashed on the idea of getting a photo of her. And I immediately rejected it as too creepy, since she wouldn't know I was doing it. But after a minute, I started thinking that it would be a good idea to grab a photo of the street in the morning light. I took the camera out of the case, and one rationalization later, I decided that it might be all right to go ahead while she was still in sight, provided she was so far away that no one could tell who she is. The photo turned out to be blurred from my hands moving slightly during the long exposure, and I counted that as a plus in this case.
The act of writing Runner Girl changed the whole picture for me. You have to realize that the reason I was so surprised she was there when I turned around is that I was not thinking about her. I was just walking to the station and looking around at the houses and trees and listening to bird song and turning to look at that car and WHOA, surprise, there's somebody there almost right next to me, and wait, I've seen her before, and...
But once I observed myself by writing about it, now I do think about whether she'll be there. It's turned into a Thing.
I'll digress to explain where that little expression comes from. When Helen and I visited our friend Michael at the place he used to live in the Bronx, we'd all go to pick up a pizza from a corner place called Nicky's. It's still there but with a different owner. Michael was there one day and heard a conversation between a customer and the pizza man that went something like this:
Customer: A large pie, with extra cheese.
Pizza man: OK. Large. Extra chees.
Customer: Hey can you put like double extra cheese on it?
Pizza man: No. You put too many chees, they turn into a thing.
I spelled it that way because the ESL pizza man seemed to parse "chees" as the plural noun for those little curly dairy products he put on pizzas. One of them would be a "chee" then, but you'd never talk about just one. That would be like taking one strand of spaghetti and calling it a spaghetto, which is grammatically correct in Italian.
Did you know that "pea" is derived the same way as "chee"? The name of the legume was originally "pease", a word preserved in the old rhyme that starts "pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold". Old English had a singular "pise" and plural "pisen". But "pease" sounds so much like a plural. That makes one of the little green spheres a "pea", right? It happened so long ago that the educational system that might have stopped it was not yet in place. Horrible.
Anyway, ever since Michael told us the story, any time there are awful consequences to an action, we say it's turning into a Thing. Like Runner Girl.
What's happened now is that every time I walk to work, I think of the story, and the silly name Runner Girl, and wonder whether I'll see her. All she does is run past and that's it, but now I'm thinking about it. I'm saying to myself, "I wonder if she'll be there today?", and feeling a little sense of loss when I don't see her. I could never be surprised now.
Wait, it's worse. The scientific part of my brain... Yes there is a scientific part of my brain, I will have you know. Look at who I spend my time with and consider the effects on me. Helen is a research scientist. I work with people who have engineering degrees. They plan things in methodical ways. I like their ways however foreign they seem. And I have said that I like to question things myself. Now, where was I?
The scientific part of my brain objected to my claim that "she's not running at exactly the same time". I had not tested that. The Research reader in Editorial would have circled the words. So I had to find out.
The Protocol was for me to check the time as I left the house, and then if I saw Runner Girl, remember that time. I got a sighting the first or second day. The next step was for me to leave at that time every day and see what happened. The Data soon showed that she ran within a couple of minutes of the same time every day. It was me who varied. The Conclusion was that if I left at that time I could maximize the chances of seeing her go by. Why does it matter whether I see her? Because I wrote an essay about it, that's why.
I wish this was the end of it, but there's more. One morning I was eating breakfast in the dining room, facing the front window, and saw Runner Girl go past on her way south. Remember, I told you I used to see her running south when I took the earlier train. The road she runs goes right in front of my house. Somehow I had not put this together before that morning. This could reduce the uncertainty! If I am able to catch sight of her going south, then I know she will appear later going north. Isn't it great? It sets my mind at rest.
See, it has turned into a Thing.
Besides Runner Girl herself, toward the end of the story I mentioned meeting someone I didn't know who liked my web pages. Since then I found out we have a friend in common, and I've spoken with her a couple of times, including a day out with the two of them to see a tunnel in Brooklyn.
There is a small ceremony there each July 15, the day St Claire Pollock died, and I wanted to go up there during lunch that day, but I forgot.
I take a partly different walk now. It's a little longer.
The Maplewood police have a radar device that shows your speed. They hang it at different places every few days, usually right below a speed limit sign. It has the permanent lettering YOUR SPEED IS, and an electronic display that shows your speed. Typically you'd see SPEED LIMIT 25 / YOUR SPEED IS 32, or something like that.
One morning around 04:15 I approached one of these unawares, and it suddenly lit up to show: 4. That was my speed. I thought these things depended on bouncing the radar off metal, but whether that was ever true, the one they have in Maplewood works on people too. I should have kept walking, but being me, I had to turn around and walk back a short way, and face it again. This time I ran at it, and got it to show: 6. No worries. It was less than 25.
Speaking of radar— is that a blend or what?— another morning I was down on Glen Avenue in Millburn, and as I passed a streetlight that glowed bluish light, I saw something flying around. It was a bat! It flew rapidly back and forth, diving and rising, under the light. I felt as if I could have stuck out my hand and touched it, it got so close. But its radar could detect I was there, and it evaded me to the extent that it paid me any mind at all. It must have been happily eating moths and whatever other insects were attracted to the streetlight. I watched it for a few minutes and then moved on. I did not see it again. If that was such a good spot, why did it not come back at the same time the next day? The world is full of mysteries.
My friend Michael, a few years ahead of me at the Prep, says it was his class who moved the desks forward. So it wasn't me.
He also reminded me of the Lord of the Rings obsession that had crept through the school, or at least among my friends. It went to the extent that when we returned from Father Fahey's funeral, my friend Ray echoed Samwise's words, "Well, I'm back". And it did not seem at all inappropriate, but rather conveyed the feeling that the good wizard had gone and we needed to find our own way now.
Sometimes I start writing one of these things and it just doesn't go anywhere interesting. Sharp eyed readers may have noticed that the Next Time line at the bottom of Huge Hall said Dating for a few days. That one did not work out. It was going to be about Egyptian chronology. I will never finish writing it. But I had a killer opening, and here it is.
Time time time, see what's become of meAnd it was downhill from there. Below is the only paragraph you'll enjoy.
Of course I knew the Simon and Garfunkel version of "Hazy Shade of Winter" from when it came out, but the Bangles version ROCKS. Play this loud. You don't hear that buzz once the music starts. Listen to Michael's bass line! Whoo! And Vicki's guitar lick that kicks it off! On a late Bangles record like this one it's rare to hear their terrific group harmony lead (instead of Susannah solo), and to hear Vicki let loose on guitar and Debbi banging away. They sound like a GROUP again. What the hell happened after All Over the Place? By the coda Susannah's little-girl voice comes out of nowhere as a nice contrast. Each verse has first those sustained bass guitar notes and then the walk at the end (yes I already mentioned the bass but it makes me happy), and Michael also sings solo that key line "I was so hard to please". She was usually the supporting player of the four but she shines on this one.
I am already way off the subject I wanted to tell you about. But it's one of those records, right? Do you ever arrive where you're going, but sit in the car a couple of minutes to let a good record finish? No?
All I really wanted to do was get the "time time time" thing established, because that's what this one is about. Time.
The summaries of Manetho amount to lists giving the name of each pharaoh, the length of his reign in years and days, and a few comments on things that happened. "During his reign a sheep spoke", we are told of one pharaoh, but what the sheep had to say is omitted.
That's all I've got.
Photos: Runner Girl by me, March 2009 / Nicky's Pizza and Walton Road by Google Maps / Atlantic Avenue Tunnel by Sarah, July 2009 / Michael Steele from the video.
Next time: Demon Alcohol.