Sunday, May 2, 2010


On weekend mornings I like to drive to Maplewood and get bagels and coffee for Helen and me. It's a special thing that makes the weekend different.

Spring finally arrived a few weeks ago.  The trees were flowering and dumping pollen all over, and the bulb plants were in bloom, and more people were doing things outside. It feels so good after the cold wet winter we've had.

Picture this. I was driving to get bagels on a Sunday morning. I had the window open. A few runners in the road were coming toward me, one on my right and two on the left, and another car was coming toward me too. The road is just wide enough to pull this off. Both of us drivers needed to drift the cars near the center line to leave safe room for the runners, but still leave room to pass each other. I was paying attention to steering. It went nice and easy. Then something flashed in my brain.

One of the runners I just passed on the left was Runner Girl!

Or was I imagining it? Maybe it was just someone else with the same color jacket. I hadn't seen Runner Girl in three months. She left town. She's gone.

It was a delayed reaction. Did you ever have this happen? Something was in my field of vision, but something else had my attention. And now afterwards I was examining what else I had seen, looking at a picture in my mind. But the brain is full of tricks. It fills in details. You can't trust it. From this comes the classic double take. You see something, you turn away, and suddenly, whoa, what was that?, and you turn back.

So how do you do a double take in the situation I was in?

Maybe I should not say. You'll call me crazy. But I was wondering whether I was crazy, and to settle the question I needed to do something I didn't have to wonder about.

Right. I had to circle around and check. Turn down a side street, turn into a parallel street, go back far enough to be sure I had overtaken the runners and then some, turn up another side street, and back to start, so I could pass those runners again, and look at their faces this time. It's the automobile double take.

I felt pretty silly doing that.

The payoff. It was Runner Girl. I even got the little wave from her.

Holy crap! Did she see me the first time or not? The other car might have blocked. No way to know. If she did, she'll think I'm a weirdo.

But here's something even worse! What happens Monday morning, if this means she's back? And how could she be gone for three months, if she's still here?

Then I realized that she might have been unable to run for a while. Maybe she broke her ankle or something. That would be great news. She needed recovery time, but now things could go back to normal.

Well, not great news. Really. Hoping someone broke a bone. What have I come to?

I parked in the commuter lot that anyone can use on weekends, and walked to the stores. I got the Ledger at the corner store and the usual bagels at the bagel store. At the counter, by now they just ask me if I want the usual, and by the time I slide down to the register, they've got the two coffees ready for me. One of these days I have to ask for pumpernickel bagels instead of poppy. They'd be talking about that for a while. Heh heh. I should do it just to make their lives interesting.

Some other stuff happened the rest of the day.

But as I lay drifting off to sleep, the big question of the day came back to me.

Should I say something Monday morning? Would it be better to say nothing and just nod as we used to do? That would seem the least weird, in case she had any reason to think I was weird. It would put things back to normal too.

But after all this time, it might be a nice gesture to say good morning, or nice to see you, or something like that. Good morning, anyway. Nice to see you: that might raise questions. Why would it be nice? I would need to explain about routines and variations and the workings of my brain, and that can't be done in a few seconds.

I could just see what comes to me, if and when it happens. I've just been reading Shakey, the Neil Young biography. He told people a few times, "the more you think, the more you stink". Don't overanalyze things ; trust your instincts.

There's a literary theme I like where something returns after a long absence. It could be a renewed relationship with someone who'd been gone, or a symbolic object returned to its rightful place, or a way of life restored. I see the appeal of it. Comforting. It's looking back though, isn't it? It's like people in 1970s hoping the Beatles would reunite. Not only was it not going to happen, but even if it had happened, time had moved on. But my particular case, walking to the train and seeing somebody run past, ended only a few months ago, so it probably would still work if it came back.

I fell asleep.

Monday came. No Runner Girl.

I must face the bitter truth. She has changed her running time. And it must be quite a bit later than before, or I think I would have seen her sometime during the past three months.

You are probably wondering whether I could change my working hours so that I could just happen to be walking to the station at her new running time. The answer is yes. Within reason, I could do that.

All I need to do is take a day off and sit on my front steps for an indefinite number of hours to determine what the new time is.

But that would be crazy. Do you see why?

The whole point of the Runner Girl appearance was to be an unpredictably varying part of my morning routine. I usually saw her, but not always, and if I did see her, it was usually around the same place in my walk, but not always. I never knew what would happen on a particular day. This lent a point of interest to the walk. It was inconsequential whether she appeared, and yet there was a pleasing completeness to the routine if she did. I have lost that.

But I can't get it back by changing every other part of the routine. And going to work later would require leaving work later, and I'd lose an enjoyable evening routine I have. So there's no win in changing my hours. It's no good.

Besides, maybe she didn't change her running time. Maybe she really did move away, but she came back to see somebody that weekend, and decided to run her old course. So why should I sit on my front steps? I won't do it.

I'll tell you something. It's better if I don't know.

I am thinking big now, thinking long-term. This is how the Greats think.

You know, that wasn't the first time I ever saw Runner Girl on a weekend. I saw her two or three times last year. They were pretty random though. I'd be coming back from my own run and walk, and I'd happen to see her.

I go out at about the same time from one weekend to the next because I like to go up South Mountain as the sun comes up. I want enough light to see in the woods, but enough dark so that when I get to the top, I can look down at the lights in Millburn. I like how it looks. It's a nice little moment in the two-hour adventure. Actually, I have to creep my time forward or back a little each week to account for the changing day length. But anyway, a week apart, I'd be hitting about the same times.

But it didn't matter if I repeated the same schedule for two weekends. I saw Runner Girl only a couple of times. It was just by chance.

Judging by experience, even if Runner Girl has not moved away, it could take a good long time before another weekend sighting. Months.

I won't know when it's coming. And that's the best part.

Here's my philosophy. Agent Dale Cooper to Sheriff Harry S Truman, in Twin Peaks:
Harry, I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it, don't wait for it, just... let it happen. Could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.

Go back to seeing Runner Girl in the morning? What am I thinking?

Just writing the original essay changed everything. Ruined everything, you might say. The whole reason I was so surprised is that I wasn't walking along thinking about whether I would see somebody running past. That's what I should get back to. That time of innocence, when I didn't think about this stuff so much.

The weeks and months will pass. I will forget about this. I'll be out driving, or walking, or working in the yard, whatever. Then, when I no longer expect it, when I'm not planning it, when I'm not waiting for it, when I have learned to just... let it happen, then, by God then, I will see Runner Girl. When my spirit has become ready. When I have arrived without travelling, seen without looking.

It won't even matter whether it happens.

I think I need to focus my energies on becoming more awesome.

— Megan Brennan, on Twitter

Now that is my plan too.

Next time: Games.


  1. "The weeks and months will pass. I will forget about this."

    Really, Joe? You blogged about it and now your legion of fans know about it!


  2. It's amazing how a single smile can alter your perception. Great story.