Monday, December 7, 2009

Better Friends Than I Deserved [March 19, 2007]]

When I flew back to the USA in the autumn of 2004 to retrieve some things I’d left in the garage of the house I’d owned with my girlfriend Nancy in California’s wine country, I was beside myself with apprehension. My daughter Brigitte hadn’t spoken to me for a year and a half at that point, and I didn’t know how I was going to cope emotionally with the knowledge of her being a couple of miles from where I would be staying. I’d contacted the college she had attended the past couple of years to find out if she were still enrolled, and discovered she wasn’t, which led me to believe that she’d returned to Santa Rosa, where I dreaded encountering her by chance. But my second morning there, I was lucky enough to run into her mother’s third ex-husband (I was No. 2) in Long’s Drugs. When he told me that he understood Brigitte to be studying cosmetology in southern California, I felt as though an SUV had been lifted from my shoulders.

A few hours later, I bought myself a pair of discounted Turntec running shoes at a sporting goods place in one of the city’s two big malls. I wasn’t troubled about never having heard of Turntec; I feel strongly that all Chinese-made athletic footwear is, for all in tents and porpoises, essentially identical. (That said, I wouldn’t wear Nike because it would feel like walking around in a sandwich board proclaiming I’m a sucker for extremely aggressive marketing.) I was intent on getting back into running, which I’d so enjoyed in my early thirties back in Los Angeles.

Impatient as always, I didn’t bother trying them on, and found them a bit tight when I got back to the UK and went for my first runs in them, around dreary Finchley, where both I and the missus disliked living between leaving Teddington toward the end of 2003 and buying our little house in Ham in the spring of 2005. Running was a real struggle; it aggravated myriad old injuries to my left knee and ankle, on which I’d had arthroscopic surgery in San Francisco in the mid-‘90s. After a couple of nights of just barely being able to keep from howling with the pain, in fact, I resigned myself to being unable to run. I’d resisted wearing the Turntecs in everyday situations because it seemed to me that such shoes had become the preferred footwear of granddads, but they were a lot more comfortable than the red, white, and blue Converse high-tops I’d bought in New York City before queuing for 48 hours to admire the view from the top of the Empire State Building.

So I wore them, granddad-on-holiday-style in the Canary Islands – on Tenerife, on Lanzarote – and in Portugal. I wore them in Budapest and in Malaysia in the autumn of 2005. Indeed, I wore them to visit Borneo’s indigenous Iban people during the latter trip, the one on which I was dismayed to see Bon Jovi graffiti on the side of shack in the jungle.

In 2006, I nearly succumbed to depression durng a long stretch when everything I did seemed futile. I was bored to the point of physical discomfort. I made myself run again. It was very hard work; to my great embarrassment, I had all I could do to keep going for 20 minutes. But when I was finished, I felt as though a District Line train were being lifted from my shoulders. There is no antidepressant like a hard workout. At night, though, I would have to bite my lip to keep from howling from the pain in my knee and ankle. Once again I reconciled myself to being a brittle old Jew.

After I wore my Turntecs in Barcelona, and in Prague, and in Thailand, the missus gently observed that she wouldn’t mind not seeing me in them anymore. I wore them to walk her dog in the often muddy Ham Lands across the road from our little house, where I met my friend Rod. I wore them to play tennis with him. Indeed, I was wearing them the afternoon that we tried to play in spite of the court being strewn with wet leaves. I slipped on one while launching one of my very rare forehand winners, and my ankle is in worse shape then ever. Much as it pains me to admit it, my tennis days may be behind me.

I wore them to the local YMCA, where I took to exercising hard six times a week. I wore them to Prague, and then to Tunisia, where, because could be no denying anymore that they looked by now like the shoes of a vagrant, the missus became slightly more vocal about how tired she was of seeing me in them. The right heel came off at the gym one afternoon in late February. The writing was on the wall.

I go into central London approximately once every three months because I can’t bear riding the buses and trains. But I went last week to see my pal Cherryl, a dominatrix from west Yorkshire. Before meeting her, I bought myself a new pair of trainers at a cheap shoe place in Oxford Street. They were marked down to only £6.50 because they were two different sizes. I’m not one to walk away from a bargain.
It occurred to me that I ought to give my Turntecs some sort of dignified send-off – that I ought to burn them and scatter the ashes ceremoniously. But we have no fireplace, and God knows what they’d have smelled like, so I just placed them quietly in the rubbish bin and let them to be carted off ingloriously to a landfill somewhere.

They deserved better. But so too, of course, have most of the people and things in my life.

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