In 1981 the world was going nuts for running. The second phase of the American running boom was in full swing. As an avid runner, I thought (and was sincerely hoping) that it might mean women would find me more attractive.
Somehow that was not entirely the case. The bar scenes were still pretty much about first impressions, and skinny guys in running shoes were not exactly chick magnets. At the time, those of us (guys) who were totally into running saw our running shoe collection as the sexiest thing we could possibly own. It wasn’t.
Truth be told, women see the world in an entirely different way.
At the age of 23, I met a woman who was 33. We ignored the generation gap for the sake of our appetites. She accepted that I was deep into running, and I soon learned that she was massively into smoking pot. I was getting more than one runner’s high per week. So we had an interesting dating relationship. A yin and yang of sorts. Opposites often attract.
Her view of my running was objective. My view of her life was experiential.
I weighed all of 140 lbs. My heart rate was just over 40 beats per minute. I could get buzzed on two beers. Thanks to all the training I was doing, most of my days were spent in a state of near fatigue. That did not quell my appetites, which were ravenous on many fronts. It was the dietary fashion of the day to consume massive amounts of carbohydrates. Meals like that would produce a buzz all their own. Add a bit of pot to that formula and life was on a perpetual roll.
One summer evening we walked a mile to a local ice cream shop. On the way back we stopped at a park bench to smoke a bowl of her powerful Turkish weed. I was instantly so high that walking in a straight line was difficult. I’d already run 6 miles that morning and eight miles in the afternoon with some fartlek thrown in. I was so tired. And so goddamn high.
It was glorious, in its way.
One could hardly say that a state of mind like that is bad, but it is in certainly not constructive toward other things in life. And as I sat there, some guilt crept into my brain thinking about a couple college cross country college teammates that had been ruined by smoking too much pot. They lost all motivation. Now I could see why. On that park bench, I had no will to do anything but sit there and watch the trees shimmer in the ultraviolet light of dusk.
My girlfriend sat there watching me as I was mesmerized by a line of crows coursing back to their roost at sunset. They seemed to be on a repeating loop. It felt like all the world’s reality operated that way. The song Tomorrow Never Knows came to mind.
Turn off your mind relax and float downstream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
I looked over at her sitting on the park bench. Her liquid hazel eyes focused on mine. We seemed so close, yet also as far apart as one could possibly imagine. I was reading a series of books by Carlos Castaneda at the time. The stories worked in a way that you could not tell fact from fiction. That moment felt the same way. What the hell was reality?
Watching the wheels go round
Up to that point in time, I thought I knew what reality was. Running was real.
Curious about my running life, my girlfriend came to the track one day while my best friend and I were doing a set of 12 X 400 meters at 60-64 seconds. Following the workout, she waiting for us in the stands. We climbed up to meet her with our track spikes clicking on the aluminum seats.
“Your strides were perfectly synchronized,” she told us. “It was beautiful to watch.”
I’m pretty sure she’d been toking up in the stands. Yet we’d also been immersed in a different dimension and time running on the track. It was truly an unreal feeling.
She was never tempted at all to get into running herself. Her life was a yin and yang of immersion in her work and her joys. She earned $90,000 working six months of the year as an interior designer fixing up condominiums around Oak Street in Chicago. She had it sussed, you might say.
The rest of her year she’d pack up her pot and drive around the country in a carefully reconditioned green Volkswagon van. That vehicle remains the hippie transport for now and all time. What is it about that green color? It looks like you could smoke it.
Let it go
She’d call me long distance from some lonely gas station in the desert or up in the mountains. We’d talk about whatever came to mind. I’d tell her about some race I’d just run and she’d ask, “What else are you doing? Are you painting?”
Then she’d issue an invitation: “I wish you could skip work and ride around the country with me,” she’d say.
Of course I was tempted. But what about reality? How would I find a job when I got back?
In some ways, we were like a perpetual motion machine driven by taps and momentum. But in reality, there is no such thing.
We were watching the wheels go round and round. One drove the other, but to what end?
Dating that older woman taught me a few harsh lessons in decorum. One evening I showed up dressed in a brand new Western shirt and corduroys. She looked me up and down and said, “You think I’m going out with you in that?”
I was somewhat hurt. I’d made a special trip to the mall to buy the shirt. The corduroys were fairly new. I thought I looked good. She said: “You need to go to Marshall’s and buy some khaki pants, and a nice blue pin-striped shirt. And some shoes.”
Grownup clothes. I think it might have been the running shoes with the corduroys that killed the look.
Advice from older women
It wasn’t the first time an older woman had given me strong advice and insights into life. At the time, I worked in the city of Chicago at an investment firm. Over lunch breaks, I’d made a conversational friend with a gal named Nancy. She had a pile of dramatically coiffed red hair and wore bright red lipstick to match.
As I shared the tale of my relatively recent breakup with the woman I’d dated in college, she listened closely to the story of our promise ring and the pressure to get married. It didn’t help that my faux-fiance’s less-than-supportive parents held a dim view of my future. To them, it wasn’t good.
Nancy stared across the table at me and flicked her fork in the air after taking a bite of salad. With her mouth still full, she pointed the utensil in my direction and told me, “You’re too young to get married. You haven’t lived enough yet.”
Then she opened up about her own history. She’d once been a much skinnier woman. The game of constantly losing weight to impress men had gotten old with her. “I used to be hot,” she told me with a flirtatious dose of disregard. ” But it’s just not worth it. Most men don’t appreciate you anyway.”
Then raising her fork up in the air as if it were a totem, she told me how she’d once climbed under the breakfast table to give her man oral sex before serving him scrambled eggs. She winked at me with her thick black eyelashes and said, “You have much more life to live,” she smiled.
The lessons a young man needs to know about the minds of women are not always so direct. While out on a double date with my best friend and her roommate, we were all exiting the restaurant when my friend stopped to chat with a female high school friend who was just heading into dinner.
The three of us waited a long time outside in the car until my girlfriend and her roommate had enough waiting. “We’re leaving,” my girlfriend said.
No!” I begged. “He’s just social. He’ll be out in a minute.”
“He’s a jerk,” his date insisted. They put the car in gear to leave. We were driving through the lot when he came out the door looking around sheepishly for our car. They had mercy on him, but not by much. It was stone cold silence toward him on the way home. But that didn’t stop him from screwing his date on a lawn chair later that evening. Like I said, you can’t always know the mind of a woman.
The lesson here is that women appreciate a bit of precociousness in their men, but not when it crosses a line into disrespect. That comes from self-absorption, the true vexation of many a young man.
For me, that self-absorption was poured headlong into running. Young men do need something to absorb their extra energies; physical, sexual or otherwise. A patient woman appreciates that. Until her patience finally wears out.
Because what else could cause young men to sexually pleasure themselves many times a day, or run workouts so long their bodies are thinned out like carefully shaven pencils? It’s the manic energy of youth that all men must learn to contain and put it to good use down the road. But the real problem in this world is that some men never grow up. That’s why the #metoo movement is necessary. It’s all about teaching the self-absorbed how to show respect, and to stop testing the patience of women who actually want to get things done.
Embers and fire
I recall how the relationship with my pot-smoking older girlfriend actually ended. Some dates with destiny begin with embers and fire, but in the end, they wind up in smoke and mirrors. I recall that I showed up at her door a few weeks after we’d largely called it quits. It was late at night, and I was a bit drunk and horny. I knocked on her door, but that exchange made it clear that things were fully concluded between us.
Some lessons are never forgotten. It is never wise or kind to trifle with the lives of others. You’re either in the game, or you are not. For all the seeming escapism of the pot-fueled lifestyle, that girlfriend had a sound foundation as a person. I was a young man experimenting with who I’d come to be, and she was a woman calculating the costs of her own security.
And in case nobody’s ever told you, it’s all part of a process never ends.