During my run today I looked down and saw a few small bubbles poking up from the surface of the tar at the edge of the road. I stopped and bent down to use the tip of my pointer finger to pop one of the bubbles. It didn’t exactly pop, but it did give a satisfying collapse in going from convex to concave.
Pushing that tar bubble made me think back to those slow days as a kid when I’d wander back from the swimming pool with no real pressure to get home or do anything else that I didn’t want to do. The neighborhood that stood between the pool and home was safe enough for a kid of eight or nine years old to walk along with no worries. So I’d wrap a towel from swimming all day over my shoulders and walk back home on streets named after golf course terms. There was Niblick Avenue and Divot Court. We lived near a private country club you see. some developer must have thought it would be cute to use golf terms to name the asphalt streets lined with modest homes.
Our family wasn’t actually members of that country club. We just had an “associate” membership that allowed us to swim at the Meadia Heights pool. These days its just a crumbling old relic. But in those days it was a bright blue pool with low and high diving boards and a snack shop that had everything a kid could need to make it through the day.
But as afternoon waned and it was time to head home, I’d say goodbye to friends or walk with them until they turned off to head down their own street. Along the way we’d hunt for “Fool’s Gold” as we called it. All the local kids had collections of the stuff. It would show up with a bright golden glint in the gravel next to the asphalt. Usually it was in cubic form. Sometimes it would be embedded in the tar. If a chunk of pyrite was big enough we’d dig it out with our fingers or a stick and take it home to add to our collection. I also had a collection of golf balls from wandering the fairways of the country club, a butterfly collection carefully preserved in a set of cigar boxes and a baseball card collection that included many of the New York Yankees, then my favorite team. I had cards for Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Rocky Calavito, Joe Pepitone, Whitey Ford along with a host of other baseball players from the Orioles, Giants, Pirates (Roberto Clemente!) Red Sox and Cardinals. But even though we lived near Philadelphia, I never liked the Phillies.
Those were the small pleasures of youth, all those collections. It felt like I owned something precious. Yet I also recall a deep sense of peace walking those streets on the way home from the pool and feeling a sense of freedom in having so few obligations. My body would be relaxed from swimming all day. The sun kept me warm all the way home. I could walk along with my own thoughts, dreaming about this thing or that. The only thing missing (I suppose) was a group of imaginary friends the likes of Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore and Piglet. But I was never much into the imaginary friend thing. I studied the birds instead. That’s a hobby I still carry with me to this day. a
As for the journey home, my imagination was rich enough to fill in the gaps. In fact it has always been a little too rich for my own good. I struggled in classes at school that bored me. I abhorred boredom. So I’d draw instead.
Abiding those habits is probably why I’m not rich in the material sense of having lots of money. I find joy in creating things instead, especially writing and painting. Yes, I have made money at those things over time. But I don’t obsess over money perhaps the way I should. A few artists do. But most of us don’t.
I’ve written extensively about those couple years I spent running and painting and writing for all that I was worth. Something in me knew that taking time to do those things at that point in life was a precious investment in my long term self. And learning to survive on little has at times come in handy over the years.
Yet during one of those summers in which I was training so much and writing all day, a friend at time once stood over me and said, “You know, self-indulgence is not the way to self-fulfillment.” He was basically accusing me of doing nothing more than popping tar bubbles on the road to life.
Perhaps he was right. But I say you have to pause to pop the tar bubbles along the road of life or you’ll find yourself looking back and realize it’s been one long tarsnake from one end to the other.