Living in Paoli was a compromise. Sitting at the end of the Main Line commuter route, it marked the outer limits of the Philadelphia suburbs. I only found the place through a realtor kind enough to show me around the area. On hearing that I worked for the investment firm Van Kampen Merritt, she likely assumed I’d have money to burn, and possibly there was a house to sell. In reality, I was a mostly broke young country boy looking for a cheap place to live while figuring out what might happen with the job in downtown Philly.
That was my style if you could call it that. I mostly wanted to live where I could go running with some degree of freedom. I didn’t know Philadelphia well enough to know where to find an apartment. And anyway, I was not much of a city kid. My time in Chicago as an Admissions counselor was immersive in some ways, but it was completely abstract in other ways, because I didn’t live in the city. Commuting from Geneva far out in the suburbs didn’t provide much insight into city life either. I was a man between two worlds.
That’s why I chose to live in the third story of a house on Paoli Avenue right near the city’s downtown. I rented from a couple looking to make money toward their mortgage and the place offered just enough room for a single man.
There was no time for two-a-day workouts with the commute downtown and back. So I concentrated all my running in the evening, plus long workouts on the weekends. In between, I found time to do some painting as well. And also chased women when I could.
That restlessness was the result of an undiagnosed case of ADHD, partnered with anxiety, that sometimes led to depression. There, I’ve said it. No real surprise to write it these days. But back then, it manifested itself in the perpetual pursuit of stimulation.
Made for each other
Running suits the ADHD/Anxiety personality. It dissipates excess energy, for one thing. Fatigue is the friend of the restless. It’s also activity of concentrated focus. Hyper-focus is a trait of ADHD. That’s why I could also paint or write for hours on end, losing myself in the process.
Yet the other factor involved in this young man’s life was desire, sexual and otherwise. Like the main character in the Saul Bellow novel Henderson the Rain King, I ran around hearing “I Want, I Want…” thoughts in my head that never seemed to be satisfied. Hence, the peripatetic pursuit of female attention and a keen desire for approval.
That need for approval emanated from even deeper sources. My sometimes demanding father and a set of competitive brothers set this sensitive boy on a path of perpetual pursuit of favor. All that was complicated by a pursuant lack of self-esteem. The wicked cycle.
None of this kept me from achieving success at times. I’d long learned how to be a leader. Sports helped quite a bit at that. As a baseball pitcher, I was fearless on the mound and typically only lost a game or two per season. Then in high school, thanks to my father’s guidance, I entered the world of running and tried to compete with everyone I could. The fact that one doesn’t always succeed is instructional on its own and develops important leadership skills as well.
Transferring those leadership skills to the world of work isn’t always easy. Down in the city, working amongst a group of relative strangers, and a gang of women to boot, I still felt a bit intimidated and a little lost. The head of the marketing group was no paragon of leadership. His academic style and appearance breathed East Coast effete, and I wondered if he held the real respect of the big bosses out in Philly. Even his name, which I shall not repeat in full, smacked of urban privilege. I tried to like him, and managed well most of the time. But then his somewhat flirtatious approach with the Assistant Vice President made me suspicious. I didn’t fully trust him, in other words.
Plus, he ran like a geek. During the fall, our company signed up for a corporate Olympics of some sort, and the first time I saw him run, it made me queasy. He was a massive overstrider, and to me, that indicated an undiagnosed naivete and an element of cluelessness. His feet struck so far back on his heels that it looked like he was putting on the brakes with every footfall. Blame me for being judgmental if you like, but I saw symbolism in that.
The other people in the workplace, mostly women, were all nice enough. But the whole enterprise felt a bit forced. Much of the main team in my department sat at a set of desks all facing the same direction, much like a game show or a Supreme Court photo opp. I faced the wall with my inclined art table and a cabinet with hanging files. Every time I turned around, I faced this crew of women sitting at their desks.
A British woman I’ll call J was large-breasted and seldom wore a bra beneath her mostly black wardrobe, so you can imagine, I was readily distracted by that. Next to her sat D, a pure Philly girl with big hair, an earthy figure, and a rich accent. Then came B, the prettiest girl in the office. She was gorgeous without even trying, blessed with beautiful hair and a perfect complexion, crystalline green eyes and a set of naturally pouty lips. Filling out the side was a true Philly guy named Lenny, with whom I crafted a cautious relationship because he was the sole other guy my age in the office. We had little in common, but we made it work. Lenny was the down-to-earth city guy and I was the down-to-earth country guy. We even went to a Phillies game one afternoon. Bro time.
The restless age
Given my ADHD, sitting at a desk eight hours a day was never my favorite thing to do. That meant the runs at night were critical to my sanity. I was pretty much still a country boy trying to make life work in the city. I dressed the best way that I could afford, but I failed many days, and overhead the women talking, “He’s sort of homely, but he seems to get dates.”
They were actually correct about that. On my worst days, I was a homely guy. I still had a dark front tooth caused by a baseball accident years before. My hair situation was changing as I balded. When I let the side mane get too long, it tended toward a thick and scraggly look. My thin runner’s face looked haggard on my tired days, and there were plenty. And yet, I still didn’t let any of that slow me down. Whatever drove me, drove me hard.
Dealing with duress
That had its consequences because a naturally anxious person only gets more anxious under fatigue or duress. During long staff meetings, I’d sometimes take to gnawing on my fingernails. One bitten nail snapped so loud that it resonated through the room. Recalling my elder girlfriend’s advice that the best way to deal with mistakes is in the recovery, I laughed it off and said, “Hangnail, sorry.”
I finally started to settle into the office routine, and relationships formed. The Assistant VP and I started a running joke because we’d each begun to notice that the large digital clock on the building across the street often read either 11:11 or 1:11 during our meetings. We’d wait for that moment to arrive and give each other a glance and a thumbs up. Other people bought into the routine, and it formed a nice bond between us all.
So I didn’t hate the place or the people. I was just a guy caught between two worlds. The one I imagined and the one in which I actually lived. The only way to bridge that gap, I reasoned, was to keep on running.