It was a chance meeting on the stairs in the library, she ascending I descending. It was not our first meeting, but a chance meeting nevertheless. We paused on the landing, “Janice?” a question, though I knew her name. We exchanged pleasantries, then parting, she explained she was on her way to see a client, I asked “would you like to go for a bike ride sometime?”
Without hesitation,”Yes I would.” Offer accepted. I was now +1 for the day on the acceptance/rejection scale. We exchanged phone numbers, she giving me her card.
I had seen her at a medium distance from time to time walking her scrappy little poodle. When it was sunny she would wear a golfer’s visor. She walked with the grace of a slender athlete. We were neighbors really: she at 1053 and I at 1121. Earlier in the week, after the annual condo meeting, I had approached her to say hello. We fell into an easy conversation for a few minutes then moved on to talk with others.
It took a series of phone calls to establish a meeting time and place, with each call we talked more about who we are and what we do. There were weather complications. Consulting our respective weather sites and radar maps, we decided to forgo the bikes. Instead a walk in the rain followed by dominoes. Dominoes? OK.
She strode with purpose. I was surprised at my increased work of breathing to match her pace while talking, while listening. I found myself making ridiculous attempts to warp the time scale of my history in an effort to suggest that I was not much farther down the road than she. We took notice of the trees and the river. She told me more about her pet sitting business. I expressed admiration that she was self-reliant, an entrepreneur.
Dominoes is just a simple kids game. Or so I thought until I began to understand the rules for Mexican Train dominoes. She explained that they play it at the community center along with doubles table tennis. She was working on learning the game. It’s analogous to backgammon in its mix of strategy with chance. We played a spirited game each making laughable errors due to incomplete focus on the tiles. I was gracious in defeat but hastened to add “I will expect a rematch, next time at my place?”
A writer needs to find his authentic voice, I aim for an observer’s voice; factual and descriptive, perhaps with overtones of lyricism. Descriptive more than polemical. Feature journalism rather than hard news. A style in which fewer than a thousand words will create an image. In practice I find myself careering from overwrought prose to sophomoric snideness, and finally falling into cliche. For example, the last line in this piece doesn’t really fit, but I wanted to work in a phrase that I came up with so I tacked it on the end.
I would venture to say that virtually all good writers start out as hacks, most remaining hacks, or if they don’t find an audience for bad writing, and there surely is such an audience, giving up. As Churchill was fond of saying,“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
It seems counter- intuitive that one would maintain enthusiasm by pushing a lot of bad writing out at his friends. Yet for myself the process requires an audience, however reluctant, to close the loop.
How to deal with the inevitable embarrassment and humiliation? First, I have reached an age when the ego has begun to recede. Secondly, I recall a useful insight I picked up some time ago. It was something like “Don’t be overly concerned about what people may think of you because they are not thinking about you!” They are thinking about themselves. [Heard about that person? Oh yeah, that person. Now back to thinking about myself]. Finally, some may be offended. So be it. Let them take what comfort they can as their flinty hearts are warmed by smoldering resentment.
(Adjective) physical therapist holds elderly men in thrall to her muscularity. Promises renewed youth and vitality if they will sign over their Medicare cards. Her following steadily grows into a cult of narcissistic body worship. She sends them out on bicycles to recruit the lonely and dispossessed from the senior centers of DuPage County. As testosterone level soar, informal leaders emerge and rivalries develop. Complications ensue etc, etc.
Early autumn on the prairie; still green, now awash in amber, gold, sienna, and sepia tones. Headed into the northeast wind — windward out, leeward in — taking me through Herrick lake preserve. Pilot black snake lying in the middle of the crushed limestone path, absorbing his preferred infrared band of the warm October sun. Through the horse tunnel into Danada, I arrive at “Wheaton overlook,” a modest hill above Rice Lake with a wide view of its indigo surface and the shops and houses beyond. On the way back the hill now looms as a singular challenge: flex the quads, gear down, now recruit the abdominals, breathe. Retrace my path then re-enter the late afternoon traffic crush. With an assist from the brisk wind at my back, I achieve a respectable 22 mph until I am able to turn off onto a residential street and home to enjoy an endorphin cocktail.
My physical therapist has powerful shoulders.
Taking a southwest route tacking into a heavy blow, I am hoping to outrun that slow moving green blob now engulfing Elgin on the weather radar map.
Down River road into a maze of meandering streets and culs-de-sac, their appearance bearing no relation to their descriptive names — Goldenrod to Raintree to Sequoia to Whispering Hills. Maples are flaming out on the parkways.
I’m conscious of my shoulder alignment, having worked the day before on resisted abductions and extensions on the pulleys. I had noticed her wonderful arm definition. Would she take it the wrong way if I were to tell her she had an amazing body? Would I mean it the wrong way?
Musing on these matters, along Book Road, I was jolted back into the present by a narrowly averted encounter with a Focus at the intersection. I safely made the entrance to the eight miles of winding trails through Springbrook. One thousand acres of pure prairie, it has been reclaimed from farmland and from the man-made Dragon Lake. From the south the view is of russet grasses extending to the horizon.
I’ve been out in heavy rains. I accept the possibility of becoming an incidental participant in earth’s water cycle. But today I return home tired and dry, just before the blob sweeps in.