On Saturday, I rode my scooter up to the Art Museum so that I could run the loop along the Schuylkill River. What should have been a relaxing and mood-enhancing run was cut short by insurmountable pain, so I gimped on back to my ride parked at Lloyd Hall and evaluated what do to next. As I could not modulate my serotonin levels through the application of endorphins, I would have to settle for the next best thing: Serotonin modulation via carbohydrate intake. Thus began my crippled journey in search of bread. (Sounds simple, doesn’t it?)
Distance Running: Jesus, Why? Those who value a life that is not filled with physical pain may be wondering: What the hell was Liz doing trying to run 8.49 miles on Saturday morning in the first place? Good question. It sort of started last November when I ran the Rocky Run, which is (or was/used to be) a nice little 10k race along the river. I didn’t bother to train for it; I just got up that morning, rode my scooter to the Art Museum, and did it. See? Look, proof:
And, yes, that is an “Italian Stallion” sweat shirt festooning my scooter — and, yes, I proudly wore that while running the race. And, further yes, I owned that bad boy before the race. I purchased it years ago, thinking: Hmm, never know when I might need one of these. And then, lo and behold, on November 14, 2015, I needed it. To further enhance its awesomeness, the back of the sweat shirt is completely taken up with this insignia:
(In case you were wondering, yes, I’m Italian (well, half — the other half is equally fiery and stubborn: Russian — but Russian Stallion, A) doesn’t rhyme and B) isn’t on a sweat shirt anywhere)).
Ok, so, what the hell does any of this have to do with anything? Even though the race is in November, advanced registration opened a couple weeks ago, and SURPRISE!! It’s no longer a 10k — they made it a full half. To run 13.1 miles, I probably should train — not just roll out of bed and scoot on over to the course.
I’ve run halves before — I actually ran the Philly Marathon back in 2004. (But then my right knee told me to never, EVER do that again.) But up until the point that my right knee put its foot down, I did enjoy distance running. I started running after I was laid off from my first law-firm job back in 2002. Although attributed to department “right-sizing” after a down-turn in IP work following the 9/11 attacks, my head was on the chopping block for one simple reason: my then-boss hated me. Not just a little hatred — mad, passionate hatred. So, when it came time to “right-size” (I detest euphamisms — let’s call it what it was: my ass was fired), I was on the short list. Initial attempts to find a new full-time job failed — I actually had several headhunters laugh at me and tell me that I should prepare to die of starvation and exposure before landing another IP job in Philadelphia as a mere second-year associate, who had just been laid-off/right-sized/fired/pink-slipped/shit-canned.
Out of the Darkness:
So, the summer of 2002 was a dark time. Unemployed, loans to pay, no job prospects. The image of “The Way I Thought My Life Would Be” lay in a pile of schrapnel and broken glass. It was a time of great self-loathing and even greater self-pity. Ever a champion of dark humor, I hung my two Ivy League degrees over the toilet along with a little sign, “In case of emergency, break glass.” (They were, after all, utterly useless for any other purpose.) Somehow, they almost became an embarrassment. People and society did what they do best: they judged — “Wow, two Ivy degrees and you still can’t get a job? There must be something really wrong with you.” And I fell into the greater trap: Believing them.
One day, right around my 27th birthday, the anger and sadness were so acutely overwhelming, while I was home alone, I hauled off and tried to punch a wall.
Unfortunately, that wall was plaster-lath, and had the integrity of steel.
There I was — alone, sitting on the floor, sobbing in pain, hoping that I hadn’t broken my right hand on top of everything else. (Serotonin levels were at an all-time low — well beyond even what carbohydrates could repair.)
It was time for things to change.
What with being broke and all, and having nothing but time on my hands, I needed to find something that was a) free and b) could absorb an infinite amount of time. Enter the Pavement. The streets are free and always open. So I started running. Morning, noon, and night. I’d go on several runs a day, until I was too physically exhausted to ruminate or feel mental pain. If my legs gave out, I’d go the gym and cross-train. I ran the Art Museum Loop countless times. With distance running, I could think about mileage, scenery, and the music in my discman (don’t laugh — it was 2002 after all). I could process and make peace with the intrusive, nagging thoughts. At some point, it dawned on me, I’m doin’ all this runnin’ I should probably sign up for a race or something. So I ran the half-marathon that fall, and then Broad Street that spring, and others.
Did life presto-chango turn into a magical land of happy, with unicorns and rainbow-colored pegasuses? Nope. As I once read in a poem, one must “ease himself out of sadness.” So, I climbed/clawed/eased myself out. I got a new job. I paid my loans. I did not die of starvation and exposure. Did life continue to have ups and downs after that? Yes. Were some of the “downs” epic? Yes. Sometimes I joke with people that I’ve been to hell and back so often, that I have loyalty cards for the cafes and hotels there. But after a jaunt around the Nine Circles, I somehow always manage to make it back. And each pass gets shorter, and I learn something along the way. One of the followers of this blog once said that “experience is what you get when you’re hoping for something else.” Experience is a harsh (and sometimes cruel) teacher — but if you one day discover that you’ve stopped learning, check your pulse. You might be dead.
Jesus — Can You Talk About the Bread Already?
I do try to keep the posts light and entertaining, but sometimes important things have to get said. Thanks to those of you who are still reading here. Anyway, on Saturday, I had run as far as the Strawberry Mansion Bridge when my right calf and left hip gave out. If you know anything about running, you know that it involves the use of your legs. It’s hard to use your legs when one calf and the opposite hip decide that they are done with you. So I hobbled back to the bike and thought — Well now what? As stupid as it sounds, I decided that I really wanted the chocolate cherry pumpernickel bread from the most-expensive-bakery-in-Rittenhouse-Square.
Calling this chocolate-cherry pumpernickel substance “bread” is laughable. It’s cake that someone decided to call bread, perhaps to assuage the guilt that goes along with eating it. Oh, I didn’t just have three slices of “cake” — no, that was “bread” — just bread. If you’ve never seen chocolate-cherry pumpernickel, you have my undying pity. It looks like this:
So I rode my crippled-ass self to this bakery. My calf was so mangled (probable from having already run the Loop several days prior) that I struggled to get the bike up onto its center stand. After several attempts that culminated in a flying-leap of a try, I got the bike up and gimped across 19th Street to the bakery. So, there I was in this hoy-paloy bakery, looking like a refugee from a North Korean prison camp — barely able to move, sweaty, and my hair was pulled back with a bungee cord. (My hair tie blew off during the ride up the Ben Franklin Parkway, so I Macgyver’ed a hair-tie system with the only thing I had in the bike: bungee cords.)
“Hi, may we help you?”
“Hi — can I get a loaf of the chocolate-cherry pumpernickel, please?”
“Oh, we don’t have that today.”
“Yeah, we used to have that on Saturdays and Sundays, and then on Fridays and Saturdays, but now during the summer, we only have it on Fridays.”
I glanced around. There were no signs that alerted people to this devastating news. And for those of us who work on Fridays, I guess that means no bread.
“Would you like something else?”
I looked around some more. In lieu of chocolate-cherry manna from heaven, the shelves behind the clerk were stacked with scones. Every type of scone of which mankind could conceive.
Pity I don’t like scones — like a cross between a muffin and Gobi-desert sand. Oh, how the scones did mock me.
Heart-broken, I limped out the door. One block away, on 20th Street, there was another high-end bakery. One block. A couple hundred feet along Manning or Spruce Street. In my current state, it may as well have been the distance between Mystic, Connecticut and the bleeding edge of the expanding Universe…
But God damn it, I wanted chocolate bread so f–ing badly.
So I got back on the bike, and rode the one block. And again I did the acrobatics to get the bike up on the center stand. And I crippled my way into the bakery, while horrified rich people gazed upon me as though I were a leper.
Again — there were scones. Acres of scones. No one must buy these things, given how many seem to sit around looking for loving homes.
And what did I finally get? This:
That, my friends, is a mini-chocolate babka. Hands-down, my favorite piece of Eastern European Jewish tradition.
Times of trouble and pain are always temporary — even when they feel as though they are not. By 2003 I had a job. By Monday, I could walk.
Maybe by Friday, I can even figure out how to get the damn bread.