Back On the Rock

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wars on the Home Front

The murder rate has hit its all time high in Jamaica, but yet sometimes I feel very removed from it. Nobody in my family seems to be perturbed. While I fret and frown over security concerns, my family carries on with their lives with a calm I find confusing.

Take our neighbourhood crackhead. “We have a little crackhead,” my stepmother tells me casually when I first arrive. “He’s harmless.” The crackhead rolls himself around Hope Pastures in a wheelchair, except for on the steepest inclines when he hops out and pushes the chair up the hill. He slides in and out of locked houses with impunity, stealing money and small items. I don’t find it harmless when he breaks in and steals a purse that was resting a mere two feet from my head. But nobody else seems to be really upset.

The crackhead’s face is smooth and clean-shaven. But for the blank eyes, he could have been handsome. I see him in the street one day, on our way to the supermarket with my step-mother. “That’s the crackhead,” she says, pulling over, then calmly, almost gently, she asks him, “Why are you here? You need to leave this neighbourhood, okay?”

He robbed my father’s house again that night. He stole money, cell phones, a single sock and a bottle of antibacterial hand wash. And he relieved himself on the lawn (hence the sock and the hand wash, I guess). He threw the bottle of hand wash back through the window in a gesture of thoughtfulness that is, apparently, his MO. When he stole the neighbour’s pants off the clothes line a few months ago, he hung his pair neatly in its place.

The crackhead fascinates me, but not as much as the way my family and the neighbours view him. They are mildly irritated, but not much more.

“Somebody broke into a house in Barbican,” my stepmother tells me one night. “Fished out the key with a pole and a hook and just let himself in.

“I think it was our crackhead.”

Our crackhead. I can’t tell from her tone if she’s sad or proud that our crackhead has expanded his turf.

The policemen who come to investigate the latest robbery are equally casual, if slightly less benign. “The said crackhead breaking all the house up here?” the lead investigator asks, sounding genuinely confused.

“So why unnu don’t shoot him? Nobody up this side have a piece?” Struck dumb by my just-come-back-from-foreign political correctness, I barely manage to mouth a ‘no’.

The terrorist in my mother’s neighbourhood is not a crackhead. She is a seamstress. An old seamstress, whom I remember from childhood as sane, if slightly caustic. I still have a laundry bag - in perfectly good condition - that she made for me in the early eighties. It appears that in the years since then her sanity has not held up as well. She planted a pumpkin patch, nearly 10' x 20', on the left side of the parking lot. The parking lot pumpkin patch, it appears, bothers no one but me. “It makes a great ground cover,” my mother says in defense of the seamstress. I suppose it may have at some point, but I am certain that, even in Jamaica, ground cover is not supposed to be 4’ tall.

At first I thought the pumpkin patch was the work of our neighbour, the Dread. (Colour me guilty of stereotyping – the Dread and the pumpkin patch seemed like a logical fit.) But when I went to discuss the patch with the Dread, I learned the true story.

“A she. She with her almond dem and her jungle.” The jungle in question is the miniature Fern Gully the seamstress has planted right in the parking lot of my mother’s apartment building. An almond tree on the far side of the lot arcs across and descends into a 12' x 20’ patch of trees, potted plants and assorted shrubbery, that she has planted and placed right in front of her door.

“This is my car,” she says in response to my protest. “I am entitled to a parking space and I am using it.”

Life in Jamaica is full of these moments – the absurd, the inexplicable, the scenes and statements to which there is no appropriate response.

Or so I thought, until I pulled into a gas station in Liguanea with my step-mother and encountered an old man standing in front of the station’s convenience store. Arms skyward, screaming at the heavens, soaked in perspiration and frustration.


The cause of his angst? One ancient, rickety bike. One large ‘carton box’. And one extra-large, higgler-size suitcase. Every attempt to balance the box and grip failed, sending the bike crashing to the ground.

On goes the grip. Then the box. The bike falls.


And so it went on. My step-mother and I laughed and laughed. Then, in an attempt to be helpful, I crossed the gas-station and approached the old man.

“Let me help,” I said. “It’s better for you to put them on the bike when you’re ready to ride out. Just leave them on the ground. I’ll watch them while you go into the store.”

The old man seemed startled, and not in a good way. He looked at me gravely and declared:

“Lady, this is between me, God, and this bike.”

As I walked back to my car, the bike fell again and the old man screamed:


I drove to my mother’s and, to my utter shock, found the crackhead wheeling his chair up her street. Before I could process this latest turf expansion, I was distracted by the sound of almonds raining down on the roof of my car. I pondered the crackhead, the jungle, the pumpkin patch, trying to find an appropriate response.

I went inside, slammed the door, and screamed.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Small Frey

The controversy surrounding James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, hardly needs more ink, but who can resist jumping into the fray. Curiously subordinated in the debate over Frey’s liberties with the truth is a discussion of the literary merit of the book itself. How did such a contrived, heavy-handed work earn the accolades of which it is now being stripped? Has the literary world given into the sensationalism that plagues the rest of the entertainment industry where the gawker element of “reality” supercedes the quality of the work itself?

Frey struggled for years to get A Million Little Pieces published as a novel. There is a reason for that: it is badly written. Bloated with cardboard characters, excessive detail and what the back jacket proudly proclaims as “stylistic tics” – an overwhelmingly monotonous tone, deconstructed grammar, piecy phrasing and endless, endless, painfully endless repetition - Pieces is an interesting read, but not necessarily a good one. Frey uses his curious writing convention to add spice to his story, like throwing in a hip hop backbeat to remix an otherwise lame song. What is sad is that passing the book off as a memoir, changed not only readers’ reactions to the content of the story, but reviewers’ reactions to the quality of the writing. Frey, the unpublishable author, became Frey, the “voice of his generation.” A shocking switch, since Frey’s writing style is the one thing that has stayed consistent in his flip flops about the veracity of the book. Who cares if it’s true? The writing ain’t that great.

Addiction literature, in its plumbing of our worst weaknesses and our basest behaviours is, well, addictive. Frey is not the inventor of this genre, nor is he the master. That he has now called the genre into question is perhaps his greatest sin. For a treatment of the same subject by far better writers, pick up Caroline Knapp’s Drinking or Augusten Burrough’s Dry. The latest memoir by Burroughs is, by the way, now being questioned for its accuracy. It may not be entirely truthful, but if Burrough’s past work is precedence, his next book will, unlike Frey’s, be artful.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Miami Miles: Race Day

Here I am. I’ve trained too little, drank too much, slept too little and scratched a lovely little pattern all over my body. But none of this matters now. It’s 6 am and I’m at the start of the ING Miami Half Marathon. My very first. Getting to the starting line feels like a huge accomplishment. Looking at the nearly 14,000 runners assembled for the half and the full marathon reminds me why I love to run. There are old people, young people, fat people, skinny people, able bodied and physically challenged, every ethnicity imaginable. Each of us is different, but the current, the palpable chemistry that runs through the crowd connects us all. I forget about the training. I forget about my goal. I forget about the cow itch and my sore hamstrings. I just want to run.

Later, my team members will talk about the sights – the beautiful homes, the picturesque streets, the views of the ocean. The details are a blur to me. I remember it like a movie. I’m there, but not really. I’m wherever it is I go on a really great run. Somewhere in my head. Somewhere deep inside myself.

At mile 5, my reverie breaks. The dreaded blister returns. I could kick myself for not preventing it. I run the next three miles testing out positions for my left foot. I run on my toes, my heel, the outside of my foot – anything to avoid putting my left foot down squarely. By mile 8, I’m miserable. My left ankle is throbbing from all the contortions. Hang in there, I tell myself. Worse case scenario, you have 50 minutes left. At mile 10, a young volunteer with a warped sense of humour proclaims to the crowd “It’s mile 8. 5 more to go.” I resist the urge to take off my left sneaker and beat the kid to a pulp.

Images pop out at me like postcards. An eight year old girl with a sign that says simply, “Go runners.” A wheelchair athlete pushing himself up one of the challenging inclines to the tumultuous applause of the able bodied runners who pause, sacrificing their goal times, to watch him meet a much greater goal. Running through the narrow streets downtown in between hundreds of screaming spectators. A little black boy whose face lights up so brightly when he sees me, I momentarily think that I must know him.

At the twelve mile mark, I figure the only way to end the pain is to run faster. So I put my foot down and try to run as fast as I can. Instead of trying to avoid the pain, I just acknowledge it and run with it. It works for about three quarters of a mile. Just when I think I’ve had enough, the finish line comes into view. We round a deceptively long corner and I make one final big sprint home. The clock says 1:56. Later my chip time rounds out at 1:53:42. Not bad for a first timer.

But the clock doesn't tell the whole story. 1:53:42 can’t capture the memories of the last eight weeks: the different routes I’ve run, seeing a new side of Jamaica; the friendships I’ve forged with RM and my little group of banking buddies; our conversations; the goals we’ve set and shared. So I didn’t make 1:45, but I achieved something more than a goal time. I set myself a challenge and I met it. I committed to something for eight weeks and I stuck with it. I reconnected with the stronger side of myself – the side I like, the side that tries hard and pushes hard and doesn’t give up. The side that revels in being 35 and knows that that number, like my time, is only part of the story.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 1

My priorities are off. Tuesday and Wednesday I can’t make it out of bed. Thursday morning I go for my last pre-race run with the bankers. We trade in our usual Thursday hill run for an easy five mile course around UWI, out the Hospital Gate, down Hope Road, back along Garden and up Mona Road. Easy stuff, right? On the first loop around UWI I feel haphazard and uncertain. I’m running with Jen-Laden, the trainer and though our pace is slower than usual things just don’t feel right. Up the slight incline at the hospital, my stride improves and I put a little distance between us. As we take the turn back unto the main campus, my legs wake up and the run finally starts to feel good. We pause for water at Assembly Hall, before heading back up to the hospital. Once we’re running out on the street, the adrenaline kicks in. The morning traffic is picking up. There’s something curiously exciting about running down Hope Road wile people are heading for work. It’s tempting to go all out and only the re-ermegence of Saturday’s blister reminds me to rest my legs.

As we make the left turn unto Garden, I start to kick. I’ve driven down Garden Boulevard what, 1,000 times? Who knew it was this long? How long can one road possibly be? I slow down and Jen Laden nearly catches me. I cruise unto Mona Road and make one final run for home. I have very little left for the final sprint to Assembly Hall, but pride forces me to find another gear. Hmm. I don’t bother to look at my watch. It’s race week and I still haven’t clawed my way back to my 8:00 pace. Who knows what Miami will bring?


Drinking and dancing all night at the Jazz Festival is probably not the best pre-race warm up, but that’s how I spend Thursday night. (Thank you, John Legend…It was well worth the trip). On Friday, I’m at Sangster International, tired and groggy, when I realize I’ve brought the wrong passport with me. So I hop a flight to Kingston and change my ticket to fly out from Norman Manley Saturday morning. So do I spend Friday night resting quietly at home? Of course not. RM and I down a cue each at Port Royal and then head off to a birthday party. It’s unusually cold and wind whips us mercilessly as we enter his friend’s house. Five minutes later, I start to itch. This isn’t exactly proper dinner party behaviour. As I struggle to scratch my neck, my arms, my legs discreetly, I realize I’m not the only one doing it.

“Cow itch,” our host proclaims, handing me a bottle of rubbing alcohol. What the hell is cow itch? “It’s not a big deal,” he says. “They’re little seeds with barbs on them that get carried my wind. It’ll wear off in a few days.” A few days? I glare balefully at RM, seized with visions of running 13.1 miles scratching myself silly.

Rubbing alcohol into my skin does nothing for the itching. Drinking alcohol is much more effective. Several vodka tonics (and one very long hot shower later) I’m calm enough to go to sleep. But not for long. A few hours later it’s time to get up and before I know it I’m at Norman Manley, heading for Miami.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 2

On Tuesday when the alarm goes off my body refuses to budge. So I swap a gym day for a run. Wednesday: I’m at UWI at 5 am with RM and his group. Unintentionally, I take the pace out fast. But it feels good so I stay there. RM calls me on it on the first of three hospital loops, but his friend M encourages me to keep going. “Do your thing,” she says. “Push us.” This is the best kind of challenge. Not competition, just a mutual agreement to test our limits.

RM and I fall into a hospital loop strategy. On the campus side of the loop, there is an incline where I am tempted to be slow. He pushes me. On the street side of the loop, he tends to wane. I push him. With M, we leave the rest of the group behind, and forge ahead. I feel strong and happy. Nothing hurts.

Back on Ring Road after the third hospital loop, M puts on a surge. I answer. I try to remind myself that this isn’t the end of the run, but still the urge to go all out is there. I push ahead of her, but it doesn’t feel like a kill. Some saner, more rational part of myself processes it more healthily: I have more today; I give more today.

We regroup at the Assembly Hall water break. On the incline past the Students Union, RM and I open up a gap on M. We slow sporadically to wait for her, but once we cut across the field and turn on to Ring Road, it’s every man for himself. I go all out for a final kick too early. Where the backside is Assembly Hall? I have to slow down and RM catches me. But 200 metres out I start to kick again, stronger than I have felt in months, faster than last week’s sprint. RM doesn’t answer. By now, I don’t need him to.

Thursday: I’m infecting RM with my bad behavior. Wednesday night we split a bottle of wine. When we check in with each other at 4:45 neither one of us feels like running. But I have an 8:00 class so I have to get up early anyway. Might as well get a run in.

Besides, I have a date with Long Mountain.

By 5:30 we’re on campus. RM hangs back to talk politics with the CEO. The Flame and I head off down Mona Road. Soon C joins us. But before long, I’m out front by myself. We make the turn unto Karachi and I think about holding back. I need Jen-Laden or RM to drag me up this hill. I can’t punk out again. But something tells me this is my fight. My run. My hill. I have to motivate myself.

Up the first incline, the urge to stop is strong and I beg myself not to give up. C trots past me and lights a spark. Before I know it I’m chasing him, albeit slowly, up the hill. I’m huffing and puffing; rattling like a 35 year old Chevy. C offers me water. I decline. When the incline softens I make my move. Pack leader again. Uphill. This is a new one for me. I push as far as I can. About 2/3 of the way up the hill, I walk. I’m running so slowly it makes no sense. So I walk the last two inclines as fast as I can and keep climbing a couple hundred metres past the Long Mountain gate to cool down. C. runs up behind me. “You’re as fit as a fiddle.” No sign of Jen Laden and the Flame.

RM catches up with me as I make my return to the gate. We run the downhill as fast as we can. I pull away from him on Karachi and manage to hang on to a slim lead down Mona Road. On campus, the will to sprint is there, but the legs are not. I manage a moderate acceleration to the finish. I didn’t exactly conquer the hill, but I did the best I could. There’s always next week.

Saturday: RM insists I run with “real runners”, so at 4:30 am I saddle up to run 10 miles with his group. “I’m not going all out,” I tell him. “I’m supposed to be tapering.” “Right,” he laughs. “That’ll last until the first person passes you.”

We set off down Gloucester Avenue. We are among the last to leave, and the few who start after us thunder past us. This is not good. RM chuckles at my frustration. He lags behind to keep a slow female company and M and I run ahead. Up Charlemont and down Gibson, pride pulls me to the pack. I convince myself that for safety’s sake alone, I need to pull closer. By the first water stop at JTURDC, the gap is less painful. I wait, and wait, and wait for RM. “I can’t leave her,” he says. “It wouldn’t be right.” M and I take off.

Up the incline to Papine, things start to go badly. A blister is forming on my left arch, and my right knee starts to pinch. We pick up the pace slightly coming back down Hope Road and by the turn unto the slip road to Mona, M and I are in full stride. By the four mile water stop we’re in striking distance of a four pack of women. They don’t acknowledge us. There’s a definite divide in this group. It damn sure isn't my happy go lucky company group, nor is it the democratic free-lovin’ spirit of my old New York club. What it is though, is inspiration. The slow plan evaporates.

I run a respectful distance behind them down Mona Road, then pass them on Wellington. But I wait for M at the six mile water stop at Seaview and they catch me. “Ladies,” says their leader. “I’m only doing eight today, so when you don’t see me I’m chipping.” Sounds like a gauntlet to me. M and I take off, and leave them behind. But as we cross Hope Road again on mile 7, things fall apart. The blister is torturous and the pain in my knee suggests that I should cut the run short at 8. But I can’t. Worse yet, I don’t know the route. So I have to tuck in behind a slow runner until I can figure it out. That gives one of the four pack a chance to catch me. And when she blows past me at the 8 mile water stop, my knee refuses to answer.

I leave the water stop a short distance behind another pack of runners and follow them for the remaining two miles. When I finally make it back to Wilshire, I don’t even bother to look at what I’m sure is an abysmal time. Not exactly what I needed before Miami. But oh well, maybe a week of rest will make it better.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 3

RM and I are on again. The break lasted less than a day. So Tuesday, 5:45 am, we’re at UWI. I’ve spent yet another sleepless night coughing and I have a long work day ahead. My legs are fried from two days of lifting at Gymkhana. And I have a 5 mile hill run and a 14 miler ahead of me this week. As we leave Assembly Hall, I decide this is not the day to be competitive. But RM takes the pace out hard. A half mile in I wave the white flag and ask him to slow down. I find my favourite spot just off his left elbow, and settle in for a little mobile napping.

But RM isn’t letting me off that easily. He is in surprising form this morning, pushing me relentlessly. Maybe I’ve been shooting my mouth off too much about running him into the ground. Up the incline past the Students Union, my quads and hamstrings shoot darts into the back of his legs. He slows as we make the brief left back unto Ring Road and I recover slightly, but we’re off again across a field on a short cut to the Hospital Gate. Pride gets me round the first loop of the Hospital, past the greasy cab driver who slows down to get a better look. Sheer competitiveness drives me through the second loop. I move up beside him and each of us takes brief surges ahead. Back down Ring Road to our 3.5 mile water break at Assembly Hall, we stay side by side, in sync again.

I secretly hope that he’ll call it a day but as I fiddle with my shoelaces he looks at me impatiently. “How much more?” I ask, trying to sound casual. “Just 1.5,” he says. It occurs to me that if I’m going to run 14 miles on Saturday, I shouldn’t bristle at the word “just” when it precedes such a small number. So I fall in behind him. Round the corner to the Union, RM and I spot a target. Simultaneously, instinctively, we both speed up to take him down. We run the incline much harder than our first time at it, and pass our grey sweat-shirted prey with ease.

The surge takes a little out of me and as we turn unto Ring Road, RM slows to a gentlemanly pace to let me rest. This is the difference between us. I, the bully, would have left him behind and mocked him for days. But he instead stays with me all the way around Ring Road. About 200 metres from Assembly Hall, the pace quickens. Later we will argue whose call it was. But somehow, we end up in a flat out sprint to the finish. All my pain, fatigue, disclaimers and random bullshit vanish. I’m running as hard as I can, faster than I have in months and it feels fantastic. The bully in me is mad I can’t shake RM. The rest of me likes him just where he is - right beside me.

Thursday: RM decides to join me on a hill run with my new running group. It’s 12:30 before I get to bed. When my wake up call comes at 4:45, I’m exhausted. I slept fitfully, waking every half an hour or so. Last night’s bruschetta is still in my stomach and the two large glasses of wine are still in my bloodstream.

Somehow, we make it to UWI by 5:30. I’m half asleep on the drive over, and the last thing I want to do is run. We start, again, with a prayer. “Bless this group, bless this day, bless this run.” Amen! As we set off down Mona Road, I feel great. This is the first run in ages where nothing hurts. Knees, hips, quads, hamstrings – everything’s fine. As soon as we make the right out of the Post Office Gate unto Mona Road, Jen Laden and the Flame head to the front of the pack. My instinct is to join them, but RM is off to an unusually slow start. He is my guest on this run, and I feel it would be poor form to leave him. Besides, I feel some kind of primal urge to stay close to him; to put my scent on him I guess, like a dog peeing on a tree. So I swallow my pride and let them open up a 50 metre gap. But just before we make the turn unto Karachi, I can’t bear being so far behind. I put some distance between RM and me and shorten the gap between me and the pack leaders. I have them in striking distance half way down Karachi, but I slow down. RM is great at hills and I know he will push me harder than they will and I want to run the hill with him. So I wait for him. Plus my legs are well rested from the slow start so I’m looking forward to a little blood sport on the hill.

RM and I take the turn unto Long Mountain together, head for the first incline and then…nothing. Zero, zip, nada. Suddenly I’ve become a fucking floating torso. My legs are back in bed. What the backside? I am not in pain. I do not feel tired. My legs just simply will not go. “Come on,” I yell at myself. “Wake up.” But nothing happens. So I do the unthinkable: I walk.

This is a first. In seven years of running, I have never ever walked, unless instructed by a trainer. I’m a lazy-ass and a whiner, but not a quitter. I am baffled. Mortified. Furious. RM surges ahead. Even worse, the Flame is up ahead, sprightly skipping up the hill like a toffee coloured mountain goat.

It’s just the first incline. Did we walk this one last week? I’ll get the next one. My brain churns out words of encouragement, but nothing works. RM spells his surges with gentlemanly trots to give me a chance to catch up, but eventually he gives up and runs ahead. I walk the whole way up the hill, sweating shame with every step. When I get to the top, RM is on his way back down to look for me. Fuck the search party. Fuck the group. Fuck the view. I’m so mad at myself I can barely make eye contact. To add insult to injury, the Flame notes my late arrival with a concerned, “You ok?”

“Nope,” I say flatly. “I have nothing today.”

“You’re just having an off day,” RM says, unhelpfully. “It happens.”

The group assembles at the top, slowly. Impatient with the dillydallying, RM decides we’re running the descent. This is my chance at redemption. I’ll chalk this one up as a 2.5 miler. Forget hillwork. I’ll make today a speedwork day. All I have to do is get off the hill reasonably fast, go all out back down Mona Road, rest between the Aqueduct and the Main Gate and sprint through the Main Gate to Assembly Hall. The plan starts well. RM and I share the lead down the hill and I open up some distance on Karachi. But down Mona Road my legs disappear again and he catches me. We make the turn unto campus together and he says, “Come on. Let’s run it in.” Oh the shame, the shame. “I can’t,” I reply. “I have nothing.” So he leaves me and his gentlemanly ways behind and sprints ahead to the finish. Spanked, twice in one day.

I spend the rest of the day in a protracted brain fart. What the fuck happened? I must be overtraining. I have to get more rest. No more drinking. At 5:00 I’m tempted to go back to Long Mountain for a do-over. I’m dissuaded only by the prospect of donning sweaty clothes that have spent eight hours in the trunk of my car. Oh yeah, and the small matter of having to run 14 miles on Saturday. I can pick a fight with the hill some other day. Right now I need to focus on my rematch: me vs Jen Laden and the Flame. Round 3. Maybe I need to be nicer to my legs. []

Saturday: In a rare show of discipline I stay home Friday night. I pick up a bottle of wine on the way home, but instead I pour myself into the new Joan Didion book and make it to bed by eleven. RM wakes me at 12:30 for a long phone chat, so when my wake up call comes at 4:30 I barely know my name. Before I can even swing my legs off the bed, I feel the pain: a pair of darts on each side of each knee. Not today, please not today. I take 3 Advil Liquigels on the way to the airport and hope for the best. In the car, the Flame and I trade disclaimers.

“My knees are killing me.”

“My stomach is doing somersaults.”

After the prayer, the group heads off, but I decide for once to listen to my body. My lower back is in knots from yesterday’s lifting and my hamstrings are sore. It kills me to let Jen-Laden and the Flame get ahead, but I stay behind and stretch and stretch and stretch.

A half mile in I’ve had enough of the group’s walking start and I begin to trot, all the while giving myself a stern lecture: Do not take it out hard. No heroics today. Take it easy till Morgan’s Harbour. Down the airport road, around the roundabout and back up to the Air Jamaica wing, it irritates me that I’m so far behind I can’t even see the pack leaders. Through the second airport loop, I spy the back of the running pack. I want to stay slow, I really do, but suddenly I have a Prep School flashback:

A dozen children standing around my grandmother’s desk. She, the teacher, calling out words for us to spell in turn. We start from the child closest to her on the left, all the way around the desk. When one child spells a word wrong, the word goes ‘round the desk until someone spells it correctly. The child who gets it right, moves up in place, closer to my grandmother’s left side, passing those who faltered. I can hear my grandmother’s voice telling the victor:

“Take them down.”

Only my grandmother could make spelling bloodsport.

Do not take it out hard, I tell myself. Just pick up the pace slightly. Be patient You will pass them. “Be patient. Take a breath,” my grandmother would say. Think it through one letter at a time.” The word of the day: A.S.S.A.S.S.I.N.A.T.E. I take them down in 30 metres. Patiently. One step at a time.

By mile 3, down the Port Royal road, I start gaining on the leaders. By the lighthouse they’re in striking distance. Jen-Laden, the Flame, and two people I hadn’t noticed before: Blue Bandana and 2nd Bandana. No heroics. Just stay close. But somehow the gap narrows and I find myself passing the Bandanas, then the Flame. This is a pretty great spot. I have the pull of Jen Laden from the front and the threat of footsteps from behind. I don’t plan to make any big surges, but Blue Bandana comes flying down on my right, passes me and then slows to sit in front of me. This irritates me profoundly, but I let it slide. At the next water stop, I get in and out efficiently and leave them behind.

And then I notice her. Wait a minute, there was another leader all along? A woman with runner’s legs that seem to grow out of her armpits, wearing an oversize white t-shirt. She gains my respect by skipping the water spot, chugging from a water bottle in her right hand. No heroics. Wait till Morgan’s Harbour. But courtesy requires that I introduce myself. I lengthen my stride. Death to Big Shirt. Grandma would be proud.

At mile 6 I have my view just the way I like it – unobstructed. The pinching in my right knee causes me to slow down and Jen Laden and the pack gain on me. By Morgan’s Harbour, one of the guy runners has caught me. “I’m going in to the bathroom,” he tells me. Nope, not falling for that twice. “I’m good,” I shout, making the fastest U-turn possible.

As I pass Jen Laden and the Flame I report that the guy runner has gone to the bathroom. “We are too,” says Jen Laden. I’m tempted to wait, to run back in with them and beat them fair and square. But the pinching in my knee says keep your lead. Let them chase you.

At the 10 mile mark I feel great. The wretchedness and the haphazard stride of last week’s miles 9 and 10 are nowhere to be seen. I try to accelerate, but the pain in my knees holds me back, so I settle for maintaining a moderate stride and concentrate on quick turnovers. There’s no one near to me so it’s a little lonely. I’m digging for motivation to run faster, so I’m grateful for an old man sitting by the side of the road, filling a bucket from a hose that, incongruously, snakes back into the bushes. “Come on, Baby G. Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up.” I oblige.

I spend the next two miles silently screaming. “Where the backside is the lighthouse?” All I want to do is make it to the little white lighthouse, my marker that I’m almost home. Then suddenly, blessedly, it appears. I put the hammer down as much as my aching knees will bear, and run it in. Jen-Laden comes in a good six minutes later. The Flame walks it in, having given up at mile 10. The rematch goes to me.

My victory is soured only by Big Shirt who commits a flagrant foul. As the runners who finished the full 13.5 miles compare times, she announces, “I did it in under two hours.” Really, Big Shirt? I forgot to clock my start time, but one of the guys who started before I did pegged his at 5:56 am. My 8:00 am return puts me under 2:04. Big Shirt started ahead of me and returned after me so, ah, come again? Come to think of it, where the hell was Big Shirt on the way back? I can’t remember seeing her after the mile 6 water stop. Did she turn back early? Is she claiming under 2 hours for a shorter distance? I realize that my level of irritation is unquestionably irrational. But mentally, I draw a big red bullseye on the back of her shirt. I hear my grandmother’s voice whispering in my ear.

“Take her down.”

Next time, Grandma. Next time. (13.5 miles. 2:04).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Scenes From a Rum Bar I

Bill's Bar. Papine, Kingston

The Sign:

Imagine yu, Mr. White Rum
Yu mek me an me wife part
You get I drunk everyday
And we are enemies
But...the Bible sey
Love yu enemy
So a going to drink yu