Better Best To Rearrange
“Cartagena? Angel, you are hell and gone from Cartagena!”
Michael Douglas issued that reality check to Kathleen Turner from the side of a muddy, Columbian hillside in the 1984 20th Century Fox film, “Romancing The Stone,” which I’m watching on WE as I type.
My best friend, Sibby, and I used to recite portions of the film line for line way back in junior high school. We had a strange (and square) sense of humor, I guess (though Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito, and — for that matter — Alfonso Arau did have some pretty good lines).
Kathleen Turner was thirty-years-old the year the film was released. Michael Douglas was forty-years-old. They were, arguably, at the peak of their powers. I, on the other hand, was thirteen and, ergo, at the nadir of mine. I’m thirty-five now — right in the middle of their age difference then.
I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon Saturday morning. According to my New York Road Runners Club records, it was my thirty-sixth 13.1 mile race since my first (the Queens Half) in 1999.
It was a beautiful morning in Coney Island when the car service dropped, Chris, Jen and I at the intersection of Ocean and Surf Avenues (Abbi was home babysitting Ethan and Edward as she had dress fittings in the afternoon). It was more first long run of the season, once I should have probably sat out considering that my orthopedist prescribed me six weeks of physical therapy in February and I haven’t gone yet (hell, I haven’t even found five minutes to call and make an appointment).
I (inadvertently) lost Chris and Jen just a few steps off the start, so spent the remaining two hours (one hour fifty-two minutes and forty-six seconds, to be exact) with my own thoughts. I spent a fair portion of the time trying to rediscover my stride and my pace. I was also feeling my knees out. Both of them ache these days, presumably as I’m over-compensating on the left for the tendonitis on the right.
Finally, though, I was trying to pass the time thinking of good wedding music. That is, I’ve asked many of my musician friends to perform at the weddings (to hell with generic, cheesy, pre-packaged wedding bands!). Thing is, most of the songs we all play (covers or original) tend to be neither danceable nor terribly upbeat. (Go ahead: browse my catalogue. I defy you to find more than three songs that fit either criteria.)
Somewhere around mile nine, though — right about the time I noticed my splits were getting more, not less, efficient (and right about the time Chris typically pops up on my heels) — the soundtrack in my head flipped from a Beatles medley to REM’s “The Finest Worksong.”
My first band, Neoteric Youth, closed the Junior Variety Show with a rousing performance of the song (track one off of “Document”). Sibby’s little sister later remarked of the performance, “I thought you were going to have a seizure.” I trotted it out again year’s later when I played Mercury Lounge for the first time.
It’s not exactly The Hives or G ‘n R or whatever else people listen to when they run, but it works for me. It sounds something like a Soviet-era marching song as performed by a guitar army comprised of guys from Minneapolis and Seattle. It’s super angular, but flows and drones. The key, though, is Michael Stipe’s lyric:
The time to rise has been engaged
We’re better best to rearrange
I’m talking here to me alone
I listen to the finest worksong
The BK 1/2 (as I like to abbreviate it) starts on the boardwalk (miles 1-3), turns north on Ocean Parkway (miles 3-9), then jogs northeast into and around Prospect Park (miles 10-13).
Whereas the boardwalk and Ocean Boulevard are flat, though, Prospect Park is punctuated by hills. Which is where the third verse came in, and where I imagined turning it up to eleven.
Take your instinct by the reins
Better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused
The final mile, then, was absolutely exhilarating. I was floating, flying even. I was picking off runners like nobody’s business. My legs were moving in circles like the Road Runner’s. It was great. I can through the tape so strong, in fact, that the announcer said something to the crowd like, “Look at that strong finisher! Let’s give him a hand!”
I ran that last mile — my imaginary REM soundtrack blaring in my ears — in 7:26.
Afterwards, as I sat and stretched in the sun, I wondered what my legs used to feel like after a long run. I vaguely recall having a difficult time finishing at all when I first started running distance (especially if I’d only been training eleven or twelve miles a week, as I have been lately), but I’m not sure my hips or knees ever felt like this.
Tonight, as the Nor’easter swallowed Midtown in great sheets of rain and set the forsythia swaying outside my window, I continued transcribing last week’s interview with author Douglas Coupland click here to read the full transcript). While we were together, ostensibly, to promote his new film, we spoke as well about broader, deeper themes. Somehow, the conversation led to the following Coupland monologue:
Thirty to thirty-five are probably the best years of your life. Not that the rest of you’re life isn’t going to be fulfilling or happy. But you’re going to go through a really fucked up period for about five or six years now. Everyone goes through it: rich or poor, whether you live in the Indian Subcontinent or here. Here’s what’s going to happen.
You’re gonna sit and micro-obsess on every decision you ever made, some of which you’ll be grateful for and others you’ll start having regrets over — oh, this is when you start having regrets.
You’re gonna become hyper-competitive with every guy you ever meet or read about. Like, I’m sure you’re competitive now but wait until that kicks in.
And you’ll probably make one or two super-major life decisions. Usually it’s a geographical move. Like, you’ll move to New Mexico or something. And you’ll still do what you do, but you’ll learn something else. And then you’ll turn soft and weak!
I told him that his prognosticating was pretty well timed, that I’d recently gone and gotten engaged. “Congratulations!” he said, dragging out the “s.”
“You’re smart,” he said. “You’re gonna do fine.”
I will. Fucked up or not, I’ll take my instincts by the reigns.
And I’ll rearrange again, and again, and again.