Nov 2, 2012

Running On Empty: Me, Sandy and the Marathon

Happier times.  Drier times.

The man you see in the photo above is me.  It's not the same man who is writing this now.

The man writing this now is a hurricane refugee with a fairly well demolished house, sleeping on an air mattress tonight, listening to Pantera in an empty Brooklyn apartment.  Buttons, my loyal Westie, is standing guard at the top of the steps.  He doesn't know where the fuck he is and what the fuck has happened.  In some ways, neither have I.

The man in the photo was photographed on September 23 during the tail-end of the Newport Half Marathon in Jersey City, NJ.  (Side note: You know what I realized about this picture?  It's a picture of a man in bright sunlight about to step unwittingly into the dark shadows.  I fucking love symbolism.)


There is a lot of talk on the web about the fact that the NYC Marathon is still scheduled for Sunday even after all the carnage and destruction caused by Hurricane Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee.  Seems most folks think it shouldn't happen in consideration of the damage, the lives lost (19 people in my borough alone), and the amount of manpower needed to organize such an event - manpower that could and should be better used to help the victims of the hurricane.  We're all seeing the same things on the web and on TV and it's tragic just as all the other natural disasters that occur hundreds and thousands of miles away from us are.  So let's focus on that.

As one of the victims, it's hard to argue with that logic.  That said, not a single firefighter or law enforcement officer has been to my house thus far.  There has been a public outcry about Staten Island as "the forgotten borough," and it's hard to argue with that, as well.  FEMA is supposedly finally in the area, but no one has assessed my damage yet, no one has handed me a check or pumped the water from my underwater basement.  The mold is throwing an all-nite party on my floors and walls as we speak.  There is no gasoline to be found anywhere near me or far from me.  People are looting (my back door's still wide open, guys - help yourself to all my Beatles records, bring scuba gear).

Order needs to be restored, safety and recovery matter more than a symbolic and uplifting-for-some-only corporate-sponsored 'return to normalcy.'

No we should not run.

Trick or Treat.  Definitely the first one.
But there is another side to this, and it's just for me.  First of all, I'm still fucking numb.  I don't know how to feel about anything right now, part of me just wants to run 26 miles and then keep on running.  Someone can mail me my dog, I'll send you a postcard.

I've run 761 miles this year in anticipation of this moment.  I've been training for 8 months solid.  As unprepared as I feel this week - little rest, emotionally drained, poor eating habits, sore right ankle, achy back from sleeping on various couches, my running shoes finally drying out after being immersed in delicious brown sewer water - I can't imagine being any more ready, more fearless, more stupidly anxious to run 26.2 miles than I am right now.  Way before Sandy raped my property, I looked at Sunday as the end of a really bad stretch and the start of a really great one, as I'm sure lots of people who run on Sunday do.  I embraced a better lifestyle, a smaller waist size, becoming resilient, staying in shape, fighting thru pain, finishing something.  I was gonna kick 2011 square in the balls.  Finishing the marathon would trigger my achy-kneed rebirth.  Because Ron Scalzo has already died twice in the past four years.

I died in 2008.  My uncle was killed in a car accident three weeks before my wedding.  It cast a pall over the entire affair and affected me in ways I don't think I can truly describe in writing.  I remember flying to Tucson, Arizona for the funeral, then flying back to NY to attend one of my best friend's weddings two days later.  Three weeks later, I was getting married.  It was a month-long nightmare of dark and light.  "Hey man.  Congratulations and sorry about your uncle.  Want some cake?  Here's a blender."

At my reception, I had the DJ play Creedence's "Long As I Can See The Light," I invited everyone to find someone they loved, take them in their arms and dance to pay homage to a man who some of us in the room loved and admired and who others never knew at all.  We weren't just honoring my Uncle Sal, we were honoring what mattered most.  Each other.  Us.  You and me.  That was what marriage was supposed to be, right?  Stupid you and me.

It was all a whirlwind, a mentally draining see-saw of emotions, and it was probably the best I ever felt about my relationship with the woman I would soon un-marry.  She was there for me for all that, and I will always think fondly of her for it.  But my ex-wife and I were always enduring our own whirlwind.

I died again in 2011.  The divorce was a two-person hurricane, two lives swept away in different directions.  I battled more than just the loss of the other person.  I was doing the whole re-examining your life, cutting cords, taking out the garbage bit.  But I had the house, I was still a "responsible homeowner with a future."  I was maintaining.  "Hey man, I know divorce sucks and she took an assload of money, but hey, you've still got the house."

It occurs to me now that when I left my house on Monday, locking the door behind me as the wind began to threaten power lines and trees all around me, it would be the last time I would ever really walk out of my house as I know it.  Now it is an aquatic mausoleum, another bad is no longer a home, it's just a dead wet mud hole that needs a proper burial.  It was a Divorce House, but it was still my hut, man.  It was my divorce booby prize.  My Double Quarter Man Cave with Cheese.  I actually said "Good luck, house" out loud before closing the basement door and fleeing to higher ground.

Only Buttons survived.  Shit, I hope Sean White got out...
In my last blog post, I yakked on about the importance of hope and companionship.  The half-marathon running man in the top photo had both.  He thought he was well on his way to changing everything, but for the better this time.  He was a smiling fool.

I started training for the marathon in February.  I was "getting my shit together."  When I run, it gives me time to think (more than I actually do when I don't run, which I realize sounds scary.  I'm a Scorpio, deal with it).  This past summer, I was happy again.  Running my balls off.  It made my musical, at-work, in-love disappointments seem less important.  But it was more.  It was all the stupid cliche things you hear about running, why thousands of idiots like me want to do this thing once, never mind year after year.  You're trying to achieve a seemingly unreachable goal, you're making deals with your body and your will.  You're tempering bad habits.  You're a caterpillar in a cocoon, training to be a butterfly.  You're getting your zen on.  You're giving birth to a stupid running baby.  It's not for everyone, of course.  But it's a culture for a reason. It began to feel great even when my body didn't and then my body felt better too.

You battle thru 18 miles, 19, 20.  You're Rocky Balboa.  Yo.  I banged out two half-marathons in a month, my body was recovering better and faster, less ice, less pain, more focus.  But it was even more than that.  I was regimented, confident.  I looked in the mirror and I saw an at-his-best-middle-aged-decent-looking-but-still-bald-and-i-don't-know-if-into-that guy.  And that was good enough.

But running has been even more than that.

I had two special running partners, one my dog, who by September was banging out 5-6 miles with me every other day.  My Westie is a notorious problem child, an anxious dog often locked up for hours at a time due to my work schedule and feeble attempts at a real social life.  Running had become as medicating for him as much as it had for me.  We were getting better together.

My other partner in training was a female, the girl who was capturing the smiling man in the photo in more ways than one.  The cocoon was about to hatch, Rocky was gonna go the distance and lose but still get the girl and start a successful franchise.  The impossible seemed possible.

The winds changed last month and the deep thinker in me didn't overlook the parallels.  The summer was over.  Cold was coming.  I saw dragonflies on my runs instead of butterflies.  Bugs were flying into my face instead of over my head.  I was alone again.  My runs turned from triumphs back into battles but I discovered that was good too.  Cathartic.  Running was saving me.

So do I want to run the New York City Marathon on Sunday?

Fuck yeah.  We should run the marathon.

Hopefully my sneakers will be dry by then, god knows how I'm getting to the starting line or getting home, but if it's on, I will be there.  I'll probably bawl my brains out in Central Park and maybe I need to.

But wait a minute...

This is not how any of us were supposed to run the marathon in this city, not on the heels of this tragedy.  There are people in my borough, on my own block, that are much worse off than me, and I am without a home.  I'm a single dude with a little dog and his laptop, I don't have to relocate a family or tell my daughter that the house is gone.  I can get around easy, I have insurance.  I'm fucking alive and I have been taken in by generous friends.  I even have my own apartment tonight, heat, food, and a little audio workstation - the last remains of my deep sea music studio - set up to begin editing and mixing songs that I wrote about my experiences this past year, songs that have taken on deeper meaning now that most everything I have is gone.  It will be another largely sleepless night after a mentally exhausting day and not unlike the Marathon, completing these songs seems to be a destiny of sorts.  In a way....I feel lucky.

So maybe we shouldn't run?  What the fuck are you saying??

I see the outcry on Facebook, becoming its own tidal wave, and I like it.  You can fight City Hall.  But some things you can only leave up to fate, as we all witnessed on Monday.  "It is what it is."  Do you know how many times I've heard that this year, never mind these past few days?  I hate that phrase.  But I hate it because it's true, even if it's just a resigned-to-life truth.  It's just so....surrender-ey.  When my first girlfriend - the first love of my life - was breaking up with me after 6+ years together and I asked her why, she said, "This is life."  As if, hey, this is what happens, dude.  It is what it is.

I got riled up.  "Life is what you make of it," I responded.  If you want something, grab for it.  You won't necessarily grab it, but you have to try.  You HAVE to or you'll end up a fucking bum.  If a hurricane knocks you down - and you can get up - get up.  Get up and fuck life right in the face.  That's why running a stupid 26+ miles means even more now that Sandy went and turned my house into a bad day at the beach.  Because the Marathon is only the beginning of my fight.

Fight.  Fucking fight.  Fight for what you want and what you believe in.  Believe some of the maxims you hear after shit like this goes down, but just believe the ones you want to believe.  They don't all necessarily apply to you.  Help your friends and neighbors.  Karma can be a bigger bitch than Sandy was, and certainly one that sticks around even after it kicks your ass.

I don't give a shit if we run, just tell me what the hell is going on.

If we don't run Sunday, so be it.  It'll be an extra day to make sense of the carnage.  An extra day to decide if I should cash in my chips or dare to rebuild, to consider new places to live and new adventures to start.  This is my life now, not "Shit, I hope I had enough space on my DV-R for last night's American Horror Story."  If we run Sunday, we run.  I will run for Rosie's Theater Kids as I promised, I will run for myself.  I'll run thinking of my fellow "chosen ones" on Staten Island, in Dirty Jerz, Breezy Point, Seagate, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay.  I'll have plenty to think about over 4 hours, a respite from my air mattress sleeping, house gutting, lost soul existence.

Or I'll do it in May.  Or next November.  I'll keep on running (Jenny).  I'll cross that line whenever Mayor Mike tells me he's ready.  It's part of my destiny, just as this fuck-storm was and is.  This is my life now and I'm gonna keep fighting to get better until I find happiness.  I have to try.  Will life be amazing once I put this Divorce House behind me?  Will it even be barely tolerable by a spoiled 21st century American male's standards?  I'll write a long stupid blog about it in a year or seven, stay tuned.  Or I'll die in a fire.  You just don't know.  But.

We are defined in life, and in many ways we control our own fate, by the choices that we make.  At times like this, you can't help but think that the choice is not yours at all.  So try not to fuck up the choices you can make.  Be grateful for the good ones you did make.  And make a commitment to never make the same bad ones again.  Otherwise, it just is what it is.

If you're still reading this, you're both stupid and awesome.  Now you know how exhausted I am.  See you at the bottom of the ocean.  

1 comment:

  1. Keep your head up mate. Run your ass off this weekend - I know there is one Bald Freak I'll be cheering on to the finish line.
    Love ya brother.