Since becoming pregnant and especially after the ovarian cystectomy, I’ve had to stop running. Walking was presented to me as an alternative: at first a slower, patience testing, lesser alternative to the only physical activity besides sex and dancing that I actually enjoyed regularly to stay slim, dose myself with endorphins, and check my skulking depression. Walking seemed like the sad refuge of the geriatric or the obese or the injured or the lazy or the Romantic poets. Not me. Not me who is young, slim, and healthy and not within walking distance of the Lake District.
But I did it anyways to get out of the house and in the past couple of weeks, I’ve started to enjoy it: the pace, the views afforded by the pace, and the high. There is, to the my surprise, a walking high. The (only) drug of choice for a prego.
A key factor in my new found love of walking are the radio shows Car Talk and This American Life.
Aside: If you don’t know already, Car Talk is the most popular public radio show in America, drawing millions of listeners every Saturday. I only recently discovered it myself. Two guys talk about cars, they take calls from listeners who are having car or car related problems, and they give advice. It sounds over-specialized and inane. I don’t care about cars and I don’t even like mechanics, always feeling as I do whenever I have to go to a shop, that they will take one look at me, an Asian woman who looks younger than her years, and they’ll hear the pleasant sound of “cha-ching!” But the show is irresistibly engaging. And I found a great mechanic through their listener reviewed list of local mechanics. Interestingly, Ira Glass, host and executive producer of This American Life wrote on Monday that he thinks Car Talk should be taken off prime time air once the Car Guys retire in October. You can read more about his argument here. And then read NPR’s VP of programming’s response here.
Another important factor has been my library card. After living in Cambridge for four years, I finally got a library card two weeks ago and started downloading audio books.
Aside: Both aural pleasures have added enormous value to my already fabulous iPhone.
So boys and girls, in homage to my new love of walking, grab your smartphones or iPods, turn on Car Talk or This American Life or an audio book and come with me on a typical walk on a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
* * *
My neighbors are real green thumbs–awesome for me because I get to enjoy the flora without doing any of the work. Look at these red roses, for instance. I don’t even like roses that much because of their hefty literary symbolic baggage. I can’t look at these flowers without thinking about at least three of Shakespeare’s sonnets, cheesy tango dancers with a stem clenched between their teeth, the tired use of it as the symbol of love and romance, particularly their ubiquitous presence in fairy tales, its association with the cooch and Aunt Flow–recall Alice in Wonderland when the cards paint the white roses red. It’s hard to enjoy a red rose as a red rose. But these ones are so gorgeous, it verily pushes out thought and demands full sensory participation.
* * *
I don’t like cats and this one is black and cagey. But I like that it’s afraid of me. Pussy. Tee hee.
* * *
Every time I see these pansies, I’m astonished that someone actually went out to the garden supply store, spent money on the flowers, and then took the time to plant them on the outside of his/her fence. I mean, the only people who can see these pansies are pedestrians and dogs, some of them, I’m sure, have literally pissed on the philanthropic effort. They afford their neighbors and their dogs a lot of good will, I think. Maybe too much. Maybe not. I really enjoy looking at them.
* * *
Now, this is a fun house. Well, I don’t know what goes on in the house, but the inhabitants clearly love to travel the USofA. Their collection of license plate is extensive, fun, and tacky. And romantic because I imagine a couple in their early 70’s who after raising three children and retirement, realized one day that they were no longer in love. They looked around their home and found nowhere to hide from the vast distance between them, grown to a chasm without check over the decades of their marriage through neglect, child rearing, and work. So as a last ditch effort to salvage what affections may lie slumbering in their hearts, they determined to take a year long road trip across the country. One night, well into their third state, the husband, energized and feeling magnificent after making his wife come like Cleopatra, stole a license plate from a neighboring camper’s Winnebago as a souvenir. He felt rebellious and young and criminal in a good way. And thenceforth, with every state, with the kilometer traveled closing the distance between the couple, he stole or rather he felt he won the license plates. The shed of plates, thus, is a trophy of their rediscovered love, a monument to their marriage, decades in the making and keeping.
Or they just like to collect license plates.
* * *
The pond is so serene and pretty it sometimes becomes its own caricature. I see this view framed and hanging in a room at Comfort Inn. But I only think this sometimes. Mostly, I appreciate it.
* * *
Ah the dogs. This is my favorite thing about my walk around the pond. There are dogs everywhere and most of them are off leash. There are little ones and big ones, wet ones and dry ones, dark ones and light ones, slow ones and fast ones, cute ones and ugly ones. I don’t really care what breed they are. They look incredibly happy, even the fat ones that grunt and pant as they try to keep up with their owners. And there in lies, for me, the secret of happiness.
My mother has a dog. Her name is Jackie. She’s a labradoodle with a voracious appetite for peanut butter and fun. Without exception, I always think about Jackie when I go for a walk, how much more fun it would be to have her with me. Unlike the well behaved dogs that walk off leash at Fresh Pond, I know Jackie would go up to every dog and owner to say hello and ask them with leaping enthusiasm if they want to play, being a cute and embarrassing pain in the ass and she not giving a damn. Seeing this dog play is to see the word “present” and “happy” manifested.
Because a key feature of happiness is the absence, however momentary, of self-consciousness, the complete immersion of the self in the pursuit of something. Kenny Shopsin of Shopsin restaurant in Manhattan and compelling star of the documentary film, I Like Killing Flies, has this to say about happiness, which for him is equivalent to having a meaningful life: “Am I with my busy work seeking to inject meaning into my life? Where the fuck is the marinara sauce? [Pause as he looks for marinara sauce.] The way that I choose to function is to pick an arbitrary stupid goal, become totally involved in it, and pursue it with vigor. And what happens to you in that pursuit is your life. Understand that it’s stupid, but it’s not stupid to pursue because it’s the only way to inject meaning into your life.”
In other words, the Founding Fathers’ formulation and assumptions of happiness inherent in the phrase, “Pursuit of happiness” is misleading, because it presupposes the idea that happiness is a goal, an end result. In fact, the pursuit is happiness, it is meaning. Rather than a noun, we should, like Jackie, think of happiness as a verb.
When I see dogs at Fresh Pond, leash free and romp crazed, and they look like little or large furry balls of happiness, like they’ve figured out how to liquefy the American Constitution, purify it, and inject it. They’re high as kites in the pursuit of a ball or a smell or another dog or swimming.
Speaking of swimming, I should give that a try too besides walking. But only if the pool is canine friendly.
* * *
When I’ve come upon golfers at this hole, I always stop to watch one of them tee off. Without exception, they slice the ball. I wish that for once one of them would just make contact with the sweet spot and for God’s sake don’t be a jackass and hit off the tee with a driver, especially if that’s your best swing. A three or four iron will do. In fact be humble and go for the seven or six–shorter distance but likelier accuracy. I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that all the players I’ve seen tee off at this hole have been men, always reaching for the longest stick with the biggest head.
* * *
Out of nowhere this high-rise that makes me think of the bleak ugliness of the Eastern Bloc rises out of the tree line on the far side of the pond when I’m about two thirds of the way home. It’s startling and hideous.
But not for those residents with the view of the pond sprawling out before them. Those apartments with no other buildings to compete with for or to mar the scenery must cost a pretty penny, I think. I bet they feel pretty special. Fabulous even. I would. Especially with never having to know how hideous my building looked. Or maybe when the sun is shining just so and the angle of reflection revealing, the building sees itself in the pond and thinks, what the hell is that?
* * *
I’ve been taking note of these emergency signal poles in case I need to press one because some wild beast tries to maw my baby when I start taking it for walks with me later this fall. I wonder if they work. Of course, I can’t very well check to make sure and create a false alarm. Or maybe I could except what if they’ve got a camera set up on some tree with its lens trained on the pole and then they would figure out that it was me because there are so few Asians in this neighborhood and I’m the only prego Asian I’ve seen around here since moving to the area.
“Johnson, here, Over.”
“Johnson, look for an Asian prego. She’s the perp. Over.”
“Got it. Over.”
“I just picked her up on camera four. She’s taking iPhone pics of other peoples’ dogs. Over.”
“Good God, Wilson. Are you telling me we’ve got a canine stalking prego perp? Over.”
“I’m afraid so, Johnson. I’m afraid, so. Over.”
* * *
They really thought of everything, this Fresh Pond improvement and maintenance people. There’s even a fountain just for dogs. I love dogs. I love how privileged are the people in this part of Cambridge. They have water fountains for dogs, for crying out loud. Or small children. I suppose both are a kind of luxury and both are a luxury whose safety the pond walkers want to be able to take for granted. My canine/child-fountain-installed-Fresh-Pond world suggests this is possible. It says to me, “This world, full of trees behind which perverts and kidnappers and rapists could hide, is a magical oasis from the dangers that belong nowhere within its borders. Here, babies are safe, dogs go off leash, and nothing lurks behind the trees except more trees.”
When I lived in Finsbury Park in London, I used to run along the canal. Finsbury Park is a pretty grotty part of London with cheap housing that attracts lower income immigrant families. One day, while running, I looked over to the other side of the canal and I saw a man waving his long trench coat like polyester wings. And there in the middle of all that enthusiastic flailing was his johnson. As you might rightly guess, there were no water fountains for dogs or kids around these parts. In fact there weren’t any fountains at all.
* * *
When I was kid, my family frequently went on picnics to local parks. One park in particular had meadows choked with clover flowers. My sister and I would pick these and weave them into garlands around our necks or wrists or pates.
They’re not much to look at these “blooms”. But I remember thinking as a child how lovely they were as a nosegay, bringing them up to my face and pretending they smelled like roses, even though I’d sniffed a rose before and thought it smelled like plants, nothing so magical as those fairy tales would have you believe in illustrations of princesses burying their noses deep into the dense fan of petals. (Recall my beef about red roses; they have an intrusive, prima donna like symbolic presence, interfering with the nostalgic enjoyment of the humble clover flowers.)
* * *
And that concludes my walk for the day. Thanks for joining me. It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? [Pause.] Okay, never mind. That’s creepy.