10.15.2009

The Run

Week after week I love to watch the fat whiners on Biggest Loser prove over and over again that whining and crying doesn't make exercise easier. It's easy to watch this show and feel good about yourself, at least at the beginning. You look at them, look at yourself and you think, "I'm in great shape." Anyone you know looks great compared to them. This is why, at my house, Biggest Loser night is also Ben and Jerry's night.

By the end of the show, though, tables have turned. If you're not consistently exercising, eating Jennie-O chicken and sweating all over the place at every opportunity, you could start to feel flabby and lazy. It's hard to watch a whole season all the way through without feeling like your own biggest loser.

Maybe that's why I started running again. It isn't to lose weight, it's because I like knowing I can run. If I don't run first thing in the morning, though, I'm not sure I'll get to it, so I set myself a deadline. Okay, I tell myself. 4 pm. I'll run at 4 pm. It'll be foggy by then, and cooler. It's so hot and humid right now that I'm too lazy to get up and pee. When you think 70 degrees is hot, you know you have tremendous Biggest Loser-level whiner potential. Yes, this is definitely why I run.

4:13 pm, I've peed and I'm out the door. I would have gone at 4 pm, really I would have, but for the plumbers. I called Charlie this morning (2 1/2 months left until he retires and returns home, yay!) and left him a message, telling him to go Irish on the plumbers. Going Irish is our way of describing his gift for yelling in an out of control-sounding manner. It gets results. I sound shrill when I yell. He sounds Lifetime TV movie scary. The plumbers need to be scared.

Those crazy plumbers. I'd hoped to have them out of my life by now. They're done but they've left a little love. They haven't called to get the scaffolding removed. These plumbers have taken advantage of my dad, the owner of this apartment building, and his dad before him, for 40 years. They low-balled this bid, I know they did because they kept telling me so, knowing he legally had to get at least one competing bid, and they kept calling us both, begging him for the work. Funny how they don't low-ball any other job.

The first and only time I called them to snake a tenant's tub, six months ago when I first became manager, they charged me $400. One sloppy guy, so sloppy he didn't bother closing his mouth to form words, was here for maybe five minutes, max. I told my dad he might want to consider using another plumber. "I've used them for 40 years," he says and he quickly changes the subject, hoping I'll forget. He and the plumbers both, I notice, do this with me. I'm not saying they think females are stupid. I'm saying that's why I called Charlie.

They bid low and then they convinced my dad to pay for things not included in their bid but, oddly, included in the other plumber's bid. Scaffolding is one of these things. Dad said it cost him $80 a day for this scaffolding, and that amount was before the plumbers decided they needed more scaffolding around the other side of the building. Somehow the ladders they'd assumed they'd use, according to their bid, just weren't good enough. I never saw them bring out ladders, not even once.

The plumbing job is complete, the inspection is complete, and the scaffolding sits in the courtyard for no reason. Nobody has been on it since the inspector, over two weeks ago. Three stories of scaffolding, just on this one side, block the courtyard lights at night and block the daylight through our apartments' kitchen windows. The plumbers clearly moved onto another job and forgot. My dad's paying for it, so what do they care? Even after two calls from me reminding them it's still there, it's still there.

Charlie called me at 3 pm, telling me he went Irish, telling them they'd go to hell for taking advantage of an old man, my dad. As often happens when Charlie gets Celtic, I got three calls right away. First, the sloppy plumber said, or I think he said, "They still haven't picked up the scaffolding?" he said. "I wonder what happened."

I say nothing.

"I'll get on it."

He calls back. "They'll be there tomorrow. Can you let them in?"

"What time?"

"I don't know. They'll call me first, I think, if they're going to do it tomorrow. Maybe I should have them call you and you can take care of it."

"I don't think so."

"Okay."

The third time he calls and says, "They'll be there tomorrow morning and they'll call me first. I hope I can be there to open the door."

"I hope so, too. You still have a key to our building."

"Yeah. Uh, yeah. I'll call you when they call me, just in case I can't let them in."

I really want to go a little Irish on them myself, but I want the scaffolding gone even more, so I say the first thing I can think of to get him to say goodbye. He says goodbye and in my mind I'm thinking why I don't understand how anyone, even anyone as old and trusting as my 82 year-old dad could hire these guys more than once. I can't even understand what the guy says, and I don't want to read his lips because they never seem to entirely shut, except around his cigarette, which he leaves scattered around the foyer and everywhere else for me to pick up after.

There must be something, though, in the way he talks that convinces my dad to give him jobs, and too much money in payment of those jobs. Tenants have called me, many of them, many of them women, saying, "These plumbers are the worst. Whenever I have a problem and I see these guys come in to fix it, I know it will end up worse than before they came. I'll hire my own plumbers and pay for my own repairs before I'll let them in my apartment again. They're horrible."

In two and a half months, Charlie will be here full time and he can run interference. Now I'm just running. The good thing about running in Golden Gate park is that there are lots of runners. I feel like I'm on the Biggest Loser and we're all working toward being healthy, all together. Some people, though, run like it's a competition. They seem to get great joy from looking at their fancy watches and passing people. I'm just trying to talk myself into not stopping.

I make it up the hardest hill and as soon as I do, I wipe my face with my shirt. As I do, some guy passes me, also wiping his face with his shirt in the exact same way. It's like my doppelganger, my opposite, my biggest Biggest Loser competitor.

If you're going to pass me, you have to keep going faster than me or I'll try to keep pace with you. It's like I escape 2009 and return to sophomore year high school track practice. In track, you learn to push yourself to go harder than you want to go, for longer than you think you can. You never, ever let the gap widen between you and the runner in front of you. This face-wiper better hurry up.

I get closer to face-wiper guy and see that he's got at least four water bottles strapped around his waist in some sort of fancy, expensive-looking piece of equipment. He's got a nice shirt, although it's sweaty, and new, nice shorts. I'll bet I could buy four or five pairs of my shoes for the same price as his one pair. When I used to ski, the worst skiers had the best equipment. I can keep up.

The road turns and I lose him. He could have gone right, left, or straight. I continue even though it's up hill and this is where I usually say to myself, "You can walk if you want to." I don't, but if I tell myself I can, I won't. There is a lot going on in my head during such a simple activity as running.

The face-wiper comes up from behind me and passes me again. You bastard! Where'd he come from? Was he hiding? Maybe he was getting a drink of water at the fountain. I'm going faster than he is. I'm going to catch up to him, even though we're heading east and this is the sunniest part of the park. I could get hot. I hate hot.

Another turn and I lose face-wiper again. It's okay. I'm almost done. I'm heading back to the breakers, back home, back to the fog. It gets so thick so fast that I can't even see across the street. I'm trying not to trip on the cypress and eucalyptus debris, and the rocks all over the dirt path, so I'm slowing a little. A car stops to let me cross at the Chain of Lakes intersection and face-wiper comes up from behind and passes me again. Jerk!

I run as fast as I can over rocks and branches, downhill through mud and puddles. I run all the way to the ocean, or where the ocean should be. I can't see it, even though it's just across the street. I'm done. I look around for face-wiper after wiping my own face with my shirt for about the fiftieth time, coating my shirt with sticky sweat. It's such an ugly thing to do but with the way I smell, it's not the most ugliest thing about me right now.

All around me are middle-aged tourists, happy couples from far away, holding hands and walking slowly with wide-eyed looks on their faces. A big red sedan slows down in the middle of JFK and I know they're lost. I walk over to see if I can help, first looking around for my face-wiping competitor. I can't find him anywhere but there's a lot of fog. I just want to know which way he went so he doesn't pass me again. Even though I ran almost seven miles, I'll run another seven before I'll let him pass me again. I'm part Irish, too, and catching up to runners who don't know they're in a competition is a healthy way to let it out.

A really fat lady sitting in the passenger side of the big red sedan looks at me confused. "Do you know where the beach is?"

It's twenty feet down JFK to the intersection with Great Highway. On the other side of the Great Highway is the ocean. I guess that's what she means, but I'm confused. Is she looking for a beach like in Hawaii or the ocean, like across the street? It's such an easy question that anyone knows the answer. I know the answer! I can help.

"Take a left at this intersection and there's parking on the right. That's it. You're right there."

"Oh," she says, smiling. "Oh. Thank you." The driver, her husband probably, looks up from his map and smiles, thanking me, too.

I feel like a Biggest Loser competitor when they win an easy advantage, and I haven't even cried all day.