The big book of jokes
The Secret Life of Runners
Though you are deaf and I am dumb, I beg you to listen to me.
This novel is sensitive, pre-decisional, aspirational, and pre-actual. It is not for external, public distribution.
In consideration of reading this novel, you release me of any and all claims for damages or injuries.
This novel weaves together non-confidential, publicly available information (like CNN, the New York Times, NPR, and the Bible), mystical insights, and speculation on the future.
A parody of real-life, the news, and poetry. A mash-up novel with special apologies to Snow Crash, Lord of the Rings, and Ready Player One.
Those who do not understand math will never be tempted to skim the fractional cents from interest rate calculations.
We respect your privacy, but we don’t protect it.
Dreams from before the infoclypse.
Nelson thanked God for Ru Paul, who made him feel normal.
Nelson thanked God for everyone else, who made him feel like a freak.
A failure of imagination and grace.
Just like a car, a runner needs lubricant where moving parts rub against each other. Ay-yi-yi! There’s the rub!
In the beginning was the Road, and the Road was life, grace, and truth. And the Road went on and on and on. (Lord of the Rings)
A mixed first and third person narrative of memories, miracles, and visions from the treadmill and the road.
A novel based on the music of Rush, the lyrics of Neil Peart, mainly the album Clockwork Angels, and a man’s quest to find his family’s dream inside his own beyond the American dream.
Past performance is not indicative of future results.
Alberto Salazar said, “Running the marathon is an imponderable enterprise.”
If I run nineteen miles and lose my sense of humor, what have I gained? If I run a marathon fast enough to be accepted to Boston and lose the good-will of my family, what have I gained? [1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.]
Now (today) is the time, here (home) is the place, to become a good father and a tender husband. Not after this round of training, not after the marathon, but here-now (today-home) in week eight – eight weeks before the marathon.
We do not choose our parents. But we shape our habits. Then our habits determine our destiny, our manner of death; habits are like fate sneaking up on us. The best crystal balls we have are our parents’ lives, and the best way to understand our parents is to hear their stories. And with love and grace, we can reinterpret their stories, live out their lives and dreams made new in our own.
Nelson is as Nelson does.
Nelson wanted to make his own electricity from scratch.
Nelson’s dream, his personal, narcissistic, myopic, waking-dream, was to Qualify for the Boston Marathon, which he referred to as “BQing.” He wanted more than that, though. He wanted to be Boston Accepted and Boston Cheered. He wanted to hear the roar of the Boylston Street crowd as he finished the race, and he wanted to endure the piercing screams of the Wellesley women, Hillary Clinton’s Alma Mater. He was not interested in a kiss though. Nelson wanted to wear a Boston Marathon jacket and own it. Nelson wanted to have all of the schlok he would pick up before, during, and after the race, including the space blanket.
But running the Boston Marathon is just a proxy for his existential crisis. Running the Boston Marathon could be resolved with sufficient will-power and sacrifice; but the longing for it is a dream from-which he is not sure he wants to wake.
Oh no. I’ve said too much.
Nelson was an addict. He was addicted to coffee, to red wine, to dark chocolate, and to running. He was sub-clinical Orthorexic, which meant he had real hang-ups about the food he ate. And he judged people based on the food they ate. He brought a serving of peas and brown rice whenever he ate out, because no restaurant served honest vegetables and simple carbs. On the menu, the vegetables may be described as “steamed,” but on the plate they were drenched in some sauce, butter, or olive oil. And just because his addictions and obsessions (these demons) were carefully-hidden, they did not make it any easier to be his wife, his sons, or his friends.
I am just home from work, and my wife has just come back from Costco. I try not to flip out when I see the thirty-six packs of snack-sized Jello cups and Pringles containers in our laundry room. They are in the laundry room, because they have exceeded the capacity of the pantry. Thirty-six. That’s enough for a month of lunches. Just the packaging is overwhelming. First, there is the huge cardboard box. (One box to hold them all.) Then there is sub-packaging: four Jello cups together in convenient travel-packs and two Pringles cans in plastic wrap together.
This is why everyone in Johnson County Kansas needs a bigger house with a bigger pantry: Costco. I resent Costco and all it stands for and everything that supports it and everything it feeds. Myself included.
I have to just calm down.
In the car with Baird, his son, Nelson thought, “If I told him all my stories, explained all my reasons to him, then a part of me would go on living through him when I died, when I was gone. And a tiny part of Grandpa and Gramma, and Mom and Dad would go on living as well. And they would pass from memories of the dead to stories of the dead. And that would be enough. We would become light enough to carry, less than ash, recorded as chemical residue in his brain. Not as permanent as DNA, but as persistent as culture. DNA is the stew/ memory is the spice.”
Native Americans had a name for the dead who were known by the living, but Nelson had forgotten the word. These are the ones who had not passed out of experience. They are the first generation of the dead. Once the last person who knew a person dies, then the dead pass into the corporate memory. They become part of Yung’s collective unconscious, a part of the culture. If they leave a distinct story behind, one that is retold to future generations; then they are not lost, they are not forgotten.
Some things do not skip generations. When Dad visits, he sleeps on the couch. (“I grew up sleeping on a couch.”) And I watched him there, asleep at eight-fifteen, with the pillow he’s had since he was a child between his legs and his hand on top of the pillow.
I could see myself. I was tired. I sleep the same way these days: curled up in the fetal position, with a pillow between my legs to keep my IT band from getting stretched and aching too much in the morning.
His position is endearing, alarming. Ky, my youngest son, sleeps the same way.
In the End by Linkin Park
(It starts with)
one thing I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try
Keep that in mind
I designed this rhyme
To explain in due time
(All I know)
Time is a valuable thing
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it count down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away
(It’s so unreal)
Didn’t look out below
Watch the time go right out the window
Trying to hold on, but didn’t even know
Wasted it all just to
(watch you go)
I kept everything inside and even though I tried, it all fell apart
What it meant to me will eventually be a memory of a time
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
Some Important Races
On April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon was bombed. Later that year, Nelson ran the Kansas City marathon in 3:14:21. The time, faster than 3:15, qualified him to apply for Boston, but it was not fast enough to be accepted. He needed a 3:13:58. Boston has a limited number of slots, and recently it has granted those slots to only the fastest runners – not just the qualified ones who apply the earliest. Of course, the Boston Marathon sells out in a couple of weeks the September before the year before the race, which is the third Monday in April , which is Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the Battles of Concord and Lexington. So, if you are accepted in September of 2013, you don’t run the race until April 2015, which is a long time to wait.
After that spectacular race, that winter, Nelson injured his piriformis in a series of falls while skiing. The piriformis is a butt muscle that is key to running fast. Then, on a patch of ice on an early morning run in a spectacular pratfall, he landed right on that butt muscle again and really messed it up. Nelson struggled with his training and felt like he was running sideways. At one point, he thought, “If I was my car, I would get this fixed!” He finally went to a chiropractor, David, who straightened him out. It cost him a little more than a thousand dollars and took twelve weeks. But he finally felt straight again. Straight as an arrow. And running was a joy.
The very next year, in April 2014, one of Nelson’s heroes, Meb Keflezighi, the American from Eritrea, won the Boston Marathon. This accomplishment by a naturalized United States citizen, along with continued terrorist attacks on Americans in the United States, moved Nelson from wanting to be Boston Qualified to wanting to be Boston Accepted and to run the race. He started to view the Boston Marathon as an act of patriotism and courage.
That fall, Nelson ran the Kansas City half marathon in 1:32:12. He was back, very near his peak, in prime shape to take another crack at a Boston Qualifier.
At Christmas, his sister-in-law, Heather, invited the family to LA for Spring Break. And she noted the LA marathon would be run that week as an enticement. The stage was set.
But instead of enjoying his training, Nelson decided to go for a personal record (a PR) on the LA course. That winter, early in training, Nelson hit several long runs hard. He was feeling great. The LA course had a net elevation loss of four-hundred fifty feet. Since it was winter, Nelson was training on a treadmill; so he put two-by-fours on the back to simulate the downhills, which was an idea he’d gotten from Runner’s World magazine.
After a few long runs, he developed a pain on the inside of his left calf that would not go away. His runs became more painful and he grew slower. He went back to the chiropractor, David. David took hold of his left foot, and he said, “Resist while I twist your foot.”
Nelson had no power down there. He had no control. The repetitive stress of those downhill runs on the treadmill had blown out two nerves in his lower left leg. His right leg was a shambles, too. But it was not as bad.
It was another long road back to okay, to competent, to mediocrity. In the spring of 2015, Nelson ran six miles of the LA marathon and stopped. He Did Not Finish (DNF). Starting out, he knew he wouldn’t finish. But he had already paid for the entry. And it was a joy to be with those runners. Even if he didn’t finish.
And that doesn’t even matter. Whether you BQ or DNF, it doesn’t even matter.
What are my demons? Who am I afraid of?
Baal, the Belly. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
Dark chocolate, red wine, tequila & triple sec, free food, and the buffet.
And never being able to fill the empty space.
What are my angels? What motivates me?
I want to look like a runner.
I want to have a meaningful daily ritual along with a long-range plan.
I want to knead my body, mind, and soul into a singularity.
I want to know who I am at my most basic and profound level.
I want to be able to measure and see an improvement.
I want to know what I am capable of.
But sometimes it feels like being a runner is tearing me apart, breaking me down.
In 2016, Nelson stood on the brink of another year, another turning point, in the middle-years of his life, the mid-forties. The time needed to qualify for Boston was slower: 3:23:00, but so was he. 2016 brought a half that was run in 1:34:56, which was pretty good. But the marathon he ran in the Fall was a mediocre 3:29:10. Far away from the 3:23:00 he figured he needed to be accepted to Boston. It wasn’t even fast enough to send in an application.
And Donald Trump got elected president. You would think that wouldn’t matter. But it did. Nelson did not want to be faced with the time of the trial, but there it was. Every vision of the future, of a possible utopia had to be discarded almost immediately, as soon as it became more than two to three hundred words. Every vision was unattainable, unsustainable, ultimately impossible. But with God and a little imagination, all things are possible.
Then 2016 was gone.
Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
The habits and indulgences were weighing on him (and he was gaining weight), and they were calling into question his way-of-life, the Way of the Runner. What was it time to discard? Running? The goal of getting into Boston? The dream?
In letting go, what would he be ready to grasp? A mission, his passions: helping the vulnerable and restoring the environment. What would there be room to accept?
Nelson wanted to retire and go back to school, academia. But taking that first step (retirement) was daunting. He could not wrap his mind around it. At least not until he had painted the garage and been accepted into Boston.
Boston. I can’t quit you.
Commercial Break: Aetna Retirement Services
A young (good looking) guy walks into a tent on an archaeology dig.
He says, This toothbrush is my life!
He throws the toothbrush down on the table.
Close-up on the toothbrush.
An old guy, reading the paper, smiles at the young guy.
Young Guy: Why’d I have to pick archaeology? My dad begged me to be a lawyer.
A young lady staring into a microscope says, Hey, it’s never too late.
Young Guy: Yeah. Right. What about you, man? You ever think about retiring?
Old Guy: Peter, my friend, I am retired. And… I was a lawyer.
Voice: For those with their own idea of retirement, there’s Aetna retirement services.
Aetna. Built for retirement. Managed for life.
I miss the University!
I should have stayed in the ivory tower.
I should have set up residence on the Hill
in Lawrence at the University of Kansas.
I should have been a professor!
Hey, it’s never too late.
When he was a young man, just married, when the two of them had just finished Masters degrees (his in Mathematics, hers in Civil Engineering), there was the time of the trial, the choice. He had a fellowship at the University of Chicago in hand, she had job offers in Chicago and Kansas City. But Kansas City brought a bridge engineer position, which was the dream, and a lower cost of living. So they went for it. They became DINKs (Double Income, No Kids). He became a webmaster, a Technical Lead, and eventually an Information Technology Architect. Five years later, they had their first kid. Three years later, they had two kids, a car and a mini-van, and a two-story-house with a yard in the suburbs. And that was the dream-fulfilled. They had joined the upper-middle class. He was invested. Hey, it’s the American dream.
A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast. Asleep.
And life brought more dreams. Dreams beyond the dreams.
Nelson spoke in riddles, dead-ends, non-sequiturs. He feared these were the early signs of Alzheimer’s; he could feel the symptoms impinging on his ability to find words. His fate (this disease) was coming as sure as the sunset, but earlier than expected.
He watched his mom for clues and thought he could see the tell-tale signs of the road ahead. She could not sleep much. She arose at 4:00 AM, like him. She studied the Bible, scripture; he ran. She napped whenever she had a chance. Words eluded her. She and he, and he and Dad; they were all the same. All bound up (wound up so tight) together in him.
He wanted to be several things that he was not; he wanted to be a vintner, a gardener, a wildlife ranger at a national park, a professor, a trash-truck driver, a burger flipper, a ditch digger, a health club attendant folding towels and working the front desk, a personal fitness coach, a novelist, a journalist, a prophet, a mystic, a monk, a code monkey, a writer of personal-fitness-insight-journaling software for the amateur runner-monk.
What Nelson was was a runner. He was an amateur runner, which meant he didn’t get paid to do it. Instead, he paid to do it. His escape was running.
From The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,
I recognize myself in Ted the Billionaire.
Ted bought a dress for $10,000 from a young Indian with a hard-luck story who conned him into thinking it was an authentic Lakota heirloom. The young woman lived many years, and became a widely loved matriarch. Ted was so racked by guilt that years later he tried to return it during her funeral. But he was laughed at. Only then (standing on the fifty-yard line in the stadium full of her laughing friends and family) did he understand that he had been conned, that all his notions were false, half-truths; and he would never be admitted into their mystical, private, secret lives. And even if he was admitted, he would not understand, he would not belong. Standing there with a piece of junk he had spent $10,000 on, wanting to return it as a peace-offering, even with all that money, even wanting to honor their traditions (their way of life), the joke was on him.
Still, knowing this, Nelson would gladly pay ten thousand miles in sweat, tears, and blood to get into Boston. And then laugh all the way to the finish line.