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Itís a beautiful evening as I step outside my apartment building. At ten-o'clock, the streets are dark, lit only by traffic signals, street lights, and the glow from the handful of shops that are still open. Thereís a strong ocean breeze from the west and I inhale deeply, savoring the fresh, clean, cool air. Itís truly the perfect evening for a nice long jog, I decide, as I take a thoughtful drag on my cigarette and plan my route.

I decide that I will jog in a square-type pattern, heading west for fifteen minutes, then turning north for another quarter hour, then east, then south, bringing me back to my front door in an hour, just in time for Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

This square pattern is a master stroke, as far as I'm concerned.  As weeks pass and I keep up the regiment, the square will grow larger and larger as I cover more ground in less time. And speaking of time, itís about time I started getting in shape. At age twenty-eight, Iím past the point of developing some unhealthy habits; Iím now close to perfecting them. Plus, I really havenít been jogging much at all over the past, oh, twenty-eight years or so.

So, tonight I dug out a pair of sweatpants, which I found in a box filled with other stuff I never use, like a bottle of multi-vitamins and a Bible. I threw on a sweatshirt, clipped my walkman to my waistband, and hopped around a little bit. The hopping served two purposes; first as a bit of a warm-up exercise, and second to make sure that my walkman, which was assembled in 1934 and weighs about 70 pounds, would neither drag my sweatpants violently down to my ankles, nor fall off my waistband and crush my foot.

Since my sweatpants have no pockets, I stick my apartment key in my sock, and some folded up dollar bills in my waistband, just in case I want to stop for some Gatorade or a Big Mac on the way home. Big Mac? I meant salad.

I'm healthy now.

I know a lot about jogging from an informed source, that source being the schmuck behind me on the bus last week, who wouldnít shut his hole about it the entire commute. But he harped on the importance of stretching before jogging, as to avoid muscle pulls, strains, and serious injury. My main concern, however, is to avoid looking like a complete jackass. I know that anytime I see anyone stretching, I think "What a dork!" Iím not going to stand out here in public and do that thing where you pull your foot up to your shoulder blades, and those deep knee bends. Itís bad enough that Iím out here in sweatpants. So, I decide to just start out walking, and progress to jogging once I feel my "muscles" have warmed up. I flick my cigarette into some old newspapers and head west.

Moments later, I am passed by a jogger. Then two more, heading the other way. And here I am, walking. Talk about looking like a jackass. I throw the power toggle on my walkman, and start to jog.

The first fifteen minutes are a dream. I run smoothly, strongly, fastly. My stride is long and even, my breathing easy, in through the nose, out through the mouth. I feel my heart rate increase and hold steady. The cool air blows through my hair as I pass a jogger heading in the opposite direction and give her a knowing nod.

We jog. Weíre joggers.  It's what we do.

Helping me along is the sound from my walkman, in the form of a heavy-techno-dance-industrial-metal-gangsta-rap clamor, that sounds like a cargo plane full of cutlery crashing into a sheet-metal factory. The lyrics are surprisingly poignant and inspiring: "You better run, run, ya muthaf**ka, Ďfore I f**k your a** up, ya c**ks**ker, runÖ"

After fifteen minutes, I make a right turn, and slow to a walk. I feel great. I feel healthy. I picture my future, running in 5k and 10k runs, then entering a marathon. Jogging to the store.  Jogging to work. Jogging to the drive-in theater, then jogging home and getting my car and driving back, since it's a drive-in theater. Cross country jogging.  Jogging the Iditarod.  Running will become my life for the first time since grade school, when Billy Wacholder used to chase me home every afternoon, yelling "Pansy! Pansy!"

Years-old suppressed rage washes over me, and I begin to jog again, picking up the pace further. Full out running.  Running like the wind.

I remember hearing about something called "Runnerís High." A feeling, as reported to me, thatís better than sex. I think I can feel it coming onÖ Iím feeling lightheaded. Even a bit dizzy, giddy. My heart has stopped pounding and begun fluttering. My legs have gone from feeling warm and strong to something akin to unstable, quivering rubber. My healthy perspiration has become a torrent of cold sweat. I feel my Runnerís High. I feelÖ like crap.

I stumble to a walk, and a sudden stitch in my side almost makes me double over. I canít seem to catch my breath. My heart hammers in my chest like a woodpecker whoís in a real rush to peck a hole in some wood. Judging from the pain, someone has apparently snuck up behind me and jammed a barbed pool cue through my right knee.

Fifteen minutes! Time to make another right turn!

I stand on the darkened corner, hunched over and gasping. What the hell am I doing? Whose idea was this, anyway?

I start walking again, my side convulsing and my knee cramping up. No way. Iím never going to make it back. A half hour of brisk jogging translates to at least three days of slow shambling.

I stop a moment, considering my options.  I could wait until daylight and flag down an ambulance.  I could start crying.  I could give up my current life and just live here, on the corner, in my sweatpants.

The square plan is pitched. I have altered course and am now making a triangle, cutting through peopleís yards and driveways in an effort to connect two points with a straight line. My limping gait causes my walkman to pitch wildly, the heavy iron of the casing beats painfully against my shaking thigh, the tape slows and speeds up with each shudder of my body: "ruuUUUnnnÖ muuUUuuth... aaa... ffff**kerrrrrÖ"

My apartment key has slid down into my shoe, where it digs cruelly into my foot with each step.  The intense, grating pain blessedly takes my mind off my cramping muscles.

As I force my way through someoneís hedge, I suddenly feel like an idiot.  How could I be so lame? How could I be so foolish? I could have stuck with the square route, it would have increased my chances of catching a cab.  At least if I manage to keep this new course, I will run into a McDonalds, where I can get a soda. Maybe some fries. A Big Mac sounds good right about now.

My six bucks are still safely tucked into my sweats, and they are, as one would imagine, sweaty. Gross. I canít go into McDonalds and hand currency drenched in belly-sweat to some poor kid behind the counter.  Of course, at this rate Iíve got about two hours before I actually reach the place, so I hold three bills in each hand, and wave them around while I limp past someoneís garage. Well, itís kinda like exercise, and they should be dry by the time I get there.

I cut through a darkened parking lot, and find myself suddenly in the midst of a group of teens. The kind of teens you donít want to run into in a darkened parking lot, while limping severely and waving cash around with both hands. In nature, this scene would be similar to a gazelle encountering a pack of cheetah, while dragging one leg and pouring barbecue sauce on itself, and waving cash around.

The teens are quite polite, actually, both sparing my life and not mugging me. One even lets me bum a smoke.

I stagger out of some bushes and Iím on Park Street, a few blocks from my apartment. I miscalculated: McDonalds is a few blocks in the other direction.  Never mind the Big Mac, I think I have some beer at home that will do the trick.

A good hour has passed since I set out on this blighted journey. The once healthy sweat is now like a sheet of ice, coating me and chilling me to the bone. My glasses are fogged and askew on my face, my shoes are muddy from walking through someoneís freshly-watered garden. 

The streets, meanwhile, are suddenly alive with activity. The traffic signals are like spotlights. People are everywhere.  The shops, seemingly all of them, are brightly lit. By the looks of things, the Attractive Yet Critical Women of Alameda Organization is holding a march, for dozens upon dozens of gorgeous women line the streets, just looking for men to stare icily at.  They're in luck, for here I am, stinky, whimpering, shivering, and limping along the sidewalk in full view.

I reach my door, kick off my shoe, dig the key out of my foot, and begin the three-hour climb up to my apartment.

I think I'm through with jogging for a while.

It just doesn't seem too healthy.