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Clean Paths

Watching, walking, in Prospect Park, under the airplanes.

I couldn't deal with the Y. Not tonight. All that vanity and body-image stuff under fluorescent light, externalized as sweat. Through the upstairs windows I could see women huffing on the ellipticals, pistoning their legs (1000-2000 times every ten minutes), and downstairs, men in the weight room, milling and waiting for their turn at agony and pride. I just kept walking.

On to Prospect Park, a few blocks farther up the slope. I found a baseball dugout at the edge of the Long Meadow and changed. After I pulled off my jeans, before I pulled on my sweatpants, I sat still for a moment, feeling the night on my bare legs. The voices of the out-of-sight drifted around, snatches of conversation in English and Spanish.

Then, my bag flopping at my side, I sprinted, looking down at my white sneakers, until it hurt to sprint. Not long. A blocksworth, or two.

I used to housesit for these people upstate. They had 50 acres and paid me in marijuana, which I didn't smoke, but I appreciated the sentiment. When I stayed at their place, I had to run their two year-old German Shepherd puppies up and down a hill twice a day. After a few of these runs, a half-mile from any living soul, I began to do it naked. I'd drink a glass of water, strip to my sneakers, and run the dogs.

From 50 acres to 200 square feet, from running nude along a dirt path, pulled by half-wild German Shepherd pups, to riding an exercise bike in “hill mode.”

I walked to the middle of the Long Meadow and stretched under the airplanes. A roar came from the cars passing nearby. Situps, and leg lifts, and pushups. The voices still drifted to me, people walking past, but no one close enough to see. The air was sweet with green things, and the clouds were long and sharply ridged, like they'd been cut out with pinking shears and pasted to the sky.

I stretched for a moment, then walked back to the dugout to get a drink of water. Two people were on the same bench where I'd changed, a woman on the lap of a man, facing him. Her shoulders were moving in silence, as she lifted her body up and down. They were making love. I walked past them, 20 feet away, and waited for the prim, middle-aged aspect of my reactive self to feel censorious—but that never came. Because they didn't intend to offend me; they just didn't expect anyone else to exist in the middle of their critical moment. And despite the hopes of health teachers, ministers, and fathers of daughters, that seems to be how we form new life, finding each other in the dark. I got my drink, a strong, wide arc of water coming from the fountain.

I was going to leave Brooklyn in August, for Cambridge, MA, but now my plans to leave are on hold, ambiguous, stopped by conflicts of desire, ambition, and distance. I am not sure what to do next. I must live here until I do know, so I pick up the four Gatorade bottles I find on the ground and throw them in the trash, clearing the path.

When it's over, their bodies will settle and she will take one leg away, then another, shifting her weight, and they will button their clothes and wipe their brows, then rise, and walk back to the street, close, laughing in relief. In the post-coital moment, when the short term feels eternal, they'll leave the park and go back to the buses and stoplights, taking their clean paths for granted.

.  .  .  .  .  

This piece is sponsored by two people: Christian Crumlish, whose X-POLLEN has some fine photos of New Orleans (and Ornette Coleman in particular), all sandwiched between music-loving words, and Magdalen Powers, whose book, Hand Over Fist, is worth your consideration.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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