One Meets Intriguing People on Jogger's Path

October 15, 1990|By Donald R. Morris

HOUSTON — Houston. I'M A QUONDAM jogger who can often be seen galumphing along the street at unearthly hours. I don't jog because I enjoy it -- I loathe it. What counts is the feeling of insufferable smug virtue when the stint is over. There are, moreover, other compensations.

There's a whole world abroad at that hour which later risers miss. Cats are returning from nocturnal assignations; dogs are awakening. They bark at you the first few days (you can track distant joggers, and judge their speed, by the progress of the racket).

You often pass the same cars en route to early jobs; drivers look for you and honk or wave. Then there are other joggers -- not too unsettling if they are headed toward you; a nuisance if going your way. What to do -- pace, pass, race? Pacing may be regarded as forward -- not everybody appreciates company while jogging; racing or passing may be difficult, if not impossible.

Even slowing to increase the interval may present a problem; I jog extremely slowly to begin with, and can only fall behind leisurely joggers by coming to a complete halt. Alone, you can ruminate, recite poetry, make up jokes to pass the time -- about Spottiswoode Huxley, the jogging priest; he jogs backward to marry jogging couples.

In 1962, as a CIA officer in West Berlin, I jogged during the summer months. The sun was up by 2 a.m.; you could read newspapers outdoors at 11 p.m. (It was a feeling of utter depravity to come home from a party at what seemed like a reasonable hour -- in broad daylight.) You could, in Berlin summers, arise at 5 a.m. and have the deserted, sunlit streets almost to yourself.

I used to trot up Huettenweg, slant off into the woods and circle the Grunewaldsee, a magniicent lake in a pine forest studded with oaks and beeches, and ringed with fine paths. Germans are creatures of set habits, and you soon learned who was what, where and when.

There was a couple exercising horses, always to be met just past the head of the lake; there was another couple airing their son, a hulking man in Lederhosen with Down's syndrome, each parent tightly clamped to an arm. Every morning there was an elderly pipe-smoker with his tireless dachshund at the Hundebadestelle. (In Germany, you don't throw a stick in the water for your dog to retrieve just anywhere; it has to be at the officially designated Hundebadestelle.)

And that summer there was Bubi Scholz and his entourage, a highly thought-of light-heavyweight. Sedate joggers gave him a wide berth during his roadwork; he would swing suddenly at imaginary opponents and grunt ferociously at startled passersby.

There was another jogger, a tall lanky chap about my age, who went around the lake, whom I always met within a few yards of a large oak. We started to nod when passing, and soon became firm jogging friends, without ever exchanging names or actually stopping; we simply slowed or jogged in place for a moment. If I got much past the oak before meeting him, I'd make a quip about oversleeping (''Alarm clock,'' he'd snap back, speeding to make up for lost time); if I missed a day, he anxiously asked if all was well -- in Germany, any change in daily tenure usually indicates a crisis. His German was oddly accented.

In September, the mornings grew darker with bewildering rapidity and my tour in Berlin was drawing to a close. My last evening, there was a farewell party -- an exclusively Agency affair -- and a colleague at the base eyed me closely.

''You're looking remarkably fit these days,'' he observed.

''I flipping well should,'' I returned. ''I've been getting up a 5 a.m. these last three months and running around the Grunewaldsee.''

''Oh? . . . Say, you don't know who that crazy American is my agent Barracuda-25 bumps into every morning, do you?''

My jogging pal, it turned out, was a Ukrainian in charge of a group of Soviet expatriates who performed assorted support missions for the base; he'd told his case officer (who was using the name Mueller with that group) about the early morning encounters.

The next morning I was up and at the oak tree early. Barracuda-25 drew up on schedule, and we both jogged in place for a moment. I told him I was packing it up for the year; he replied he, too, would be quitting in a few days -- in Berlin, only an idiot jogged in the fall and winter (when it was freezing and the sun didn't show itself until well after 9 a.m., and it was pitch black by 3:30 in the afternoon).

We wished each other a pleasant winter and parted. I let him get about 10 yards and called after him ''Ja, ein schoenen Gruss von Herrn Mueller!''

He started violently, jerked his head around, tripped and went down full length. I bounded off -- there was a plane to catch at noon -- but I still remember his look of incredulity as he stared after me.

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