A run in the park helps jog memory

May 04, 1999|By Michael Olesker

ON AS FINE an afternoon as God ever granted for pulling a hamstring or wrenching a knee, I am jogging along Lake Roland in Robert E. Lee Park, fulfilling my regular annual vow to get myself into shape. Actually, I'm already in shape, but it's the shape of a man reaching for another chunk of bread to help wash down that last helping of pot roast.

My intention is to work toward a svelteness unseen (in my mirror) since the waning days of the second Eisenhower administration, a brief 40-year interlude in which my idea of weight training was to "weight" no more than 30 minutes between intravenous feedings of Boston cream pie.

Lake Roland is surrounded by a symphony of colors, so glorious that I find myself falling in love with the simple act of living. Either that, or I've taken too much oxygen to my brain from the sheer effort of huffing and puffing through my first circling of the lake, which lasted either 12 miles or about 400 yards, whichever sounds more impressive.

Some people talk of a wondrous sensation that occurs when they've pushed themselves a certain distance. They [See Olesker, 4b] call this sensation "second wind." It is my experience in these matters that second wind comes only from an oxygen tent.

But the rustic park, off Falls Road just past Lake Avenue, and the Technicolor lake setting are rejuvenating. Couples in their Geritol years stroll about. Families picnic by the dam at the edge of the lake. Young people romp with their dogs, tossing tennis balls into Lake Roland, where the dogs happily jump in and retrieve them before looking for something more nourishing to chew on, such as the back of my heels.

Lolling on an old blanket, a couple of teen-agers wear shirts with the names of famous fashion houses prominently displayed on the front. I want to tell them, because I am too old to know when to mind my own business, that they have misspent their money. They have overpaid merely to have a brand name on a piece of clothing. They are walking billboards for the fashion companies, and thus, it is the fashion companies that should pay them.

But I tell none of this to the young people, because I am too busy scanning the horizon for a stray oxygen tent from which I might get a whiff of that second wind I crave.

Near the edge of the park, a group of middle school youngsters, perhaps half a dozen of them, sits in a small circle, taking in nature's balminess. They are bathed not only in sunlight but in their own innocence.

As I approach their area, I notice one girl, blond, petite, who looks as though she was born to lilt her way through life picking daisies from a field. But, face contorted, she's dragging deeply on a cigarette.

I decide, feeling full of the goodness of the moment, feeling momentarily that I am not oxygen-depleted, and feeling full of the wisdom of my years, to chide her gently as I jog past, hoping to appeal to her youthful innocence, hoping to steer her along the path of wholesome living which is (for this sanctimonious moment) my own.

"Come on," I cry out good-naturedly as I jog past and we make brief eye contact. "Haven't you heard that stuff's bad for you?"

"Kiss my (bleep)," she mutters back, in the fullness of her girlish innocence.

I bolt for the park's exit, Adam being evicted from Eden with the sneers of children at my back.

To my left is the dam, Lake Roland's excess foaming heartily over the edge until it descends and forms a stream that will carry all the way back to Falls Road.

There's a steep, slippery, stone slope alongside the dam, never intended to be scaled by humans. But there, in the afternoon's glare, are three schoolboys, no older than 12 or 14, inching slowly down, the rubber soles of their sneakers the only grip they have separating them from catastrophe.

From my side of the dam, they're too far away for me to yell. Anyway, what good would it do? Their response would be the same as the girl with the cigarette: Mind your own business, old coot.

I am 54 years old this week. There is a point in the lives of all grown-ups when we cease being visible, or audible, to young people.

They wear designer-label clothes as membership badges in their own tribes. They clamber down stone walls, or drag deeply on cigarettes, to test the limits of their youth, which they imagine to be endless. They huddle in a little park on a spring afternoon with their friends, and in between the strutting about, and the puffing up and the breaking down, they wonder: How will I wind up?

And I can tell them: Forty years from now, if they're lucky, they'll wind up huffing and wheezing through a park with grand misguided hopes of regaining their youth. They'll watch kids taking foolish chances, and remember their own. They'll realize: These kids, too, will survive. But they'll be 54 years old and wonder, how did I get here this fast, when I've only been jogging all along?

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