Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Knitting Circle

Harry put aside an hour three days a week for the magazine not to eat his brain and trample the shoddy connections of his nervous system. Those were the hours, at noon, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, that he and a few friends would put on shorts and sneakers and Jimmy Buffet or Company Picnic '96 t-shirts and go running for the better part of the stolen hour.

Towards Better Health was a wellness magazine. Owens Enterprises owned it, Man of Substance, Runner's High and a few book titles. Ostensibly they were a company focused on wellness and in truth they did put a few dollars more than the cost of lip service on a press release towards employee fitness and health initiatives. For starters, they never raised an issue of Harry and his friends, all staffers from around the company, taking the time at noon. Sure, it was a lunch hour, but by the time you added in changing, running, showering and getting a sandwich you were talking a good hour and a half. Owens also built a changing room in their main office. This was to say they disconnected the last toilet stall and threw in a hasty plastic shower enclosure. But it was a shower and it worked even though you had to queue up to use it. That was ok, the guys were fast and any newcoming loiterer would quickly have the remaining stall flushed on him. You could always tell the newbies; they spent the afternoon cooling from having been the main course at an improvised lobster boil.

There was a bank of lockers in the changing room. That helped but, like the shower, they were hastily put in and took up a lot of floor space. As a result, when more than two of the four friends who ran together were changing at once, the place tended to resemble a game of twister with a constantly moving spinner.

Lou was always the last to get there. He changed last which suited Mike, Jim and Harry just fine. Lou changed the way Lou did most things: Iconoclastically. Different just to prove a point that had yet to occur to him. That was ok in most things but when he changed he had the habit of stripping down to just his socks and then pausing for a quick chat with whomever was around waiting for him. For starters, it slowed everybody down. Then, on cold days, somebody was invariably already waiting in the parking lot. Not wearing more than running tights and a long sleeved t shirt, they'd get cold fast. They'd clap their hands and jump around and start to shiver. That was ok for Mike and Jim, they were both married. But Harry was divorced and single and would keep warm by clapping his hands, jumping up and down and counting off women who would now never date him because he was barely dressed and jumping around the parking lot like an idiot.

Lou's changing habits irritated Jim the most. Jim hated, just hated the "strip to your socks and stand around naked" routine. It made him uncomfortable because he didn't know where to look and there wasn't a lot in the room to rest your eyes on. Except for Lou. And the more irritated Jim got, the longer Lou stood around naked. It all ended one day for Jim. At least his time waiting for Lou ended once and for all. Harry and Mike were in the corridor outside the bathroom when Jim's muffled yell signalled his breaking point:

"For Chrissakes Lou, get dressed already, you look like some kind of Japanese porn star!"

When they ran, they talked. It was like lingering over a lunchroom table sharing guy talk but it had two distinct advantages: One was that they were getting a little exercise, which was important for Jim, the youngest of the group, had just hit forty. The rest of the guys were all either just in front or just behind the midpoint of that cruel decade. Exercise, to their way of thinking anyway, kept a little of the subtlety of youth in bodies that were harder and harder to get out of bed every year. Harry was also finding it harder to get bodies into bed and supplemented his runs with evenings in the gym. The second was that they got to talk guy talk with impunity. That was because nobody paced them through the streets and people they passed would only catch snippets of their conversation. They could always stop to explain that one of them was quite a cat fancier.

They talked about women, sports, cars, their jobs, and women.

"So here's what I hear from Jackie." Lou announced one day.

"The photo editor at Runner's High?" Jim asked.

"The very same. She's friends with Karen, the managing editor. Karen has the window office and has watched us run by."

"And she's rated which of us as the best potential mate?" Harry asked. Apparently his latest relationship had come to a halt.

"Not quite that good. She seems to have given us a name."

"Individually or as a group?" Jim wanted to know.

"A group. She's taken to calling us 'The Knitting Circle.'"

"What does that mean?" Jim's voice took an edge.

"She could have called us something else, " Mike interjected.

"She could have." Lou agreed.

"Like bunch of closeted homos who don't know it and take sexual aggression they have for each other out in a meaningless physical activity?" Harry said.

"She kind of did that." Lou agreed.

"What?" Jim's voice grew sharper.

"I think she's cast us into the opposing team." Harry said.

"She did just that." Lou agreed again.

"But we're married. Well, not all of us but you're dating, Harry."

"Not the point." Harry said.

There was silence for a few minutes.

"You on the road last week?" Mike asked of Harry.

"Alternative medicine conference, yep."


"Salt Lake City."

"Get out at all?"

"Not this time."

"How was the hotel?"

"Sucked. Cheap. There was some skier's meet in Park City and SLC hotels took up the overflow. Took forever to find the place. They name the streets shit like "third fourth east west" or some nonsense like that. Then, like I said it was a dive."

"How bad?" Mike asked, setting Harry up perfectly.

"I called down to the front desk and told him I hadda leak in my sink. He said to go ahead."

"Um." Lou said.

"Thanks Mike." Harry said.

There was silence again. Usually two silences, at least to Mike, denoted an impending heart attack.

"The socks." Jim said finally. Thank heavens, there was no cardiac a'comin.

"What are you talking about, Jimmy?" Mike asked.

"The socks. Lou and his freaking naked but the socks routine. That's what got her thinking we're gay."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This Week's Puzzler

Tom: Hi, we're Clique and Clack, the high school snob group brothers, and we're here to talk cars, car repair, the puzzle of seventy five dollar tote bags, umbrellas and coffee mugs.

Ray: Don't pledge like my brother.

Tom: Don't pledge like my brother. If you have a Volvo or a Subaru and it has problems, why not give us a call? While you're on the line, make a donation. Heck, make two, there's a classical station across town.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: Let's take our first caller, Catherine from Lake Constance.

Catherine: Hi guys.

Tom: Catherine, is that with a "K" or with a "C"?

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Catherine: A "C".

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: What seems to be your problem Catherine?

Catherine: My Volvo won't start.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: Is that with a "C"?

Catherine: Yes.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: Thanks for calling Car Squawk. Next caller?

Vic: Hi, its Vic from Brooklyn.

Tom: Vic. How the heck are things in Brooklyn?

Vic: Well, I'm parking my Subaru in what passes for a living room in this one room hell hole I'm paying more for in rent than most normal people pay for a house, a couple of acres of land and several garages. But that's beside the point. I'm a young artist in New York City.

Tom: Thanks for calling Vic. We'll cover the talent end. We're Frippe and Frappe, the milkshake brothers. Next caller?

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Dan: Hi, this is Dan from Reno.

Tom: Dan from Reno!

Dan: Right. With a "D." And an "R."

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: Ok, what's the problem Dan?

Dan: Well, like I said, my Volvo is making this funny whining sound. Sort of like "whhhieeeeinnnggggth!" every time you slow for a stop.

Ray: "Whhhieeeinnnggggth?"

Dan: Right.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: Would you make that sound again, Dan?

Dan: "Whhhieeeinnngggth."

Tom: Is anybody besides me flashing back to the Beatty scene in Deliverance?

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Dan: That's the sound it makes.

Tom: Clearly, you need a new car. That or you should never go canoeing.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: Who else we got on the line?

Karen: Hi, my name is Karen.

Ray: Is that Karen with a "Q" or with an umlaut?

Karen: Neither. A "K".

Tom: What's your problem, Karen?

Karen: I've got a late model Chevy that stalls right after you start it sometime.

Ray: Chevy?

Karen: Chevy. Camaro.

Tom: No idea what you're talking about. See ya Karen. Well that's it, you've wasted a perfectly good hour making my brother laugh. We're Flick and Flack, the shrapnel brothers and don't laugh like my brother.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: And even though Congress belches up another couple of million into the coffers of a quasi public corporation only to watch it and whatever bag of change you sent in during our last pledge marathon evaporate into thin air as we announce the thirteenth month of our never ending pledge marathon, this is NPR, never paid for Radio.

Ray: Ha ha ha.

Tom: See you next week.

Ray: Bunny on. Ha ha ha.

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