What to Choose

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I need a new pair of sneakers. Does anyone even use the word sneakers anymore? I mean, I’m looking for a pair of shoes that will serve for walking and running, something sporty. I tend to like bright colors, perhaps turquoise or purple. But I’m not able to find a pair in my size, with a proper arch, that’s good for city streets. They usually don’t have enough support, or they’re too cushy or too heavy. Or the hue or color combination is wrong. It’s easy to eliminate the choices. I don’t like the style. I don’t support the manufacturer. Today it’s running shoes, but on any given day I can easily find something I don’t want.

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Running shoes are particularly tricky. When I was very young, my father owned a shoe store. He would bring me home a pair of Keds with a rubber tip. Red was my color of choice, but I usually got whatever he had left in my size. I was reminded often of my wide feet. At seven I no longer wanted the childish sneakers with the rubber tip. They were for babies. But I couldn’t complain, that was a house rule. I had to ask reasonably. Diplomacy was fostered at a young age.

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By the time I was eleven I preferred P.F. Flyers. I liked the name.   And all the cool kids had them. I was not cool, but I imagined that with the right sneakers on PE day, I would be welcomed into the club. Even saying PE instead of Phys. Ed. was cool. Bu that was not to be. I would wear my P.F. Flyers privately gleeful as I looked down at my feet.

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As my feet grew I became the lucky recipient of the expensive Tretorns my mother wore for tennis. Once the tread wore down, she needed another pair for the slow clay courts of the Cherry Hill Tennis Club. The Tretorns were soft and comfortable. With their inner cushioning, and the white canvas exterior accented with a wave of blue leather, my feet were happy. My hand-me-down tennis shoes became the one piece of clothing with a recognizable label. I didn’t have to play tennis, I just had to wear Tretorns to feel a little bit more like a belonged in Cherry Hill.

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Even after I moved away to college I received my mom’s old shoes when I came to visit. That was fairly often since I lived in Philadelphia, the closest city. My mom switched out her shoes every three to six months. I wore the sneakers for a year or so. By that time my sister ,Susan, could also wear my mom’s old sneaks.

Once I moved to New York things changed. It was my therapist’s comment about wearing my mother’s used, tennis shoes that had me start looking for my own sneakers. By then cross trainers were popular with the rise of Jane Fonda workout tapes. I hated to spend my hard earned money on sneakers, but I was trying to be a grown up, and that’s what grown ups do. So I purchased whatever wide-width was on sale. More often than not they didn’t reflect my aesthetic. New Balance changed all that in the ‘90s. Finally, I could choose good athletic wear that lasted a good amount of time.

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I’ve since moved beyond New Balance. Yet, now I have the entire Internet to peruse. Plus, I’ve been given conflicting advice. One professional tells me to get extra support because I’m walking on concrete sidewalks. Another person says mimicking bare feet is best for the spine. And, on and on. This morning I settled on a pair of Rykas. They discontinued my bright turquoise design, but I can count on their soft bounce to my hard steps. I didn’t wear out this pair as quickly as my last pair of running shoes. I injured myself so I missed a few runs this year. It’s a minor injury, and PT is working, but my running shoes are more about the slow walk these days. I feel fortunate that I get to choose a new pair of shoes. I feel lucky to have choices in life. It didn’t always feel that way. So if I now have a hard time choosing what’s good for me, then I’ll choose that option every time.

 

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A Six-Year Old State of Mind

When I entered the first grade at Stafford Elementary there were too many students for the two classrooms. I was assigned to an extra class, which was temporarily located in the southeast corner of the all-purpose auditorium, the exact location where they display the book sale in the Spring. The teacher, a mean spirited woman, whose name escapes me, derived her sense of power by placing me in the corner.

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I would laugh uncontrollably with Robin Reed, a beautiful, tall girl with large green eyes. We would just look at each other and start laughing. However, my laugh, for reasons unknown to me would set off the teacher. And, I alone would have to sit in the corner, having been shamed in front of my classmates. I thought this completely unfair. As a six-year-old fairness meant a great deal to me. Why was I sent to the corner, and Robin could stay at her desk learning how Dick and Jane were getting on? My back was to the class so I’d miss the lessons and get behind. One unfairness on top of another. Perhaps it was this experience that wed me to proper rules. This fabricated black & white idealism.

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Today I was in Central Park on a run. I was going the way of traffic, far on my right on the Bridle Path. I like the soft earth under my New Balance even though I always end up with small stones and sand that has to be emptied. It was late morning, and with the heat there weren’t many runners out. And, yet, from time to time a runner would come at me on my lone path, on their wrong side of the path. I get mad at them. I hold my ground running along, certain of my right to be where I am. But I am filled with righteousness, and a touch of malice.

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Since I run because it gives me pleasure, my holier-than-thou attitude does not lend itself to enjoyment. In fact, I allow those unwitting runners to get in the way of my satisfaction. So, I started to ask myself where these thoughts may have originated. And first grade came to mind. My idea of what’s correct and fair was compromised. I held onto my notion of right and wrong as a defense. It’s time to let it go. I needn’t think mean thoughts for runners who are going where they want to go. There is room enough for all of us. Well, I’m not quite there yet. But I’ll work on it with each subsequent run.

Addendum:

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After a month of torture from that First grade teacher, the class got moved to the old art room, and Mrs. Schlosberg became our teacher for the rest of the school year. She was kind, and thoroughly supportive. I even won a poster of Cambell’s Soup as an outstanding student award. It was a great redemptive prize. I will always be grateful to her. And in the end, first grade worked out. I made it to second, and so on.

Wonderful Central Park

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It’s 6.2 miles around the Central Park loop. On a good running day I’ll run to the entrance to the Park Drive at 90th Street, jog around the park and run back, an 8-mile run. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m more apt to do a three-mile run to the park, around the reservoir or around the bridal path surrounding the reservoir, then back home again. I like that run. There are beautiful views of the city, some people watching, and the ground is soft.

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But, for now, as I train for a half-marathon, which I may or may not run, I am working on longer runs, making the loop a better choice. As I cross Fifth Avenue to join the other joggers, always on the drive, I pass a bevvy of tourists. They have come from the museums with selfies-on-the-reservoir as their next objective. I can get frustrated as they block the path, oblivious of native New Yorkers trying to get by.

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When I finally pass the tourists I go down a small slope and move towards 96th Street with a playground on my right and lush trees on my left. I veer to my left passing a field to my right and distant tennis courts to my left. Soon I pass the 103rd Street by-pass, which is a short cut to the west side, eradicating the two hills to come. I fuel myself with positive thinking since I feel good that I’m going the tougher route.

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Once I pass 103rd Street, the road zigzags past the Lasker Pool & Rink, the North Woods, and the Meer. By that time I am approaching the hill. Lesser cyclists stop or mimic the Engine that Could. When I ride my bike, I use self-talk of encouragement to get up that hill. “You can do it, Janet.” You’ve got it.” Just one foot in front of the other.” The pro cyclists speed righteously up the hill, indicating their athletic prowess. And, just when I think I’ve made it, there’s another slope towards the top. This last time, I went up another hill where there’s a 1/5 mile track. I did that just to prove to myself I conquered the hills. From there I go down hill. It’s a gentle decline, nothing too steep. I pass a pretty pond with a bridge and a scenic willow tree.

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Then I run for ½ mile at which point I’m at the 90th Street entrance on Central park West. It’s not quite half way, but it feels like it to me. To my left is the reservoir. Once I pass that there’s the great lawn. These days there’s a long line of theatergoers staking their claim to see Cymbeline at the Delacorte Theater. As I continue I can see the New York Historical Society peeking through the trees to the west. Next is the lake where you can rent canoes and row boats. But within a blink I’ve already passed Strawberry Fields and the crowds of tourists with their umbrella carrying leaders.

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Unknown-4Sheep’s Meadow with the picnickers, and frisbee players is next on the left with the reopened Tavern on the Green to my right. From there I can smell Horse Manure as I pass the Handsome Cabs and their passengers. I don’t hate the odor, but it’s distinctive. By the time that ends, I’ve passed the carousel followed by the Boat House. I now have less than a mile in the park, yet by now I am hungry for milestones for the end of this run. There’s a hill, actually not quite a hill, but an ascent of some degree. But as I run through that I treasure the sight of the Still Hunt, the cougar sculpture on a cliff.   And then there’s Cleopatra’s Needle just as The Metropolitan Museum rises on the east. I am simply relieved. I have a quarter mile to go in the park and that makes me giddy.

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I fall in love with the city and Central Park even while I push myself at West 72nd Street and East 68th Street.   I get tired there. I want to quit. I think about walking away from this. I need to think of walking away. Having an exit clause helps me to finish. I don’t do as well when I feel like I have no choice. Knowing I can walk away gives me the freedom to choose to keep running. That is a freedom I so need, and so appreciate.

I end where I began, East 90th Street, across from The Cooper Hewitt Museum. I turn south to 88th Street to run straight to the East River, jogging in place when I’m stuck at a light. On my steps I stretch. Breathing heavily, I think, “I did it!”

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Walking on

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If I’m not aware what I’m feeling, I become acutely aware when I start walking the city. Walking through beautiful Central Park on my way to a morning appointment a runner came towards me. As far as I was concerned she was going against the clearly marked directions on the pavement. I held my ground, and when I kept walking towards her, righteously indignant about following the markers, she barely moved to get around me, whispering, “Fuck you.” I wasn’t sure I heard her right. But she was a fast runner and she was well past me when I started to think of replies. My first thought, was, “Have a nice day.” Like I said, I was feeling righteous, and I thought my fake kindness served my feelings well. Sometimes I can just stew over a simple incident like that. But it was a beautiful morning, and I had gotten a rare early start.

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Then I was crossing 72nd Street, it was my light, but a cyclist tore down the road. He waved at me, indicating that he’d go around me, and I smiled back. A lovely New York moment. I forgot my self-righteousness after that. I find it amazing that a mis-matched moment can embroil me, but an act of kindness lifts me to a better place.

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This happens a lot as I walk or jog public areas. Sometimes someone takes up the whole sidewalk. He or she unconsciously walks in the middle so no one can get by. More often than not, I get irate, as if it’s my private sidewalk and I take it personally, silently cursing them out.

I went for a short jog this afternoon, but school was letting out, and, again, I got angry at the parents and caregivers who straddled the sidewalk.  Funny how I love to walk, yet I can get worked up over minor inconveniences. Perhaps my walks give me a chance to move through my emotional repertoire. An inner drama played out on the streets of New York.

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