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Thursday May 16, 2002, 12:32

He flew in about 10 minutes ago. With little fanfare or announcement, and not a greeting or a knock he just jumped in, explored the flat for a while, made use of the facilities and just as suddenly as he arrived, he flew back out the window. It is seventy degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, and the creepy-crawleys are out in force once again. I must say that I was a little less tolerant of the fly that buzzed in the open window earlier this morning. Blame it on my foul morning disposition or simply my desire for sport, but as he zipped around the room, I picked up the large plastic packaging from my wrist rest (a recent gift from my girlfriend who bribes me with such things to keep me in this city for the time-being) and had at him. A few missed swings to start off the match and then the weapon hit its mark. With an audible thwack I sent the fly sailing across the room, against the wall and onto the floor, to be finished up with a Kleenex brand facial tissue from the living room.

I suppose it was not so much his fault really (gender being applied to the insect much as many people apply "male" to dogs and "female" to cats, just because) but I am a firm believer in fate, a firm believer in being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a firm believer of the superiority of the higher life form. Besides, compound eyes really bug me out. And this guy was big. About the size of a 5p coin I'd say, but jet black and mean as a Midwestern winter. Um.

I did something bad the other day. Well, at the time, I thought it was good, but in looking back at the situation, and assessing my current state of being, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I am relatively stupid and far more out of shape than I ever could have imagined. Noticing the wonderful weather and being jealous of all of the exercise that those in close circle were participating in on an almost daily basis, I took it upon myself to go out for a run. Donning a black t-shirt from the day before and scrounging up some running shorts, I laced up my new sneakers (and yes, for the record, they are women's sneakers and no, for the record, this doesn't make me feel girlie in any way), grabbed a water bottle, fixed the portable CD player that was sitting on the dining table/my desk, laced my keys into the draw-string of the aforementioned running shorts and headed out. It felt good. The air rushing through my hair as my music played into my ears and the cars didn't hit me as I crossed the street, up and over and up again to the Tube stop, turning left, waiting for traffic and then heading into the Park where I saw painted across the ground in the break in the gate "No Skating."

Glad at that point that I had opted for sneakered mobility than what I have, in the past, called "wheely-feet1," I headed into the park, around a garden and down a marvelously wide, tree-lined path through the park. I was panting a bit for I had not done anything resembling this sort of exercise in about eight years, but still my lungs and my legs were not failing me and I continued to run. Spotting destinations in the distance I would head towards them, clearing vast expanses of green around me, with nothing to indicate that I was, in fact, in the middle of a city.

In New York, in the greens of Central Park, you can always hear the rush of traffic and see the skyline of luxury apartment buildings surrounding you. While there are spots in which seemingly nothing exists (and where, on one occasion, I got all but lost while wandering through a veritable forest in between two fairly large roadways), for the most part, the city will not let you forget. In London, while running through Regents Park, however, I was struck with the feeling of being miles away from anything commercial, loud, or smog-producing. The sky was blue and full of clouds, there were two men flying a kite and dozens of people walking dogs and children. In the distance I saw a tower, the BT communications tower just a few blocks from my current home, but it was, simply put, in the distance. I felt as though I would have to travel half a day just to get to the base of it.

Perhaps it's just a matter of scale. Everything here is smaller. There are no skyscrapers to speak of, be it for historical or zoning reasons. Buildings here can be older than countries with which I am more familiar, and the pace is simply more relaxed. Congregating out on the sidewalk for an hour or two during the workday, having a pint at the pub, is not unheard of and is, in fact, quite common, especially when the weather gets nice. In about half an hour, the street outside the flat will be alive with chatter and I will wonder what, exactly, all of these people actually do that they can take so much time and still manage to leave work at five in the (early) evening. I find myself irked at the pace of crowds on the sidewalk, even during the frantic morning commute and urge them, plead with them, to move faster. And so it shouldn't surprise me that a walk (or run) in the park is really an experience completely apart from the rest of life.

Starting to wheeze a bit, I decided to stop running and "walk it off" for a bit of a cool-down. I had been running for fifteen minutes. Undaunted by this lack of endurance (I mean I'd not had any sort of sustained physical activity since, well, ever) I rested for a minute and picked up my run again. It was getting increasingly difficult to get motivated and my legs were starting to cramp, but in the name of exercise I would push through the pain like a nickel through a brick wall. A woman ran by on another path clad in white Spandex running shorts, a white t-shirt and a ponytail riding high on her head. A new tactic formed in my mind as I branched off of my path and headed behind her on the opposite one. Motivation is key, you see, but as it turned out, I ended up running past her as she stopped to tie her shoe lace and when I looked back to try to change direction again, she had run off to parts of the park unseen. And so the quest began again and I ran until I ended back at the clearing and back, again, to the two men flying their kite. I stopped again, to watch and to rest my weary legs.

The kite itself was a large rectangle, about was wide as my arms spread apart and maybe a foot in the short direction. Made out of parachute material and stiffened by a segmented rod in the front, it didn't look like anything more than, well, a brightly colored piece of cloth. But I watched as the wind picked it off the ground and the man flying it whipped it around (and I know that the wording here is particularly worthy of mockery, but spare me in the name of over-analysis), controlling it by means of two strings attached to the ends of the rectangle and ending, on his end, in wrist loops. Bracing himself against the wind he would have to squat down to keep his balance. This thing was really flying and when it zoomed overhead, I was certain to duck, lest I lose vital body parts.

I watched them fly for a bit, and spoke a bit to them about the kite itself as they were packing up. I stopped short of asking what exactly it was that each of them did that could afford them the luxury of going out at eleven in the morning on a Tuesday to fly a kite. Instead we limited our conversation to discussion of the "look on that wino's face as the kite flew over his head" and how, with enough wind and enough stacked kites, one could actually get airborne with these things. As I said goodbye to the kite flyers, I felt a drop of water on my neck and ran back through the park and all the way home through a refreshing spring rain.

That would be the happy part of this story. The rest of it involves the rejection of my legs by the rest of my body and my sudden inability to descend staircases any more. My legs simply don't have the strength in them any more to exert any kind of upward pressure on the rest of my body and when they are expected to take weight (for example, when I stand up, sit down, or walk down stairs) they refuse, causing my knees to lock and me to exclaim one of a selection of expletives.

The thing is that despite the ensuing agony, that turned out to be one of the best days that I've had since arriving in London. It might have been just coincidence, or it might be that there actually is something to this whole exercise phenomenon, but I am certainly willing to try to recapture the feeling of that day.

If I am ever able to walk again, that is.

1. The first time I tried on in-line skates in a Sports Authority or some other chain sporting goods store, I stood up on the linoleum floor and promptly had my feet kick out from under me, leaving me on my back with the wind knocked out of me. When asked if I was ok, I remember replying "I think I'll just lie here for a little while," feeling my back stinging and my pride significantly wounded. There was also the time when I hit a manhole cover (I will, for the time being, forsake you the political debate over whether such discs should be described instead as "personhole covers"), bounced off my knee and leapt forward like a little frog onto the sidewalk to avoid the automobile that never manifested itself behind me. It's a wonder why I continue to wear those darn things.

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