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Just a Couple of Guys Out for a Run, a Chat and a Sweat


I love to run.

I run like a fat guy trying to catch a train--head back, chest out, arms and legs pumping for all I'm worth. I don't mean to brag. That's just the way I run. I run like there's no tomorrow.

My dog loves to run, too. But he's different. He's one of those sissy dogs--a cocker spaniel--too pretty to be a dog, too hairy to be a human being.

"Let's go, Fabio," I yell as we head down the street for our morning jog.

His name isn't really Fabio. I just call him that. Because he runs like everyone is watching, like all the female cocker spaniels in all the world are lined up along the street waiting for him to parade by, his blond hair blowing like ribbons in the breeze.

As we run, he keeps turning his pretty head and trying to bite his leash. He thinks this is fun for me, him biting the leash while I stumble over curbs in the predawn darkness.

The two of us must be a sight, me running like a fat guy, him strutting like Fabio.

We run like this several times a week, just two guys hanging out together and trying to work up a sweat. He's the perfect workout partner, really, never sick or out of town, never too busy. He's always there at 6 in the morning, all jumpy and kind of slobbery.

He is this way every time we run. If we ran together a million times, he'd be just as jumpy and slobbery then as he is today.

But best of all, he's a great listener.

"Know what bugs me?" I say as we turn a corner and head up a hill. "When there's an accident on the freeway and some people drive along the shoulder," I say. "It's immoral in a way. Why should they be so special?"

He knows exactly what I mean, this dog. Cars are one of his favorite subjects. He loves to ride in the car, drawing on the windows with his nose and shedding all over the upholstery. Can't get enough of it. So when I talk about cars, he hangs on every word.

"Or when I'm stuck in traffic," I continue, "and those motorcycles sneak between rows of cars. Makes me nuts. Don't know why. Just makes me nuts."

He doesn't argue. He just bounces along biting his leash, making a mental note to chase down a motorcycle the next chance he gets. That's the kind of friend he is, ready to risk death just to appease me.

Why do we work out like this, getting up before the morning doves, trotting through the sprinkler mist in the murky light? It's hard to explain. I'm 40 now, so it can't be vanity. Vanity is like a job I used to have. I hardly think about it.

Besides, to be really vain, I'd need a mirror. And in our house, finding a mirror these days is almost impossible.

The kids have seized all the mirrors. They stand in front of them for hours on end, as if waiting for their freckles to disappear.

While they wait, they practice their smiles. Braces smiles. The hardest smiles of all.

It has gotten to the point, in fact, where you can't just expect to show up at a mirror and find a place. In our house you must now call ahead and reserve a mirror, sometimes weeks in advance.

"Vanity is a waste of time," I tell Fabio as we turn the corner and head back up our street. "Vanity is a losing card game. Sooner or later, you're going to pay."

We finish our run and flop down on the front lawn, our tongues rolling out the sides of our mouths. We have the dead-fish eyes you see on people who have just finished exercising--part euphoria, part death.

"Hey Dad!" yells the little red-haired girl, skipping out the front door and plopping down next to me.

"You OK, Daddy?" she asks, putting her hand on my brow like a triage nurse.

"Yeah, I'm OK," I say, clutching my side.

"Want me to call someone?"

"No, I'll be OK. Really."

She can't understand why anybody would just go off somewhere to run. In her mind, life has enough exercise naturally without having to make stuff up. You run for a reason. You run because your brother's chasing you, or because you're catching grasshoppers. But just to run? That's ridiculous.

"Why do you run, Daddy?" she asks, shaking her head at the lunacy of it all.

"Because it feels good," I tell her. "When it's over, it feels good."

She thinks about this a moment, then puts her hand on my forehead again.

"Know what, Dad?" she says. "I think it's over."

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