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The Smell of the Bacon, the Roar of Endorphins

July 04, 2001|CHRIS ERSKINE

Our two most recent presidents have been joggers. They run to purge the Oval Office air from their lungs and the political poisons from their brains. Two powerful men, both runners, both setting an example for the nation. But I don't let that deter me.

"You're running this morning?" my wife asks.

"Uh-huh," I say.

"Good luck," she says.

She's seen me run--strong, powerful strides, arms flopping every which way. Like someone playing tennis without a racket. Like someone dodging bottle rockets. "Good luck," she says, and means every word of it.

I usually enjoy a good morning run. There are the scent of doughnut shops and the sight of milk trucks. Not much else. Me, the paperboys and the milk trucks. It's glamorous out here on the streets at 6 a.m. It's easy to see why presidents like it.

On one street, someone is making maple-flavored bacon, the wondrous smell escaping through the kitchen vent. I circle their house for five minutes, hoping they'll invite me in.

Every year, you find less bacon during your run, as people become increasingly ridiculous about what they eat. Eventually, there will be no more bacon--except what you buy on the black market.

I hop a curb and wonder what presidents think about when they run. Bacon. Foreign policy. The leggy undersecretary of education. Guy thoughts.

I turn down one road, then up another, thinking guy thoughts and chasing bacon smells.

Most days, I run till I pull a muscle or experience a deep suffocating exhaustion, not unlike a honeymoon or a stroke.

Some days, I swim.

I swim in a YMCA pool that's clear as gin, the giant martini that lasts all day.

Twenty laps. Thirty laps. Forty. Dizziness. Nausea. A tingling sensation in my fingertips and toes. After 20 minutes, I'm swimming with the endorphins.

"You OK?" the lifeguard asks.

In five years of swimming laps, I have had the lifeguard come to my aid only once, and even then it was a questionable call.

She left her lifeguard chair slowly, as if dismounting a horse after a long day's ride, a little stiff in the knees, and walked to the edge of the pool, where I was sputtering water and looking half dead.

"You OK?" she asked.

"In what sense?" I answered. And she turned slowly and got back on her high horse.

"I think she was flirting with me," I told my wife later.

"Yeah, that was probably it," my wife said, well aware of how young lifeguards are often attracted to middle-age men in ratty swim trunks.

I am, at best, an intermediate swimmer. As I swim, I sift water through my teeth like a baleen whale. By the gallon I sift it, searching for phytoplankton and small invertebrates, my chlorinated breakfast. Where all this water exits, I don't know. Don't even want to speculate.

By my final laps, I can feel the lifeguard's admiring eyes, like fire, on my back and shoulders.

"What a whale," the lifeguard is probably thinking as I gargle Lane 3. "Hope he doesn't need mouth to mouth."

In the locker room a few minutes later, young lawyers talk about setting up trusts. Of all the bad things about working out, listening to young lawyers discuss trusts might be the worst.

Sometimes, I bike.

I ride the shady lanes in the rich part of town, past the huge, just-finished home of a millionaire divorcee, hoping to get noticed in my torn T-shirt and yard-sale bike, hoping she'll wander down the driveway and spot me, then think, "Maybe that's what I need, a middle-age guy in a torn shirt and a yard-sale bicycle. Maybe that'll turn my life around."

You have your lottery ticket. I have my morning bike ride. Good luck to both of us.

Not that I'd ever run off with a rich divorcee. Chances are I'd use her as leverage to better my marriage and make it even more satisfying than it already is.

"Guess what happened to me today?" I'd ask my wife.

"You found a real job?"

"No."

"You hit another hydrant?"

"I was approached by a rich divorcee," I'd say.

"That was my next guess," my wife would say.

My wife would stir her coffee. I'd ice my knee. Some kid would pass by and bump my sore knee. She'd stir her coffee again.

"So," I'd finally say, "in light of this new offer, I was just wondering what my future looked like here?"

"Looks a lot like your past," my wife would say.

Attractive as that sounds, I'd probably hold out for more. More grilled meats. More backrubs. More soothing thoughts whispered hot and wet in my ear.

In public places, I'd ask my wife to call me "Thor, god of all husbands." Or "Secretariat."

I'd probably hire famous sports agent Scott Boras to work out the details.

"First of all, Thor wants a guaranteed contract," Boras would tell my wife.

"And?"

"More bacon," he'd say.

"Ha," my wife would answer, then throw a toaster oven at his pasty agent head. Because it's one thing to negotiate with shrewd, ego-driven baseball executives. It's another thing to negotiate with shrewd, ego-driven wives.

"Hey Thor, how about washing the dog?" she'd say next.

You have your lottery ticket. I have my morning bike ride. Good luck to us both.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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