tales of sin and virtue
September 8, 1999 | Runner

[I need human hair for an art project. If you're planning to cut your hair (and I must say, you really could use a trim) then you could participate in this unique opportunity for an interactive multimedia project. Write me to get info on where to send your hair.]

Walking down U Street last night, I saw a woman in tight black running shorts and matching tank top standing out in the gloomy street in front of poseurbar Chi-cha Lounge [1]. As I watched, she began stretching her legs, as if in preparation for a race. A couple times she got down in a runner's starting position, legs tightly folded with her head up and fingers barely touching the asphalt. On an inaudible signal, her butt shot up in the "get set" posture, and she launched forward into a few running steps. Then she slowed to a walk, returned to her original position, and began preparing for her race again. I stood in front of the liquor store, fascinated, wondering if she was going to get hit by an oblivious driver when the lights changed up the street and traffic came our way. As an emergency medical worker, I would instantly render aid if she was injured, but as a jaded city-dweller, I didn't feel I could intercede beforehand.

The runner again went into her starter's crouch as traffic approached from behind. She was in the narrow lane alongside parked cars, with a lane of traffic just to her left. A white car approached from behind. As it passed her, she exploded into a full sprint and raced the car down the length of the block. She nearly kept pace with it, falling behind as it accelerated towards the green light at the next intersection. Then she broke off and began walking back towards her starting line. I continued on my errand.

Goodness. What city people will do.

I grew up in the country, where one could engage in the far safer sport of racing trains in the comfort of one's own car. I never tried it, since I proved to be remarkably adept at destroying vehicles without any outside help whatsoever. I think many of my views of humanity were shaped by a narrow span of time, perhaps twenty minutes in my sixteenth year, after I slammed my car into a guardrail on an Interstate highway entrance ramp. Shaken but uninjured, I stood by the wreck, frantically signaling drivers to stop and help me. No one did. I cursed every passing car with increasing incredulous furor as they went on with their business while I waved and implored pathetically beside the crumpled front of my vehicle.

Along came a cop, who let me sit in his car while he wrote me a ticket. Several months later, I painted the picket fence around the home of the lawyer who accompanied me to court. Every nook and gap in the fence held bristling nests of earwigs, possibly the most loathsome insect imaginable, that spilled out in writhing masses as I swept the brush over their hidden lairs. They fell into the grass at my feet with disgusting little pit-pit-pit sounds as I frantically attempted to stop up their small holes with paint. Slimed with bright swatches of whitewash, they wriggled their pinchers and otherwise cursed me in the language of insects.

they were even more loathsome than this

I was found not guilty of reckless driving: the fault for the accident was clearly mine, but apparently did not rise to the level of the charge. It took me about three days to paint the fence. While the court could have slapped a few expensive points on my teenage insurance policy, I knew that ultimately, a more ancient form of justice was in operation.

1: I was once denied entrance to Chi-Cha because I was covering up my grubby hair with a baseball cap, which the bar forbids because, as the hepcat waiter told me, "we want to create a lounge atmosphere." After I capitulated and doffed my lid, the owner, whom I know, tried to ease my foul humor by giving me a promotional baseball cap he'd received from a beer company. [back up]

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