In 1931, Salvador Dali painted “The Persistence of Memory.”
In 2011, I was thinking about another marathon and Stefan Kiesbye talked me into a new kind of training.
The link between Dali’s picture and Stefan’s advice isn’t only that I sometimes felt like the monstrous form Dali dropped in the middle of his composition, or that as I became exhausted my watch melted and drooped. It has to do with persistence.
When I’m walking or running easily the thoughts I think usually stick around until I’m done, even if they weren’t very useful thoughts. But if I’m pushing, they drop away from me as surely as my lactic acid level and heart rate rise. So I can tell you that I planned this piece many times while running. Some of those plans might have been pretty good. I remember being pleased with them, but that’s all. The one I thought of this afternoon’s going to be the one, which is a pity. Or maybe not. Maybe those other ones were nothing more than the endorphins talking.
In Hilo (Hawai’i) I have a 10-mile loop that I run once on Tuesday, twice on Sunday. It gains about 1200’ elevation, which means a long grind uphill (leaving me short on endorphins), but it also loses that 1200’ – which can mean an exhilarating descent.
Here are the streets I run on: Wailuku Drive, Waiau Street, Waianuenue Avenue, Puuhina Street, Kaumana Drive, Akolea Road, Waianuenue Avenue, Peepee Falls Road, Wailuku Drive.
Here are the dogs: a yapper near the Hilo Door of Faith Church, a deep-voiced one farther up Kaumana Drive in an unfenced yard, a couple more little ones, the parrot that barks like a dog (near Chong St), and then on Upper Kaumana eight or ten big mean looking bastards in fenced yards. I look at each gate to make sure it’s not open. One nice little one, though, and then the laid-back guy at Peepee Falls Rd, who only barks when I’m walking.
Here are the landmarks: about half a mile out, the new version of the First Foreign Church, just beyond there is where C almost lost control of the Bad Ass Pink Chevy, scaring the crap out of us both, and about a mile out, the hospital where my mother and father both died. Then it’s on downhill to Rainbow Falls, where a falling rock put a scar on me I still carry, a couple of tenths farther to the ex-Hilo Memorial Hospital (where I was born, and had my appendix out, another scar). It’s now a Hawaii County Annex, housing Adult Care, which on my second loop always seem appropriate. It’s where we took bodies after the 1960 tsunami. That’s the end of the first downhill.
Then it’s uphill 4.7 miles. Turn and go past the guy who was nailing hubcaps on his garage in the late fifties, and still is, and on past the Kaumana Fire House, the Crossing Guard lady (always good for a friendly hello) the Door of Faith Church (for sale) the tsunami warning siren (3 miles), Crivello’s Malasadas and Smoked Meats (best malasadas and bean soup on the Big Island), up and up past the nicely-restored Ford Ranchero, the place where somebody spilled a lot of paint on the road, the dangerous blind corner at Akala Rd, the green condom,
Kaumana Cave, the First Abandoned Sofa, the Abandoned Projection TV, the dead mongoose, the Second Abandoned Sofa (6 mile point, the peak, where I turn around), the wooden bridge on Akolea Road, the place where, in 1959, Jimmy Watt laid 180 feet of rubber with his father’s Oldsmobile 98, and – getting close to home – the old Excelsior Dairy (where the most beautiful girl at Hilo High held court), Boiling Pots (where most years somebody misjudges the Wailuku River and drowns), down the hill past the old Goo place, and finally home.
I like that loop because it takes me through much of my Hilo life (and my TNB life as well). The uphill is tough but the Second Abandoned Sofa’s waiting for me, and if it’s Sunday, then there’s Gatorade behind the highest boulder in the Kaumana Caves parking area (just past the green condom) and there’s water in the Abandoned Projection TV.
Of all the landmarks I’m most fond of Green Condom, unless I’m very tired and then Second Abandoned Sofa is my friend.
Let me tell you about that green condom. It was on the shoulder the first time I ran up Kaumana Drive, in January 2011, and it was on the shoulder the next to the last time I ran up Kaumana Drive, in late April 2011. I’ve always wondered about an erection lasting more than four hours, but how about a condom that didn’t move for nearly four months? Rain. A couple of small earthquakes. A guy running. No nosing dog? No offended person kicking? Nothing moved that sucker.
Every Tuesday and every Sunday I’d clear the Ranchero, watch my step on the bad shoulder near the spilled paint, and ease around the blind corner wondering if it would still be there. It always was.
Back in the fifties when we boys rode our bikes on Akolea Road (in those days it was called the Burma Road) we would see condoms. The Burma Road was a favorite parking place. It wasn’t paved then and there were almost no houses. Certainly we felt stirrings when we saw condoms, because we knew what rubbers were even though none of us had yet put one to its intended use. In 2011 I wasn’t consumed by sexual stirrings along Akolea Road, although I did have some memories – C and I made out there many times. But at nearly 68 I was usually too tired (9 miles down on the one-loop days, and 18 on the two-loop days). I hate admitting that, but it’s true.
So, the green condom. The first few times I ran by it I did have those boyish thoughts – well, actually adult boyish thoughts.
Did somebody keep it as a memento mori of the little death and then toss it out the window after pulling out of the lot and heading back down to Hilo? I wondered how it got where it was. The parking lot, where it must have been put to use, was a good hundred yards uphill. I couldn’t see a guy behind the wheel slinging it past his girlfriend and out the passenger side window. Maybe it slid from a pickup bed. Maybe the action was in the bushes and no car was involved. Playing the odds, I assumed heterosexual used-condom slinging. Ugh.
These questions kept me busy for a week, maybe two. Green condom, road, parking lot, sex, what happened here?
But by the third week that rubber had lost any sexual significance and become the raiser-of-different questions.
Why are there green condoms? Who buys them? Are there “rainbow packs,” just as with 3.5” floppies (speaking of the past)? Might Dali have had a green condom in mind when he painted the hanging watch? Did the rain wash it to where I found it – and why no farther? What, exactly, fastened it to the road and immobilized it? Why hadn’t it faded? Could DNA still be recovered from it?
By the fourth week it was simply a landmark, cataloged and stored away. If I was tired and felt like walking (not a rare event, with 1200 feet to climb) I’d say, “Shit, I gotta walk, but only from the Dangerous Blind Curve at Akala Road (4 miles from my house) to the Green Condom (4.1 miles from my house),” or I might say “Suck it up, no stopping until the Green Condom,” or – if I was feeling good – I might say “At the Green Condom, pick it up and hold it to Nice Little Dog,” but if it was going badly (for example, on the second loop on a hot day when the rats had gotten to my Gatorade behind the Highest Boulder because I hadn’t screwed the cap on properly), I might say, “Shit, I’ve had it, so I’ll walk to the Abandoned Projection TV and hope nobody stole the bottle of water I put there, and then maybe I can run home from there without collapsing, but at least if I do collapse I have my ID bracelet or somebody could take my GPS watch and use the backtrack facility and figure out where I came from, so they’ll know where to send Ruth my body, except if I make it to Akolea Road and the woman with the cockatoo is walking her goat I might get some water.”
Generally I didn’t think those thoughts as long run-on more or less grammatical sentences. No, it was more like, “Go Green Condom!” or “Rats! Shit! Maybe water! TV!” or “Downhill, hot, Goat Lady, maybe OK, maybe die.” Like that.
Thus the Green Condom’s transformation. By the time it disappeared I was in much better shape than when I first saw it, and it was in worse shape. I didn’t make its portrait until the end of March, so I can’t show it to you in the flush of its smooth, plump youth.
I was saddened by its loss. It had been a good and true friend. Always there for me. First and Second Abandoned Couches and Abandoned Projection TV were also friends. Dead Mongoose lasted more than a month. I thought something would eat it, but no. I have not spoken of Abandoned Engine Block and its companion Abandoned Cylinder Head, newcomers who appeared in February, just below Second Couch, but above Dead Mongoose. To my surprise Engine Block didn’t yield up its oil for a couple of days, perhaps retaining it in some wretched hope it might turn over again. I had to run through it carefully until it soaked into the asphalt.
My friends the Abandoned Ones at the top of Kaumana Drive spoke to me of utility beyond breakage and abandonment, as did the condom (which, I hope, broke only after use).
Just as it took a few weeks for me to stop thinking about what the Green Condom had been used for and how it had come to be where it was, and to turn it into my landmark, it took me a few weeks to go in the opposite direction with the Abandoned Ones at the top.
At first I thought they were cool. Turn around at the Second Abandoned Sofa, exactly 6 miles out. What a thing! I wrote Stefan an email about it. But then when Block and Head appeared, and the oil spilled out, it didn’t seem so cool.
Yeah, landmarks. Sure. Landmarks that meant the rest of my run was cake, almost all downhill home. But shit, I’d say, people dumped their crap at the mauka end of Kaumana Drive for what? Not to make landmarks for me.
Was it to save a trip to the dump? Lazy bastards. A little work with a heavy hammer or a crowbar and all of the Abandoned could have been dumped for free. Then my knee started bothering me and then it was time to go to the Mainland. Sorry, the Continent.
But I’ll be running up Kaumana Drive again in a few weeks.
I don’t think my landmarks will settle back into being landmarks again, because now that I’ve written about them I won’t be able to flush them out like lactic acid.
I think I’d better heave Block and Head into the Toyota and take them to the metal dump. Maybe stink maile and grass will eat up the sofas. Hilo rain will melt Projection TV’s particleboard case. And I’d say the odds favor a new condom at Kaumana Caves. I can only hope for a mightily persistent one. Blue, I think. I like blue.