Of reading, dribbling, and a floating catastrophe
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
Those who follow me on Facebook, or study my Instagram posts (imagine how small a crowd that must be), know I enjoy reading while I walk. All the rest of you – a vast majority that's mostly not even aware I've written this – may rest assured that it is indeed true.
Reading while walking adds layers of sensation and enjoyment to the prose. I can join Bilbo as he frets along the road to Rivendell, feeling the sun on my face and the wind in my bangs as I stroll down my own trails. Or I can hear water plunging over Tulsa's low-water dam while reading how George Washington led his weary raiders across the icy Delaware.
This habit, now my primary form of exercise, marks a skill I've excelled at for about four decades. I've never once lost my spot from bouncing into someone, tripping over a trash can, or slipping on snow or ice. Indeed, I've never suffered any of those things with a book in my hands, no matter how many squirrels danced across my path or tightly clad female joggers lured my gaze.
Witnesses will back me up on this. Lest you doubt, know many, many observers have publicly marveled at my skills while calling out or stopping me to introduce themselves along Tulsa's river trails or supermarket aisles. One man even shared how he took a deliberate collision course one sunny afternoon, only to admire the ease at which I stepped around him, all without breaking stride or taking my eyes off the page.
Most everyone chuckles when I explain how peripheral vision makes it all possible. "Oh, I could never do that!" is a typical response, which makes me laugh, for I know they can. Some of you who've long suspected I'm a mutant may pass my view off as a defense mechanism, but I know they can. This skill's no different than driving while singing or listening to a sporting event, or so I tell myself… for I do those things as well.
To those who dig deep enough, I will admit my accident record's not spotless. There was one time my striding knee made Macy's entryway glass panel ring like a bell. But those who witnessed that impact seemed to enjoy it, and as I didn't drop my book or lose my spot, we can write that off and move on from there.
For that tale leads us to the point of this post… and in the back of your mind, you probably recognize where I'm going. For Macy's has no stores along Tulsa's river paths or sidewalks… just the mall. Thus, my transition.
The main problem with reading and walking – at least if you cling to printed material, as I do – comes from the weather. For some reason rain remains a prime enemy of books, and snow isn't much better. I keep waiting for some publisher to develop water-retardant paper, or start coating these tomes with plastic or Teflon – you'd think all those people who read while bathing or showering would back me on that – but apparently that game-changer of a product won't happen in my lifetime, unless Elon Musk reads this and dives in. But that's another point.
So instead of calling my daily walk due to rain or extreme cold, I take to the malls, like many aging spirits before and beside me. But it's not so easy getting six to eight miles in a day's mall stroll. By lap three, the clerks and stockers and security personnel start looking at you like an obtrusion or obstacle, which in truth I might be by lap one. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if the men's or women's clothing salesmen truly like seeing a silly looking person in rumpled, untrendy garb passing by with his nose in a book instead of their products, although those who call out to me are quite friendly – which is actually kind of cool, since many of them seem to be single women. But that's another subject. Maybe a better one than this, but not for today.
Anyway, as the mall's fewer steps and increased snack distractions seemed determined to raise my weight, not to mention my physician's ire, I started pondering what else I might do to occupy my mind while tackling the longer outdoor trails through unpredictable winter chaos. Now understand, I've never been a jogger or a gym denizen. Running without a goal line, net, or basket frankly bores me, which after a brief spin through meditation and prayer will spur my ever-drilling mind to problem-solving, and that mode inevitably directs me to my laptop for some typing and reading… things I can't do on the run, much less under winter's bite. That's why I started reading while walking in the first place, a fav choice that's often out even on dry winter days, as the chill breeze draws moisture from my eyes while burning my throat.
On top of all that, for the last two decades my lungs seem ever more susceptible to pneumonia, which is another primary reason I ended up indoors during this season, but again, my doctor wants me to do something to burn calories, which takes my pondering mind back to those proven outdoor pastimes.
Now for those who didn't play a role in my Monty Python lifespan, know that I've had three favored sweat generators beside walking: swimming, biking, basketball, tennis, and chess. OK, five. My ability to swim faded as I tumbled through my 40s. Whatever they started putting in the water would burn my eyes like lava from Mount Doom. Goggles only caused sinus pressure headaches, so that whole thing was out.
Chess, a dominant calorie burner in my high school and college days, abruptly fell off that list (as did Kingmaker, Panzerblitz, Cosmic Encounter, etc.) when I discovered how easy it was to set Cheetos or M&Ms by the board. Of course it's even easier to remove them, but that's the real problem. And another subject.
Biking has ever appealed to me, but unfortunately, it remains out until I find a secure place to store the wheels. You see, I've had two stolen in the last few years… can't afford to go through that again. The thieves must have studied in NASCAR pits. Again, another subject.
And as for tennis, I have yet to find an opponent willing to continually beat me until I get back into gear, if ever. There's just no interest. And I can't afford to join a club right now. So on we go.
My mind has contemplated yoga for quite a while, but at this age and increasing inflexibility, the thought of tights promises an incredible distraction, even with my poor eyesight. So let's skip that and go to basketball. That held promise. While the trails had no goals, and I had no friends to form teams, I could still dribble. It might not engage my mind as creatively as accounts of Sherman's march to the sea or Llew's silver hand – indeed, it might prove as numbing as meditation – but it would return me to a beloved game… and with the opening of A Gathering Place for Tulsa, which usually highlights my walking trail, I had the chance to get a cool green ball.
So with that rather unique inflatable at my beck and call, I started a new walking era – reading when possible, dribbling when not. Carrying the ball in my satchel probably makes me look even more like a hunchback, which might be rather cool in some ways, but that's beside the point. My mind focused instead on the whole dribbling process, which proved quite humbling. For I'd forgotten that even something that simple required a learned skill.
Bouncing a large pressurized ball on sidewalks and asphalt trails introduces all sort of random obstructions you never face on a basketball court – awkward slopes and ridges, blowing leaves and twigs, cracks and holes, pebbles and rocks, puddles and mud, droppings of an infinite variety, and other sorts of trash and waste, any one of which can alter the ball's impact, velocity, and trajectory. At 59.2 years old, my eyesight is far worse than when I was a kid, so I don't always see such blemishes or imperfections on the pavement, especially at night, and I certainly don't judge or predict the bounce as well as I used to. The wind plays a far greater role outdoors than inside, and the winter not only affects the air pressure within the ball, but the rubber's interest in bouncing. And then comes the repeated impacts on my chilled fingers and wrists. Not only does my aging skin split under these temperatures, but the aching digits reveal just how out of shape I've allowed myself to become.
But the most amazing thing is, as my mind starts to wrap itself around all these dribbling variables, its love of problem-solving takes over and the miles drift by. A random thought might still bring up sidetracking things, as might a frigid breeze, but that ever-bouncing ball allows no distractions. For that river lies to one side, and you know that if I let it get away from me, the green orb would probably float down to the Mississippi, take out the New Orleans dike, or cause some sort of Gulf shipping catastrophe. I really can't have an international incident on my conscious right now, although the notoriety might help sell some books. And that might not be a bad thing.
Yep… got to keep that in mind.
So now, if you happen to be cruising Riverside Drive in twilight and see some strange guy rambling along the dark trails chasing a disaster-bound colored ball, you'll want to rush out and buy every copy of my books you can, before the prices jump.