I went for a medium-distance recovery run and, floating along on happy thoughts on a warm spring day, soon found myself at a nearby cemetery.
No doubt my Asics led me there because I’d spent the previous Saturday at a Greek memorial and it was still fresh in my mind. I later came home to write about the twin mysteries of barbarians at the gates and angry men.
Anger and intolerance are unfit for a tranquil place like this, I reflected, especially when it’s called Tranquil Place.
Combine a couple of dozen words at random — say, words like, hilltop, eternal, grove, maple, pleasant, peaceful, glade — and you, too, can play the cemetery name game. You might get Maple Leaf Gardens, which has a familiar ring to it, but also Eternal Glade, which could be monotonous as a view or an air freshener.
The Dadaists used to snip words from the newspaper, shake them in a bag, and declare the random words that fell out to be a poem.
Gerald de Nerval, one of the grandfathers of Dadaism, had a pet lobster he’d tie with a blue ribbon and take for walks on the streets of Paris. He eventually hanged himself, and if there is such a thing as poetic justice, he used a blue rope.
When they found him, the Paris police were puzzled by how the suicide’s hat managed to stay on. Did he make a big enough noose to fit over the hat and head? Or did he remove the hat, slip the noose around his neck, replace the hat, and then proceed? So many questions! And how, at the moment of reckoning, as gravity executed its sudden work, did the hat not fall to the floor? Was it like a party hat, with an elastic under the chin?
The democracy of worms
My local running cemetery, where these baffling thoughts keep me occupied, isn’t lush and dramatic, like the one on Mount Royal. No titans of business here, like the Molsons — never mind mad luminaries like de Nerval.
My local running cemetery is small, modest and discreet. You have to know it’s there, and I’ve often been stopped, while out running, by carfulls of ancient ladies asking for directions to the place.
I’m pleased to see that it’s enjoying a growth spurt. I was surprised to find Greek Orthodox and Muslim sections of eternal repose. There’s a sizeable Jewish quartier, joining pre-existing Christian neighbourhoods with nicely segregated Catholics and Protestants. There’s also a Field of Honour or Last Post Parade Ground or Heroes’ Walk or I forget what, where veterans get free admission.
No Buddhists, Hindus or Druids, though. But I imagine there are plenty of atheists, unlabeled and undeclared, mixed in with the believers so you can’t tell who’s who.
And, despite all the walls, plaques and hedges separating tribes, the worms continue their steady and undiscriminating work.
A close shave
The best thing about running in a cemetery, though, is that you’re much less likely to get killed. You can always count on cars and trucks, the biggest running hazard by far — bigger than sudden cardiac arrest — to maintain a dignified, funereal pace between the granite slabs.
Outside of cemeteries, though, all bets are off. Runners are expected to use sidewalks and run against traffic, even though most of us don’t bother with sidewalks. We prefer the shoulder. This surprises non-runners and even annoys many drivers. Running on the shoulder and against traffic is viewed as selfish and reckless.
There are lots of good and boring reasons for running against traffic, but my standard explanation is that I want to see my executioner’s face before he pulls the lever, flips the switch, swings the axe or, most likely these days, texts emojis.
To be fair, when most drivers see a runner on the shoulder, they will take their foot off the gas and drift toward the middle, giving us a wide and respectful berth. But not every driver.
It’s a wet March day and a black pickup is barrelling toward me at high speed, rooster tails of slush making the truck look like a speedboat. As usual I’m on the shoulder. But this time I have no choice: the sidewalk is nearly impassable with snow banks and slush.
Two hundred metres out, the pickup isn’t slowing down or ceding an inch. The brain goes on alert. Time slows down. Certain glands quicken and begin to secrete.
One hundred metres out, I glance over my shoulder. No oncoming traffic. Nothing preventing the pickup from sharing the road.
Fifty metres out, eye contact. A man, of course. Wraparound sunglasses, heavy beard. Plaid work shirt. Staring straight ahead. Nope, not going to budge.
Twenty-five metres out, several things happen at once. I dive over a snow bank to my left and land in a pool of slush. The pickup roars by, drenching me in more slush. I pick up my head. The driver, silhouetted in his rear window, shows me his middle finger.
By this time I’m sputtering with rage. A coked-up Donald Duck. I want a stick to break over my knee. Something to throw on the ground and stomp on. I’m trembling, levitating with indignation. I’d give anything for a tire iron in my hands and a chance to flail away at the pickup. To watch the driver’s terrified eyes behind his shattered windshield.
Some version of this has happened more than once. I mean, the outrageous game of chicken followed by the coup de grace of a middle finger. A man driving home some obscure point.
And, every time, unfailingly, my identical reaction. Blind rage and a manly thirst for havoc.
I came home from my cemetery run feeling tired and at peace, and looked in the mirror before heading into the shower. I studied my face for a long while. Time for a shave.