If I’d told thirteen-year-old me that the plan to connect involved getting involved in sports, teen me would have scoffed, frowned and gone back to listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”. By that age, my identity as benchwarmer/scorekeeper/injury faker had long been established. It’s freaky how much early perceptions—by self and by every other youth I encountered—hang over us.
I’m aware enough of the past to never consider the gay softball league. I totally fit the Gays Can’t Catch stereotype and my throwing skills are even worse. It would have to be par three for me to throw from the outfield to any infielder.
My closest friend here speaks almost rhapsodically about curling and keeps trying to get me to join that group. I’ve curled twice in life and it gets dangerously boring. Curling leads to boredom which leads to twirling. It’s an odd spectacle, one that should never go public (more than twice).
Instead, my sports program looks to running, tennis and volleyball. This is the time when teen me would skip the record needle ahead to “I Don’t Want to Know” and turn up the volume. Three sports? Ambitious. Lofty. Delusional.
Ah, but it is doable. I must conquer—or at least not stumble—one sport at a time. First up, running. I’ve dropped in with gay Frontrunners groups in Ottawa, Seattle and Los Angeles with mixed results. The L.A. folks are the friendliest while the Ottawa group left me wondering why I’d driven an hour to jog alone.
I first tried to run with the Vancouver contingent in June last year. There was a large group of about sixty and everyone seemed to talk pre-run in established cliques. The social dynamics proved too intimidating. I did my stretches and headed off for a solo run.
Now that I am living in Vancouver again, I have a greater interest in making a go of it. Last night was my third run with them. The “with” is a generous preposition. On the first two runs, the leader of that day’s run greeted me and ran the route by my side. No doubt, he sensed social fear in my eyes.
The third time was not so lucky. I always seem to be running late—literally—to make the starting time. This time I blame an overstock of overripe tomatoes. I’d gone to a farmers’ market on Sunday and bought far more fresh produce than one man can consume. Before the run, I was madly chopping veggies so that I’d have a well marinated pico do gallo as an oven-free summer dinner upon my return.
I ran from the condo to the gathering place. I was already feeling the heat. Things only worsened as I had to stand around waiting through announcements and the circle round where everyone says their names (and I remember none of them). All that standing around allowed the perspiration to soak into my sky blue shirt. I was a sweaty mess, the wet mass spreading as I became more and more self-conscious. Despite the huge age difference, I have failed to create much distance between myself and teen me.
At last, we ran. I could have fallen into a comfortable pace with the friendly leader but my customary jog is slightly faster. Early on, I made the decision to break from the pack and join three guys out front. But I didn’t technically join them. I lingered behind. For the first twenty minutes, I stayed with them, able to hear their conversation while not having to participate. It was just as well. The sea air had gotten into my nasal cavity and I had to regularly sniff back a stream of mucus.
Maybe it’s the disgusting sniffing noises that made the threesome pull ahead, but it was more likely that I was fading in the heat, delicate, sweaty, snotty soul that I am. They got a block ahead, then two and finally they were out of view. (Hey, the seawall was crowded.)
The run apparently ends after one crosses over a bridge because there was the trio, interrupting their stretches to give me the high five. I accepted the gesture and ran on. So much for socially connecting. I’m very much a work in progress.
Ideally, I would have squeezed in chat time during the run. Alas, I was in nowhere land between Too Fast and Too Slow. Alas, there never seems to be anyone in what I define as Just Right.
I realize that, having failed to do any connecting other than a couple of hand slaps, I should have stopped running, joined in the stretching and offered some insightful comments.
“Whew. What a run!”
“Lots of people on the seawall tonight.”
“Man, it’s hot, eh?” (Notice the carefully placed “eh”. It invites a response or, if ignored, can be shrugged off as a well-accepted Canadian quirk.)
But I was still a twenty-minute jog from home. (What running group doesn’t go full circle?!) I was too sweaty and wallet-less to join the gang for dinner. Pico de gallo called. And I still hadn’t gotten control of that runny mucus situation.
This group running thing remains a work in progress. Small steps. I’m not moving anytime soon. And I’ve got a rediscovered Fleetwood Mac classic to help pass the time.