I couldn’t hear the music when I turned left to start my jog.
I checked the connection between the ear buds of my Android phone, where the music was playing. The connection seemed fine.
I looked at each of the buds…Sometimes earwax gunked the buds up, but this time there wasn’t any wax.
I put the ear buds back in and looked up. The sun hurt my eyes. I saw a beat-up Bushwick loft building. It was the same building that I always saw when I turned left.
Wait, I thought…that was weird, seeing that…I usually turned right to start a jog, toward St. Nicholas. Into Ridgewood.
I usually saw rows of brick houses and a gray elementary school. I was usually listening to music, not messing with ear buds. I tried to change my route by turning around in the opposite direction, but my body wouldn’t let me—instead, it pushed me more in this direction, to the left, toward Wyckoff Avenue.
I double-checked that my phone was actually playing music. It was; and it was the same music that played the last time I had turned left to start a jog. I could hear it pretty well that time, I remembered, but what I couldn’t hear was the black town car that almost smashed into me in the middle of Wyckoff. The driver beeped and beeped. He was furious. I said “I’m sorry” and kept jogging.
My mind snapped out of that memory. My jog slowed. I came to a stop. Like a good boy, I looked both ways for black town cars before jogging safely across Wyckoff.
I jogged passed a bar called Heavy Woods. During the day, Heavy Woods was a cafe, but, at the time of my jog, it was still too early for it to be open. I glanced over at its dark wooden panels. I thought: Faux old world. It set itself off from the rest of the neighborhood. Then I passed Camille Bertrand, the wife of the artist Artie Vierkant and a friend of mine. Camille and Artie are now divorced. I didn’t see it coming at the time… Camille is French—she’s from the old world, but she seemed American to me, too. Sometimes I couldn’t remember where she was from. Camille, Artie, Ann, and I had all hung out as couples a few times. In fact, we’d met at Heavy Woods more than once. We all got along well and had common interests. Camille was in the film world, while Artie and Ann were in the art world. Me? I was kind-of in the art world. I used to write about internet art.
I jogged past Camille and Artie’s building. The building had a red awning. I had this memory of Camille and Artie moving in and me thinking their apartment stretched out long.
One time Ann turned next to me in bed and asked why we didn’t meet up with Artie and Camille more often. Even though we lived a block away from each other and liked each other, we didn’t reach out to them to go on couples dates or whatever all that often. Were they busy? Or was it us? Or was it…
When I jogged up to Camille that morning, her hair was slicked back. She stood in front of a chain-link fence. She was looking at her watch—staring at it. I said, “Hi, Camille,” and it took her a second, but she looked up from her watch. “Oh! Gene! Hi!…Um, bye!” She laughed and looked at me sideways for half a second. “Hey!” I said. “See ya!” I laughed too and jogged off, trying not to stomp on the earthworms that covered the street.
I looked up. The sun was gone. It was cloudy, threatening rain.
I thought about that interaction we’d just had and wondered if it was awkward. It wasn’t that bad, I thought. The only weird thing was that she was looking at her watch so intensely…I also remembered that she was blinking slowly…Why was Camille looking at her watch like that? What time is it, I asked myself. My phone said that it wasn’t the early morning anymore, but that it also wasn’t the late morning either. She was probably just running out of time. I nodded at the reasonableness of this and looked up:
The tree-dotted landscape of the Maria Hernandez Park loomed in front of me.
That’s where I was heading.
I jogged up to Irving Avenue, Maria Hernandez’s northern border. I asked myself why I’d stopped jogging in the park. I used to go there at least once a week. The reason, I told myself, was that the repetition of the park’s short loops and its same looping sights and sounds made me feel crazy, or anxious, and I didn’t want to associate that with jogging.
Anyway, there I was again. I passed through the northwest entrance and a woman wearing a brown t-shirt and small brown terry-cloth shorts approached me. The next moment, a muscular man without a shirt zoomed by me. I had to assume that he would burn out after a couple of loops and it would be less upsetting on my end to just let him pass and for me to continue at my own pace.
I left the entryway and the scene changed. I hit a shaded stretch, past a shirts-versus-skins basketball game and a grassy area where a Spanish-speaking family set out a bed sheet weighed down by red coolers. A man, the father of the family, said a prayer in Spanish. Another man—he had squinty eyes—rode his bike toward me. A puppy on a leash kept up with the man. The puppy was a blue-eyed husky. The puppy leapt up to acknowledge me and we made intra-species eye contact. I told myself that I had a connection with animals even though I knew that that wasn’t true.
Then I made eye contact with the man too. He grinned. I couldn’t help but grin back, but it didn’t feel comfortable—I didn’t want to feel as though I was in a conspiracy.
I curved to the left and took in the scene on Knickerbocker Avenue. Discount stores and reggaeton. Left again, up to a person lounging on a bench. The person looked like Artie Vierkant—the same Artie Vierkant that I had mentioned before, the artist that was with Camille. A bumblebee buzzed around my face. It crawled on the hairs in my left ear.
As I jogged up to the guy on the bench, I couldn’t tell if it was Artie or not. I tried to remember what Artie looked like. I saw an image of his face in my mind. He looked like a kindly Viking prince or something. And then my thoughts about him organized into a different kind of structure—it was like a mental identification or compartmentalization. The way I identified him wasn’t that he was a friend or that we lived in the same neighborhood, although both of those things were true, but that he was an artist. He did stuff about digital technology.
When I got close enough, I could see that it was, in fact, Artie. “Hey, Artie,” I said. “Random seeing you here.”
“Hey, Gene, what’s up?” I was all of the sudden past him. I didn’t know if I was supposed to stop to talk.
“Nothing!” I yelled back and jogged on. Awkward?
But then he caught up to me. Oh, okay, I thought. We’re jogging together now.
We jogged on past the volleyball court and the handball court and, left again, we hit the dog park on Irving Avenue. Huddled clusters of hipsters too old for their hipster clothes sipped ice coffees and chatted while their dogs humped in the dirt. In a way, I was flattered that Artie wanted to run with me. When I first knew him, he was just out of grad school. I wasn’t expecting that his career would become legitimate so fast and that I’d now be writing about how flattered I was that he wanted to jog with me.
Clouds passed over the sun. When he and I reached the point of the loop perpendicular to Willoughby Avenue, the street where I lived with Ann, I thought about her a little. I thought about the big t-shirts she wore when she went to bed and I envisioned her clear eyes and her lips saying something. It was something about Artie. I couldn’t tell what.
He and I passed Willoughby and the rest of the dog park, and I passed left again—one loop, one third of a mile, complete.
“Hey guys!” It was another voice—an enthusiastic one. I turned around to see Brad Troemel. He was an artist—also worked around the internet—and he lived in that same part of Bushwick. He was jogging up to us.
“Hey, Brad. What are you doing here?”
“A guy can’t jog?” He punched me in the bicep. “C’mon, man, I’m always here.”
“No, man, I’m fucking with you,” said Brad.
“Brad and I jog together now. It’s for a piece we’re doing for the Jogging. An ongoing piece.”
“Oh, got it. Jogging with the jogging.”
“Yeah,” said Brad. “You got it.”
Brad’s career was accelerating too. He had gone from net artist to painter and I think made a lot of money. He still did this blog called The Jogging which Artie was also involved with.
I looked around and I didn’t see either of them anymore. I finished a few more loops on my own, jogging past the bicyclist with the husky puppy, past the Spanish-speaking family having the picnic, and past Willoughby Avenue, where, again, I imagined Ann saying something about Artie that I couldn’t discern.
I told myself that I was feeling good. But then I checked my body. There was a pain in my heel that felt like tearing. From time to time I told myself that jogging was destroying my joints and bones. I had told that to myself that day, as a matter of fact. But that was before the jog. During the jog, my mind had convinced me that the opposite was actually true, that jogging was building my body up, not breaking it down, and that, whereas before I started jogging I couldn’t run more than a couple of loops, I could now jog multiple miles without any issue, no problem. I was driven and in-shape. My feet hit the ground in a rhythm. A couple of rain drops fell. A dog barked. I looked up to see the blurred motion of a bike wheel.
The man on the bike and his husky puppy approached me again. The man wasn’t grinning conspiratorially anymore. We squinted at each other. And then we passed. I noticed that we’d passed at the same point in the loop that we had during our previous loop. That meant that I was jogging as fast as him, as someone riding a bike. I felt encouraged by this. I was driven and in-shape. As I curved left, back to Knickerbocker, I heard reggaeton. I jogged to the pace of the music. It felt good and cool.
I adjusted my ear buds. I could hear a little squeaking from one of the buds rubbing against the cartilage in my right ear. But, still, no music. I thought about taking out the ear buds and stuffing them, along with my phone, into the pocket of my basketball shorts, but then I decided not to. This is an instinct that may seem strange, but, for me, I liked to have the ear buds in even if there wasn’t any music; their presence created a greater separation between myself and others—a little world within a world, like Maria Hernandez Park was a little world within Bushwick and Bushwick was a little world within New York.
I tried to adjust the ear buds again. I tried to turn up the volume. None of this did anything, but then a moment later the sound blasted way too loud and it hurt my ears. I saw light. The sound went away as quickly as it appeared. To avoid that blasting sound happening again, I lowered the volume on my phone.
The echoes reverberated and I looked to Artie, who was now beside me again. “Are you alright? What happened?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. I felt at that moment that I was older than Artie and past whatever prime my life had allotted me.
I looked over. He was gone.
Jogging can be a private thing. You get into your head. I liked to work things out while I jogged and come home feeling less cloudy than I was before. I liked coming home and feeling my body engaged, ready for sex. Jogging with somebody else threw everything off.
Rain fell. Artie and I were avoiding earthworms all over the path in the park. The earthworms were often out everywhere in Bushwick after an early morning rain. Artie wore a lot of athletic/jogging/spandex stuff when he jogged. I noticed the patterns in his silvery-gray form-fitting shorts. They were rectangular shapes shooting off in different directions. They looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place them. It’s only now that I have a guess about where it was that I’d seen them—they looked like the forms he worked with in his Image Objects series.
A light drizzle fell. A leaf fell. “It’s drizzling,” I said with a shit-eating grin.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Raining.” The drizzle became rain. Raindrops slid down my head; they caught in Artie’s beard. Earthworms were everywhere all over the ground. It was impossible not to stomp on them.
I liked the fact that we were both out jogging in this weather. It seemed to make us tougher than we were.
“It’s crazy,” I said to Artie. “I just saw Camille.”
Artie was now gone. The sun came out. I jogged three more loops. I passed the bicyclist and the husky puppy again. The father of the Spanish speaking family fed a slice of watermelon to a baby in a diaper.
I finished another loop. Another one. The loops were adding up faster. Time seemed to me to be contracting as I got deeper into the jog. The sun burned into my head and I thought that I was going to get skin cancer. My dad has cancer spots on his own bald head. I heard a deep voice speaking in my mind. “So …”—I thought it was my dad’s voice, like my dad as an old man, like a hundred years old, but it wasn’t—it was Artie’s voice from our jog. “How’s it going?”
Clouds covered the sun.
“Ah, it’s good,” I said to him while we finished a loop. “I’m curating a little performance event.”
“That’s cool,” Artie said. “Where?”
Artie nodded. “Interstate…That’s cool,” he said.
I thought about the way he said “that’s cool.” I couldn’t tell if he thought that it was actually cool. He might have thought it was cool. Or not. Interstate Projects was a good place for emerging artists, I guess. There were earthworms completely covering every part of the ground in the park. I kept inadvertently stomping them and that made me feel kind of insane, like I didn’t want to be doing that but I couldn’t help it.
Brad zoomed by us. I saw water shoot off of his long eye lashes.
The sun came out. “What about you?” I asked him. “What are you up to?”
Artie looked to me. I was curious to see what he’d say. His solo shows were selling out before their openings. At least that’s what I’d heard. However, when he responded to my question, he didn’t mention anything about collectors or anything like that. Instead, he told me about a new body of work he was trying to develop, something with intellectual property and patents.
“That’s cool,” I said. And it did sound cool. It was relevant. Copyright is an important issue.
…I’m thinking about what else I can tell you about this body of work…
They seemed good.
I don’t really have any other thoughts about them. They had to do with the Polaroid logo—that’s what I found out later.
I liked them.
At the time, I didn’t feel compelled to root out the particulars. I guess that’s the way I feel now. They seemed good. I liked them, I supported the work, I did. But I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to think that much more about them.
But isn’t that an odd type of response to art?
You identify it as “good” but you don’t feel compelled to know more? Doesn’t that mean that it’s not good or that you don’t like it?
No…But I did feel compelled. I did, truly. It was good and relevant.
I thought about how it was possible that I could hold two opposing views of a work simultaneously. That I could think a work was good—that I liked it—but not think much else about it. That seems plausible, I told myself. No, I didn’t know…Yes. Or no, was it possible? Don’t you just have an opinion?
I should just see the work in person.
That’s what I thought. No use coming to any conclusions until that happens.
I thought about some of Artie’s old work that I had seen. I thought about the Image Objects, the pieces I’d mentioned before. You can look them up to see what they are, if you want. Point is: there was a built-in indeterminacy to what they were—what their status as art objects was. They were always between worlds.
And he was gone. The sun came out. Someone in the shirts-versus-skins basketball game said he was going to kill—murder—someone else. Another person said he was laughing so hard he was peeing his pants. Then he said he was literally peeing his pants right then at that time.
I finished another loop. And then another one. I felt like I could go on jogging forever. Loop, loop, loop…
I noticed the park was emptying of people. The sun was insanely bright.
I finished another loop. The park was now almost empty. What time was it? It was now drizzling. I thought about what time it was. I looked to the side and noticed that there was an entire other Maria Hernandez Park and then another one beyond that. It was some sort of hallucination? I could see Artie and Brad running in each of those respective parks. I could see the girl with the terry-cloth shorts, the girl I saw when I first entered the park. She was in her own Maria Hernandez park that was beyond Brad’s. And I was in mine. They were all on top of each other. And beside each other at the same time. I was moving forward in loops but no one was with me. I was in a world that accommodated no one else. I could see Artie and Brad from the distance. I tried to run in their world, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. I thought about what time it was again and when I looked up, I saw Artie and Brad were closer. We were all jogging together again. And then we weren’t. And then we were. The sun was out. And then it was raining. The guts of an earthworm were on my shoe.
I wanted to die.
I jogged to Willoughby.
I approached Wyckoff. I could see my building. I was tired, ready for the jog to be over. I thought about my mind like it was an on/off switch, like a light switch—on, off. One second I thought one thing, the next second I thought about another thing. On, off; on, off.
The muscular man without a shirt zoomed by me and turned left. Where did he come from? How was he still running so fast? Then the man on the bike with his husky puppy did the same thing. The puppy was running so fast to keep up with the man. They were all together shooting down Wyckoff. The sun seemed to be ripping through the ozone layer and setting my skin on fire. I thought about a light switch transforming into a dimmer, like a dimmer switch on a wall. The dimmer switch was dimming things around me, everything was getting darker, moodier, more…I tried to catch up with everyone that was ahead of me, but the music from my ear buds blasted hard into my ears and, because of this, I almost ran into a black town car that was speeding down the middle of Wyckoff. I was so scared by the suddenness of the music, the way it just came into my ears from out of nowhere. I did a 360-spin move to avoid the black town car. The spin move looked great for anyone that may have been watching (I looked around for the woman in the terry-cloth shorts), but in the process of doing it, I twisted my knee. It hurt to put any pressure on it. I could see my building—1338 Willoughby—and I thought I should just walk the rest of the way home because my knee hurt. No, I thought. I told myself, it will be better to jog…the world seemed to be dimming up, everything was getting lighter…When you get home, Ann will help you with your knee.