Friday, June 4, 2010

Zigzag Run and the Formerly Young Person

Have you ever encountered a person while out and about who looked very familiar to you—someone you think you remember from your youth and the old neighborhood? An individual whom you haven't seen in a very long time, and who's not so young anymore? What follows is another excerpt from Zigzag Run, a novel that I've been working on between nibbles this past year. From the forty-something narrator's perspective—a man who’s lived in the same neighborhood for all the times of his life—this little snippet runs headfirst into the often unsettling "formerly young person" phenomenon:

Making my way towards Broadway alongside Manhattan College’s field of green, I peered into the bar on the property’s farthest east end. When the saloon was part of the old Gaelic Park, it was christened “the world’s longest bar.” I sincerely doubt that it is "Guinness World Records" material, but it is rather long.

As my mind and body both wandered, a local whom I see from time to time was headed in my direction. I don’t know him personally and don’t say hello to him. I suspect he is several years my junior. I say this because I recognize him as somebody that’s been in the neighborhood for a long time—probably his entire life. He was a kid that I recall seeing around when I was a kid.

If there is one reason why it’s not ordinarily a healthy thing to remain in the same geographic locale for all the years of your life, this is it. Here I was looking at a man close to forty—give or take a couple of years—who is now hideously overweight with a gargantuan stomach that flaps up and down with each loping step. His formerly young face, which is still recognizable, is glossy red and badly dappled. His nose is already layered—bulbous from the ravages of one too many drinks.

As we passed one another, I noticed he was wearing a New Jersey Devils hockey jersey, which he often sports. It had to be XXXXX-L to fit him, I thought. He was intently listening to his iPod, precluding any interaction with anybody, even eye contact. I've been seeing a lot of him lately, walking back and forth, and back and forth again, for hours upon hours. The Columbo in me tells me that he’s likely following doctor’s orders: stop drinking, exercise, and lose a ton of weight—or you’re toast.

These neighborhood ghosts—my contemporaries who still roam the same streets they did when they were kids—are unsettling sightings. There’s just something melancholy about spying these “formerly young persons.” I fear that I too am a formerly young person to other longtime residents of the area, and maybe even to the behemoth who just passed me by.

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