I was mid-run today when I slowed to a jog, and then to a walk. It was raining off and on, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. I’d run nearly fifty miles in the past week, and while I wasn’t exhausted I could feel those hundreds of thousands of steps in my calves, in my quadriceps, and in my knees. I was unsure at first of why I stopped; I didn’t have to, nothing forced the issue. I was a little hungry, the soda bread I’d eaten for breakfast hours before apparently having all been burnt off, but I wasn’t entirely out of gas. I felt a bit like Forest Gump when he stopped. Maybe it was just time to be done?
A smell immediately caught my attention, an oddly specific smell. It was pizza, yes, but pizza is ambiguous and this was not. What I was smelling, I was sure of it, was Perfect Circle Pizza, the pizza from my youth, from Main Street in Valentine. I played arcade games there with my friends in middle school whenever we could find quarters; Street Fighter 2, Tournament Edition was my favorite. I bussed tables there one summer in the mid-90’s for $2.13 and hour plus tips. Interestingly, tragically, that’s still the wage for servers, at least here in Nebraska. I try to tip well.
With no idea where the smell was originating, I kept walking. As I did, the patter of big, fat raindrops striking leaves that had begun to compost under the snow over winter caught my ears. The path I so often run is surrounded on both sides by mighty trees. That, too, is an exceptionally specific sound, and it donned on me that I hadn’t heard it in decades. My father and I used to take hikes on weekends, down Government Canyon or out at the wildlife refuge, and it was there I had heard it, dozens, even hundreds of trees collecting water on their limbs and dropping it upon their own leaves down on the ground. But now, having lived in the city for so long, and in apartments or condos for much of it, I realized I may not have heard that sound at all for many years, may still never have heard it if I hadn’t inexplicably stopped running just now.
Next I thought of my friends, of my tumultuous, often awkward high school years, of college, in which my growing pains and struggle to figure out who I wanted to be were evident to all those watching. And I thought of those who watched, of Tylr, the best man in our wedding, of Erin, who was my duet partner in speech, of Jamian, who has always been so patient with me, steady as she is and volatile though I am. Last year, we all got together, as we do annually. I brought a bottle of Chateau Souverain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, vintage 1999. The winemaker, Ed Killian, and I had talked about that wine, and after speaking to him I bought a magnum of it in an online auction to share with those friends with whom I had graduated high school in that year. Everyone enjoyed it.
As I walked down the path, strolling also down memory lane, I considered how much this quarantine, this isolation, has been getting to me. I thrive on being around other people, and this extended period of isolation has had me climbing the walls. At present, I can tell a hawk from a handsaw, but if the predictions are true, the ones suggesting this could last as long as eighteen months, well, at what point will I crack? The other day, I was asked to do some work for the Department of Education, recording lessons online for students in quarantine. I eagerly accepted this opportunity to be useful, but Sonja was displeased when I told her, and while she rarely voices opposition to my endeavors, she stopped me yesterday on the verge of tears and asked me not to do it, not to break our quarantine if I didn’t have to. What else could I do but to honor my wife’s request?
Back at home, I knew just which wine to pull out of the cellar. Then the kids and I and Sonja ate our lunch and I put Titus down for his nap. I got on a call with Kamlin at Steele Wines, and then my friend Louise called. I had left her a message a few days ago. She’s an old friend, a survivor of the Holocaust, and was for many years the pillar of the Board of Directors for the non-profit I co-founded doing work in Rwanda and around the globe. We spoke for quite some time, updated one another on our families, encouraged one another, and pledged to call again soon. I played a few rounds of Words With Friends (Scrabble) with some college friends on my phone — I’m mark.gudgel if you want to play me, and then, impulsively, I went upstairs to the bathroom and shaved my face for the first time since cross country ended back in October. The picture above is one I was asked to take a few days ago, just to give you some perspective on what you’re going to see in the video. I felt quite naked afterward, and still do, though reverse-aging yourself by a decade is a cool party trick, if I may say so myself. The kids were unsure of what to say when I got them up from nap. Zooey just kept staring at me with her best mean mug. “We match!” exclaimed Titus.
The wine I pulled out was a Chateau D’Issan 1999, in honor of my friends of whom I was thinking during the walking portion of my run who graduated with me that year. This was a splurge I picked up in an auction a while back, and one I had been saving for no particular time. It felt appropriate — I’ve been wanting to learn more about Bordeaux. A left banker from Margaux, which is in the Medoc, it’s about 65% Cab Sauv, 35% Merlot. The Chateau makes about 6,000 cases a year of this wine. It was beautifully aromatic from the moment I removed the cork which, you’ll see, after 21 years really didn’t need an ah-so. The complexities of the wine amazed me — it lead with cigar tobacco, herbal qualities, leather, and earthy notes, and then, only after, the plums, black cherries, currants, and more were allowed to show their stuff. It evolved rapidly in the decanter. “Tastes like old wine,” was Sonja’s initial response to it, but as we sat talking by the fire in the living room, she liked it more and more. It makes me want to go find more vintages of this wine, or perhaps even to visit the Chateau once this lock-down has ended.
Sonja has been suggesting we add a video component to the blog for some time now. Using a crate of beer as a tripod, she recorded my opening and talking about the wine. I’d love your feedback on the video, and if we should keep making these. It was fun and easy enough to do if you dig it. Oh, and if you correct my pronunciation of French words, I might just break quarantine to come to your house and slap you. Let us know what you think of the video. It was a good way to pass some time together while we’re stuck at home indefinitely.
After a little while walking through the tree tunnels that arch over my running path, smelling the pizza of my youth and listening to old familiar sounds I hadn’t taken the time to hear in far too long, I paused at the foot of the hill that leads up out of the small canyon and back toward home. I thought of my friends, those I have mentioned and those I haven’t yet. All of us are raising children in this world, just as we were raised int his world. We were children of the Cold War that threatened to finish us all off, leaving our parents on edge at all times before, eventually, going away. This, too, would pass, this disease. This could not last forever, I reasoned, this period of quarantine. But then, if it does, well, this new life isn’t so bad really, is it? I glanced up at the switchbacks that lead toward home, and then I took off at a run.