A woman jogs down Flatbush, beaming and punching the sunshine. Her legs, in shorts, are peculiar. Slack, velvety folds jiggle, like a Sharpei, and it takes a moment to work out that this is the extra skin she must have grown to contain pounds and pounds of fat, now melted. This is her day.
A block behind her, a middle-aged woman sprints off the course and in behind a dumpster on State Street. A moment later, another follows, and they squat side by side, round white backsides bared. They’re already running as they hike their shorts back up.
I have whippety friends who finish the New York Marathon in under three hours, but the born-to-run amateurs bore me as they piston past, looking comfortable and determined. It’s the mid-pack runners I go out to see every year, with their strange gaits and unsuitable bodies, and all the fear, doubt, and bewildered joy that comes from their audacious try.
And New Yorkers respond like proud parents, lining the whole route and cheering until the Sweep Bus rolls through. When volunteers try to hand them leaflets for Freddy Ferrer’s doomed mayoral campaign, they are too busy urging to take notice.
At Lafayette and Cumberland, a couple has hired a DJ to play on the steps of their brownstone. They pass out party food and Fort Greene dances to songs for apartment-dwellers:
Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me
Twice on the pipe, if the answer is no…
“AwRIGHT, Wendy, that’s what I’m TAWKING about,” hoots the DJ as a Bridget Jones trots through in a spangled bra. English women like to run in lingerie, bless their wobbling butts. Italians wear serious running gear–CoolMax everything, coordinated in green and red. Irish runners wear baggy cotton t-shirts with makeshift flags pasted on the back, or bright green soccer jerseys and Leprechaun hats. The French frown, seemingly puzzled by strangers screaming “Go PhilLIPPE!”
A woman with a carefully liplined mouth hoists a blue banner with a message in Korean up a lamppost, then climbs up after it and scans the pack for her person.
Some of the runners want to stop and join the party. They wiggle for a minute or two, dazed and thrilled at running through New York City in the sunshine, where pretty girls dance at them and the cops give them drinks.
Eight miles in, some runners are already walking. A passionate Brooklyn woman in a baseball cap makes it her mission to coax every runner. She crouches in front of them, backing away and yelling encouragement as if these were their very first steps outdoors. “Come ON, Mario. You know you can do it, baby!” Mario doesn’t look so sure.
“RUNNING FOR PAT,” the t-shirts announce, or “LEUKEMIA SURVIVOR.””Jennifer’s Mom” and “Cathy’s Daughter” run side by side. Some want to SAVE THE RHINOS. One woman is 50 TOMORROW. Another knows what it means to MISS NEW ORLEANS.
Other stories aren’t sloganized, but you can guess at them all the same:
I’m So Over You, Dickhead.
Three Years Sober.
My Sister’s In Iraq.
As the sweep bus arrives, Fort Greene turns its back on the stragglers and faces the DJ booth to do the Electric Slide. By now I’ve danced for two hours on this street corner, but as soon as choreography is called for, I concede that I’m a white girl, and saunter off to Sunny’s Bar.