Big, Gay, Aggressive--and Coming for You!
Rich and I did our weekly run yesterday. Almost 9 miles, a good clip and a new route that took us through the back end of Aquatic Park. Coming up on the final stretch, it brought it all back.
Last summer, the Bay Area parched in its annual late June drought, the sun lingering longer than usual in solstice, Rich and I had time to run one weeknight when he got back from his job in the city. He works at the de Young, our by the sunset, far removed from our Eat Bay digs, a haul, which meant we usual couldn't run together during the week, only Saturday mornings, but the extra daylight afforded us the rare chance.
We weren't running 10 miles back then, just a couple. Aquatic Park's 2.2, which was perfect. My hip couldn't take much more than that back then (this was before I'd learned to push through the pain and keep moving like a shark), and Holden was on his way, Justine the size of a small tugboat, and so a couple miles was a good distance.
Rich and I had run Aquatic Park plenty. A gravel track that turns into a lovely little path, where out-of-shape hipsters in checkered pants and novelty handlebar mustaches play Frolf (frisbee golf) on Saturday mornings, the park often seeing families and shaggy dogs and little Mexican birthday parties at the BBQ pits and jungle gyms. There's even a little dog school at the finish line where someone recently opened a cafe. All in all, a wholesome place to jog.
On Saturdays. During the day. A wholesome place.
We'd heard the stories about the far end of the track, a little section that cuts over by the freeway at about the halfway point, how it was an anonymous hookup spot for homosexual men, local non-profit health agencies even going as far as to hang packages of condoms from trees to help prevent the spread of disease. But you hear a lot of stories. When I lived in Berlin, CT, there was a rumor about Pygmy Village, a savage, uncultivated society of little people who lived at the top of a long mountain road (by the new DMV) and who would jump out from the trees and throw shit at your car if you drove up there (I shit you not. We really had this rumor. And, yes, I drove up there with friends once, scared shitless).
Since this little section was by a freeway entrance I frequently used, I'd drive this loop of Aquatic Park there after the gym and I would see an abnormal amount of trucks and dudes just sitting by the water. But there are a lot of factories over there and you could see it would be a nice place to have lunch. I didn't see any heads bobbing in the front seat or anything, and after a while I concluded that the "condoms on the trees" was just hetero paranoia.
I'd once written a line (from the Wandering Jews' 1996 hit "My Gay Love Is Free") that goes: "I'm big, gay, aggressive--and coming for you." The song ends with the narrator catching a ride home with a big gay guy who suddenly turns turns aggressive in a small space, because this was pretty funny to us. I don't know why exactly. In fact, when I'd try to play this song when I'd go back east, people didn't laugh. They looked...concerned. But we're hip in San Francisco, sardonic, irreverent; we take nothing serious (except our deep internal pain of being perpetual outcasts).
It was probably around 7:30, 8 p.m. when Rich and I rounded the loop. We were racing against the clock. It was getting dark fast, the sun having long set, and there are no lights in Aquatic Park. I can't speak for Rich but I was concentrating on my breathing, trying to keep my alignment and stride consistent, because after the accident my back gets out of whack, and then I start favoring my hip, and everything goes all herky-jerky. My iPod drowned out all natural sounds. It was just me and the music and my breathing, like a deep sea scuba diver or Darth Vader. So immersed in my own little world, I was startled by the dark figure looming over me.
It didn't hit me at first. I just thought, "Wow, this is a weird time to be out walking." The park is supposed to close at dusk, and you can't see frisbees this hour. I dodged him, but soon another was in my path. And another man. And another man. My eyes adjusting to the evening gloam, I could now see them everywhere, men emerging from behind trees and from under rocks, wandering slowly like zombies in search of flesh.
And rumors ceased being rumors.
Now, I'd like to say I was a better friend. I mean, I remember exchanging a look with Rich when I realized where we were, what was happening, and he saw it too, and we both picked up our pace. But I didn't look back. I thought I might've heard Rich slip and fall at one point, but if he did, and if I heard it, I only ran faster. You're on your own, buddy. When you enter a sea of randy homosexuals on the prowl in the bushes in the dark, it's every man for himself.
It was a good half mile before I let up my pace, and I was relieved to find Rich still there with me, his clothes a little ruffled maybe, hair a little pawed at perhaps, eyes a little shellshocked, but he was in one piece. We both were. Alive.
It was shortly after that Rich and I stopped running for a while. Maybe it was because my son would soon be born, and it'd hard to get out of the house. Maybe it was because my hip and back needed some pain management and a chiropractor. Maybe it was because Rich had his Brazil camp to organize. Who knows. We did not speak of these things. It mattered little.
We've since returned to running together with a renewed vigor. New goals, new paths. And maybe it is just a coincidence that we never run Aquatic Park at night.