I’ve never seen anything like it: Dale jogs with his arms by his sides, not unlike an Irish step dancer. So, as much as I enjoy spending time with him otherwise, the time came when I had to tell him that our jogging relationship was over. I don’t think I’m being frivolously judgmental in severing a doomed partnership because Dale won’t assume the appropriate jogging form. Whether or not my decision is a good one is immaterial–every innate instinct tells me this is the right decision. There’s a right way to jog and there’s a wrong way to jog. If Dale isn’t interested in investing the effort required to put up his jogging dukes, who is he fooling?
“You’re not kidding?” he asked after I’d made my announcement. “What’s the deal?”
I shrugged. “I told you why, and I’m sorry, but… it’s just not right for me, the way you jog. It’s just wrong.”
Dale stood stock still, his head cocked to the side as if that might make it easier for my words to penetrate. Then, “So… it’s about vanity? I don’t get it. Assuming I’m not moving my arms the right way, you’re worried that people will think we’re… what, deviants?”
“It’s not vanity at all. The way you run is conspicuous the same way that someone chewing without removing the fork from their mouth would be conspicuous. Naturally, it draws the attention of onlookers, and, frankly, I’d rather not be noticed like that. That’s not vanity.”
“But your base concern is superficial, isn’t it?”
“This isn’t about wearing the wrong color shorts or not having the coolest haircut,” I said.
“No, I mean, isn’t this like… casting out a friend because they’re knock-kneed?”
I shook my head. “I’m talking about a choice here, an indefensible choice. You and I are no different physically, yet you’re running with your arms pinned to your sides, why? Is it because you’d be flung off balance into a ditch otherwise? No, it’s because that’s how you choose to conduct yourself. I mean, if you smoked a pipe while we were jogging, or… if you insisted on wearing a feathered headdress, then I’d have to take the same considerations, wouldn’t I?”
“But where do you draw the line?”
“Well, here is one place where I draw the line,” I said. “The line is drawn.”
Determining interpersonal relationships based upon unreasonable criteria is a recipe for a solitary existence. I know that. I merely expect a modicum of social propriety. This is a long-standing principle of mine, and it’s always stood me in good stead.
I was only 10 when our father moved to a new house in the suburbs, and my younger brother and I took the opportunity to creature around the neighborhood to get the lay of the land. Before long we were approached by a boy around my age who invited us into his home to see his dad’s piranha–a promising start to a provisional friendship.
After some friendly chat the three of us headed back out into the summer heat so the boy could show us his favorite spots, including an impressive rope swing over a deep creek, and a nicely-appointed fort in the crook of a dead tree. “Do you guys climb?” the boy asked. My brother and I glanced at each other, then shook our heads. “Trees,” he clarified, indicating the branches above. “I climb all the time. I never wear shoes.”
Indeed, the soles of his feet were like dried leather. As he scaled the tree the bark stripped away to reveal spiky pulp, but his feet were so tough that the splinters bent back like dry grass. I winced with amazement: my own tender feet would have been instantly impaled.
My brother and I craned our heads back to follow the boy’s progress, and that’s when things took an unfortunate turn. Like a wee baby gerbil emerging from its bed of cedar, a single pink testicle greeted us both from the boy’s red shorts. To my horror I found myself unable to turn away for a moment, standing agape as the boy’s vertical thrusts all but assured the wayward scrotum’s imminent and glorious freedom. The boy’s utter obliviousness to this anatomical travesty only made it that much worse.
When I looked over at my brother he was already looking back at me, and there was suddenly no need for communication. A primal need for survival had kicked in and we were of a single mind. When we turned to leave it was perfunctory, the way you leave the theatre when the curtain slides closed and the lights come up.
“Hey! Guys?” The boy was fifteen feet from the ground, and straddling the trunk of the tree like a koala. I turned around without breaking from our retreat. “Where are you going? You wanna do something else?”
“No, that’s okay,” I said, realizing only then that we would never know the boy’s name. “We have another thing we have to go to now, so, we’re gonna-”
“Okay, I’ll see you next time, okay?”
You have to draw the line somewhere though. Even a child knows that.