notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games

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A Few Points Shy of the High Score
Sunday, February 27, 2005  
I had my first knee operation when I was 17, my second knee operation when I was 20, and a third when I was 34. All thanks in no small part to the twelve years I (mis)spent playing football.

And the way my right knee has been creaking and popping lately, a fourth operation is probably inevitable. There can't be much cartilage left in either knee at this point...

Being handicapped with bad knees, I've learned to live with them. Through years of trial and error, I've discovered that the best thing I can do for them is use them. I need exercise on a regular basis; if I go two or three weeks without any, my knees will start aching so badly that they'll keep me awake at night.

I'm penniless, so a gym membership is out of the question. As a result, I've been biking out to Flushing Meadow and running around the man-made lake. All in the name of keeping my knees content.

I usually go on weekdays in the late mornings. The park is desolate. Trash-blown. The drainage is poor, so the walkways are usually flooded out. I almost always come home with my sneakers soaked through to the socks. Great flocks of geese gather there. They're huge, intimidating birds. When they see me coming, they don't rush to get out of my way, the way pigeons do. They stand their ground. They puff their chests. They wait until the last possible second before they give me enough room to pass. They leave their surprisingly huge green turds everywhere. I can't even believe how big their turds are.

Shea Stadium is in the distance. As is a mammoth circular structure that looks like a gargantuan merry-go-round that apparently had something to do with the World's Fair. There's a ramshackle boathouse that's obviously closed this time of year. The lake is gray and choppy and surrounded by parking lots. There are very few trees. This has to be one of the most tree-less parks I've ever seen. Lone cars are scattered around, motors running, drivers slumped in their seats. I'm almost certain it's a pick-up area. There's the smell of illicit sex in the air. I've seen used condoms on the pier.

I keep my bike in a playground that has a prehistoric motif. Steel palm trees. There are a fiberglass dinosaurs painted bright colors--reds, oranges, yellows. I know that they're made out of figerglass because someone cut the head off of one of them and I peered inside. The broken teeter-totter is surrouded by yellow hazard tape. The picnic tables are covered with cigarette burns. Green glass from smashed beer bottles is sprinkled underneath the swings.

I'm always a little surprised to find my bike still there when I come back. Bad things happen in this park. I always prepare myself for the worst, brace myself for the day when I'll come back and my bike isn't there. It's inevitable, I think. It will happen.

Two weeks ago, I went to the park and found a U-Haul box truck sitting in the middle of a meadow next to the playground. The tires were flat. The windows all smashed out. The back door of the truck was wide open. Whatever had been inside had been stolen. The violence was obvious. There was a story here. A nasty story of some kind. I could only imagine what awful circumstances had brought the U-Haul truck there.

Last week the Olympic committee was touring New York. Trying to decide if New York is a viable, deserving place to hold the Olympics. Flushing Meadow was one of the sights that the committee was going to inspect. As I ran around the lake hop-scotching my way through the goose shit, I noticed all the banners that had been hung up. NYC 2012. Big, blue banners. But the park itself hadn't been cleaned up much. The U-Haul was gone, nothing but petrified tire tracks across the field where it had been. But the trash cans were all full. So full that garbage was tumbleweeding everywhere. And the eerie parked cars (motors running) were there. The dinosaur with the missing head had been removed, but the teeter-totter was still broken. Whatever effort had been made to spruce things up had been minimal.

I ran around the lake with a pair of wet feet, cursing at the geese, breathing hard, feeling a cramp in my side, under the ribs. I feel my age out there. Feel all of my 35 years. I feel my body changing. It's shocking how little it's capable of these days. The wind picked up. I ran past a group of intimidating men wearing bandanas. They watched me in silence as I passed. I felt their eyes on me. A jet heading for LaGuardia roared overhead. When I was downwind of the men, I could smell pot smoke.

9:22 AM

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