Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Free Running in New York: First in Flight

For one ageless moment there is no sound, as I hang suspended in space. There is only bright color, splashes and whirls and hard clear shapes all around me. Blue steel for the water of the river. Dull brown for the cracked, hard trees. Shining silver for the fences, bathed in light so sharp you can taste it on your tongue. Crimson for the platform beneath me, the one I'm falling towards, another that I jumped from. There are no crickets, no bystanders, no passing airplanes or idle conversation or jagged earbud notes in my periphery. For a moment, time stops.

run free chase fly go faster go climb

Jog the first bit, slow and easy, warm-up on a day where toes turn blue. Running shoes going slap-slap-slap on the pavement. Nice and orderly, following the paths, slow painted lines on a gelid canvas before What's that over there? It's huge! It's awesome! Let's go! Left turn through a battered garden, over fences, past bundled-up grandmothers walking golden dogs in knit sweaters, up a stone palisade that becomes a balustrade upon which I balance, wide as a catwalk, up the hill to the colossal monument to the Soldiers and Sailors of the Union, built in an age where nobody did anything small. Mock-ups of naval guns face outward in final battle pose, ready to send Pickett's brave doomed boys tumbling back down the hill, all arms and legs and bloody froth. My companion walks up to the butt-end of the black smoking monster, presses her hips against the pommel. "My dick," she says, and grins.

I try and jump over the next cannon. Miss by just a few inches--catch myself with my left palm, swing my legs to the right, accidental vaulting. A rogue videographer for some documentary catches my eye, waving black mittens, anonymous behind the lens. "Nice one!" "I'll get the next one," I say, and take a running start, climbing invisible stairs, tucking knees upward and soaring like... well, anything but a cannonball. There's room to spare. I jump off another banister, brace myself to air-kick off a bench, step right over a table where Russian grandfathers no doubt play chess in the summertime. It's time to run again.

faster faster play go play run jump run

Over a playground fence, over a glistening rock that was young when the glaciers were old and tired, around and over and through like all good shoelaces, we weave through the park like traceur bullets. Off-road, off-path, off-map, headed for the Sanctuary. Our ears turn red, crinkle and hide from the cold in the folds of gray hoodies. Massive inscrutable landmarks wander slowly by on our right, tattered wooden pilings surrounding an iron portal to nothingness, a rusted scrap of a bridge. Where did it go? Inscrutable New York artwork dots the landscape, an apple core or an inside-out face, no way of telling which. Cold wind sweeps out of the river, blasting against our puny sweats like an atmospheric fire hose. Huge red platforms rise out of the land ahead of us. It's here.


We fiddle around on the ground for a while, practice clumsy rolls and flips and invent remember-when childhood games of jumping from marble slab to marble slap, but the real meat of the Sanctuary is in the red iron sunshades rising above it all. I can't keep myself down any longer. I clamber up one of the wooden chairs and grab onto the rim with gray-black borrowed gloves. Support ridges and struts offer purchase. I claw and hoist and grab until somehow, tentatively, I'm up on top of the world. The view must be great, but I'm too nervous to look around. I walk around the tops of the four platforms clustered together, glancing at the ground through the holes in the floor. Four platforms together... one apart. My heart, clich├ęs be damned, is drumming rat-a-tat-tat. My eyes, my legs, my entire attention are all drawn to the gap; five or six feet, maybe seven, and two feet down over endless space. My brain assesses trajectories and rings up warning flags.


A still, small voice is heard from the ground. "I'm already super impressed with you. You don't have to do that."

Three blade-quick thoughts rustle through my brain. Well screw it I'm gonna do it anyway is the first. I've never broken a bone, and that's partially because I don't do things like this is the second. I imagine the fall to the ground, sharp pain in arm and shoulder, my first real battle scar. No fear. Third is a hot sweet rush, creamy and delicious, pure conviction. There is no countdown, no running start, no drama. I pick my landing spot and jump.


Red metal clangs and rebounds under me as I land with a crash, triumphant atop my goal. I scream in victory, great primal wordless yells and cusses, scaring the shit out of my groundbound companion (who thinks for a second that I broke my ankle or something). Time starts again. I'm king of the world in my gray sweatpants, a sheikh of the sunrise, lord of the bright red platforms and the steel river and all the rest. Titles don't matter. I have flown.

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