An Exercise in Obstacle Course Writing

by Glynnis Eldridge

There's a commercial I have seen a few times for a television show on HBO about people who collect things. Their collections, as evident from the ads, are serious. These people have somehow managed to hold onto a lot of stuff. ‘There are a lot of really important things out there,' I can imagine hearing them say, ‘it's nice to have possessions, and it's good to recycle, but even better to not litter at all. Why waste things?' 

“One day, these papers are gonna be worth millions,” Dad says, pointing to the top most paper which reads: BUSH WINS. November 8, 2000: My dad pushes the button for the elevator, takes the stairs and runs out to the corner newsstand. The truck is there. It's still dark. The city is humming and Dad is running across the street in his sweatshirt, high socks and gym shorts. He buys a whole stack, or maybe three of the same News Week paper. BUSH WINS. He and everybody else thought Gore had won. Bush Won. The papers stayed there, in his living room, piled up against a pale yellow wall, because they were right. They never made it to e-Bay, or back in the hands of the street vendor, or handed out on corners. The papers are still piled up, in his living room, against the same pale yellow wall. I'm afraid to touch them, to read these papers, because of a recent silverfish sighting in the next room.

When I was young, I played on this living room floor. I remember the brown and black and white cow print rug. My brother and I sat here and watched Flubber and Air Bud and Homeward Bound, ate pasta dinners at the short cork coffee table with paper towels that doubled as bibs and place mats. Here, we put together people puzzles, Muppets puzzles, mousetrap, (an obstacle course board game we had bought Dad for his 30 or 40 somethingth birthday) and pretend, with a soft, purple hippopotamus, a shrunken mountain goat, and a plastic lobster our aunts had left behind when they moved out and then across the country.

A night without sleep turns into a morning run after a banana, a slip into shorts, and a bulky sweatshirt. I never run. My eyes are burning as they do in the shower after too little sleep, or before sleep coming too late. Running leaves my legs stiff like tree trunks, frozen, gated on sidewalks. I'm late to an appointment because I now walk twice as slow. I cross streets after lights for oncoming traffic turn green. When I make my slow marathons from Greenwich Village to the Upper West Side I race lights too. Too tired now, I take the subway.

I sit across from a man and a woman. Her eyes are closed. He has eyelids that, instead of close to blink, do the opposite. He looks at me, reverse blinks a couple times from behind a pair of large, wire frames. His eyes are blue, a murky color of sediment, disturbed and distributed in and by the water above it. 72nd street. The train across the platform pulls out as we pull in. New people climb on. A few men in business suits, kids wearing clothes too big for them now. A man asking for anything passes me. I ask him if he has a nut allergy and hand him a bag of granola. A feeling of lightness, kinetic energy, finds me.

I leave the lightness at the 86th street subway stop, downstairs from Dad's apartment building. The writers block I have at home goes away when I get away from the maze, the obstacle course my father has single-handedly constructed within the walls of his apartment. Fixed floods of stimuli. The faucet in his bathroom has been leaking for months. The paint is peeling. Limescale coats the sink, his toothbrush, the bathroom mirror, pill bottles, q-tips. The light switch clicks and doesn't let the sun in. Mornings are rarely mornings. There is a radio in every room. Each is turned up to its highest volume. Some blast static. When I ask, ‘why is it so loud in here,' my dad says, “loudness will wake you up.” In the living room, kitchen, dining room, whatever you want to call it, a radio is connected to the TV set and I only recently learned the correct order of buttons to push to find relief, to turn it off. Sometimes, a better way of avoiding these mornings is to avoid sleeping entirely.

Dad was pre-diabetic when he started his diet of Chirping Chicken, energy bars and Coca Cola. I think he has already lost about 60 pounds. He checks his blood sugar maybe twice, or three or four times a day. He also sees the gym everyday, sometimes more than once. He usually tells me that I should have been there, because, I'm looking a little more round than usual, and, when was last time I worked out? He also tells me that I missed a great show on HBO. The gym has flat screen TVs with cable. I'm missing out.