Saturday, July 15, 2017

Apparently, It's Still Weird to Run 


When running was for weirdos from Vox Media

I’ve grown to really dislike films by Robert Zemeckis. One in particular: Forrest Gump. I dislike the conceit that a simple country bumpkin would somehow be at the centre of the 20th century’s most important moments. Heck, I don’t even like which moments that were chosen as being important. What I dislike the most though are the quotes. Firstly, “Life” is in no way like a box of chocolates mostly because many chocolate boxes have a menu reflecting what each candy contains, there’s also a list of ingredients and… you know what, no, I’m not even going to continue this line of reasoning because you can’t use logic and reason to explain something that has no logic or reason. Most of all though, I really really dislike (is “hate” too strong a term?) the quote, “Run Forrest, run!” Why? It’s simple. So many times, when I go for a run, some idiot, or someone about to expose themselves as an idiot, will say it after I pass them. I quietly and respectfully will pass a person on the sidewalk and then, without prompting, I’ll hear, “Run Forrest, run!” and judging from the sarcasm in their terrible version of a Southern accent, they are not encouraging me, but mocking me or simply showing their disdain for… for what? Disdain for a person exercising? For all they know, I’m running from a marauding axe-wielding maniac and “Run Forrest, run!” will in fact, be their last words. That would be a shame, to die with your last words being a sarcastic, unimaginative, unoriginal and unfunny quote from an old movie, probably delivered in an approximation of an accent that borders on racist. That would be a shame.

Typically, you know who will say this. Usually, they are young, probably aging from as young as 12-13 to early 20s. And usually they are male. And usually they are in a group of two to four. A person walking on their own has never said this to me. They are also… how do I say this without being too offensive (it’s probably too late in my life to not be offensive)? They are likely to “appear”… well, not stylish. Not affluent. Not genteel, nor refined. They will appear to be very casually dressed, in fact probably more casually dressed than would be acceptable in many work places. Ironically, they are the kind of person who wears athletic clothing while never engaging in any athletic activity. They will appear brash or full of braggadocio and walking with a body language of exaggerated swagger. Oh and they usually wait to say it as if it takes a moment for them to process a person running by and an opportunity to say “Run Forrest, run!”

The other night was different but really the same. I passed two women, one of whom was walking a dog, both were wearing sweatpants and I believe what you might call a halter top. I left the sidewalk to pass them, turned the corner then heard “Run Forrest, run!” and laughter. It was unexpected because my “social profile” was wrong. I didn’t realize this level of idiocy crossed all social demographics and groups. Likewise, I was in an elevator leaving work this week when someone said they had a train to catch and their colleague said, “Wow, you’d better run.” As the doors opened the train commuter bolted and started walking briskly. His so-called colleague then called out, “Run Forrest, run!” and laughed. No one else laughed. No one else laughed because it was a stupid and unoriginal thing to say. So now we’re just saying this stupid quote to anyone in a hurry? Again, my demographic profiling was wrong. This paunch with legs and necktie was dressed “Business Casual” (a term for anything less formal than a suit, but more formal than blue jeans). I can only guess this man’s friend was thinking to himself as he was treading away from the elevator, “Run Forrest, run?? I’ll remember that the next time you’re late for a meeting. Maybe you should’ve ‘Run Forrest’? You little neck waddle with arms.”

I suppose you might think me “cranky” or just a “crank”. You might even bring up the trend some years ago of finishing sentences with an exaggerated “NOT” (eg “I looooove rainy days – (pause for effect) – NOT!”) as a passing attempt at humour. I assume this was begun as a sophomoric catch phrase by Mike Myers in Wayne’s World, then re-invigorated by the film Borat (I would suggest both comedians used the device ironically). Yet this dumb use of a dumb quote continues to thrive and annoy. I have no answer for it except maybe if you just call people out on making a dumb joke they’ll stop seeing the humour in it. Last winter I passed a couple of youths, and I felt for sure, this was the perfect set-up. Two young teen lads, in their NBA hats and over-sized jerseys are the very group that usually drop that "vicious burn" and when I passed, almost like clock-work, one of them said… actually he surprised me. Instead of using the ol’ Forrest Gump trope, he coughed the word “a**hole”. I’m not exactly sure what leads people to assign such labels to strangers, but I’m pretty sure, someone who calls a stranger that, is probably the very thing they are accusing. I stopped and thought, I’ll be super polite and over-charm this guy. When I turned, I said ever so sweetly, “I’m sorry, did you say something to me?” As I was saying this I realized just how young these two were and they couldn’t really hide their age under the brims of their hats and I suddenly felt like a terrible bully. The one who said the obscenity meekly, nearly whispered, “No, sir.” “Okay, well have a good night, guys.” I chirped back, now fully feeling like a principal of a high school admonishing students for slouching.

I thought about the incident for days afterwards. Was I being a jerk? Would that stop a jerky kid from being a jerk next time only because he worried he would be caught? What if I’d been wrong and turned to find someone much older and bolder who would’ve suddenly escalated the encounter? I have no answers for the strange kind of inverted classism I bump up against all the time in Toronto. Maybe I am a hipster-liberal-elitist only here to gentrify and ruin your neighbourhood, but I don’t harass people in the street? What would that be like? “Hey, check out this massive property tax bill I just paid that I drove up by paying too much for my tiny but well situated house!” “Where’s the organic milk section of this crappy grocery store anyway?” “Yo, buddy! Can’t you vape that weed so I don’t have to smell it?!”

More than anything, it is a class thing. I get it, if I’m riding through Moss Park on a $2000 bike dressed like a peloton groupie but when I run, it’s just a t-shirt and shorts and Nikes. I mean, it doesn’t cost anything to run. Sure, my shoes cost a little more, but you don’t have to wear expensive shoes to run. It is the cheapest form of exercise you can imagine. No memberships or equipment required. I’ve heard strange stories of how runners used to be treated; from being stopped by the police to having rubbish thrown at them from moving cars, but the even stranger thing is, the refrain “Run Forrest, run!” is proof people still think you are an oddball if you run for exercise. Not just an oddball, but an affluent entitled jerk to boot. That’s the part I really don’t get. I really do not wear particularly fancy running apparel. You definitely could kit yourself out like an idiot but I wear pretty cheap stuff because I don’t feel expensive stuff helps.

I don’t really have a solution to this problem except that when someone thinks they are making a good joke at my expense, I have the smug thought that it is actually a crap joke. Yet what can I retort? Well, when you die from choking on a Cheetos or whatever, I’ll show up at your funeral wearing inappropriately short running shorts and say “Hey, lay perfectly still, Forrest, lay perfectly still!” and no one but me will laugh, and they’ll all wonder who this weirdo is.

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