Monday, June 19, 2006

Thoughts while running

I don't understand people who enjoy running. To me, it's an activity you do when required to -- for instance, when you need to escape from something, or catch something... or, when some over-eager NCO tells you that's what you will be doing for an hour on Monday morning.

I'm not much good at it. I chug along while wiry-limbed privates lope by, seemingly immune from the rising burn in the lungs, calves, and hamstrings. I am the tortoise, but I have yet to win any races.

This morning we headed up a usually-desolate stretch of road near the company building. There was a damp mist hanging in the air that made me think of all the earth science books I'd leafed through while I was a kid. It was like running through what I imaagine rainclouds are like at altitude -- dust particles clinging to the air while moisture condenses on them until they're heavy enough to fall.

Despite the cool, damp air, I was hot, sweaty, and aggravated to be once again slogging my way down some pockmarked Kentucky road. If it weren't for the Army, I thought, I wouldn't be doing this. I'd still be in bed, maybe clicking on "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC and cursing the old buzzard for trying to get by on three minutes of air time surrounded by 10-minute commercial segments.

I've been in the Army for just shy of four years, and I realized suddenly that most of the people who'd signed up around the same time were probably getting ready to get out, if they hadn't reenlisted. Four years is the average sentence, it seems. I know now that if I'd held out a little longer, the recruiter up in Syracuse would probably have cut my contract down to four years, and maybe even agreed to pay off my college loans. Alas, at the time I'd had no experience in dealing with used car salesmen, horse traders, or loan sharks, and I took the man at his word. So I have another year to go.

"Sorry, that's the shortest contract we've got available for that job," he told me.

Six months later I was sitting in public affairs classes at Fort Meade, Maryland, next to more wordly-wise soldiers who'd shaved their active-duty time down to four years by haggling with their recruiter. If that had been me, I'd be packing bags right now.

But as it stands, I'll be in for another year. It should be time to get some savings together and line up whatever the next Big Step is for old Brother Gonzo. So hey, maybe one more year isn't all that bad.