You can only imagine my delight, then, to find morning breaking like this, just 48 hours later:
I'm a consummate early riser. It's a rare miracle for me to sleep past 7am on the weekends, and more likely than not I'm facing the day as it breaks, which this time of year is just before 5:30. My tiptoeing down the stairs always seems to stir Inez, who doesn't mind an early walk before traffic gets in full swing.
There's a strange kind of fellowship that blooms in the underpopulated hours. Those who've worked the graveyard shift know it, as do the night owls who roll home during the wee hours.
Since we adoped Inez, I've gotten to know the early-morning regulars on our walking route: The other dogwalkers, of course (but only from a distance, since she hates her own kind), but also the maintenance guys at the nearby elementary school, who greet Inez with a daily scratch on the head. And there's my friend Mark, who runs by with his son Henry in a jogging stroller. And the chatty recovering alcoholic, who likes to take a morning smoke and muse over the increasing violence in the city ("The police can't help those kids. I can help them!" he'll say, pounding his shirtless chest).
But my favorite morning folk hero is the older Asian man from around the corner. He does a daily round of calisthenics, generally barefooted, at the local elementary school. His standard uniform consists of banana-yellow shorts and red suspenders. He's a gentleman who always greets me with a wide smile and a "Hi ma'am" followed by a more singsongy, "Hello baby!" to Inez. Sometimes he'll do jumping-jacks. Other days he walks a perfect square, over and over again, on a 10 X 20 concrete slab in front of the school's side entrance. No fancy gyms or paid trainers for him. There's plenty of good exercise available for free.
I've often wondered what it's like for him here. Our neighborhood has a pretty scarce Asian population. Census data puts the numbers at 1.3%, but even that may be inflated. His English faculties suggest a recent immigrant, or possibly a transplant from one of the city's Asian neighborhoods, where a sizable community sustains the native dialect.
He shares no language or customs with his neighbors, smiling at people who tend to scowl back, or passing boys in slouchy jeans as he sports those red suspenders. But you can't say he hasn't claimed his space. No embarrassment over sit-ups, no apologies for his air-punch repetitions. I wish I had a photo to share, but it just doesn't seem right to approach him and say, "Excuse me, sir, but do you mind if I take your picture doing your hamstring stretches on that bike rack?"
It's a wonderful life.