Very early one morning, the shouts of a man who sounded like he was being attacked woke me.
Peering out the window, I saw a jogger writhing in the gutter in front of my house.
I grabbed a robe and ran out to offer aid, thinking he had been hit by a car, but by then two motorists had stopped and were assisting him to his feet.
He tested himself, brushed off the side of his leg and hurried off in a fast walk up the street.
From my experience -- as a bystander -- most runners suffer silently and usually don't shatter the morning stillness with a shout of pain. Some of my best friends are joggers and they have confirmed this. They have admitted taking some pretty bad spills -- one broke his wrist, another a foot. But they assured me they fell quietly, so as not to disturb anyone who might be sleeping. The fellow who broke his wrist claimed that when he fell he said, very quietly, "Ah, ---."
Having spent 10 years sitting alongside one of Washington's first joggers, who started running in 1940 and has logged about 40,000 miles, I can remember many a day he'd come in to work full of scrapes, just laugh and say, "I blew out a sneaker on Mass. Avenue." One time he tripped on a wire hoop, the kind once used to bundle newspapers, and took a spill. He brought along the wire to toss it on the circulation manager's desk -- but he claims that during all his accidents he never once yelled like the fellow in the gutter outside my house.
As a youngster, I watched the great Clarence DeMar, who was a printer on the Old Boston Post. DeMar ran the Boston Marathon 34 times and won seven times.
DeMar commuted by foot from his job at the paper to a suburb far north of mine and each evening, right on schedule when he silently passed the park when we played ball, we stopped to watch and applaud and knew it was time to go home for dinner.
These days I again find myself keeping track of time by the footsteps of runners -- the ones who jog past my house each morning.
Since a lot of my work takes me into the late evening I sleep on some mornings, and on spring, summer and fall nights I prefer an open, screened window to air conditioning.
But along about 6:30 each morning there is the guy with sneakers that sound to be size 14 and when they hit the pavement they go splat, splat, splat.
It doesn't sound like much but it's enough to make the light, curious sleeper open one eye and glance at the bedroom clock to see if the jogger is on time.
Satisfied, I'll roll over knowing the husband-and-wife team will soon be by.
You can hear them coming from a distance; she happens to run 10 to 15 paces behind and they converse, shouting things like, "Are you driving in today, honey, or taking the buy?"
His answers always remain a mystery to me because they are always a few doors away by the time he thinks it over.
Even when my curiosity is aroused, I stifle the urge to call my neighbor, who also hears them, and ask, "What did the husband answer, as he passed your house?"
The time is around 7. Now both eyes are barely open but I am still in a semi-coma as I wait for the newsboy.
I hear his squeaky cart growing louder and louder and open he will not forget my house again this morning.
The bang against the door and the plop reassures me he is back on target.
But on most mornings he seems to be breaking in an assistant (who works the other side of the street) and stands beneath my window shouting instructions.
"The house with the red door gets one, and the one next to it."
Fully awake by now, but still in bed, I wait for the heavy-set woman to jog by, letting me know it's time to get up, shave and shower.
Like a well-fun railroad she is right on schedule. I lean on my elbow peeking under the windowshade to see whether she has been successful losing weight, but after two years of passing by she still seems to be holding the same.
Descending the stars to pick up the morning paper and let the cat in or out depending on the season, I stand just behind the slightly open door to wait for the man whose loud breathing sounds like a wounded sea lion's.
I am happy that he is on time so I can sit and read my paper in silence.
I know the silence will not last long, because soon the team of four will jog past.
They seem to run a different route each morning after they pass my house. So just about in front of the house the leader will shout, "Up blah-blah street and left to the school."
Later, the two women come along, having dropped their children off at school.
They run side-by-side along the sidewalk, talking loudly about the events of the evening before. I know then it's time to fix breakfast.
By now, commuter traffic fills the air with carbon monoxide and drowns out the late joggers with noise.
On warm Sundays, around noon, I like to sit on the side patio with a cold beer and the newspapers.
The morning joggers are done for the day, but the floodgates open as the late sleepers take to the road.
Up the street, down the street, along the sidewalks -- all shapes and sizes, happy in their exercise.
As I peer through the bushes, I see all sorts of outfits -- college jerseys, T-shirts with funny slogans, club insignias, all plodding along and making me feel guilty as I sip my beer.
Of course, people will say: Why not join them? Well, my running days are over. I ran a lot of dashes and the quarter mile, and played a lot of basketball and football, resulting in damaged knees and ankles that would not stand up even for a little pavement-pounding.
So, I have been conditioned to look for the various joggers, as I once did for Clarence DeMar, and I must confess if one or two fail to show up for a few mornings I wonder about them and hope they are all right.
My hope is that they are on vacation, jogging through woods or along a beach somewhere. Or maybe they're gone elsewhere, to run, like my nextdoor neighbor, who is a closet jogger. He gets in his car each morning and drives to a nearby high-school track to run his miles.
I never know what time he does this and we get along splendidly.