SI Vault
Jack Dies Martin
October 15, 1979
Yesterday, I went back to my Camelot, although I don't really call it that. Vacantlot would be more like it, though to me it is always a place of magic and wonder. I discovered it over a period of years and, with something like the instincts of a migrating bird, I return there each fall.
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October 15, 1979

Falling Leaves And Football Call A Middle-aged Man To His Own Camelot

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Far away on the horizon I could see the outline of Camelot. When fall came again I was even closer, and I asked Randy if he wanted to go out and throw the football around for awhile.

Now, through the fall, the winter, spring and summer I run, pursuing a memory of vitality and happiness. It calls for extra effort and I give it proudly. I grew to hate the insidious accumulation of rings around my trunk and began reversing the process. My sense of serenity grows. On and on I run.

Life begins to look different. Some of the attitudes I have held for years slip away from me. New ones grow and take hold like replacement cells in my body and, like such cells, they are stronger, more resilient and able to function far better than their worn-out predecessors. People comment, "You don't seem so uptight anymore." And I don't feel so uptight either. My wife, Marilyn, and my children notice the change.

Yet I am not a zealot. I don't run five miles every day; usually it's only three or four, and if I do it three times a week it's a good week. Sometimes I skip a whole week at a time, and I still succumb now and then to the lure of a big lunch and a couple of Manhattans.

But what I do seems to be enough to carry me down the road toward Camelot. I follow its shining beacon over snow-covered roads in January, breathing through a piece of old terry-cloth towel, which I have discovered is an effective—and cheap—mask against the Minnesota cold. I run in the moderating chill of spring and in the heat of summer, gasping in the humidity and finishing clammy with sweat.

I have found once again something of that joy and that exuberance that I knew on the playgrounds, sidewalks and vacant lots of Austin. It is a new strength, a new defense against the stresses of adult life. The alleged benefits of exercise, I have discovered, are very real. For years I had been skeptical of such reports, but, for me at least, they are true. The more I move around, the calmer things get.

But my greatest pleasure arrives with the approach of fall. It comes when the zest of summer is beginning to pall and the back-to-school ads for kids' clothes and notebooks start appearing in the paper, when the sports pages start carrying notes on pro football training camps and the college coaches' laments about their coming season—that's my time of year. It is the time when I remember the awesome bulk of Memorial Stadium in Austin, the color of the light on the UT tower on nights after football games—orange if the Longhorns won, white if they lost (it was usually orange)—the fallen autumn leaves rustling along 26th Street and the pretty coeds rushing out of the sorority houses on University Avenue to the post-game dance.

It is in the fall that I shed the weight of years and pick up my pace, because I am almost to Camelot. There it is, up ahead, my refuge, my dream world, my special shining spot.

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