By Dawn's Early Light

Morning Is No Time To Be Awake.

THERE'S THIS GUY who runs by my house every morning at 5:45 a.m. (As opposed, I guess, to running by my house every morning at 5:45 p.m.) He's the skinniest man I've ever seen outside of newsreel footage. And yet he runs with almost a desperation about him, as though he is running away from time or that momentary lack of focus which would put him over the dreaded 120-lb. mark.

His pace and facial expression tell me that this is a labor not of love, but of anxiety. He runs hard, but not well. This guy's running because he has to, not because he wants to.

(I used to think that No. 47 on the list of Why It's Cool To Be A Guy was: Guys don't have eating disorders, unless you count eating way too much as a disorder, which most guys don't. Then I heard that Billy Bob Thornton may have been anorexic. What a shame; just think how handsome he'd be without that problem.)

Long had I heard the tales of the serenity of a desert morning, of it being a magical time embraced by a fortunate and insightful few. I'd heard of the beauty and tranquility of the sun peeking over the Catalinas and splashing its light across the valley floor. Well, I'm here to tell you it's all a load of crap.

The Running Guy was just the first of many clues that led me to this inescapable conclusion. Mornings suck. And pre-mornings suck geometrically.

For the past few weeks I've been getting up at the most ungodly hour of 5 o'clock in the morning, two (or more) phrases which should never be allowed in the same sentence. My daughter, who, as it turns out, is an even more maniacal athlete than I ever was, is playing on some volleyball team and they practice every weekday morning at 5:45 all the way on the other side of town.

When I asked the coach for an explanation of the timing of this sadistic little enterprise, I was told that the players need to get acclimated, time-wise, for the upcoming national tournament. The only problem with that is that the tournament is in Davis, California, which, last I checked, is on the same time as Arizona during the summer.

Unable to go back to sleep once I'm up, I thought I'd try to soak up that Desert Morning thing. But I soon found out that pre-dawn Tucson is just like regular Tucson, only disgustingly early.

For example, there's traffic all over the place. And people are in a hurry to get somewhere. What possible reason could there be to be in a hurry at 5 a.m.? If you have to work that early, your job obviously blows, so why hurry to it?

I stopped one morning at 5:15 at a Circle K and interrupted what looked like a national meeting of construction workers. Have you ever noticed that virtually all non-Hispanic construction workers look like Axl Rose?

These guys were all milling around, obviously waiting for something. I thought it might be a mobile barber who works vampire hours. Then I learned the truth. Some guy drives up in a van, jumps out, and runs into the store carrying a full tray of doughnuts, long-johns and bear claws. He didn't even make it to the case.

Radio stations play rap music at that hour. I wouldn't want to hear rap music at five in the morning even if I was married to Lauryn Hill and she was nudging me awake and moaning something about "That Thing."

A lot of people are up walking their dogs. I understand that there is anecdotal evidence that owning a pet prolongs some people's lives. I know why. If that mangy critter gets to barking and insists on walking that early in the morning, I'm damn sure gonna outlive it, just so I can dance on its grave. Around noon, after having slept in.

Then there are the runners, none of whom looks happy. And the walkers, most of whom look heavy, pissed and working on hungry.

I even went to try to work out one morning at a fitness place, but it was way too creepy. The people who work out that early might as well have "obsessive" burned into the circles under their eyes. I walked into the place one morning at 5:50 and there was a woman on the stair-climber whom I swear had been on the same machine when I left the place the night before at 8.

When the employees were closing up, they probably walked by her and didn't see her because she was turned sideways at the time. (This is the same woman who tried, unsuccessfully, to bribe several employees to open up the club just for her on Christmas day so she wouldn't miss a workout and start to, in her words, "get fat.")

I finally settled into a routine where I would take Darlene, then go back home and work on cleaning out the garage. Over the past few years, our two-car garage has become a no-car garage. It does, however, house several tricycles and scooters, none of which our kids could or would ever ride again in their lifetimes.

One by one, I would take a box down from the shelf and go through its contents, discarding that which I could bring myself to part with and repacking the rest. Always there were the tough questions. Should I throw out this October 12, 1996 issue of U.S. News and World Report, even if the only reason I got it in the first place was so my son could win a glow-in-the-dark yo-yo in the school's subscription fund-raising contest?

I'd empty the box, then pull out another. Next question: Should I throw out this yo-yo which, according to the newspapers with which it is packed, has been in this box since November of 1996?

Then, every day, the two biggest questions of all: Why is that idiot running past my house again? And why am I up this early, standing in my messy garage, watching him run by?

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