I always told the women I dated that I was one of those men who would get better looking with age. I don’t know where I got that idea, considering that it was demonstrably untrue for the males on either side of my family, and the evidence was strong in my own looks that the trajectory was not going upwards. Age finally came, and my optimism was proven wrong. Feeling a sense of obligation towards my wife Sabine, who married me in good will, I decided the least I could do was try to get in shape.
I’ve never been one for sports – in fact, most group activities have always seemed to me like potential lynchings – and gyms remind me too much of the humiliations of high school, so my options for exercise are pretty limited. I decided to try jogging, and to my surprise, I liked it. Sure, there were a number of things that bothered me, namely the people who blocked my way: parents with children (in strollers or otherwise), owners walking their dogs, and old people who were invariably startled when I passed them, despite the fact that I was running at only 5 miles an hour. But for the most part I enjoyed running through pretty Sunnyside Gardens in the early morning.
Despite looking ridiculous, I even started wearing ankle weights on my wrists to add a little more punch to my workout. I downloaded iTreadmill, a pedometer for my iPod, to keep track of how far I was running and how fast. Unfortunately, the app can’t run in the background, so I had to keep my iPod in my hand while I jogged, otherwise it would fall asleep and the pedometer would stop working. I found that electronic music from the 90s made the most effective soundtracks, particularly Trance and Drum n’ Bass. Very uncool, I know, but with those ridiculous-looking ankle weights the music was the least of my problems.
After a couple of months I noticed that though I wasn’t losing weight, my clothes started fitting better, which provided the incentive to keep going. Then one day after I came home from work, I noted that my knee hurt as I walked up the stairs. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning. As I started running, the pain in my knee got progressively worse. But since I had already gone to all the trouble of getting ready for jogging, I decided to forge on. By the time I got home from work that night, I was limping like a veteran Civil War reenactor.
I asked my dentist what to do*, and he recommended I stop jogging for a couple of weeks. The two weeks seemed interminable – I was convinced that by the end of my hiatus I would be lucky if I could get around without the help of a Rascal. When I started again, I was relieved that aside from a feeling of tightness on my knee, I was back to startling old people like a champ.
The next few months went along well, though the tightness on my knee never fully went away. I worried that it would worsen, I would have to stop my morning runs, Kevin Smith-like humiliations would follow, and I would find myself looking forward to reruns of The King of Queens and According to Jim. My friend Stephanie suggested I consider joining a gym to use the elliptical. I had to Google elliptical because I was too embarrassed to ask her what that was, and that’s when I found out that it was the high-tech grandson of the NordicTrack. I had briefly used the NordicTrack when I was younger, until I decided it was getting in the way of my pack-a-day smoking habit. Now that I don’t smoke, I felt it could be worth a second try, and I found a reasonably-priced “refurbished” one on Amazon. Until then, I would continue jogging.
And then I fell.
I was putting along one Saturday morning listening to the Sex Pistols. I hadn’t listened to that album in many years, and I was surprised at how terrible Steve Jones’ guitar sounded. Somewhere in the middle of “Problems” (“I’m using my feet for my human machine”) I found myself flat on the ground. It took me a second to realize that I had tripped, and that I had made a weird sound I’m pretty sure I had never made before. I got up, looked around furtively to see if anybody had witnessed my accident, and started running again. I was pleased to see that I hadn’t broken my iPod, but then realized the hand I was holding it with was bleeding. I considered walking home, but not having learned my lesson from the incident with the knee, I kept going. Then I noticed that in addition to the open flap on my thumb, I had torn a substantial chunk of skin off the knuckle on my little finger. I got a little worried because now my knee was really aching, but mostly I hoped no one could see the blood; I felt I was in the most pathetic Nike commercial ever. It was when the blood started to stream over my iPod that I gave up and headed home.
Our friend John was visiting from San Francisco, and he had seemed a little surprised that morning to find out I was now a jogger, so I was mortified having him see me return damaged. I tried to poo-poo my wounds when I came in, but the pain just got worse. Sabine immediately cleaned and dressed the cuts on my hand, but it wasn’t until she asked whether I had hurt myself anywhere else that I pulled up my jogging pants and saw that I’d scraped my knee badly and that it was swollen and hot.
The NordicTrack arrived three days later, and I’ve been using it since. It feels like a good workout, and I’m proud that I don’t end my sessions coughing like I did in my 20s. But as I sweat away in the basement in the early mornings with a little finger that looks like it was chewed by a pit bull I wonder whether there are more graceful ways of growing old, like bleaching my teeth.
[* Shut up, my dentist is a marathon runner.]