I hate that there’s this place in my brain that retains useless pop culture sound bites that just reappear and reappear to the point of near mental illness. How many mornings, for instance, has Danny Glover invaded my mirror as I’m shaving, telling his son in Lethal Weapon 3 to never shave up, always “go with the grain”? Screw you, Murtaugh! Shaving up is closer, and get the hell out of my bathroom!
Then there’s that stupid line I read in Esquire once about, after 40, if you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker. Screw you, Esquire! Your continued existence has become its own dubious achievement.
So it hurt me to hop on my bike after a long day at work and an even longer winter of lethargy and realize I was in terrible, terrible shape. I mean it literally hurt me. My thighs were screaming like little girls in a funhouse — little girls with sharp, sharp knives and a thirst for revenge.
The sad part is that I used to ride like a dynamo, powering up the streets and the hills, pedaling through the countryside. Now? A 47-year-old in a blue helmet, a lanky Elvis Costello T-shirt, baggy sweatpants and — oh my God, what is that stain on his sweatpants! So what? I’m whizzing by on my bike. Except I’m not. I’m peddling the softest gear because there’s a 2-degree incline. I am ugly and sad and in pain and oh crap there’s a co-worker try to be cool…
I coasted the hill to the bike path and down the length of the mild slope to the bridge just beyond the sewage treatment plant.
(Aside: If you want to see how poop is processed, our bike path offers excellent vantage points, running past not one but two plants. Tonight at the lower plant, I noticed that, besides the lagoons of roiling effluent, there are two giant inflated canvas bags of what I can only assume is what they politely call “grey water.” Stanstead: come for the cycling, stay for the shit bags!)
I only noticed how much of an incline I had ridden down on the way back up. Slowly, slowly, pedaling, pedaling, wheezing, wheezing. Where are my goddamn endorphins! I need my second wind! I need my third wind! Any wind will do!
I bailed twice but quickly got back on the bike. The first time was when a little kid came towards me. Screw you, kid, with your youthful energy and your vast horizons of vigour and hope. Yeah, just wait until you’re riding along and wondering what a stroke feels like.
Lying ahead, though, was the hill — the hill leading from the bike path to home. I’d have to walk it for sure, and I was prepared to do so, with shame and wobbly shins. But descending the hill on foot were two students from my school. Shit! This was bad. I hopped on and began peddling fast in the lowest possible gear. I looked like Road Runner. But I was moving.
“Hi sir,” said the boys.
“Gnguhgh,” I said.
Pedal, pedal, pedal. I had seen a guy from town bike up this very hill the other day. He’s a large man. I once saw him stagger-drunk-fall on his toddler son and am pretty sure he would have killed him if he hadn’t first glanced off the door frame. If he could make this hill, so could I. Screw you, hill! And screw you, drunk people crushing your kids!
I made it home and did not feel a rush of well-being and accomplishment. I felt a wave of dizziness and nausea. Screw you, exercise! I hate you! You suck! You too, age! To hell with you, Danny Glover! And you, bike, you’re nothing but an implement of pain and humiliation! See you tomorrow!