Meditative Simulated Cross-Country Skiing

Coney island, snacks, and anger.

High pitched fish.

A day later David was at the YMCA again, on the machine that simulated cross-country skiing.

During his first few visits here he'd favored the treadmill, partly because it was at the back of the upstairs exercise room, and he could stumble on it unobserved. But after a week, when his shame at simply existing among the more lithe had diminished, he admitted that the treadmill was a poor choice. Fast walking left his legs feeling as if they were about to explode, giving him horror-movie visions of gore spraying out of his calves, covering the rear wall with red as he held the treadmill screaming in agony, stared at by the Y employees and the other exercisers. That pain kept him from going fast enough to break into a sweat, and as Alan, his friend and now trainer, said, it was all about sweat, about becoming a filthy dripping puddle of a man.

With its different length of stride, jogging on the treadmill didn't hurt as much, but it wore him out so quickly - in minutes, he was staggering - it was worthless. His running pace was a pantomime of a man trying to escape a industrial ketchup accident, and as he loped, keeping up with the speed on the machine's red LED, the percussive smashing of his big legs on the moving rubber mat echoed embarrassingly through the room.

“I'm a fucking mess,” he'd said to Alan the last day, as they drove back from Coney Island. Alan had driven him out there and told him to walk/jog the boardwalk, saying, “Davide, when you go past every shitful pizza or hot dog joint, you'll think, 'never again.'” but for David the worst moment of his walk on the uneven boards came when he went past the Russian restaurants, which projected the gorgeous aromas of potatoes and vodka and cream soups so thick that the stirring spoon had to be pushed into the pot. His mind brought forth things glazed and dripping, roasts in his grandmother's oven.

“You're working on it,” said Alan.

“I sit there lifting weights and when I lift the weights I see my neck rise up around my head and I look like a tree with a tree disease. I'm sitting there curling my arms and I'm made of pudding. I'm some magical form of pudding brought to life with electricicity.”


“I'm Frankencustard. Frankencustard with manly breasts, sans neck bolts.”

Alan had tried - not hard - not to laugh.

“I just think,” David had said, “I just think, motherfucker. Motherfucking fucking god damn fucking fuck me.

“Think of all the pussy you'll --”

“That's not the reason.”

“David, why would you lie?”

“All right, yes. It is about that, about power. It is about getting enough wool to knit a sweater. But that's only a part of it. Even fat I've always been able to date when I want to. It's just day to day power. It's people pausing to listen because I have physical authority. It's the ability to pick up a sofa and throw it across the room. I have those fantasies. I keep looking at things and thinking, when I'm strong, I could break that.

“What would you break?”

“Everything. I want to rip the seats out of the bus. It's sort of also the, sort of corrolary, I have these fears since I'm so out of shape of not being able to protect people, of being a father, say, and someone steals my kid and I can't run after them. I like to take care. Walk women to the subway, that sort of thing. And I want to be fast and hard. I want to be able to beat the living godful shit out of someone hurtful. I want to be scary in that way. Of course not many women want to be walked to the subway anymore.”


“I've had fights about that. Like Nell won't let me see her on the train. She has to watch me walk away or she won't go into the station. It's a power thing. She thinks I'm an idiot for wanting to see her off. But I can't help it. I want to see her off know she's safe. It makes me happy. It's this sense that while this person is with me I can make sure they are safe.”

“But she's not a child. She's a big girl.”

“No, but this is around Jay Street at 1 in the morning, and it would just make me feel much better to be certain she's safely nestled in the MTA. But it becomes a fight, an issue.” He paused. “I'm a little messed up about her, obviously.”

“I think she loves you.”

“I used to. It made me crazy. She just wouldn't leave me alone with it, either. When I told her I loved her, I'd do anything, I'm practically weeping, and then I needed a break of course but she wouldn't just let me be; she kept sending cards and messages and wanting to see me and talking about how special our friendship was. Which was awful, because all it brings me is a sense of rejection and I'm jealous.” Alan began to say somethng, but David kept at it: “And then when I fell out of love, she just seemed pissed, pissed that I wasn't hanging on her words, taking her as seriously. But she can fuck who she pleases, she can get herself to the subway. I don't have to be her pal.”

“You're angry, there.”

“She has good intentions. I'm just...agh. It's probably all of this.” David motioned over his body. “Which is totally fair. It's a problem. But I do get pissed, more than I know, I guess. I'm angry about everything, I'm angry about every car I see and every time the phone rings and ever fucking corn-based salt snack I jammed into my maw and washed down with some evil caffienated bullshit in the last whatever, lifetime.”

David had forsaken the treadmill and gone in for the cross country skiing machine at the front of the room, each leg moving in smooth circles, his arms swinging back and forth, his heart rate, translated from pulses of blood to a number, each number put forth by selectively illuminating LED hexagons, hundreds of such numbers glowing dimly around the gym, his own rising from 145 to 171 beats per minute, then back down to 152.

Here he had no rank; he was inexpert, clumsy compared to the experienced athletes churning at double his speed, women half his size lifting twice as much weight. But no one stared or concerned themself, no one judged or cared; their eyes glossed over him with utter disinterest; he was just on one end of the body-mass-index bell curve, trying to climb up that slope to the middle, and hopefully, possibly slide down the other end.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

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Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

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Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

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