At the gym, I mount one of two dozen treadmills lined up like the weaponry of an ancient army about to lay siege to a walled city. Opposing us are one dozen overhead mounted television ramparts all tuned to CNN. I press “start”. Let the daily battle begin.
I need some distraction. Like the sun, the flashy teeth of the enemy anchors of CNN must never be looked at directly. I glance to the right and catch my full reflection in the floor to ceiling mirrors. I practice a better stride. I increase the incline of the machine and try to imagine an uphill aspiration. Jacob’s Ladder. Look! Paradise, just one mile up and beyond those clouds. Look again. You’re on those steep and narrow stairs with the ratty carpet runner at that bath house, Man’s Country, in Chicago, following a bevy of toweled butts up to a different heaven. Look again, and it’s that fantastic helix of a staircase up into the vertiginous tower of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Look again, and it’s the curved glass fan of a staircase inside the transparent crystal box entrance of the Mac store at 59th Street. Look again and you are on the damp wooden stairs of the dark cellar in the house in which you grew up, being pursued in your worst dreams by a man with no face. He never caught you. Maybe you should have let him, just to see what he had in mind.
I glance to the left at the young Hispanic guy two mills over. Where did he get those dazzling green eyes? That fledgling’s goatee in which you might easily count the follicles and they’d barely equal his age. The gold around his neck. That can’t be real. Must weigh at least a pound. How much does an ounce of gold cost these days? No idea. How many ounces in a pound? No idea. How did he make that money? Musn’t judge. Musn’t judge. Musn’t judge. Mantra for the stepping. Like the song of windshield wipers or the metronome on the piano of your childhood. You played “Moon River” incessantly. Holly Golightly. Holly Golightly. Hector Golightly. Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Curious liaison. I look down at the screen. I have used up 13 calories and traveled less than ten percent of a mile. It’s going to be a dreadfully long session.
I look up at the monitors and find that a string of commercials has mercifully replaced our saber rattling CNNemies. They are probably off boiling some pitch to pour on our heads. What’s this ad about? Scouting? Mormons? The camera swoops down some lushly green forested mountains and into a pristine valley, and dives below the surface of a clear lake where a large rainbow trout swims into view and snaps at some bit of food. Suddenly the trout is struggling. He’s been hooked. The camera closes in on his distress and follows him up and out of the water as he is reeled in. A fisherman and his young son are ecstatic with the catch. The father scoops up the trout in his net and then reaches in to grab the wildly flopping fish. He and his son are bent over it, and they examine it, as the horrified trout gasps for oxygen, its gills flaring. The son looks up into his father’s eyes for guidance. The father smiles with benevolence and wisdom as he wrenches the hook out of the trout’s mouth and releases his prey back into the lake. The camera, again under water, catches the last iridescent flash of the trout as it swims away.
Some script then appeared on screen, but I was altogether too frightened to read or recall it. I could not help but wonder what was going through the mind of the terrorized trout. “Never again gonna eat anything in this part of the lake, that’s for damn sure.” Or, “Madge will never believe me when I tell her I was momentarily abducted by aliens. Look, Madge, look at this gash in my lip. Same thing happened to Fred just last year. I’m telling you they were huge. And ugly.”
Do trout remember? Do they learn to avoid the hook? I picture a warm sunny day at home in Manhattan with the windows open. C has just finished the making of one of his perfect omelets, and I sit down at table as he puts the plate before me. Joni Mitchell sings as we sip coffee and thumb the paper a bit before I raise a forkful to my mouth. I swallow, and there is a sudden searing pain in the back of my throat. The heretofore hidden and unnoticed line leading from my mouth , over the table and out the window, grows taut. I am gagging as I try to free myself. My struggling lets the hunters know that they have caught something, and they start to reel me in. Every time I pull back, the pain is unbearable. Within seconds, I am dragged halfway through the window, with C holding onto my ankles and trying to pull me back inside. “It’s no use”, I cry, “You’ve got to let me go. The pain is killing me. Goodbye, baby. Be sure to remember to water the orchids weekly.”
I am yanked outside and swung up and over the rooftops of the Upper West Side. I am dumped into a net and find myself looking up into the eyes of a giant sized Ward Cleaver and Wally, that cute older brother of The Beaver. Ward takes me into his warm huge hands, and I mean, really huge hands. He gently removes the hook, and I shout “Take me home! Keep me in your bedroom, Wally. I’d be much more fun than The Beaver. I could live in your underwear drawer. Tee hee.” They cannot hear my small and alien voice. Reaching down from where they are standing, three hundred feet tall in Central Park, they dump me back into our window where C, who had been dialing 911, picks me up off the floor and together we check my vitals.
I look down at the screen. 210 calories. 1.6 miles. More than I had planned. Thank God that’s over for another day.