The soft footsteps approach the door of my darkened lair, lit only by the early morning, blank glow of my computer monitor.
“Come on, dear, let’s go,” my wife beckons for a second time.
I know this walk will be good for me, will unclog my veins, thicken my aging bones, tone my muscles, increase my sexual appetite, and most importantly, stimulate my neuro-transmitters for writing, but I dread it anyway.
I review the stock responses of an uninspired, middle-aged, part-time writer—“Not now, I’m on a roll,” “Before dinner might be better,” “I’ll eat a light breakfast instead,” “I haven’t had my coffee,” or “I can’t find my Lipitor.” The problem is, I can’t tell her the basic truth.
Walking is simply not a manly thing to do.
First of all, the ladies call it “Power Walking.” For males, “power” is a sacred word, reserved for Russian weightlifters, muscular basketball forwards, and steroid-popping baseball sluggers. For women, walking “power” emanates from two sources—the rapid, shaker-like swaying of their hips like race-walkers during the Olympics, and a rhythmic lifting out of their arms, sometimes with weights, like a pursed-lipped Shirley Temple strutting in fast forward on The Good Ship Lollipop. At the end of a true power workout, a guy wants to sit on a bench, drink Gatorade, and drip orange and green sweat; a gal cools down with a latte frappe vente, “earning” a combo bagel topped with sliced tomato, onion, avocado, lite cream cheese, and a copy of Cosmo.
Hearing my wife’s third call from the sidewalk, I immediately sneak out the side door to meet her in stride, hoping that all the guys on our block are either at work or still sleeping.
For men, walking in the “hood” is the first sure sign of aging, a workout on a track reserved for the geldings, a time when testosterone and estrogen have reached a perilous equilibrium. It’s one thing to be jogging with your girlfriend or your new wife in matching neon dolphin shorts, ankle socks, wristbands and college t-shirts, down by the beach or on adjoining treadmills. That faint glimmer of a possible ensuing shower and massage afterwards guides each purposeful masculine stride, and as women well know, a glimmer is all a man ever needs. However, it’s quite another thing to be slowed down to a brisk crawl by the mother of your children who seems to be doing a slow-motion boogaloo on sidewalks full of bulky mountain bikes, squatting dogs and SUV-sized baby-joggers.
As we ease out from our tract onto the main thoroughfare, the dreaded “greenbelt,” I rue the change in fashions as well. I’m still in my faded, somewhat taut college T-shirt, accompanied by standard-issue Costco shorts, Champion socks, and Pay-Less cross-training shoes. However, the strutting ladies have traded in sex for substance—loose sweats, knee-length spandex bike shorts, or their daughter’s baggy P.E. shorts, breasts reigned in by sports bras beneath baggy t-shirts. And each lady is armed with a utility belt that would put Batwoman to shame, featuring Band Aids, cell phone, water bottle, sun block, tissue, headphones and a CD player squeaking out Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” or Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” I know for a fact that if Rod or Bruce joined us on this frilly power walk even once, it would be the last time my wife ever listened to them.
As we turn the corner and head uphill towards our kids’ neighborhood school, I must admit I get worn down, not by the yards but by the words. Men don’t talk during a work out. We pant, grunt and grimace, but never feel the urge to discuss our son’s third-grade teacher’s biosphere project, or what we heard about our daughter’s boyfriend’s brother’s fiancé from her mother’s next door neighbor’s pool man.
On a power walk, I’ve slowly learned the unstated rules of friendly engagement. For example, if my wife recognizes the driver of a passing car, an acknowledging upturned hand is in order. If they are a friend she hasn’t seen in a while, a vigorous raised arm-shaking comes in to play (but not enough to make them pull over). An unknown walker, upon first eye contact, receives a cheery “Good Morning”, but a female with a lively dog, sedate child, or both in tow, requires supportive, smiling, generic comments - “Oh, how cute!” “How old is he/she?” “He/she certainly is well-behaved!” My wife’s acquaintances require a bit more flexibility; on approach, the degree of familiarity dictates the degree of slowing down to converse. However, she never comes to a full stop, even resorting to walking backwards if the pleasantries have not yet concluded. The only people who are allowed to bring us and our targeted heart rate to a dead standstill are easily-offended neighbors, good friends and those rare beacons of the community who have all the latest gossip.
As for me, my only focus is on the finish line, fraternally forced only to acknowledge those sweating males speedily jogging by with a quick, tail-between-the-legs nod.
As we turn back into our tract and head for home, two things remain quite clear. First, the neighborhood power walk surpasses my other dreaded experiences - asking for directions while driving, asking for help in Lowes, or finding a movie that we’ll both like at Blockbuster. Second, by the time I’m mentally old enough to accept power walking, I’ll be dead, which will clear the way for my wife to move to the Greater Phoenix area where, apparently, power-walking nirvana exists. Air-conditioned malls opening one hour before the stores to allow for a Holy Trinity of female exercise - walking, talking and window-shopping - all rolled into one.
We’ve reached the safety of our cul-de-sac. I scan the houses, then slowly sneak by Nate, the tan, muscular fireman, who’s returned from a 100 mile bike ride to work out with weights in his garage. I’d like to join him and “pump some iron,” perhaps, but I’ve been informed that I need to take a shower with St. Ives apricot scrub and a loofah mitt in order to exfoliate my pores. But guys, I promise to put Tabasco sauce on my quiche afterwards…really. b