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If only I could run on like a James Joyce sentence, by John McGauley

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My workouts at the gym four days a week are somewhat like, if I may use a literary analogy, what I imagine it would be if James Joyce or Marcel Proust had belonged to the YMCA …

… should I exercise today, the question vexed me throughout the morning as I thought about what use is it to do so, I’m going to die eventually anyway, what difference does it make if I have a toned body and if I do go I can’t find my gym pants, they’re from Ocean State Job Lot and they often elude me, showing up in the most bizarre places like my sock drawer, which reminds me of the bottomless pit which is life anyway, and my legs are so skinny how can they continue to take the punishment of the elliptical machine, which reminds me of the struggles of Sisyphus and why was he pushing that big boulder up a hill anyway …

… but I am on my way, having found the assorted accouterments necessary for the coming exertions and find that the car seat is cold and my consciousness filled with thoughts about the coming early darkness of this December day, which clouds out my earlier more optimistic musings about how much easier it might be this year to afford my real estate tax bill and the parking lot is only half full but there’s that car with the bumper stickers that make me angry and full of despair that perhaps Dante was right and those people should be in the ninth circle of hell, but then what would an Italian guy from the late Middle Ages know about hell, or heaven, or even Purgatory, which probably never existed at all …

… so I change into my gym clothes and place my pants, sweater and big-size underwear that I bought at Miller Brothers into the locker, but are things really safe in there or will thieves come and take everything and I’ll be bereft of clothes and embarrassed in front of those people out in the lobby who were looking at me with suspicion as I walked in, perhaps waiting for me to say something about what happened to me downtown the night before when the police were called …

… finally on the machine and my tendons and muscles rebel against the resistance of the devilish machine and there’s a guy over there who looks to be Adonis and it reminds me what a pathetic piece of humanity I am, with floppy schoolteacher arms and I think it’s all so futile to be here but then there is a transformation and my muscles shift into another gear and my ragged breath starts to organize into a decent rhythm and then I look around and wonder who invented yoga pants for women …

… I hear the screeching of the little girls in gymnastics down on the main floor and it irritates me but I’ve placed those plugs in my ears the ones used by guys who operate chainsaws and wonder what all those other people here listen to on their fancy earphones and then realize how much I hate those talking books but then I shouldn’t hate those things they are the stuff of our modern life but I don’t like a lot of things about modern life maybe I should have been born at the same time as Dante when people didn’t have such things as garbage disposals …

… then my eye catches a woman who is running around the track and I think her gray hair is attractive but then I see her face and wonder if I should change my mind about her because her face looks like a few miles of bad road and maybe she’s had a hard life and would be bad company on a long trip in a car from here to California but then why would I be on a trip with her across the country…

… and then I’d have to probably pay all the bills if I went on a long trip with her and then I feel that my heart rate might be getting a little too fast and that’s probably going to cause a myocardial infarction which is what doctors call it when they sign a person’s death certificate and then I think about what will be on mine and perhaps it might be an accident where the City Express hits me in front of CVS when I’m crossing the street to go to Ashuelot Park to meet that woman who I’m taking that long trip with but I realize I don’t want to take a trip with her because she’s probably crabby …

… and I don’t have that much money to my name anyway because I never followed good advice and saved any money and I wonder if Social Security is really going broke or is that just a myth and now I’ve slowed my heart rate down enough and I need to cool down and then take a shower and drive home to think about what to have for dinner maybe that Swanson lasagna that takes almost 75 minutes to cook in the oven and do I want to wait that long or maybe it’s easier to call Athens and order something and suddenly there is a twinge in my chest and is it that infarction that I’ve heard men my age suffer and then it goes away and maybe I’ll be given some more time before I find out what happens to you after you die but what if nothing happens then I have to make other plans and what will that entail but then I see that guy who’s dropping weights on the floor really loudly and then there’s another twinge, but it’s in the legs and I think maybe ...

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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