Days of Wine and Linament

The time is out of joint, says Hamlet. I can relate to that –only it’s my knees that are complaining, not my Time. But, in fairness to my movables, I suppose I should be mindful that rust is preferable to replacement.

Even so, I find I’m spending more on liniment than wine, nowadays, and the only heady bouquet in the kitchen is that of demulcent emollients from the pharmacy. Friends have stopped dropping by for coffee, though, so I guess I’m saving on that.

I want to be clear: I am as deeply committed to exercise now as I was in grade 5 at the Riverview Elementary School in Winnipeg. I had never excelled at Height, and so to compensate for this disability I concentrated on developing Mouth. It worked in the first few grades, but as my age wore on -and the more evolutionarily successful louts in the back seats began their recess-driven raids on those of us who preferred the front- it soon became apparent why our genetic pool was at risk. It was then that I discovered Run. It was amazing what Mouth could get away with if it couldn’t be caught. I developed what I have come to think of as the Border Collie Defence: a kind of broken field zig-zag that was impossible to predict –a David and Goliath defence that I’m sure is still legend in Winnipeg.

But I digress. I meant to say that I have been intrigued by exercise since I was very young. You’ll note that I used the word ‘intrigued’ rather than ‘excelled’. To excel at something suggests a level of commitment I was seldom able to sustain. In Run, the clearly understood goal was to escape. Only later, in my more mature times, did I realize that it could also be utilized for non-utilitarian projects such as fun, or -if I happened to be chosen for the pick-up game of football on Saturday afternoons- sports. I was usually chosen last, though, and each side always fought over who would be forced to take me, so I often spent Saturdays reading.

As I got older, however, it became de rigueur to pretend I could keep up with my own kids, and so I learned to push my envelope. But when it became embarrassingly evident that I was enclosed in a rather old envelope, they switched tactics. They began to challenge me at chess, then –out of pity, I suspect- Snakes and Ladders, and finally, the  entrance exam for most Retirement Homes- X’s & O’s, so I opted out of team sports and limited my exercise to solitary moonlight walks and private, keyed facilities like the mat in my basement.

As a Retirement gift, though, I ventured online and bought myself a programmable stationary bike with speakers into which I could plug my iPad and its retinue of Netflix movies. It seemed like the perfect answer to unfavourable, ego-dystonic juxtapositioning with those -other than my children- more endowed with the atavistic simian traits that I had learned to avoid at Riverview. Sometimes I wonder if I harbour some lingering bitterness about my youth.

I’ve never been a big movie fan. We front-rowers who could actually hear the teacher, quickly realized that the strange black things scribbled under the pictures in our books were words –and that there really were two roads that diverged in a yellow wood that we could see with our minds without photographs. And never the twain did meet… Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.

Anyway, because of my exercise bike, I became enthralled with movies. Entranced by the colour and the action, no longer did I have to imagine what was happening –it was all done for me like magic. My aging friends started to roll their eyes when they saw me coming because they knew I would have discovered some great film to tell them about that was all the rage when they were still working. They had to assure me that the marvellous old cars I described were not just special-effects, but were actually the ones being driven when the movie was made. Who knew?

But, when I immersed myself in this new medium, I lost track of time –all the while pedalling away on my endlessly repeating program of hills and mountains on the bike, heedless of the increasingly hoarse shouts from my knees. I would emerge from the film and then buckle when I tried to stand. Well, not actually buckle or anything –but when I tried to walk, I would hear what I used to hear in the bowl when I poured milk on my Rice Krispies. Whatever; I’m not convinced that stationary bikes are equivalent to standard-issue outdoor bikes whose movies are more three-dimensionally compelling, and also subject to balance and dog issues.

And then there’s the muscle thing –the char, or whatever they call the thigh pain you get when you keep pedalling and watching the screen. I never used to suffer it when I ran, and my legs stayed neutral when I biked for miles around my paper route, so this is all new to me. It makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with the bike. I’d take the whole thing back, only I got a deal online and saved a lot of money by renouncing the warranty. Also, somebody scraped the brand name and serial numbers off, so it would be difficult anyway.

I’m going to persist, though. I’ve decided to bike in smaller aliquots to accommodate different viewing opportunities. I’ve switched from movies to the shorter TV shows, and lately I’ve found that some of the children’s programs actually help with my muscle-driven attention span. I do worry, though, what this ever-diminishing physical stamina says about my cognitive capacities -that I can now lose myself in a cartoon I mean.

But my new selections have also taught me a few tricks I can spring on my kids if they ever try to go back to those game challenges -I think I’ve discovered a sure-fire algorithm for Rock, Paper, Scissor victories, for example. I can’t wait.

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