The Hill

Just out of college, I was a bit of a mess.  I had a job and an apartment, but nothing much else to tether me to Planet Earth–my friends had scattered, I was in a new city, and I was pretty lonely.  I went food shopping every few days and talked to the cashiers, and after a month or so decided that I’d explore a new neighborhood every Friday night after work, but other than those two things I didn’t have much of a routine.  Everyone goes through times like this, I know, but it never feels too good while you’re out there on the surface of life like a piece of driftwood.

It was a hot summer, but once the weather started to cool down I figured I would start running.  It was something.  I’d jogged on and off through high school, and a little bit in college, so picking it up again wasn’t too problematic.  The loop I ran was a few miles, just long enough to get me pretty tired by the end, but short enough to invite repetition two or three times a week.  It felt good to get out there even as I didn’t have much of a routine–I ran when I felt like it, usually after work, not with any particular goal in mind, and never very fast.

And then autumn passed and with it, my jogging.  The sun was setting early, the days were gloomy, and everything was running into everything else.  Here in the Northeast, this is not an unfamiliar story: in comes the cold and out goes the inspiration.  But that winter, I felt the difference on a molecular level.  I had been doing something–maybe not much but something, and it was keeping me afloat.  Going from something to nothing felt dangerous.

That winter I made two big purchases.  The first was an infomercial course on making your fortune in drop shipping.  You watch tv late into the night, you get credulous, and that’s what you end up with.  My idea, discarded long before it became a plan, was to sell folks on better beard trimmers…once I found a better beard trimmer.

The second purchase was a bit more important.  I’d lifted weights in my teenage years, and I’d always felt at home in the gym.  Being under a stack of Universal plates, or a pair of dumbbells, or doing situps on a decline board–I loved it all.  After football practice, on weekends, over the summer and between jobs, I lifted well enough to look like I knew what I was doing and haphazardly enough to remain as soft as pudding, but I kept at it.  If jogging was something to do, lifting was the Something I Did.  The gym had always felt like church to me, the weights my host and the bubbler my wine.  I’d stopped lifting in college because, well, college, but I needed to find something to hang my life back onto and it was time to go back to what I knew.

I didn’t want to spend the money on a gym membership right away, though.  I had this sense that I wanted to do some time in the woodshed and we had an unused basement below our apartment, so I decided I’d get a pair of loadable dumbbells and start there.  There was a sporting-goods store near my office, it was Monday the day of new plans, so I called over at lunch and asked them to set aside the two dumbbells I wanted, and made plans to pick them up after work.  It seems silly to write, but I actually couldn’t wait for the afternoon to end–I was really excited about picking the weights up and getting started.

When I got to the store, I saw that the dumbbells actually came in packages.  Like two slim, heavy boxes with plastic handles.  Inside of each box was a dumbbell handle, two collars, and 45 pounds’ worth of small plates.  No big deal, I thought.  I’ll carry them in my hands onto the subway, put them on the floor of the train for the long ride home, and carry them off the train and…shit.

Shit.  I lived near the top of a pretty big hill.  I’m no dummy but I’m also obviously a big dummy.  This was going to be pretty gnarly.

The subway ride home?  Man, I wanted that ride to last forever.  I was not looking forward to getting off that train and carrying the weights up that hill.  I knew the plastic would dig into my hands, I knew my wind would go out on me, I knew I’d sweat buckets into my hat and coat, and I feared that the dumbbells weren’t well packaged and I’d end up ass over teakettle under a bunch of very small, dense silver plates.

I remember getting off the train and up the stairs.  I remember standing outside the bodega where I’d buy the Daily News, a bag of pretzels, and a Diet Pepsi every Saturday morning.  Maybe I could ask one of the guys in there to help me.  Maybe I could walk into the car service and pay for a ride up the street.  Maybe I could store the weights at the pizza place and take up one plate at a time, one every night after work until I had all the plates out of the pizza place and into my basement.

I stood there and thought about lifting in the basement.  I was going to listen to PJ Harvey and think about the mistakes I’d  made and fix my shit so I didn’t make as many going forward.  I was going to squat and press and row and I was going to turn the music up very loud and I was going to change my life.  I was going to wear too many layers of clothing in the summertime and not enough in the winter and I was going to work until I felt my legs give out, and I was going to come out on the other side a different person.

I had all these grand plans.  I knew what I was going to do.  I knew it would work.  I just had to climb that fucking hill first.  I hadn’t thought about that, but there it was.

I did it, because of course it couldn’t possibly have been as hard as I feared it would be.  And when I was done, I remember sitting down at my desk and laughing.  There’s always a hill when you want to do something, it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be, and as hard as I’m trying right now to resist the prosaic, it can’t be helped: you just have to decide to climb it and get it over with.

Fifteen years hence…well, I’m glad for Amazon Dot Com and the UPS Man.

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