Friday, November 2, 2007

Fun with Treadmills

There have been many fitness fads and I have tried them all. In my closet and basement are the remains from past overzealous new convert obsessions that, over time, lost their luster and ability to steer me towards a size eight or even ten jeans, as I returned to the comfort of daily chocolate, large fries and the occasional Krispy Kreme. Jazzercise t-shirts, Jane Fonda tapes, Tae-bo equipment, the ill-conceived daily jogging regime pedometer and walking log, along with ankle weights and the never opened Abdominator await the next garage sale or call to 1-800 Got Junk. None of these greatest crazes to encourage exercise can compare, however, with the impulsive decision one Christmas to buy my spouse and myself home fitness equipment, specifically a treadmill.

Looking at the huge steel nagging machine, my husband sighed, “As if working every day didn’t sometimes already feel like a steady sweaty march to nowhere.” Even the red ribbon I had artfully placed on the monitor didn’t help.

Still, I tried to explain how this would give us more energy, fight the middle-aged pounds and in the long run, cost less than a gym membership. “So we can stare at a gym at home we don’t use instead of staring at a bank statement each month for a gym we don’t use.” My husband grumbled. He was less than excited by my Christmas gift to “us.” That evening however, he dutifully got on the machine and started walking.

We had small children so in the interest of safety; I placed the machine near the computer in the corner of our basement. The person on the machine could watch a DVD, help critique an article or talk to another person on the computer while working out, but they couldn’t watch TV, it was on the other side of the stairs. This was perhaps an error on my part. College football was on and so as soon as Notre Dame started playing, the treadmill was abandoned. Notre Dame didn’t play very well that bowl game, so his heart got a good work out anyway.

The next evening, I tried the “machine.” My husband was playing Civilizations II. I normally served as domestic advisor in these games, reminding him to adjust the tax rate and move the citizens around to ensure the greatest levels of production, encouraging him not to go the “Let’s annihilate everyone route!” every time and build magnificent cities instead. After five minutes of trying to explain while walking that I wanted him to make a road from Paris to Rome and initiate a peace treaty over the noise of the machine, I watched as he declared war on Caesar and most of the known world. Having no need for a non war-time counselor, I tried reading a book.

Reading while on a treadmill can be done, but it cannot be done well and it cannot be done with books that require any degree of thought. I have an obsession with “quality” literature and keep trying to finish all the English assignments I had in high school. The Sound and the Fury is hard enough standing still. On the machine, I experienced free-form stream of consciousness reading, as I constantly lost my place when the lights would flash or the display would dutifully beep as I had failed to keep pace or my heart rate had dropped below the prescribed level for my age and weight. Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have picked Faulkner for a maiden voyage but I gave up after rereading the same sentence the eighth time and not for the life of me knowing what it meant.

Undaunted, the next night I returned with an Ipod, armed and ready. I prepared to zone out into music land when my then four-year-old son came down. He was delighted to see how this machine worked and instantly set about finding hot wheels to send shooting off the back of the machine at three point five miles per hour, his mom’s top treadmill speed at the moment. It was a fine game except I was terrified he’d get his fingers caught. Instead, the back wall had hot wheel sized dents. Exercise would be regulated to hours when children were in bed.

Alas, this perfect storm of children and treadmills resulted in a few days passing where it sat unloved as mom and dad were too tired to work out that late in the evening. We’d try morning instead.

That proposition never even bothered to materialize once. The alarm would go off and I’d slap the snooze vowing to get to the damn machine later in the day when the kids napped. This also never occurred, but that may have been due to the fact that the kids never napped. Weeks went by as the treadmill became part of the house like a load bearing wall, never noticed or loved. I’d vacuum it from time to time after a smart alec ten-year-old daughter wrote “You never use this thing.” in the accumulating dust with her finger.

Then one day it happened. That same four year old boy that liked shooting hot wheels off the back, got on the machine. He pushed the buttons and was sent back at the same rate as his cars. The machine had caused my baby to get a sprained wrist –he fell on his hand. I unplugged it and cursed it and it sat for months without so much as a guilty feeling. It became a place for laundry. It was great for hangers. Sometimes I’d clear it off and walk a mile or so, but most of the time, it was where I sorted socks.

The treadmill would still be my laundry station if not for the revenge of the no longer four-year-old. At five see, they get experimental and scientific. They prove that cups of soda and treadmills do not intermix happily, as the soda short circuits the motor when it spills into the component parts, and that such actions cause a machine to smoke impressively.

When we moved, I had the movers escort the remains of the machine to the curbside, and I began wondering if I should get an elliptical for our new basement.

ran in Beaumont Enterprise for free

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