This post is the source for a Six Sentence Stories creative writing challenge. The following, however, is all the painful truth.
A little over a year ago, before COVID-19 shut down my gym, I bought a folding mat. I needed a mat that could fit in my cramped locker. The idea was genius: a mat that folded up into a fraction of its full dimensions–both width as well as length. I wouldn’t have to carry my rolled-up mat to my yoga classes.
This whole portability thing needs a little explaining because yoga mats are by design portable. So, what is the problem with bringing my mat to class, you might ask. Usually, I ride to work on my bicycle. If I don’t ride my bike, I either ride my scooter or on very rare occasions I take a city bus–I don’t drive a car. From my work, I ride to my gym, where I attend evening yoga classes. Carrying my mat is a hassle. It’s also a nuisance storing the mat in my cubicle at work only to lug the mat to my class then haul it back home in the evening after class.
Since I started yoga back in 2014, I always used the mats the gym provides. As a neophyte to yoga, the mats the gym supplied didn’t bother me, but over time, I noticed how worn the mats were and saw how my fellow, more experienced students brought their mats. Those mats always looked much better and cleaner. (I also noticed how most yoga students were also younger and in better shape so I guess there was some symmetry going on there.) I put up with the worn, gross mats until one day I found a solution to my problem: a yoga mat that folds up.
So when I saw that Gaiam made a folding “travel” mat, I was all in. Gaiam even proudly displayed that the mat was two millimeters thick, I mean in large font: 2mm. (The only thing missing was an exclamation point.) As if they were saying, “Beat that, Manduka!” Now, mind you, fellow yogis and yoginis, I’m an idiot when it comes to the metric system, so I ignored the telltale sign of the pain to come. I mean, how thick is “2mm” if it can fold up?
So imagine how surprised my 62-year-old knees felt when I executed my first kneeling pose, and my knees felt like they were balancing on golf balls. It was at this moment I understood just how thin two millimeters of PVC is. I felt like I could have settled for a roll of my wife’s culinary parchment paper, and my knees wouldn’t have felt the difference. The parchment paper roll would have stored even easier–leaving room for a big tub of BENGAY cream. The pain in my knees immediately negated the Zen I felt just 15 minutes earlier when I verified my brand new mat did indeed fit in my tiny locker when it was folded up.
I had practiced on Marquee Sade’s yoga mat a few times before the gym closed, but I had forgotten the number it did on my knees. When the gym opened for a brief time, management had moved blocks, straps, and the old worn mats out to the make-shift yoga studio. With the gear and extra mats available, I could make my cruel mat tolerable by placing an old cushy mat under and across the center of my mat, so my knees got the additional support, and my feet did not—which is how I preferred it. Of course, I could double up the 2mm mat whenever executing kneeling postures, but that set me behind the teacher’s tempo.
With the club reopened and the yoga classes still in the basketball quart, the gear was nowhere to be found, including the old gross, but cushy mats. Me and my knees were on our own. During the year that I was sheltering in place, I rarely practiced yoga despite having thousands of hours of free and reasonably priced yoga classes online. I had forgotten entirely about the foldup mat in the months I was away from the gym and yoga classes. I had forgotten the pain, I had forgotten how to execute some asanas, but I hadn’t forgotten how to eat and my daily walks included a pit stop at Barrio’s, a bakery. So, I gained weight and lost a lot of the flexibility I gained when I was practicing yoga three days a week.
When I made my less-than-triumphant return to the reopened gym, the yoga classes were, once again, being held in the basketball quart to ensure social distancing, but it was not the same experience for me. Now, at least fifteen pounds heavier than I usually am, I am out of practice, and the extra weight makes the asanas (yoga postures) even harder to achieve and hold. Also, long gone was Heather, the closest thing I ever had to a yoga guru. Robert teaches the two classes I now attend. Robert is considered one of Sacramento’s best teachers. And while his teachings are sound, it is not the same. This fat older man wants his old teacher back! It doesn’t help me that Robert does not teach a gentler version of Hatha Yoga but has to offer me modifications and does so often and to my frustration and embarrassment.
I miss Heather. But don’t mistake those tears on my 2mm Gaiam travel yoga mat for longing. I’m crying for my poor tortured knees!
As a toddler, I might as well have worn a hat that said, “C-Section Baby” to remove all doubt from anyone who cast their eyes upon my giant head and thought, “How did mom birth that kid?” On second thought, I would have to wear a T-shirt–they wouldn’t be able to find a hat large enough for my gargantuan grape. My small mouth only accentuated the problem. Growing and keeping my hair longish helped for a while until I began to lose it. Then, after I got married, I began to gain weight followed by my receding hair graying. So the images below are not intended to impress. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I suppose.
Sometime in the mid-70s, we saw Rich Little at a casino in South Shore or Reno, Nevada. Rich Little inspired me to become an impressionist, but like everything else, once I found out it took a lot of practice and hard work, I dumped it. Leasure suits? Good God! Were my brother and I feigning senior citizens?
I’m not sure if this was taken in 1987 or 1988 since I lived with my future wife and her kid, Peter, for a year. Call it a test drive. Of course, it worked out swimmingly. This is one for the images from a photo booth at either the Pizza Hut or the Time Zone arcade across the street in Old Sacramento. I spent countless hours and quarters on Peter at the Time Zone. First Pizza Hut then, when Ely was a toddler Chuck E. Cheese’s. I was once a pizza snob before this time in my life. Now, it was whatever Peter and later Peter and Ely wanted no matter how shitty the pizza. Parenthood.
Mike, my now retired scooter mechanic, once told me, “Most of my customers have owned a bike (motorcycle) sometime in their past. They are usually the ones who later buy a scooter and stick with it. It’s the ones who started out on a scooter that usually step up to a bike.” I was inquiring of this dusty old Triumph parked among the scooters at the Barber’s Automotive, the place I used to go to get my Vespa serviced. Mike might have thought I was pining for something bigger, faster. I wasn’t. I was just curious. Even with its equal parts rust and dust, the old Street Twin still looked good–better than some bikes when they are on the showroom floor. But I am content being a scooterist, and yes, I have had motorcycles in my past, albeit that was forty years ago and none of them were Triumphs. I have to admit I have a love for Triumph motorcycles. Any model will do, but I have an affinity for Bonnies. Will I ever graduate to a motorcycle? I seriously doubt it. Perhaps, if I someday win the lottery and become obscenely wealthy and can have a mini version of Jay Leno’s garage. Then I can buy me a Bonneville. I would probably take it out about one-tenth of the time I ride. The other ninety percent of my riding time would be split between a half-dozen or so new and vintage Vespas and Lambrettas. Even with my Triumph’s low odometer value, it would hold a special place in my garage. The spot that would remind my guests and me that I’m man enough to straddling a Tramp, but confident enough in my sexuality to prefer riding scooters most of the time.
Not everybody understands my love of the scooter over the cruiser or the sportbike. While receiving a food delivery at home one Saturday afternoon about five years ago, I was going over the invoice with the driver. He was a formidable looking guy, over six-feet tall with forearms the size of my calves. He had on black jeans that had seen plenty of action, tucked into knee-high steel-toe, black boots, and a waffle thermal shirt I would call heather but don’t tell him that. The sleeves of the shirt were pushed up revealing some busy, thick black tats.
At one point he gazed over the motorcycles in my garage: a Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic cruiser, a Suzuki SV650 sportbike, and a Vespa GT200L scooter. He told me he had a Harley Hard Tail and rode with an MC (Motorcycle Club–I don’t remember which one). I swallowed hard knowing what was coming next. He asked me which bike was mine, implying, I’m sure, the cruiser or the crotch rocket. I told him the scooter was mine. I finished the self-castration by saying that my son rides the Kawasaki and my wife rides the Suzuki. “Oh come on, man!” He exclaimed backing up a half-step as if he was afraid some of my pussy would rub off on him. I wish I could remember exactly what he said next, but it had something to do with being a man and “representing” or something like that. As if I had a duty to let everyone know who had the stones in this house or on the road. Before the delivery was finished my son and wife can out to the garage dressed for a very rare weekend spin together. They mounted their rides and took off leaving the Vagina GT200L there with its cuckold owner and an intimidating, Harley-owning, truck driver. The guy then handed me the clipboard and shook his head in a half-mocking disgusting manner. This guy was what I would call a typical Harley rider or at least a typical motorcycle club member. He had a very narrow idea of how masculinity should be exhibited and that there is no room for a feminine element for anyone with a Y chromosome.
It’s true that Harley-Davidson has one-uped Triumph and all other motorcycles in the macho department when the manufacturer is closely associated with tough-looking MCs–especially the 1%ers, but in the youthful macho/stylish department, the Triumph is matchless. Hell, Paul Newman rode a Triumph, for Christsake! You know, the guy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who opted to pick apples with Katherine Ross rather than half sex with her. Triumphs have always conjured up youth, freedom, and a fair enough amount of machismo. “Tramps” as my dad and others used to lovingly call them are without a doubt the coolest motorcycles on the road. My father rode a Triumph, and so did my uncle–the sexiest, manliness man I ever met. I’m not sure about my uncle’s ride, to be honest. I’m saying he rode a Triumph for the story for convenient continuity, but my uncle may have actually ridden a BSA–which were nearly as sharp as Triumphs, but the now-defunct motorcycle company’s product has been relegated to vintage-bike collectors’ objects.) I can’t find any pictures of my dad and my uncle on their Triumphs. The only vision I have of that is contained in an 8mm home movie of my dad and uncle wearing their badass black t-shirts, Newport soft packs sticking out their breast pockets, cigarettes dangling from their lips as they manhandle their top-heavy thumpers through some dunes. Neither of them looked very graceful, but there is plenty of machismo between the two of them! A few years later my dad would get into two-cycle dirt bikes. He would show far more finesse in the dirt with these lighter bikes, winning himself an impressive trove of trophies to go with his boat- and car-racing trinkets.
Perhaps my dad and uncle got the idea to ride Triumphs from the movies–there sure were a lot of examples of cool guys riding them. My dad was in Marlon Brando’s and
James Dean’s generation who rode Triumphs on screen and (at least for Dean) off. But my dad seemed to have the highest degree of respect for Steve McQueen. McQueen raced cars and dirt bikes and in The Great Escape did virtually all of the tricky motorcycle work short of the famous jump and spill which. Due to insurance regulations, his off-road racing buddy Bud Ekins performed those stunts. The motorcycles used were not the historically correct BMWs, but more nimble Triumphs. McQueen indirectly sold a lot of Triumphs. Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. returned the favor and named apparel and even one of their motorcycle models after him.
So Triumphs are closely linked to men like James Dean, Steve “King of Cool” McQueen, and, on a personal level, my dad, and my uncle. I might enjoy riding a Triumph Bonneville, Scrambler, or Street Twin, but I wouldn’t be forwarding the brand any, and that’s okay. My love of Triumphs is more of unfulfilled love–a shiny object in the window I look upon from time to time with a distant longing. So, when I literally saw a gun-barrel grey Triumph Bonneville T1200 in the window of the store where I buy my calcium and vitamin D (pills I’d rather not take, but I need to because of my old age) the irony stung a bit. And, with return visits, it is the sting that kept on hurting.
First, it reminded me of how unobservant I am. I have been getting my supplements at that place for a couple of years now, and it wasn’t until about six months ago that I noticed the 450-pound motorcycle in the room. When I first started buying my supplements there, I immediately saw the bright-yellow Fuji road bike hanging very high in the shop. The shop’s owner gave me a reason he hung the pricey road bike in the shop, but I quickly forgot. That’s fine, I guess. I ride a hybrid and have never felt I needed a road bike, so my envy was checked. I’m such a selfish bastard that if I wanted a road bike, it would have drove me nuts looking at that nice bike up there every time I walked into the shop. He introduced himself as Gabriel and said he recognized me walking my dog in our neighborhood. (It turns out we live on the opposite ends of the same street.) During a later visit, I even noticed the yellow LeMond Fitness spin bike right next to the still unnoticed Triumph. I never asked him why his spin bike is in the shop. I would like to think if I had that bike in my house I would use it, but you probably know how that story goes, right? It would end up a coat rack. I could see Gabriel moving the LeMond out of his house and into a store that pushes pills and potions that are or claim to be beneficial for you–like regular workouts on a spin bike have proven to be. That would be a good sales hook. But it took me months of return visits to realize “The Bike of My Dreams” was less than two feet from that spin bike.
I don’t recall why Gabriel placed his Bonneville in the window. I know he gave me a reason because I shot him a heavily filtered version of, “What the fuck are you doing with a Triumph Bonneville in the window of a supplements shop? Are you crazy? You could be riding that Tramp to work every day. There’s free motorcycle parking right across the street, too!” Whatever the reason he gave me, I recall thinking the answer was grossly insufficient. He was especially nuts ruining the iconic logo on both sides of the gas tank by adding black decal lettering “Total Body Nutrition.” I also wanted to weep when I saw he added in decal lettering “Est. 2015” on both battery covers. Sacrilege!
While I could see he cared more about pushing Ginkgo biloba than riding his motorcycle I just felt pathetic. I was in this joint because my body is disintegrating and the stuff I needed from this shop was kind of the opposite of a Triumph Bonneville. The spin bike or the Fuji road bike would have been more appropriate window dressing for this kind of shop. The discovery of the motorcycle was a surprising slap in the face. Like going to see my doctor about my low T levels only to have Heidi Klum bust through the door on a black Triumph wearing sexy underwear and telling me, “I got your Testosterone test back. Not good. Poor little man. Well, I’ve got to go. I have a date with my boyfriend. He’s a stud, not like you.” and then peel out the door. When I was first diagnosed with Low T and requested hormone therapy, my doctor at the time (a man about ten years my senior) told me that we should “enjoy this phase of our lives. The eunuchs lived for a hundred years. They were happy people…”
In the meantime, I started seeing targeted online advertising for products like Nugenix, HighT, Steel Libido, T-Up, T-Blast, everything short of Mr. T. WTF? Did my HMO sell me out? I incidentally got the soft sell from Gabriel when, by accident, I bought a bottle of Vitamin B Complex, thinking it was my calcium fix. (Same company, similar box color, and design.) When I brought it back for an exchange, Gabriel tried to sell me on the stuff. “Are you sure you don’t want to keep it? You know B is the sex vitamin and for guys like us getting on in age we can use all the help we can get.” He also started in on the wonders of Zinc, Ginger, and stuff I doubt I could pronounce back to him if I gave a shit. I wanted to snap, “Hey, who’s the one treating a Triumph Bonneville T1200 like it was a box of ginseng tea?” I exchanged my unwanted Vitamin B for calcium and walked out glancing at the big, firm, erect, sexy, seemingly self-confident Triumph as I exited.
To be fair, adding the words “Low T” and “Overweight” as tags to this post will only intensify the targeted advertising. What can I say, it comes with the territory of being a whore for hits on my blog!
Some experts say that low T also brings on weight gain or is it difficulty losing weight. Yeah, I like that excuse! I am at one of my heaviest. I’ve long forgotten the post-marital epochs; times where I would mount the scale in my 53rd Street bathroom, my wife standing there to officiate the new high and offer support with a dash of criticism. I only remember one time when my youngest son was running around in diapers, and I knew the pregnancy and infancy of the new addition had brought on a lot of joy, but also a lot of food consumption especially late-night snacking. I also was becoming more sedentary than ever before. After the analog scale whirled like the tach on a revving Street Triple, the number rested on 222–like Room 222, the 70’s TV show that was a belated answer to To Sir With Love. I began sardonically humming the theme song during weigh times. The only correlation here was that I felt as big as a room. I would love to inform the reader that this was the all-time heaviest, but I only got out of the zone about four times in the twenty-five years that followed: two times after vacations when I weighed in at a whopping 235 and two times I somehow, some way dropped slightly below two centuries.
My relationship with Gabriel and supplements is not all frustration. There is also some hope, albeit most likely false. I like to think while walking the back aisle of the little store I will discover something that will be the cure to my ails including my chronic weight problem. You know, a shaft of light from the heavens shone on a golden box beckoning me to pick it up. Alas, it never happens, but on one sad day, feeling the waist of my jeans tighter than usual, I blurted out in faux humor, “Is there anything in your shop that will make me skinny?” God, did I just say that? Take it back, take it back! Shit, too late. If Gabriel were brutally honest his reply would be, “Yeah, these magic words: Eat Less, Exercise More” but he didn’t say that. “Hey, I’ve got something for you,” disappearing from the other side of the center aisle. I walked around the corridor with dread, expecting some herbal weight loss gimmick in a pill with green tea extract or cactus. He hands me a book. I sighed with relief (at least I wouldn’t feel pressured to buy refills.)
He first called the book a loaner, which was a drag. I didn’t want responsibility for the book. Whenever this happens, I visualize bringing back whatever was loaned to me looking like a dog’s chew toy or with a conspicuous coffee ring on it. It’s not that I treat other people’s property like shit, I just stress over the responsibility. I planned to take it back to my cube glance over it. Take a picture of the cover (in case I actually liked it) then returned it to Gabriel before I accidentally dump iced tea on it or something. Just before I left the store, he changed his mind and said I could have it. That was probably a business investment towards a regular customer, but Gabriel is really a nice guy despite my complaining here. Regardless of his motive, his change of heart changed things with me and the book. I tucked it under my arm and thanked Gabriel and took off before he started chucking ketones at me or some other diet “solution.” Outside of the shop, I glanced once again at the Triumph. What the fuck is that doing there. What is the connection between a classic motorcycle and green tea tablets? The more I want to look at that beautiful bike the more it frustrates me. And hey, I wasn’t this fixated on Tramps until I saw the motorcycle in the window. I’m sure (I hope) time will pass and I’ll ignore the window dressing and stop looking up Triumphs online and how much they cost (too much, by the way).
The book went from my armpit to my bag, then to the trunk of my bicycle. It wasn’t until I got home that I got my first good look at the cover: “You on a Diet” by Michael Roizen and [Dranatic silence here] Mehmet Oz. Dr. Oz?! The guy who is beloved by overweight housewives everywhere and hated by anyone who makes even the slightest attempt to research his latest “miracle” weight loss drug. The guy who, in 2016, was rightfully raked over the coals by Dean Heller and Claire McCaskill, among other U.S. Senators, during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee hearing.
My wife has been railing against this guy for years for peddling snake oil. The fact that he is an M.D makes it far worse in her eyes. He’s in it for the cash, apparently. When my wife came home that night, I made the mistake of showing the book to her in the spirit of a joke. She wasn’t amused. After I told her about how I got it, she thought I should not patronize that store anymore. (I never got to the part about the Triumph in the window.)
Now nearly every time we are in a grocery store, she will point out the supplements section and tell me in a humorless tone, “You probably could get a better deal on your vitamins here.” Months after I showed her the book we were shopping at Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. As we walked by what probably is the most expensive aisle of supplements in town she said, “Maybe you should buy your vitamins here.” Damn, women don’t forget! Yet I still buy my “bone pills” in Gabriel’s shop. I’m not sure why I’m loyal. I know there are a few places I could get cheaper pills while staying true to supporting independent shops. Maybe it is because we are neighbors and I want to avoid the awkward moments of running into him.
I finally got around to browsing the Dr. Oz diet book the other day. It is long-winded and speaks almost exclusively to women. I even looked up “Testosterone” and “Low Testosterone” in the index. (As stated above there is supposed to be some correlation between low T and weight gain.) No reference to Low T and only a few references to Testosterone, but exclusively on how it relates to women. I brought the book back to Gabriel, making sure to conceal the title on my walk to his shop to prevent any cracks like “It’s not working!” from any smartasses on the street who thinks a fat guy holding a book that says “Diet” on it is fair game. When I placed the book on the counter and said in so many words thanks but no thanks, it’s more of a diet book for women he understood. I then turned to the Triumph and asked why the iconic bike was in his shop window. He told me he is a collector of motorcycles. He has a couple Hondas one or two other bikes that I can’t recall and a Ducati. A Duck? Damn it: “the Ferrari of motorcycles.” He told me placing the Triumph in the window is for business purposes. He also added, “while the Triumph depreciates in bluebook value it increases in collector’s value because it’s a Triumph.” I wanted to scream, “Yeah, but it’s in the fucking window of a supplements store! Deface one of your lousy Hondas and put it up there among the tablets of fish oil, chromium, and Omega-3 Fatty Acid, but not your Tramp”! He continued that placing a motorcycle in the window is a tax write-off. “Macy’s and the other big department stores have been doing this for years and saving money.” Okay, so you’re a shrewd businessman, but Macy’s isn’t placing Triumphs or Ducati’s for that matter in their windows. (Well okay, I haven’t been to every department store in the U.S. Maybe some stores do, but they are faceless, impersonal corporations. You are a cyclist, man! Act like one!) He, apparently, doesn’t think of the bike the way that I do.
We continued to chat about motorcycles then he wanted to talk about our neighborhood and local real estate prices, how he recently set up a trust fund, and how trust funds are better than wills. He’s talking about death and I’m stealing glances at the gun barrel grey Triumph Bonneville T1200. He says he sees me walking my dog from time to time. “She’s slowing down now, isn’t she.” “Yes, my dog is a senior citizen, just like me,” I reply sadly. One day he might quit the elderly talk and I’ll see him riding a wheelie down our street on that Ducati of his. Or better yet, after freeing his Big Twin from its Protein Shake Purgatory, I’ll see him ride by my house (sands the advertising on the tank and battery covers) when I’m watering my lawn in my old-man shorts. Just a passing glance. Pull in the clutch and let’s hear that throaty rev! Yeah, that’s the Elixir of Life!