Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Handicap

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As I changed from my work clothes into my gym clothes today, hiding in the far corner of the locker room as usual, I noticed that my ribbed knee-high socks had left vertical lines all up and down my calves. Nice, I thought. Should’ve worn smooth ones. Now it looks like I have flesh-colored knee-highs on. Groo-vay.

I pulled on my short socks and sneakers, and—certain that everyone at the gym would stare at my deeply lined calves, perhaps wanting to run their fingers across the ridges to see if they produced sound—I left the locker room and danced like a boxer over to the treadmills, sly as usual.

“Hey!” I said to my friend Ken, a retired gentleman who happens to work out at the same time I do. I maintained eye contact with him for as long as possible as I started the treadmill next to his, hoping that he would not glance down and feel compelled to check the treads on my calves with a penny.

As we power-walked next to one another, gazing at the TV’s hanging from the ceiling and all the other people working out, Ken asked me what I’d been up to. I’m never up to anything, so I asked Ken the same. He started talking about his golf game. “I’m not a great golfer but I absolutely love it. My long game isn’t as good as it used to be; that’s what happens when you get old.”

He explained his limited range of motion, how he didn’t have the strength anymore to hit the ball hundreds of yards. “Now my short game is my strength,” Ken said as we marched along. “Once I’m on the green, I can make up for extra strokes.”

I know nothing about golf and I did want to learn, but I couldn’t get over what my socks had done to my legs. I glanced down at my calves and noted that the vertical indentations had not yet dissipated. Frickin’ just tattoo a sock on my leg.

Focusing back on Ken, I listened intently to his explanation of handicaps and golf pros, competition and playing against the course. His eyes glazed over as he described the putting green in the greener pastures of his backyard, as if he were there now and not at the gym. Wishing that I was obsessed with something so healthy, I turned to look at my white-haired friend just as he bit the dust on the treadmill.

“Ken!” I yelled. “KenKenKenKen!”

Ken was now hanging on to the handrails, his arms stretched behind him like wings, his nose inches from the rolling mat. With his legs vibrating and his feet hanging over the edge in back, he looked like a fallen angel.

“Ken! Are you alright?” The words were barely out of my mouth before Ken managed to haul himself upright. He had bloody knees and black streaks, scraped ankles and a red face.

I gave him the proper dose of attention and kindness, as far as I knew what it was. “You need to get some medicine on those scrapes!” I said. “And some…”

“Bandaids” we said together. Ken picked it up: “Yup, I’ll run right home and clean out my wounds and antibacterialize them and put on some Band-Aids. That’s exactly what I’ll do.” He made a face and rolled his eyes, rivulets of blood dripping down his calves.

“Well it is what you should do,” I said. I couldn’t see why he couldn’t see that.

“Yeah, you’ll never walk next to me again,” he said. “Nope! You’re gonna be like, I don’t want people to associate me with that old man who collapses on the treadmill.”

“I will not,” I said. “At least you were strong enough to pull yourself up before you went flying.”

“That’s true,” he said.

And it was.

Ken finished first today, and we said our goodbyes. I left soon after on my still-striped calves, feeling lucky to have them that way rather than bloody and dirty with scabs forming for weeks, leaving scars on my overly sensitive self. What would people think of that?

Impressions can be so hard.

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