I am ancient as the mountains, pale as the driven snow, thin as the branch of a tree just before its last leaf flutters to the ground. I am ever-present, all-seeing, all-knowing. I am the old man on the middle stationary bike in the cardio machine section of the gym, and I am here to fucking crush it.

No one knows where I came from, who I am, when I got here or how I get home. I am simply part of the gym’s existence, like the water fountain and the ambient hip-hop music piped in through invisible speakers.

The trainers take no notice of me, nor do the maintenance staff cleaning the floor. I interact with no one; I could be a specter seen only by the guilty, a mirage or hallucination, if not for the squeaking sound of my slow but steady progress around the digital cycling course. The sound proves I exist. I am alive, with the heart rate monitor read-out to prove it. In all my sinewy splendor I am the pinnacle of health. And yet the fragility of the human condition has never been more readily apparent than in my hollow cheeks and spotted hands.

Beneath my enormous red headphones, wisps of hair stay slicked to my scalp by a torrent of sweat. A towel hangs limp around my shoulders, futile against the deluge. Basketball shorts as old as the game itself and a threadbare cotton top from the university that rejected you are the only garments that separate my spindly frame from the plasticky seat of the bike. My sneakers are filthy, my tube socks pristine. My water bottle—a freebie from a business conference fifteen years ago—and last month’s Reader’s Digest rest atop the control panel of my bike, as they have since the very dawn of indoor cycling. This perch is my throne, this platform my kingdom.

Behold! My resistance is set to 10, and I’ve been pedaling at eighty rotations per minute for hours, but I betray no hint of pain. I divorce myself from the concept of weakness. Fatigue is not a sensation of which my body is still capable.

My pace never wavers. I am the definition of stamina. It would be so inappropriate to imagine my performance in love-making, but you’re already picturing it, aren’t you?

You.

Pretending.

Against my display of tenacity, what claim could you make that your mere thirty minutes upon an elliptical is even a challenge? Hundred-dollar leggings and a look-at-me ponytail don’t make you an athlete, they make you a pretty clown at the picture show.

Pathetic.

I know what it means to be a man, an American, a human goddamn being. I went straight from the beaches of Normandy to the shores of Korea. That’s right; I got drafted into back-to-back wars; that’s how wars used to work.

I’ve laughed in the face of death, wept in the arms of the Earth Mother, screamed into the abyss and heard it whisper back my name. A name that, if you heard it, would make you cry out: “I have an uncle with that name!”

Through space and time I wander, at once a hundred miles from where I started yet exactly where my journey began. The line that makes a circle, the finite distance that somehow never ends. Get it? Because of the stationary bike.

I’m the glass through which the sands of time fall. I’m the shadow of the moon, the mist on the horizon. I’m the scorpion and you’re just the fucking frog.

Now, would you mind changing the channel to USA Network? There’s a Monk marathon on.

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