Slower Than a Three-legged Poodle

By: T.W. Winslow

It's a little after five o'clock in the morning. The coffee's made and I've already scanned today's headlines. I've managed to make just enough noise to remind everyone else in the house that I'm up early and they should feel just a little bit guilty for turning over and going back to sleep. The sun begins to rise over the distant mountains as I pull on my running shoes. I call them running shoes, but really they're the same ratty sneakers I've been wearing around the house for the past couple of years.

It may be the beginning of spring, but the temperature this time of day is hovering around thirty degrees, so I slip on a jacket and gloves. Oh, and best not forget my black stocking cap - the one my neighbor said makes me look like a burglar (which reminds me I need to cross her off our Christmas party list). I quickly stretch, then grab my two eight-pound hand weights and run out the door.

This insanity started a few weeks ago when I decided (with a little constant nagging by my wife), at my age I need to start going into the doctor for an annual physical. I don't know about you, but doctors' offices make me uneasy. It's like taking your car in for a simple oil change, only to come back to find a repair bill amounting to several hundred dollars. The car was running just fine before going into the shop . . .

Reluctantly, I went in for a checkup, filled out the pile of forms, and waited half-naked for the doctor in a small, chilly closet they call an exam room. The doctor finally rushed in and began his interrogation, all the while poking and prodding me in ways that would be against the Geneva Convention if we were at war. I don't mean to be too critical, but a doctor's bedside manner shouldn't include crinkling up his nose, shaking his head and saying, "tisk, tisk, tisk," as he makes notes in your chart. I know I'm not the picture of health, but come on!

The final outcome wasn't too terrible, and most of what the doctor had to say came as no surprise; eat better, stop smoking and get some exercise. Much as I hated to admit it, my lifestyle could use some work. So with the help of modern pharmacology, I'm taking the doctor's advice and quitting smoking for good. And, what better way to make the torture of nicotine withdrawal even more unpleasant than the aching muscles and sore feet that come with taking on a new exercise program.

So here I am, huffing and puffing down the street, fantasizing about lying in bed eating an entire bag of potato chips and chain smoking. Most of the houses I pass are still dark and the neighborhood is strangely quiet. Occasionally someone will pass me by. Most are men in work trucks making their way to their jobs. I can't help but wonder what these guys think as they watch me cough and choke my way down the road. I have a feeling whatever they are thinking includes such words as wimp, wuss, and weasel.

After reaching half way, I turn and head for home. It's much lighter out now and the neighborhood is beginning to stir with activity. Passing people on the street as they retrieve their morning papers, I'm painfully aware of what a spectacle I must be - my awkward long strides being thrown off balance by the hand weights I'm carrying. Dressed in my shabby outfit and black stocking cap, struggling with each step, I must look like some kind of wounded burglar fleeing the authorities.

I can see my house in the distance. My legs feel like they weigh a hundred pounds each, and I'm certain my arms fell off about three blocks back. It's all I can do to make it the last hundred yards. My once quick pace has slowed considerably - to the point that even the neighbor's blind, three-legged Poodle could catch me now. When I reach my driveway I collapse in a heap on the curb (good thing it's not trash day). My head is spinning, my lungs are burning and I know it's sick but I'd kill for a cigarette. I only wish my doctor would drive by so I could roll my aching body in front of the wheels of his Mercedes.

I'm sure in time I'll get used to this daily torture, and I know in the long run my health will benefit from it. But right now, that thought doesn't make my feet hurt any less or sooth my burning muscles. There is one thing that does make me feel a bit better. It's the thought of adding one more thing to my daily ritual. I think I'll start phoning my doctor at five o'clock each morning just to thank him for helping me to improve my health. That'll teach him.

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