Today I Went to the Gym in Jeans and a Flannel

An ode to getting some steps in. And some other stuff.

Scott Muska
I THOUGHT THIS WAS WORTH SHARING

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Sometimes in life you end up willingly doing something you feel is so absurd that you never even promise yourself it’s not something you’ll do, as it would likely have never occurred to you to even consider doing so. Something that doesn’t even cross your mind as a remote possibility until you find yourself in a situation where it hits your radar and you’re like, “Fuck it, I guess I’m actually going to do this thing, absurd to me as it may seem.”

An example: going to the gym and walking on a treadmill in your (so not athleisure that it could never be confused as such) everyday uniform that you wear pretty much all the time unless you’re, you know, working out, have put on your comfy clothes for the late evening hours or are attending an occasion special enough that you are highly encouraged and/or not even permitted to wear your go-to comfort duds — which is, for me, basically a wedding or a funeral. (I went to my sister-in-law’s sister’s wedding in Connecticut because it was a casual affair and close-ish to NYC, so was kindly invited as it gave me an opportunity to spend some time with my nieces. My brother told me jeans would be fine and though I was skeptical and predicted he had not actually checked with anyone about this, that was all I packed. This was frowned upon by what I guess you’d call my grandma-in-law and so day-of we had to make a quick mall trip so I could fall into the Gap for some khakis. Casual is relative, I guess.)

For me, that is my aging hipster uniform comprised of a flannel of some sort with a wife beater underneath it because it’s something Ryan Reynolds does, a pair of cuffed-so-you-can-see-my-crew-socks skinny-ish black jeans from Old Navy that make up my rotation of five or so completely identical pairs, a selection from an expansive collection of Nikes that accommodate my back and foot issues while still, if I may be so bold as to say, giving a decent amount of rizz to the ensemble. More often than not in the Chicago climate, this look is completed with a shacket and a teenie weenie beanie (if I have eschewed hair product and styling for the day). It also bears mentioning that I keep a patterned handkerchief poking out of my back right pocket in case I break into an unrelenting sweat, and wear a carabiner with a bunch of keys and talismans on one of my front belt loops that jangles every time I take so much as a step.

And today, I strutted my stuff in it. On a treadmill.

You see, every night before I go to sleep I make an aspirational promise to myself: that I’m going to get some serious steps in in the morning for both my physical and mental health. Tell myself I gotta get that cholesterol and blood pressure down and combat the burgeoning girth that takes residence mostly in my mid-section and man breasts. Also that it will help shake off depression and quell my all-too-common early morning anxiety, setting me up for at least a vaguely positive psychological day.

But what’s so easy in the evening by the morning rarely is. And I happen to be great at breaking promises. So much so that I avoid making them to anyone other than myself, who I am okay with letting down.

I don’t sleep as well as I’d like to (I never do), so I wake up in the middle of the night or well ahead of the alarm I set to have enough time to take a walk to get well ahead of the day, which I then push back to a time where all I’ll have time to do before starting the official workday is take a quick shower and don my daily apparel in favor of attempting (generally unsuccessfully) to get another hour and change of sleep. Or I get out of bed before that alarm because I’m so anxious about something I have to do for work that I decide to try and take care of it before I am even technically being paid to do so.

I would of course, like so many of my habits, not recommend any of this. The longer I do it the less sustainable it becomes — and the more I want to make changes, even tiny ones, as difficult as catalyzing those to establish some positive momentum often happens to be for me.

However, some recent health issues coupled with some pretty awful life events, both precipitated at least partially by my own doing, and mostly related to myself having been unable and/or unwilling to really get my shit together, have made me really desire to, you know, finally get my shit together in some semblance or fashion. It shouldn’t take a couple kicks in the ass like this to cajole me into making some sort of commitment to personal betterment on several fronts, but such is life and where i find myself in it — which is nothing if not a tough season during which I am sure to take a few beatings, at least on the inner-noggin and nervous system front.

A season ripe for rebuilding, though, at least.

Gotta love a silver lining, I guess.

And I have to start somewhere. So last night I attached an actual plan to my daily ritual of making a promise I know I am wildly unlikely to keep (which makes the concept of a promise in itself a meaningless premise): I would walk the roundtrip of about three-and-a-half miles to and from my job. It was a two birds, one stone kind of thing. I’d get ample steps in — enough to please even my nagging-ass Oura ring for goddamn once — and get out of my apartment for the better part of a day. Something I tend to avoid but know is good for me.

Morning came. I showered and, as is my custom, asked Alexa to hit me with the weather report while I strolled around full buff in my apartment, air drying while brushing my teeth, partially for efficiency and partially so I wouldn’t whisper any extremely negative pseudo-affirmations at myself while gazing forlornly into my bathroom mirror reflection. Snow flurries were predicted. The nasty wintry mix kind, too, with some rain literally sprinkled in. And rather frigid temperatures. In April.

This gave me an out — something I’m always looking for and can concoct pretty easily if a vaguely justifiable one isn’t readily available. Though I hadn’t spent all that much time out in the elements through the entirety of what is supposed to actually be winter, I still wasn’t feeling walking that much in such weather, especially when one half of the trip was likely to be after dark. I’m a diva. Not a fucking mailman. I chose to work from home, something that is becoming more and more an act of professional rebellion, much to my enduring chagrin.

i immediately started beating myself up about letting myself off way too easy yet again, but reasoned that I was already showered and ready for the workday, so may as well just get to it.

“Maybe I’ll go for a walk when I wrap up,” I thought.

“Oh, the fuck you will,” I immediately countered to myself. “You know that ain’t very likely. Once you’re done you’ll be so fried you won’t try to talk yourself into doing anything except not ordering way too much from UberEats hours past the time you should’ve stopped stuffing your face for the day. And you will undoubtedly fail at doing so.”

Statistically speaking, and if you were to watch the game film of my life from recent years, my self-retort was by far the most likely outcome. Can’t argue with facts, though few are above trying.

“Not today, my friend,” I thought and made a decision after quickly checking my work email to find a rare little treat: a schedule emptied of early meetings. “I’m going to the gym and hitting the fucking treadmill. And no, I’m not going to change my clothes and get all sweaty then come back here and have to shower again. Once the skinny jeans are painted on they don’t come off until I peel them off to get ready for bed, or if I happen to get very lucky. I’m just gonna go for a little leisurely strut down there. Enough to check the box and eclipse the steps I actively took yesterday, which will not be difficult to do.”

“You’re really gonna go to the gym in jeans, my dude?” I replied. “That’s something of a bold move.”

“Yeah, well, stay weird, stay alive.”

If you don’t occasionally have contentious conversations with yourself, I do not understand you one iota. But I sure do envy you.

I haven’t traditionally been much of one for treadmills, but in fits and spurts through the years I’ve gotten heavy into walking. Just outside, for the most part, though, unless I was forced to a treadmill because of torrential rain. And then I would, and this won’t shock you, usually just skip the walk altogether in favor of spending that time gazing into the abyss or whatever I was doing for fun at the time.

For the past decade or so, walking has been my predominant mode of aerobic exercise, the only kind I mess with.

(This though I do own an elliptical that occupies a not insignificant amount of space in my apartment’s living room. It’s only gently used and like so many, I do hang clothing on it. I should just get rid of it, get someone to haul it out, but I’ve yet to part with the notion that one day I will get really into gliding away on that thing in the early morning hours while I consume documentaries with some serious depth. So I keep it around as an eyesore, mostly to impress the ladies, if my faux black leather couch with dual recliners hasn’t already done the job. I often wish it were as easy to hide this machine for dates as my stuffed animal roommates are. But alas.)

Here’s a much lengthier aside to follow the above lengthy parenthetical aside:

I got into walking mostly due to circumstance. It started when I moved to New York City and had to walk a lot for lack of other options. I’d lived most of my life waiting to get a driver’s license and a car of my own, only to move to a place where it was not plausible or reasonable to drive at all, and is something to be avoided like a plague if you have anxious tendencies and lack aggressive ones.

It was extremely fun to stroll around exploring the city. The people-watching potential is pretty much unmatched. This began the series of good dumb luck combined with some interesting and certainly questionable decisions that have, over the past dozen years (yikes), resulted in me gettin to live in several areas that are tough to beat as far as something you can experience on an everyday basis, especially if we’re speaking urban locations in the U.S.

I spent close to six years working in Manhattan and living in Brooklyn, the latter half of that time in a Park Slope studio so tiny that it had only a mini fridge with a freezer area that did not work, which meant if i bought a bag of Totino’s Pizza Rolls I basically had to eat it all in one fell swoop. A real shame. (Somehow, I still found it prudent to have my elliptical in there. The place was truly something to behold.) I moved in because my platonic roommate in Bushwick dropped on me that she was moving back to our hometown at the end of our lease, and the other friend we were planning to move in with had recently been laid off so didn’t want to risk trying to get a lease at a new place. This about two months before I’d get kicked out of the joint, so I did as I am wont to do, which is panic and make an impulsive decision. I decided to drop an astronomical amount of up-front then monthly money on a place smaller than single dorms I’d occupied, because it was the first apartment I checked out and I just wanted to get the process over and done with. I stayed for as long as I did because the thought of moving again made me anxious to the point of complacency, and I let inertia set in. I’ve done incalculable things in the name of momentary relief that would have made for better outcomes in the long run if I had nutted up and dealt with some temporary discomfort. So it goes.

The joint did have a view of the Manhattan skyline, which was worth its weight in gold and/or social media clout. Like many things, I cared more about my misguided belief that people would spend a ton of time thinking about how cool it was that I was living in the big city and could wake up to that view every single morning than I actually cared about or cherished the view itself. It was also a mere block away from Prospect Park. While there, I, for the first time, started regularly going for walks for exercise instead of just to get from Point A to B. I’d do loops around or strolls through the park when the mood struck. It felt like something I should take advantage of, some modicum of nature in the middle of a densely populated borough.

During a series of events that were essentially me blowing up my life as I knew it (a story for another day), but that somehow worked out alright, I made quick egress from Brooklyn in favor of Washington, D.C. Wearied by the years of arduous and time-consuming NYC commutes at all hours of the morning and night, I sought an apartment in the Northeast neighborhood of the District, a mere 10-minute walk to my place of employment. And, like anywhere in that city built on a swamp, I was within easy walking distance of monuments, government buildings and other historically important landmarks — though before long walking past them became all I really wanted to do with them. It didn’t take a huge chunk of my tenure there to start to experience tourist-trap fatigue. People would come visit and want to check out the sights, something I only had enough interest in really doing one time, basically to check them off a list of things I felt like I should do. (Love to do what I should do, not what I want to do.) Cherry blossoms, for example, are pretty rad, but I don’t think I’d get more fulfillment out of life if I went to see them in bloom every year.

Then the world shut down and I no longer walked to the office at all. And since there were of course no visitors for a long time, there was nobody to try and coax me into monument hopping — not that you could enter any of them anyway. All you could do during that time was walk on by.

Like so many, walking became more and more important to me, because strolling around outside while staying a reasonable distance away from people was pretty much all you could do if you wanted to get out of your apartment for a while. It was interesting to be traversing the sidewalk and see someone who was not an ex or other enemy or something veer into the street or across it to the other side as you approached and not feel offense. We were all in it together, and avoiding one another with varying levels of vigor, in the name of self preservation.

I’m sure any city was very eerie during the early days of the pandemic, but it’s interesting to think I’m one of a select few who had the opportunity to power-walk past lauded landmarks to see them mostly dead. And I did so a lot. I was basically spitting distance from the Capitol Building and would walk near or around it many days, sometimes more than once. (It is certainly worth noting that I did not walk anywhere near there on January 6, 2021. I promise. For some reason, that seemed like a great day to four-wall myself in my studio. Can’t pinpoint exactly why.)

By the time things were really starting to pick back up in D.C., I was ready and sort of eager to move on, geographically speaking. It’s a great city, but not exactly the one for me, and I didn’t believe it was the best home to continue furthering my career, which has been, often detrimentally, a too-high priority for me.

I missed New York with a fierceness I possess to this day — because it feels like I have unfinished business there and it is the city where I have had some of the most fun times of my life, albeit coupled with the toughest. (Again, another story for another day.) I considered attempting to get a job there and move back, but didn’t know if I was mentally and emotionally in a spot where I could or should return. There was also the notion that the New York I’d known and loved would not be anything close to the New York I would potentially return to. So many of my friends had left for other places, often so they could afford to start families. Then, there were others who kept a clutch on the city, but from afar, having coupled up and purchased houses in the suburbs, which would make it tough to get together as frequently as we had in our 20s and earlier 30s. You don’t always want to night-cap something like a comedy show with an hour-long bus ride back to New Jersey. Kind of harshes your evening mellow.

While I ceaselessly contemplated what my next zip code might be, a serendipitous sequence of events took place. Okay, that’s melodramatic. Basically a recruiter from an advertising agency in Chicago found my portfolio and came calling one day, which led to an offer for a position that was, quite frankly, out of my league. (Props to my then-boss and forever friend who, when I spoke with him about it, encouraged me that taking it was the right move.)

I took it.

This despite the fact I had never once stepped foot in Chicago. It has been established that I tend to act on impulse.

My mom still loves to tell the story of the day she and my dad were driving me into the city to help me move. As we caught our first glimpse of the stunning skyline, I said, “Huh. Kind of wild that I’m moving to a place I’ve never been before.”

“I almost had to tell your dad to pull over to the side of the highway so I could puke,” she always says.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, I guess.

You can’t know shit about neighborhoods you’ve never even visited, and to accommodate timing with my lease in D.C. I had to make another quick move when it came to making a move. So the search again centered around finding an area close to my new office. I did a virtual tour of exactly one place and fell in love with it to the point I was ready to make peace with signing a lease even though I hadn’t physically peeped it. Also because, you know, the anxiety around getting it out of the way persisted. (This is something I’m finally working on.)

So that’s how, two-and-a-half years ago, I ended up in the spot I am writing this from right now: An apartment in a downtown area called The Loop. If you’ve ever been to the city, you’ve probably been to The Bean — a strange art installation with a draw I don’t pretend to understand — that is a huge tourist attraction. (And yes, I have heard every possible joke you could make about flicking it.) When I tell people I live in The Loop, they often look at me quizzically, to say the least, as it is an uncommon place to actually set up home base, until I describe a little area within it called Lakeshore East that surrounds a nice little park and is nestled away from the tourism and the slight gaudiness that comes with it. It’s more neighborhood-y than you’d think, albeit sans a reliable dive bar. But, you know, I can always walk a little farther outside the confines to one and burn off a few booze calories as a bonus.

What I really like about it is I can walk to Lake Michigan in three minutes, and the River Walk in about five. And throughout the city, the people watching is pretty much on par with NYC. So again, I’m in a location that has some great walking scenery.

SO ANYWAY. End of aside. All that was basically to say I’ve been spoiled by outdoor scenery while telling you the cliff’s notes of a significant portion of my life.

I used to look at treadmills as a last resort because they tended to bore me to death, because while I’m used to moving frenetically, it’s often not in one location for too long. I didn’t dig them even if I was in a gym that had some TVs. Unless I had control of the content, Murphy’s Law dictates that whatever would be on otherwise was bound to be something I didn’t find even remotely compelling enough to help pass the time while I walked in place.

This was until one day when I risked completely eating shit to discover that although I am barely coordinated enough to walk and chew gum simultaneously, I can, at a certain pace, read while I stride. So I’ve gotten into doing that. I find reading to not only be one of the most enjoyable things one can do, but also a productive endeavor. So the efficiency of it is very appealing to me. Chances are not low that I won’t at some point completely biff it, though.

So today I grabbed my iPad, because I read on the Kindle app and have for years. I sure do miss holding real books and collecting them and shelving them so people can come over and see right away if they like any of the books I like or have held on to through the years without my insisting they scroll through my Kindle Cloud collection. That would be a real flex. I also know Amazon is evil but it happens to be the only place you can get my first two books unless you have me mail them to you, so, yeah.

Then I remembered I’d just gotten the only Simon Rich book I’ve yet to read in paperback because it was only available in that format and I will read or watch anything he’s a part of, even if it’s just a speculative piece about whitewashing a wall or whatever. So I scooped that and headed to the other side of my building, hoping I’d be alone, but knowing it was peak morning gym hours and it was unlikely.

I was correct. It was the most crowded I’ve seen it aside from early January when the people who make resolutions briefly test them out before reverting to their more normal and sedentary routines. I was one of those people. And here I was, about as far from a regular as you can be and certainly looking every bit like it. My key card to get in has seen fewer swipes so far this year than the one I use to gain entry to my office, which is to say not very many.

But I’d come this far. So I made my way to the only unoccupied working treadmill. (One of them had caution tape on it like it was a crime scene currently under investigation, which felt aggressive. A simple “out of order” sign probably would have sufficed.) I gave a little head nod to the dude getting after it next to me and fired up a 30-minute walk at a near-glacial pace but with a 1.0 incline because I love an uphill battle as long as it’s not too steep. I took out my bookmark and got to it, getting some pages in while I started going the distance with my slightly whacked-out gait. Tried to stand up straight as I could and arch my back, but had to look down at the book and chose to sacrifice stature in favor of a mental sweat.

This was an exercise, forgive the pun please, in doing something at least a little bit good for me, as well as in practicing building up my tolerance against caring deeply about what people might think or say about me. Which is startlingly low. And before long I was immersed in what I was doing, lost to the world around me in a way few things aside from a good book can do. People could have been looking at me. Could’ve even taken stills or video for social if they so chose. If that was the case, it was their prerogative, but I was able to check myself with the reminder that people have their own shit going on, so much more than you are likely to know or be able to even slightly intuit, and rarely give you more than a fleeting thought, let alone a spot on their social media feeds, which many covet, myself included. Nobody really cares all that much, and I take comfort in that. It’s probably the closest sentiment to stoicism I’ll ever be able to slightly adopt, though being able to truly implement stoicism into my life would be very dope indeed.

I didn’t even hear anyone laugh at me as I unabashedly laughed out loud at one of the quips produced by Rich and his razor-sharp wit.

I then reflected on my own behavior in the past when it comes to giving too much attention to someone who is just out being themselves and letting their freak flags fly. I mean, I’ve certainly snickered at and judged people I’ve heard grunting in gyms and letting out semi-frightening bellows of triumph when they get that one extra rep in or eek out a new personal power-cleaning record, and felt bad about it. I’ve matured now to a point where I realize other people are not really my punching bag for a joke, and that making them as much gains me nothing but can really hurt their feelings. I have no idea what they’re going through or why something is so important to them to the point that they do something many deem a little outlandish, over-the-top or abnormal.

If you’re not hurting anyone, why not do whatever helps you get through the day, even in some seemingly little way?

At the end of my walk I’d gotten in some entertaining pages and my mood had slightly lifted — a significant win. I shut off the machine, scrubbed it down with a disinfecting wipe, left the gym and was back at my computer in time to do what I needed to do, now in more of a mindset to actually want to do it on some level.

And you know what? Some positive momentum was indeed established. I wrapped up the workday and instead of settling for an immediate glass of red wine, Iput it off for a bit to increase my step count instead. This time, I braved the elements and went outside for some fresh air, and some glimpses of sunlight even though that gigantic firey-ass orb was heavily obscured by cloud coverage. An environmental metaphor that fit my current mindset.

Sometimes the tiniest positive things get through the cracks and make a little bit of a difference.

Then you just gotta figure out what to do with the light.

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Scott Muska
I THOUGHT THIS WAS WORTH SHARING

I write books (for fun, and you can find them on Amazon), ads (for a living) and some other stuff (that seems to magically show up on the internet).