There are some etiquette issues that they just never prepare you for.  Case in point: My trainer needed to go on a diet.  To be honest, I was never fully impressed with her body, but she had toned arms and her butt was very high, so I sort of figured she was fit enough to train the likes of me.  Six weeks into our relationship and I began to see results. I was leaner and stronger and in the right lighting (i.e. dim) comfortable in a bikini.  Okay, so she wasn’t Cindy Crawford, she knew how to work out and she knew how to teach me.  I decided somewhere around week nine that I was in it for the long haul. But then she went on vacation, where I can only presume (based on her visibly distended belly) she ate herself silly while lying in a prone position.  I’m talking four months pregnant belly, and I know whereof I speak;  I’ve had two kids, and the last time my gut was that big I was sporting a fetal sidekick.

But what is the proper etiquette between trainer and trainee?  Was I obliged to facilitate an intervention of sorts?  Because I couldn’t see how she was engendering any confidence in her clients with that tummy hanging out of her adorable OliveU tank.  As we continued our workouts, I gently steered the conversation into this core area.  I would ask about best tips for weight loss, or if a particular exercise could target a specific area. At one point I asked openly what one could do to lose unsightly bulge in the tummy area, to which she sighed, and muttered, “It really all boils down to diet.”

Which isn’t exactly the answer I wanted to hear because if it all boiled down to diet, why the hell was I doing lunges until my glutes exploded?!

In an effort to get a second opinion I asked a few other trainers who were looking rather fit.

“It’s all aerobic,” said one.

“You have to do the weights,” said another.

“It boils down to metabolic burn which can’t be achieved without both aerobic and weight bearing exercise.”

“What about diet? Does it all boil down to diet?” I asked.

“Well, only if you’re eating everything in sight.”

I had my answer.

The next day I returned to my gym prepared to give my trainer a piece of my mind.  I was paying top dollar and for that I expected her to be chiseled perfection.  Her job was to show me the ultimate body that I could only dream of achieving. She was the proverbial dangling carrot in front of the treadmill.  But when I entered the gym she was lying on the sofa eating yogurt covered pretzels out of a feedbag.  I turned and saw my reflection in a nearby mirror and realized all at once, that I had become more fit than my trainer. It was a scary realization. She was no longer a dangling carrot.  She was a cautionary tale.

I considered searching for a new trainer, but the truth was, the more she ate the better I looked. I had to wonder if her weight gain was part of some larger karmic scheme to get me over my last plateau (which occurred right around the time of her vacation). Maybe she got fat in order to inspire me, because as a result of her excess tonnage, I am now weighing my food and training for a 5K.  I’ve also bumped up my sessions to five times a week.  I guess in the end it has been worth it.  I’ve never looked better and she is quiet literally becoming a cash cow.

The windows around the front door look like aliens. I seem to be the only one who recognizes it, but it’s so obvious. They are tall, skinny aliens with arms that reach down to their knees. Their bug-eyed heads are elongated just like the aliens on TV, except that the top comes to a little point like a dollop of whipped cream. As a kid, I ran up the stairs feeling their noodle arms reaching out to grab me and pull me out of my world and into theirs. I always felt them just an inch behind me.

Standing in the laundry room, if I tapped unexpectedly on the metal surface of the washer or dryer, the noise might be startling, and suddenly I was thinking, “What if that’s the signal?” The signal for ghosts or aliens or whatever might be waiting in the ether for its moment, its chance to come abduct me or just to show itself, thereby ruining the reality on which I had an already tenuous grasp. I would do it again to disrupt the signal — rap on the washer once quickly, try to make the exact same noise — was it once for yes and two for no? I don’t remember. Do it again just in case. What if I have said something I don’t even understand in their alien language? Tap out a complicated rhythm to indicate a scratching out of what has inadvertently been written on the paper of time-space continuum. If all else fails, run out of the room and all is forgotten.

I experienced life in fast forward and slow motion at the same time, a contortion that threatened to tear the flimsy tape of continuity. It starts with the combination of silence and the ever-present humming in my ears. No one is speaking, no power is running, yet there is a subtle ringing in the upper reaches of my inner ear. Careful about tuning in to that. It’s not an imagined noise. It’s the sound of the ear existing. Catching air or whatever.

Listen too hard, and things get twisty. Internally, things are faster. Externally, I am surprised by the slow sound of my own voice. It comes out syrupy. I try to talk faster to catch up. I try and think slower. Things are out of sync.

I had dizzy spells for no reason. When I was still very young, they were fun. I would lay on the soft carpeted floor of my bedroom and let the experience envelop me. I didn’t have a word for it, yet. It had not occurred to me to ask if this is normal. The room shook. My heart raced. I just lay there and enjoy the natural high of overactive nerves.In high school, it would become a problem when I had to grip the sides of my desk to keep from falling out.

I have trouble wearing nail polish. I can’t keep it on. The minute there is a crack, I have to peel it all back. I chip it off, bite and scrape, leaving little flakes on my desk, clinging to my skirt, and stuck with sweat to my palms. I’m bent on deconstruction. When the nail polish is gone, I start on my cuticles. You would think I could outgrow this. You would think I’d eventually figure out there is nothing but blood under there, but I don’t. I keep digging. If not cuticles, then scabs or zits or dry skin — have you ever soaked your feet in a warm bath until you could just run your fingernails along your heel and come up with an inch long strip of skin? It’s not really skin anymore.

I learned my triggers, and then I felt funny about using this word, “triggers.” It’s got to be some kind of AA jargon, but I’ve never been in AA, so I must have picked it up from one of my friends who went to AA or NA, and I feel like a phony for using their lingo. I mean, they’re the ones with the real problems, right? Who am I? What right do I have to sit here and feel sorry for myself? But anyway, phony or not, I know my triggers: Alcohol, laziness, Sunday evenings, those things make it harder. Coffee, sex and exercise make it better.

I like to read about philosophies and religions that point us toward making peace with ourselves. I like Buddhism, but I don’t like to sit still for meditation. I don’t like to go to church or listen to preachers. I want a teacher, but I wouldn’t listen. I’m all I’ve got, then. But I do like the idea of oneness. I appreciate the fantasy of melting into a larger identity, not just for the delight of finally getting out of my skin but for the escape from being a person who must get dressed every day, and go to work, and pay bills, and be nice to people. Briefly, I can imagine that if I melt into the larger whole, I would be something much larger, much more magnificent than my little self with my little job and my chipped nail polish.

Sometimes I practice so-called magic, making creative use of salt water and a handful of herbs, knowing intellectually that it does nothing, and yet the ritual gives me comfort. I direct my unruly energy toward a cup of salt water on my desk and feel better about things without knowing why, exactly. The logic of the anxious is a bit more flexible. Solutions don’t need to make sense if the problems don’t make sense. I was sitting at my desk thinking the world was going to end, and a cup of saltwater made me feel better.

If I write down everything that makes me anxious, somehow, this makes it better, too. I apply words like a salve to this mysterious wound. I practice these home remedies until it stops hurting, and then I live like a normal person until it starts hurting again.

I think I’m dying. Okay, maybe not dying exactly, but definitely in need of an oxygen tank. Meanwhile, these guys are standing around in their short shorts and florescent mesh tank tops looking like they could go another three miles.

In what could only be described as a historic effort, I just completed a 5K. I say historic because it’s the first time in history that a Bloom not only signed up for an athletic competition but actually paid to do so. See, prior to today, I happily subscribed to the age-old Bloom philosophy (circa 1946, Brooklyn) of “why run unless you’re being chased?” You have to admit it’s a good point. I mean, this is supposed to feel good?

The backstory: my wife Julie and I booked a trip to the Grand Canyon. The trip is a few months away but we thought it’d be fun to buy a guidebook and learn what one can expect from a visit to the giant hole. After flipping through a few photos, it became perfectly clear what we could expect: sweating.

The people in these photos were nothing like us. For one thing, they were all about 6 feet tall and incredibly tan. What’s more, they genuinely seemed to love the outdoors (NOTE: My beef isn’t with the outdoors itself. Just bug spray, the way your skin smells after you put on bug spray, and the lack of TiVo access). Anyway, there they were in their flannel shirts and hiking boots, exploring one of our nation’s greatest treasures (no offense to Bea Arthur), and all together looking very, very fit. It soon became clear to Julie and me that if we were going to make the most out of the Canyon, we needed to:

a) get in better shape.
b) invest in self-tanner.

And so our quest to get in shape began (not to be confused with previous quests of the same name, which incidentally date back to the last millennium). We started by asking each other “what’s our first move?”—a reasonable question we could’ve answered had our mouths not been filled with pizza. The next morning however, we got serious. And that’s when, in a moment that could only be classified as pure insanity, we signed up for a 5K that was only two weeks away.

It takes guts to jump into something like that. It takes stupidity to do it when the race is part of the Bryn Mawr Running Club, a local group who runs, get this, for the fun of it. We had two weeks to prepare. Julie did this by running on a treadmill five days a week. I took the less conventional, albeit more creative, route of humming the score from “Rocky,” hoping that I could somehow conjure some of Rock’s fighting spirit without having to do, well, anything that resulted in sweating.

Two weeks later, Julie had run roughly twelve miles. I, on the other hand, had come up with roughly twelve reasons not to run the race (Reason #8: Running Sucks). The day of the race arrived. We pulled up to the running park and I instantly felt like I did in summer camp when I’d be standing on top of the high dive, looking down at the pool waaaaay below, scared out of my mind. The only difference there was that all the other kids were just as terrified as I was. Here, at the scene of the race, I was surrounded by real runners who were, you’ll love this, running a mile just to warm up! I had a bad feeling.

The clock was ticking down. While most used this time to stretch and talk strategy (“I’m gonna weave through the post and then, WHOOSH, I’m gonna find the pocket!”), I had more important thoughts racing through my mind (“Didn’t we pass a Starbucks on the drive over?”). Suddenly, it was time to race. A man with a megaphone assembled the herd to the starting line and, I’ve got to admit, for a brief moment, my feeling of dread had vanished and I was genuinely excited. “Who cares if I’m not a runner,” I thought. “We’re all one big group here!”

A siren sounded and, no kidding, the next thing I remember is seeing a cartoonish blur fly past me. It’s possible that at one point I, quite literally, ate someone’s dust. I can’t really describe what happened next, namely because my brain stopped forming memories after I got lapped by a middle aged guy with a portable oxygen tank. What I do remember, however, is forcing myself to keep going. So did Julie. And eventually, we crossed the finish line together. And while I’d like to end this by saying I learned something from the experience, the honest-to-goodness truth is that it was slightly less fun than undergoing lengthy and unnecessarily invasive dental surgery. Now where’s that guy with the oxygen tank?