Once, while sitting on the toilet in my apartment, my bathroom door fell off.
And not just a hinge – the entire door. It began to sway, wobbled for a moment, and then crashed to the ground.
I stared at it, dumbfounded.
What do I do now?
Lacking the proper tools, I got up and leaned the door against its frame. For weeks afterwards, whenever I needed to use the bathroom I found myself pulling back the piece of wood and ducking underneath.
“I remember when I used to have a working door,” I thought. “That was nice.”
I have a job, some money saved, but rather than replace a broken object I’ll adapt to the situation with the dexterity of a shipwreck survivor – someone given a finite amount of objects that must potentially last a lifetime.
Once the door fell off, I hunted around my apartment for other impending disasters. I already knew the windows didn’t open and was aware of the smoke detector wires dangling from the ceiling, but soon began to obsess over smaller imperfections. Tiny cracks, warped floorboards, chipped paint – I was trapped in a human Jenga game, waiting for it all to come tumbling down.
My dishwasher is so old that I worry about going to sleep with it on, staying awake not out of responsibility, but because I might have to flee the scene at any moment. It has leaked downstairs several times and now I change my clothes whenever it’s running, slipping into something more formal in case angry neighbors appear. I’m debating staging a tray of cookies in the oven, so if there’s a loud knock on my door I can present them as a peace offering.
“Maybe we were wrong about him,” they’ll say in between bites. “These are delicious. And did you see his tie? Snappy.”
I’m aware that all this anxiety can be alleviated with just a few phone calls to repairmen, but too much time has passed, too many things need fixing. It’s easier now to just wait out my lease, move away and start fresh. I’ve had this mentality for so long that it has transferred to my own body and rather than visit doctors or dentists, I’m just waiting out my life.
I’ve always felt people who go to doctors are masochists, seeking out humiliation like a submissive businessman does a dominatrix.
“I want you to go into that tiny room and take off all of your clothes. Here, put this paper dress on. I’m going to keep you waiting, but you deserve it, don’t you? Smoker. Binge drinker. Fat ass. You’re going to wait in that room until I come in and tell you to bend over.”
Dentists are even worse, masked bandits we allow to drill into our bodies. Fear of dentists is hereditary in my case, and my entire family suffers from “odontophobia” – from the Latin, meaning “mouth cowards.” My father once famously defended his refusal to go to the dentist by saying, “My mouth is my business.” The dental equivalent of, “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.”
Eschewing professional opinions, I’ve taken to diagnosing myself, assuming that anything from a stiff back to a damaged cuticle is the result of my brain tumor. I update my mental obituary daily to account for my cause of death, but always mention the tumor to excuse all of my life’s bad decisions.
“We can’t really blame him after all,” the mourners will remark. “It must have been the brain tumor. What a brave man.”
My life thus far has been an elaborate PR campaign, designed to trick people into liking me. Death ruins my ability for damage control, and without my direction people will quickly come to realize what a horrible bastard I am. Thus, my only chance is if I outlive all my enemies, and for that to happen I need to start getting in better physical shape.
And so, I joined a gym.
* * *
There is always a scene in television cop shows where the detectives visit the morgue. Before them is the corpse, cold and semi-blue, draped under a sheet to cover the parts forbidden by the network. There are several kinds of victims, but mostly it’s one of two categories – the attractive woman, and the grotesque, beer-gutted man.
“Poor bastard,” one detective will remark.
The other will simply vomit.
While many go to the gym to feel better about themselves, all I care about is if I’ll one day offend a mortician.
Once I’d agreed to a six-month membership, the woman at the front desk gave me a tour of the gym and I peeked inside the men’s locker room. It was pretty standard – a few dozen lockers, some benches, and in the corner, a naked man.
He was crouched over at first, getting something from his bag, but perked up when he saw me.
“Taking the tour?”
What struck me, other than the full frontal nudity, was how casual he was, as if waiting for a bus. I still dress in front of others like I’m on a sinking boat, wildly pulling on random items. But this man stood confidently, towel draped over his shoulders instead of wrapped around his waist. His body hair, thick and black, was so plentiful it almost gave the appearance he was clothed.
It was only an extremely tiny penis that gave him away.
As he began to lotion, I backed out of the room.
“Sounded like Jerry in there,” my guide said. “He’s a regular.”
As she continued the tour, I couldn’t help but notice all the motion – machines whirring with activity, people moving up, down, sideways. Gyms seemed a tremendous waste of energy, a potential power source virtually untapped. Rowing machines and bikes spun round and round, not really doing anything. It struck me that if we could only capture this energy and hook it up to a battery, gyms could power an entire town, or at least a McDonald’s.
After some frantic dressing, I got on a treadmill and began to walk, slowly, getting used to the feeling. Then came some light jogging, followed by a casual look around the room, smiling, nodding at my fellow worker-outers. I upped the speed, moving pretty good. Four minutes had elapsed.
I can run a marathon. What’s the big deal?
Two minutes later, I couldn’t breathe. The room seemed tilted, cloudy. I was plodding along like a drunken horse, clopping loudly, making a noise that appropriately sounded like the word “dumb” being chanted over and over. Gasping for air, my hand reached for the bright red ‘STOP’ button, the treadmill equivalent of an ejection seat. But before I pressed it, she appeared.
A woman had hopped onto the treadmill next to me and though I couldn’t quite see her face through the sweat pouring into my eyes, she smelled attractive. I was suddenly very conscious of my sweating and began pawing at my face and head like I was covered in flies. Then, she began stretching.
She lifted a toned leg almost 90 degrees onto the handrail, a light moan escaping her lips as she bent down. I upped the speed some more, almost sprinting now. She began running herself, methodic, graceful.
I slowed to her pace and pictured us jogging together on vacation, down a remote tree-lined path in Italy perhaps. We’d remark on the countryside, noting the pastoral colors that must have inspired generations of artists. A bunny would startle Danielle and I’d laugh, feigning injury after her playful slap. (I’d decided her name was Danielle.) Later, we’d probably make love beside a stream.
I was stirred from my fantasy by loud beeping. A bright red heart was blinking on the screen in front of me, and warnings were scrolling by.
210 BPM…210 BPM…YOU’RE OUT OF SHAPE….
210 BPM… WHY DID YOU TRY TO RUN THIS FAST? … 210 BPM…
NO ONE LOVES YOU…210 BPM…
My mind, unlike my gelatinous body, sprang into action.
What is 210 BPM?? Is that bad? It seems bad. Maybe I reached a goal, like a high score or something? I don’t feel so good. Do I stop, or is the beeping alerting a medic to help me?
I slapped at the screen, desperate for the beeping to stop. It sounded like a Russian jet had locked on and was about to fire. And if that wasn’t enough, from the corner of my eye I saw the unthinkable. Danielle was stripping down to a skimpy tank top.
It was too much for me.
The first thing to hit was my right knee, which slammed down onto the treadmill and was pulled backwards. Then came my head, which bumped into the monitor, but thankfully silenced the beeping. I’d managed to hang onto the handrail, but it was no use – the rest of my body soon followed, sweat flying, finally crumpling into a pile behind the machine.
Danielle didn’t even notice. She stared straight ahead, the same methodic, graceful pace.
Thirty minutes later I saw her leave with tiny penis Jerry.
* * *
The next morning, my right knee had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. I could barely walk.
I rolled over and grabbed my phone, searching “knee pain brain tumor.” The names of several doctors appeared, none specializing in both areas.
No matter, it will probably heal on its own, eventually. Some broken things are easy to repair, bathroom doors and dishwashers; others just take time, knees and hearts. The problem is, that even after all the fixing, after all the anxiety, the worry, the effort – the only thing left is more breaking.
So really, what’s the point?