a PAW web exclusive column
by Hugh O'Bleary
fit in a college town
By Hugh O'Bleary
I've always maintained
that living in a college town, where you can walk across campus
each day on the way to and from the train, helps you stay young
(and by "you," of course, I mean me, a middle-aged commuter).
You see the students, with their books and bikes, their backpacks
and Walkmen, hurrying past to class or to the library, and a little
of their vitality is transferred to you. You go forth into the world
newly energized; you're reinvigorated at day's end; reborn again
and again by the rubbing of youthful shoulders.
The scales have fallen
from my eyes (my increasingly near-sighted eyes, I might add), thanks
to my friend Futtsman (another middle-aged commuter, who happens
to live just down the block from me). Usually Futtsman, who is in
advertising (I'm never sure exactly what he does, but it seems to
require his wearing a small ponytail) takes an earlier train home
than I do.
Tonight, however, there
he was on the Dinky. I sat down across the aisle and we chatted
- subway Series, families, the election - for the five-minute ride.
At the Princeton station we stepped off into the mild autumn night
and set out for what I figured would be a pleasant 15-minute walk
home. However, as I started up the slate path that leads through
the Spelman dorms (the most direct route across the campus toward
our street), Futtsman stopped in his tracks. I continued for a couple
of strides before turning to see him practically rearing and whinnying
like a scared horse. I thought perhaps he had been stung by a bee
or had experienced a sudden religious revelation.
Before I could say anything
he simply turned and hurried across the grass to the sidewalk along
"I like to walk
this way," he called over his shoulder as he set off up the
I jogged over to catch
up with him "What way?" I said. "Like a Tourrette's
"I just prefer to
go this way," he said, his eyes rooted on the pavement.
I mentioned that, considering
his sudden detour would add about three quarters of a mile to our
journey, it was perhaps less than efficient. "Walking is all
well and good," I said, trying to jolly him into turning back,
"but, hey, I'm not as young as I used to be."
Futtsman let out a sob.
"Don't you see," he said. "That's the point."
"What are you talking
And out it all came:
Haltingly, Futtsman explained that he didn't cut across campus because
it would mean passing the back of Dillon Gym, with all the windows
looking into the Stephens Fitness Center.
"All those perfect
young bodies," he sobbed. "All those lean, strong, fit,
young men and women. All those damn abs! All of them
cycling and rowing and running and stretching. Covering hundreds
of miles, producing thousands of ergs, burning millions of
calories - as if they even needed it. It's like a giant Ralph Lauren
ad, all that glowing fitness mocking me as I schlepp by lugging
my briefcase. I can't take it, I tell you. I can't take it."
I reached out to pat
his slumping shoulder, but he turned and walked on up University.
Without looking back, he called out, "Make no mistake, my friend,
they're young. We're not."
I let him go. I turned
and started back toward the path through Spelman. I could see the
tall windows of Dillon shining gold through the trees. It occurred
to me that it had been a long day. It was getting chilly. My back
was a little sore. My stomach was grumbling. I checked my watch.
Wow, it was much later than I thought. I looked up and there was
a cab idling at the curb beside the train station, the driver standing
by the open door smoking a cigar.
I waved to Futtsman as
we drove past. Tomorrow maybe I'll take the long way to the train.
I can use the exercise.
Hugh O'Bleary commutes
to New York City from Princeton. He revels in his daily sojourn
across campus to catch the Dinky. You can reach Hugh O'Bleary by
writing him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org