Web Exclusives:

Inky Dinky Do

a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

November 8, 2000:

Aaaah, those abs!

Keeping 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.

Yeah, right.

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 University Place.

"I like to walk this way," he called over his shoulder as he set off up the hill.

I jogged over to catch up with him "What way?" I said. "Like a Tourrette's patient?"

"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 about?"

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 paw@princeton.edu