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The Blue Thing

The piece of exercise equipment had been in the same place in my backyard for over a year. I’m not even sure what it was called. A six-foot-long, two-foot-wide, six-inch-high strip of blue plastic with a rubber tread running down its center.

It was owned by Robert, my exercise trainer. I had used it to improve my balance by stepping on it and raising my left foot. I’d balance on my right foot for fifteen seconds and then, if I was lucky, lower it gracefully and repeat the process with my left foot. If I managed to complete the routine without falling off the blue thing, Robert would say, “Good, very good.” If not, he’d be silent. Like other faculties, balance is a disappearing act for the elderly.

Robert was my trainer for several years. Twice a week for thirty minutes we’d meet at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club, and he, like an orchestra leader, would put me through a routine of ropes, balls, weights, and sinister looking machines. I came to know the devices and the routine and often wondered why I was still paying for Robert’s services. Maybe it was because he was my psychiatrist as well as my trainer.

And then Robert fell ill. No big deal at first. He could still manage nicely while he was going through his own escalating routine of invasive surgery, lethal radiation, and destructive chemicals. But his absences from the club multiplied and he eventually stayed home.

Both of us suffered his absence and we often spoke and texted. It was during one of those phone conversations that he suggested coming to my house where we might find a quiet spot to continue some sort of training.

He lived ten minutes away and was still able to drive. He’d arrive at my place around nine. I’d anticipate his appearance and go to his car to help unload his bag of tricks, a few hand weights, elastic ropes, and that blue plastic thing. As his health deteriorated, my share of unloading the equipment got bigger while his time sitting in a comfortable patio chair grew more frequent.

It was the highlight of the week for both of us. I got a little exercise, and he increased his self-worth. I had a psychiatrist who made house calls, and he got closer to the old athletic club setting where he had once been on top of the world.

I was the only one using his exercise equipment and we both quickly tired of moving it in and out of his car. The biggest and clumsiest piece was that blue thing. It was like sticking a surfboard in his car. So, he suggested that we just leave it at my house until it wasn’t needed anymore.

Eventually the house calls grew less frequent, and then they stopped. The blue thing stayed on the patio.  Jackie wondered if I should find a new trainer, but I procrastinated. I had made myself a promise that I would not look for a new trainer until either Robert died, or he came back to get the blue thing.

The silent blue thing sat there, unused. Through summer and winter, I expected it to fall apart from exposure to sun and rain. I half hoped it was invincible, like Robert.

And then he died.

Jackie and I debated the fate of the blue thing. I was inclined to further procrastination. But a promise is a promise even if I’m the only one who knows it.

The blue thing is gone now. And I have a new trainer.

I ache all over.


I’m in my fourth year at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club where I pay a monthly fee to use the facilities and, as a bonus, ogle the attractive women who make the visit much more enjoyable.

I joined the club after Ila died and have been a faithful member through the pandemic. Some Covid-mindful people thought I was foolishly risking my health by sharing the club’s air with others who were also deemed crazy. They were probably right.

Until I moved from the Upper Ojai in 2019, I’d get in my car at 6am, five days a week and drive eight twisting miles from the house on the hill to the club on Fox Street. Since becoming an urban Townie, I often walk a mile to the club in about twenty minutes.

Early on, Jackie told me I should get a personal trainer, someone who could show me how to improve my physical condition without doing permanent damage to my 80-year-old body.

And so, I met Robert.

A slender, physically fit specimen that I hoped to emulate one day, Robert trained the unfit, conducted yoga classes, led hikes, and spent lots of time schmoozing with everyone at the club. He knew their names, their kids’ names, and their dogs’ names. Everyone waved at Robert, and he took the time to wave back. My thirty-minute, twice weekly sessions shrank to twenty because of his constant socializing. He often was late, and I was often irritated. But he was a star, and I basked in it.

We started our training (I’m not sure why it’s called training…maybe because it’s like taking your dog to obedience class). Robert inventoried my body parts, found them all in their proper places, and measured my stamina. He entered the information on an official looking form and promised that we would periodically re-evaluate my condition to determine the level of my improvement or lack thereof. He said he would record the new data and compare it to the old data. I never saw the form again in our nearly three-year relationship.

I tried to focus on the physical stuff during our sessions but was often drawn into conversations with Robert about the news, books, and our past lives. I shared personal stuff with him, including dreams that your analyst would find interesting. And that, I finally realized, was as much a part of his standard routine as was the proper use of the club’s equipment.

We were comfortable in our deepening rut. But then he began to talk about his own health. His annual physical had shown some troubling signs. He didn’t complain; over the weeks it was more like a slow-motion description of progressive decline. 

His liver had been invaded; he was referred to UCLA, a place where you should only go when you have a condition that defies medical science.

Treatments began. Reports given by him during our sessions were promising. The bad guys were on the run.

Or so it seemed. The invaders had migrated to his head, wreaking new havoc.

Robert was a lot younger than me. These things, I thought, were supposed to afflict guys my age, not his.

And then, the unthinkable. He gave up his position at the club to devote full time to his illness. Selfishly, I wondered what I would do without a trainer.

Robert suggested I try someone else. So, I worked with a new guy for a few months, and then he left. I thought I’d try it without a trainer. I figured I’d just follow the last routine I learned from the new guy. But I found myself taking short cuts. I went to the club less frequently. I was sure I was slowly getting out of shape. I was bored.

Yesterday, Jackie suggested that I try a third trainer. I listened, like I always do, but said nothing, packed up my stuff and went to the club. I did my usual routine but found little pleasure in it. I showered and wandered by the front desk on my way out. I had decided to take one of the other trainers’ business cards that adorn the counter. But I hesitated, feeling like a deserter. I figured I’d get one next time.

I went home, made some oatmeal, and sat down at the computer. I thought about Robert and realized I hadn’t heard from him for a few weeks. We often text and occasionally speak on the phone. I sent a text…You’ve been quiet. What’s happening, bro?

Waiting for a return text, I roused my paranoia to its full height. I wondered if he’d had a relapse, a reoccurrence, a new invasion by the bad guys. I figured he’d respond when he could. Meanwhile, I’d worry.

And then, five minutes later, the phone rang. A voice much stronger than I remembered said, “I’m going for a haircut. I plan to start working part-time in April. Let’s get together next week and talk about training.”

I’ll have to remember to build in some time for his schmoozing.



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