Scott Saalman Herald Essay: Hamster-style run loaded with tangles


For me, the first five or so minutes in the gym are the most trying. That’s how long it takes, if I’m lucky, to muster the Hemingway code of grace under pressure while I twist, stretch, grunt, sweat—and if no one is near, whimper, make silent deals with deity and curse (so much for grace)—before even beginning my actual workout. Yes, I’m talking about that seemingly endless time it takes to untangle my iPod’s earphones.

I could more quickly solve a Rubik’s Cube with just my bare toes than untangle my earphones. No matter how neatly I roll them up after usage and return them to my pocket, they always uncoil and entwine like snakes in heat before my next workout. What causes this knotted chaos? Pocket poltergeists?

I believe this is what Bob Dylan is referring to in “Tangled Up In Blue,” a song on my playlist. Only when I completely untangle the cords can I take the critical step of capping my ear canals and crank up the tunes.

Music is a must. It gets my mind off what I have paid good money to do even though it’s something I would rather not do: exercise.

I prefer starting off with something from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s “‘Live’ Bullet,” arguably the best concert album ever. When the announcer says at the start of the recording, “You are here because you want the real thing. Let’s bring out Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Now!!!” and “Nutbush City Limits” kicks in, blares, blocks out all gym sounds, I experience pure funk, soul, rock n’ roll nirvana. “They call it Nutbush, oh Nutbush, call it Nutbush city limits …” Faster than you can say, “Run Forrest run,” the treadmill is no longer the “dreadmill,” the machine and I married by motion.

A good run for me can be sustained with a string of “run” referenced songs on my playlist: Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Steve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running,” Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream,” Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil.”

Without music, there’s no way I could mentally withstand doing time on a treadmill, which really is nothing more than a glorified hamster wheel. You run but never get anywhere.

Sometimes the Bee Gees play (I’ll deny this if you tell anyone). It’s a guilty listening pleasure. But more importantly, “Staying Alive” reminds me why I endure exercise. I do it to stay alive.

I used to run outdoors, on actual pavement. The last time being Thanksgiving morning 2011. My 47th birthday. It was unseasonably warm. Misty. I ran Jasper’s Riverwalk though things just didn’t feel right. I was plagued by perpetual calf cramps. I felt stiff, like the Tin Man attempting a 12K in the rain. My rusty knees throbbed. I was in dire need of WD-40. A “run” related song summed up the experience, “Running on Empty.”

I was out of gas by the time I hobbled to the finish line in eyesight of the Jasper cinema. The marquee mocked me. “Happy Feet 2” was showing. I kid you not. There was nothing happy about my feet, my knees, my calves, my anything. So, this is 47? Shoot me now.

As a birthday present to myself, I bought a gym membership.

Running indoors has proven to be easier on my joints, but there is one pitfall, that being when my mp3 player’s battery dies halfway through a workout. It seems each time this happens, Singing Guy just happens to be in the gym. Singing Guy listens to music through earphones but he obviously forgets that people can still hear him when he sings along. Other than my own singing voice, there is not a worse voice than that of Singing Guy. Even famous American Idol reject William Hung would laugh at this guy. Marine biologists, you need not research any further. Singing Guy is the reason that whales beach themselves.

Sometimes I try to read an e-book on the treadmill, but this can be dangerous, especially with a Dave Barry book. For example, I downloaded Dave’s “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty.” I started laughing out loud, which is no big deal since everyone else was secretly listening to the Bee Gees through their earphones and couldn’t hear me. A few pages later, I had to grip the treadmill’s bars for support. Then, tears of laughter ensued and I doubled over in dangerous delight. Had I not hit the Stop button, I would’ve likely been overtaken by the momentum of the moving belt, passed through the rollers as if caught by undertow, disappearing then reappearing cartoon-like with each treadmill revolution.

There should be a warning on the cover of Dave’s books: DO NOT READ WHILE OPERATING EXERCISE EQUIPMENT. ALSO, MAY CAUSE ANAL LEAKAGE. Don’t ask.

I’ve wasted way too much time telling you about treadmills. Now I need to actually get on one before they’re all taken, just as soon as I get these damned earphones untangled.

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