The Treadmill

Long a symbol of going nowhere, the treadmill seems a creature of tedium rather than agent of chaos that can unseat you. This is the treadmill’s secret weapon. It camoflages itself as the slow and steady, the reliable pace at a given incline. It lulls you with its consistency. Waits for that moment, the brief break of inattention to attack.

This morning, David was running next to me on the treadmill at a steady pace, when he snagged his hand in the cord running from his MP3 player to his headphones. The MP3 fell, hit the belt, which zinged the little box like a bullet. I heard the SNAP crack through my own music and looked over to meet the equally startled gaze of the guy on the elliptical on the other side of David. Between us, David also looked around for his player, and promptly zinged off the back of the treadmill himself.

I’d done it once, too. One of the first times I went to the rec center, back when my lack of fitness and excess body fat confined me to walking the treadmill. I walked slowly, steadily. It was pretty dull, really. When I decided to pull off my sweatshirt, I didn’t give it a second thought. Of course I can keep walking at a normal pace, especially one regulated for me, while pulling off a shirt.

But as soon as my eyes were muffled — I zinged off the end of the treadmill. Nearly into the laps of some innocent people walking around the track. I flailed a bit, still caught in my sweatshirt. A bit confused about what happened, but still pretty much on my feet. Behind me, the treadmill softly chuckled to itself.

I suppose it’s a lesson in attention. That even the most dull and reliable features of our lives can suddenly throw us to the side in a heap. Perhaps it’s the most dull and reliable that bear the most watching. Those things that become so familiar we cease to pay attention to them. We get comfortable, trust them to pace along at exactly the settings we’ve previously designated and turn our attention to other things.

One of these days, we’ll know better.

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