So I was on the elliptical this morning, slogging my way through “thirty minutes of hell,” an accurate – if not quite affectionate – name for my workout. At some point, I catch a glance of an old lunchbox on the shelf nearby. It’s a childhood relic recaptured through the magic of ebay, an old metal lunchbox with Marvel superheroes adorning every side. The side that’s facing out shows Spiderman, Thor and Captain
America. They are showing off,
their athletic muscularity on bountiful display in powerful, iconic poses. I
cannot see myself, but I know what I must look like in comparison as I sweat
and strain and groan: a pale reflection filtered through a funhouse mirror.
Suddenly, I hate these guys.
As I struggle to cultivate (or even hang on to) the comparatively small amount of muscle mass I possess, as I grapple with this stupid machine in an increasingly tenuous battle to fend off the excess weight that seems determined to envelop me, as I endure these thirty minutes of hell each day just so I can continue to keep some degree of fitness part of my identity, it dawns on me that those guys over there on the shelf have it easy. They always have, and they always will. None of them had to earn their muscle, or fight off the insidious advance of middle age obesity. Spiderman spontaneously sprouted muscles after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Thor was born a god. Gods never have to throw themselves in the path of an oncoming exercise machine. Sure, Steve Rogers started life as a scrawny runt – he and I had at least that much in common – but then he went and got injected by a super-secret super-soldier serum (which conveniently went missing long before I got my turn) and then, WHAM!, next thing you know he’s Captain America. He’s set for life. He might retain some vague recollection of what it was like to be a scrawny runt, but he’s never going to have to deal with the twin scourges of visceral and subcutaneous belly fat.
I look at them from my position, a solid twenty minutes deep into hell, and I reject them. I reject all accidental superheroes. Every one who came here from another planet, or were born with superpowers, or acquired them through some bizarre accident. What do they know of me, of my struggle? Give me the self-made superhero, the one who had to earn his muscle. Give me Batman.
Batman, at least, knows my pain. Batman, I am certain, has had to fight hard to maintain his peak physical condition all these years. Of all the superheroes, Batman's the one who, like me, must mount the elliptical machine every day and put himself through thirty minutes of hell.
Maybe even forty.