I accidentally wrote my way into the analogy, then abandoned it for a few days because, I don’t know, it’s so rarely done well. I’m not sure it is this time, either, but here and there it’s not bad, and readers seemed to appreciate what was going on enough to try to write their responses in the same vein and mostly succeed. Two other things: It’s not my headline, but I can think of no other, and after this appeared Steak complained about being a regular character in my stories, though both of us know he’d be insulted if he weren’t.

I just want to say, to start, that I don’t think riding a stationary trainer is wrong, or anything to be embarrassed about. It’s something we all do — or at least have experimented with.

In fact, I’m also just going to go ahead and get this out of the way and admit that I’ve done it a lot. We have a pretty healthy attitude about it at my house. I do it when it feels necessary, Beth does the same, and while we each know the other does so, we don’t make a big deal about the whole thing.

I’m not telling you this for shock value, or to try to be controversial. I just want to establish that, while I might not have much formal scientific or medical knowledge about the subject, I know at least as much as the average person and I’m not in any way close-minded about it.

For instance, I know that of course some of us do it more than others, and I don’t make any judgments about that. I mean, so what if you’re one of those people who does it every day, for hours and hours? Or even if you’re one of those people who end up finding it more enjoyable and more rewarding than the real thing — so what: It’s not like you’re hurting anybody else.

If pressed, I’d say that, sure, based on my personal experience and some things I’ve picked up anecdotally here and there over the years I believe that what we always hear is correct: More men do it than women and that, also, in general men do it more than women.

So you see: I’m not ignorant about this, I’m cool and open about the whole thing, and I have absolutely no problem with anyone riding a stationary trainer.

Then my friend Steak came to my office and told me he was going to go over and, in the middle of the day, do it in the company gym.

“That’s horrible,” I said.

It’s one thing to be locked away in a little room in your basement, all alone, doing what you have to do. Or to rip off a quick session while you’re watching some late night TV. But what he was proposing turned my stomach.

“What’s wrong with you?” I said. “You’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Christine asked me.”

That’s Keith’s girlfriend. They live together.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, Steak asked if he could borrow my shorts.

I winced. “Let me — let me get this straight,” I said, my voice shaky. “You’re going to do it in my shorts, with Keith’s girlfriend, in full view of a bunch of other people? What the hell is your problem?”

“What’s your problem?” he said. “You sound like a psychopath. Do you have shorts I can use or not?”

I stared at him. Maybe I did have a problem. Maybe I was too reactionary, too quick to condemn those who acted in ways I wouldn’t, who in their own search for happiness would go to extremes I couldn’t. Maybe this all stemmed from the time when, as a teenager, I found out that my mom could hear me riding the rollers upstairs. “It sounds like you’re going to bring the house down!” she said one day, right in front of my friends.

Steak was waiting. I picked up a pair of Louis Garneaus from my office floor and threw them at him. “We need what we need,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Keep them,” I said. “Bring the house down.”


Originally published in the Jan. 30, 2009 Sitting In