The Audacious Magpie

A Novel in Real-Time

Part 3



Chapter 4:  Work Out


Friday May 9, 2014


It is 8:38am as I stand on the subway platform waiting for the B/D in the final leg of my journey to work.  The daily commute is longer now that I'm in Inwood, but I welcome the extra time to read and relax.  More than the reading time, there is an even better change that has come with the move.  Old Hydey hasn't taken up residence in my new place.

It may be that the weather is finally brightening or that a new place means new beginnings.  I know these are only small parts of the equation, though.  The real reason he left is that Hydey hates The Big Ample project.  My preoccupation with it left him feeling neglected and he stormed out in a pout.

Jekyll hasn't moved in yet, but I see him more often now.  He's there to meet me on street corners and we sway together in the subway.  He loves Big Ample and is always on the lookout for impromptu gifts.  Lost tourists are his favorite.  He tugs at my elbow whenever we pass a group laden with neck cameras and huddled around a poster-size map.  He loves seeing the confusion in their eyes replaced with certainty.     


At 8:40am the train arrives.  As it pulls up, the orange D in the window is a punch-in-the-face reminder that I need to pick up a jug of Dunkin' Donuts' coffee for a 9:00am meeting.  Brilliant.

I timed the commute so I'd arrive 10 minutes early.  Perhaps if I run, I can still make it into the office by 9:00am.

It's a mad dash from the train and up the stairs as I tighten my purse strap across my chest to prepare for the sprint to Dunkin'.  As I emerge from the station, two joggers pass.  Perfect.  I use their cadence to keep pace, forcing my brain to replace my boots and skirt with sneakers and shorts. 

After 4 blocks, I enter the store and find a weaving snake of coffee-thirsty New Yorkers.  I take a deep breath and hope that the general cacophony will mask my tactics.  I eye the manager at the register and alert him that I'll need a jug -- "just as a heads up."

He calls out the order and in the dizzying pace of New York morning coffee shops, the cardboard jug is filled instantaneously.  I time my next move carefully to slip in line with credit card ready just before the next customer moves up.  I pay and dash away before anyone notices, or at least before anyone says anything. 

Damn, I hate people who pull such moves.  Still, I have to smile a little.  Flipped on its head, the chaos that makes New York so overwhelming can also make it extraordinarily convenient.

It's 8:55am as I exit Dunkin' with jug in hand.  I've sprinted on enough of these blocks to know they take an average of 50 seconds to run down.  I'll make it by 9:00am.  Triumph.

Normally Hydey would be panting by my side at this point, grimacing as we weave through the crowd.  Instead I'm kicking up my heels and smiling.  I'm laughing inside as I recall a memory from yesterday. 

In a lunch-time information session, a team of medical professionals came to offer advice about healthy living in New York.  A blond, broad-chested practitioner admonished us to beware of the misconception held by many New Yorkers -- simply living in the city was an exercise regime in and of itself. 

"You still need to make time for regular workout sessions," he advised.  "Walking to work doesn't count.  You need to elevate your heart rate."

If only Dr. He-Man could see me now.  Just like so many New Yorkers, I'd prove to him that the living in this city often was a full-fledged exercise program -- dashing up subway stairs, racing for cabs, dodging delivery bikes, carrying 40 pounds of groceries home, navigating scaffolding, running from sudden downpours.  Simply keeping up with the sheer velocity of this place must easily add up to running a weekly 5K. 

Though I had a gallon of coffee in my hand instead of a baton, I didn't feel so different from an athlete running a relay.

That said, I love an old-fashioned, in-the-gym workout as much as the next New Yorker and look forward to my evening spin classes.


Sia's voice purrs across the speakers as we increase the resistance on our bikes.  The upbeat beginning soothes like a staccatoed love song, belying the fury that will fill the chorus as we hit the highest resistance in 30-second sprints.

For now the instructor's voice is mellow, telling us to spin the dial a quarter-turn every 15 seconds.  Our quads fire up to push the heavy pedals at a regular cadence.

"One, two, one, two, one, two," her cheerful voice keeps tempo while sweat drips onto our handlebars like rain following the beat of the song.

A minute into the song, the instruments fall back as Sia's voice amplifies.  It is as though they are also gearing up before entering a sprint of their own.  The teacher counts down as we prepare for take off.

Like the strong alloy celebrated in the song, we feel our innate strength pulsing and pushing to the beat.  Like the metal's namesake, we become Titans on the bike, furious with energy and determination to make it through the next interval.  The psychedelic beat carries us through the chorus of Titanium until -- abruptly -- Sia's croon returns to a lullaby.  We slow down and gear up for the next set.

"The final sprint will be 45 seconds," the instructor announces.  She's now as breathless as the rest of us.  "Dig deep."

Dig deep.  The two syllables reverberate in my ears. Like her counting, the alliteration takes up the task of keeping time.  Dig deep, dig deep, dig deep. 


After class the metronome continues its beat in my mind -- dig deep, dig deep. Rather than rushing to the showers I sit against the wall in a quiet corner of the weight room.  My fingers patter across the keyboard of my iPhone and a stream of consciousness flows.


Dig deep, she says, dig deep.

So, I plunge my hand into the muddy depths

Like Gollum going after his ring

            (Funny, iPhone's spell check lets Gollum pass.)

What Precious am I rummaging for?

What treasure have I lost?

Or do I dig deep to find something never had before?

Is this foraging for new gold?

Is it powdered flakes I'm meant to find down there in the the muck?

How to sort them out from the slime and the gluck?

            (Spell check does not let gluck pass but wants to make it Gluck, an unfortunate name.

            Or, perhaps, spell check is elevating gluck to a higher stature?)

It is so big, after all, the Gluck.

It's a mess of noisy fear and rambling voices shrill with angst.

It's graffitied stucco smeared with the grime of a hundred opinions.

It's a murky depth ever-thickening with expectations.

The Gluck holds a porridge of doubt and mixed messages, advertisements for a hundred alternate lives.

It is a gnarly recipe with equal parts of coulda, shoulda and woulda. 


Dig deep, she says, dig deep. 

So, I plunge both hands into the depths.

They are immersed to sift through a soggy mess of all that doesn't shine.

You cannot fear that the mud that will rise above your elbows and possibly cover your shoulders. 

You will be face-to-face with it, dipping the tip of your nose into the murk. 

This is not the time to fuss about grime that will line your fingernails like a dirty French manicure. 


It is the time to scoop and sift and unearth the treasures buried long ago. 

It is the time to discover new veins of precious metal not yet mined. 


Digging deep we find the nuggets of pure, the gold amongst the rubble, the diamond amongst the rough.

Digging deep we find the metals that will be not be tempered by intense heat.  We find the stones that will not be scratched.

Digging deep we bring up all that sparkles and shines and makes us bright.


As I walk to the locker room, I get the idea for the next gift -- a celebration of digging deep.

When a few dear friends from graduate school moved from the city, we decided to keep in touch through traveling journals.  We'd text and write and call, of course, but we'd also journal about especially important events and then mail each other the book with these entries.  In the end it would be a shared record of the year in hard copy. 

This alternate communication format inspired the idea for this week's Big Ample gift.

I'd start 24 journals and plant them in the lockers at my gym.  I'd include quotes about inner strength and physical achievement and setting goals.  Then I'd instruct the finder to leave her own bit of inspiration, perhaps a breakthrough she'd had during a training session or something else she was proud of that day.

It would be a series of traveling journals moving from locker to locker, documenting our motivation and drive.  Through anonymous messages we'd push and encourage each other.

In the daily race of New York living, we could be each other's cheerleaders.  We could share our silent brightness on every page.