“Because you know, nothing bad ever happens to a writer; everything is material.”
— Garrison Keillor, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Nov. 11, 2000
Last week I learned an important lesson: no matter what you accomplish in life, if you wear a pair of short running shorts for a walk, a pack of teenagers will make fun of you, relentlessly.
Since my back surgery I’ve had to give up running for a time. In its place, I’ve started walking regularly, an activity I’ve come to enjoy. While walking doesn’t burn as many calories as running and, in my experience, offers a much diminished endorphin high compared with running, it does have many health benefits and is reportedly a much easier routine to maintain.
I can relate to that last point. Despite having a marathon under my belt, I’m no great runner. Having a 6-foot, 220-pound frame doesn’t help. Running for me has largely been a minute-by-minute torture fest but, glutton for punishment that I am, I’ve always kept coming back for more.
The feeling you get after a good run is indisputably great but the feeling you get while walking is pretty good too. It’s easier to think about things when you’re walking and you can actually look around and enjoy the scenery instead of constantly worrying your calves are going to explode.
So, there’s much to recommend walking over running. And while I hope to return to pounding the pavement in the not-too-distant future, I’m content with my walking routine for now.
There’s just one problem.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated my fair share of running attire — including several pairs of short shorts — that works well when you’re striding toward the finish line but is less practical when you’re out for a casual stroll.
In an attempt to alleviate some chafing I had accrued over a week of walks, I wore a pair of running shorts with a mesh liner for a walk last Monday. I also made the unfortunate decision to wear a pair of hiking shoes instead of sneakers.
As I headed south on Thompson Boulevard, I encountered what appeared to be two large groups of teenagers walking north. In my haste to get in some exercise before work, I had neglected to realize that some schools had already gotten out for the summer.
I knew what was about to happen but there was nothing I could do to stop it. There is perhaps no fashion critic more discerning than the middle- to high-school-aged student.
As I passed through the gauntlet of pubescent punks, I endured not one but two assaults. The first, and most gentle, came from the group of young ladies that formed the advance guard of my worst nightmare. The second, and far harsher, came from the group of young men who trailed them, hurling invectives at me that would make a Navy man blush.
Some of the PG-rated comments ranged from, “He’s wearing booty shorts,” to, “I like his hiking boots.”
I was summarily “called out.”
In my experience, the accepted length of one’s shorts is relative to location. In the city, I’ve worn running shorts that raised nary an eyebrow but elicited insults in West Virginia. And, as a male runner, I’ve had to endure a fraction of the abuse to which female athletes are regularly subjected. But there’s a big difference between getting made fun of for wearing short shorts while you’re running and while you’re walking. Primarily, it involves time.
When somebody yells at you when you’re running, you can move on quickly because you’re, well, running. But when somebody takes issue with your attire while you’re walking, that exchange can last for much, much longer, as it did last Monday.
Now, it’s been a while since I’ve taken such a drubbing. The last time I can remember being laid so low I was in the late stages of grade school. I was transported back to those years in an instant. I’ve been questioning my wardrobe, and my worth, for about a week now.
Oh, well. There’s nothing wrong with being humiliated every now and then. It’s good for the soul. I make no apologies for the length of my shorts.
Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.