I don't walk the dog. I walk my ego.
With 15 minutes before it's time to leave for work, in the midst of the Monday morning craziness, I announce to my family, "I'm going for a walk around the block." With my phone to count my steps, I take my ego for some much-needed exercise.
I must seem like a freak in my yellow pants, striped tie, and blue blazer, walking around Barclay Farms in Cherry Hill without a dog or a baby stroller or gym clothes (sanctioned excuses to walk). With daylight saving time, I was often too exhausted to go, but then I felt the pull of Thoreau's advice:
"An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."
A few short strolls easily add up to the recommended 10,000 steps a day. A Facebook post showed a brain scan of sitting versus walking. The walking brain was a rainbow of activity compared with the sitting brain.
And boy, were my synapses snapping during the walk.
In that walk, in a mere 10 minutes, I composed an essay about an old friend and outlined a story idea. The time away with just my thoughts - no newspaper, no magazine, no TV - allowed my imagination the time it needed.
The walk isn't just beneficial for writers. Walkers must open their thoughts to the elements and to their own senses: the robin plucking a dried, bloated worm from the sidewalk.
I don't come from a long line of walkers. Walking is more an affectation from my literary heritage.
When I lived at home, in the suburb of all suburbs, Voorhees, I would walk at midnight. The cops would sometimes stop me, as if I were robbing homes to support a heroin addiction.
"I'm emulating my walking hero, Robert Frost," I would say, "to generate ideas for my writing and to spend time among the stars."
Did that confirm I was high on something?
That high is what runners feel - the endorphins, right? But I don't think straight when I'm running. My thoughts get knocked around, like my body on a wooden roller coaster. Besides, have you ever looked at runners, with their faces scrunched in pain? Walkers never look like that. Plus, I don't look sexy running. I look like a middle-aged guy in two-day-old Depends. Ambling slowly enough for my ego to wander, I'm the reason why my wife has Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back" for my call ringtone.
In my younger and more gullible years, I used to lap Cooper River. Well, actually, I think I did that once. Huffing and puffing, I told myself, "I would have enjoyed that much more if I just walked." When I'm 80, my knees will thank me.
I have company out there. Most are the dog walkers. I get, "Don't worry, he doesn't bite."
Then I say, "Yeah, but I do." For some reason this doesn't raise a chuckle.
A mysterious woman in my neighborhood must walk 100,000 steps in a day. In the morning, afternoon, evening, no matter the weather, she's out there, wearing the warmest clothing, even when it's boiling.
Another woman always walks with a straw hat the width of an albatross. An older gentleman power walks with tremendous strides while wielding a golf club. At first my wife didn't believe me, until she saw him wielding the 9-iron. "Maybe he's scared for the zombie apocalypse," my wife said.
My favorite time of the day is when I walk with my wife. But lately she's been busy. When pajamas appear at 7, I know I'm walking alone.
"Time for a lonely man walk," I tell her to make her feel guilty.
"Be safe," she says.
At night, too, with my wireless headphones, when I no longer want to compose, no one knows I'm air guitaring to the White Stripes or playing air drums to the Clash. A jam session like this can easily add 6,000 steps to my tally.
At the end of my 10-minute walk that Monday morning, I was already feeling blessed. "I'm home," I tell the commotion.
I check my phone: 1,200 steps. Not too bad. And I still have five minutes to type some notes on Google docs before the teaching of Thoreau. Not too bad at all.