the dangers of jogging

or

Brussels and dating

 

By Rajneesh Narula

(Another in my occasional essay series)

 

Once every year - for a period of a few months - I seek to reverse the damage I do to my corpuscular being in the course of the average year of smoking, drinking and general debauchery. I diligently - but not painlessly - undertake a regimen of exercise. This is not to say I am any good at it. As I have confessed elsewhere, the cherished dream of winning an Olympic medal is now destined to remain a dream. Indeed, it has moved on to being a fantasy with which I shall entertain gullible children with one day (but a glimmer of hope remains. I notice that curling would fit my temperament quite well. None of the contestants strike me as being able to run much further than the local doughnut shop).

 

But I digress. I’m struggling bravely to run up this miniscule hill which should prove no problem to your average pace-maker-wearer, huffing and puffing, passing (as one does in Copenhagen in summer) a large number of thoroughly unimpressed beautiful women. But wait! Suddenly, this bevy of bored blondes look up, pupils dilated, faces animated, jaws dropping, even some unconscious fussing with hair! Finally, I think, I have turned into a love magnet! At last my value to the female of the species is being acknowledged!

 

But alas, this moment of elation, this joyous soaring of my spirit lasted but for a blink of a gnat’s eye. For sadly, their adoring looks and gasps of ecstasy were directed towards the very athletically built man who had rapidly overtaken me, so swiftly that I stumbled in the force of his wake. Leaving nothing to the imagination, he had forsaken almost all forms of clothing, except for what can best be described as a generous thong, his muscles rippling (a construction worker, or a fanatical body-builder no doubt) as he attempted to break the sound barrier.

 

I had - once again - had the proverbial sand kicked in my face. My first reaction was to silently rage at the unfairness of it all. After all, I thought, he is probably as stupid as a one kilo bag of potatoes, and here I am, no intellectual lightweight (indeed compared to Bob the Builder I would probably be an intellectual Mr Universe to his George W.) being completely ignored by these selfsame women who have regularly confess to magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Marie Clare (yes, ladies, we do read the surveys when you aren’t looking) that they’re looking for men with content rather than looks, a man who can hold up his end of the conversation., not just move the furniture around.

 

Once the initial outrage subsided, however, I realised that my outrage was highly misplaced. I thought of my recent intellectual efforts, and the wisdom and abilities of my professional competition. Er, perhaps I couldn’t label myself as the intellectual version of Arnold Schwarzeneger after all. Hmm, how about Sean Connery (also a former Mr Universe, by the way), umm no. I began to get desperate. Jean Claude van Damme, surely? Sigh, no. Jim Carey??? Hmmm. Indeed, the more I thought of it, the more I realised that this was exactly the wrong way to cheer myself up. I was on a pair of very slippery skies descending rapidly down Mount Selfrespect.

 

I must now reveal to you, beloved readers, who have listened to me so patiently for these many years, a true confession. I am not smart. Have never been. It’s the glasses, and generally looking sort of nerdy, combined with my eccentric speech habits where I say abstract things that don’t really make sense in the conversation, so people have to decide that I’m either very smart, or not playing with a full deck. What with this PhD I seem to have picked up on the way, people nowadays tend to go with the smart thing. Indeed, it would seem that I too have started to believe in my own myth.

 

Nothing (now that I had started this self-flagellation on the last painful 50m to my apartment) could be further from the truth. As a child, I once spent a whole day watching a bunch of people stencilling ‘UNICEF’ over our primary school classrooms, convinced that they had forgotten to add an ‘H’ after the C (what a unichef might actually be, is not something that occurred to me). I am the child, dear readers, who continued to spell ‘shirt’ without an ‘r’ till late into his university days (in my defence, this is how it is pronounced in Nigeria). People can lie to me till the cows come home, and I believe them. Worse, subtlety is lost on me. When women in lingerie have asked me to give them a massage, I have treated this as simply a plea for chiropractic skills (PS, I have none). I once dated a married woman for several weeks without actually noticing the ring, or realising that the photograph of the large handsome man next to the bed might actually not be her brother.

 

Age has not proven to be a cure, and with this PhD thing I have preferred to regard myself as slow on the uptake, rather than stupid. Crossing the threshold of my apartment I was faced with a sudden realisation that I might actually have nothing going for me - unlike the Danish Rambo -who at least had a finely sculpted six-pack.

 

But wait! It gets worse! While cooling down under the shower I realised that I was as guilty as the women in drawing conclusions based on limited visual data. They had taken my steroid-high- friend and done exactly the opposite to what I was doing. I assumed that he was making up for his weakness in the brains department by pumping iron. The girls, on the other hand, had probably extrapolated excellence in one area and assume that Mr. Buns-R-Us had the same command over all things. I naturally assumed the flying Dane in the thong was thicker than a two-inch plank, while the women with the eyes bugging out of their head assumed that he was a kind sensitive billionaire brain surgeon who does stand-up comedy to amuse his dates (when not lifting weights). He was probably a Nobel Prize winning chemist WHO HAD IT ALL! We had taken the same information and gone two completely different ways with it!

 

My life - as those of you who know me can attest to - is dedicated to making the world a better place. Imperfect information, the mortal enemy of human and economic efficiency had struck again. It was, I mused (as I munched on a bar of chocolate during my post exercise workout) my role to seek a way to find a way forward for humankind. One of us - the women or me - was clearly wrong, and I felt that if I was ever to live a normal life again, there must be a way for this information asymmetry to be addressed. Did a brain the size of Antarctica inhabit the cranium of Mr Bay Watch, and how might this information be made available for those of us who judge with our eyes?

 

It fell on Virginia (academic, mother, part-time pop-pscychologist and closet diva) to suggest a viable solution. Honest Labelling. Just as EC directives require the content of your ketchup be specified clearly, why not do the same for people? For instance, my forehead should state quite clearly ‘eternally naïve’, or ‘galactically stupid’. Take a bar situation where the music is too loud (and thus one cannot undertake useful conversation) and I cross the room to chat up an unbelievably hot and well-endowed and bewitching brunette. In the absence of theme music, would it not save me a considerable amount of time and suffering were she to come with a label that said, ‘the lights may be on, but nobody’s home’? Given my predilection for meeting women with psychoses, would it not serve society (i.e., me) well to label her with a sign saying ‘one sandwich short of a picnic’? Or ‘has large jealous boyfriend liable to violent fits, but otherwise intelligent funny and no tattoos and looking for an upgrade’, so that I can weigh the pros and cons of my actions?

 

Naturally, there is the problem of putting all this information on one’s forehead. Perhaps we can put the information on as jewellery. Obviously, ‘likes hairy men, but has difficulties with commitment’ would have to be abbreviated to ‘LHMDWC’, which requires a small manual for interpretation. Or 3G technologies could be used so that an SMS message is sent to everyone in the vicinity. There is also the problem of mis-advertising. Obviously, most people don’t want to walk around with a sign that says ‘fruitcake’, so they have an incentive to lie. The responsibility for the information should lie with an external and independent organisation. Perhaps the European Commission will see fit to establish a separate Directorate General (‘DG Dating’) that collects information on individuals and has it peer reviewed by a competent panel. After all, do governments not have a responsibility to improve the welfare of its citizens?

 

Feeling smug with myself for a few minutes after thinking this through (while consuming a large piece of very ripe camembert), I realised there was a fly in my ointment. All my muscular friend needed to do was read a couple of books to improve himself in the intellectual department, I, on the other hand, was never going to be able to do enough stomach crunches to duplicate his physique.

 

Woe is me, It seems I shall have to stick to humming ‘o sole mio’. But if only I could win that gold medal in curling….

 

 

Copenhagen 021006