A Day on the River
Have you ever had something happen that surprised you, something unexpected
that changed your life, that energized every fiber in your body? An event or
incident that captured your imagination and altered your perception of life’s
predictability? Such an event happened to me, on a five day cross-country bike
ride through the desert with an old friend from college, who had contacted me a
couple of months before. That day we spent on the river took me from the
routine trials of life into a mysterious, wondrous, confusing new reality.
Paul had been living in California, where he had taken a job after getting his
degree, working for a large accounting firm, making good money and recently
transferred back here to Dallas. We had parted ways when he went off to
graduate school. It had been nearly twenty years. Pleasantly surprised when he
called, we arranged to meet over a couple of beers.
I recognized him when he walked in, waved him over. He had aged well—
the first thing I noticed as he approached the booth. Twenty years had vanished
in the blink of an eye. Seeing him again, all the old memories came flooding
back. We shook hands, then hugged, glad to have an opportunity to catch up
on each other’s lives.
A dimly lit half-bar, half-restaurant, it was a crowded place: live music, lot of
drinking and camaraderie. After moving to the quietest booth we could find, we
had been talking about the old days a half hour by the time we finished the first
beer. I was secretly relieved his hair had thinned more than mine.
“Things don’t turn out exactly the way you thought they would, do they?”
he said after the waiter delivered the second round. He shrugged and looked
around the dining room. “I don’t know. Can’t say I haven’t been happy.
Successful career, terrific wife.” He shrugged again. “You hit forty, then
wonder where all the time went, what you’ve done with your life. Sometimes it
seems like there should’ve been more, like something’s missing.”
Some of those same thoughts had occurred to me. “I know what you
mean,” I said. “You think about all the things you haven’t done, but you have
your job, your family to think about.”
“What did you end up getting into?” he asked.
“Electrical engineering. We design and oversee the installation of electrical
systems in high-rises.”
Suddenly he seemed distant, like his mind had wandered to something else.
I wasn’t sure he was listening. He was staring at my forearm, resting on the
table, my hand wrapped around a nearly full glass of beer. His eyes lifted and
met mine. “Sounds exciting.”
“What can I say? I don’t have the imagination to write books. Can’t draw
or sing or act. I’m not creative enough to be a politician. Can’t drive race cars
with a family to support. Too uncoordinated to be an athlete. Most of what’s
left isn’t very glamorous.”
“Sounds like you’re talking about accounting,” he said.
My eyes drifted to the table and I shook my head ironically.
We talked about his wife and daughter, and what it was like living in
California. I told him about my two sons who were going to college back east,
about how my wife and I met, and about our trip to Europe last summer. We
talked about old girlfriends and our carefree days in college. I felt he enjoyed
our reunion as much as I did. After the third beer, we arranged to meet again
the following week.
Two months later, our old friendship had been renewed; we had been getting
together a couple of time a week. We took our bikes over to White Rock Lake
one Sunday afternoon. Half way around the lake, we stopped for a break under
an ancient live oak tree near the edge of the water.
“You look damn good in those shorts,” he said, looking up at me as I leaned
over the bike to get my water bottle.
I glanced down at the black Lycra shorts that fit like a second skin, thinking
they didn’t look very flattering. Tight as they were, it almost seemed I was
advertising my genitals. I sat down beside him, leaned back against the tree and
took a long pull from my bottle.
“You stayed in good shape all these years,” he said.
“Good shape?” I said doubtfully, lifting the seam of the nylon jersey and
exposing the extra two inches across my belly. “What about this?”
“That’s nothing.” He lifts the bottom of his shirt. His belly bulges slightly
over the top of the waistband. A symphony of hair encircles his navel, makes
the short downward run into his shorts. “Thirty-six inches, going on thirty-
seven. Up from thirty-two in college.”
“I’ve been thinking about joining a gym,” I tell him.
“You have to go three nights a week to do any good.”
“I figure I can work that in.”
He takes a swig of water and looks back at me. “I’ll join with you.”
“Great. There’s a Twenty-Four Hour center half way between your place
and mine. I’ll drop by and check it out.”
Paul looked out over the lake, drew up a knee up and rested his forearm on
it. A moment later he sighed. “Might do me good to get out three nights a
My eyes shifted to the edge of the lake. Something was bothering him. It
almost sounded like he had been looking for an excuse to get out of the house. I
looked at him. “Something going on at home you haven’t told me about?”
“No. Nothing’s going on. I just get antsy sometimes, that’s all.” He loses
himself in thought for a moment. “You ever wonder what happened to the
“With your wife. Sharon and I haven’t made love in a month.”
“You’ve been married twenty years. We all go through dry spells.”
“It’s not the same as it was. It’s mechanical. I still look at the twenty-year-
old girls, but it’s not like I want one. It’s like there’s something missing.”
I stared at him a moment, wondering if he’s on the verge of the proverbial
I was exhausted by the time we completed the second lap, my hair plastered
to my head with sweat, my nylon jersey and Lycra shorts wet. After we loaded
the bikes on top of his car, Paul pulled off his jersey and blotted his face. The
hair I had seen on his belly also covered his chest, leaving nipples the size of
quarters exposed. Though slackened by years of inactivity, his chest was broad
and beefy; I visualized what it may look like after a few weeks of workouts.
We joined the fitness center the next day, met there again at seven o’clock,
gym bags in hand. In the pristine, well-lit dressing room, we found two empty
lockers next to each other. Down to my underwear, I glanced at him, naked
and standing not three feet away, hanging his jeans in the locker. Caught in a
momentary lapse, my eyes drifted down his body, a masculine shape formed
and accented by the governing effects of testosterone. Drawn inward, his cock
protruded just over two inches under a trimmed swathe of pubic hair, noticeably
thicker than mine. I would have expected his ass to be hairy and nondescript;
instead, like his back and shoulders, it was well-muscled and remarkably
hairless. Pale white, it contrasted with his sun-darkened skin. Any curiosity I
had had about his body had been satisfied.
After an arduous circuit on the weight machines, we ended the session with
twenty minutes on the treadmill. Panting and damp with sweat, I turned off the
machine and stepped off of it. My sleeveless T-shirt and gym shorts were
damp. I wouldn’t have lasted another ten minutes.