Exercycling was never on my list of hazardous sports. Hang gliding, mountain climbing, alligator wrestling—yes. Exercycling—hardly. Barring a sudden act of God—an earthquake shaking me off the seat and dashing me to the floor, say—I knew I was absolutely safe. This, as it turned out, was a foolish delusion.
On all but the coldest winter days, I did my stationary pedaling in an unfinished, unheated room off our second-story bedroom; the space had originally been an exterior deck until problems with leaks forced us to enclose it. I found exercising in the cool air invigorating, and I wasn't perspiring all over the wall-to-wall carpet in the main part of the house.
One blustery February morning, after the rest of my family had left for work or school, I cycled for my customary 20 minutes. As usual, I then felt refreshed and ready to attack the day's business. I swung down off the seat and opened the door to the bedroom—or would have opened it had it not been locked. My 2-year-old daughter had obviously fiddled with the latch in the hope that sooner or later I'd end up trapped in this humiliating way.
Now, this wasn't one of those prissy interior doors, flimsy constructions of papier-m√¢ché and glue that you can ram your fist right through. This had been an exterior entrance, and I was now faced with a formidable barrier of aluminum and double-paned glass. I realized that I was an odd sort of prisoner: I was technically inside the walls of my house, but if the phone on the night table, less than 10 feet away, were to ring, I wouldn't be able to answer it.
December 3, 1984
It could take hours for any member of my family to rescue me, and it was damn cold out there. The raw winter wind whistled in through the cracks around the windows, and because I was dressed only in a sweaty T shirt and gym shorts, I would probably contract double pneumonia if I didn't get out of that room soon.
I thought about trying to yell to a passerby or delivery person, but the street was completely deserted. I considered keeping my temperature up with continual exercise, but after another 120 minutes on the Exercycle I'd either collapse or die of boredom. There was an unused roll of insulation lying on the floor, and I contemplated wrapping myself in it; however, I remembered the pain fiber glass splinters could inflict, and immediately abandoned that idea.
Minutes later, I arrived at the only viable solution: climb out a window and drop to the ground. I've never much liked heights, and the thought of dangling from a second-story window ledge and deliberately letting myself go was extremely unappealing. But the alternative seemed far worse, so, as they say in mountaineering circles, I prepared to make my descent.
I opened a window, unraveled the roll of insulation and let it fall to the ground below. I paused, took a deep breath, and hoisted myself out the window. I hung there a moment to collect my wits, and dropped. I landed in muddy insulation and wet snow. I stood up. Nothing was broken, twisted or torn.
I raced back into the house for a well-deserved hot shower. From the bedroom I peered into the spare room with a sense of self-satisfaction. A moment later, though, I noticed that the window I'd escaped through was still open and that the pane I'd raised was vibrating in the gusting wind. Without thinking, I stepped in to close it—and behind me heard a soft, metallic click.
It's hard to describe just how mortifying that sound was. I knew at that instant, even without looking, that I had just performed one of the most dimwitted acts of my life. I turned around to make sure. Yep, it was true. Almost without pausing, I swung back out the window! As I hung from the ledge for the second time in three minutes, a horrifying thought flashed through my brain: What if my neighbors are watching? If I'm lucky, they'll guess that I'm practicing a fire drill; if not, they'll decide I'm out of my mind.
I let go.
I'm fully recovered from the strained ligaments in my wrists, which ached for several weeks. Nothing else was damaged. Still, often at a party, as I'm trying to pass myself off as a bright guy, or when I'm lecturing my kids about school, playing the part of the father-scholar, I hear behind me a soft, metallic click.