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Merrily, We Roll Along
. . . and then we run smack into a stupid catchphrase

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, May 25, 2008

THAT'S THE WAY I ROLL," I say out loud. "Yup, that-is-just-the-way-I-roll." I'm practicing. I'm in Any Hotel, in Anywhere, U.S.A., working out on a clickety-clackety elliptical machine in a cramped workout room where, fortunately, no one else is. So it's okay to talk to myself over the extremely loud blare of the TV, which I would turn down, but the button doesn't work. I'm watching "Desperate Housewives."

"Because that's the way I roll," I say with conviction. I'm on a business trip, and the guys I met with all day used this expression often. They also said, "Whatever trips your trigger." I am less fond of that one, or maybe just not quite ready for it. But I'm transformed by the "roll" line and optimistic about all the ways in which it will change my life when I get home and start saying it and spreading it.

Like, popcorn for dinner. A lot of times, I just want popcorn for dinner. If I didn't have to feed a family, I would probably pull out the air popper more often. When I'm home alone, I do. Someone will call, and if I mention popcorn for dinner, they'll say, " Popcorn?" And I'll go into a long explanation about how it's a comfort food and it brings me back to my youth, and, no, I am not on some crazy diet, and, no, it is not pathetic, because I choose to eat it. But now I'm just going to say, "That's the way I roll," and be done with it.

A declaration of self. Shameless.

Hang on, I have to turn down the ol' cardio dial here, because I'm about to keel over. Whew. Level 8 on this machine ain't like Level 8 at home. "Ain't?" Is this the way I roll now? Could I get away with saying "ain't" at the university where I teach? "This ain't no good," I could say to my department chair, and he could raise his eyebrows at me, and I could say, "That's the way I roll." A verbal shrug of carefree conviction. No explanation necessary. That's just the way I roll.

You can't always use it. You couldn't rob a convenience store and walk out counting the cash, and, when the cop nabs you, say, "Dude, that's the way I roll." I mean, you could, but.

Anyway, I don't want to rob a convenience store. I want popcorn for dinner, and I want to stop feeling like I have to apologize for innocent quirks. Like, sometimes I like to put "like" in front of a sentence even though it defies rules of grammar and, worse, it is teenager talk. But sometimes it works for me, okay? It's the way I roll.

I can't wait to get home and share the rolling. My husband can now officially stop feeling like he has to weed-whack around trees. It is not the way either of us rolls. Same for waxing the car. Same for not checking his e-mail every 10 minutes, as I do, which can get annoying because sometimes I need to get in touch with him. But, hey, if that's not the way he rolls? Hey.

Hang on, someone is jiggling the door handle. Oh, dear. I've got 17 minutes left on my programmed journey up hill and down dale, and I would prefer not to share this time with a stranger. A guy walks in. He has a fresh towel draped over his neck, a full bottle of water. He looks up at the TV, then at me. Oh, dear. " Desperate Housewives?" People in workout rooms like to watch sports or news. Not chick dramas. But, hey. I should tell the guy, I should say, "Dude, this is the way I roll." This is probably a test of some sort. Can I say it?

No. I decide instead to shamefully not make eye contact with the guy, who mutters something I can't quite hear over the TV, but I think it must be something about the volume.

" The button doesn't work!" I say.

" What?" he says. " The treadmills? Where are the treadmills?"

Hallelujah, the treadmills are in another room, and I point, and he leaves, hallelujah.

In 19 minutes, he is back. I know this because I just finished the elliptical program, and now I'm sitting at this torture crunch machine that I think is broken because I can't . . . crunch. I hop off, pretend I'm finished with it, climb on the more promising leg-press apparatus. Why am I so uncomfortable in front of this stranger? Why can't I just roll? He sits at a bike. He keeps looking at the TV, then at me. It is code, I think, for, "You really watching this?" I am. Or, I was. But now I just want to get out of here.

A few leg presses. "Whew!" I say. " That's enough for me, heh, heh."

I head over and locate the TV remote, and as soon as I touch it, the volume goes to mute for no apparent reason. Good grief. I hand him the remote.

"Yeah, I think there's a game on or something," he says, all grunty.

I can't say why, or how, but a beautiful confidence overtakes me, as if from angels. "Dude," I say, "whatever trips your trigger."

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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