The other weekend, I was biking in to work when I saw one of my bosses jogging along. At least, I thought they were jogging. I entertained the possibility that they may have been suffering a series of seizures that happened to be propelling them down the block. Their form was a little ragged. During one flailing stride they directed their gaze toward me, and I immediately thought, "Oh no!"
Oh no, because if they saw me, then when next we met I would have to acknowledge that I saw them jogging. I would have to find some way of having a totally neutral conversation about them jogging. Why neutral, you ask? Well, let's try out some statements that dare to express an opinion on the matter:
"Hey, I saw you jogging! Had you run a really long way?" Subtext: You must be in incredibly poor shape, because it looked like you were about to barf up a lung.
"Hey, I saw you jogging! Good for you." Subtext: Good for you, because between the two of us, there's enough BMI for a string trio.
"Hey, I saw you jogging! Do you jog much?" Subtext: Because I can't tell from your physique.
"Hey I saw you jogging! Nice... shoes." Subtext: I have a thing about shoes. I am a creep.
The core of the problem is that acknowledging that my boss jogs acknowledges that they have a body. Bodies have no place in the workplace. Setting aside the question of sexual politics, there's the more straightforward notion that I am young and they are old, my body is fit (ish) and theirs is... startlingly not so. Admitting that difference undermines the master-apprentice relationship that we all find works so well for pathology training.
I suppose in the old days, the apprentice being more physically capable was okay. The apprentice would chop wood and carry water, and in exchange for these physical tasks the master would deign to instruct them in the basics of wizardry.
But in these times of ours it is a shameful thing for anyone to be unfit, regardless of their age or knowledge of the Pathologic Arts. And so we apprentices pretend that our masters are bodiless, mobile towers of raw force that continually bellow forth the morphological criteria of fibroblastic meningiomas, fibroepitheliomas of Pinkus, and the large cell variant of small cell carcinomas, pausing only to mete out judgment upon the slow-witted.
When next I met this particular boss, they forced the issue, "Ah, Joel. I saw you biking in on Saturday. Were you able to get to the hospital with all the tailgaters?" (The hospital is next to the football stadium and the Hawkeyes were playing at home.)
I paused, stammered, then replied, "Uh, yes, it's no problem on a bike. Wasn't it a lovely day to be outside?"
Ah, the weather. Traditional conversational neutral ground.