I like to arrive five or ten minutes early for a yoga class. That way, I have time to use the bathroom, put my phone on airplane mode, set up my mat and props, double-check to make sure I set my phone on airplane mode, stretch a little, triple-check my phone’s status, center myself, catch up on yoga studio gossip, re-center myself, quadruple-check my phone, and finally, exhale to start my practice off on the right foot.
The other day, my pre-yoga routine hit a snag at check-in. I was about to give the woman at the front desk my name, but before I could do that, she raised her hand, turned her palm out to face me, and smiled.
“Don’t tell me your name,” she said. “I wanna guess.”
She seemed excited to guess my name, like there might be a prize for guessing the correct answer. Maybe a new yoga mat, or enough crypto to buy an unlimited yoga passes, or the greatest yogic gift of all—presence.
“Xerxes. You’re Xerxes, right?”
“No, I’m not Xerxes. I’m Michael. Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she said. “Michael is a very cool name!”
She was still smiling, and she seemed really enthusiastic about my name, for some reason. A cooler man might’ve taken this opportunity to ask for her name, or maybe hazard a guess from antiquities. Boudicca? Sappho? Cleopatra? But I am not a cool man. I am, by nature, a nervous man. And when I get nervous, I either clam up, or yammer away.
“For dudes born in the late seventies, Michael is about as basic as names get,” I said. “There were twelve boys in my sixth grade class, and three of us were named Michael.”
She laughed out loud and a little too hard, I thought, since I wasn’t joking, and even if it had been making a joke, three Michaels out of twelve boys isn’t that funny. Actually, it’s not funny at all, unless you count the time that the three Michaels tried to convince a substitute teacher that we were actually named Xerxes.
“Honestly, if you see a dude my age and you don’t know his name,” I continued, “Michael is a safe bet.”
I nearly added that Michael is always a better guess than Xerxes, especially in the San Fernando Valley, where I’ve spent several decades of my life without ever coming across a Xerxes. But the wholesale rejection of the Xerxes name felt like too much. Also, another student had arrived, so I figured I should shut up so that the woman behind the desk could do her job.
The other student was a woman, but I didn’t hear her name because the woman behind the front desk just waived her in without trying to guess her name. That seemed odd. What was so special about me that my name was worthy of a guess, and maybe, some cool yoga-related prizes?
I should’ve said something about the name-game double-standard. But before I could speak up, the check-in woman walked around from behind the front desk, smiled at me again, and put her hand on my arm.
“You look really cute in your yoga outfit,” she said.
Cute? Who did she think she was talking to? This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me—ever. But maybe it’s normal for strange women to flirt with Xerxes. Was I dressed like Xerxes? I glanced down to check my outfit.
I was wearing red athletic shorts and a yellow hoodie. I am not a fashion expert, but I know enough about fashion to know that my “outfit” was nothing to write home about, unless of course, you happen to be a correspondent for the Unfashionable Male.
“My wife picks out my clothes,” I blurted out. “I just grab whatever is clean, and throw it on.”
“You look great,” she said. Then she gave my arm a little squeeze and added, “Enjoy your yoga class, Michael.”
I tried to enjoy my yoga class, but joy is hard to come by on my yoga mat. Usually, I struggle when I do yoga. It’s a good struggle because I’m struggling to be present, to be patient, to be kind to myself, to quiet my mind, and to push my body just a little beyond its physical limits. Sometimes, all of those struggles come together in a beautiful way that does spark joy and even laughter at the most unexpected moments. But most of the time, I’m trading sixty minutes of yogic struggle for countless minutes of future joy, which is a really good trade in my book.
But this yoga class was a different kind of struggle. For one thing, we did a lot of standing poses, which are difficult for me because my base is weak and when I feel myself wobble, my mind sometimes wanders into self-doubt territory, which is where you can catch the express bus to destinations like self-loathing and self-defeat.
My struggle that day came to a head in warrior pose, which is where yogis work from a lunging-squat stance that was invented centuries ago by a sadist who thought he was a pretzel. Again and again, I felt myself wobble, then fall out of warrior pose. Thankfully, my teacher saw me struggle and offered some encouraging words.
“Our society teaches us to fixate on results, goals, on the destination,” she said. “But then some people say, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
I fell out of warrior pose again. I went down on both knees to take child’s pose for a few breathes. While I was down there, my inner voice tried to beat me up, but my other inner voice reminded me that it’s always OK to take child’s pose, and that even if I didn’t reach my destination that was OK too because the journey was the thing.
“But I want you to think about this idea of journey versus destination,” my teacher continued. “Is it really an either/or? There are so many destinations in life, and so many ways to get to those destinations. Aren’t we always on a journey to somewhere?”
I found my breath, then struggled to my feet for one more attempt at warrior pose.
“Instead of focusing on the destination or the journey, let’s focus on moving and breathing,” my teacher said. “If you keep moving and breathing, you’re making progress, and the journey and the destination will take care of themselves.”
That was a lovely thought. It centered me, and carried me through the final, wobbly warrior pose, and then on through the rest of my practice that day.
When I got home, Christina asked me if I had a good class.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“You think so?”
I told Christina about my practice, and how I struggled a lot with all the standing poses. At forty-five, with a little more weight on my frame than I’d like to carry, and two broken ankles at my base, this is normal. But Christina reminded me that I’ve been making good progress since I re-committed to my yoga practice last year.
“Also, it seems like your teacher knows just what to say to motivate you,” Christina said. “So that’s good. Are you going to go back to that class?”
“I think so. Friday mornings work well for my schedule. And I like the teacher a lot, but…”
“Well… something awkward happened at check-in.”
“With you and the teacher?”
“No, no. Everything is cool with my teacher. But you know how yoga studios have some people who do administrative stuff in exchange for classes?”
“Well, the woman who works the desk on Fridays is kinda odd.”
“You like odd!”
“Yeah, but this was… well, let me tell you what happened.”
I told Christina the story. She chuckled at the Xerxes stuff and agreed that Michael is a basic name. But when I told her that the woman behind the counter squeezed my arm and told me I looked good in my yoga outfit, Christina howled with laughter before delivering her verdict.
“Oh my god, she was flirting with you!”
“No. I dunno about that. She probably wasn’t flirting with me. There must be some other explanation.”
“She was totally flirting with you. This is hilarious. And you got nervous.”
“It was awkward, that’s all.”
“Babe, you’re looking good. But I can’t believe you threw me under the bus.”
“I threw you under the bus, how?”
“My wife picks out my clothes! My wife, my wife.”
Christina said “my wife” with the same accent that Sacha Baron Cohen used for his Borat character.
“I don’t know. Are you sure she was flirting with me? Maybe there was a hidden camera for one of those prank shows, and the producers were like, call this guy Xerxes and see what happens.”
“I don’t think so, honey.”
“How do you know? Maybe Ashton Kutcher is rebooting a yoga edition of Punk’d.”
“Did someone ask you to sign a release afterwards?”
“Then she was flirting with you. I keep telling you, babe, dad bods are in.”
That was true, as far as it went. Christina often tells me that dad bods are in. But her source is TikTok, where many of the women extolling the virtues of the so-called dad bod are running thirst trap accounts to promote their OnlyFans profiles. I’ve tried to get Christina to consider the source, but she always pushes back with a two-word answer: Pedro Pascal. According to my wife, her friends, and the various internet articles they share in their group chats, Pedro Pascal, the forty-something star of The Mandalorian and The Last of Us has a dad bod to die for, or at the very least swoon over.
On the one hand, I guess I should feel good that an everyman like Pedro Pascal has pushed aside pretty boys like Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Brady to claim the crown of middle-aged male attractiveness in 2023. Where DiCaprio and Brady always felt light years out of my league, Pascal’s appeal feels obtainable to the average Joe, or Joel, as the case may be. But as sure as Lloyd Bentsen once told Dan Quayle that he was no Jack Kennedy, I am no Pedro Pascal.
Pedro is Chilean, and sure the whole Latin lover thing can be a problematic trope, but as far as tropes go, it has an edge on the nonexistent romantic trope of a pudgy Jewish guy with thick glasses. Pedro is also an actor—a profession that ranks far above writer in terms of sex appeal. Also, Pedro is an A-list celebrity with enough fame to heft a title from the Star Wars franchise and an adaption of one of the most popular video games ever onto his broad dad bod shoulders—at the same time! On my best days, I can muster just enough internet-fame to push my way onto the newsletter writer Z-list.
Not that I spend my time comparing myself to famous male sex symbols. I’m fine with the way I look. Well, mostly fine. Truth is, I’m just as vain as the next guy, and if I’m being honest, the next guy is always more attractive than me. But after forty-five years in this body, I’ve made my peace with my appearance. Young Michael might’ve gone to yoga in a quixotic search for six-pack abs. But Middle-Aged Michael practices yoga because he wants Old Man Michael to have the strength, mobility, and mental resilience he needs to keep doing the things that Michaels of all ages have always valued.
Maybe that’s why, on one level, I picked up on the front desk woman’s awkward flirtations, and yet on another more conscious level, I rejected the possibility that she could be flirting with me. Like I told Christina, maybe she really did think that my yoga outfit was fashionable. But that explanation only made my wife howl with laughter.
“You were rocking a yellow hoodie and red shorts! That is not a fashionable look. You’re ketchup and mustard, but you are one hot downward dog, honey.”
A coda for Xerxes
A few days later, I called my sister, Allison, and told her the story. Right away, she agreed with Christina’s assessment.
“She was flirting with you, Michael.”
Allison put the phone on speaker so her partner, Craig, could hear the story.
“Yeah, she was clearly flirting with you. I knew it the minute she asked if your name was Xerxes. Dead-giveaway.”
“Hey, what happened to the real Xerxes?” Allison asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t a dude who was actually named Xerxes show up?” Allison asked.
“No. I was the only guy in the class.”
“Exactly,” Allison said. “Xerxes was a red hearing because she was flirting with you.”
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Stick around and chat!
I’ve practiced yoga, on and off, for years. Dudes are always in the minority of every yoga class I’ve ever taken. Why don’t more men do yoga?
How long before matching ketchup-colored bottoms with mustard-colored tops becomes a fashion trend that sweeps across the globe?
Pedro Pascal has been so much stuff recently that I doubt he has time to sleep. Is there a Pedro Pascal clone out there rockin’ its dad bod?
Have you ever met anyone named Xerxes? Explain.
Is it the journey, or the destination? Or, is my yoga teacher right that the journey/destination dichotomy is a false choice that distracts us from focusing on moving and breathing?
I’m not father. Does this disqualify me from dad bod status? Discuss.
I was mentally yelling “she’s flirting with you” from the moment Xerxes came up, and then mentally yelling with the same growing intensity of “he’s behind you!!” at a horror movie. Amazing. “My wife picks out my clothes” is also maybe the objectively funniest way to throw cold water on a flirtation. I don’t have a wife but I’m going to start using that line next time I get an unwanted advance from some dude. I bet it would work wonders ;)
Michael, er, Xerxes, you handled it like a pro. Also, I tend to have a similar response in those akward exchanges, except heightened and nervous, as in "Yes, my wife picks out my clothes, and my wife buys them, the mother of my children, my wife, we're married, 21 years, that's why I call her my wife. I'm going leave here now and go home to my wife... wife." Like somehow the stench of flirtations will stick to my clothes and all the women around me will detect it and give me dirty looks.