Being a Radical Has Led Me to Sometimes Live a Double Life

Is that a good thing?

Throughout the 2000s, you’d find me regularly riding NYC’s subways during the very early morning hours — specifically from Queens into Manhattan — to work with personal training clients in gyms. In fact, right up to the plandemic, I was still training a couple of clients in their homes.

On those subway rides, I’d sometimes grab a copy of Metro — one of NYC’s free newspapers delivering a daily dose of corporate media propaganda. However, there was a brief period of time when Metro would allow some subversive voices into the mix. That included yours truly.

From about 2004 to 2007, Metro went through a phase of paying edgy freelancers so I jumped in with both feet. This even included an author photo shoot!

Thus, for a couple of years, my decidedly non-mainstream perspective — and my decidedly non-mainstream photo (wearing a “dumpster diving team” t-shirt, no less) — were on display for millions of New Yorkers to peruse during their morning ride to work or school (see image up top).

As someone who can remember when newspaper columnists held sway in my hometown, let me tell you, it was pretty cool to be jammed into a crowded subway car next to someone reading my latest article.

I’ll never know how many New Yorkers read my Metro columns. To the best of my knowledge, none of my affluent clients saw my column or photo (probably because none of them would ever ride the subway).

Over the years, I did make a select few clients aware of my double life (a couple have even bought my books and attended my talks). But, since many of them were wealthy and mainstream, I typically chose not to divulge anything about my radical writing.

As a result, I sometimes found myself making up elaborate fabrications to account for why I wouldn’t be around for a day or two when, for example, I just so happened to be heading up to MIT to lecture on US foreign policy in 2003.

Yep, this high school grad addressed a huge audience there on the topic of Henry Kissinger and the 1973 Chilean coup on a Monday night… and by Wednesday morning, was back in the gym — working with dumbbells (insert rimshot here).

Looking back now, I ponder my strategy of keeping a big part of myself a secret in the name of maintaining personal trainer income. Why was I so sure that wealthy capitalists would shun me and maybe fire me as their trainer if they encountered my radical mindset?

Perhaps a better question: What did it do to me emotionally to hide something that’s always been very important to me?

I contemplate questions like this now because, well… it’s never too late. I may not have affluent gym clients anymore. But, in Covid-era NYC, I have plenty of others around whom I could start speaking far more openly.

After all, it’s not like I can’t point to cases from the 2000s when my double life was exposed and things went well.

For example, I trained three high-powered lawyers at their high-powered law firm’s gym. This arrangement required me to check in with the doorman — or was he a concierge? (It’s funny to me that I might insult a concierge by calling him a doorman.) Anyway, doormen display one of three basic behavior patterns towards personal trainers.

The first and most common is indifference (we’re used to that). Secondly, they relate to us as fellow blue-collar common people saddled with the same fate: serving the well-heeled. Lastly, in a futile attempt to align themselves with a winner, some doormen openly look down their noses at us.

This was definitely the case at the law firm until a certain concierge saw my handsome face staring back at him from the pages of Metro.

The guy was completely flabbergasted when he read a little something of mine called “Re-Examining Rumsfeld’s Ratio” (which talked about, among other things, the United States unselfconsciously using “Apache” helicopters to quell “ethnic cleansing”).

A political junkie, the concierge now saw me as an “expert” and fell all over himself to shake my hand and introduce himself.

My new best friend could not get enough of me and it became the new norm for him to quiz me about current events before and after my training sessions.

One morning, as I was passing through the lobby, he called me over and pulled out a legal pad. Believe it or not, he had written a page or two of notes to remember all the things he wanted to ask me!

Yeah, just another tricky day in the life of a muscular militant… 

In 2001-2, I worked evenings in a corporate gym (cue the shame and self-loathing) in midtown Manhattan. One night, I was wearing a Yankees t-shirt with the name “Justice” emblazoned on the back (for former Yank David Justice).

A woman named Mary, probably in her late 60s, asked me if I was a Yankee fan. I told her my real reason for wearing the shirt was all about the word “justice.” She smiled and declared that justice was a “noble idea.”

I braced myself for the inevitable “we need to show those towel heads some justice,” (remember, this was early post-9/11 NYC) but instead, Mary told me — albeit in a stage whisper — she was soon going to DC to march against the impending US invasion of Iraq.

After this confession, Mary looked genuinely nervous. Her facial expression seemed to ask: Have I gone too far? In my best French Resistance voice, I reassured her: “Don’t worry, I’m with you.”

After that, we’d talk each and every time she’d come to work out. The corporation eventually phased out its gym facility but just before my last day, I saw Mary and complimented her on how hard she’d been training.

She leaned close to me and whispered: “When the revolution comes, I’ll be ready.”

As for me, my next revolution is to be even more open and transparent about my “controversial” stances. No more hiding.

After all, “a truthful witness saves lives.”

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.