"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Gym II


It has been five years since I joined the gym, and I thought it was time to take another look.  Nothing much has changed.  There have been a few cosmetic improvements like flat screen HDTV, faux wood paneling on the lockers, new carpets and new coat of paint, but the core remains the same – elliptical machines; upright and reclining stationary bikes; devices to work the abs, tri’s, lats, and quads;lots of free weights; and a variety of beach balls.

The clientele hasn’t changed much either – still very middle-age and upper-middle class, with the rare and very conspicuous outsider.  There is one black guy, for example, who wears two layers of rubber and plastic, a ski hat, and high-tops; has hammer toes, shadow boxes on the bikes, and never, ever speaks.  The rest are very ordinary and predictable.  The men never lose their paunches and belly rolls; never tighten up their loose butts or turkey wattles.  Pendulous jugs on women never perk up.  The fatties in the pool exercise classes still waddle and jiggle, bounce their flab on the treadmill, do a few desultory pulls on the rowing machine, shower, and go home.

Those who start off fit, alas, quickly backslide.  Thighs, arms, and stomachs get thicker; calves lose their tone, and pounds go on in places you never even knew could take extra weight.  The upward pound progression is as predictable as it is inevitable.  The belt is just a little bit snug.  Well, that’s because of the big dinner last night.  No problem.  Work that sucker off in no time.  No need to weigh myself, know what it will show, not much, will get back on after a small dinner and after a healthy shit.  Small dinner never comes, stress and martinis that follow increase, the scale becomes a bit of a threat over there in the corner by the water cooler, then as the belt is let out a notch, the scale becomes an enemy; and then of course, it is too late.  No need to check the scale. Hey, life is short.

Some of the old regulars are no longer there.  ‘Death’, an emaciated, ashen-colored woman who worked the ellipticals like a demon - a kind of frenzied, manic pumping - is no longer there, and I can only assume she didn’t beat back whatever was killing her.  Jabba the Hut, 600 lbs. before his gastric bypass, able to displace over half the whirlpool when he got in; 300 lbs. after the operation, a flabby, saggy, droopy mess of hanging flesh except for his left leg which, for some reason, never lost weight, is no longer there, and I can only assume an equally unhappy fate. 

Tan Man is also gone, but probably just to another gym.  He was the only gym member I ever saw use the tanning room, but I must admit he came out a nice toasty even Wheaties color.  He was at the gym all the time, worked every muscle and was always the sculpted ideal we all admired. 

Miss Hot Shit is also gone – she was a scrawny 6 ft., so scrawny if fact that not only did all her veins show but all her tendons, snapping and popping with every movement on the machine.  She was loud and obnoxious, thought she looked great, and talked insider Washington shit, so good riddance.

Many regulars are still there, and now that my schedule is more flexible, I am part of various groups.  There is the 5:30 am crowd – old retired guys like me who can’t sleep beyond 5am in any case.  Some come tottering in holding hands with their equally tottering wives, how sweet, do their twenty laps, then go back home.  There is the 9:30 Saturday morning crowd – older power guys too busy to work out during the week, in a hurry even on the weekend, lots of talk about Supreme Court cases, this litigation or that.  The 8:30am weekday suspender crowd is the buff 30-somethings who leave disgusting trails of after shave and cologne before heading upstairs to Fannie Mae.  Any other time is pot luck.  You never know who will show up.

The gym routines are still the same – the spinners, calisthenic classes, group lessons, and personal trainers.  The gym has added a few classes, the most recent of which are Salsa and Belly Dancing.  One day I saw one of the Latino attendants watching the salsa class.  “See anything you like?”, I asked him.

“No, senor”, he replied. 

These were the same flabby, jiggly, and totally out-of-shape women who gave a desultory pass at the machines upstairs.  It was obscene.   I have seen overweight women dance the salsa, meringue, rhumba, and whatever else in Nicaragua, and they looked great.  They had rhythm, grace, and a joy in movement.  This was an exercise class of rhythm-less, stumbling fat women with enormous hips. 

This, however, was nowhere near as bad as the belly-dancing class.  Imagine the very same women I have described above, but asked to do even more exaggerated swishing and swaying in little tutus.

The personal trainer routine is always hilarious.  Clients obviously do not hire a personal to increase their workout, but to decrease it.  Out of every hour of personal training, over half is spend shooting the shit.  What a great job for the trainers.  Although they have to listen to the most ridiculous, inane stories about broken refrigerators, pre-school, buggy weekends to West Virginia, or aged, incontinent parents, that’s all they have to do – listen.

“We went to the mountains over the weekend the kids weren’t very happy about it because it takes more than an hour short attention span kids these days and kept commenting about the broken down refrigerators on the porches of these shacks that you have to pass in the hollows before you get to the resort and it was buggy and hot when we got there and my husband kept calling his office……”

“Use your back a bit more on these”.  Push, one-two.  Push, one-two.

“…and the food this time was really awful can you imagine they put crème brulee on the menu what pretention I mean have you ever tasted the real thing in Paris with that carmelized crispy crust and creamy rich interior well this was like My-T-Fine pudding mix with a plastic topping….”

“Remember, use your back….”

This is par for the course, but there a couple of total assholes whom I simply cannot ignore because of their assholeness.  One Swiss guy talks about his chalet in the Alps, his pied a terre in Monte Carlo, his trips to Rimini, Phuket, and Fiji as if the trainer had any idea of what the fuck he was talking about.  This idiot stops talking only long enough to ask the trainer if he has been to these places, or if he skis, or if he has tried the coq au vin in Lyon.  The trainer? Rimini? Coq au Vin? This guy lives in a rental one bedroom in Gaithersburg with his dog, graduated with a “barely pass” in P.E. from Montgomery College, is pushing 40, has been working in the gym for ten years with no advancement, and has to put up with this shit?

It is a bit of a struggle to keep up my frequency at the gym.  I went 6-7 days a week not that long ago, now it is down to 4, maybe 3 times a week.  I think about going, then see the monotonous stands of exercycles, anticipate the repetitive effort of the machines and the weights, and decide that what the hell, I’ll go tomorrow.  To be honest, it is the whirlpool and steam room that keep me regular.  There is nothing like slipping into that hot, swirling water, feeling all my muscles relax; then shvitzing for 15 minutes in the steam room cranked up to the max. 

Ironically, the less I feel like going the more I should go.  As I get older I know I will be repaid many times over for the added strength, balance, aerobic fluency, and nicely managed weight.  But, oh, how I would like to be in a chaise longue on a Caribbean beach.

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