Once upon a few months ago, I seized upon any excuse possible to avoid going to the gym. Hell, I even went to work one morning in an effort to avoid the gym. I would almost even cook, as an excuse to not work out. I blame my behavior on being overwhelmed by the prospect of getting in shape, coupled with my gawky unathletic demeanor and embarrassment for evolving into a dumpy middle aged woman. I also wasn’t sure where to begin. So I signed up for a few sessions with a trainer. This process has also given light to my inner masochist. I spent hard earned money to allow a miniature drill sergeant to make me contort my flabby middle section and my sagging ass in an effort to reduce and firm them up. (The trainer I worked with was about a foot shorter than me and a fireball who was indeed a retired army drill sergeant.) Who knew the simple act of walking like John Cleese in the “School of Silly Walks” sketch while bending my knees, holding five measly pounds in each hand would result not in an immediately hard and flat abdomen, but a hobbling gait resembling one of my ninety year old patients? But now the pain is gone and I can actually do a lunge without paying for it the next day. I can even do ten lunges without feeling the adverse effects. The trainer taught me how to use the weights and the machines and gave me a little program to do. Too bad the program doesn’t include my favorite 16 ounce Lone Star curl or the put the cookie in your mouth bicep exercise. I have hurdled over the whining stage of: “I can’t eat what I want and need to go the gym” to the place of “Yeah! I’m going to the gym! “I even miss it on days I work too late or need to take The Beav somewhere and can’t go. I’m not to the point of getting up at 4 am and going before work because that is just crazy talk.
When I started working out regularly a few weeks ago, twenty minutes of cardio almost killed me--heart throbbing out of my chest--now I can go forty minutes before I feel like I’m about to die. I don’t think it’s the endomorphines that make people go and go and GO on treadmills, stair climbers (oh there’s fresh Hell, no thanks, I‘ll save my Syphian punishment for after death) and the elliptical. No, it’s the satisfaction of knowing you just walked, ran, climbed or cross country skied at full speed for forty minutes and didn’t die. Like walking away from a plane crash.
I would also like to thank Steve Jobs for the Ipod. I can listen uninterrupted to This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and All Songs Considered. Without my little green pod, working out is hell. I am almost forced to watch CNN and the red ticker tape parade of bad economic news; or men’s basketball, or stupid fuckhead Rush Limbaugh or one of the other dumbass conservative pundits. On the days I have forgotten the pod, I close my eyes and chant positive affirmations to myself or I write in my head. I assure you, the stuff I’ve “written” while I’m on the treadmill is better than any of Anne Lamott's lovely musings. This genius also occurs while I’m singing in the shower and sound better than anyone on Broadway. Such a shame such genius isn’t…you know…real.
I am a voyeur and I like to watch people at the gym. Such a variety and different times of the day give me different sorts to watch. Of course, I make up stories for them. In the mornings--my preferred time to work out--the gym is filled with the retired and the unemployed. I love that these old folks are at the gym, doing “Silver Sneaker” classes and water aerobics because it keeps them out of my hospital and away from over prescribing doctors who often do more harm than good towards the end of life. I want to stand at the window just outside the group class room during the Silver Sneakers classes and cheer them on; especially the ones who are obviously modifying because they have joint replacements.
One lady reminds me of Linda Richardson. She wears the most outlandish outfits to the gym, like it’s too much trouble to change before going out to lunch with the grandchildren so she will just slip around to the gym and work out in her bedazzled cowboy hat and sequin trimmed sweater. I almost ran into a pole staring at his woman as she sat on an exercise ball, doing a sort of core strengthening bounce in her festive outfit. Imagine my disappointment when I saw she wasn't wearing high heels.
Another regular is a Russian woman who is maybe 3 feet tall and at least ninety. Every morning I am there I see her and she never fails to speak to me in her lovely Russian tinged English. The first day she spoke to me, I was standing on the scale and sighing over the big number that won’t get smaller. She tapped my arm and said: “Don’t forget to subtract your shoes, they must weigh twenty pounds! And if you have on pink underwear, that’s good for another five. Just a little game I play with myself, dahlink” I loved her immediately.
The gym seems littered with the young and unemployed, too. This gym is part of a big chain and it isn’t too expensive so I can understand how they manage a membership. It’s something to do and it’s cheap. But the neighborhood is hardly a “hip” place. One of the guys is definitely out of place at this gym. He has the “I wash my hair once a week” hipster hair style, wears indie band tee-shirts and retro high tops, tall and skinny, not too hard on the eye but certainly not the type of guy you would see who lives at the gym. A coffee shop downtown? Yeah. Gym in inner tier suburbia? No. I'm guessing he is a 20 something IT geek, graduated in the top of his second tier east coast university class, downsized on one of the coasts and now lives with his grandmother and grandfather because he hates his parents and they still live in Westchester. It would be too painful to be at the grocery store with his mom when his tenth grade English teacher stops and says something like: “Zack! Lovely to see you, visiting? What? Oh you live here now, with your parents in their basement…they had such hopes for you, too.“ it probably makes him shudder and he can hear her tongue clicking as she pushes the cart away from them. No, he is better off in Flyover land with Bubbe and Zayde for now. . .
The evening crew at the gym is totally different. Cube farmers who work Monday through Friday at some sort of soul-less job but they love it because they have the luxury of working. They look sort of boring and white bread. They think Josh Groban is hot, hope Brad and Angelina work it out and can deconstruct The Bachelor like Prime Time Derridas. One of the evening regulars is a women edging close to her sixties. She needs “I am a cougar and I want you boy!” tattooed across her forehead. Rather than a silly outfit, she has a silly body and is afflicted with the new malady I call “Madonna Arms”
Now I like women’s bodies. A lot. But I gotta say, I would trade the well defined grisly guns for soft not so defined arms on a woman. She also made a terrible mistake and didn’t wear her glasses when she went to the plastic surgeon for her boobs. They are almost under her chin and give her the appearance of someone about to topple over any minute. Besides that, they are way way too perky. No one’s boobs are naturally that perky. And she is proud of them too. She has this way of strutting around the gym that makes me want to either laugh out loud or kick her; depending on the kind of day I’ve had.
Another woman is terribly odd and eccentric. Her outfit looks something like this
and is accentuated with Uggs. Her workout consists of standing in front of the mirror dancing with jazz hands. She is probably a few years older than I am and about thirty pounds underweight. The bizarre is made of awesome. I’m not sure what the point of this workout is but everyone around her is immune to it, except me of course and I probably made an ass out of myself blatantly staring at her.
I’m plagued with jealousy as I watch women my age effortless run for what seems to be hours at top speed on the treadmill. Last night one woman, a Mediterranean beauty with the body of a goddess, made me want to weep. It just wasn’t fair that I not be blessed with effortless beauty and a fabulous well-toned body. To make matters worse, she had intelligent looking eyes and was very kind to an elderly gentleman having trouble with his treadmill. Beautiful, fit kind and smart? I don’t even want to know she is the only person in America who didn’t lose substantial value in her stock portfolio because odds are, she is that person. My first impulse was to kidnap her, take away her moisturizer, keep her from the gym and force feed her Little Debbie snacks until she looks like me. Fortunately, I quelled that impulse and am not typing this from an undisclosed location. Chances are, I wouldn’t share the Little Debbie’s and she would become even more svelte and a hero for withstanding the torture of being held hostage by a crazy premenapausal woman obsessed by her weight and midsection. “Please be kind to my captor, she really just wants to be a size eight and weigh what she did before her youngest son was born. She didn’t mean to harm me.”
I’m in awe of the women I see who are struggling with obesity as they work towards a healthy weight. A few of them have become noticeably smaller these last few months. It humbles me, the work they are doing: I’m bitching about single digit inches and double digits pounds I want to lose and these women are probably trying to lose the equivalent of a person. I wish I could think of a way to say: “You Go Girl!” without sounding smug and I want to hug them so some of their discipline and resolve rubs off on me. These women deserve much more respect than the cougars who have invested too much money and too much time into their bodies.
Today when I’m at the gym I hope I see my Russian lady and I might get the courage to speak to Hipster boy--I really want to get his story--we usually row next to one another and will mumble hello to one another. And maybe just maybe that scale will budge below a certain number.