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Friday, July 29, 2005

The Reluctant Member

I sorta joined a gym. I went in and took the tour, heard the spiel, and sat down with a sales person to discuss the terms and conditions for my soul. Thankfully with this gym I can go month-to-month and I don't have to commit for three years; however, it's slightly more expensive if you go month-to-month and you have to pay money down. I had to ponder the deal. The sales guy could sense that my resolve was slipping, so he offered me a free eight day trial period in which I could come in as many times as I pleased within eight days and see if I liked it.

I've attended the last four days in a row. Super fantastic, isn't it?

Despite the eerie feeling that I'm being observed (working out in front of others makes me very self-conscious), I think I'll probably go ahead and make the leap: I'm ready to commit. But even though I like the gym (for the air conditioning alone -- although, I think they should cool it to somewhere around 50 degrees; that's the perfect workout temperature, nice and cool; sure the employees may get a touch chilly, but they can wear sweaters) and I've had great workouts (it's amazing how much easier and more enjoyable running is when you're not over-heated or mosquito ridden), I have seen some strange behavior in the gym. People are weird.

Yesterday, for example, I watched these two old guys on treadmills and they both had the incline set at the steepest rise. Any steeper and these guys would need to be Spiderman to be able to walk at that angle, but they were dogged in their determination; you see, they were both hanging on to the bar in front of them for dear life, quite nearly dangling from it. I had the feeling that if either let go of that bar they would go tumbling off the back of the machine. I don't think that's what you're supposed to do on an incline; I'm fairly certain that the dificulty lies in trying to walk that incline as if it were a hill in nature, and so far, I haven't seen any bars in nature that help you up a hill.

Wait, I totally take that back. That's how I got up the side of the bunny hill for years as a kid -- the tow rope. Damn those things, you almost always flipped over into the snow because the pulley was too slow and a ski would get bogged down in some fresh powder, and oops! Down you went. And if you were a kid like me, you'd still be hanging on to the bar because your mitten was frozen to the metal so you couldn't cut loose, and your body cut a wide swath of snow as you were dragged up the hill. Ahhh, there's nothing like fresh mountain air and a snowball up your nose to really enjoy a day at the slopes.

So aside from ski tow ropes, I think you're just supposed to climb your way up a hill side, not hang on and be pulled up the hillside. I think both those old men would have been better off settling for a flat walk. The gym staff would also probably feel a lot more at ease; I wonder how many old people they have to scrape off the floor of the gym every year?

Those two guys (who might or might not have been racing one another) were funny to watch, but the other strange behavior I witnessed not just yesterday but this morning as well, was less humorous and more disturbing. You see, I like my space when I exercise and when I use the toilet. That's why when I walk into a communal bathroom, I am careful to choose a stall that leaves at least one empty stall between myself and another user. That's just common curteousy. The same idea applies when I'm choosing a treadmill or an eliptical machine or whatever; I like to leave at least one (preferrably two) machines between me and any other exercisers. Seems like common sense.

Must be only my sense.

Today, I took the time to carefully select a treadmill in the middle of the second row of machines (that way I get a better view of Jeopardy!). There was plenty of room around me and in the row ahead of me when an old man jumped on the machine directly to my right. I gave a quick "What are you doing?" sideways glance, but he didn't catch on; in fact, he started talking to me. Did I think it would rain today? Wasn't it humid outside? Did I like watching Jeopardy!? My answers: It always rains, yes it's terribly humid, but we live right next to the goddamn equator, and yes, I like Jeopardy! and I really wanted to play along.

He either tired of the walking (he did not opt for the mountain hike as is popular with the elderly gentlemen at the gym) or he decided to choose a machine next to a more suitable walking companion. (Quick note: I'm not much of a conversationalist if I don't know you. I don't like to chit chat with cashiers, sales clerks, haristylists, mechanics or other people I don't know but society expects us to converse with. I'm terrible at small talk and would rather sit in the chair at the salon in silence rather than ask about my hairstylist's children or her new puppy. That's just not me.) I was very much relieved when he left, but then his space was quickly filled by a middle aged woman wearing jean shorts and Keds -- not ideal workout gear, but she was quiet, so I didn't care. But then I was joined by a third companion on my left. This time a disturbingly fit young man (my use of "young man" just made me sound about forty years older than I really am) who looked like he was about 21.

This, in my opinion, is even worse than the chatty-Cathy old guy. Guys just like this one are the reasons I hate going to gyms -- I'm totally intimidated and feel like a 'tard. While guys like this one are grunting and lifting weights, I am quietly pedaling away on the stationary bike in mouse-like fear. So in order to feel like I belonged on the treadmill, I started upping the speed, and pretty soon I was literally sprinting and gasping for air. All red in the face, and sweat dripping down all sides of me, I re-adjusted the speed and decided to ignore the pretty man next to me. I still hated him though: He was so speedy.

After complaining to myself that perhaps this place wasn't for me -- so many people and I like to be solitary when I exercise, I re-thought the situation. All these odd people and machines are just the environment of working out in a gym and really, they're probably just as interesting to watch as the stuff is outside. Plus, in there, I don't get hokned at and I've yet to smell a dead animal (although the possibility of that can't be ruled out just yet), so I think I'll sign up. But I'll milk my free days for as long as they'll let me.

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