Recently I was walking down a busy downtown street with a new kicky summer haircut and the optimism that comes with a kicky summer haircut, when a wispy young girl approached me with a coupon for ten free visits to a busy downtown gym called Extreme Fitness. The Extreme part threw me; I pictured stationary bikes mounted on rocky terrain, or cliff-diving into a bucket of hot sauce, but wispy young girl said I could have a free tour right then if I wanted to. Not having anything else to do, I took her up on it and Wispy lead me inside and handed me off to Hulking Man. Why are all gym employees tiny young girls and hulking, veiny dudes? If I opened a gym, it would be giant Amazonian ladies and lithe, fey fragile boys. If I opened a gym…
Dream: To open a gym.
Goal: Achievable. There have to be people other than me who consider today’s gym options to be intimidating, ghastly places, but who also wouldn’t mind improving their physical health.
Plan: Take every I know about gyms and promote it’s opposite to ensure results.
Once Hulking Man lead me into the gym’s membership offices (a bunch of cubicles which, tellingly, took up more space than any other room at the club), he looked me up and down and the first question out of his mouth, the first thing he said was, “So how much weight do you want to lose?” Burn. Unprepared for, but insulted by the question, I launched into a lengthy Mamet-style monologue. “How much do I–the thing is, really, is that I don’t want to be– like if I said fifteen to twenty pounds, I’d be, y’know, beholden to that number. And I think that, to-to measure my self-esteem based on an arbitrary–to find my self worth in pounds, it’s just… I can’t… I’d rather not.” This gave Hulking Man pause before he said, “I’ll just put fifteen to twenty pounds.”
The irony found in most gyms is that most of the members look like they don’t need to be there. It’s intimidating and low-self-esteem-making when you get off a machine a sweaty, exhausted mess and some muscled beast of a dude comes over and triples the weight you were just using for his cool-down. At my gym (tentatively titled Fatteez or Fatti’s), poor physical appearance is a must. You don’t have to be monstrously overweight (though it helps), but you do have to carry around a pizza gut like me, or rolls of delicious back fat or just generally look terrible in a pair of cut-offs. And then, after a few months, if those pounds start to drop off, if you notice lean, taut muscles where there was once lumpy acne scarring, if you begin to see the body you’ve always wanted and find yourself on the path to optimal health, your membership is revoked and you are kicked out of Fatteez. Because fit people are such a fucking bummer! They walk around flexing and benching and squatting or whatever, but mostly just being chatty cathy’s with the other gym bunnies and making you feel even schlubbier than you did that morning when you took the crumpled bag of chips out of the garbage because I thought there might be some crumbs in there still.
Then Hulking Man took me on a tour of the gym, which looked like every other gym I’ve ever quit. Bored treadmillers looked at tv’s, stationary bikers on their ipods, and free-weighters straining their backs. My gym would be different. In theory, mounting a television on a treadmill is a good idea, because who doesn’t love tv, but in practice it’s awful. Part of what makes watching television great is lying down and eating while you’re doing it. Watching tv while sweating and exerting yourself is like eating ice cream with broccoli in it. Instead of broadcasting television, the screens at my gym would show a bus come to a stop about a block ahead of where you are. So you start running really fast to get there because if you don’t make it you have to walk to your destination (you program your desired Dairy Queen location into the treadmill before you start). Then you see an old lady waiting to get on the bus too, so you slow down thinking, “This old bag will buy me some time.” But then she’s super spry and steps on before they even lower that “old lady getting on the bus” platform that they use. So you really bust your ass and just make it. Then you have to hang onto a pole mounted next to the treadmill and keep your balance while the bus jerkily stops, starts and turns. The screen then shows a close up of the old lady at about chest level (she’s sitting next to you on the bus), and every time you start to lose your balance, she looks scared. That’s the beginner level. At intermediate the old lady is sitting holding a baby holding a glass figurine. You do not want to tip over then. You can stationary bike if you must, but you have to listen to horns honking and people swearing at you because motorists hate cyclists on the street, and my gym mimics real life. With that in mind, our weights will not be weights, but different heavy things you can lift, like two cases of beer, a bag of oats, or a fat child with chocolate on his face with his arms outstretched saying “Uppy pwease!” You might not be able to lift that bundle of cute, but you’ll try harder than if it were just a stupid barbell.
Hulking Man described the amenities of the Extreme Fitness locker room, and offered to take me on a tour there as well (an offer that came off vaguely sexual), which I of course declined. Who needs a tour of a locker room? How pervy! “Don’t mind me, gents, just checking out the merchandise!” My gym would not have locker rooms, but rather individualized locker pods big enough for one person, or maybe two for airplane-bathroom-style sex. I can’t speak for women’s locker rooms, but men’s are just horrible. Mostly because they’re filled with Naked Guys. Not just regular guys who are naked, if you’re going to shower or change, you can’t help some nudity, but the Naked Guys. The guys who will do any menial task at great length with no shame totally naked. Naked Guys floss their teeth, check their Blackberry or start talking to you about something, all while just hanging out. Tragically for gay dudes, Naked Guys are often just the people you do not wish to ever see naked. One on hand, they should be congratulated for their self-acceptance. It takes a lot of guts to stand around naked in public without feeling like there’s something terribly wrong. But on the other hand, put some pants on.
Hulking Man ended our tour by describing the “exciting membership options” I had, all of which required year long commitments, credit checks, and crazy expenditure. It was then explained to me, cruelly, that I had to sign these contracts in order to enjoy my ten “free” visits! What a scam! What kind of world do we live in where a guy off the street can’t enjoy ten free visits to a super expensive facility? I should have seen this coming, of course, and not let the poor Hulkster go through his whole sales pitch. Rather than admit it was too expensive and unrealistic to expect me to exercise for a year, I made up the most far-fetched excuse which was that I didn’t have my id and credit card because I didn’t have my wallet because I was going to the beach. That was the best I could do. He sensed my bullshit, but let me go home.
If you break it down, there’s not much difference between fitness and fatness. Both require long-term shame-based rituals (excessive eating or excessive stair-climbing to nowhere) that result in the change of your physical form. Both are multi-billion dollar industries that rely on people’s insecurities to support their business. It is clearly better to be fit than fat, mainly because favouring the former over the latter will prevent the onset of death. And while I know I need to be healthier, the idea that I would spend hours upon hours running toward nothing and rewarding myself with a cool glass of carrot juice, makes me think I would be already dead.