How the mighty have fallen. But, as Stephen King once wrote in The Tommyknockers, even the intelligent are not immune to propaganda. Vanity. All is vanity.
If modern gyms were like old-school gymnasia and I were a lithe, handsome young man or a lusty older man who was also a brilliant philosopher, poet, dramatist or sculptor, I might feel differently. Today, eroticism at the gym is creepy and considered behavior to be corrected. As a brand new and somewhat clumsy gym participant, I can’t say I regret this. But it’s weird to be sweaty and breathing heavy and rolling around on the floor (and very nosy), while having to remember that you must not look at the person rolling around on the floor or on a bouncy ball six feet away and if your glance happens to fall on him, you must look away. Preferably at yourself in one of the ten thousand mirrors that blanket the walls.
At first I was paranoid that everyone would stare at me and laugh. Then I realized the only way you can tell if someone is staring at you is if you are staring at her. And if you are staring at her in an I-hate-you-blond-skinny-pretty-girl-with-long-thighs-and-if-I-could-reach-I-would-smack-your-face-with-my-short-round-forearms kind of way, she’ll stare back with a why-the-fuck-is-this-girl-staring-at-me-is-my-nose-really-that-big kind of way, and no one wants that.
Fortunately, I have a friend who is also a jock (boxer) and she is assisting me with the Gym Situation. She knows I am neurotic about certain things and so generally avoids the machinery for the more entertaining bouncy balls, half-bouncy-balls, jump ropes and free weights. Some machinery is inevitable, including the thing with the bar that you pull down to your chest that I, of course, have to stand on my tippy-toes to put back in its neutral position to avoid clanging the weights. She is making me lean backwards on this thing, which is entertaining. I almost fell off the bench this morning, as I was not entirely awake.
Which reminds me. My current boss has run two marathons and one half-marathon. He has, I think, the natural body of a runner—high surface area to weight ratio (tall and lanky)—and apparently goes to the gym to practice his running on that most hilarious of apparatuses, the treadmill. I know this because last week, he was limping and I asked him why and his secretary piped up and informed me he’d fallen off the treadmill that morning at the gym.
From my observations, confirmed by my Friendtrainer, you have to be moving quickly to lose your balance on the treadmill. I guess it happens sometimes that a person puts one foot on the part that does not move and the other foot on the part that does move. It’s less falling off the treadmill than flying backwards off the treadmill and crashing into whatever is behind you. “I lost a lot of skin,” he told me. I can picture it and, being a veteran tripper and faller myself, the shameful dragging of oneself into a corner, waving away offers of assistance and hoping everyone will instantly forget that you wiped out in such a dramatic fashion right in front of them. As a result of my new commitment to the Gym, I and my sturdy Thomas Hardy milkmaid body are now prepared to buffer the backwards flight of any handsome treadmillers, should the need arise.
(The treadmill is hilarious because I read somewhere that it used to be for prisoners sentenced to “hard labor” back in the day. There are the galley-slave rowing machines, but for some reason it’s the treadmill that symbolizes all that is bizarre about the modern gym).
Despite everything, I like going to the gym. It is pleasurable to move my body and feel how lifting things up and down gets easier every time I do it. I’ve found that those childhood and adolescent years of jumping rope and learning dance routines for plays have given me good balance, flexibility and coordination. I get the giggles every time I go, from almost smacking my face into the floor trying to balance myself with my arms on the half-bouncy ball and my feet on the floor, or getting arrogant about how fast I can jump rope and then tripping forward or getting tangled in the laminated stretching instructions on the wall behind me. Today it was the last sit-up and choking back the “motherf@**%#r” that wanted to emerge from my throat, so as not to shock the 75 year-old gentleman near me, who was bending himself into a pretzel.
It’s not nude wrestling covered in oil, and there are no vibrant discussions of art and philosophy, but I’ll give it some time and keep smiling and saying hello to people, even though that’s the one thing absolutely guaranteed to make them stare. That and my psychedelic Hello Kitty canvas bag and bright orange coat, I think.