It's been about four years since I even stepped into one of those vile places, those epicenters of suffering and agony, of sweat and tears. They are temples of self-inflicted torture where man, king of the earth and master of all beasts, becomes hamster. A place where we humans, capable in our infinite knowledge of the sciences have traveled through the air and space, crafted the arts, and masterminded technology like telephones, computers, gameboys, automobiles, and pizza, willingly subject ourselves to the rigors of slavery. Labor without purpose. We even pay for it. $33.99 a month, for 24/7 unlimited access to agony.
Yes, after over four years of desk jobs, playing videogames, watching movies, going to movies, eating, sleeping and engaging in other activities that will ultimately bring me one step closer to a fern on the evolutionary ladder, Maria and I joined a gym. The 24 Hour Fitness on Denny way. If you go to their front door you can probably still see the scratch marks on the wall where I desperately tried to cling to liberty as Maria dragged me in by my feet. Actually, that's a lie. I used to be a huge fan of "das gym" and would go regularly while in college. I remember Maria seeing an old picture of me in my fitter days, chirping in exclamation, and then looking up at me with a look of "what happened?" Beer, Maria. Beer happened. Beer and the acknowledgement that I hate physical activity that doesn't involve a loud instrument or an orgasm.
But we all know that the gym has its merits... Hot bod, washboard abs, gay friends, and cable! It just takes time and discipline, but with enough of that stuff I could eventually get back in shape, and maybe one day become a hulking neck with legs. Maria and I are already trying to master-mind ways to transform our slovenly nature into motivation to get into the gym. My first opus came as our host, Steve, was showing us the cardio machines, various devices that one places themselves upon which then simulates some kind of horribly embarrassing physical activity that most are loathe to actually do in public, hence the need for a gym. Why they place those things right in front of the windows for all of commuting Seattle to gawk at your jiggling sides and tomato red face is completely beyond me. If it was my choice the treadmills and the stair masters would all be housed in some kind of sensory deprivation cave with zero light, and all the users would be forced to wear virtual reality goggles displaying the CGI scenes from The Lawnmower Man. Instead they are lined up like socks in Mark Summers' underwear drawer, facing the corner of Denny and Yesler in full view via the floor to ceiling windows. Maybe it's reverse psychology. These sweaty, red faced, lumps of flesh in spandex are beautiful. You are a hag. Maybe it's the same idea as public execution, that people have an inert need to see others punished, a macabre fascination with seeing something horrible happen to another living thing. Regardless of the twisted logic that inspired this sadistic placement of exercise equipment, it was in this atrium of pain that I had my first "eureka!" about how to get myself motivated to actually do something for my health.
A while back, Maria and I cancelled cable, a decision that definitely made us more financially sound, but also made us painfully aware of our own boredom. I've never been a TV junkie by any means, but there were a few shows I got pretty fond of during our short sprint with more channels than I could ever hope to truly appreciate. Well, they have TV in front of all the cardio machines. I now have a sprawling gateway back into the land of prime time, and while Best of the 80's won't be quite the same whilst perched atop a motionless bike, straining to hear Gilbert Godfried's nasal banter over my own deep panting, Amazing Race truly will be amazing as I run in pace with the contestants. Only instead of a million dollars, I will be getting a side ache. However, I can now rest in the comfort of knowing that after Shark Week is over I will be fit enough to run a marathon. Twice.
Another lure is getting back into weight lifting, which I was actually pretty fond of back in the day. When I started to fall off the wagon years ago, I would still try and get back into the rhythm of working out a feeble few times. These are bad memories. Memories of trying to move the weight I had been at a month previous, being surprised to find out that it wasn't too bad, and then waking up the next day unable to move. It's a humbling pain. It hurts to scratch your ass, to click your mouse, to rub the tears from your eyes. You learn to both appreciate and despise the intricate mechanism that is the human muscular system. I'm glad that this time I will have these memories of discomfort as hindsight, hopefully allowing me to pace myself and take it easy the first few visits. However, remembering the pain of not lifting weights for a month and then diving back into the deep end, I am fully afraid of what it may be like after four years of inactivity. My guess would be crippling.
24 Hour Fitness actually has a pool, and pretty nice equipment. The last gym I frequented on a regular basis was the Bellevue YMCA, which pretty much attracted the dregs of the suburbs and the elderly. The smell of this building was unreal. It was like all the old people were constantly peeing in their sweat pants while exercising and the staff was pumping bubble gum through the vents to cover it up. It wasn't the Hollywood vision of an exercise club: fit people staying fit, naked babes in the shower room (remember Repossessed?!?!), smoothie bars and energetic sexually charged personal trainers spotting your bench. No. It was elderly men with testicles down to their knees in the locker rooms. It was non-English speaking locals calling you out at the basketball court. It was immensely obese women in stretch shorts holding back the tears while doing crunches. It was the only gym in Bellevue with a $25 monthly membership fee. I very specifically remember an inhumanly large Russian man who was an exotic beast in the weight room. He was older with gray hair, a bristling moustache, fingerless gloves, and a massive leather support belt for his back. He would dress in matching colored sweat pants and sweat shirts, which would soak through as he worked out, bellowing in his native Russian tongue and startling the timid gym members as he hefted enormous amounts of weight like atlas heaving the earth. Truly a sight to behold, and ultimately emasculating as you took your turn on the tricep machine changing the weight from 180 to 70.
Apparently I've graduated, or I guess gyms are cheaper these days. 24 Hour Fitness seems to be much nicer than the YMCA of my youth. It definitely has a gym smell, but it's nowhere near the salty-sweet pungency of a sick bay that I was expecting. Instead of manic foreigners and old bed wetters in the weight room, there's the typical smattering of what one should expect from a centrally located facility smack in the middle of urban Seattle. 20 somethings, 30 somethings, office workers, gays, tattooed hipsters, and worst of all the typical run of the mill fitness geeks. The dudes with tribal tattoos, head bands, tank tops, fanny packs, and muscles, talking loudly over the noise of the gym about sports and boisterously asking if you need a spot for your military press. However, I must extend a gracious and venerable thank you to Steve Jobs, because every single one of those fuckers has an ipod now, making awkward weight room talk near obsolete. I'll be sure to crank the ABBA in my head phones so it is audible within my proximity, a warning to over friendly muscle heads who want to shoot the shit about stretches and deltoids that I'm not a talker. I prefer to endure my pain in the silence of loud headphones. That way I won't drop the weights on my laughing face when I accidentally poot mid bench press.