I joined a health club so I wouldn’t look stupid wearing a tank top. I’ve joined four health clubs for that reason. Maybe more. I’ve lost track. It was a Sisyphean goal, because I’m not sure there’s a man in history who hasn’t looked stupid in a tank top. You see them going into the clubs with their thuggish faces, titties peeking out from under mesh shirts, conical Cro-Magnon arms dangling out from oversized holes like fleshy rubber chickens. You see their bones sticking out of their chests as they call in vain for passes in pickup basketball. You see them with their not-quite-inny, not-quite-outy belly buttons peeping out from tops that say “Property of,” kicking up gravel on the Lincoln Park jogging trail en route to the club.
You don’t see out-of-shape people using the health club. Unless it’s an old guy who’s been directed by his physician to stave off another heart attack. You’ll generally find him at the juice bar sneaking a beer.
Almost everyone at my health club is white. Once in a while there’s a compact Korean guy with an intense expression on his face, lifting an entire stack of weights. There are a few black guys, arms bulging. White guys greet them with slaps on the back and “How ya doin’, brothers?” At the first health club I went to, Mexicans and Eastern European immigrants were only there to pass out towels, mop up sweat, and clean the windows.
Then there are the women: black Lycra nymphs, spread-eagle on the carpets, methodically lifting weights in front of walls of mirrors. Or stumbling out of fascist aerobics drills as sweat drips off their pinkish brows. They loiter with Turkish towels around their necks, cackling with condescension at the jokes made by the traders in the gray sweat-drenched Red Sox T-shirts. Rules of engagement are different in health clubs. You can’t tell status when everyone’s in tight Spandex or short shorts. Unless you’re one of those mustachioed refugees from the 70s working out in blue jeans and gym shoes, your class isn’t measured by the cut of your suit, but by the redness of your cheeks and the size of the sweat marks on your outfit. You would think the odor of sweat would be a turnoff, but here it’s a ticket to an evening of bad theater and dinner at one of those faceless glass-and-chrome restaurants that have a salad bar, pretzels served with individual mustard cups, and waiters who say things like “Let me explain to you how things work around here.”
I may be in the minority here, but I never joined the health club to meet women. Maybe it’s because I look stupid in a tank top.
The first place I joined was a neon club, the kind that advertises between phone-sex ads on late night TV. Alluring hard-bodied sirens tempt you to sign up for one free month and then suck you in for life. It’s one of those places where all the women wear frosted pink and all the guys wear black. Muscle-bound couples work the weight machines, spotting each other’s lifts and shouting encouragement like “Pump it, baby. Pump it, baby. Pump it, pump it, pump it, pump it.” It’s one of those joints that have their own radio station devoted to hard-thumping disco-pop that makes you lift in rhythm. The fitness trainers at the front desk snap each other with towels. And the guys with the thick leather weight belts walk around like they own the place.
Being in the locker room is like hanging out with all the guys in your high school gym class who would never pass you the ball. Except if you were the only one open, and they’d huck it at you so hard you’d be sure to drop it. Then they’d look at you and say with a snarl, “It was there, man.”
“Fuck it, man,” Ted says. “Fuck it. I ain’t never playin’ with that asshole again, you understand me?”
Ted is naked underneath the little white towel that can’t make it all the way around his chunky frame. He’s holding it up with his fat fingers as he paces back and forth on the black carpet. He has the crazy, bloodshot eyes of a belligerent drunk just tossed out of a bar.
Ted’s friend Ricky already has on his pants, socks, and shoes and is now standing in front of a full-length mirror, working a white, foamy substance through his hair. “I told you about that guy,” Ricky says absently, pivoting to look at his shirtless profile.
“Fuckin’ monkey in the middle,” Ted grunts. “Fuckin’ monkey in the middle.”
“You set a couple good picks,” Ricky says, thumping on his chest in the rhythm of an Indian war chant.
“I don’t want to hear about that shit,” Ted says. He gestures angrily with both hands, letting the towel drop to the floor. He’s acting like a wild beast scorned. “Why do fuckin’ tall guys always gotta flaunt it? What the hell is that? Like they deserve a medal, ’cause they had a fuckin’ tall dad. Congratulations. Put six inches on me, I’ll dust their asses too. High-fivin’ each other and everything. If that don’t show a lack of class, I don’t know what does.”
Ricky nods at him, walks over to his locker, and takes out a white T-shirt, the kind that costs 25 bucks at Saks. He stretches it over his body with the rapt concentration of a master baker icing a wedding cake and pulls at it methodically to air out the wrinkles.
“You gettin’ dressed?” Ricky asks.
Ted sits down on a turquoise stool. “I’m too fuckin’ short, man,” he says, smashing his right hand violently into the locker. “That’s what it is. I been too fuckin’ short for 29 years.”
“Those girls, we said we’d meet them,” Ricky prods.
“Yeah, well you go ahead. You have a good time,” Ted says. He braces his red right hand with his left.
“Oh, that’ll look good,” Ricky says. “Come on, let’s go.”
“I’m not fuckin’ goin’,” Ted says, glowering. “I’m fuckin’ staying home.”
“What’re you gonna do at home?”
“I don’t know. Watch the game.”
“They got it on at the bar”
“I ain’t in the mood.”
“Are you fucking with me?” Ricky asks. “I don’t have time to play nagging fucking wife. Are you coming or not?”
“Not,” Ted mumbles. He picks at some lint on his chest.
“Fine,” Ricky says. He takes his leather jacket from the locker, puts it on, and zips it up, leaving about three inches of space before the neck. He returns to the mirror. He runs both of his hands through his hair, shakes his head with two furious twists, and runs his hands through his hair again. “I’ll get a ride home with those girls,” he says.
“Whatever,” Ted says.
“I’ll let you know where we’ll be when you’re done sulking. I’ll leave you a message.”
“Whatever,” Ted says as Ricky struts out of the locker room. “Fucking tall guys.”
Child of the 70s
I suppose you could say that health clubs have always been with us in one form or another. In some way they’re just the modern equivalent of the Roman aquatorium or the Tibetan sweat hut or the Turkish bath. They’re like the continuation of gym class, but now you have to pay through the nose to be subjected to the torture that Mr. Hardy, Ms. Berning, and Mrs. Erickson used to inflict with Nazi pleasure.
But what really bugs me about the health club per se is that our current model is a child of the 70s. You never saw a sweat suit before 1973 and after that the deluge. Every swinging cat on every swinging 70s TV program was wearing one–usually chocolate or maroon with a zipper up the front. It’s hard to remember life before sweatbands, times when people actually thrived before jogging to the pace of a Walkman, when every middle-aged guy didn’t look like Mindy’s dad or Larry from Three’s Company, sashaying through a bachelor pad in a sweat suit with matching stripes on the legs and the jacket.
Our tastes have changed since then, to be sure. No dark brown suits, no zippers, and certainly no fuzzy, trumpet-legged pants. No frizzy white-boy Afros held out of our eyes with a thick elastic band. No Village People singing about taking a shower and getting yourself clean as you worked out before we really knew what they meant. Now it’s black above the knee and bare leg below. It’s a cool solid-colored T-shirt with a phrase, a team name, or a logo on it. No stripes, definitely no stripes. No sweatbands. But this is stylistic refinement, not wholesale change. The health club is for better or for worse the realization of a 70s dream.
And you can tart it up all you want. You can put in all the neon you want. You can play as many Gin Blossoms, 10,000 Maniacs, Pearl Jam, and Madonna tunes as the human ear can tolerate without exploding. You can change the pickup lines and remove every one that has “Hey baby” or “Swing on over to my pad” in it. You can remove the necklaces on the dudes and the eye shadow and the hair spray from the ladies. But every day when I go through that door from the locker room, I’m still thinking I’ve walked into a Burt Reynolds movie that has a bit part for Valerie Perrine.
Every health club has its regulars, and they’re the guys I always stay away from. You wonder if the club hires them out to keep it looking busy in the dog days of summer, when any right thinking person would be riding a bike on the trail or doing some forest preserve par-course. You see them at the juice bar talking up the bartender or just standing around bullshitting with cups of ice water in their hands. Maybe they’ll just stretch out and never actually get around to the machines.
There are these two retired guys in the club I go to now. They look like Laurel and Hardy, but their nicknames are worse. The big guy’s a beefy son of a bitch with a small head and a face that looks like John Wayne’s if he’d spent half his life in a VA hospital. He calls himself “Tubba Shit” and insists everybody else does too. Tubba Shit likes to make fun of the Latino workers who pick up the towels in the locker room. Every day he roars at them with laughter, cackling, “Hey! Hey you! You pull your prick too much.” He follows his assessment with a predictable up-and-down gesture of his fist. The silver-haired little guy is a weasely, smiling bully who always wears Spandex tights and biker gloves. He calls himself “Lil’ Pecker.” No joke.
Lil’ Pecker’s got a nephew who’s one of the trainers at the club. The nephew’s name is Henry, and Lil’ Pecker likes to mock him by saying that he isn’t muscular enough to work here. Henry’s a small, mean-looking guy with a crew cut, but he doesn’t look any more than 17–you get the feeling that at night he kicks guys’ asses in city parks for pleasure.
One time Henry’d been working out all day and was sweating like an open hydrant. Lil’ Pecker laughed at him.
“Too hard a workout for you? Too hard a workout, huh Henrietta?” He introduces his nephew to Tubba Shit: “Hey, here’s my niece, Henrietta.”
“Lay off, unc,” Henry groaned with a laugh, which only made Lil’ Pecker laugh more.
“Aww, I can smell her.” Lil’ Pecker snorted and sniffed the air. “I can smell Henrietta! She must be having her period.”
Lil’ Pecker and Tubba Shit couldn’t stop laughing.
No one ever has an intellectual conversation at a health club. You’re lucky if you can find someone with whom to converse at all. Working out is a physical thing; flexed muscles put the mind on autopilot. People don’t read books when they’re on Stairmasters or Lifecycles. They read magazines, People and Newsweek, and crappy tabloid newspapers that wind up littering the floors of the club by day’s end.
I find myself discussing God knows what with dudes who use the lockers next to me: sporting events I haven’t seen, movies I’d never rent if you paid me. Guys like to walk around in towels and sing the wrong lyrics to pop songs. I practically strangled one slim blond guy in a towel who kept boogying back and forth in front of the mirror, whining some made-up lyrics to Liz Phair’s “Whip-Smart.”
“When we do the double dutch, now we’re dancing. / When we do the double dutch, that’s romancing. / When we do the double dutch, boys start prancing.”
I once wound up discussing the quality of TV commercials with some buff rockhead–the closest thing to an intellectual conversation I’ve ever had at one of these places.
“You know,” he said. “I must be getting older, ’cause I find myself concentrating less and less on the game and more and more on the ads. I get a sandwich during the game, but man, when those commercials come on, I’m glued.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, somehow knowing exactly what he meant. “Which ones do you like?”
“None of ’em,” he said. “Well, none of ’em except Rold Gold.”
Two men stand at the front entrance of my gym getting ready to go. One’s still in his basketball togs–a Ewing jersey and white skinny shorts that go down to the knee. The other wears a gray suit and wire-rimmed glasses. A red tie is draped over his right shoulder. He fingers it absentmindedly as he talks.
“She said you shouldn’t treat a woman like that,” the man in the basketball jersey says, releasing an evil laugh dripping with cynicism.
“That shows how much she knows,” the man in the suit says. He’s deadly serious, speaking in a voice that sounds as though it’s never laughed once.
“Treat a woman like that,” the man in the basketball jersey repeats. “As if it’s up to her who’s being treated and who should be doing the treating.”
“That’s right,” says the man in the suit.
“You see, in Africa, it’s not like that,” says the man in the basketball jersey.
“You been to Africa?”
“Naw. But I heard stories.”
“About how you treat a woman.”
“You can hit a woman there.”
“Is that right?”
“Sure, and her family doesn’t mind.”
“Naw,” the man in the basketball jersey says as he points a finger proudly at the man in the suit. “They respect you for it.”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s a question of property. You can do with it what you will. They don’t want you to get too out of line–but a hit here, a hit there, that’s not out of line. Here, it’s like crazy. Here, you do something they call the cops on you. Here, it’s like it’s the law that’s your family, but in Africa it’s the family that’s the law and the man’s the ruler.”
“I don’t know how much I’d like that,” says the man in the suit. “I’m sure my wife wouldn’t like that.”
“Oh, you’d like it. You’d go over there, your wife does something you don’t like, you’d hit her in her family’s house, and they’d ask you back for dinner.”
“Not my wife’s family,” says the man in the suit.
“Well, that’s your form of slavery,” says the man in the jersey. “Me, I’m moving there. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. But I’m goin’.”
“What’s your wife think about that?”
“She don’t know it yet,” the man in the jersey says with a laugh. “You driving north?”
“No,” says the man in the suit. “No, I’m going south today.”
“Thought you lived north.”
“Yeah, but I’m driving south.”
“You got some business?”
“Yeah, some business.”
“Oh, OK,” says the man in the jersey. “Well, I’ll see you next week then.”
“Next week’s no good,” says the man in the suit.
“Family thing, huh?” The man in the jersey laughs. “Africa, I’m telling you, Africa.”
“Yeah, well I’ll see ya,” says the man in the suit as he walks over to a black Mercedes with a window decal from some suburban hospital.
The man in the jersey is laughing as he waits at the bus stop. A black Mercedes passes him going north fast.
There’s this one health club that’s in this tacky neon mall on the north side. You know the one I mean; you’ve probably used it. Everyone wears Lycra in this place. No one smells like sweat. Everyone smells like cheap perfume or cologne. The sounds of bad Top 40 music thump through the speakers mounted in every corner on every floor. It’s like a suburban singles bar on a Saturday night–the music and clothes are just as cheesy.
A friend of mine told me that this was a “cruisey” health club. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but figured it meant the same thing it did at any other club–most people are coming here to get laid before they get huge. No big deal. If you don’t dress the part of the cruiser, then you won’t get the looks of interest or anguish from the rubber-clad Stairmaster princesses. And if you aren’t all buffed out, you won’t get the gazes of competition from the muscled, dangly arm toughs. My friend, however, did not tell me about the showers.
“What is he doing? He’s not . . . ” I say to myself as the guy in the shower across from me stares me straight in the eye while he grabs hold of his elongated schwantz and begins to pump it rhythmically.
“He is.” I grab a towel, get dressed, and shower at home.
An isolated incident, I think, so I come back the next day. After working out I get into the showers, and there, in front of me again, is some hairy dude with a mustache staring at me and rubbing his dick. What the hell is going on here? The next day I come back, don’t bother using the showers, but peer in anyway. There are three guys in there whacking. Well, what does one do?
“Well, why did you join the health club?” asked an unsympathetic friend. “We’ve been doing that there for years. That’s what you do. You walk up and down, find somebody you like, and take him back to the showers. Or sometimes if you can’t find anybody, you watch everybody else. It’s so cute watching how people do it. Some people look so serious and industrious. Like squirrels or monkeys or something. You have to laugh at that.”
Call it prudishness, call it squeamishness, but I thought I joined a health club, not a bathhouse. So I complain to the management.
“Why don’t you tell them if you have a problem, sir?” one of the amused personal trainers asks me.
“Tell them? Tell them what? Tell them to stop?”
“Say, “Hey, you over there, stop grabbing your dick?”‘
“Well, however you want to phrase it, sir.”
“That’s not the time you want to be getting into arguments with people. People get mad.”
“Can’t you put up a poster or something, issue some kind of edict?”
“We can’t do that, sir.”
A manager–the sort of macho guy who looks like he’d kick the shit out of anyone who looked at him funny, and God knows what he’d do if he actually saw someone staring at him and pulling his pud–took the politically correct approach:
“Sir, you have to be tolerant,” he said.
“You have to understand, sir, you may not approve of people’s habits, their sexual preferences”
“This isn’t about that.”
“Well, you say that, sir, but you have to understand that these people, well, they are that way, and it may not be the way that you or I are, but they have every right to their particular freedoms.”
“Don’t I have any freedoms here?”
“You don’t have to look, sir.”
“But it’s harassment; it’s the creation of a hostile environment.”
“Then I suggest you take it up with them.”
“I’m a writer,” I said. “What if I decided to do a whole big expose about how your health club has become a massage parlor.”
“You can do what you want, sir.”
Another friend of mine was into the idea.
“Go on, write it,” he said. “That’ll be the best article you’ll write in your life. Everybody I know would totally read an article about how people whack off in the showers.”
The concept of getting dressed up in nothing but a pair of thongs and wandering about the showers of the health club locker room with a reporter’s notebook didn’t exactly sound like why I’d gone into journalism, so I thought I’d take the easy way out and get out of my membership. Actually, it wasn’t completely motivated by hygiene or my easily upsettable disposition. Frankly, I’d already begun to regret having signed up for the three-year President’s Club membership, and that 25-bucks-a-month payment was becoming an irritant. I’d also grown slightly allergic to the sight of stretch pants.
Trying to get out of a health club membership is like trying to escape the French foreign legion. Sure, on the commercials Sheena Easton paints a friendly picture, but she’s not the person you talk to when you contact the home office in Michigan. These Pavlovian automatons have learned the patented method of “A Thousand Ways to Say No to the Customer.” The best I did was to get ahold of an easygoing guy who at least thought my complaint was pretty funny but still wasn’t going to do anything about it.
“They do what?” he asked. “That’s the most fucking disgusting thing I’ve heard in my life. Aww man, they do that there? And what happens? Like the spoo goes down the drain of the shower and they want you to walk around in that? Aww, that’s fucking gross. That’s Chicago for you, man. That’s why I never come down to Chicago, ’cause you see shit like that. Man, those people are out there. Wait till I tell my boss about this one, man. Shit.”
“Does that mean you’ll help me out?”
“Sorry, man. But that’s some fucked up shit.”
The worst thing about lodging a complaint against the health club you’re attending is that everyone at the club knows who you are. This isn’t paranoia; they stare at you and snicker. Especially when your complaint already invites jokes.
“Good to see you again, sir,” they cackle. “Nice to have you back with us again, sir.”
I’m continually haunted by the vision of one teenage, frizzy-haired Latino girl who works the front desk. In my vision she’s giggling, just as she did when she saw me enter the club, and she’s saying, “Fresh towels, sir? Can we get you some fresher towels?” Her voice shatters in a rain of laughter.
Ever try to visit a health club? Maybe one that your friend goes to? That’s what they always tell you when you join–one of the perks is that you get free guest passes. Well, sort of. Well, not really.
“Fuck your health club,” my buddy Paul said. “We’ll go to mine. It’s plush. It’s awesome. And the women . . . ” He whistled as his right hand described one half of an hourglass.
Paul likes these kinds of places. He stays in them for hours. He probably spends more time at the water fountains than I spend in the entire club. He starts out with a mile jog. Then he showers and switches into his bathing suit. I don’t know if he spends an inordinate amount of time in the showers. I don’t ask. Then he’s on to the weight machines. Paul’s the kind of guy who goes “Unggggghhhh” every time he does a leg lift and shouts “Wooo” every time he bench presses. All the while he’s scoping out the territory. “Check her out,” he says. “Pink top, black leggings, curling machine. She is on time.” At which point I’m obligated to give him five, sometimes ten. An hour later, he’s asking me to do another mile jog “just to cool down.”
I packed my things, threw them in the car, and drove out to his club in the suburbs. I strutted up to the front desk.
“You here to join the health club?” asked the gum-chewing extra from a Madonna video. Her red fingernails tapped impatiently against the receiver of a black phone.
“No. Just came for the day to exercise.”
“You ever thought about joining one of our clubs?”
“No. Just came for the day to exercise.”
“Would you be interested in finding out about one of our free trial memberships?”
“No. Just came for the day to exercise.”
“There’s no cost to join for the first three months. And no obligation.”
“No. Just came for the day to exercise.”
“Fill this out,” she said, handing me several pages of text, the substance of which was to guarantee that if I were to have a heart attack I would be unable to sue. I began penning in phony information, and she went to the phone.
“Jake,” she bellowed into the intercom. The reverberations of her voice seemed to shake the health club. People on exercycles turned abruptly and stared. “Jake! Up front!”
“What’s up, pal?”
Jake stood sullenly beside the woman at the front desk, like a big mean bear who’d just been awakened from hibernation. The stench of coconut and the traces of cream on his cheeks made it obvious he’d just been interrupted from working suntan lotion into his skin.
“He’s just touring today.”
“What’s your name, buddy?”
“Alan,” I lied.
“Good to meet you, Alan. What are we gonna do today?”
Paul was already jogging dangerously close to some woman in an aqua jogging suit.
“We?” I asked.
“Yeah. That’s what we do. We work out. You and me. You used these machines before?”
“Yeah, see, but I don’t know that,” he said. “I gotta make sure you’re using ’em right.”
“I signed the paper. You’re not obligated. I can’t sue,” I said.
“That’s the thing, though,” he said evasively. “It’s club policy.”
“Fine,” I said.
“There’s the locker room,” he pointed. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
I took about ten minutes to change, hoping he’d be gone by the time I got out. No such luck. He was drumming his fingers against his palm. Waiting. Why did I think I was gonna get rolled today?
“What’re we doing first today, Alan?” he asked.
“Maybe the bike,” I said, pointing at some of the Lifecycles.
“Tell ya real honestly, Alan,” he said. “Those are crap. They don’t do nothing for you. You’re wasting your time.”
“I kinda liked those,” I said.
“Crap,” he said. “We keep them here for the women to use. I ain’t never seen a guy using one of them, you understand what I’m saying?”
“Sure,” I said and pointed to a row of arm and leg machines also produced by Lifecycle. They have the cool digital readouts that congratulate you when you’ve finished doing a series of 12 lifts. Or, if you do a crappy job, they mock you in yellow lights, cackling silently “Performance Poor.”
“Those are shit,” said Jake. “I don’t know why we even brought those here in the first place. First of all, they say you’re lifting 100. That’s bullshit. It’s usually only about 50. You don’t get any kind of a good workout out of those ‘less you’re on them for about an hour. Kids like those. The lights and shit. But that’s garbage. Maybe if you got a heart condition it makes you feel good about yourself. But, shit, I thought you wanted to work out.”
“Well, what do you like?” I asked.
“It’s all shit,” he said. “It all sucks. It’s all a big fucking scam.”
“All of it?”
“Well, all of it except the free weights,” he said and with a nod of his head directed me up the stairs and into the weight room, a vision of sweating bodies and grimacing faces right out of the auto-da-fe in Voltaire’s Candide.
“Yeah,” he said. “You know what you do? You say fuck all this aerobics shit, you fuck all these machines, you say fuck all that. And I’m telling you this ’cause you’re an intelligent guy–you got glasses on and shit. You know what I’m telling you is right, because you feel that. You’ve been on those machines, ever do anything for you?”
“Of course not. You’re a weak piece of shit. All this shit does, it gives you an illusion. It makes you think you’re doing something for your body. You ain’t doing nothing for your body. It’s a mirage. You ain’t doing nothing. You’d be better off with a barbell and a jogging path. All this is crap.”
“So, why do I join the club?” I asked.
“Fuck the club,” he said. “You got me.”
He handed me a card with his name and phone number and the words “personal trainer” written on it in pink script.
“I’m your guy,” he said. “You wanna get shaped up, you talk to me. Because I been doing this for 20 years now. I charge more than this shit place does, but I’m ten times as good. ‘Cause I’ll be on your ass every fucking day, telling you what to do, getting you huge, not taking your bullshit. Because you lie when you join the health clubs, you lie when you use the machines, you pretend. But you ain’t gonna be pretending with me. You got that? You can’t fool Jake.”
“What’s the club think about this?”
“Fuck them, they don’t pay me shit.”
“Yeah, I been making $300 a week from them and half of that’s embezzled, just between you and me.”
“What about the girl up front?”
“Amy?” he asked. “We’re right. She knows.”
“Yeah, and she gets a 20 percent cut of any business she throws my way. What do you say?”
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
“Yeah, you think about it,” Jake said. “I charge $15 an hour. You wanna get the ladies, you talk to me. You wanna look good, you call me. You wanna do things right, you let me know. You wanna dance? Well, pal, I’ll sign you up for the club, and you can do all the dancing you want, but it ain’t gonna do you shit.”
“You’re right, Jake.” I said. “I’ll call you. No dancing for me. You’re right. I’ve had it with these clubs. You’re all over it, man. You are right on the money.”
We slapped skin, we shook hands, we traded stories about the Blackhawks. We made an appointment for the next day.
What seemed like eight hours later, I was riding in Paul’s passenger seat down the Edens Expressway. Jake’s business card was floating in the canal.
Gotta Get In to Get Out
I haven’t been to my health club for about two months now. But I’m still a member as the monthly statements confirm. Something in the stale, acrid air began to get to me. Somehow I couldn’t face mounting those stairs anymore, watching those winter-tanned would-be Adonises and their mates laughing loudly while grouped around the bar watching Ellen and Seinfeld. Somehow I couldn’t take looking at any more naked men tramping up and down from mirror to mirror from scale to scale before putting on the uniforms for their stock market jobs. Somehow I couldn’t take one more day of listening to Q101 and Kurt Cobain–“In the pines! In the pines! Where the sun don’t ever shine! I’ll shiver the whole night through”–while black-clad legs pumped up and down in rhythm on the Stairmaster. I couldn’t face another day of looking at discarded copies of USA Today, of folded Wall Street Journals, of white towels with mysterious stains on them, of open lockers with other people’s ripped socks in them, of bourgeois kids coming in for tennis practice, of the movers and shakers of the world sipping ice water as if it were aged rye whiskey, of men making jokes about women on thigh machines, of women whispering about men working up sweats on machines with names like Orgasmatron.
I’ll never give up my membership, though. I’ll keep paying my 80 bucks a month until the end of time. And someday someone will come up to me and ask me if I’m a member, and I won’t have to say no. That would be an admision of defeat. Besides, sometime maybe in the 21st century, I’ll wake up and bike over to my health club, change into my tank top, and look in the mirror. And I know I’ll look just fine.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Paul Moch.