LoveSex. These words are emblazoned vertically on the leg of sweatpants worn by the woman beside me on the elliptical machine. She’s probably had better luck securing free personal training than I’ve had with my own exercise pants, which read LoveCarbohydrates across the ass. I decide to have a pair made up that read SexCroissants since I’d get down and dirty with a flaky French pastry any time. More irritating than the advertisement of her love for sex is her evident love for cardio. While her legs complete revolutions with the speed of Wile E. Coyote pursuing the Road Runner, my own pace is akin to Driving Miss Daisy. Quite literally, I need a Southern man in a chauffeur cap to manually rotate my legs while I turn pages in my book and sip sweet tea.
I turn away as the blur of her legs gives me motion sickness. My gaze falls to the woman in front of me, on a rowing machine, whose plodding pace provides the Dramamine effect I need. I glance at my machine’s clock. 2 minutes. I return my eyes to the rower who happens to have exactly 30 visible tattoos. I imagine there are more beneath the cotton-poly blend unitard, but my nausea returns. I determine to study each tattoo for 1 minute to fulfill my parole upon this machine. While entranced by an Ancient Chinese character that she likely believes to say ‘Determination’ when it actually is the sinograph for ‘Hungry Dragon for Pork Flavored Top Ramen’, I am interrupted. Yes, Gladys, 26 minutes left. Put your name on the clipboard. Yes, I’ll wipe down the handlebars. I know I’m sweating like John Candy at an Easter buffet.
By the time I reach the rower’s impressive harem of multi-colored serpents, Gladys stands behind me, cane leaning against the machine and sweatbands in place on her pulse points. I disembark the machine and make my way to the free weights. Hi Milt. Nope, no baby yet. I do remember you were a physician in the 40s. I think these mats were in use in the 40s, too, so I hope you don’t have to deliver a baby here. I halfheartedly raise my dumbbells while simultaneously reading about the Traitor of Trader Joes in the Economist. I must break my addiction to the Trader Mings line. I collapse upon the mat in between Harold and Edith, both working themselves toward a partial stroke with their elastic bands. Our bodies heaped upon the vinyl, we huff and puff and exchange a united look. A look that imparts one common philosophy: Why the hell are we here?
But that united mind is precisely why I am there. To be around others like me. Those who have no business exercising. People who stare at a running track like it’s the Gobi Desert. Folks who need a spotter not for the bench press but to rescue them from an unwisely attempted toe touch. These are my gym compatriots – granted their definition of Depression means standing in line for a bread ration while mine means waiting on hold for a Zoloft script – and we see each other three times a week. Unless one of us dies from overexertion in water aerobics.
G doesn’t understand why I bother with the gym given I can barely walk a flight of stairs without the feeling I will drop this baby like it’s hot. It’s because I want to look like Eva Mendez. He says that’s going to to take more than some side bends. Perhaps Milt will give me a post-baby body overhaul. He was a very prominent surgeon during Prohibition, you know. I bet he made lumpy white girls Latina all the time. I go because there’s no taboo on gray hair, no shortage of Icy Hot cream, and child care is free. Free child care. I drop the kids off and start boring an escape hole through the wall like the place is goddamn Shawshank. Any occasion my children can be cared for at no cost while I stretch on a mat discussing why Richard Burton was really no good for Elizabeth Taylor with a limber dame named Pearl is worth some discomfort.
The day G offers to come with to the gym throws a dumbbell in my routine. Instead of a Tshirt promoting retirement hot spots like Boca! and Palm Springs!, he wears legitimate sporting attire, made of materials like Goretex and fabrics that wick, which has nothing to do with candles incidentally. He boards the cardio machine next to me and turns his dials to Annapurna levels. I scan the floor for Phyllis in case we require a few puffs of her oxygen tank. As I acclimate to my negative acceleration rate, G pokes me in the ribs and points strongly at one of the overhead monitors. Suze Orman. Today’s subject is financial advice for the chronically in debt. He mouths ‘watch this.’ I turn my volume louder and gesture toward my own monitor and pantomime ‘Also financial.’ Court TV. I’m learning about the legal system and how it impacts those who borrow cars without asking permission and meet bankrupt lovers on Bootycall.com.
He dares to the distant end of the weight shelf that my kind never visits. He asks me to spot him while he lifts an anvil. I wave and tell him I can see him just fine. He spies me on an adductor machine and attempts to drop another weight plate on the stack. I tell him I will drop my uterus on his Nikes. After what seems an interminable workout, I inquire if he’s ready to leave. He is still in his ‘core routine’ and will need to do a ‘cool down’. My cool down happens over cups of decaf and collective blood pressure assessments before the assisted living bus arrives. I leave him to collect the kids. We wait in the lobby. We wait so long that Harold, one of the young at heart, dies from aging complications. G emerges with wet hair. You took a shower here? We live a mile away. Did you wear disposable flip flops? Do you have hyper fast actin’ Tinactin? Kids, keep Dad’s hooves out of your mouth since they are fungal.
You don’t want to go to Dunkin Donuts? That’s the whole point of going to the gym. Lard is repelled from your body if you eat within 20 minutes of exercising. Everyone knows this. At least Sal and Esther do.
I’m unconvinced the couple that exercises together stays together. This is why, I presume, all of my gym friends are widows or widowers and wear nylon pants that read LoveLipitor.
(Do you work out as a couple or is exercise best done in a darkened cellar?)