It’s Not About the Membership Fee

Why is it that when we do things differently the world around us tends to get upset or at the very least a bit put out? Is it that the rhythm of the universe feels that everything is perfect just as it is and why are we rocking the boat of normalcy with undue stress by daring to do things a little differently? Though of course as you all know, I’m guilty of denouncing change myself, even if it may be of an infinitesimally smaller concern than that of the cosmos. Like the new mechanical entrance apparatuses that adorn the front door of my apartment building, and let’s not forget the time when the locals decorated my car’s bumper with, well, bits of their personal refuse I guess you’d call it and I really wasn’t too pleased with that new addition either. So I guess inadvertently I just answered my own questions as I am obviously culpable of the same stagnated behaviors.

However in the name of change a recent new frontier for me is going to the gym to exercise on a regular basis and having to deal with the people there when I am already feeling quite out of place and not in what psychologists would refer to as “my comfort zone.” And while my distress isn’t just a sense of insecurity from having to rub shoulders amongst the financially solvent, who obviously have never had a dark day in their entire lifetimes and if they did it was suffering from a nasty hangnail or the Mercedes was in the shop and the loaner car was a slightly dented Volkswagen Jetta, it is from attempting something new. And everything and everyone is ostensibly viewed as a contradictory element while I try and decide if this is truly something that I want to do or just a whim of stupidity that will run its natural course and then fade away.

Consequently last Monday night after work I was determined to go to the gym and even though it had been an extremely hard day at the insane asylum, I begrudgingly walked over the two blocks to what I now refer to as – my gym. And while walking across the little park out front I happened to look up and in all the windows were sweaty agonized faces set atop bopping bodies that were trudging along on exercise bikes and treadmills and somewhere in the back of my mind the thought arose that there seemed to be a lot of people at my gym tonight! But still I went in and after showing my membership ID I asked for a towel and the attendant said “sorry we’re out!” Yet even faced with the queasy prospect of having to deal with gallons of un-mopped up perspiration I still went upstairs and as I had already suspected the god damn place was full, and I do mean full, of all these people working out and every one of them had on matching track suits and little gymnast gloves without the fingers and in a spastic fit of wanting to not feel out of place I turned and walked into the weight room to have a look around. And unbelievably it was worse than I had already suspected as every bench, every weight and every conceivable bit of floor space was being taken up by somebody or another lifting weights or standing in front of the full length mirrors watching themselves workout.

All in all it was a pretty horrific sight to behold, and swallowing hard I finally mustered up enough nerve to venture near the weight racks where the undulating mass of humanity grew denser as herds of stick-thin girls grabbed dumbbells in agile rapture and a smiling dude in horn-rimmed glasses pirouetted by in shorts that were so short that they were exposing copious amounts of boney white legs and I sort of thought that if these idiots could do it, especially dressed the way that most of them were, then so could I. Which unfortunately instead of giving me that camaraderie “we’re all in this together” feeling made me even more self-conscious, and I flinched as people were brushing against me and so quickly turned around and in the hopes of finding some uninhabited space I wandered over into the Nautilus room—where there were even more people. And right about then I got this sensation that I was being watched and as I fiddled with the earphones to my iPod I looked up into the eyes of this extremely muscle bound Amazonian woman as she was giving me what I felt was that “come-hither-little-boy-want-some-candy” kinda look and that was it for me. So like the manly man that I am I turned and ran screaming out of the building into the cold night feeling like an escapee from Devil’s Island who instead of choosing death was making that last bid for freedom!

Only now here I was self exiled to the streets where a few drops of rain were beginning to fall, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but wasn’t I paying a monthly membership fee so that I could exercise in My Gym? Obviously something wasn’t right and unfortunately I was getting the distinct impression that it was me! Ok, so I’m a little self-conscious; Ok, so I’m a lot self-conscious! Was that any reason for me to just go home and sit in my tiny one room apartment allowing my mind to be invaded by monetary calculations of adding and subtracting monthly gym dues as opposed to time actually spent there, minus the more than a few times that I’ve gone but turned around and left after a few minutes of trying to contain an agonizing sensation of exhibitionism, juxtaposed to the actual times where I’ve spent more than an hour working out. And then of course I’ve got to add in all the occasions that I’ve casually mentioned to friends and family that I now go to the gym, which is worth every penny just to see the expression on their faces.

Yet none the less, fees paid or not, I was outside on the sidewalk and I wanted to do something, anything, athletic like or at least some such cardiovascular inclined exercises. So feeling more than a little exasperated I started to walk aimlessly in the direction of the baseball stadium and about four blocks into this walking thing the rain started drizzling in earnest and I had to pull on my hood to keep my head dry. While at the next intersection the traffic light was about to change and instead of having to stand there exposed to the elements I sprinted across the street and yes, an actual thought was born: Why don’t I jog for a bit?

Ok, so maybe you saw that coming? But in all actuality I didn’t, as I’ve never even entertained the idea of jogging or even running for a bus. As running was something that you just didn’t do because as we all know there is just no way to look cool running; nevertheless, forsaking any reasonable sense of self-image that I had left I ran! I ran for ten solid blocks, I ran until my lungs felt like they were going to burst and as I turned the corner onto the Embarcadero I had to slow down a bit as all the air I was sucking in felt really cold and I was sweating profusely and it was wet and freezing outside and my first thought was – you’re gonna die! I mean talk about your recipe for pneumonia! Never ran before, dressed in light sweats for working out in the gym, but now soaking wet and wheezing like a black lung victim coming outta the coalmine in West Virginia for the last time!

Yet for some unknown reason I knew that I shouldn’t stop, well, I had to ease my stride a ways, but I didn’t hesitate and grab my chest and pray that I was gonna make it through this ordeal like I wanted to and because I knew that I was a long way from home I had to at least get within a few blocks radius before I collapsed on the street in a shivering heap. And why was I thinking like this? I’m not too sure? It’s just this overwhelming feeling that I had at the time which might have been some sort of explosion of thought from an overdose of oxygen to a brain that was getting ventilated for the first time in a very long time, or ever for that matter!

And with a new-found resolve I resumed my sprinting with a medium paced gait and navigating the haphazardly stray bits of nighttime traffic and the miscellaneous pedestrian that was impeding my way I returned to Third Street and started the journey home. And in no time at all I was within a block of the freeway and I could see a crowd of the regular street folk out in front of Jack’s Liquors as they were buying their supplies before seeking shelter from the night’s storm. And as I came running up all red faced and out of breath looking like a heart attack victim, half of them looked up in horror as the other half was busy scanning the street behind me looking for the reason that I was running. So in a cautionary attempt not to frighten them any further, I slowed down and walked up calm and unhurried amid a lot of questions and quizzical looks.

“Ya’ll rite man?”

“Who’s chasing ya?”

“Here, take a hit-o-this beer ya look like sheet!”

“Fool keep that up he gonna die!”

Fortunately I was too winded to say anything, and to tell you the truth I really didn’t know what to say anyway. It wasn’t like saying that I’m jogging was gonna make a whole hell of a lot a sense to these people as they pretty much held the same opinions that I’d had about the merits of running. So I just waved them off and headed to my apartment building at a slow trot hoping that the elevator was there awaiting me in the lobby with its doors opened invitingly wide.

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