About a year ago a simple action made a tremendous impact on our daily lives: I joined a gym with child care. The daily adrenaline hit transforms me from a sleep-deprived zombie into a slightly more optimistic and energetic sleep-deprived zombie, losing myself in a trashy gossip magazine on the elliptical each morning proves incredibly restorative, Viv thrives with the added structure and socialization, we found a new activity that allows us both to enjoy ourselves at the same time, bla bla bla. Enough about us. Scenes from the gym.
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Anyone who’s ever joined a fitness center will recognize the introductory up-sell. You research your options, pick the gym with the best location/equipment/class offering/price combo (or if you’re single and looking to mingle, the market that features your favorite cut of meat – think man shank or chickie breast), and try to sign on the dotted line. Inevitably, the person working the desk says you must speak with Tony/Kyle/Tyrone (the name just needs a “y”) in order to become a member, please have a seat. Tony/Kyle/Tyrone pretends to be busy for a few minutes and then asks you to take another seat, this time at his desk. Tony/Kyle/Tyrone is very pleased with his desk and is unimpressed by your protestations that you can execute the membership agreement for the plan you’ve already chosen standing up, thank you very much. Tony/Kyle/Tyrone looks over your name and address, checks a box or two on the paperwork, and takes the credit card from your outstretched hand. Just as you think Tony/Kyle/Tyrone will swipe the card and initial in the little box on the upper right-hand side, he leans back in the chair of which he is equally proud, draws in a deep breath, and, using a confessor’s hushed tone, asks, “What are your personal fitness goals?”
My personal fitness goal was to join a gym, quickly. This answer did not satisfy Tony/Kyle/Tyrone, whose name turned out to be Ryan. He waited patiently for me to try again. “Um, I plan to do about thirty minutes of cardio a day. I just need a gym with day care so that I can exercise when it’s raining.” Ryan’s reply: “You can’t lose weight doing cardio alone.” Egads, did he really say that? I bit my tongue, clutched my temper like it was Viv’s hand and a bustling thoroughfare lay ahead, and reminded myself of the purely mercenary motivation for this line of questioning: “I don’t want to lose weight.” He smiled. “Okay, but surely you want to tone up?” I did not smile. “No,” I said, rocking Viv’s stroller quite a bit more rapidly than necessary to keep her calm, “I want to look the same as I look now.” “Well everyone can benefit from working with a trainer. We have a number of qualified personal trainers with degrees in health fitness and human nutrition who can optimize a diet and exercise plan for you.” I stood up: “Ryan, I don’t want a personal trainer. I want to use the elliptical while my daughter plays with the toys in the day care room.” He nodded, his features finally arranging themselves into a look of total comprehension. “I understand, and I definitely see where you’re coming from. You don’t have to worry though. We’re running a special right now for ten hours of training for only $600 if you sign up today.” My mouth dropped open: “Um. Let me rephrase. I don’t want a trainer, even if it’s free.” Ryan screwed up his nose and swished his pursed lips around, almost as if he needed to chew something smelly in order to think, then grinned: “Well, it’s not quite free, but close to it! If you sign up today . . . .”
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One day, a hulking former athlete of a middle-aged man dressed in the light blue shirt and navy pants characteristic of the Seattle Police Department lumbered into the 24 Hour Fitness lobby just after Viv and I arrived. “You guys called?” he demanded of the man at the desk, infusing his words with annoyance. As the gym manager’s tongue stumbled and tripped over an opening line, a smile tugged at the creases of the officer’s eyes and then quickly swept across his formerly stony visage as he blurted, “What, did someone try to work out for 25 hours or something?” He then grabbed a small bottle of water – the likes of which had cost me $2 on a previous occasion – and took several swigs in lulls between the chuckles that shook his large frame.
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A rack of ribs. Shoulder blades that look like they could actually cut something. Pointy parts where there ought to be round parts. For the first few months, I shared the 9:00 to 9:45 a.m. window with three anorexic women. Not just too skinny. I’m talking straight-up sick. As someone who once struggled with an eating disorder or two (I’ll save that story for another day), I can’t look away. I also can’t keep my mouth shut – true as a general matter, but particularly in this situation. I wouldn’t calmly pedal away on my elliptical if a guy clutching an AA chip guzzled Jim Beam in front of me every morning. If a teenager sat between the racks of dumbbells banging her head against the wall repeatedly, I’d find it tough to focus on the wardrobe choices of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (née, Waity Katie, whom I would also like to “feed a few cheeseburgers,” as my friend Sheryl recently put it). When I emailed the gym’s manager asking whether he’d noticed the problem and taken steps to help the women, he replied: “[U]nfortunately the American Disabilities Act requires that we do not discriminate/not allow access based on disability, medical condition etc. Only if they are fainting, passing out, or vomiting, can we require they have a Dr.’s clearance before they come back.” Freaking lawyers. I approached one of the women, and it turns out she’s undergoing treatment. The second woman, who perches astride the elliptical for so many hours that she brings her own mini-Vortex fan on warm days, switched to an evening time slot, clearly outside my moral jurisdiction. It turns out the third one didn’t just spend six hours a day working out; she spent six hours a day working out totally drunk and also tried to move into the locker room. Apparently the gym finally felt comfortable banning her when she began dancing in the middle of a Power Sculpt class. Maybe the ADA would protect that kind of behavior in a Zumba class, but Power Sculpt? The 24 Hour Fitness Risk Management Team thinks not.
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Observation: the people who look the most ridiculous also appear to be the most fit. You know the ones I’m talking about. Arabesques on the stair climber? Simultaneously jumping frog-like from a wide squat, throwing a medicine ball at the floor, and emitting a guttural roar? Totally laughable but apparently effective. Conversely, the folks who spend excessive sums of money on their workout gear always strike me as the most uncoordinated and in the worst physical shape. Except for women wearing lululemon. I swear you could put that brand on a prize-winning hog and Wilbur would look like a Wilhelmina model. I’m certainly counting on it as I drag my lululemon clad, seven months pregnant behind to the gym every morning and type increasingly large numbers in response to the machine’s weight query.