North Coast Journal



20 visits for 20 dollars

by Nick Harrison

Last spring my daughter decided I needed to join a gym. I wasn't hard to convince -- I've known for a long time my body is that of Don Knotts on a bad day.

For years I tried to do something about it. I worked out with weights, tried to eat the right foods, woke up early to run or to do something remotely resembling exercise. I once bought one of those small round trampolines you see at garage sales. I had read that it was easy and was the best form of exercise available -- something about how gravity pulls on the muscles with the bounce.

All this, alas, has been to no avail. The trampoline is in the garage waiting for our soon-coming garage sale. Somewhere out there you'll also find the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course I sent for when I was a high school junior.

But every so often I'll get motivated and try again. Usually it's because I convince myself the only difference between Sylvester Stallone and me is that he works out and I don't.

This time, however, the motivation was more mercenary. The gym offered this great promotion -- 20 visits for $20. What a deal, my daughter convinced me.

What she didn't tell me was that the promotion was nearly over and the 20 visits had to be used up in little more than 20 days.

Thus began my most recent foray into "working out." And to my surprise I stuck it out the whole exhausting 20 days. But not for the reasons I originally imagined.

Sure, the exercise was good for me and the sauna was a treat on those cold days of blustery storms. But what held my attention most was something else. When I last frequented gyms, probably in my high school days, the talk was of cars, sports and weekends. Grumbling about having to work out (but, gee coach, we're actually sweating!) was understood to be part of why we were there.

Rating the girls was as cool as snapping a towel at someone's bare behind. And those of us who donned those T-shirts, memorable gray shorts, and, yes, jock straps, seemed to be pointed toward the future of our burgeoning adult lives.

Now, to go to a gym where mostly middle-aged guys want to work out, enjoy a good smelly sweat -- and pay for same -- brought with it a whole new mind set. This time around the guys were putting on three-piece suits after their workouts, the talk was of O.J. (the consensus at the time was he's guilty, but will get off), lawyers, IRAs and once -- in the sauna -- I overheard two guys talking about, gasp, relationships.

It seems one of the fellows was having a hard time breaking up with his long-time love. The other fellow commiserated and offered, modestly, his advice, having gone through "over a hundred deep relationships." Gee, the guy didn't look like he was a day over 35. But these days more than a week's worth of dating may be considered serious stuff.

Back in high school, if a magazine was floating around the locker room, it was the kind that was quickly confiscated by those in power and never seen again. Now, one day as I wandered into the sauna, wishing for something to read, I saw a magazine left on the bench by the door. To my utter amazement it was The Smithsonian, opened to what turned out to be a delightful article by James J. Kilpatrick on malapropisms.

And just as some businessmen boast of the business they do on the golf course, there is the occasional opportunity for establishing professional contacts in the gym. One fellow with whom I found much in common, while sweating bullets in the 180-degree sauna, gave me some excellent advice and elicited some from me. As we concluded our exchange, and I was ready to leave, I thought it would be nice to exchange business cards. But I quickly realized this was an inappropriate moment to be giving someone a business card. I mean where ... ?

As for my daughter, she too threw herself into this with the same wonderful youthful abandon I'd seen in her before. This time, though, I had to tease her. She wouldn't ride her bike to the gym, "It's too far -- two whole miles!" And what do you suppose she headed for first when we got there? Of course, the bicycle machine, where she puffed away for five miles, uphill.

It would be even funnier if it didn't occur to me that my wife has to bribe me with baked goods to get me to take out the garbage or clean out the garage and yet I'll pay $20 to be allowed to sweat my socks off and lift all sorts of meaningless weights. And that blessed treadmill, planted squarely in front of a TV set, gets a mile out of me faster than my wife who wants a short, leisurely evening stroll. By the way, if you walk that same treadmill, don't do it when "Donahue" is on. The resulting high blood pressure negates all those miles, quickly.

Well, the 20 visits soon ended and now I'm saving up for a full-fledged membership -- which I'm sure was the intent of the promotion in the first place. Hey, I'm still not sure this isn't simply the midst of another cycle from which I will eventually backslide. But in the meantime, it was a lot of fun to sweat again.

Nick Harrison is a Eureka free-lance writer.

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