No one seems to call these places 'gym' anymore, and I can understand why. 'Gym' implies old linoleum, rusty lockers, the smell of everyone's sweat meshing together into a horrific odor stew, being subtly peered at and not-so-subtly judged, awful gym uniforms...
OK, I'm obviously flashing back to my forced gym days of youth. I wasn't particularly traumatized by
This was the result--time and again--of my high school bowling efforts... being picked last for gym class games of kick ball, softball, volleyball, anything-followed-by-the-word-ball; this seemed, actually, to speak well of my classmates' ability to think logically and strategically. The blue-and-white HORIZONTALLY striped one-piece gym suit, with our names stenciled on the upper right shoulder jail mate style, that infantilized even the curviest young women... that still gives me the shudders. (And, for the record, our school colors weren't even blue and white. They were black and gold. And, also for the record, boys could wear their own shorts and T-shirts for gym.) As anyone who has subscribed to my email newsletter (see sign up box on Home Page) knows, by virtue of receiving my humorous essay about flunking bowling in high school (and later becoming a mom of very athletic daughters), gym was not/is not my 'thing.'
But I've reached--well, passed--the age where I can just rely on general good health to generate more general good health. So, I've started walking and hiking (two physical activities I actually love.) And my husband and I joined a gym, so we could take a few exercise classes and use indoor exercise equipment such as ellipticals or treadmills on days that it's just too cold or stormy to walk outside.
I've been going to an occasional water aerobics class, and actually have been enjoying that. Pretty good for a woman who as a kid was terrified of water and who didn't learn to swim until she was pregnant with her second child.
However, I've discovered that there are risks associated with being a writer and going to the gym. I keep getting distracted by the other characters at the gym. I need to be careful. One of these days, I'm going to get so distracted that I go flying off the back of the elliptical, and then everyone else will have a story.
Still, how can I not get distracted? Here are a few samples:
--The obese blind man, who swims laps in the lane behind my water aerobics class, for a solid hour. He probably swims a good 60 laps. (I managed to do 10 the other day... while clinging to a noodle and thrashing like a goldfish trying to flip out of its bowl.) He swims smoothly, elegantly, at an even pace, then gets out of the pool, retrieves his cane from the side of the pool, and makes his way into the men's locker room. What's his story? Does he feel safer exercising in a pool than anything else? (I'm still scared to close my eyes underwater.) How did he come to be such an elegant swimmer? Was this before or after he became blind? Would he be complimented or annoyed to know how inspiring so many of us find him?
--The very fit woman in the sauna, in full work out clothes... doing push ups. What's her story? Is she unaware of how dangerous that probably is? Is she training for a big event? Is she punishing herself?
--The elderly woman in the women's locker room, snarling at another woman, "of COURSE he died from heart failure. We all have to die from SOMETHING these days; no one just dies any more because we all die. So it's always effing HEART FAILURE!" (Not making up the 'effing...') What's her story? Who is she talking about? Is she bitter... or just rather adorably curmudgeonly? Her very comments give her a character I want to know more about!
--The man in his 60s who came up to the 40-something man on the elliptical next to mine and shared a story of how he broke his arm when he was trail running. From his comments, he's always at the gym or working out. From the other guy's responses, he couldn't wait for the first guy to go away, and yet, he couldn't bring himself to say, "I'm working out. Please share this later. Or not at all." Which was clearly what he wanted to say. The first man then launched into how no one helped him on the trail, and how that wouldn't be the case if he were female, because everyone always helps women. (Huh.) So... do these two know each other outside of the gym? What if they knew each other from work--a former boss/employee perhaps? Uncle and nephew? Neighbors? Why did the 60-something think it was OK to just walk up to someone and share this story as, it seemed, a plea for sympathy? Why did he need that? Why was the 40-something guy clearly not sympathetic, yet unwilling to ask the other man to leave him alone? And how would Superman (our gym version) have reacted to either guy?
See what I mean? Stories everywhere! Turns out, going to the gym... er, fitness center... is a good workout for my imagination as well as my keister.
NOTE: If you enjoyed the above, you'll find Sharon's essay about how she flunked bowling in high school to be a REAL hoot. Just sign up for her eNewsletter on the Home Page. (The eNewsletter only goes out 6-8 times a year, so you don't have to worry a deluge in your inbox) to receive the essay, free. A fun bit o' bonus reading! (And the eNewsletter has other fun essays, recipes, and more, too.)