The End Of The World, or, Boiled Frogs (II)

The parking lot in front of the nearest Gold’s Gym shopfront slopes gently, and also serves a job-lot discounter, a camping and hiking store, and a Vitamin Shoppe. Not a bad place for me, altogether.

It had taken me a week because I blew a tire on a six-lane divided, and had a whacking schedule of clients, and was depressed out of my mind and angry and bitter over the loss of my second home (of two decades, and a bit) — not to bankruptcy or lost leases but to mere marketing bullshit.

I do not know of a single person who quails and quivers in his lean-to, saying timorously “I’d join a gym, but they have those BIG people in there making GRUNTING noises and I see machines and benches that SCARE me!” Do you? Seriously? “One of them was wearing a string tank! One had a do-rag on his head! I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! I’ll never work out again if I have to see things like that!”

Give me a fucking break, friends and neighbors.

Once upon a time, I owned a stiff and clumsy barbell set given to me by one of the mille e tre — in this case, my Nazi Ex, who had enough longevity in my life to actually qualify as an ex. I had been using the half-baked equipment in a powder-puff gym called (excuse me while I rub Vicks Vaporub under my nose) “Lookin’ Good,” owned by a onetime Mr. DC competitor and his moderately soused girlfriend. The dumbbells went up to a breathtaking ten pounds; the floor manager and I — I kind of, um, worked there — used to lobster-claw a couple together to do a half decent dumbbell flye. Look, there was not a lot of cash in my life at the time and the only real gym in the region was half an hour’s drive away. The Nazi Ex, whom I did not at that time realize was a Nazi, bought a set with two dumbbell bars and a full length bar and a graduated array of sand-filled polymer weights, which I still have in the cellar bracing various utility shelves. Eventually I figured out what kind of meetings the Ex had been going to with a friend who once had been a trainer at Vic Tanny’s. I dumped the Ex. The Vic Tanny guy called me several times, mostly when a few beers down and hoping for a date, but once he wanted me to know he had signed on at a serious goddam gym in Falls Church just a few minutes away, and he would get  a free month for every member who gave his name when signing up.

I wandered over.  It was the relinquished warehouse of a carpet merchant next door, unsuitable for their purposes because it flooded in every rain or damp spell, fitted out with second- and third-hand weight equipment by four guys with bad attitudes and thighs for arms, whose ringleader was an accounting student looking for a way to work out on the cheap and get a return on the deal. It rang with the sound of plates slamming into each other as people loaded bars and the semi-profane yells of people pushing past their limit on bench presses and squats. It smelled of mildew and jock straps and sweat socks. I took a deep, nostril-flaring, rose-inhaling gulp of the scent. I was home.

It was home for six years — rust, floods, steroid needles stuck in the locker room walls, and all. Then the accounting student graduated and the equipment got sold up and the guy who used to arrive every morning at five, when I was half through my workout, wept openly even if he was a tough bastard who flew Evac in Nam, and we swore it had been the best part of our lives and of course never saw each other again.

The gym I’ve been going to for twenty-some years had opened up by then in a shopping center I’ve used since childhood. Another relinquished warehouse. I came in and said “I’m a refugee from the Weight Room. I don’t want any sales pitch or folderol, how much is a membership?” The slightly cowed sales person urped up a schedule of options and I bought in. I refound Sister Age there, who had looked over at me one early AM at the Weight Room — she was getting off work at a bar, I was starting my day — to say “You do the weirdest workouts.” I followed the place across an interchange to the godawful Southeast Asian mall-o-plex where it now resides, the only Anglo building in a compound of jewelry stores and groceries and coffee joints frequented by rival Cambodian and Vietnamese gang members.

Back in the day it was worth jockeying for parking spots with old used ARVN types who regarded any turf adjacent to the structure as theirs to occupy. Lately, provincial groceries and restaurants have attenuated the flood of ethnic families swamping what is supposed to be our parking lot. A damn fine thing because I would lock horns with some leathery veteran of the fall of Saigon over a place that offered me hack sleds and slant boards and a waist-high pullover bench, but for a pussified dump that tells me not to grunt? No way.

I took a deep breath as I crossed the sloping lot toward the Gold’s entrance, and when the front desk person had tossed a sales manager at me and we were eye to eye, separated only by a cutesy bistro table, I took another one and said, “I’m a refugee.”

To be continued…

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