Eugene Onyegym

I am becoming a gym jilt. It’s not quite the plot of Eugene Onyegin, Pushkin’s classic poem and later Tchaikovsky’s opera, in which girl loves boy, boy rejects girl, boy screws up his life, boy meets girl again and wants her but she says sorry, too late. But sort of.

Constant Readers will remember that after twenty-three years — longer than most marriages last these days, certainly mine — I was pushed to the wall by the retooling of my faithful beloved musclehead gym as a “Planet Fitness,” the notorious gym chain for flabby people who don’t want to push themselves. It was Haydn’s Farewell Symphony executed by lifting equipment: first my beloved glute-ham bench (though it returned, went away, and returned again, disguised in the Barney-colored Planet Fitness livery); then the high pullover bench, then all the dumbbells over sixty pounds. My heart cracked when they carried the deadlift platform out the door; within weeks signs had been affixed to the mirrors proscribing deadlifts, though rogue lunks looked out for each other while they did them anyway, in the alcove behind the locker room entrances.

Finally the hack sled went. Hacks are currently the major leg lift that suits me most, not just a preference of whim: they actually fix the pain in my bad leg, at least for a while. Not being able to do them is like being told to enjoy an extra five or six hours of aching and wincing every week. Supremely bummed, I signed up at the Gold’s nearest my house, keeping the Planet membership so I could go back and see the homies of two decades every so often on chest day, which I could still manage to eke out.

Fast forward three years. Gold’s seems to have lost about half the staff that were there when I signed on. I never see my talented trainer friend any more. Every other time I come in someone tries to sell me something — overpriced protein powder, a workout program, a tee shirt. The proprietary “Gold’s Gym Radio,” which is apparently obligatory, is trashier by the month: frantic, shrill, barking techno-beat garbage that makes you feel like you have the hives. Periodically, it’s interrupted by one of only about four rotating ads for things like girly gym clothes and teeth whiteners, or a raffle for the prize of going to hear a concert in Los Angeles by one horrible sounding pop group or another. That would be bad enough, but the aerobic classes have their own soundtracks, which broadcast all over the gym, so that you get two channels of crap, one in each ear. I’ve already had to fling the aerobic floor’s double doors open once, like Bad Bart bursting into the saloon bar, and bellow at the instructor — it was the only way to be heard — to TURN IT THE F DOWN so the engineer could hear when I needed a spot with a five hundred pound sled.

And from ten till about one, the place is infested with screeching children whose segregation in a glass-fronted room does nothing to suppress their asinine, nonstop noise. When you are lunge-marching across the gym floor with a couple of eighteen pounders held over your head — it doesn’t sound like much, but try it — you do not want to be startled by some festering snot-faced little maggot exploiting the only power it knows it has, that of annoying hell out of adults by screaming at the top of its lungs. News flash: a gym is a place for people to work out. In the process they should not be afflicted with the sight, sound or even a remote reminder of the existence of children.

The second-rate warmup bikes have never been a good angle for my leg, either. Lately, I would have to downgrade that to “excruciating;” I can’t add any resistance worth mentioning without tears standing in my eyes while I pedal. Add Scrubbie the Wonder Boy, the personal trainer who kept trying to be my new best friend until I was driven to snap FU at him, and you have the ingredients for a total meltdown.

One morning last month, I realized I was stalling until the last minute to go to my gym, and then trying to get out of there as soon as possible. Wrong.

I rolled over to Planet Fitness, where there are no amenities, no sauna, no classes, and NO F*CKING KIDDIE NURSERY, said hey to the Minotaur at the desk, cranked the bike up to the “suck wind” setting, and heard the XM classic-rock station kick over into John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good.” Not what I’d listen to for choice, but it was the posing music in my one fairly lame competition routine.

I haven’t been back to Gold’s for a week. Someone may ask me. Or they may not really care. I just have to drop in every Thursday, to do deadlifts or hacks.

I

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Repartee

He turned up in the gym a few months ago, wearing color-coordinated little outfits (I mean the shoes matched the shorts and the singlet), sporting a coiffure reminiscent of a scrubbie pad like you’d keep by the sink, and jollying up to existing members with the kind of conversation you’d make if you’d known each other for half a year at least. I have a minor fetish for matching up my gym colors myself, so I spotted him the excessive friendliness and worked on developing a sixth sense for his proximity on the workout floor. It looked as if he knew his way around gym equipment, more or less, but had taken enough time out to develop a slightly flabby, pasty dad-bod and was here to put some resilience back in it.

So of course the gym hired him as a trainer. I throw up my hands. I mostly see him training rather tottery elderly ladies who need to forestall atrophy before they end up needing one of those chairs that pushes you up to a standing position, so he’s probably not likely to do much damage, but seeing him walk around in that shirt emblazoned “Fitness Specialist” kinda crosses my eyes. Plus, it means he’s always ricocheting around the gym playing hail-fellow-well-met, and addressing me three or four times a visit; I’m lucky if it’s only “Hi Sled! … Scuse me Sled! … Have a good day Sled!” instead of tone-deaf, companionable joshing from someone I do not, public notice, think of companionably.

Today, I hurt like hell. Ever since I dislocated my left hip in 2012 I have really not had a pain free day; the muscles I tore sing at different times, one grinding out a bass note of dull ache at one moment, another giving me staccato bursts of coloratura, and occasionally, especially when a low pressure zone is moving in, they can all get together like the collected pod-heads of Audrey from “Little Shop Of Horrors.” When this happens it can literally be so bad that I’m hanging onto the wall to get to somewhere that I can sit down, if I remember from one step to the next where it is I’m trying to get to, which can be a problem. The limp ranges from subtle to lurching. I’m supposed to know how to fix stuff like this, but some days it gets out ahead of me; one thing I do know is that if I can drag myself into the gym, serious weights will actually bust through the pain and tamp it down to a dull mutter that I can ignore. Until then, I’m visibly hauling myself along by the arm, and making the “pain face” that Kelly Starrett tells you not to make: anyone in a five mile radius would know that I am on the thin edge of telling the pirates where the gold is hid.

So of course today was the day that — DWEEB ALERT! — Scrubbie was on the only mat in the warmup room that still had some space, where I dropped heavily with a studded massage ball in my hand, determined to unplug at least some of the death-dealing trigger points in my thighs. Anywhere from the butt down to the knee –I can never predict where the critical one is. Just as I sank onto the ball with what I would have to describe as a cringe of relief, a large, dreadlocked denizen in a singlet approached with his water bottle and, turning to Scrubbie, pointed to a towel hanging off the edge of a plyo platform. “You using this bench?” he said.

I glanced over. Actually it was the Engineer’s towel, at the other end of the room from the Engineer; he will do that. I waved my hand in the air. “You can just pass that over here,” I said.

“There you go leaving a trail!” chortled Scrubbie. “Bet you’re an only child! Spread out all over the place!”

I looked up into his chummily smirking countenance, opened my mouth to say “Golly, you’re hilarious,” or possibly even “Actually it’s my boyfriend’s towel,” and somehow, “Fuck you” popped out. I can’t explain it.

He looked as if someone had just shot his dog in front of him.

“I am in excruciating pain from here to here,” I added, “I have been all day, and I am still in here trying to work out. I can barely walk. I can’t remember what I’m doing from one minute to the next — so cut me some freaking slack.”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry, I apologize,” he said. “Accepted,” I said, and went back to grimacing as I dropped my weight onto the studded ball.

I suspect that he really can’t help it. He is just a social imbecile, tone deaf to normal conversational interaction and completely insensitive to when you can or cannot assume you have shit-giving privileges with a fellow gym rat. On the other hand, maybe “Fuck you” is exactly what he needed to hear.

The Engineer tiptoed out from behind the lat cable machine after a while. I think he is worried that some day I will emit actual flames or possibly jets of napalm. I tell you at times it is close.

Les Dames

The plate loaded T-row machine had apparently suffered some insult. They affix these things to the gym floor, through the mats, with substantial hex bolts, but all hardware fatigues at a certain point. When you hauled up on the crossbow-shaped plate arm, the whole thing rocked a half inch this way and that, just enough for an instability goose to the exercise. This can actually improve your training effect. Nonetheless I checked in with the management, who averred that they knew about the problem and had put it on the repair list and told me to be careful.

Uh huh. I went back and threw another ten pound plate on the load arm, only to be hailed by a large gentleman in a do-rag, with meaty, glossy, chestnut-colored arms emerging from a torn singlet. “Watch out, that thing ain’t level,” he warned.

I already had a 2.5 pound plate in hand. I have never had the slightest goddam idea what anyone would want with a 2.5 pound plate, but the slender part of its bevel slid seamlessly under the upbucked foot of the T-row apparatus, the perfect shim.

“Leave it to a woman!” cheered Do-Rag. “Fixed it!”

“Well hell I am always leveling furniture not to mention my commode,” I said, and cranked out a set.

“Leave it to the ladies!” he shouted again, and went off to do something dangerous, probably of an age to be my son had I ever been interested in such undertakings.

Gender politics in the gym probably isn’t the hill to die on. Besides, I have to say women are kinda extra practical. We gotta be.

Going into 2017 that kind of cheers me.

 

Some Days Are Full Of Stupid

For starters, it was the Christmas decorations. Anyone who knows me knows I am the baby that Scrooge had with the Grinch, but this year, exhausted by the damn election, I did not really have the energy to animadvert. Until:

There were signs of industry around my neighbor’s house early yesterday — yes, those neighbors, the ones who dropped a tree on my house, crashed into my car, leave nastygrams on my friends’ windshields for parking legally in front of my own house. It looked like someone was cleaning the yard or maybe servicing the heat pump and I thought no more of it. Until I got back to the house from the gym.

The bushes were filled with oversized, tacky colored balls, a swag of white icicles depended from the entire width of the front gutter, vulgarly immense pots of poinsettias crowded all the space around the front porch, gigantic red bows sprouted from the roof dormers. A huge sign, about four by five feet, supported between two six-inch treated-wood posts, advised all comers that “DECORATE A VET” had visited and adorned this worthy veteran’s house for the holidays.

I suppose everyone honors service in his own way. I am not sure whose idea this was, but there was more to come, as when I returned again from an excursion after dark, the entire fandango was lit up like, well, like a Christmas tree, including the balls on the bushes, which now burned with a sinister inner light, like one of those cottages in Thomas Kinkade paintings, or the scrotum of some creature that ended up on the cutting room floor of Fantastic Beasts. The icicles were likewise illuminated. There was enough electricity running through that yard to power a field hospital in Aleppo. You could read the newspaper by it. Planes could probably navigate by it.

This morning it was all still there. I had not dreamed it.

Late to the gym, accosted by chatty people who had done their workout, I was finally gearing up in the kettlebell room when a gaggle from the Zumba class began milling about in an odd way, as if trying to find a place for a picnic. Finally they homed in on my vicinity. Of course. An indecently earnest woman leapt into my face and asked “Do you want to be part of a mannequin challenge?”

“No,” I said expressionlessly.

“Great!” she said. “Here, take these ropes and stand like you’re working them.”

(This is the fitness rope that you loop around a convenient upright and work up and down until your arms get tired. It is not a bad cardio thingy.)

I perceived that the subtext involved showcasing one of my favorite in-house trainers, who taught me kettlebells, so I sighed and picked up the ropes, freezing in full flexion. Three minutes and a bicep charleyhorse later, they got the hell over it. I think it’s on Facebook. Possibly the best part is the housekeeping lady aiming a spray bottle of cleaner into mid-air, as if about to neutralize the camera woman with it. I miss The Weight Room, where if anyone had waved a fitness rope at you proposing a mannequin challenge (had such a thing existed in that now-remote era), no one would have batted an eye while you tied them securely to the hack sled.

I did find a way to stack chest flyes onto one-arm rows and alternating shoulder presses, which I will say makes you puff, but not for nearly long enough. When I got home — workout-deprived and flying — my first client had cancelled at the last minute. Again. She’s always good for a check, but, well, fuck.

I guess it takes my mind off politics.

 

Do What Thou Wilt

My gardener, David-Talks-To-Cheese, has been waging a losing war on the voles, who have taken to hollowing out the unripe tomatoes like a posse of snarky rodent pranksters. It is hardly uncommon to have voles around here but for some reason this summer they have gone crazy. I don’t know if they got in an extra breeding cycle or are simply flocking to my yard because the jungle vines are overtaking it and providing shelter. Usually I police these things up but the heat index has been up over a hundred fucking degrees way too many days already this summer. The response to “Do what thou wilt” has been pretty much “wilt.”There are voles; okay, there are voles. Tough titty.

David is persevering though, and he shipped in a gallon container of some sort of vole and chipmunk and mole repellent whose active ingredient — David being relentlessly organic — is castor oil. Maybe it gives the voles the shits, or something.

He and Mrs. David were casting about in the garden rows trying to pursue one of the little bandits, as if they intended to spray him directly, when I came around the corner of the house to fill the birdbath. Just standing there next to the birdbath with the garden hose feels like being under twenty Kleig lights at close quarters. I don’t know how they found the spunk to chase a vole around. Or why.

A little while later I was on my way to the gym and found them packed up to leave; David was toting a couple of cucumbers. “Would you like a cucumber?” he asked. “I got a big one, or would you like the small one?” (You have to imagine his accent, which is right out of Hee Haw.)

I restrained myself from saying I was not a size queen and took the small one, tossing it in my gym bag, which was going to be in a cool room, after all, till I got it home again.

That was yesterday. Today I opened up my bag at the gym. Um.

IMG_0498

Further proof that the heat is driving me out of my mind

Please just let this end. If it won’t end — which the Capital Weather Gang says won’t happen till at least Monday — can I have my very own climate change denier to stake out on the lawn? In the direct sun? On top of an ant hill?

Dog days, dog breath. Just trying to hang on.

Stacks

I have not been posting much but I have been doing stacks. I sense the distant rumble of some vicious workouts over the next hill.

I got stuck for time a couple weeks ago and had about a half hour of weight rack time to kill my back and chest, and decided to do my old cherished Darden Stack. It’s a sort of giant set. Ellington Darden, so far as I understand it, had a lot to do with designing Nautilus workout equipment — does anyone remember when Nautilus was the new cool thing?  Am I dating myself? Anyway he is in his seventies and still killing it, so the Net tells me, though I can’t find anywhere the book I took this workout from, one of many screeds he issued on “high intensity training”. When you got thirty minutes you want high intensity. I used just the upper body half of a break-in routine that he cooked up three decades ago.

First you ballpark what you can huck for twenty reps on a series of upper body lifts and line it up by the bench because you are not going to want to waste time going and looking for weights. Then you cinch up the belt and grab a pair of dumbbells, even though it says a bar in the book because I broke my elbow when I was nine and the arms will never straighten out at the same angle, and do a whack of shoulder presses, fling the dumbbells, grab a Z-bar, go to 90 degrees at the hips and row the fucker up to your abs till it don’t come up no more, grab another pair of dumbbells and knock out as many bench presses as you can, grab another and crank some bicep curls with your elbows locked hard to your floating ribs — this is where it gets intense because you start to get that air-pumped, stretched feeling in the arm muscles and the dumbbells are coming up kind of as if under water — then fling the bastards and drop to the bench to execute a set of dips.

Make a woofing noise as you crash down on the last dip to amuse your trainer friend who is currently abusing a gym member a couple of stations down the free weight line. Repeat.

Late in the day the strange air-pumped feeling returns to your shoulder girdle and you feel odd tractions within the muscle bellies that make you at one with the cosmos. Also you experience a sudden craving for disgusting whey protein gels that look like Dr. Jekyll cooked them up.

It has been way too goddam long since I stacked it up. We all have our ups and downs. I have been just barely keeping my head above water lately, for whatever reason, but I am hearing the siren song of blown-out muscles. Some people download porn, I do this. I can’t explain it.

Anger Management

Torvald is doing better. I was a little afraid that I would have to use Aggie-The-Tortie’s checkup and vaccine appointment on him, but lo, this morning when it rolled around, he first whizzed copiously in the cellar litter-box, then ate with some gusto from a succession of dishes I had left around to tempt him through a long anorexic weekend, then capped the performance by lapping vigorously at his cat fountain. (The person who decided that a submersible motor and a pet’s water dish belonged together is a hero of mine, whomever he or she may be.)

I am only just realizing how crazed his predicament made me. After he returned from his visit to the cardiologist, he crashed, and mostly stayed in the bowl chair, and didn’t eat or drink. I dug up an unused ear syringe from somewhere (I can’t remember why I ever bought an ear syringe) and dissolved some Himalayan salt, laden with trace minerals, in hot water then diluted it with cooler water, and drenched him every few hours through Saturday and Sunday. Each evening he would amble up and act more lively, and each morning he looked shrunken and sunken in the bowl chair. Finally Sunday night he ate some kibble. It was like a Cecil B. DeMille movie with an orchestra and chorus underlining a visual effect of light breaking through clouds.

Meanwhile I was trying to stay sane. The Engineer and I had to hit the gym early Sunday and I was really not awake and not happy about it. There was this jackass in a sleeve tat, okay? Who seemed to be on every piece of equipment I needed. Culminating in a numb-nuts monopolization of the leg extension machine, an essential resource for my busted and finally recuperating left leg, yeah, don’t you love people who sit and blockade something you need while they diddle and twiddle on their goddam phone? After several attempts to find something else to do I finally said “Can someone else work in while you’re resting?”

“I have just one more set,” he said. And. Sat. There.

Don't be this guy.

I can’t remember how I ended up in the “functional fitness” room, where they keep the stretch bands, kettlebells and medicine balls. There are a half dozen soft medicine balls, ranging from six to about eighteen pounds I guess, and I had never played with them before, but I seized them up one by one with total random disregard to stamped weight and hurled each one two-handed over my head across the empty room, a distance of fifteen feet or so I guess, and then went over and hurled them back, repeat until I had flung all of them six times. It was the cardiopulmonary buzz of the decade. At the end of it I was just on the near, barely manageable side of homicidal rage. Sleeve Tat never knew how close he came to becoming a headline on the local Patch site. I just didn’t want to get thrown out of the gym — the only  critical, essential issue that penetrated through the red haze.

Maybe I need what my Panamanian boxer client once called “angry management.” Or maybe sometimes enough is just goddam enough. Or maybe I was channeling Torvald Einar Magnussen, the Berserker Viking of cats.

Tonight he leapt up on the back of the couch and let us pet him in turn while we watched old Star Trek episodes. Domestic bliss.