“My knee hurts. Has for weeks.” I will tell my wife.
“You should go see the doctor.” She will reply. No thanks, who needs that kind of pressure. Who knows what he will dig up, what he will find, if he goes looking deep enough. And he will dig, and probe, and ask until he backs me into a corner from which there is no escape, no hope of rescue. I will be forced to confess, rat myself out just to avoid any more accusations.
“I did it, Doc, I didn’t take my medicine, and I have been drinking soda pop, and eating potato chips. I’m guilty.” That’s when it gets bad.
So, it seemed much smarter to just get in shape, cut down on the doctor visits, and take better care of myself. So, I joined a gym. The YMCA. I know, it’s not a real gym, it’s not where real fitness guys go, it is workout lite. But, we got a discount, since my wife works at a school, and since I have never been to a gym before and had no real plan and assumed that my zeal for fitness would not last long, it made sense.
I am still going, every other day. And I love it.
At first it was very difficult, I didn’t know what to do, or how to do it. And I was sure it was only a matter of time until someone said “hey, you’re not a workout person, you don’t know how to use this stuff, beat it. Come back when you don’t look so ridiculous.”
It was more like guerilla exercise, sneak in, work out, run out the door, don’t make eye contact, try to blend in. Get in, get out. Too bad I couldn’t go in the middle of the night. “Who owns the night?” I do, kind of, if no one else is there.
After a couple of weeks I noticed that I didn’t have to rely on subterfuge, camouflage. Nobody cared I was there, nobody even noticed. Everybody was just exercising, and not paying attention to anybody else.
And you know what, there were all sorts of people. Young, firm, fit people. So athletic, doing exercises the seem impossible, lifting enormous weights, Atlas like weights, bouncing jumping, twisting, contorting in ways that make me hurt just watching. Old people who limped in, carried themselves all the way to the treadmill in the back. Hooking their cane on the rail, resolutely piling up the steps. You wonder why they put them so far from the entrance. And all the types in between my category, the type in-between. I realized this was the perfect gym for me.
There are groups, mostly older people, who come, hang out together, drink coffee, work out a little, and talk. They seem very close, a special bond of friendship. Forged in carrying Styrofoam cups, conversation, and occasional forays into the world of exercise.
There are groups of younger guys. Serious about lifting. Staying mostly at the free weights, encouraging each other, in manly, macho ways. “One more, One more, C’mon!” Their dedication shows, they are big, muscular, and lift insane barbells loaded with huge plates. They spend a lot of time adding and subtracting weights, preparing for the next assault. It almost seems a symbiotic relationship, lifter, and weights in harmony, forever.
Groups of women gathering at the door, chatting excitedly, waiting for the current class to end. They work in unison, to music, and at the direction of a leader with headset microphone. A leader who, from the safety of the open exercise room, can sound sound dictatorial, harsh, unforgiving. “Up, reach, higher, higher than that.” You almost expect the instructor to start swearing, Iron Mike Ditka teaching Jazzercise, “Move it, you worthless **#$%%++!”
I made my long suffering wife start going, so I would have a workout buddy. Poor girl, but she is starting to enjoy herself, or has accepted her responsibility anyway, and pretends. So, she goes. And since she is so charming, and outgoing a lot of people know her, and talk to her, which makes it look like I have a lot of friends. Nobody knows they are just waving and smiling at my wife. Man, do I look popular, as long as she is there.
My wife does not stay for the cardio portion of the work out. I don’t know why, and have never asked, not a good idea to mess with your workout “gang.” I plug in my headphones, select a machine and rock and roll my way to better health (sometimes I listen to audio books, thanks to the Columbus Metropolitan Library), and occasionally it will be a podcast, but mostly it is music. It is so easy to get lost in a song.
And here is another great thing about working out at the YMCA. I rock and roll. Tapping the handles in time to the music, I probably sing along. Jerry Garcia and me crooning;
“This heart of mine, could never see
What everybody knew but me
Just trusting you was my great sin
What can I do, you win again”
Man Hank Williams understood pain, torment, and the Grateful Dead could turn it into a long, sad, melodic anthem that will push you through the most painful “rolling hills” selection on the elliptical machine. And nobody cares that I am singing and tears are streaming down my face. Occasionally someone will come along and say, “don’t worry, everything will be ok.” Invariably, they will offer to buy me a beer.
You have to love the Y.