LoveSex. These words are emblazoned vertically on the leg of the sweatpants worn by the woman beside me on the elliptical machine. She’s probably had better luck securing free personal training than I’ve had with my own exercise pants, which subliminally read LoveCarbohydrates across the ass. More irritating than the advertisement of her love for sex is her evident love for cardio. While her legs complete revolutions with the speed of Wile E. Coyote pursuing the Road Runner, my own pace is akin to Driving Miss Daisy. Quite literally, I need a Southern man in a chauffeur cap to manually rotate my legs while I turn pages in my book and sip sweet tea.
I turn away as the blur of her legs gives me motion sickness. My gaze falls to the woman in front of me, on a rowing machine, whose plodding pace provides the Dramamine effect I need. I glance at my machine’s clock. 2 minutes. I return my eyes to the rower who happens to have exactly 30 visible tattoos. I determine to study each tattoo for 1 minute to fulfill my parole upon this machine. While entranced by an ancient Chinese character that she believes to mean ‘Determination’ when it actually is the sinograph for ‘Hungry Dragon for Pork Flavored Top Ramen’, I am interrupted. Yes, Gladys, 26 minutes left. Put your name on the clipboard. Yes, I’ll wipe down the handlebars. I know I’m sweating like John Candy at an Easter buffet.
By the time I reach the rower’s impressive harem of multi-colored serpents, Gladys stands behind me, cane leaning against the machine and sweatbands in place on her pulse points. I disembark the machine and make my way to the free weights. Hi Milt. I do remember you were a physician in the 40s. I think these mats were in use in the 40s, too. I halfheartedly raise my dumbbells while simultaneously reading about the traitor of Trader Joes in the Economist. I must break my addiction to the Trader Mings line. I collapse upon the mat in between Harold and Edith, both working themselves toward a partial stroke with their elastic bands. Our bodies heaped upon the vinyl, we huff and puff and exchange a united look. A look that imparts one common philosophy: Why the hell are we here?
But that united mind is precisely why I am there. To be around others like me. Those who have no business exercising. People who stare at a running track like it’s the Gobi Desert. Folks who need a spotter not for the bench press but to rescue them from an unwisely attempted toe touch. These are my gym compatriots, and we see each other three times a week. Unless one of us dies from overexertion in water aerobics.
My husband doesn’t understand why I bother with the gym given I can barely walk a flight of stairs without the feeling I am missing a cardiovascular system. I tell him that I go to the gym because I want to look like Eva Mendez. He says that’s going to to take more than some side bends. Perhaps Milt will give me a body overhaul. He was a very prominent surgeon during Prohibition, you know. I bet he made lumpy white girls Latina all the time.
I go to the gym because there’s no taboo on gray hair, no shortage of Icy Hot cream, and child care is free. I drop the kids off and start boring an escape hole through the wall like the place is goddamn Shawshank. Any occasion my children can be cared for at no cost while I stretch on a mat discussing why Richard Burton was really no good for Elizabeth Taylor with a limber dame named Pearl is worth some discomfort.
I go because it’s the only legitimate venue to which I can wear sweatpants because everyone else is wearing them, too. And on the butt, they read LoveLipitor.