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Being an ignorant little kid is fantastic. You don’t know shit about the world, and that makes it an infinitely better place. You’ve got your equally naïve friends at school, parents, baseball team or whatever, Ninja Turtles action figures, maybe a dog or cat, and that’s it. That’s all that matters. Everything about life is awesome and fun. Then one day you wake up, you’re 26 years old, your life is filled with stresses you didn’t even know existed when you were a little kid, your job is slowly driving you insane, and you’re in the middle of a CrossFit workout, wondering where it all went wrong.
For three months, I’ve been participating in the trendiest of workout programs with one of my friends in a desperate attempt to regain some semblance of our former selves before thousands of hours of desk work, way too much Chipotle, a dependence on happy hour and general disregard for physical wellness rendered us double-chinned if photographed at the wrong angle. I wouldn’t say either of us are fat, per say, but we’re both dangerously close to coming down with a serious case of “dad bod.” Kids haven’t entered the equation yet, but “dad bod” is the best way to describe the generic American working man whose busy schedule and lazy disposition have transformed him into a mushy, muffin-topped turd, which is most likely to occur after fathering a child or two. If you push on your stomach with one finger, and a layer of fat squishes in a few inches before jiggling back into place like a memory foam pillow made of lard, you should be concerned.
Whether or not you find fault in your figure, when you spent the better part of a decade in college doing damage to your internal organs, which results in some level of unavoidable habitual carryover to your adult life, and you’d rather not die of a massive heart attack in your early-thirties, you take a crack at getting your shit together by joining a gym. When that doesn’t work, you join a cult like CrossFit.
Personally, I’m less worried about kicking the bucket than I am keeping myself in mediocre shape to lock down a hot wife. If I don’t get to relationshipping soon, I’ll have no choice but to stay single, wait for the first wave of divorce to crash into the shore, and then hit the beach to grab damaged goods from the debris. With every passing day, the ocean of hot babes we once swam in college is drying up. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
My drive from work to the gym is a lot like my morning commute in that I spend the entire time hoping there will be a horrible, fatal accident involving multiple vehicles that causes endless traffic, forcing me to give up and turn back home. With no such luck, I find myself pulling into the parking lot outside the “box,” as the CrossFit faithful call it, where I suffer for an hour between one and three times a week, depending on how motivated I’m feeling. Our mentally deranged coach, Clint, immediately approaches my car, beating on his chest with one fist like a horny gorilla. Knowing he’s about to watch me suffer gets him all kinds of horned up.
“You ready for this, bitch?” Clint asks as I shut my car door, smiling like he just injected steroids directly into his cheek muscles. “The workout of the day is Sally! Sally is a naughty girl!”
Every day at CrossFit brings a different planned workout, and sometimes, for creepy reasons beyond my understanding, those workouts are given human names. Sally is a particularly spiteful bitch that consists of running half a mile, doing 20 pushups, 20 squats, 20 pull-ups, 20 burpees, and then repeating that cycle three more times as quickly as you can while fighting off the reaper. It’s brutal. The only thing that makes me feel like more of a pussy than getting the shit kicked out of me by a workout named Sally is watching “Band of Brothers” on DVD. If you dropped most of the guys I know into Normandy without access to Uber or Netflix, they’d be dead within hours.
Clint, on the other hand, loves Sally.
“Sally is going to eat you! Eat you up and shit you out! Have you been sticking to your Paleo diet? Doesn’t look like it. Eat like a caveman, look like a god!” He flexes his biceps. “Check out these veins, pal. I’m about to burst like a Mexican piñata that’s been abusing human growth hormone!”
Clint is a 31-year-old former Olympic wrestler who decided to open his own gym once the glory days of grappling other men in leotards were behind him. He’s a short dude, built like a miniature NFL linebacker, with abs that make me look like a piece of shit. He’s also completely out of his mind.
Fifteen people have shown up for this particular session with Sally, and believe me when I say these people come from every walk of life. We’ve got jacked dudes who live for nothing more than to add another plate of weight to their squat max so later they can masturbate fully nude while staring at themselves in the mirror, tubby middle-aged men that always got picked last for kickball in grade school, skinny chicks that were exposed to one too many Instagram posts claiming “strong is the new sexy,” and terrifyingly muscular she-beasts that could probably beat me to a pulp. They all come together a few times a week to better themselves while Clint yells motivational nonsense. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d wind up in a place like this, I would’ve laughed all the way to the bar.
After some unreasonably tiring stretching exercises, Clint cranks up the heavy metal, counts down from ten, starts the timer, and we’re off to the races.
A hundred yards into the first half-mile and I already seriously regret throwing back five vodka-sodas at happy hour last night. Dave is probably thinking the same thing as he stumbles along next to me. We went to college together, and now we’re both account managers for Slaughterhouse Technologies, which sounds like a cool title, but translates to “entry-level scum.” Our founder is originally from California, and thinks “Slaughterhouse” makes his tech startup seem less nerdy and more edgy, when in reality it just scares people.
Dave is the only one of my close friends in a serious relationship, and because his girlfriend’s friends are dropping like flies to engagement, he’s also the most stressed. His woman, Stacy, comes from money, and Dave makes somewhere around $50k a year like me, which means he can’t afford to compete with the two-caret monstrosities Stacy’s girlfriends are rocking on their ring fingers. They’ve been together for three years, so it’s “shit or get off the pot time.” Sucks to be Dave, but at least he’s got some stability and a steady stream of sexual activity.
As we finish the first half-mile and head back into the warehouse, my stomach lets out a deep groan. Happy hour wasn’t a good idea, but having eight cups of coffee to get through the workday was a terrible idea — almost as terrible as the brisket sandwich I had for lunch. Slaughterhouse has barbecue catered every Wednesday, which is meant to be ironically funny, but I’m yet to find a coworker that actually enjoys it. In a city that almost has too many delicious barbecue joints, our dipshit boss’s favorite comes from a sub-par chain.
“WOOO Sally has your number baby!” Clint proclaims at an unnecessary decibel to no one in particular. “Sally’s calling for that ass! Don’t be a prude, give her the goods!”
Some of the girls in class laugh. The rules of sexual harassment don’t apply inside the box. I wish I could yell shit like that in my office and get away with it.
Already mentally rattled by fear of unwelcome gastrointestinal activity, I hit the ground to start my first set of pushups. Clint drops to his knees and aggressively leans in toward me.
“Get deep, baby. You don’t want to be soft forever, do you? I want you hard.”
“You would,” I mutter under my breath.
Clint springs back to his feet, violently clapping his hands.
“Touch those nipples to the floor, people!” he yells. “Don’t cheat yourselves. If you’re not here to live, you’re here to die! Death is for the mentally weak!”
We pay this guy $165 a month for his deep philosophical insight. To my left, a girl named Leslie, who’s somewhere in her twenties and can’t weigh more than 110-pounds, giggles in reaction to Clint as she finishes her first set of girly “pushups” and heads to a squat station. Chicks in here get to do pushups from their knees if they want. Every workout is scaled so no matter if you’re a tiny female, fat doofus, or shredded douche lord, everyone can compete. And we wonder why the Chinese are winning.
All I can think about during my first round of squats is how I’d do anything to take back the cigarette I bummed off a total stranger at the bar last night. I’m already wheezing like an old man on his deathbed and this is just round one. Dave is spotting me from behind, which sounds only slightly worse than it actually is, cracking jokes to break my focus.
“Clint told me he likes it when you get low. Says your glutes are really developing well.”
“I’ll drop this fucking bar on your toes,” I reply between reps.
“Probably wouldn’t even feel it considering how much weight you’ve got on there, smoker.”
My relationship with happy hour is definitely love-hate. I love blowing off some steam after nine straight hours of crunching numbers, but I hate enduring nine straight hours of crunching numbers the following day with an adult hangover. Also, doing pull-ups is a lot more difficult when your entire body is begging you to stop.
I get through eleven before having to drop from the bar and regain composure. The only reason I started doing this shit was so I can go to my apartment complex pool next summer, take my shirt off and maintain a small sense of pride while looking even remotely enticing to the opposite sex. I’m just trying to get some solid beach muscles going, not look like JJ fucking Watt. Unfortunately, Clint doesn’t really give a shit what I want.
“Adam! Back up on the bar! Get back up there and power through! You can do it, buddy! Uncle Clint believes in you!”
Uncle Clint needs a swift kick in the junk. Dave and I made the mistake of attending a “CrossFit Happy Hour” a few weeks back, and Clint brought a fucking protein shake into the bar. The guy lives a flawless life of super sobriety, intoxicating himself only via runner’s high, and is disgusted by the physically average.
I check my hands for blisters, jump back up and grab the cold steel. An abnormally jacked woman named Janice, who is in her forties and has already beaten cancer twice, is crushing her pull-ups at a terrifying rate on the bar right next to me. We have a couple chicks in here like Leslie that are relatively normal, at least physically, and then we have women like Janice, who is in here training so she can brutally murder any man that wrongs her with her bare fucking hands.
“Alright Janice!” Clint screams. “She’s a machine! Give it up for Janice, everyone!”
Other members of our class voice their support.
“Fuck yeah Janice! Get it, bitch!”
“All out, Janice! Take Sally out back and beat her to fucking death!”
“Go … Janice,” I manage to grunt out between labored breaths.
The most cultish part of this whole thing is how incredibly supportive everyone is. These people fucking love to encourage each other. I’m not against positivity, but anyone that’s my age, working their dick off for mediocre pay at a job they hate, and still maintaining an annoyingly strong sense of optimism is a sociopath in my book.
My balls shrivel in fear when Janice lets out a disturbing shriek as she finishes her last pull-up and sprints to the burpee station. A “burpee” is an absurd mutation of an exercise. You start standing upright, hit the ground, do a pushup, jump up and go straight into a squat, then power yourself into a jumping jack. It’s called a burpee because it shakes your internal organs to the point that you literally get gassy and burp. Really fun stuff, especially when your stomach has recently been bombarded by a powerful combination of brisket and caffeine.
Somehow I manage to get through my burpees, and the entire second round of Sally, without shitting my pants or crying. Every inch of my buddy is covered in sweat as I head back into the box from my third half-mile. Quickly glancing around the room at my competition, I see that I’m somewhere around the middle of the class in terms of progress. Luckily, I’ve got Clint to push me.
“Half way done, people. Don’t let fatigue dominate your psyche! Don’t think about the pain in your back! Don’t think about the problems waiting for you back home, or at your job, or those child support payments, or your overdo credit card bill, or the girl that left you for that musician. Just think about dominating this next set!”
Now any momentum I had has been completely obliterated, and all I can think about is how even after I finish this hellacious activity, I still have to wake up and go to work in the morning.
I get through five pushups of the third round before my arms give out and I drop to my chest for a break.
Come on, fifteen more.
I grunt my way through five more. Then another break.
Alright, that’s fine. Just think of it as four sets of five. You’ve done two.
I scan the room and notice I’ve quickly fallen into the back half of the class as several people are already starting their third set of squats.
“Home stretch!” Clint yells. “Home stretch!” He can tell I’m hitting a wall.
“Crank ‘em out, bud!” some pudgy guy that doesn’t know my name chimes in.
“Gonna let yourself get beat by a girl?” asks Janice as she hits the ground for another burpee.
Fuck that. I refuse to be talked down to by a fat dude, and I don’t care how many times Janice beats cancer, I am a man! I take myself into a mental happy place and gain the focus of a samurai warrior. Suddenly, I’m pumping out pull-ups like Arnold Schwarzenneger in his twenties. I’m in the zone, and anyone in my way is going down.
I head to the squat rack, continuing at a furious pace, but then, somewhere around my fifteenth squat, things take a turn for the worse. I feel my stomach rumble like a dormant volcano that desperately needs to expel the lava that’s been stewing deep in its bowels for a millennium.
It will pass, I tell myself. And for a minute or so, it does. But at the next station, five burpees in, my insides have had enough. I’m about to blow, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I scramble from my knees to a crawl and then up to my feet, sprinting for the exit with both hands over my mouth as I feel the contents of my lower intestine make their way up through my windpipe. As I turn the corner toward the grass, fate, and Janice, collide with me.
I’ve flattened the poor woman, and I’m laying right on top of her as a brown river flows from my mouth directly into her chest. She screams and pushes her hands into my face, both to direct the stream of vomit away from her body and get me off of her, which only causes the rest of my insides to splatter into her hair and face.
The next noise that comes from her mouth can only be described as a notice of extreme displeasure. It’s not a scream, but it’s not really a yell either — more like a squeal of frustration. She has beaten cancer twice, and survived god knows how many other obstacles life threw her way, but I am the straw that broke the freakishly muscular camel’s back. Her frustration turns to tears as she lays on her back next to me, pounding her fists in the grass.
She’s crying. I made the cancer survivor cry.
“Holy shit, I’m so sorry,” I manage to blurt out before rolling to my side and vomiting again.
Dave is laughing so hard that he cramps back up and crumbles to his knees.
“That just happened!” Clint screams with delight as he rushes to my aid. “Holy shit that just happened!”
I spew again.
“It’s still happening!”
The next thing I know, just as it feels like my stomach is beginning to settle, Janice lets out an angry shriek and throws one leg over me, straddling my torso and swinging her fists at my face. She has totally snapped.
“Piece of shit!” she yells, violently wailing on me as I attempt to deflect her fists.
“Holy fuck, Janice — I said I’m sorry!” I plea.
She manages to land one clean shot on my nose before Clint can restrain her.
“Whoa, whoa Janice!” Clint says as he lifts her into the air with ease. “Easy girl!”
Janice composes herself and brushes the chunks of brisket from her “CrossFit or Die” shirt onto my head.
“Pathetic,” she says. “I was going for a PR.”
(A “PR” is a personal record, achieved by completing a workout like Sally in the fastest time you’ve ever finished.)
“I know — God, I am so sorry Janice. I really am.”
She shakes her head and gets right back into her workout. Others that had stopped to watch the freak show follow suit.
“You gonna make it, champ?” Clint asks. “Get it all out?”
“Yeah, I think I’m alright. My nose is probably broken, but I’m good.”
“Alright then,” Clint says. “Get yourself a drink of water, get your ass back in there and close out strong!”
“Are you … are you serious? There’s puke on my shirt. I puked on Janice.”
“Do I look like a clown to you? DO I STRIKE YOU AS A FUCKING JOKER? Of course I’m serious! Lose the shirt, get some water, and finish like your father did inside your mother!”
I did the rest of the stupid workout, but I did it at an almost sarcastically slow pace. I finished in dead last while the entire rest of the class, minus Janice, stood around me in a circle and applauded and cheered. Ironically, I still managed to set my PR for Sally and got a t-shirt that says, “I did Sally” from Clint as a prize. It will be available at Goodwill by the end of the week.
So this is where I’m at in life: stuck in the mundane stage between the glory of college and whatever follows, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do next. Being 26 years old is like being a little kid between sizes. Nothing fits. As Britney Spears once put it, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” You’re not a kid, but you haven’t earned the right to call yourself an adult. You’re desperately clinging to adolescence while the real world lands haymaker after haymaker of responsibility, trying to put you down for the count on the mat of adulthood. You’re constantly around five bad decisions away from being a homeless failure.
All you can do is be a man, take each hit on the chin, and pray for the best..