Fear And Loathing At The Local Fitness Club


There’s a certain point in life when man finds himself in a position that has no description. Maybe it was the day-in, day-out routine, the “same old shit” response to the ever-common “How’s life?” question, or simply, my life was getting mundane. Even if I bought a different brand, the beer after work started to taste the same, “Jeopardy!” was becoming less and less of a challenge, and I found myself checking my work email at 11 p.m. instead of browsing coeds on Plenty of Fish. “Mundane” would actually be a compliment to this existence, and with every waking moment passing at a snail’s pace, it occurred to me: this was limbo.

It was certainly not the kind of place my brain wanted me to be. There were plenty of things I could be doing from Monday to Thursday at 5:30. I could be doing chores, cleaning my apartment, volunteering to help those less fortunate, maybe even adopting a pet. No, the last thing I needed was a cat–my cat would inevitably judge me for being bourbon drunk on a Tuesday because all the “Entourage” seasons were On Demand, and God knows Turtle lives a better life than I do. No, I wouldn’t give some asshole cat that kind of gratification.

So I joined a gym.

Choosing one of these sanctuaries of depravity and bloated self-esteem wasn’t difficult; I simply went to the options around me and looked at the people inside. Planet Fitness was the human equivalent of a Japanese whale market, Work Out World made me depressed, and the testosterone and ball sweat at Gold’s Gym was suffocatingly dense. I am no man to join some kind of yoga club, and the warehouse gym by my apartment seemed like a place where a serial killer would hang his victims from shark hooks–that is, when it wasn’t filled with older men escaping their wives, using workout equipment from the ’80s. But Equinox stood its ground, and despite the outlandish membership price it demanded, I opted for a trial to test the waters before I committed.

It was like a first date with 50 women of adjustable weight, speed, and resistance.

I knew this place was hip because everyone wears spandex. Spandex is gender neutral at Equinox, and if you’re the kind of tool who wears an old T-shirt and gym shorts, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. I was in no place to ask a female friend for a pair of leggings, so I went out and bought myself some Nike compression shorts, a compression shirt a size too small, and a warm-up jacket. I wasn’t going to buy new shoes, because my New Balance cruisers always served me right in athletic situations. Sure, they had seen the dirt of hundreds of intramural games, parking lot tailgates, been the recipient of tobacco spit, urine, vomit, and Lord knows what else, but they cleaned up real nice. Thanks Sports Authority–that shoe cleaner was definitely worth the $10.

On my first day, I brought my things in a bag and went after work. A rather snobby man who worked at the gym and had a sleek faux-hawk gave me the down-up glare before showing me to the locker rooms. The locker room wasn’t bad. “Nice digs for a buck forty a month,” I thought. I changed, put my things away, and made my way to the urinal to spring a leak before I put my body through some excruciating pain. There was a man at the sink. I didn’t make eye contact, but I saw him glance at me in the mirror. I was minding my own business, but he took off his shirt and stared flexing his muscles in the mirror. This was nothing new. It was a regular thing at my college’s gym. I paid no attention to it until I heard music. The man put his headphones in and started playing some kind of black metal at full blast. He was staring himself down in the mirror, and, with a THWACK, he slapped himself across the face. He did it again: THWACK, THWACK. He never broke eye contact with himself, and then he started sputtering, “C’mon, you pussy, c’mon.” Bewildered, I stayed away and washed my hands next to him. He pulled out a small jar, took two fingers worth of a white powder, and crammed it in his mouth. He chased it with a handful of water, then licked his fingers. “Jesus man, what are you doing?” I thought. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Just a casual ski trip at the gym, I suppose. He caught my glance and turned to me with wide eyes. “Wanna try some?” he asked. “It’s fruit punch.” Shocked, I read the label carefully and learned it was some kind of pre-workout substance. “It’s like fruit-flavored Adderall mixed with Red Bull–the pump is intense, dude,” he said. Intrigued, I took a small scoop and tipped it back, swishing it with water and swallowing. It tasted like chalky, expired Hawaiian Punch. I grimaced and gave him a thumbs up, then walked quickly to the exit.


What was this garbage I had just ingested? I felt as though I was a Clydesdale stuck with an IV of Mountain Dew, laced with crystal meth. My vision was blurry, but the tunnel vision was real. I sat down on a bench to gain back my composure. “I have to exercise, that’ll take the edge off,” I thought. I put some moderate weight on the bench press, figuring I could do about eight or 10 repetitions of it. I counted each range of motion to about six, and lost count. Fuck, where was I? I started over, and it happened again. Forget it, I’ll just keep going until the burn kicks in. One, two, three, four, five, six…this wasn’t right, so I racked the bar. One man was staring at me, completely bewildered. I tried doing some curls, but the same thing happened. The energy from this fruity potion was unreal–I was unstoppable. I was doing back-to-back sets, one after another. My muscles were getting tense and defined. The pump! Instant strength gain! I needed to lighten up, I needed to run, or bike, or do jumping jacks.

“He must be ‘roiding, he was doing sets of fifty-plus…”

I found a spin bike parked conveniently behind the treadmills, which were occupied by blue chip women. “I like this view,” I told myself, possibly out loud. One of them looked back and I avoided eye contact, pretending to look at the television. It was the local news–I could focus on that instead of staring. Very wrong, I was. Then I started to realize my spandex was riding up my leg. I set the resistance to medium on the bike and pedaled away. I imagined myself in the Alps, chasing Lance Armstrong up the side of a ravine, listening to dozens of random Frenchmen cheer me on, wearing their native flags as capes and banging cowbells at me as I tried to pass the notorious steroid user. But then the bubble popped, and I realized my legs weren’t even really moving. I was sweating profusely. I was wiped, the energy peak had crashed, and my body was slowly turning into jelly. I tried so hard to finish, but I couldn’t. I was panting way too hard and sweat was pooling in my crotch. “Why did I buy heather gray shorts?” I asked myself. With each hard breath, I looked up at the cute girls in tight pants, which must have been a lot creepier than I intended it to be. Some stopped and skittered away, terrified of the sweaty man with the sweat stains.

“Let’s get out of here, I think he’s masturbating without his hands.”

I went back to the locker room in a daze. I needed to get out of this funk–this wasn’t right. Or, maybe I just needed another dose of that workout supplement. However, my self-harming friend wasn’t there anymore, so I jumped into a cold shower and started feeling human again. There was a nice rack of clean towels, so I shamelessly used three. Back in my street clothes, I opted for a protein shake to help my body recover from this Guantanamo Bay-eqsue experience. Skim milk please, I’m watching my figure.

The next day was hell. I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t force myself to keep at it. With a handful of days still on my trial, I think that maybe I’ll go back. If they let me back in.

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Living for the weekend.

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