There are more than 10,000 gymnasiums across this vast nation of ours. Well the nation itself is relatively static: It is we Americans who keep getting vaster. Hence the appeal of the workout.
There are over 10 million people enrolled in these gyms, and almost 1 million who actually attend. I mean, beyond Christmas and Easter. The other 9 million faithfully pay their dues every month but do not emerge from their forts made out of empty pizza boxes. What are they doing, besides wallowing in their own guilt, sweat and pepperoni? They are watching reality TV shows.
You know, a stock bunch of cliche characters interacting in predictable ways and undergoing staged physical trials in every episode. Well, newsflash you sciatic sofa surfers! The best reality show in town is your local gym!
Those of you who are faithful attendees will recognize the standard bestiary...
The Real Estate agent
Hard to spot, due to its careful camouflage, although is usually a little wider than average. It wants to look like exactly like you so it can gain your confidence.
The dead giveaway though is the voice. This is a slightly louder than should be, way too positive non-stop barrage of aimless banter. What the agent wants is for you to respond to one of its scattered phrases.
As soon as you initiate some interaction the agent will pounce and will use any means to steer the fledgling conversation around to a cozy-little-two-bedroom-condo-with-an-ocean-view-if-you-run-down-the-street-and-stand-on-a-ladder.
Another giveaway is that the Agent never actually does any exercising. Beyond working their well developed jaw muscles. Another clue is that the Agent will engage in this blithering behavior in any public situation: Banks, red lights, bathroom stalls.....
- Best time to see him: Afternoons, evenings.
- Location: Standing next to one of treadmills, yammering at some uncomfortable soul who wished she had brought headphones that day.
The MRS degree
This is a woman of a certain age who is distinctive because of her plumage during mating season. And the mating season of the MRS degree starts in January and continues for the next 12 months.
Specifically this will translate as a full and complete gym ensemble for every day of the week. Down to coordinated shoe colors, make-up and perhaps a flower behind the ear. She is interested in working out, in as much as being physically fit helps in her quest to land a man.
But MRS is the lightest of light when using the machines. Anything more than a token weight plate or gentle walk on the treadmill might lead to sweating, and this may make her momentarily less attractive.
Also, getting into the reps and mileage would interrupt her careful sonar sweeps of the floor, detecting wedding rings and two-car key rings.
- Best time to see her: Most evenings, and every weekend night.
- Location: Wherever is the best view - for her and of her.
This is a homeless guy who has a gym membership so he can shower and shave on an irregular basis. What differentiates this fellow from other homeless gym members is that periodically he gets the bright idea to actually work out.
Variations on this abound, from the mildly amusing (walking on the treadmill without turning it on) to the downright dangerous (the clean-and-jerk that results in the jerk flying clean across the gym).
My gym's psycho has a more unique approach: He will carefully select a dumbbell, lift it and contemplate its weight. Then he will set it on the carpet, reach down, and touch it with his right hand. Then he will straighten up, put hands on hips, bend over again and touch the weight with his left hand.
He will continue to do this at the speed of light for up to 45 minutes at a time. Then he will carefully carry the dumbbell back to the rack, select a new one (sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter) and repeat the process.
- Best time to see him: Irregular hours - try during the full moon.
- Location: Varies, but you can't miss the smelly blur when he gets crankin'.
The rarest of the regular gymnauts. Januarians have a migration pattern that is both extremely regular and completely unknown. They appear on January 2nd of every year, New Years resolutions in one hand, shiny new membership card in the other.
They begin their complex migration about two weeks later, waddling out of the gym in their stretch sweats, not to be seen again that year. The exodus climaxes around Martin Luther King Day, and they are long gone by Valentines Day.
Where they migrate to, and where they spend the other 11 months is a mystery, but Summer and Fall sightings of the Januarians usually involve empty pizza boxes and Reality TV shows. But just as the Swallows return to Capistrano, so to do the Januarians return to the gym. But not for long.
- Best time to see them: New Years to Groundhog day.
- Location: When they appear they are knee deep everywhere, like locusts. They also hog all the equipment. But be patient and bide your time......
The Testosterone Twins
This is a pair of young men who are workout buddies. What this means is they 'spot' each other on the free weights and hound each other constantly to work harder. If you can't hear them over the Real Estate Agent, look for two guys lifting enormous amounts of weight in astoundingly bad form at speeds approaching the Psycho.
This results in an extremely over-developed back, pulled neck muscles, a sore throat from all of that yelling, and a good chance at serious injury. If you have a young male co-worker with a convex back, a concave chest and a neck that always smells like Absorbine Jr., offer him a throat lozenge. Men will not except direction or criticism in anything, certainly not proper weight lifting guidelines, but they will except gifts of candy.
- Best time to see the them: Anytime; they’re always there. (They don't seem to have much of a social life.)
- Location: The free weights area, or the Emergency Room.
The "Relaxing" Executive
One of my favorites. Proof that appalling gym technique is not restricted to a certain age group or income level. (Bad lifting is restricted only by gender.)
The "relaxing" executive was told by his doctor that he is working too hard, his ulcers are about to burst, his stress levels cannot be charted anymore and he is on the short road to a heart attack. "Relax," says the Doc, "take a vacation, get to know your family, eat something that doesn't come wrapped in paper, take up a nice hobby..........maybe join a gym."
But the Relaxitive, like most white collared types, only hears the first and last bit of any sentence. Relax: join a gym. Got it! Check! So what you get is a fellow who attacks the gym every single morning like the Tasmanian Devil. Well, a fat, balding, white Tasmanian Devil with a red face and enormous shorts.
The Relaxitive systematically plows through every single machine with a focus and concentration that is truly amazing. Every routine is the same, every proper technique is tossed aside, and everything is done with a frenzied manic intensity that would make the testosterone twins jealous. If those guys ever looked up, that is.
The Relaxitive also showers like he just set off the radiation alarm. In fact the only time to really get a good look at him is when he is combing his hair. THAT is done with a grim and deliberate delicacy. Then its squealing tires out of the parking lot in a big, dark sedan, a one-handed breakfast wrapped in paper, and screaming at traffic. All to be the first one at the office. Muscles? Not so much. Toned though, from all of that wildly waving chrome.
- Best time to see him: Outside the gym every morning in the dark, pacing, waiting for it to open.
- Location: Everywhere, in order, as fast as he can.
The Immovable Objects
This is a couple whose empty pizza box palace collapsed on them. They emerge from their cardboard castle, take a look at each other, and realize that neither of them can see their own feet anymore.
They join the gym together, arrive together, leave together......they do everything together but actually workout. Instead they sit on the weight benches and talk, they adjust the seat height on the machines for awhile, they wait for a pair of adjoining stationary bikes while reading magazines. They visit the sauna, or at least I think they do. They sweat enough to make me think so. And they spend ten minutes on adjacent treadmills walking slower than pallbearers. Then they go home and order more pizzas.
- Best time to see them: Weekend mornings, for about a month. (Note: Can be confused with the Januarians when they are in season.)
- Location: Blocking the aisles, slowly discussing what to do "next". Bless their enlarged, overworked hearts.
The polar opposite of the immovable objects, these are the young women who do nothing but the classes: Kickboxing, spinning, bellydance, and especially aerobics. If class is cancelled they invade the stairclimbers.
Ironically, for all this madcap activity, they are hard to spot. Reason for this is that most of them are skinnier than their cell phones. When they turn sideways they don't exactly disappear, but they are able to slip past the Immovable Objects in the aisles. Sometimes they read while they wildly pedal away, but this is also misleading. What they are really doing is looking at fashion magazines, at young women even skinnier than they are, which only makes them run around their little wheels faster.
- Best time to see them: Every afternoon and evening for the classes.
- Location: The magazine rack (for a moment), any mirror (for a moment), then the aerobics room, or leaning over one of the toilets.
Housewives in Training
The H.I.T. is sort of the Hamster all grown up, as the Relaxitive is the Testosterone Twins 30 years later.
The housewives in training are often the wives of the Relaxitive. Bored, lonely, kids almost grown, not the size 8 she used to be, doesn't need to work. So she joins her husband’s gym, arriving a couple of hours after he has raced off to work.
She is there for her daily appointment with her personal trainer, who is oh so tan, oh so toned, oh so friendly, and oh so very, very virile. She diligently performs the workout assigned to her, but it is obvious that her focus, if not her goal, is not the dumbbell in her hand, but the dumbbell standing next to her. She leaves the gym flushed, empowered, radiant, and in better shape than when she came in.
- Best time to see her: Weekday mornings.
- Location: On a beautiful, snow-white stallion, galloping through rolling hills of wildflowers in slow-motion. In her mind, at least.
The Housewife in Training, out of all the gymnasium bestiary, is the only one in the Reality Gym doing the exercises correctly and at the proper speed. And she never misses an appointment.
Me? I'm doing yoga over in the corner. But I never miss an episode of "As the Gym Turns".
- Will the Real Estate Agent finally sell a house to the Immovable Objects?
- Will the MRS degree fall in love with herself before someone else does? (Pretty much a prerequisite.)
- Will the Testosterone Twins finally brain the Psycho, or will the Psycho suddenly think he is a discus thrower and brain them first?
- Will the Hamsters ever comprehend that health and confidence are the two most attractive qualities in a mate? And that self-loathing and bones are the two least?
- Will the Relaxitive realize that his wife loves him before or after he dies of a heart attack?
The Reality Gym - only 30 bucks a month, commercial free, and it’s always on.
And, you get to shower with the stars.