People watching the gym-rat race

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Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.25.30 AMIt’s the second day of January, and I can barely walk.

No, this is not a two-day hangover.

It’s the residual effects of starting over gym for maybe the fourth or fifth time in the last 10 years.

This last break from the gym was due to long-lasting rehabilitation effort for a dislocated shoulder during a rousing game of 16-inch softball in Chicago.

By rehabilitation effort, I mean avoidance of anything and everything that caused even a hint of pain to my right shoulder.

The emergency room doctor on duty the night I dislocated the shoulder told me that once it falls out of socket, it’s much easier to dislocated in the future.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.23.55 AMWhich has caused me many stressful days and nights worried that I might have to feel that pain again. Which, in turn, kept me from going to the gym.

I didn’t not exercise, mind you. I bought a road bike, ran outside during lunch and swung some kettle bells when the mood hit me.

But this is Oregon, and come November, the gray skies open and pour their virulent fertilizer on the lush landscape of our fair state until the late spring.

For me a gym is not just a place to exercise. If that were the case, I’d probably go once a month to assuage the guilt of over indulging.

The gym is a microcosm of the larger world, a place where you can see little, detailed pictures of the big one going on outside.

There are men and women of all ages in a pressure cooker of public shame at their sweaty, needy, dirtiest.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.24.31 AMAnd everything in between.

I love to watch it all unfold every morning.

No, I have to watch it unfold every morning.

It’s why I quote the old men who argue and cajole one another in the locker room after a particularly difficult hot tub soak and steam room session.

The way their 80-year-old banter plays across a room full of meatheads, young professionals, and, I assume, people-watchers like me.

Outside in the pressure cooker, the young and the old alike drip sweat on heavy machines designed to test our endurance. They bounce from place to place like we do all day. The squat machine, the bank. The bench press, to work. The calf press, and Starbucks.

Sometimes there are collisions and hostilities unfold. Angry shouts that draw out the trainers to settle disputes. The trainers like an ideal law enforcement, showing the correct form so people don’t hurt themselves.

I do arms and back on Tuesdays and legs on Thursdays.

I run on the treadmill or row on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

But every day there is a group of people who work out socially. One leans against the leg press machine while the other sits, and they chit chat for a half hour. I use the free weights to squat, which is why I can’t walk today on the second day of January.

They gather in groups and laugh and talk and barely break a sweat, but I envy their long friendship.

There is this older gentleman who tends to like to walk up to people in the middle of a set and start talking. He seems to especially prefer the young and the beautiful. Particularly the ladies.

He’s handsome and thin and has long, tan arms. And he has a head of gray-turning-white hair and gold-rimmed glasses. He smiles a lot.

And the ladies don’t seem to mind, because they smile a lot and actually stop and talk to him.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lift anything. He goes between the weight room and the treadmills, where the ladies turn down their run to a walk so they can smile and talk with him.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.27.09 AMGood for him. I say. He’s fearless and bold and maybe, just maybe not the creepster I tend to categorize people like him as.

Thursday I got yelled at by an elderly woman who was doing some stretch thing on the squat station. I dared to use it after she walked away, and had it not been for the nice trainer, who set up a second stretch thingy for her on another station, I’m pretty sure she would have run me out of the building by my ear.

I hate the treadmills. Especially treadmills placed in front of a bank of televisions that tend to be tuned to Fox or something worse.

I listen to podcasts and watch the images of war and pestilence flash in front of me. The televisions just distract me from the people watching.

So I watch the trainers come and go from their faux-wood work stations, notepads in hand and wonder what they must think of us.

I can’t decide if they’re yes men or something slightly more useful, in which case, why don’t we have trainers for all aspects of our lives? Professionals who can walk beside us in our physical training as well as things like cooking, buying a house, sending your kid to college,  or learning to fly fish.

The gym is like a great, unscripted television show. There is always drama, romance, or whatever romance is when it’s not reciprocated, suspense and intrigue.

Like life, there are days when nothing happens, but if you look long enough, you start to recognize patterns, and you can see life unfold in between the sets.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.29.38 AMOn the last day of the year, as I headed to the showers after running a 5k on a stupid treadmill, I heard the two old guys in the locker room discussing New Year’s Eve plans.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know the two I’m talking about.

If you don’t, one is or is near 80 years old, and the other, though a bit younger, talks with a Swedish or Swiss accent and wears a beautiful Scandinavian knit sweater every day after his workout.

But on this day, they were discussing what they would do to celebrate a new year.

And it went like this: Gentleman 1: “It was a beautiful day yesterday.”

Gentleman 2: “Indeed, it vas.”

Gentleman 1: “You could probably ride your Harley to the gym, ha, ha, ha.”

Gentleman 2: “I did ride de motorcycle yesterday. Not to da gym, but I took it out for a ride.”

Gentleman 1: “You get some Champagne for tonight?”

Gentleman 2: “Ya, it’s in da refrigerator chilling now.”

Gentleman 1: “Me too, I’m all ready for another year.”

Gentleman 2: “Ya, we gonna do it all again next year.”

To most, it’s useless, inane banter, the kind you might have when you’re in a locker room with a bunch of men in various stages of undress.

To me, it’s a little window into their worlds. Every conversation reveals something new, like receiving a new puzzle piece every day.

And all the characters in the play are that way. Even the quiet ones who go about their workouts with earbuds in, tuned out from the world around them.

They are all magical to me, little mysteries that demand study until they open up and become something more than a fancy workout outfit on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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