What should I be doing instead of this?
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Working Out (Some Issues)

By Bob Woodiwiss · February 17th, 2000 · Pseudoquasiesque
Bitter winds sweep south into the U.S. from the country that pioneered the flannel-lined cocktail dress; thermometers continue to show less mercury than Charlie the Tuna's last blood test; snow so plagues and oppresses us that men, instead of urinating their names into its white dominion, now urinate suicide notes. Clearly, friends, winter time is no time to exercise outdoors. Winter time is joining-a-gym-time.

My first step is turning on the TV. I figure that, with all the fitness club commercials airing at this time of year, I'll be able to review what's available without wasting a lot of energy running around town. And I'm right. In a single evening, I see ads for a trio of big-spending rivals, all anxious to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market sector. One implies that my every workout will be done next to a buxom, desirable babe; another suggests my every workout will be done among several buxom, desirable babes; the last seems to indicate that their clientele will regard me as a buxom, desirable babe. After much mulling, I go with the "several babes" option.

My first visit to the gym exceeds my wildest expectations. I drop 6 pounds in a grueling, marathon session of sweat, strain and pain. When I finally crack and sign the 5-year contract, however, the salesperson eases up, tosses me a towel, unlocks his office door and points me toward the locker room.

Ah, the locker room. Where men I would classify as overexposed if they were hatless wander about buck-naked. Where skin conditions, scars, protuberances, medical oddities, lapses of hygiene and ravages of time, gravity and Entemann's that should remain hidden from anyone save the coroner are exposed with abandon. This is a room mad with sculptures of Dorian Grey. Conversely, I find the serious, sculpted, rippling, flexing, v-shaped guys to be more than a little intimidating. This might be due to the fact that I see one of them remove a 10-pound dumbbell from his locker and curl it with his penis.

The facilities are sumptuous. There's an Olympic-sized swimming pool (actually, by my measurement, it's only Goodwill Games-sized). Aerobics classes (including the latest, Absolut Low Impact, a workout which involves languidly swaying to music while sipping Screwdrivers from a sports bottle). Aisle after aisle of treadmills, stationary bikes, recumbent bikes, stair climbers, ski simulators, rowing machines, elliptical rocking chairs, hand-cranked ice cream machines, Curly Joe PowerWheels (large turntables which people lay down on then run in circles using a shoulder as a pivot point), even programmable Whack-a-Moles with weighted whackers and built-in heart-rate monitors. A favorite area seems to be the Exercise Yard, where people with less than 10-years-to-life on their hands can simulate the anaerobic/resistance workout of America's finest physical specimens, our hardened -- and hard-bodied -- cons.

Not being a "people person" (according to the quiz I took in a recent Esquire, I'm a "cartoon character person"), my greatest adjustment is in "sharing" my workout space and time. I'm used to running alone, biking alone, tug-of-warring alone. No more. Not here. Now I'm a towel-carrying citizen of Spandex Nation. Laboring cheek-to-jowl with people who I can tell are silently condemning my cheeks and my jowls. Breathing deep into my lungs the atomized secretions and evaporating emissions of fetid strangers. But mostly feeling burned as the buxom, desirable babes I'm surrounded by are a pregnant woman and her lesbian lover, a colossus who tells me this is her last stop before stomach stapling surgery and a grandmother wearing a T-shirt that declares, "Estrogen supplements are for pussies."

I have decided I will not be returning to the gym. Instead, I will take my exercise in the cold and the wind and the snow. As for my training table, I suppose I'll be eating my five-year contract.



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