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Welcome to the Jungle

A man discovers the downside to joining a gym and eating healthy.

I had assumed that I was the only person in the office at that early hour, but clearly someone was nearby as I bent over to retrieve the files I had just managed to spill all over the floor. Perhaps it was a burglar, or a homeless squatter. Whoever it was, they were clearly and curiously tearing bed sheets apart. I stood to begin an investigation into the loud noise, and suddenly felt a breeze caressing my ass. No, it was not a deranged homeless man tearing sheets in our break room. It was something much, much worse: I had split my pants down the middle.

I looked at the clock and realized with horror that there was only fifteen minutes left before our office building opened and dozens of people would be arriving to begin their workweek. What the hell was I suppose to do now? I could just keep calm and pretend this was a new fashion trend, but that did not seem like the best plan. Sure, I would bring some enjoyment to a typically mundane and joy-sucking Monday morning, but everyone in the building would also realize that I had not done laundry over the weekend and was going “commando.”

Moving on to the next option, I called The Wife to have an emergency pair of pants delivered. No answer. I redialed immediately. No answer. Again. No answer. “Why the fuck do I pay for her to have a cell phone if she never answers it!” I thought. Seeing delivery was not going to be an option, I did the only next sensible thing. I left the document confetti on the floor and ran out of the building with a speed that suggested my fat ass had been magically turned into an Olympic gold medalist.

It was time to join a gym. The word gym has connotations of fun and joy to a child. We all played on the jungle gym; it’s monkey bars and slides accented with the smell of cedar mulch to break our falls. We would meet friends and play basketball and dodge ball in the school gym. At some point in our lives, however, the word gym takes on a negative connotation. Gym has become synonymous with the words shame, gluttony and self-loathing.

I refuse to believe that Americans are fat because we are lazy, regardless of what Europe thinks. We are a country that was founded by slapping a king in the face and defeating an empire with an army of farmers after the asshole taxed our beverage of choice. Millions of us spend hour upon hour moving just our thumbs and without blinking our eyes to conquer the newest Call of Duty the day it hits store shelves. This takes extreme dedication. We are the country that improved the sandwich, the Zeus of food, by replacing bland bread with two pieces of fried chicken. Yes, sir, Colonel! Finger licking good! No, I do not believe we are fat due to a lack of the gym, I believe we are fat because of the gym.

Joining a gym is a hassle. When touring, you are never greeted with a normal person who looks like the gym helped them transform their lives. Rather, you are met with either a man who was a varsity quarterback and just retired from his career as an Abercrombie model, or a female that used to be the head cheerleader and just retired from being a swimsuit model. In any event, they clearly have always considered the gym a way of life, and may even live there in that room with the sign reading, “Employees Only.”

A gym tour is dizzying and quick, and always includes a showcase of varying features. You do not know what these features are, but you nod as if they are as ubiquitous in your life as the DVR and couch. There is, however, one constant feature that is always on every tour and which you are intimately familiar with: the locker room.

I do not know why the locker room is always on the tour. All we really need to know is that it is clean, instead of home to mildew and likely to give us a fungus. Yet, the girl giving me the tour of the gym I eventually ended up joining was hell bent on showing off their locker rooms. “You can go in and check it out if you want,” she said.

My declination was not a satisfactory response, like with most women when they want me to do something and I decline. “No, really. They’re really nice. Mahogany lockers,” she insisted.

Men today are not as comfortable in these types of situations as women. For example, a man is a lone wolf when using the restroom as opposed to a woman who seems to have a pack mentality. In a dressing room, you will never hear a man say, “Hey dude! Can you help me zip up these pants?” However, men also are not good at winning arguments with women; at least not those of us who are married.

I reluctantly entered the locker room. Let’s face it: I was looking to join a gym, and this lady was working at a gym. I could either do the tour the easy way, or the hard way. I imagined the hard way involved serious bodily harm if I continued to decline her “hospitality.” My heart rate jumped as I started walking through the door. This, of course, was not due to the physical activity itself. It was due instead to the unwanted anticipation of the awkwardness that could be just seconds away. What does one say to a naked, nearly naked or half-naked man when you walk into their locker room just to sightsee? Perhaps:

“Oh, hey guys. Don’t mind me. I’m just looking at the features.” Or,

“Hey. How’re doin’? Just checking it out.” Or,

“’Sup, dude. You’ve got some nice showers over there.” Or,

“Hey, guys. Random question: Which package should I choose?”

I don’t think any of these wordings really work. Lest I should make eye contact, I spoke not a word and marveled at how nice the floor directly beneath my feet looked for the brief minute I was in there. I figured it was far better to look mentally challenged then to look like I was cruising male members of the gym I could be frequenting.

One of the driving forces behind my decision to join this particular gym was the “cardio getaway” room. This is a separate room from the main workout area that was briefly glanced over on the tour. It was touted as a cooler, less crowded, and more peaceful arena to workout than the remainder of the facility.

The cardio getaway room in reality is the fat person ghetto. The folks utilizing this area are the same folks who wish not to jiggle like Jello in front of the Hollister models and professional athletes. It is also there to benefit of the beautiful people, so that they may focus on their workout without resisting their gag reflexes activated by the wiggle and jiggle. I relegated myself to this room.

The problem with the cardio getaway room is also its main feature: very dim lighting. Unfortunately, while the gym provides towel service, it does not provide night vision goggles. My first attempt at navigating the equipment to find the perfect treadmill far in the back resulted in me tripping on an elliptical machine and face-planting into the ground. I quickly rose to my hands and feet and did as many push-ups as I could manage to make it look like I was merely “warming-up.” After my three push-ups were done, I started to run on the treadmill. I assume everyone was fooled.

As time went on, I ventured outside of the cardio getaway room to “vary my routine,” as the professional on the Internet said to do. I tried free weights first. The advantage of free weights is that it allows for better range of motion. The disadvantage of free weights is they allow for less form. Others can also readily observe the amount of weight that you are using. These “others” are the meaty, sweaty gym rats with barbells the size of monster truck tires in their hands. I like to think someone told a funny joke on their end of the weight racks because, surely, they were not laughing at me struggling to lift weights the size of a Hot Wheels tire.

I next ventured out to the weight machines. The advantage of the weight machines is that they provide better form, and people cannot readily see how much weight you are using. The disadvantage of the weight machines is this section of the gym tends to resemble a feminist rally held within a geriatric facility. The other major con is the weight plates stacked upon one another. When one’s extremities grow too weak from the exertion and give out, the falling weights cause this area of the gym to begin to resemble the soundtrack to a prison chain gang. Clink. CLANK! Clink. CLANK! CLANK! The conductor of the cacophonous symphony is always readily apparent.

I also ventured out into the pretty people cardio area. This area tends to look like the set of a P90X workout. Every piece of cardio equipment in this area has its own individualized television. It’s a touch screen. The problem with touch screens is that if you have a lot of sweaty people dripping all over them and touching them with their sweaty fingers, they tend not to work as well. This is a problem when one is running on the treadmill and needs to stop. Faced with the possibility of being tossed off the back and into the wall, it becomes necessary to beat the touch screen while your legs go at high speeds, seconds away from giving out, until it finally stops. The problem with this is that you play an obvious African drum number for the rest of the staring gym: Boom. Boom. Bonk. “STOP!” Boom. BOOM. BOOM. BONK. “PLEASE FUCKING STOP!” BOOM! Bonk. “Fuck!” Bam!

All things considered, however, the main problem with the gym is the fellow members who you encounter on your journey to physical fitness (or physical disability, depending on how you wish to view it). In this respect, the gym is like the jungle gyms of our youth. You have the baboons who wander just as lost through the maze of equipment as you do, staring blankly at the machines with quiet panic as if they had just been asked to defuse a nuclear bomb with nothing more than a piece of chewing gym and paperclip. You have the gorillas that look majestic and intimidating in the weight area. Get too close and they are likely to snap you in two as if you were nothing more than a twig. The chimpanzees that do acrobatic stunts with muscles bulging on equipment you do not know the name of and dare not get within ten feet of. And then you have the pack animals, the various people who work out with professional trainers, and who always manage to do their lunges, squats, frog jumps, and other compromising exercises in the middle of the walkways to show off their physical prowess.

In this jungle you are supposedly alone. The expert motivators on the Internet tell one to not be ashamed, embarrassed or assume that people are looking at you while you try to shed your “love handles.” These primatologists claim that the other patrons are too focused on their own workout. That is bullshit. Spend any amount of time in a gym and it’s clear everyone is looking at everyone else. The douche bag on the treadmill talking on the cell phone is praying you are looking at him. “Look at me! I’m important and multitasking!” he implores. The annoyingly fit soccer moms dressed in clothes that actually match hope you find them sexy and relevant. The cheerleaders doing their yoga routine in front of the free weight area say, “Come hither boys!” while in downward dog. The rest of us fatties glance around nervously to see who is looking and slink off into the fat ghetto the moment a judgmental stare comes our way. This is why we as a people grow fat. Exercise is hard enough without having to deal with judgmental high school-like cliques.

Besides being “heavy,” I am also incredibly cheap. I resigned myself to the fact that I had to choose between spending money each month on a gym and keep going, or buy an entire new wardrobe. I hate shopping, so gym it was.

Over the months that followed I learned that a burpee was something more than noisy gas after a satisfying pepperoni pizza and beer. I learned that “push up” isn’t always just an adjective preceding the noun “pop.” A jumping Jack was not a depressed stockbroker trying to commit suicide from his Wall Street high-rise.

Exercise is not enough by itself, however. Workout as much as you like, if you still eat a high amount of calories each day you will not lose any weight and might as well just flush your gym membership money down the toilet. Eating healthy is also essential, as are smaller portions. I naturally enlisted my wife to help me in this regard. If you have ever met my wife at a dinner party, where she cooked the dinner, you know that prisons serve better food. I logically assumed that if I had her take over all of the cooking, eating smaller portion sizes at each meal would not be an issue. I was correct.

It takes longer to lose weight than it does to gain it, but after months and months of cruel and unusual punishment I finally reached my weight loss goal and shed over fifty pounds. At long last, I weighed as much as I did at my physical peak when I entered law school. Essentially, I weighed what I weighed before my life went to shit and I started eating my feelings.

Losing weight offers many health benefits, such not having to hear the sound of fabric tearing when you bend over in your office hallway. Other folks also compliment you on how good you look. However, they also commented on how loose my clothes were becoming because I was cheap and refused by buy a new wardrobe. I preferred the loose clothing anyhow—it made me feel good to see how much weight I had actually lost.

Losing weight has its downsides, however. This is especially so when one is cheap, as loose fitting clothes may make you feel good, but they also do not fit. For example: one day, at the office, I stood to make a presentation to our staff. As I walked toward the front of the conference room, my loose fitting pants fell to my ankles. Normally, I think they all would have laughed at my misfortune, but today was another one of those days where I had neglected to do laundry. They all just sat there in stunned silence, staring at my smaller portion size. It was time to go shopping.

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Copyright © This work has been copyrighted upon its publication by Michael S. Rothrock. All rights reserved. The complete work, nor any portion thereof, may not be reprinted, reproduced, redistributed, or republished without the express written consent of the copyright holder. Violators may be subject to a legal mess.

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