I’m a steroid shot in the ass away from becoming a complete hypocrite. You see, I used to work out in a small barn that I’d converted into a home gym because I hated the idea of working out in a public gym with a flock of jocks; that whole “meathead mentality” wasn’t for me. I’d open the overhead door and let the alfalfa flavored air dry my sweat as I grunted in private. I’d have to check my weights for black widows and mice would eat my towels if I forgot to bring them in for the night, but I loved it. The wife, however, did not. We lived on an irrigated five acre parcel that was a solid thirty-five minute commute from downtown Durango, and civilization was too far away. Social interaction is the fecund ground in which children grow best, and without it, we feared that our daughters would end up in a cult or something, so we moved into town.
It’s expensive to live in Durango. Six-hundred square foot condos rent for thirteen hundred dollars a month, and since we need three times that much space, a home gym would’ve been just as realistic as a landing pad for my luxury helicopter or an indoor pool filled with Champaign, so I sucked it up and joined the local gym at the Durango Rec Center. I don’t know what the opposite of a bucket list is, but I’ve got one. It’s an embarrassingly long litany of things that I’ll never do, and “join a gym” has always been right at the top of it; it’s directly above “take square dance lessons” and “swim with sharks.” But now? Well now, I love my gym. I walk in without my pass and the affable red-shirted people at the front desk wave their hands in forgiveness. “Oh that’s just Jesse,” they’ll say if someone new is working. “He never has his card.” It feels good. I’m a buff version of Norm walking into my very own Cheers. Everyone likes to be a regular. We all like it when that familiar waitress or barista asks if it’ll “be the usual” because it makes us feel welcome. It makes us feel like we’re a part of something, a valued member of the herd, and for our social species, that’s what life is all about. And now, I’ve pulled my myopic head out of my ass via a gym membership and I’m a recognized member of the hoi polloi.
The gym is like a fraternity. Sure, women go there, but for the most part, we don’t talk to them and they don’t talk to us—we like to think that’s because we’re all ripped and intimidating, but really, it’s just because we’re gross and annoying, and women don’t seem to like conversing when they’re wrapped in spandex and covered in sweat. Anyway, like all fraternities, the gym has its rules. You put your weights back when you’re done. You don’t leave your sweat on the equipment (unless you’re tattooed and scary, and then you can get away with it). You don’t scream like you’re giving birth to a man-baby unless you’re lifting a ridiculous amount of weight. You stay home if you’re sick because there’s no quicker way to piss off the athletic type than to infect them with something catching. You bump fists instead of shaking hands (because sweaty palms are disgusting), you never steal someone else’s equipment, and if someone has their earbuds in, you leave them alone. Other than that, it’s pretty straight forward and we all get along marvelously, but the gym has its quirks.
The parking lot is big, but it’s always congested. People like to drive around in circles in order to find the spot that’s closest to the front door. It makes sense. They don’t want to walk too far before getting to their treadmills where they run in place. But when they’re forced to walk, they do so in slow motion; the men swing their shoulders and the women gyrate their hips in time with the secretive theme music that lives in their earbuds. It’s hard to admit, but we’re really nothing more than animals, and at the gym, we all strut like puffed-up peacocks. Secondly, they gym smells weird. A few of us even started hunting for some long-dead animal that was trapped behind the drywall before our resident genius, Chase, discovered that the malodorous insult was coming from the weights themselves; I almost brought it to management’s attention, but the gym would’ve lost some character if the smell disappeared. My tertiary problem with the gym here in Durango is the music; they play soft jazz and elevator music. It’s like a soporific field of poppies that’s trying to sap my will to be active. Lastly, believe it or not, some people don’t know the aforementioned rules that I brought to your attention. Every once in a while, a sick, sweat-bucket of a fool will come along and steal your equipment after trying to start a conversation despite your earbuds—it’s annoying, but hey, it’s a public place and everybody is welcome.
The Rec Center itself grows out of the verdant parks that sprawl along the banks of the Animas River as it wends its way north of downtown. The front desk is inescapable when you walk in through the automatic doors; it’s big and it’s filled with friendly locals. There are conference rooms to the right that are booked for karate classes and strange singing church meetings. The locker rooms and aquatic center are on the left. There’s a climbing wall directly behind the desk. Further back, there’s a basketball court that’s usually filled with old people playing pickle ball: it’s a weird wedding between wiffle ball and tennis. There’s a daycare. There are racquetball courts and running tracks and multipurpose rooms. But none of those places interest me. Right behind the front desk, there’s a wide, tiled staircase that doubles back on itself as it leads up. Standing at the bottom, you can hear the rhythmic thumping of treadmills, the metallic clattering of weights, the too-loud bravado of comradery. It smells like detergent and bodies and feelings of inadequacy.
I walk up those stairs quickly because nobody likes to live in limbo. I make my rounds when I get to the top, bumping fists with all my bros because it’s apropos, and I settle in on a bench. I look around and do a bit of people watching as I stretch. You’d think that a gym is just one place, but it’s not: there are three territories inhabited by three very different tribes. There’s the cardio tribe. These are an energetic people. They wear special shoes that clip into their fancy stationary bikes. Or they wear shoes that’re made for rubber on rubber—treadmill running that takes you nowhere while you watch a TV that’s mounted on the wall like a carrot on a stick. Next, there’s the yoga tribe. These are an earthy people, subdued and smiling in their tight pants while they sit crisscross-applesauce on their foamy mats. They have candles and breathy music and their own room that keeps them safe from the simian group to which I belong: the third tribe, the lifters. These are an intense people. We’re the large ones, the disproportionate walking triangles. We pick things up and then put them down, over and over again, wishing that we could pick up bigger things and put them down harder. We mark our bodies with chalk. We spot each other and give high-fives as if it was 1985, and we love it. I love it. This is something I never would’ve figured out had I not “sucked it up” and paid for a gym membership. But when I think about it, it isn’t just the gym that deserves my gratitude even though I swear that place is a living, breathing character. It’s the welcoming brethren within who deserve thanks. Those men let me act like an idiot in their midst and now I call them friends—they deserve a written shout-out, so here it is.
Chase is the smart one, but I already said that. Jimmy is the big one; I spotted that man while he benched four-hundred and fifty-five pounds, and that’s just ludicrous. Ed is the gregarious one; he’s our spirit animal who’s always quick to talk and give advice. Matt is the pro; he looks like a baby made by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Claude Van Dame. Patrick is an amateur personal trainer and a professional shit-talker. Ricky disappears occasionally, but like a spawning salmon, he always returns. Josh is the playboy. Jaccinda is one of the only women who can hold her ground, and she puts most of us to shame. Shane can’t rock a moustache but he does so anyway; he’s a badass, and he grows muscle like the rest of us grow hair. Dylan and Bryan are the gentlemen, Tyler has better shoes than you do, Ben’s arms are bigger than my legs, and Vito is going to be a fireman when he grows up. Aaron is just cool as hell, as are Jason and his daughter. John, Brian, Mike, Dave; good people all. These people have made me realize that the gym is a good place to be, and once upon a time, I was narrower minded than I am now.
The only thing I hate more than hypocrisy is my own hypocrisy. I hate saying that I’ll never do a thing because I’m better than the people who do that thing just to find out that those people are just different versions of myself. I hate admitting that I was wrong. The gym, for me, has been the hollow into which Luke walked to face Vader for that first time. There, for twenty-five bucks a month, I’ve found myself, even though it sounds like a trite cliché. I’ve realized that “never say never” isn’t just a tired platitude. Granted, I’m not going to square dance around in a plaid suit or swim with a great white, but I am going try and grow up a bit. I’m going to forgive my hypocrisy, or at least, I’m going to try to not be so hypocritical. I’m going to wake up and look at the rest of my anti-bucket list (ha! That’s what it’s called!), and I’m going to decide if the things on said list really suck, or if they’re just incarnations of my parochial decision to only participate in certain facets of life. Because, as it turns out, there’s nothing wrong with a flock of jocks; I was once just a flockless jock.