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I've written humor columns for a variety of magazines and once won a Florida Magazine Association award for them
Is This the Elevator to the Stairmasters?

by Stephen Morrill

I knew I wasn't cut out for the bodybuilding life when I squirted hair spray into my left armpit.

This was at my health club. A health club is a place where you go to hurt yourself, and for which privilege you pay lots of money. Sort of a hang-out for rich masochists. I'd joined this one in order to 'get into shape,' that shape being Arnold Schwartznegger's, if he could spare it for a few days.

After several moments of research, I learned that there are four basic exercise plans. Easiest, and cheapest, is to sit in a Barcalounger, slugging down beer and chip dip, while ogling the half-naked hosts and hostesses on some TV exercise show. Of course, the only muscle being worked here is your channel-changing thumb, but that's o.k., it's the most important muscle in your body, being the same one used to flip the pop-tops.

Method number two is to go outside and run in the street. This is cheap—if you don't get hit by a bus—and allows you to inhale a lot of car exhaust while dodging beer cans hurled by passing teenagers. You also get to meet and hate the neighborhood dogs.

Method number three is to join a normal health club. These offer relatively cheap long-term memberships because they know quite well that ninety percent of the customers will quit after a few weeks. Those who stick it out get the benefit of subsidized gym equipment.

I chose method number four; join your upscale yuppie/trendy health club. This meant paying out $1500 for a membership, followed by $120 per-month dues. But for this kind of money I got the same exercise equipment the cheap clubs have PLUS a bar and restaurant, where I could recover with an overpriced beer and a fat-laden pastrami sandwich, PLUS a heated Olympic-size pool where I could get cramps from the beer and pastrami.

There was a hot tub adjacent to the pool where I liked to lounge and lose the key to my locker because the pocket in my swim trunks didn't work very well. The lockers in upscale clubs have your name on them. Well, actually, mine said 'Mr. Steiner' and for the two years I belonged, I wondered who Steiner was, what had happened to him, and why the staff didn't put my name up there.

They probably knew that I was, at best, a semi-member, not really 'of the quality.' I always wanted two towels because I intended to do sweatier work than calling my broker from the steam room. I never patronized the athletic clothing shoppe full of primary-colors Spandex, prefering cutoff jeans and tee-shirts with things like the First Amendment printed on them. Worse, the hair spray and deodorant came up in thin tubes from dispensers in cabinets and several times I accidentally spritzed my underarms with the hair spray. This is a lot worse than spraying deodorant on your hair; take it from me.

The management didn't like my attitude any more than my moussed armpits and English Leather hair. When I tried jogging from my house to the club, a security guard stopped me because I looked suspicious, running through the neighborhood like that. When I parked my Honda in the lot between the Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Beamers, Volvos and Mercedes, an attendant told me that employees park in the rear. When I used the stairs to climb up to the lobby instead of the glass-enclosed elevator with the view of the basketball court they declared the stairwell a fire exit only and forbade my using it.

I was an embarrassment on the 'circuit' machinery too. I found the stationary bicycle both ridiculous and boring, perhaps because I didn't have a copy of The Wall Street Journal to put into the special rack provided. An automated walking machine hurled me off the one and only time I tried it. The idea of stair-climbing machines in a building where the stairs themselves went unused made me laugh too hard to climb. On all the machines with weights I had to reset them to the smallest loads; sometimes I would pull out the pin and just lift the chain. I started off in barbells with the bar. After a few months I worked my way up to the bar and the little metal gizmos that would hold the weights on the bar, if there had been weights on the bar.

Meantime, guys with the pectorals of mountain gorillas would stare intently at their reflection in floor-to-ceiling mirrors while they curled the equivalent of a SCUBA tank in each hand. They hoisted barbells the size of diesel truck engines while telling one another that it wasn't the weight that really mattered, it was the number of 'reps.'

It was apparently a macho thing to drop the hand weights and barbells, with a sonorous 'klong,' the last few inches to the floor, shaking the building with the impact. My barbell bar made a 'ting,' which I thought a nice counterpoint. The Men of Muscle exercised their lips by sneering.

I didn't sneer at them, for they were at least getting exercise. Other members would play a game of tennis and wash it down with a martini. The pool was unusable for lap-swimming because the kids swarmed all over it. Watching the pot-bellies dribbling the ball on the basketball court was dizzying, with the bellies bobbling up and down in time to the ball. And I never could understand why anyone would want to crowd into a tiny room and rocket a handball off all the walls and one another.

So one day I cleaned out Mr. Steiner's locker, turned in my sweaty towels, walked out to the employee's lot, and drove to the nearest sporting goods store. I bought a set of adjustable hand weights, a springy thing I could squeeze with my hand, and a pair of running shoes. I have my own stairs I can climb, even if they don't move on their own. I can hook my toes under my desk and do situps. And the street is free.

— end —



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