Fitting My Home Gym Into My Home

09/06/2011 08:10 am ET | Updated Nov 02, 2011

"Our Gazelle has left Utah," I said to my daughter just as we sat down to watch an episode of sex and violence. She gave me a blank look and said, deadpan, "Next time a telemarketer calls, say that. They won't call back." Then she turned back to catch a commercial for incontinence medication while pondering how soon before she'd have to take away the car keys.

It seems I'd gotten it into my head to add a gymnasium to our one bedroom, one porch apartment. With two sofas, five fat chairs, a dining table, three desks, two hutches, three and a half dressers and two beds already expertly arranged like valet-parked cars in a corner lot near a ballgame, adding a gym was a challenge.

But I've been adapting to challenge. Downsizing has required creating a home office out of a corner of the dining room that would better be served by a small potted plant and a ceramic giraffe. Cooking equipment is stored in a dresser parked in the hall because the kitchen was designed by some man in the 1950s who'd never cooked a meal in his life, and my closet is three rooms away and my clothes smell like whatever my neighbor is cooking. My chicken-scented lingerie and tomato-scented sweaters are totally cool, I have decided.

And while I cringe at the site of televisions openly displayed, I've learned to live with a screen the size of a billboard turning our living room from a cozy salon for conversing with friends into a drive-in movie theater for staring straight ahead at fictional lives while shoving instant popcorn into our faces. Far worse, visible gym equipment parked anywhere but a gym makes me tremble. It's just wrong. Gym equipment for the home is best left to movie stars who have gymnasiums the size of refugee camps and spray-tanned personal trainers to force them to use them. The last thing any home needs is a set of monkey bars in the foyer and a portable torture device next to the coffee table.

But I had to make some adjustments. After downsizing from a house to an apartment, I realized my body had constricted. I was no longer running up and down stairs, striding from room to room looking for my Bluetooth, or shoveling dirt from garden to garden in search of the perfect burial ground for tulip bulbs or disappointing boyfriends. In short, I'd stopped moving, and found myself coming down with early-onset rigor mortis, while I got bigger and bigger like Alice in Wonderland after succumbing, as girls often do, to the command to "eat me".

But joining a gym was pricey and unlikely to persuade me to go there. I knew this to be true when I blew 30 bucks on a Groupon coupon for a yoga class in a room as hot as a crematorium and 50 weeks later and two weeks short of the expiration date, I continue to assure my daughter that I'll go there first thing tomorrow morning. And so, it was that when Amazon thoughtfully recommended that I add to my cart a cute little chair that looked like some Italian designer had made it for the MoMA gift shop, but was really a clever little gizmo to do my sit ups for me, I clicked "buy now" and the very next day it came knocking on my door. It took about ten minutes to assemble (but that was all it took to have me cursing, thinking that it's only a matter of time before we buy brand new cars and the dealer hands us the keys and an Allen wrench and tells us assembly is a snap). But, I channeled my inner feminist, and once my little Italian chaise lounge was assembled without calling for testosterone assistance, I was bouncing up and down in my spiffy sit up chair.

"Wow! This is fun!" I said to my daughter, who responded by laying down on the floor and doing 100 sit ups in a minute, flipping over and finishing with 50 pushups, then walked away in grinning silence while I huffed and puffed my way to 25. I was relieved my father was deceased, because if I ever told him I'd bought a chair to help me do sit-ups, he would have muttered I was blowing my money and if I didn't have the willpower to sit up by myself my life was truly hopeless.

But my father, being deceased, could only look down upon me from the heavens and shake his ghostly head while I bounced up and down with unenlightened mortal joy. Why stop there? I figured. If this cute little chair is getting me to do sit ups, what more could technology do for my body? So I got on Craigslist and looked up treadmills and the like but all I saw were a bunch of things that looked like broken bicycles in need of serious cleanup and costing more than a summer vacation. And that's when Amazon had another recommendation for what I could add to my cyber cart.

It was a little toy called a Gazelle and it had handle bars and running pads and I could tuck it between the couches and run and glide into perfect shape while watching Masterpiece Theater and all my favorite mid-century cartoons. What could be more perfect?

So I ordered it with a single click and kept a close eye on the tracking so I'd know when to make room between the couches. A few days later that's when I saw our Gazelle had left Utah and was on its way to our apartment.

I thought getting from Utah all the way to the Puget Sound would take forever, but Gazelles move fast, and ours was no exception. Two days later there was a knock at the door and I opened it to find a box heavier than a hippo waiting to be let in. My daughter wasn't home and the cats wanted no part of this project, so I pushed and heaved the Gazelle-in-a-box through the doorway, down the hall, across the dining room and into the living room where I unpacked it, scattering blocks and beads of Styrofoam all over the place like a three year old eager to get to her new toy. And as I pulled out the handle bars and connecting cables and foot pedals and bars, I realized this damned thing is bigger than a swing set and not about to be squeezed in between two couches. What in the world was I thinking?

There was absolutely no place for it, but it wasn't like I could repack it and send it back. It would be easier to move to a new apartment. No, I was stuck with a Gazelle and I'd have to learn to live with it one way or another. After a couple of hours (or so it seemed) of putting pieces A inside pieces B and attaching with pieces C and wondering why native English speakers can't be found to write up assembly instructions, I finally had it together, just as my daughter got home.

She took one look at the Gazelle and you'd have thought I'd bought her a Jaguar. Her face exploded into a thousand smiles and she leapt on board and started sprinting through the living room at five miles an hour without moving an inch. "Stop it!" I ordered, but she kept on sprinting. "You've been on it too long!" I wailed in maternal fear, as if she would burn away her very last calorie and dissolve before my very eyes. But she just grinned and sprinted, her pony tail bobbing away while her legs flew back and forth like a pair of life-size scissors. Fifteen miles later, she got off, wobbled away and declared, "You've finally bought something we can actually use."

Easy for her to say. She didn't care about the apartment décor, just as long as she could run through the living room like a high-speed antelope. I was the one with the problem. There was no way I could fit something the size of a Chevrolet in between two couches. It was going to have to stay there, parked, front and center, smack dab in the middle of my spectacular ocean view. I'd might as well have bought myself a small Wal-Mart for the patio and grilled my salmon in the parking lot, it was that absurd.

But l welcome a decorating challenge. I pondered the possibilities. I could drape it in Christmas lights, but that would wreck havoc on my low-light ambience and it was only a matter of time before I was tripping over Christmas presents I'd wrapped in tin foil and the comic pages to surprise myself each morning. I could drape a cloth over it, but then my gazelle would turn into an elephant in the room, and there are enough of those in any life -- who needs another one? I thought of turning it into a tubular easel by propping a painting between the handlebars, but that was far too avant-garde for my tastes and would only attract misguided art collectors who'd get in bidding wars and they didn't need to be encouraged. No, it was unmistakable. I'd have to live with my mistake.

I picked up my totally mod Italian designer sit-up machine and hid it between the two couches, and jumped on board the Gazelle. A mile and a half later, I stumbled off, exhausted, and staggered into the kitchen for some water and chocolate. I stood in the dining room, tossing truffles into my mouth and considering the future that lay ahead. I asked myself, "what would Jonathan Adler do?" Having it covered in faux fur was just so not me. Planting some up-lights at the base to cast dramatic shadows on the walls was simply scary. No, it was clear, sometimes we have to live with our mistakes. Like acquiring spouses, children and garish table lamps, we can't always get rid of them, but we can learn to love them.

I begrudgingly climbed on board the Gazelle and a few miles later, I'd burned enough calories to justify a milk shake and re-programmed my mind. Accessorizing is everything, I told myself, though draping it in tassels was simply not the answer. If Coco Chanel could pull of plastic costume jewelry and hats that looked like mixing bowls, surely I could tweak my scale and patterns and I'd be set, I figured. All I needed was a zebra rug and a suit of armor standing by, I realized as a three-foot light bulb lit up above my head, and my Gazelle would go from trash to chic. Every living room needs a swing set, after all. I turned on the megalomaniac TV and streamed in some vintage Doris Day and Rock Hudson and climbed back on board my new Gazelle. Eat your heart out, Utah; finders keepers, losers weepers. This baby's mine, all mine.