Unlike the majority of Americans, I do not make the resolution to go to the gym and lose weight on the first day of every New Year. Instead, I make this resolution about one month earlier, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, because it's the day I find myself overwhelmed with the most extreme amounts of self-loathing. So fresh in my mind is the awe-inspiring gluttony of Thursday, followed by a full 72 hours of unadulterated sloth, that I worry I'll soon become one of those people who needs to be removed from his one-bedroom apartment in a wheelbarrow, arm fat spilling over the sides. I vow to change my ways immediately, and that's how I find myself muttering curse words under my breath as I stuff tennis shoes into my gym bag, and gather the strength for my triumphant return to fitness.
Moments after marching up to the welcome desk of my local gym, All-Day All-Night Workout Place, I'm faced with the unpleasant news that the membership I assumed I still had, has expired. It's been a year since my last visit, the skinny sorority girl behind the front desk informs me. She tells me this in the same voice my dental hygienist uses when she reminds me I should floss more often, and I hate her instantly. She tries to usher me over to the membership desks, but because I've decided I hate her, I opt to pay $10 for a guest pass instead so she doesn't get any credit for recruiting a new victim. "Enjoy your work out!" she chimes, as I walk away. Sarcastic bitch.
As soon as I walk into the locker room to get changed, I'm greeted by an old man standing stark naked in front of the hand dryer. In a way, it's nice to see nothing has changed since I took swimming lessons at the community pool almost two decades ago -- the elderly are still unabashedly frolicking, balls-out, in locker rooms across the country. In fact, the very sight of this man triggers such a vivid flashback, I can't help but ask, "Mr. Nedderman, is that you?"
"What's that, boy? Speak up!"
"Sorry sir, you just remind me of someone whose saggy testicles I used to know." I smile, he smiles. I get dressed in my workout gear as modestly as possible.
I exit the locker room and pass by what I can only assume is a variety of medieval torture devices, toward the one thing I recognize in the entire place: a treadmill. I mount the machine and pick the setting called "Fat Burn," which basically sums up the whole reason I'm there. It defaults me to 30 minutes, which I feel like is a long time to walk without going anywhere. I'm delighted to discover there's a TV in front of me though, I get to spend the next 30 minutes walking and watching -- wait a second, is this the Food Network? What kind of evil sadists are running this place, forcing me to exercise while watching Cupcake Wars? Am I supposed to pretend like I'm running toward the dessert, because that might actually work for a little while, until I remember I can leave this hellhole and sprint to the Krispy Kreme down the street.
Just as I'm about to call it quits and go fulfill my donut-desire, someone jumps on the treadmill beside me. He seems to be my age, and that's where the similarities end. He's wearing a tank top about the same size as his girlfriend's G-string and his muscular physique is stretching it at the seams. He looks like the kind of guy whose name is like, Blaine, or Hunter, or Jackson; he was definitely in a frat, or gay porn, it's hard to say which. He sets his treadmill into what I can only assume is a settling called "Olympian Mode" and starts running, as if he is being chased by rabid cheetahs. Because this gym is designed to make me hate myself, there's a mirror directly in front of our machines and I'm forced to stare at the pair of us together, and I have to stop myself from crying a little. I try to brainstorm mean things to say about him, things like, "Oh yeah bud, you think you're so hot? Tell that to the weird freckle on your neck!" ...It doesn't make me feel much better.
A seeming eternity later, my machine beeps to inform me that I am entering "Cool Down" mode. I laugh at the preposterousness of the assumption that I will spend even one extra second in this place, and hop off the machine immediately. My "Cool Down" will take place on my very slow walk back to my safe, non-judgmental apartment. I quickly make my way back to the locker room, wave goodbye to my Mr. Nedderman lookalike (who is still air drying his balls), grab my things, and dash for the exit.
On the way past the front desk, I am enticed by a protein bar, which proclaims to taste like delicious peanut butter cups, but because it means having to talk to the evil stick-figure behind the desk again, I am able to abstain. Then, a sudden flash of the Thanksgiving leftovers in my fridge (turkey, stuffing, PECAN PIE!) appears in my memory, and I am granted the strength to finally propel myself out the door and away from the gym, likely for another whole year.
This article is an adapted excerpt from "I Swear I'll Be Good at It!," a new e-book by Wes Janisen.