When I was in my mid-forties, I would go to the gym to work out two and sometimes three days a week. I was trying to rearrange some of the fat that had begun to creep up on me and see if I could make it look like muscle.
I was surrounded by young guys that would make Charles Atlas look like Mortimer Snerd. I tried to breathe like they did - with a kind of hiss - as they lifted weights of 100 to 200 pounds or better. But no matter how I tried, I still sounded like a beached whale. I was only lifting 35-pound weights, but they felt like the better part of a Greyhound bus.
Like an elephant in the midst of a herd of gazelles, I noticed the physiques that surrounded me.
The gym had floor-to-ceiling mirrors that these guys worked out in front of - admiring their progress - telling each other how great it was and how much they enjoyed “working out.”
I was the only guy in the gym who worked out with his back to the mirror and wondered if all these guys had all the strings on their banjos. I longingly stared at the door that led to the street - and freedom. How could anyone “enjoy” torture and self-mutilation? But I didn't dare ask them. I wasn't that brave!
These guys looked at excess fat like it was leprosy on Shirley Temple. So, I just grunted and groaned along with them hoping, sooner or later, I would once again be able to see my feet. I knew they were there. I just needed to see them with my eyes.
I remember one guy with bulging biceps and a flat stomach, lifting weights that King Kong would hesitate to contemplate, glaring at me while I smiled weakly at him with a five-pound weight in each of my hands. I felt very vulnerable.
But, I kept going. I don't know why really. I didn't have dreams of kicking sand in someone's face or being a stand-in for Arnold Schwarzenegger. I practised my grunts at home so I would at least sound professional when I went in for my weekly torture, swimming and nearly drowning in a sea of perspiration.
The “fun” part I enjoyed, like carrying my Adidas bag and telling people I was off to the gym to work out. It was the agony I couldn't stand. The day I liked best, though, was Sunday. The gym was closed that day!
Now, these 20-odd years later, whenever I pass a health spa or gym, my body protests violently and even, at times, shakes. But it needn't worry. I won't venture back!
I still can't see my feet, but I no longer gasp, groan and grunt (unless, of course, I'm sleeping) and no longer feel I need to compete. I never really enjoyed hanging around gyms anyway. I can feel macho in so many other ways. I can still open a door for a woman or walk on the curb side of the sidewalk when strolling with a lady down the street. I still know how to wink and, now and then, chew gum. I can still belch loudly and unscrew the lid on a pickle jar.
I may not look like Charles or Arnold, but I don't have to go to the beach or run for governor of California. I guess the secret is that I'm no longer trying to impress anyone. I don't know why I ever thought I had to in the first place. It's nice to step off the carousel and jump out of the circle game.
I may not try to lift heavy weights anymore and I may puff from just watching television, but I can still think heavy thoughts and sometimes stay up until midnight! (Well, maybe not midnight, but at least until 10.)
Many of the young and younger are not only devoted to bodybuilding, but also body tattooing and body piercing, as well. There seems to be something for every generation. Mine was pegged pants and Brylcreem. At least I could wash the Brylcreem out!
Oh well! Who knows what tomorrow will bring. The gyms and spas will always be here, I suppose. A home for grunts, groans, and sighs.
I haven't given up totally, though. Every morning when I wake up, I do my 100 push-ups: first the right eyelid, then the left. It keeps me young!
MARCH 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
MARCH 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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