Happenings At The Gym
February 14, 2013 3 Comments
I go to a gym near my house, a regimen prescribed for cardiac rehabilitation by the surgeon called up on to clear up the plumbing inside my body at least as much as he could. He later told me, to compare, Mumbai’s drains famed for flooding the streets at the first burst of monsoon were freeways. He didn’t go so far as to wager just another year of tenancy for me on this terra firma as another renowned surgeon did in a prior consultation.
This is also when I resolved to be an affable guy, not offending anyone, with nothing but charitable thoughts towards one and all, not given to pettiness, etc. etc. Good for the blood coursing through my reconditioned plumbing, I was told.
I’m digressing. Getting back to the gym, the subject of this post, the long and short of this institution are its fees and amenities respectively.
At the annual membership renewal, I religiously fill up a multipage form that insists on knowing all over again every ailment from my childhood and, once filled up, in deference to privacy of its members, the gym keeps it safer than state secrets, even from the resident doctor.
Locating the gym on the third floor of a building without a lift is a piece of clever strategy in the fitness/weight-loss business. By the time I reach the locker room for changing into track suit, I’ve already lost some fluids and pounds and my tongue hanging so far out of its enclosure almost free of its base.
When I finally reach the chamber of torture, just outside the glass-doors, tucked away in a niche is that unassuming oracle with a morbid obsession for truth and nothing but the truth – the weighing machine in a corner, silent in the shame of its compulsion of doing what must be done. It even has a tiny receptacle is thoughtfully placed for holding small change, comb and other stuff that members carefully take out of their pockets to ascertain their true weight (weighing in nude is not allowed yet) – points for its user-oriented design.
Once I cross the glass-doors and enter the sanctum what hits me right away is a chorus of high-decibel voices and sounds belting out dissonance. Quite an elevating experience, I mean, for one’s blood-pressure. I can make out neither the words nor the music. My request for music, I mean the real one, is politely ignored. Patrons, I’m told, prefer some fast paced beats while those machines brutishly work on them. I don’t tell the guys in charge they are not entirely right – a good many of the members stretch their skin taut across their pale face, a tell-tale sign of the stress that, I’m sure, could be reasoned to the aural onslaught.
And, what doesn’t hit me is the cooling from the unseen air-conditioners. The airflow is second only to a dead man’s breath. The arrangement is no doubt another of those ploys rigged for extracting its pound of sweat.
On the inside near the glass-doors is another crucial piece of the overall plan – the innocent-looking water-cooler placed before the exit. It is tasked with the important function of restoring the balance of fluids in the members’ bodies at the end of their sessions. And, put back the pounds sweated out thus far to where they belong, persuading the unsuspecting members to return for more self-flagellation. The Maya of weight-loss is thus well sustained.
Inside the sanctum, the instruments of torture are neatly arranged in an array around a space in the middle for the members to fling their arms and limbs freely or strike poses impossible to find anywhere else. A second smaller hall at the far end houses the weights and machines for strength building.
Now, what about the humans in the scene?
Let me firstly get the staff out of the way: These include guys and gals in black uniforms – personal trainers for those who could afford and the guys in blue overall’s – the ubiquitous maintenance crew, forever coaxing the machines not to give up their material coil under the not-insignificant weight of their duty. It is clear these machines require upkeep.
It is safe to assume the rest of them are the fees-paying members. This crowd, I’ve found, could be put down to two distinct lots. The smaller lot heads for the hall of weights; lives on whey-protein and supplements and sports enormous bulges (at right places). Masochistically enjoying punishment at the hand of the machines, their loud, sudden and inhuman grunts had alarmed me on a number of occasions to the point of dropping everything and rushing to their rescue.
The bigger lot in the main hall comprises middle-aged disproportionately built members, mostly house-wives and a few of the other kind, yours truly included; during non-peak hours the gym goes unisex. They ride on the treadmills, cycles and ellipticals. Their panting and heaving does not however stand in the way of talking about their kids, husbands, neighbors and the society at large or guffawing in chorus over non-existent humor in some perfectly inane matter. While at most times I mentally shut the chatter out of my hearing, I can’t help being informed. For instance, I do know one of them to be a proud mother of an eight-year old genius who sends his teacher running into hiding with his questions on astronomy. I learnt about the culinary tastes of a husband not being able to tell rasam from sambhar. Or which one of the clerks at the super-market checkout is generous with candies to children accompanying their parents during shopping…
To this lot belonged Aunt Agatha (AA) – I called her so for want of anything more befitting, with designs on pricking my bubble, assailing my hereto-before-stated resolve, etc. etc. AA looked permanently pepped-up in the manner of smiling at anything life served up. Her exuberance quite inexplicably raised my hackles, and the temper of blood flooding my inner tubes.
It always so happened that we found ourselves in the gym at the same time and day of the week. By some unspoken arrangement, we however never took adjacent machines. But that was no relief as I was still within the ear-shot of what was being said, notwithstanding the piped-in cacophony. And, try as I might I was not able to remain impervious. Most ladies, young or old, coming into the gym would pause by her side and say ‘hi’ to her more like an acolyte paying obeisance to the high-priest. The ensuing dialog would begin with an inquiry from AA on how much has the other person gained or lost since the last visit and slowly and surely move on to how it was a cinch to melt away the pounds, sometimes in the format of a claim and at other times as advice or tips – all said with that Buddha-like smile and loud enough for me to hear. It could well be my imagination – at least on couple of occasions she was looking in my direction, I thought, when she gave out her tips.
And here I was sweating it out, now into the fourth year, stubbornly stuck above a massive 175 pounds, putting on inches at places farthest from the biceps and quads and hamstrings.
Over weeks and months, it was not the pounds that melted away, it was my resolve. The simmer of resentment was building up to boiling anger that would, if unchecked, becoming raving urge to wipe that smile off her face. For now I was vexed with the question of how does one handle an aggravation of this kind.
I recalled from Chanakya’s wisdom there were four broad strategies available to me:
(a) Offence: Taking the battle into the enemy’s turf. But how could one employ offensive methods against someone who had not caused overtly and willfully any harassment or harm or displayed hostility? Being a square-shooter I ruled out any offensive counter-moves.
(b) Side-stepping: A non-confrontationist approach usually adopted with the spouse. I could come into the gym at different times. For various reasons, this was not possible. Coming on different days of the week would not help as AA unlike me came in all days of the week. Should I be joining a different gym? That was an extreme step, I thought, to be pursued only when all other options were struck off. This gym was within walking distance of my house.
(c) Making best of the situation: Considered as a smart approach by many consultants. If you can’t fight them, join them. So I could join the ranks of AA’s fans and benefit from her tips. She could keep that smile on her face…How preposterous!
(d) Defense: Suggested when you’re up against someone not in your size or gender. It was not very obvious what could be those defensive tactics. Should I be seeking the services of a psychologist or even a hypnotist to alter my perspective to a non-problem?
It was an unguarded moment when I was morosely mulling over the options that my wife got it all out of me. Her response:
‘This is nothing to lose sleep over. Just don’t listen to her prattle just the way you don’t listen to me most times. Why, you’re quite good at it. Can’t you apply the same technique?’
A woman’s logic takes her straight to the core of a problem and unties the knot with an ease that leaves her man dumb and struck. So it was presently – she had pointed out though unwittingly a simple solution to my seemingly intractable predicament.
On my next visit the gym a PGW would have observed me as a man with a spring in his steps and a song on his lips. Well, why not? I was fully equipped to meet the situation squarely in its face. Of course, I may not be wise to where freshest strawberries were to be had or when someone squealed to announce my stepping on his toes. So what? A minor discommodement to be borne if one is trained to look positively.
So here I was merrily riding on the treadmill with uncreased forehead and eyebrows unraised and earplugs firmly in place. Yes, the earplugs fixed the aural assault including the cacophony, the causes for my distress. Fixing the visuals came later. Beaming proudly at everyone around, in the moment of my victory I was more than a trifle disappointed at not sighting AA among them.
The visits to the gym in the following days were no different with AA nowhere to be seen. Where did the vanquished go? Had she fallen sick or something? It left a vague sense of emptiness inside me.
A week later, the manager in-charge caught me on the way out and pulled me to his cabin. His behavior was rather odd – kept sniffing in quick spasms.
I was concerned: ‘Are you ok, my friend?’
‘I’m fine, Sir, thank you.’
Trying to be helpful, ‘I can call a doc, if you wish.’
‘No, Sir. That’ll not be necessary.’
‘If you say so…’
‘Please don’t get me wrong, Sir…I don’t know how to tell you this…’
‘Tell me what is it. Rest assured it stays strictly between two of us. Let me see if I can be of help.’
‘I don’t know how to begin.’
‘Be bold, man. It’s usually the first step in a long journey that’s difficult. Not so once you’re off the starting block.’
‘I’ll tell you. Sir, some members have rescheduled their timings. And there are more wanting to.’
Ah, that explains it. The mystery of the missing AA solved. Happy ending with no blood-shed.
Hiding my elation behind a straight face, I said: ‘Well, they’re well within their rights, I thought.’
‘It’s not that, Sir.’
It was foggy. Waited for the light to shine through.
‘Sir, they cited you as the reason.’
Now this was alarming. These were days when allegations were freely made of inappropriate behavior with the other gender, leading to public lynching at the next step. What did I do?
‘Eh?’ All I could manage.
‘Sir, are you unwell or something over the last few days? Taking medication?’
This was getting weird. ‘No, my friend. I never felt better. I’m touched by your solicitous inquiry after my health. You would go a long way in Customer Care, I’m sure. But why do you ask? ’
‘Exactly, Sir. That’s the smell.’
I was all indignation: ‘I’ll have you know I use nothing but premium quality soap in my bath.’
He persisted: ‘But, Sir…’
It was my turn to sniff. I did detect a faint odor if I made an effort.
I did not let the ironical twist of events unduly pull me down. After all, all is well that ends well. We keep to our timings and our paths don’t cross. Who knows, one day we may become family friends and laugh it off. For now, my poise has returned and so has the resolve and the tempers have cooled within my plumbing. The earplugs are doffed. I do get to know which pharmacy gives a discount to senior citizens, how to get the ward-office to fumigate our building…
The only regret in the story: I had to give up using that specially concocted home-made hair-oil that achieved wonders in a short time in areas other than growing hair on my pate.
Credits: Openclipart.com (johnny_automatic_exercise_bench_1, tomas_arad_smiles_blonde_face, nicubunu_Emoticons_Lying_face, free clipart net Aggravation, ignatiusjreillyx13j2xe) hasslefreeclipart.com (cowboy2, boy_skateboard)