Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong had their moments, and now it's my turn. I didn't discover a continent or a moon, but believe me, it's a big step for Loren. Imagine a world of machines that make you feel as if you are walking on the moon, or maybe, playing in a gerbil cage. It is a land enclosed in tinted glass, inhabited by sweaty people trying to get buff. In this strange galaxy there is a wonderful room where a kindly woman watches all of the planet's children. I can close the door and run away to any part of the mirrored galaxy, and set out on an expedition to nowhere for as long as I like while watching SpongeBob on a flat screen above my machine. I got a gym membership last week. I ask myself today as I wave goodbye to the kids and step on a treadmill, why did I not think to do this before?
Like any wild, uncharted territory, Gym Land can be dangerous. My family preps me about the customs and perils of this place over fourth of July hamburgers. I find out that there is drama at Gym Land. It's a reality T.V. soap opera: All My (Buff) Children.
"Everybody is checking out everybody else. There are lots of hot women. Watch out for creepy dudes," warns my younger, bachelor brother.
"Don't use the shower," adds my very clean mom.
So I make a point not to take off my wedding and engagement rings when I go there, to sort of protect myself from negative attention.
It turns out that just like in the soaps, people hang out in clusters in sections of the gym. I can walk to different areas and listen to various "scenes." There's the group of divorced moms talking about their dating life or their rotten husbands on the step masters, retired guys discussing their summer houses over by the weights. Then there are people like me, who just use the machines and watch SpongeBob. (Okay, maybe I'm the only one doing that.)
On the treadmill I hit stop abruptly and nearly fall off after experimenting with the speed. To my left a young woman is running on a treadmill and texting at the same time. This circus trick fascinates me. I can't even talk and drive at the same time. I find a comfortable pace, then turn down SpongeBob to overhear a conversation between two men at a card table a few feet away from me. (I guess poker is exercise.) A stocky short guy in a wife-beater tee is sitting with another man who works at the front desk. They are scanning the room for "chicks," and I am eavesdropping. I wonder if they know that Happy Days is no longer making cast calls. I snicker to myself at my own joke, (because that's what I do when I eavesdrop).
They look over in my direction and I start to get self conscious. There is another lady next to me, a skinny, pretty blond.
"That chick, right there." says the guy in the wife-beater, as he opens a Pepsi. He waves his Pepsi in my general direction.
"Which one, the blond?" asks the gym worker.
"No the other chick."
I look to my left expecting to see a "chick" or maybe another female person, but it's just me and the blond in this corner.
"Dude. Three kids in the playroom and a ring. Look."
The guy squints, then glances back at his friend, surprised.
"Aw, damn. Okay. How 'bout the blond."
I look over at the blond, who is obliviously cross country skiing in her imagination with an IPod in her ears. I laugh a little too loud because I can not believe that this conversation is a serious one. The men stop talking and look over.
"SpongeBob." I say pointing to my little T.V.
They nod and go back to talking in hushed tones. I'm like Nemo the fish swimming inside an anemone, I think. My rings and children protect me from the poisonous aspect of the gym, the lurking tentacles. I laugh again. My brain is trapped in Disney World.
The men don't look up this time. They are focused on the baseball game on a large wall-mounted flat screen above me. I wonder if "chick" is new slang for the word television. Now, That would explain what I just heard. I decide.
I walk four miles on the treadmill and run another two. Sweaty and tired after 40 minutes of really good exercise, I gather my duckling bodyguards from the playroom. They tell me publicly how much I need a bath and cling to my legs protectively as we parade out of Gym Land exchanging smiling nods with all the inhabitants: fitness explorers, and lurkers.
Picture is me from my phone on the treadmill at Gym Land.