“Excuse me,” I said to the lithe twenty-something after she uncoiled out of her improbable yoga pose. 

“Yes?” the girl said, her creep detection radar blasting enough wattage to boil my blood away. 

“Are you using this box for your workout?” 

“Oh, no I’m not. Sorry.” After removing her keys, phone, earbuds, towel, water bottle, and workout gloves she said, “It’s all yours.” 

“Thanks,” I said, picking it up. “Take care.” 

Marching to the other end of the gym I set the box, which was about three feet high, on the floor and launched into my routine; prison squats, walking lunges and then I jumped onto the box ten times. One minute breather. Repeat. After four sets I was sweating bullets. 

After a long hiatus from physical fitness I’ve returned to the gym. When I started two months ago I could barely go twenty minutes on the elliptical machine. Now I’m doing some plyometrics, HIIT training and throwing the iron around. My wife tells me my clothes are fitting better and my blood pressure’s dropped – but I’ve got a long way to go. 

Walking to the squat rack, I put 130 pounds on the 45 pound bar, slipped under it, set up my feet and did twelve reps. Racking the bar, I stepped back and shook my head. When I was forty I could do so much more 

“Ah, question.” I heard a voice say behind me.

Turning around, I saw the voice belonged to a well-muscled twentyish male with 3% body fat. He had headphones in his ears and was busy texting furiously. 

Letting my oxygen levels return to normal, I just looked at the guy. When he realized he wasn’t getting a response, he looked up. 

“Yes?” I said, 

“How long are you going to be?” he said, looking kind of offended. 

“Ah,” I said, “Five sets at least.” 

Returning to his gizmo, he said, “I’ll wait.” 

Watching as Nature Boy made a big show of dropping his gym bag and gallon jug of Gatorade next to the rack, I could read the expression on his face. Hurry up old man. 

Oh well. When I was his age I probably thought the same thing about the geezers at my old gym. Sliding back under the bar, I banged out ten reps. Then I walked over to water fountain by the reception desk to refill my water bottle. When I returned the guy shot me a look. Ignoring him, I figured my rest period had elapsed and banged out ten more reps. This time it was much harder. After a few more sets I was finished. Time for deadlifts. Joy. 

“You want me to strip the bar?” I asked Nature Boy.   

“No thanks,” he said, waving me away. Let someone in real shape workout

Moving over to the deadlift area, I put the same amount I squatted onto the bar and got going. Next to me, a chiseled girl barely out of her teenage years was performing the same exercise with more weight. “Jesus Christ,” I thought to myself. Somehow, I managed to keep my ego in check and resisted the urge to put more weight on. Focus on form. Work the muscle. Don’t get hurt. 

After my second set I looked over at Nature Boy. He had turned the squat rack into a personal circus and was performing some kind of super set – pullups, squats, shoulder presses, hanging knee raises and pushups while barely breaking a sweat. That kind of shit would kill me. After finishing my sad deadlifts I walked over to the leg press machine and loaded three plates on each side. 270 pounds. When I was younger I’d load the sled to capacity. Done with my leg torture, I went over the Air Dyne bike and did twenty minutes of interval training – going all out for thirty seconds and then chilling for one minute. When I was done I was sucking wind. They don’t call it Satan’s Tricycle for nothing. 

Guzzling water, I looked at the hardbodies around me singing the body electric. There was a time in my life when I thought “physical culture” people were superficial and narcissistic. When I told a friend this, he pointed to my gut and said, “You could do with a little narcissism yourself.” 

After Buster died I packed on weight. Eating has always been a way to soothe myself. But once the scale registered an all-time high, I realized the damage I was inflicting on my body. My blood pressure was creeping up, my back hurt, my knees ached, I was having foot problems and my energy level was in the toilet. And, when you hit fifty, you become very aware of people in their seventies. You start comparing the healthy ones to the rickety heaps in wheelchairs. I understand some people have no control over the afflictions they get in old age but, as my doctor said during my annual physical, how you fare in seventies depends in large part on what you do in your forties and fifties. “Sustainable lifestyle changes,” the doctor said, “Turn it around while you still have time.”  I don’t want to be a broken down old man. 

Now, when I see people like Nature Boy or the deadlifting teenager, I don’t get aggravated. I understand part of their physical prowess and attractiveness is due in large part to their youth. But there are people my age and older who come to this gym and look amazing. They’re working with what they’ve got. And when you factor in work, school and child care schedules, finding time for a workout needs commitment. Now, no matter what their age, when I see someone with a nice body I admire the hard work they’ve put into it. It took me a while to realize this, but my antipathy towards the fitness class was because I was angry at myself. As Whitman wrote, “Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?” And, as a younger but much wiser kid once told me, “Looking good is just a by-product of taking care of yourself.” 

But let’s face it, eye candy is part and parcel of the gym experience. It can be a motivator. Sometimes being “surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough.” Besides, it’s much easier to go an extra fifteen minutes on the treadmill when the girl jogging in front of you has a world class derriere. Oink? Perhaps. But, with all due respect to the wise kid, I’m not just sweating and grunting in this gym for my health. I also want the girl on the treadmill behind me to be admiring my ass. Not bad for an old guy. Move over George Clooney.

Time to stop concealing myself.

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