A typical moment at the end of a session at the new Gold’s down the street: I’m grody with sweat, pale with exertion, whiskers beaded, mostly avoiding my reflection in the mirror a foot away while holding heel to butt in my usual stretching routine. Behind me, to my left, a young barefoot gentleman with nice bulbed arms cuffs his thighs in turn, slapping them like he’s picking on them, like a mafioso screwing with his younger brother; the other guy, to my right, is arched over a large blue nipple, strenuously doing push-ups on his fists.

I’m on the treadmill, three and a half miles painted onto a yard of sweat-anointed rubber track when a maybe 65-year-old-woman, fatless and frizzy-haired, trots backwards into my field of vision, jazz-handsing. She comes to a stop at the wall, then tilts into it and pushes off without honestly–I mean really, she wasn’t even far away from it. This was a lean-in from kissing distance. Now she picks up the little medicine ball and kind of push-throws it down against the wall. I’m obsessed with her weird workout. Arielle must see her.

I mount the treadmill, hit “Quick Start”, log on the wi-fi, and my phone burps: Arielle saying: Niiiiiiice ass! 

I like the mobocracy of the gym, the flowing anarchic kind of silly mess of it, of all these bodies. Everyone out to better themselves, no one in charge, though there is probably a hierarchy of fitness. Were power to be wielded, it wouldn’t be the schlubby wielding it, regardless of what they parked outside. It would be the guy with the milk chocolate skin and the trim mohawk and the tiny camo shirts tucked among the furrows of his enormous scalloped muscles. Muscles like entire cats curled into his body. This guy, my friend overheard someone tell him: “Man, you keep workin’ out, you’re gonna look goofy!”

All the time I find myself being like: How is this co-ed? How cool is that? It seems very bold or adult or reckless of us. But everything has its limits. A. tells me of awkwardness in the stretching room. A guy next to her, in his activity, making frankly very undisguised sex grunts. We treadmill next to each other once while in front of us a very self-satisfied yogaist yogas her butt off, swanning and craning and flexing. After, A. is like: “How ’bout that yoga lady?”

Sometimes you want to draw people’s attention to the Sign of Rules, particularly the one that says No Grunting. A svelte salt-and-pepper-haired man with his back to the wall walks his hands backwards down it til he’s a bridge on the floor, each time at the same steps emitting these deep animal moans.

I ask Dan at work–Dan who just opened a Crossfit thing–Is it true you’re not supposed to stretch before exercising? He says Yeah, don’t do static stretching, like this, and he shows me pinning the heel to the butt, but dynamic stretching is good. What’s dynamic stretching? And he shows me cantering across the floor like a new horse. So I just stretch after.

At first I was like: Where did all these jocks come from? Who knew? It was a revelation to discover that PE really took for so many people. Guy with Cat-Sized Muscles, now he and those like him I think just clearly dedicate their entire lives to their bodies, but they’re the exception. Everybody else you get the feeling have regular jobs and relationships and just happen to somehow know all these bizarre workout techniques. How do all these people know all these bizarre techniques?

Then again, my Florida brother-in-law, Chris, who owns a fitness studio, says he can’t go to the gym anymore because everyone’s doing it wrong. It’s good for his business actually, ’cause they’re all going to end up needing physical therapy, which he does, but he doesn’t see it that way ’cause he’s a good guy. I resist telling Dan about the thing I read about millennials in their third decades on Earth high-intensity-training themselves into replacement hips.

People squatting under broad black weights, breathing through their teeth. People dangling from monkey bars, throwing themselves around, behaving improbably. Once I became confused watching a woman fold her upper torso down over a thing, holding a weight, and then straightening again. How can we move like that? Without using our arms or legs? How do we move?

Meatheads in their little shirts, sheened in sweat. Rangy fellas with thousand yard stares. Guys crowded with tatts. Big boys with football shoulders and thick calves. A bronzed Adonis with a man bun, lordly upon the stair stepper, writing–I imagine–poetry in his pocket-sized leather journal.

In the early days I watched this maybe 65-year-old-man with tattooed legs run six miles at 6.0 speed. He then taught me (by showing, not telling) that wet wipes exist you can clean up after yourself with, which I would’ve figured out myself I think had I spent a little more time at the Sign of Rules. There’s an older woman who walks pretty slowly, a hardback book opened on the display. An our-ageish lady who’s there a lot will bring a magazine from time to time, but mostly we’re plugged in. Arielle listens to special playlists of workout music, I to the novels of Kim Stanley Robinson. Some tune in I’m sure to the ubiquitous horror show of Fox News or CNN or the lesser hell of sports talk. That running man didn’t bring shit with him, though, and he’d staked the single best ‘mill from which to avoid television. This is my preferred ‘mill now.

Arielle tells me that one day in the stretching room there were just too many dudes. It was all dudes and her, and when one more came in she just had to get out of there. That week we’d watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which the gang of mean teens get hypnotized by hyenas and eat their principal, and she said it just felt like hyenas gathering around her. She said too that one time in the sauna these two Americans (my adjective) were giggling confessionally about beans and farting. In the sauna!

I go a lot. I go enough that I develop little pockets of short patience and uncharitable thought. So many people spend so much time doing basically nothing! They idle around complex machines! They stand, idling! They stretch and stretch and move without conviction from one thing to the next! They wander in a desultory fashion! For this you pay $40 a month?

One man you would think works there, so often is he around, carousing with the real employees, but never seeming to exercise. We talk about him, A. and I, at night. I imitate his strange gait–left side less mobile or fluid than right. I’ve seen him so much, seen him just slowly walking so much that on the first try my imitation is fairly spot-on. It’s not uncanny, like the recent Kermit the Frog singing “Just one more sleep til Christmas” I unleashed from the passenger’s seat with Arielle driving, but pretty damn good. The next day I see him among the weights. He’s doing a little supervised thing with a trainer involving just his right or left side. Later, upon my treadmill, I mark that he makes a slow but complete circuit around the interior of the gym, stopping to chat up the employees at the front, before returning to the weights. In a flash it occurs to me that he could be rehabbing something. He was in a traffic accident or got knifed or used to be fat and suffer strokes. I feel bad. If that: Good on you, brother. Keep it up. You’re an inspiration to us all. But if not that: Fuck you, weirdo! Get a life!

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