Fortune does not favor my family. Tragic deaths are commonplace, from falling off the Fort Peck Dam to being mauled to death by bulls. Those who manage to avoid fatal accidents usually find themselves stricken with any number of diseases: my grandfather has diabetes, several aunts and uncles died from cancer, and my mom has a dead leg or something–though I'm not entirely sure about that one as I tend to not really pay attention to other people's problems. Anyway, sometime around freshman year of college, I started running regularly in an attempt to prevent premature disease. I lived in Boston at the time, and since New England winters are more brutal than a Cannibal Corpse concert, I turned reluctantly to the necessary comfort of the gym for my running needs.
Four years later, I still run at the gym regularly, and I can honestly say I'd rather be stabbing myself daily in the neck with a fork than to continue my torrid affair with the gym. And yet, night after night, I find myself in a race against no one, running on a treadmill under halogen lamps while 90's dance remixes blare from overhead speakers. I'm also a complete night owl, and it's not uncommon for me to get my running time in after midnight. My gym is conveniently open round the clock, and it's generally desolate during those late night hours–save for a handful of seemingly unavoidable weirdos.
It begins as soon as I walk in the door. The fella who runs the desk during the night shift is a tiny little thing, elf-like in both size and demeanor. Oftentimes, I can barely see him behind the counter.
I'm not altogether convinced he isn't descended from mythical creatures. His ears are a little too pointy, his manner a touch too sprightly, his eyes entirely too sparkly. He simply can't be entirely human.
At this point I'm already rethinking my plans to exercise in favor of a pint (ok, gallon. Let's be serious here) of Häagen-Dazs, but I soldier on. The locker room is usually empty at night, and thankfully so. On the rare occasion I visit the gym during the day, the locker room is by far the worst aspect of my trip. Let me interject that I'm perfectly comfortable with the human body, but my gym seems to be a bit too open with the nudité, and the effect can be somewhat overwhelming. I try to keep my eyes on the ceiling and get changed as quickly as possible. Look, dudes are gonna be naked, and that's fine. It's a gym locker room. Life is full of dicks, both figurative and literal. What I have a problem with is that there's always one naked guy who feels the need to get chatty, and more often than not he feels the need to get chatty with me.
There should be a rule against having any sort of conversation while in the buff. I'm sorry, naked guy in front of me, but I can't listen to your story about the neighbor's dog killing the paper boy when your junk is TOTALLY RIGHT THERE IN MY FACE. The locker room is for changing into athletic apparel, not parading around like some fleshy, manscaped peacock. Now excuse me while I go scrub my eyes out with hydrochloric acid.
My ultimate goal is to run in peace, but even after I solve the Gatekeeper's riddles and battle past the Naked Hordes, it's never quite so easy. I came close last week, though. I had the entire upper floor of cardio machines to myself, and it was glorious. For a time it appeared I'd be able to run in blissful solitude. However, several minutes into my run, I was joined by another. He chose the treadmill right next to me, which is something I'll never understand. With several dozen machines to pick from, why choose the one neighboring mine? But hey, free country and all that jazz.
He began to run, and it quickly became clear this was not an activity he engaged in often.
Now, I'd assume running to be a pretty self-explanatory undertaking, but apparently it's more difficult for some to master. The guy started glancing my way with increasing worry on his face. He seemed to be taking cues from me, matching his machine's settings to mine, searching my face for reassurance, as if he expected me to be his Sherpa through the trials and tribulations of gymnasia.
10 minutes in. Homeboy was spiraling out of control.
15 minutes. Heart attack imminent.
20 minutes. Time to find a new machine. Peace out, dude.
Of course, it doesn't stop there. Some nights, I find myself sharing the cardio machines with a charming young woman with talon-like fingernails and painted-on eyebrows so high they seem to be escaping from her face. She comes dressed in street clothes, and walks leisurely on her treadmill, all the while literally screaming into her cellphone in Spanglish.
I've considered saying something to her, but there's no doubt she'd claw my face off with her neon painted claws. Usually when I see her, I just head downstairs to the weight room, grab some 5-pound weights, and work my noodle arms while I wait for Señorita Yappyface to wrap up her conversation. The weight room isn't without its dangers, though. When I'm down there, what generally ensues is something akin to that scene in Jurassic Park where John Hammond's granddaughter is hiding from Velociraptors, but instead of dinosaurs, I'm evading juiced-up meatheads and the little beads of sweat they fling in my direction as they grunt their way through upper body circuits. Depending on how many Herculean behemoths are pumping iron on a given night, it can be like dodging rainfall. Warm, salty rainfall.
It might sound like I'm complaining excessively, but I feel like with a little common sense, everyone can have an enjoyable gym experience. And by everyone, I mean me.
Simple as that. Now hit the showers. Just please don't choose the shower stall next to me.