Chapter 14: The Gym – Part 2

When we last left off, I was in what would be my last visit to the gym for four years. In an attempt to keep myself from laughing at all the ridiculousness around me, I allowed the cacophony of grunts and growls to blend into one, blurry state of noise.  This way I wouldn’t laugh at any of the intimidating meatheads around me, and I’d be able to make it out of the gym in one piece.  I had faced quite a few challenges, but found my state of Zen as I attempted my tenth and final repetition on the isolated bench for bicep curls.  But then it happened…

Into focus walked a concerned and helpful meathead who must seen my previous repetition and thought that I needed a spot. 

“I gotcha!  C’mon.  Push it.  Push it!”

I finished my last rep without any actual help, unless you counted the verbal support.  But apparently this guy thought I needed more than just a spot.  He must have saw room for improvement, thinking to himself “that guy’s biceps aren’t as developed as they should be”.

“You got two more!”

“I’m just doing ten, thanks man” I informed as I started to bring the bar back down to the rack.

“No man!  Two more.  TWO MORE!  You got it, boss.  C’mon, push it!”

At this point I have no choice but to channel the laughter into my biceps, preventing as ass whooping and instead achieving two extra reps that I truly didn’t believe I had in me.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he exclaimed as he shook my hand afterwards.  “I knew you had it.  I’m Brad”

I’m about to burst.  “Jesse”.

“Hey, can you give me a spot over here?”

Oh sweet Jesus this is what’s going on.  So there I am, spotting Brad, when I reach the end of my rope.  What was it that put me over the edge?  Here I am spotting Brad, who has apparently confused his chest for a trampoline as he does the bench press, when I hear something that topples any self restraint I have.

If you, the reader, were in front of me, I would pinky-swear that I am not exaggerating this.  Coming from a large guy two bench presses away from me, I hear this:

The only thing that can describe what I heard, and what you just heard if you played the video, is an orgasmic scream.  I was in complete shock as I started to wonder if every bench in the gym is more contaminated than the sheets of a run down Motel 6, practically paralyzed at this point with a state of mind that could only be described as Twilight-Zone-ish.

“aggh.mmmm…bro…BRO!”  I look down and there is Brad, beet red with two hundred and thirty five pounds lying on his rib cage.

Oh shit.

I reach over and start to pull up the bar, most likely giving him the same treatment I got from the moisturizing gentleman in the locker room, struggling for a bit before we both lift it up.

“What the fuck, bro?” cries Brad after fifteen seconds of hyperventilation.

What do you say in this situation?  How do you start your explanation?  What could smooth things over with Brad?

Certainly not the burst of maniacal laughter that came out of my mouth.  The worst part was that I was actually trying to explain myself, so I maintained eye contact with Brad as I just laughed and laughed, right in his face.  I finally hit the point where I realized I had messed up, and needed an exit strategy.  What nifty escape technique did I use?  I just said, “I gotta go, sorry”.  Then I turned around and walked away.  Hmm.  This probably wasn’t the most clever approach, but I didn’t look back to see how it worked.

I rushed to the locker room, got my stuff, and got the hell out of there, laughing all the way.  As I was walking out the door, Vinnie (my friend from middle school) asked me if I wanted to renew my membership.  I tried to tell him “no” but I just looked at him and laughed. 

I was finally on 49th Street.  Freedom!  Fresh air…

I booked it home, worried that if I looked back there’d be a pack of guys in ribbed A-Shirts hobbling down Eighth Ave.  Maybe they’d have pitch forks and torches, maybe they’d have lat-pull-down attachments and protein shakes.  But either way, they’d be hobbling because they were so sore from that extra rep.  If I kept looking forward I’d outpace them.

Safe in my apartment, I decided that maybe that gym membership renewal wasn’t quite worth it.

So I instead walked a lot.  For years and years I’d just walk a few miles a day on top of the walking I already did, living in New York City..  A jog here and there.  Push ups in my room.  Occasional yoga class, the more occasional DVD.  Jumping Jacks in my apartment to get blood flowing.  And I thought I ‘d never go back.

But then the day came…when I DID!

I capitalized “did” because I thought it would be so surprising that it was bound to jolt you.  Who knew that was coming?  Am I right?  Ever get a text message or email that is in all capital letters?  It’s pretty freaky, am I right?

Now that you’ve had time to recover from that curveball of epic proportions, you may be wondering what made me go back to the gym.  To explain, I’ll need to tell a story.  It’s lengthy and wordy, but there will be a jolt of capital letters at the end.  In other words, it will be “worth it”.  (your interest is still not piqued?…it’ll be WORTH IT…you in?…good).

My grandfather, like most men of his generation, was in the Service during World War 2.  While in the Marines his superiors took notice of his accurate shot and decided to train him as a sniper.  Back in the day, the best way to ensure a steady shot was a tight strap wrapped around the middle of the left arm.  He trained for six months until he had earned a sniper’s medal, and was deemed ready to be sent to battle.

About to be shipped out to Okinawa, Japan, he was paid a visit by one of the high-ups in the Marines (I’m sure there’s a title that’s impressive but it’s escaping me).  Walking down the line, this high-up was saluted by each and every Marine, who would present his gun and show that it was unloaded before spinning it around back over his shoulder.

It was my grandfather’s turn and when he went to place the gun back on his shoulder he dropped it. 

“Barnard!  Pick up that gun!”

Frantic, my grandfather picked up his gun and attempted to finish the salute again without dropping it this time, but had little choice in the matter.  That morning, his wrist had gone completely limp.  He had trouble opening his fingers, and extending his arm until it was completely straight seemed unusually difficult.  He dropped the gun again.

Now I’m not a military expert or anything, but I’ve seen enough movies to know that dropping your gun is one of the worst things you can do.  This is the thing that is protecting your life, and you treat it with the utmost respect.  The gun is your best friend.  Now over the years I’ve punched my best friend in the face, stolen his bike, and eaten his food, but never have I just carelessly dropped him on the ground.  My grandfather’s actions were so despicable, he got the impression he was going to be court-martialed.

Something that is curious about war is that people don’t always necessarily want to fight in them.  Even in World War II, perhaps the last time our country was truly unified in our opinion of the mission, there were some people who just didn’t want to go fight and possibly die.  Understandable. 

So here was my grandfather, looking like some kind of yellow, spineless war-dodger.  He underwent a week of psychological profiling along with the more relevant medical testing.  The Marines were informed that he was not in fact trying to squirm out of the war, but was truly unable to move his wrist.  His radial nerve appeared to be damaged.

Years later I would undergo more advanced medical testing, and his story would make a bit more sense.  He had a genetic disorder, which must have been the result of a mutation somewhere along the line in his family.  It results in a deficiency of myelin sheath, the outer coating of nerves.  When a nerve is compressed, myelin sheath acts as a guide in it’s regeneration.  With a deficiency, regeneration gets slowed down big time.  So that strap that was steadying my grandfather’s gun was also compressing his radial nerve, and once it was cut off it would take a solid five months to come back.

It’s similar to multiple sclerosis, except that it isn’t progressive.  In other words, it’s as bad as it’ll ever be.  I got the gene passed down to me, and it seems to affect me more than anyone else in my family.  Over the years I’ve battled with it in six major instances, and a whole bunch of minor ones. 

When I tell people about the disorder, I usually get concerned eyes.  As much as I appreciate the concern, I can’t help but look at this disorder as a blessing.  It always tends to happen to me when I’m not taking care of myself.  So it’s kind of a motivation to take care of myself (which seems to be hard to find these days).

But even better than that: It’s the reason I’M ALIVE.

Holy crap!  What is this kid talking about?  He busted out those capital letters he promised long ago.

When my grandfather was affected by the neurological disorder for the fist and only time, it prevented him from being shipped out to Okinawa, where his entire company was killed within two weeks.  If he didn’t have the neurological disorder, he would’ve been with them, and no doubt would have perished.  Instead he spent four months in physical therapy, and by the time he was ready to go the war was ending.

Ain’t that some shit.

So what does this have to do with going to the gym again?  Good question.  More next week…TUNE IN!

Sorry.  I just figured if I used capitals it’d jolt you enough to want to tune in next week….

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