I was in the gym locker room yesterday, brushing my teeth after a hard workout.
“You’re not doing yourself any favors.”
I slowly turned to the right, unsure of whether or not the comment was directed at me. Sure enough, standing five feet away from me was a stout, spectacled fellow of about forty five years, his attention firmly focused on my brushing technique. He took the cue to continue from what I’m sure was a dumbfounded look on my face.
“I know you think you’re doing a good job, creating all that foam, but it’s not doing much of anything.”
“Oh” I began, searching for the right words, “uh, what is the, uh…?”
“What you wanna do is brush the gums at a forty five degree angle, you’re gonna get the teeth in the process.”
I do my best to execute this approach, with an “is this right?” look on my face.
“You’ve gotta take it easy, you’re still brushing far too hard. I mean the way you were brushing before was ridiculous. Way too abrasive.” Perhaps thinking he had offended me, he added “I mean, I don’t mean to…”
“No it’s fine, no one ever really taught me how to brush my teeth, so…”
Confirming my suspicion, he followed up with: “I always tell my patients, brush the gums at a forty five degree angle.” Further adding, “But I’ve gotta take my hat off to you, you were really brushing away..I mean, Jeez!”
This was his exit line, which he couldn’t help but say with the chuckle he’d obviously been repressing. During the entire conversation he was standing right where the counter of sinks ends and the hallway leading to the weight room begins. He was obviously on his way to work out when my amusingly appalling brushing-technique forced him to make a pit stop. As he exited I did my best to show my gratitude with a “thank you”. I continued brushing, pleased with the free-yet-unsolicited Dental Consultation I had received.
Now you’ll notice in this story that I was in fact the person that was being laughed at, not vice versa. I got a membership to LA Fitness back in November, and something has been different this time around.
In “The Gym: Part Two”, I talked about my neurological disorder. It’s some shit. I had a major episode this past summer, one that made me realize that I needed to step up and do something about it or it would forever mess with my life. Just like the first time it happened to me when was nine years old, I compressed the radial nerve (much like my grandfather had in World War II). I woke up the morning of my first rehearsal for “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and it became apparent that the physical comedy that Billy Shakespeare called for would be pretty tough to pull off if I couldn’t even open my left hand. I dropped out of the play and took a few weeks off to visit family and think about what the heck I could do to solve this life-long problem.
In my last post, however, I referred to the disorder as a blessing. Not only was it the reason I was alive (as I pointed out in capital letters), but the disorder always seemed to hit when I was not taking care of myself. In the months leading up to this particular episode, I wasn’t sleeping much, I was carrying tons of stuff with me every day, using a one-strap bag as opposed to a nifty two strap backpack with the strap in front, and I was stressed out in general, trying to accomplish far too many things.
So taking care of myself would be important. Yada yada. What the hell does that even mean? Most people I know that take care of themselves need a slap upside the head. “Get a job! Life ain’t a Spa Retreat!” How do you pay rent AND take care of yourself (ah, the capital letters come back into play). This was the conundrum that I would be ruminating over during my time away from the city.
Something that had occurred to me a few years earlier was that repetitive motions are very dangerous. In general they’re not good for you, but with my compression disorder the negative effects are exaggerated. For my grandfather, training as a sniper included putting compression on the same area of his arm day after day, which ultimately led to his episode. For me, doing the same weightlifting exercises week after week have taken their toll on me, especially in my legs. Yoga? Same thing. But therein lies the “damned if you do” motif: being in shape helps my body stay healthy and strong, decreasing the amount of compression I’m likely to put on my body, whereas working out generally requires you do the same kind of things week after week, increasing the compression I’m putting on specific areas of my body.
What had occurred to me a few years back was that in an ideal world, I’d exercise regularly but in as many different ways as possible. I wouldn’t do the same repetitive motions as often, and I’d stay strong and healthy.
Ah! But there’s the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room that reached into my back pocket with its trunk and ate all my money. Stinkin’ elephant!
Anything that’s going to get you in shape is going to cost you a ton of money. The only hope you usually have is unlimited passes or regular member discounts, although the best way to go is doing it at home. But once you’ve invested in a DVD or some sort of machine, you’re kind of limited as to your options.
“Well, I bought this stair climber. It’d be pretty idiotic and irresponsible to work out in any other way.”
This is why year after year I was doing the same things over and over. The cheapest gym would have the least amount of equipment, locking you into the same exercise routines. I got a yoga mat and a DVD – damned if I was going to pay 12 dollars per session. Not to mention, all of these options include no guidance whatsoever as to the proper use of your body, which can make you prone to some pretty serious injuries. One of the only ways to provide that is:
The personal trainer!
Ah crap, like I’m going to be able to prevent myself from laughing at Gerald, the Personal Fitness Consultant, let alone afford him.
It was during my 3-Day Trial membership at LA Fitness that it all came together. A few of my housemates go there, so I tagged along with the Guest Pass. I walked into the door and before I could blink my eyes I was sitting at the sales desk, being pressured to sign up for a membership by a glossy lady with a penchant for High Fives.
“Well, I’d just like to work out for the three days and see how I like it.”
“You’re awesome, Jesse!” she replied rather matter-of-factly, initiating the third of what would be seven High Fives during my visit. I was tempted to ask what it was about me that she found so awesome, but refrained as I suspected the explanation would necessitate an onslaught of “up-tops” (three was already way beyond my limit, given my state of sobriety).
I finally freed myself from the (high-fiving) iron claw of the Sales Desk and headed towards the weight room. It’d been many years since I’d lifted weights, so I was pretty excited to be back in an environment I spent so much time in during previous years of my life. I maintained full stride as I checked my pectoral-to-rib-cage alignment, but something in my peripheral vision caught my attention…a yoga class.
I’d heard of this before. Living in New York City, the only gym that was even close to affordable had the bare essentials when it came to equipment. In Manhattan you don’t just go dedicating space for people to stretch out unless you’re charging them a pretty penny. But the concept wasn’t completely foreign to me: classes offered at the gym.
I wandered over to the doorway and noticed a schedule posted. Whoa. Lots of classes. Aqua fit? Don’t you need a pool for that? They had a pool. Ah jeez, I thought, this place must be expensive. But I quickly remembered what Andre told me he paid and how it didn’t seem so bad (35/month), and all of a sudden it occurred to me that this varied workout plan I had always dreamed of might just be possible. Space is not as hard to come by in Los Angeles, nor are fitness experts. The teachers at these places were likely to be very qualified, so I’d be in good hands in terms of using my body properly.
That’s when I rack-focused to the classroom itself, which was in plain view of the rest of the gym via the giant windows. What began as giddy, boyish excitement abruptly transitioned into stark, cold reality.
A roomful of attractive women save for the one effeminate man with a tucked in sleeveless shirt and matching headband. I thought of all the movies in which men dress up as women and do womanly things. Tootsie. Mrs. Doubtfire. White Chicks featuring the Wayans Brothers. It always seemed to be so enjoyable for those characters to find themselves in close proximity to lots of women without any men around. This could be that exact kind of situation except for the fact that I wouldn’t be in disguise, and there’d be giant windows that every guy that walked by would be looking through.
So there was one little wrinkle in my ingenious plan to keep my nervous system healthy. It’d be the most emasculating thing I’d ever do. Countless guys would walk be sneaking glances of the pretty girls in Kickboxing Class, only to see me, front and center, hopefully without a head band on, kicking away. What would they say? Would it be monosyllabic? Would it contain the word “Mary”?
I can only imagine the laughter I have induced for the many meatheads that work out at the seven different locations of LA Fitness I go to. I’m happy to report that I high-fived glossy lady and got myself a membership, initiation fee waived. I mix it up as much as I can, mainly taking classes but supplementing it with the weight room. My nervous system has never felt healthier, and I’ve never enjoyed working out more. But more important than that, I don’t have to live in the constant fear of laughing at a meathead and dealing with the subsequent altercation it provokes. No, no, this isn’t a problem for me at all anymore…
They laugh at me.