Another week of hard graft slips by: gym, pool, skate-park (watching The Halfling whizz around on his scooter avoiding all the teenagers on their myriad selection of human powered machines), seeking out leafy shade and being obsessed with my latest project. Oh and I’ve added to the word count of R&M#6.
Because of my day-care responsibilities I’m not getting the flying start to this ‘writers’ year that I would have liked but I’m not complaining. Life is good. That’s really what is important. I just need to keep my writing ticking over for now.
No pool stories to relate this week (big sighs of relief all round) but I have got a couple of gym tales to tell. One a bit embarrassing for me, the other one of the most horrible accidents I’ve witnessed in my time on Earth. I’m still hearing the noise on a loop when I’m lying in bed praying for sleep to numb my senses.
The program of fitness training has been tailored to my individual needs (one stair at a time, go slow and breathe deeply). I hadn’t been to a gym in over thirty years and so was naturally unfamiliar with the way things have changed, moved on, become more… technical. (I remember that the gym of my younger days had dumbbells filled with sand. We thought they were pretty high-tech.) The fitness coach gave me a tour, a quick demo on the apparatus and a printed exercise program and left me to get on with it with a Turkish version of any questions I’ll be outside smoking.
Luckily the program detailed things in pictures and numbers. I took a long moment to study it. In truth the Big Mac I’d scoffed on the way hadn’t fully digested and I was buying my system some extra time. I felt my brow furrowing as I read through what he’d given me to do. It started with a ‘warm up’ of ten kilometres on the running machine, the idea of which got me sweating like I was half-way through it. That was followed by the suggestion that I move on to bench pressing one-hundred kilos – three ‘reps’ of twelve. I remembered what a bench press was. And I couldn’t see any way that I’d be able to bench press the bar with a bag of sugar on each end let alone what was written in front of me. I thought that one of us had made a terrible mistake. I went to speak to him. He didn’t look too impressed at having his chain-smoking interrupted while he was chatting up the aerobics instructor. He looked at my sheet and apologised. He’d given me the wrong one. I dread to think what would have happened to me if I’d been British and just got on with it. Death by bench press probably while my ‘instructor’ was swapping phone numbers with the Green Goddess (look her up if you’re not old enough).
He gave me the correct one and I got on with it. A kilometre on the running machine (one hour eleven minutes and thirty-four seconds.). It’s early days. I have high hopes of managing a sub-one hour time before Christmas. It’s all about personal goals they tell me.
I bravely struggled through the ‘leg extensions’, the ‘leg curls’, the ‘leg curl lying’, the ‘sled vertical leg press’. It was hard work. He’s suggested that next week we put some weights on the bars. I can wait.
Next up was the ‘cable lat. pull-downs’ exercise. Here’s a picture of that for those who are as unfamiliar with the modern gym as I was. (It’s not me by the way. Not yet.)
Just as I was about to start my first set of ‘reps’ I noticed a clutch of young, lycra clad Turkish beauties had formed a line behind me. They looked like they wanted to use the machine. (Why couldn’t they have pitched up one minute earlier?) Well I was there and settled. I had to get on with it. There would have been no valour in any discretion.
I’m a man and not much different to all the others. After my initial horror at the thought of being watched attempting something I hadn’t ever done before on a contraption I wasn’t remotely familiar with I thought I’d better try to impress them. In my defence it’s in our genes. Nothing I can do about it. I moved the pin that selects the weight one is intending to work with to something a little more ambitious than the weight the instructor had scribbled on my sheet. A couple of deep in and outs. I reached up and gripped the rail. Flexed my fingers like a concert pianist doing warm up arpeggios. A couple more ins and outs as I completed my psyching out of the machine and I applied what I hoped would be the necessary pressure to encourage the bar to come down as the weights went up. Nothing. The bar didn’t move a millimetre.
I released it and fiddled with the Velcro fastenings of my new fingerless gym gloves, like that was the problem. (I don’t know what animal’s hide they are made out of but the smell they give off is so bad I’m not allowed to keep them in the house. [I did notice that people near me in the gym were checking their shoes, which gave me a ripple of amusement.] I was leaving them outside the apartment front door until just about every Tom cat in the neighbourhood was turning up keeping everyone awake with their sexually frustrated fighting. Serves me right for buying cheap leather driving gloves from the bazaar and cutting the ends off the fingers instead of shelling out on proper fingerless sports gloves, I suppose.)
I didn’t turn around but I heard some sniggering. I moved the pin up one. Went through my routine again, with more pleading hope in my heart than was decent for a man of my age, and tried again. Nothing. Not even a hair’s-breadth. More chuckling behind me. A bit louder.
I went through this process twice more and realised I was in danger of running out of weights. And still the bar would not budge. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
When I got down to the final remaining five kilo weight and couldn’t move it, despite straining admirably for several long seconds, I thought I was going to die of shame. I was also sweating like I’d done that ten kilometre run. The noise of the laughter had risen in volume with every failed attempt.
As I sat contemplating my miserable failure one of the young women took pity on me. She stepped up and pointed out that I hadn’t unhooked the bar from its resting place. (If you look at the image again you’ll see it.) I mumbled my thanks.
I stood and freed the bar, then sat back down on the stool with the intention of getting it over with as quickly as possible. I was so preoccupied with the tit I’d just made of myself that I forgot the weight was still set at only five kilos. I yanked down on the bar with everything I had. The bar came down and caught me on the chin (an inch higher and I’d have needed a dentist) while the single five kilo weight rocketed up to crash with a deafening metallic clang into the frame of the machine. I was conscious of a lot of people stopping what they were doing and looking in my direction. It went very quiet. Someone nearby tutted. Behind me there was a vanity-crushing peal of laughter.
I left the machine and went to attempt my sit up. As it only involved a rubber mat I felt confident it would be something I’d have few technical issues with.
On my third visit to the gym I was feeling a lot better about things. At least the equipment side of things. Physically I was a wreck. Mentally I was demoralised. I had no idea I’d become so… infirm.
It was on this visit that I bore witness to the horror that still haunts my dreams.
I was between ‘reps’ and resting against the machine that was responsible for my pain and misery. My attention was taken by an old, track-suited woman settling herself on a padded stool that was part of a contraption designed to exercise the inner thigh muscles. I was more than a little interested to see what this frail-looking old bird could do. She gave me hope.
The idea of the machine’s function is that the user selects a weight and then grips two opposing, spring-loaded, cushioned arms between the knees and prevents them from opening by applying and maintaining pressure with the inner thigh.
As the old woman reached to release the safety catch that would enable her to commence her exercise I noticed that the pin which selects the weight was set to something with three digits. Then I remembered that the last person I’d seen on that machine was a huge, hairy giant with legs like tree trunks, not sparrows, like hers. The warning stuck in my throat as, smiling a little bewildered smile, she released the catch.
They said her pelvis snapped like a Christmas Turkey’s wishbone. The crack of splintering bone and her accompanying shrieks were the last sounds I heard before things became a bit… indistinct. (I think I’d over done it on the rowing machine.) Later someone joked that she was probably the only person in the world who’d ever been able to touch the outside of their knees together. I think he was exaggerating. I hope he was, but I can’t be certain. The image burned into my retina is off her legs opening up like a pair of inverted nutcrackers, approaching an angle of one-hundred and eighty degrees at speed. They also said that she had been sitting on the machine wrongly and that she shouldn’t have even been near it. Apparently it was her fault. I haven’t seen my chain-smoking fitness instructor around for a few days either. Someone always has to take the blame. Heads must roll. It’s a cultural thing.
The machine’s got duct tape wrapped around it now, sealing it off. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t there next week. There’s a big stain on the carpet underneath the seat. I couldn’t be sure what made it but I don’t think it would take much guessing.