I am a regular at the gym. Not because I actually enjoy it, but because I force myself to go for fear of what my life (and body) will be like in ten years if I don’t; acquiring diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol is a scary concept to me. In med school and in college generally, you tend to eat some really horrific food combinations, and I probably would have died of a heart attack at this point if not for the gym.
I know how to cook healthy meals for myself, but I prefer making excuses and following a herd of classmates to the McDonalds connected to the medical school I attend. If I had time for scheduled intramurals and/or the required hand-eye coordination to participate, I would take up a sport or join a kickboxing class. However, since just walking without tripping is difficult for me, the gym is my only other option. But even that hasn’t worked out well; forgetting to tie your shoelace before you speed up the treadmill can result in a terrifying life-flashing-before-your-eyes moment.
Ah, the gym: a sacred breeding ground of awkward times. For naturally awkward people like me, it can be an especially uncomfortable experience. I found that the best thing to do is to take a buddy with me so I have someone to cringe with or to blame in case of any unintended accidents, (like dropping a 30 lb. weight on a new elliptical machine). Let’s face it, the gym is incredibly boring, but clumsy people like me make the atmosphere there more interesting; I just pretend everyone is laughing with me. What follows is a list of the different kinds of people I’ve noticed over the years at my gym. I’m curious to know if these people frequent other gyms, too. Perhaps they only come out to bother me?
1. The super old and very nice gentleman in bright red short shorts: When he bends over, you can see his wrinkly… I just gagged thinking about it. Just don’t look at the… situation. The dude’s old. He’s lived this long, so he’s allowed to do what he wants. Besides, it’s not like he’s doing it on purpose. This scenario is made even more scary when you pay closer attention to his face and recognize him as your undergraduate advisor. True story.
2. The roid-rage guy grunting loudly as he lifts what looks like a 400-pound weight: He will look you square in the eye as he is lifting said weight, simply to assert his alpha male dominance. Everyone is wary of him because he looks like an overgrown ape. He is usually found walking around like he owns the place and generally being an attention whore; he tends to wear tight sleeveless shirts that show off his bulging muscles and the colorful dragon tattoo on his bicep. He probably hits on #3 (see below) multiple times before growing confused at her unresponsive, apathetic existence. He growls under his breath if someone is in front of him at the drinking fountain and his smile looks like a hyena sneer. Whatever machine I want to use, it’s guaranteed he’s already dripped his nasty man-sweat all over it. The antibacterial wipes are on every wall for a reason. I admire his strong arms from afar while hating him at the same time.
3. The girl in tight booty shorts, a neon pink sports bra and full makeup: While the guys may enjoy this view, I question the practicality of it and grow more irritated as time goes by. Her hair is curled and she leaves it down and occasionally whips it back and forth like she wrote the Willow Smith song. She sways at 0.5 mph on the treadmill flipping through the latest Vogue with a lazy French manicured hand; I huff my way through a resistance 9 workout on the elliptical next to her while she shoots me disgusted looks. I feel self-conscious about my frizzy sweaty hair and then I snap back to reality. Sorry, I thought we were supposed to exercise in a gym. Isn’t that what I’m paying for? My bad. I do, however, like her nails. But I will not tell her that, because she is a useless person.
4. The middle-aged woman on her phone screaming at her husband while simultaneously peddling along on the exercise bike: I find great entertainment value in this. When I bring an exercise buddy along we usually put our headphones in our ears and don’t turn on the music so we can eavesdrop and shoot each other raised eyebrows. Yes, we are shameless, and that is your fault, for bringing your business with you into a public setting. Everyone can hear you tell your man that he needs to start washing the skid marks out of his own underwear. That’s not private at all. Please, continue to air out your dirty laundry. Who needs television when you have people who don’t understand boundaries?
5. The couple who works out together: They hold each others’ legs during sit ups, they trade dumbbells back and forth, and are never more than 3.5 inches away from each other. Why don’t they just run on the same treadmill too? This would all be fine if not for the fact that I see him reflected in the mirror in all his sweaty glory, groping her ass furiously with one hand while lifting a 40 pound weight in the other. I could just avert my eyes, but of course, as soon as he puts down his weight she jumps into his arms and their sweat combines and sparks fly…all while I’m right there. This wouldn’t be as bad if I wasn’t the only one in that particular section of the gym but as it happens this situation always occurs when I’m alone with the loving couple. Watching people have a tickle fight/humpfest on the mat where I’m about to do my situps throws a wrench into my workout. When he sits down on the bench to do some lifts and she straddles his lap with a seductive giggle, I feel my eyebrows rise on their own. When they disappear into the bathroom together, that’s when I know I’ll never use the gym restrooms again.
6. Creepy man who smiles while using the thigh machine and watching you jog on the treadmill: He is usually in his forties, balding in the middle of his head only, and wearing a sweatband. Because I am a girl, I am very uncomfortable when this happens. As luck would have it, I usally don’t have my buddy with me when he’s around. At least when there are others he’s an equal-opportunity stalker. I try half-smiling back and averting my eyes quickly to avoid giving any suggestive hints even though I’m afraid my breasts are doing that already. I slow my speed down a bit and hunch over to disguise my bouncing breasts, and then he circles around me to lift—because of course the station is directly behind me. Then I get to watch him in the mirror which is always on the wall in front of me (who wants to look at themselves as they run for an hour? It’s either humiliating or distracting, sometimes both) as he gets his own private show, thanks to me. Since I’m usually 45 minutes into my workout by now, I refuse to leave, attempting to stick more strands of my hair to my sweaty face for him to notice how gross I look at the moment. Alas, his eyes are focused on a different part of my anatomy, and my face does not matter.
7. The overachiever who runs a half marathon every other day and gets frustrated with you when all the machines are taken up: This is usually a woman in her late thirties, lanky, and with an attitude like my high school gym teacher. Her bitch face is constantly on because she is convinced she is superior to you due to her negative one thousand percent body fat and the fact that she eats only celery for dinner. She is wearing her heart rate monitor and it beeps loudly, irritating everyone in the general area. She will stare at you as she taps her foot impatiently, occasionally walking in a giant circle around you to see how much time you have left on your workout. Why doesn’t she target the people on the other machines? Perhaps your frightened demeanor in the face of her dog-like persistence is the nourishment she craves (because celery is negative calories, the woman must be hungry). The key here is to not be afraid. She can’t hurt you (in the gym). Maybe walk quickly to your car after you’re done and don’t loiter.
8. The asthmatic with glasses who might just pass out if he lifts one more 10 lb. weight: You can’t help but feel sorry for this guy as you pray you won’t have to call an ambulance for him. His heavy breathing and tomato-red face is a possible indication that he should stop, but he is too motivated. Good for him… but damn you’re seriously worried. He coughs a few times and you slow down on whatever exercise you are doing, watching him with undisguised interest and anticipation. But no, he is okay, and he decides to start stretching in preparation for a run on the treadmill. Now you’re fully invested in what’s going to happen next. As he gets on the treadmill he almost always hits the wrong button first, speeding up to 9mph in five seconds and panicking quietly to himself. As he manages to find the right speed, you see him settle down and, reassured that he is safe, you turn back to your own workout. But wait! There he goes, slowing down to 1mph and a gentle walk as he wheezes into a towel. Poor guy.
9. The thirty-something guy who comes to the gym in jean shorts and a collared work shirt: What the hell? He usually cycles furiously on the exercise bike for fifteen minutes then abruptly walks out. This is an intriguing person who varies in his demeanor: he can be jovial or he can have angry eyes and mutter under his breath the entire time.
10. The talker: This person will strike up a conversation with you even if you have a large book propped up and your iPod playing Lady Gaga songs at top volume. It’s usually a woman, and she usually has cropped grey hair with an accessory in it. Usually, she’s wearing a matching tracksuit of some sort. She will talk into your ear if she has to, perhaps even pull out an earbud to ask what you’re reading and what you’re listening to. She will tell you about her children, maybe her grandchildren, perhaps her day at work and on occasion, her late husband. She’ll inform you that the government is on the brink of collapse and the world is ending in 2012. Then she pulls out an interior design catalog and shows you how she’s planning on redoing her kitchen. You hear about the granite countertops that will replace the old 80’s style vinyl ones. You learn more about her grandchildren. Finally, you can’t take it anymore, and instead of pushing her off the treadmill, which would be a truly bad thing to do, you excuse yourself politely to the other side of the gym where you find something, anything, else to do. Just when you think she’s found someone else to chat to—you turn around and dear God, there she is again, grinning maniacally and waving the latest Redbook at you.