The Rogue Voice


September 01, 2007

View from a stationary bike

Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

The other day the owner of the gym and an employee plastered blurry designs on the front window of the workout room, blocking views from the outside, so that guys like me can no longer ogle the babes

I’m going to consult Bruno when I’m ready to have my hip replaced, or my arteries re-routed, or my gizzard removed, or my cataracts scraped off. He's had it all

Every day above ground
It’s better than the alternative

View from a stationary bike

By Talmadge Jarratee

I’m in the workout complex, churning away on the stationary bike, trying to work a crossword, absorbing the generic background music and conversation behind me. Joe and Bruno.
“So, how yah feelin’, Joe?”
“Well, uh, a little better, Bruno, I guess. Every day above ground, as they say, is a good day, I suppose.”
“Oh, not always, if yah know what I mean.”
“Oh yeah, I know what yah mean. By the way, how’s Howie?”
“Goes under the knife tomorrow.” Bruno and Howie are workout pals and spend most of their time bashing Bush and Cheney, claiming “they got the country by the balls!” “He’s down for a while, Joe.”
“Well, you give him my regards now!”

There’s a lot to see and hear in the gym. People don’t just work out. The gym has replaced the marketplace as a gathering spot to talk of family, work, deals, illness, weather, politics, and gossip. There’s a coffee and smoothie bar, a TV foyer, a kiddie room. Folks pushing carts in gigantic supermarkets are often in a hurry, plagued by cellphones, nagging kids, or too absorbed with finding deals to stop and pass the time of day. Shopping, instead of a festive occasion to look forward to, has become a grim chore, while working out in the gym can become a social event, even a day’s highlight.

“So who’s cuttin’ on Howie, Bruno?”
“Dr. Pritchard.”
“I guess he’s the guy, if you’re gonna have a bypass, huh?”
“Oh yeah. Now, if you’re gonna have a hip or knee replacement, it’s Dr. Blasengame.”
“I heard Schmanski’s good, too.”
“Well, yah know, for every good one, there’s a butcher. Remember Bert? Used to work out here? They put him in the hospital for some tests. His heart. He was dead in three days. Goddam cardiologist was a quack. They killed Bert.”
“JESUS, what a shame. Bert, he was a nice guy, a veteran.”
“Right. We’re dying off right and left, Joe.”

Next the to the exercise machines, directly across from my bike of choice, is a spacious, windowed workout room, where yoga gurus, martial arts and Pilates instructors, and fitness trainers conduct classes. The yoga gurus wear skin-tight outfits and stretch in graceful, swan-like poses, jutting out their sculptured, rock-hard asses and thighs, and the sight of them makes it difficult for me to concentrate on my crossword, newspaper or book. The gals are usually young, and I’m old, so all I can do is look. Some of the middle-aged babes in these classes look good, too, working hard on their bodies and spiritual essences and attaining a glow of health and radiance new to our world. A smattering of guys take these classes, and look absurd to me as they stretch and contort and peek at the girls and their guru. I could never take a yoga class. Too much like falling into formation and conforming, like the Army, or football practice, where I had a hard time and was considered an outcast.
The other day, the owner of the gym and an employee plastered blurry designs on the front window of the workout room, blocking views from the outside, so that guys like me can no longer ogle the babes, who no doubt complained. I’m sure I’m not the only male who’s sat on this strategically placed bike to gawk at the yoga girls stretching and posing. Oh well, it’s just another goodie they’ve taken away from us, like everything else. Pretty soon they’ll take this particular bike out. You see, this is the one remaining “old model” bike after the gym installed new “state-of-the-art bikes” with up-dated, intricate computers that pretty much inform you of everything about your physical condition, including whether you’re going to have a heart attack. These bikes have various control devices too complicated for me to operate, so I’ve stuck with this lone remnant on which you hit two buttons and stay on the same course for 40 minutes.
The new bikes are arranged in a row of eight, with TVs above them, and head phones; and behind the new machines are rows of stair-climbers, mountain-climbers, treadmills, etc., which I try to avoid. Dozens of health-aspiring citizens grunt and groan in misery to relieve themselves of stress while seeking some measure of endorphin high, weight loss, and physical fitness. A good thing, surely, for the working class or retired.
If I could somehow learn to operate one of those new stationary bikes I’d be able to glance sideways and observe the yoga girls, because they have not yet blocked out the side windows with blurry designs. I’m sure, if the owner, a sort of friend of mine, saw me churning away on one of the new bikes he’d go right to work on blurring the other windows. As if the babes in there don’t want to be noticed and admired. It’s my contention that 95 percent of them do what they do so lechers like myself can gawk at them and be teased and tormented.
But, mercifully, this gym is not like gyms in tony enclaves, where there are mirrors at every turn, and those working with high-priced personal trainers and nutritionists, clad in designer workout togs, keep their eyes to themselves, as if they’re NOT noticing the stares of competitors; and especially the babes who’ve been cosmetically transformed in the lips, chins, noses, asses, legs, breasts into virtual alligators.

“Know who I haven’t seen in a while, Joe?" Bruno asks, sounding worried. “John.”
“You know, John. Always on the treadmill. Bad back. Kinda hunched over. Bald. A little, well, fat.”
“The wife always came with him.”
“Yeah, little gal, limped with a cane.”
“A cane?"
“Yeah, John. You use to talk to him all the time.”
“Jesus, I can’t place him. What’d he wear?”
“Sweats. Always dark, like, uh, gray.”
“Sweats? A wife? A cane? John? Jesus, Bruno, now yah got me goin’. I won’t be able to sleep tonight, wondering who John is.”
“Well, yah never know around here. Maybe we won’t hear from him again. Anyway, Joe, I gotta go do my treadmill.”

I’m going to consult Bruno when I’m ready to have my hip replaced, or my arteries re-routed, or my gizzard removed, or my cataracts scraped off. He’s had it all. Bruno, who saw serious action in the South Pacific during WWII as a Marine, drove a car from Washington state while suffering chest pains to a hospital in Santa Cruz, his wife pleading with him to stop at any hospital along the way, but Bruno kept driving to his favorite hospital, and sure enough he had to go right in for a multiple bypass, for he’d driven some 14 hours suffering a heart attack.
Occasionally, besides Bruno and Howie, I have visitors at my bike—usually guys who eschew the weight room, which is an entity all its own. I’ve never had the stomach for lifting weights and the agonized grunting and yelling and narcissism that goes with it. Body-building reminds me of Arnold Schwartzenegger, who, now that he is governor, Bruno also despises. An exception is Isadore, a brawny Detroit trans-plant who wears old, faded, very baggy, unmatching sweats. Izzy, who holds some mysterious and questionable livelihood in the realm, spends hours in the gym and visits almost everybody between heaves and grunts and pedaling.
“So how are you?” he asks. Everything OK?”
“Yeah.” I’m panting. “And you?”
“I think this is our year. The Lions are gonna make their comeback this year. I like our draft choices.”
“They drafted more receivers. They stink. They’ll continue to stink. You’re dreaming, Detroit is a losing city, and you know it.”
“Well, we got the Tigers.”
“That's all Detroit’s got.”
He laughs, slaps me on the back, walks off, a man with the ferocious profile of an Israeli commando.
Across the way is Sean, churning away on one of the new exercise bikes. Sean, a muscular, middle-aged, mid-sized whippet of a man, rides his bike harder than anybody in the gym, or any gym. Sean works so strenuously, makes so much noise, sweats so profusely, performs so manically, that people steer clear of him as they would a leper. Sean is in his own world, headphones attached, water bottle nearby. Sean suddenly lifts off his seat and surges in the standing position like a Tour de France cyclist dashing for the finish line, neck corded, grimacing, gritting his teeth. He sits back down but continues to press on for an hour, nonstop, until his workout shirt looks as if he’s worn it into the shower, and puddles have formed on the rubber mats below him. Nobody is in better shape than Sean, who, once off the bike, returns to general high-strung normalcy. Sean is my idol.
I, too, am an abnormally profuse perspirer, and, like Sean, perhaps feared as a psychotic personality. I make noises, too, especially when I’m hungover and purging my system of Jack Daniels, Skyy vodka, or Miller Genuine—take your pick. Sean is finished now. Everybody who uses a machine is expected to wipe off their sweat and germs with these little soggy antiseptic towels found in buckets, and it takes a while for Sean to wipe up his area, which is, truthfully, flooded. He does a scrupulous job, actually getting down on his hands and knees with extra paper towels to mop and dry and erase any remaining evidence of his presence, perhaps realizing nobody in the gym would want to ride that particular bike after Sean’s hellish exhibition.
He’s still dripping sweat and panting slightly as he walks by me, a little glazed and detached from his submersion into oblivion. When I ask him how it’s going, he jerks his head toward me, eyes still wide and distended.
“Great! How are you?”
“OK. What’s Bush gonna do next, Sean?”
“They oughta impeach the idiot before he does anything else to ruin the country! They impeached Clinton? This crew, THIS crew…” Sean is now beside himself as he disappears into the shower room, brought back to earth by my instigation and plunged into his stony hatred of Bush and Cheney, whom he compares to Rasputin.
Now Bruno, done with his mild treadmill workout, is beside me, looking concerned. He wears the same outfit every day—white painters overalls, red long-sleeve undershirt, sneakers. He has white hair and a neat Van Dyke beard. He nudges me, and there’s a sly, wistful glint in his eye as he nods toward two high school girls who walk past us in form-fitting spandex workout togs.
They are this new breed of young girl—sexy jock. In my day, female jocks looked masculine, were marked as lesbians. Now we’ve got these little dolls in eyeliner and glistening ruby lipstick who develop their asses and thighs into a sight so delectable that a guy like Bruno, in his 80s, can’t take his eyes off of them.
“Jesus!” he murmurs. “Will yah look at that? Did they ever look THAT good when WE were in school?”
“Speak for yourself. I’m 63. But no, hell no, Bruno, they NEVER FUCKING LOOKED THAT GOOD, if I do say so myself.”
“There oughta be a law against those outfits, Tal.”
I crane my permanently stiff neck to catch a rear glimpse of these two as they pass, nearing a class of octogenarians moving in slow motion to exercises led by another fetching young female employee of the gym. The two commerce to lay down on a rubber mat amid the old folks and stretch together. What amazes me is that they’re not so muscular as to ruin their natural curves. Perfect specimens.
“I better get the hell outta here,” Bruno says. “The wife’s got lunch ready for me.”
Brune leaves. My 40 minutes on the bike end. I’m soaked, sweaty. My cross-word is half-finished. I remain on the bike, panting. Sometimes, when I come here, and somebody else is on this bike, I feel a territorial impulse to kick that person off, especially if they hog it for too long and lollygag with visitors while I impatiently wait. Get off my goddam machine! Go use the ones over there! That’s the only bike I can use!
As I wipe it off, the owner of the gym, a strapping, robust, splendidly conditioned middle-aged jock, always in a good mood, drops by. “Know why we blocked off the view in the yoga room?” he says. Gleeful. “To keep YOU from staring in there at the girls. Ha ha ha!”
His finger is in my face. He walks off. §

Talmadge Jarrettee is a recovering alcoholic who works as a rehab counselor in Santa Cruz.

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