Sunday, July 20, 2008

When in Rome

I go to a gym in the small town closest to my house. It’s a decent facility, equipped with the standard free weights, machines, treadmills and bikes.

The atmosphere is, however, far different from where I worked out in Los Angeles or the clubs in Vancouver. In L.A., I belonged to Sports Connection, the West Hollywood club commonly referred to as Sports Erection. In Vancouver, I joined Denman Fitness and then Fitness World, both in the West End gay ghetto/mecca. The previous gyms were cruisy…or so I’m told—I certainly have no personal experiences. I grew accustomed to enjoying the scenery between sets: smooth, tanned, glistening male bodies with muscles bursting from skimpy, yet trendy lycra outfits. A look was a form of flattery to feed their already sizable egos. The music was the latest in dance or pop. Madonna was always in the mix. Step and aerobic classes were subscribed to based on the popularity (er, hotness) of the instructor. Basically, a trip to the gym was an experience much greater than that exercise in futility whereby I longed for any sign of growth in my own muscle mass.

In my small town, I go solely to workout. There are no fitness classes. You got yer weights, you got yer machines…go to it. There are a surprising number of muscular men, but they have more machismo in their hangnails than I have in my entire being. I catch them eyeing themselves in the mirror, rather than the physiques of others. There is no lycra or spandex. Cargo pants rule. Still. As for music, if it’s not the classic rock station from Vancouver Island, it’s AC/DC’s greatest hits. I actually get excited when they mellow things out with a ZZ Top tune. Oh, yeah, she’s got legs, she knows how to use ’em…

I do my best to fit in. I have corrected that old habit of kicking out my pinky finger when I sip from my water bottle. My shorts go below the knee. I watch the score ticker on the constant feed of the sports channel. It’s much safer than peeking at a guy’s biceps while he’s mid-curl.

I am also overly self-conscious. The biggest employer in town is a pulp and paper mill. This is True Blue blue collar. (Madonna references still slip in.) On the treadmill yesterday, the television monitor closest to me aired golf—not my thing, but I didn’t notice it was on until I was at a full running pace. Ten minutes into my run, the golf suddenly ended and a show about scrapbooking took over. Oh, my! Who was responsible for that one-two punch of programming?

The gym was fairly empty for a Saturday afternoon: just a hulking guy with a Regina Fire Department t-shirt, a guy with biceps bigger than my butt, and a shady, baseball-capped dude with tattoos running up his solid calf muscles, down his triceps and covering his neck and, I presume, his entire back. And me in my matching black Nike outfit with the CK athletic socks. What would they think if they passed by? It was golf, I swear! The scrapbooking popped up out of nowhere, guys. A quick glance at me and there was no way they’d buy my story.

After a couple of minutes of glancing in disbelief as the screen ran flashing messages like “At Last! No More Die Cutting!” I paused the treadmill and changed the channel to an all-news network. Whew!

Just in time as a new person—a still fit guy in his fifties—arrived, glanced at the screen and then asked for permission to change the channel.

The sports channel with the ticker scoreboard once again. In a small town, change is a slow process.

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