Sunday, January 1, 2017


I’ve been working out for almost three decades. I’ve belonged to nine gyms and dropped in to countless others. But I’ve never gone to Gold’s.

It’s not my kind of place. I’m muscle-lite and they’re muscle-max. We don’t mix. That’s why they have their very own gym. Keep the scrawny dudes out.

But I’m out of sorts. Vacations will do that, mostly in good ways. (Yep, I have no idea what day of the week it is.) The problem is that I have to work off my holiday donut fat—please don’t tell me you can get them all year—and my feet are blistered out from a string of jogging days. So I needed to find a gym.

Gold’s was a three-block way. Convenient. But convenience is when you need a Slurpee. (I’m trying to tell myself I never need a Slurpee.) A gym requires more thought. It’s where I’m vulnerable. Exposed chicken legs. Bad form lifting (sorta) heavy objects. Endless stream of sweat dotting my t-shirt. If I get noticed at the gym, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

No Gold.

I Googled “Venice gyms” and that damn Gold’s popped up again, along with a handful of yoga places. My official line is that yoga isn’t real exercise. In truth, I can’t do it. I was the kid who always bent his knees when having to touch his toes in kindergarten. I can’t even keep my balance doing the Hokey-Pokey.

Definitely no yoga.

So I found L.A. Urban Fitness and located it on Google Maps. Close enough. But then their website revealed it was only a store for vitamin supplements and protein powders. And downing two gallons of chocolate-banana protein smoothies won’t even begin to cure my donut gut. Even if I vomit the chalky concoction.

So I had no choice. I’d be the fool at Gold’s. I mentally rehearsed my entrance as I left the hotel. Go forth with confidence. You have every right to do your workout. Just say no to steroids. You will never see these people again.

I remained composed, even as I saw a cluster of motorcycles near the entrance. Harleys? (Is there another brand?) Gang members? Would they swarm me inside and taunt me with some aggressive bicep flexing? Okay, so I dwindled to semi-composed. I blame my parents. They instilled a fear of motorcycles and people with tattoos. (My father was an ER doctor. He’d often come home from work, sit down for dinner and gravely say, “I never want to see any of you on a motorcycle.” Maybe he’d seen dead people. Maybe he just didn’t like the noise on the commute. My mother was more concerned about ink infections and bad grooming. “Those beards! Oh, if I could just take my scissors to them.”)

I forked over my $25 drop-in fee. (That’s got to be about $400 Canadian.) My parents also taught me to get good value for my money. Now I couldn’t leave.

I immediately went to the cables. No one was on them. A coup, I thought. They’re always busy at my gym. But then I glanced around between sets. And it dawned on me. These guys don’t do cables. Free weights only, man. A few sets in, someone joined in at the lat pulldown cable beside me. A woman. With biceps twice as big as mine.

Three decades at gyms. You can do this.

I’d expected a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. Jimi Hendrix. Metallica. That guy that eats bat heads. But perhaps I was confusing steroid gyms with small town facilities. It was hard to hear the music but rap seemed to predominate. Angry. Motivational?

Sit down and shut up.

I don’t give a f*ck about nothin’.

This is me crushin’.

Shut up. Shut up.

When I finished my cable work, I couldn’t find the 65-pound barbell to do curls. Searched and searched. And then another epiphany. They don’t stock 5s. What’s the point? Increase by 10 every time. Like the big boys. (I stuck with 60. This was not the place where I wanted to scream in pain over a muscle cramp.)

Last time I was worked out in Los Angeles, it was at L.A. Fitness. They had palm trees painted on a wall. The subliminal message: If you exercise hard enough, you may be able to go to the beach and shed your turtleneck. But Gold’s doesn’t mess with subtleties. The walls were covered with photos of Speedo-clad Mr. USAs or Mr. Worlds. I may never wear a swimsuit again.

I tried not to stare at people. But I had no wifi on my phone as I didn’t want to pay international roaming charges. (Again, my parents taught me to get good value for my money. I couldn’t justify any urgency to reading about Trump’s latest tweets.) Glancing at Mr. Worlds had caused enough damage and it got boring staring at the time on my phone so I turned people watching into a little game. Like counting blue cars or state license plates, I tried to entertain myself by searching for someone scrawnier or flabbier than me. It was tougher than the New York Times Saturday crossword, but it prompted me to wander into other rooms at the gym. And I dared to look closely at a couple of muscle men. One short, stocky guy’s bald head showed off a maze of protruding veins. I wondered what a Venice fortune teller might read into his noggin. You have a long love line. But I see lots of turbulence. I mistook another bald man as wearing a blue-gray swim cap. And then I realized it was a mass coating of ink. It fascinated me. Only a square area that included his eyes, nose and mouth was tat-free. Where did he work?  What does his mother think? Does he go through extra screening at airports?

These wonderings helped pass time between sets. I grew more comfortable. I gave up the need to find someone scrawnier. I even said, “Excuse me” to a guy leaning on the leg press machine I wanted to use instead of meekly deciding to skip legs for the day. I watched as many guys worked out with a partner and yakked too long between sets. Just like at my gym. I noticed one workout buddy videotaping the other. Okay, not like my gym.

I realized these guys were possibly as messed up as I am, spending way too much time exercising. They just had more to show for it. I don’t ever want the kind of bulk where I can only fit my legs in pajama bottoms and sweatpants—not that that’s even in the realm of possibility—but I had to give a nod to the dedication of these men. They had their own goals and I’d say they were meeting them. I’m sure that some of them will never be satisfied, always comparing their bodies to someone “better”, always being hyper-focused on a millimeter of flab on the big toe or slightly asymmetrical calf muscles, but much as I like to be dismissive, they weren’t born with six-pack (twelve-pack?) abs and biceps bigger than my thighs. They achieved something.

And so did I. I spent ninety minutes in a gym with several dozen men I’d never be able to look in the eye. And I left being slightly less defensive, a tad less judgmental and a trace more connected.

I didn’t firm up my pecs or trim my tummy, but I maybe I got something more out of my Gold-en opportunity.  

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