Chapter 17: The Gym

I am now a gym rat.  I know several people who read this blog and have known me since childhood have already fainted.  Please pick yourselves up off the floor and work with me…

I will readily admit, until I was in my late 40’s, I did everything I could to avoid the gym.  It was the source of too many bad memories of “not belonging” and being inadequate as a conventional guy.

I was always intellectually competitive, but I missed the physically competitive gene.

I hated gym in Junior High School, in High School and I feared it would make it impossible for me to graduate from Washington and Lee University.  W&L required five phys ed courses…

I’ve just never been athletic.  I have always hated exercise.  I was genetically blessed for many years.  My waist size stayed the same from College until my late 30’s with no more exercise than “flicking my bic” and mixing a cocktail.

To be blunt:  for almost 20 years the most exercise I got was lighting a cigarette or mixing a drink.  And I still looked great!  Then I turned 40…

I will again call attention to the fact that I was raised to be presentational.  Our family motto was always:  “It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look.”

I had a mixed history with exercise.  My father had this weird idea I should be athletic.  I think it was projection.  My Aunt Goldie always said:  “I’m was amazed your Father wanted to marry Lou.  He always spent his time hanging out with the girls.”

I’ll not comment further on that at this point.  Another day, another blog.  But it’s safe to say, he was no athlete.  But he was determined that I should try to be one.

What a mistake….I was much happier watching Bette Davis movies on the 4:oo Movie.  In the Air Conditioned House.

I never understood “outdoors”.  It was pleasant to look at, but not somewhere one wanted to spend their time.  Hadn’t we evolved past that?

There are family movies of me at age 3 or 4 and my Father throwing a football at me.  And of me looking at it like “what the hell is this?”

One of our neighbors on Layton Avenue was an “All American Boy”.  Eagle Scout.  He came by a couple of times to try to get me to do the football thing.  I always suspected my Father paid him.  Or he was working on a Merit Badge.  It didn’t work…

My parents kept trying.  I took every class you could take as a child.  One of which was Horseback Riding at Ms Wiseman’s Stables.  I was actually enjoying that and was learning to ride fairly well.  Until the first “Parent’s Session”.

All the Parent’s came to watch us ride.  All was well until my Mother screamed at me from the fence:  “Don’t walk so close behind that horse!  It might kick you and kill you or make you retarded!”  I was so embarassed.  That ended riding for a few years…

In Junior High School, there was the 600 Yard Dash.  I couldn’t run it, much less dash it.  And I didn’t even smoke then…Coaches could not understand why.  I’ve never dealt well with straight men screaming at me incoherently.  Another reason I failed as an early jock…

And I hated the locker room.  It was smelly.  So many of those boys, even from good families, didn’t understand my standards.  “If you wore it for more than 15 seconds, you had to wash it before wearing it again.”  Some of those guys thought 15 seconds meant 15 weeks.  It was gross.  I can’t tell you how shocked I was.  They were like animals…

I got through it with my friend Frank.  We would stand in the far outfield during softball games and discuss truly interesting subjects such as the current theatre season in New York and the latest Bowie album. Someone once actually had the nerve once to hit a ball in our direction.  We did not understand what we were supposed to do with it…or why “our team” was pissed that we thought we were bowling…it was all sports, wasn’t it?

High School was next.  I still vividly recall explaining to the Coach that I could not do the trampoline because I had braces.  I was afraid I might get them caught in the webbing and either break them or my teeth.  I think he was so amazed at my chutzpah, that he let it go…

Then came college.  As I said, W&L required you take 5 phys ed classes and that one pass a swimming test.  I failed the swimming test my Freshman year because I was too hung over from the Freshman Keg Party at Natural Bridge the night before.  But it was a blessing.  It was an easy way to knock off one of those 5 requirements.

I took horseback riding again at a Stable in Brownsburg.  Twice.  I took Racketball.  Anything to avoid a group gym environment.

I took Ice Skating at The Homestead.  That was my favorite.  My friend Bob and I would drive up to The Homestead on Thursdays.  Get our instructor, some guy we called Sonya Henning, see MGM films of the 1930’s to understand, to punch our attendance card.  We would skate around the rink once to fulfill our duty.  Then go drink in the bar at The Homestead and smoke cigarettes for a couple of hours before heading back to W&L.

Such was my history with Physical activities…

Then a couple of years ago, I had a realization.  My waist size had snuck up on me.  I didn’t look like I wanted to look when I looked in the mirror.  I saw a stranger…I was approaching 5o…

And I heard my Mother’s voice in my head:  “You know he will leave you for someone younger and prettier.  They always do….”  She was always so supportive….

I broke down and went to the gym.  It was traumatic. But I worked through it.  I took Steve with me.  That helped immeasurably.

It was a journey.  I had always tried to avoid sweating.   It’s so vulgar…

But I discovered I actually liked the Gym this time.  I was ready for it.

Admittedly, I would not have made it if I had not had Clint, my personal trainer, to teach me the ropes and make me feel comfortable.

But I did actually started to like it.  I now go at least 3 times a week most weeks.  More some weeks.  It’s a fairly upscale gym.  I’m comfortable there.  It’s not some “stand and model” gym.

It’s just a bunch of middle aged guys and girls like me who realize we just have to get over the past and do this for our own good….It’s not optional any more.  We have to work at it to try to hang on to our looks and our health.

I hate being a realist…

I’ll never love the Gym.  If I could lay on the sofa and smoke and drink and still be thin, healthy and happy, I would.

But I can’t. I now know I have no choice but to work at this…

I just can’t understand why I work this hard and don’t look like I did 20 years ago…That’s still how I see myself in my mind.

Maybe they should get rid of all those mirrors…

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6 Responses to Chapter 17: The Gym

  1. Pingback: Chapter 17: The Gym | My Southern Gothic Life « Lost in the 21st Century

  2. Van says:

    I agree…get rid of the mirrors! I still hate to exercise, but I know I should! Another great blog!

  3. David Cobb says:

    Fat and forty. I know the feeling. It took me 3 years and 30,000 miles on the bike to get down to 180. The drinking had to go and I don’t like the gym, but I go there during the winter, when i can’t ride.

  4. Carolyn Thomason says:

    Love your stories Scott – didn’t know about the Homestead, that sounds like it was fun!

  5. Scott M says:

    Carolyn: The Homestead was a blast! If all phys ed had been like that, I would have started years earlier. Bob and I had a lot of fun doing that….

  6. Ray in MD says:

    Very funny! Fellow W&L grad, but a weekend warrior until my arthritic body started failing me.
    Trying to avoid neck surgery now & may have to do some serious working out before &/or afterwards. If so, I’ll remember this story & chuckle.

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