Wednesday, January 26, 2011


There's a cluster of middle-aged men at the gym who tend to hog the benches. They laugh too loud as they work out. They bray like donkeys and it distracts me, with my ear buds planted firmly in each ear canal, the music turned up so loud it starts to hurt after the second or third station.

They chatter and make jokes, talk about football, basketball and God. Politics used to come up, but they don't really agree so they don't talk about it. Everybody wants to be pals. They move from station to station like a herd of Galapagos turtles.

I am a soloist in the gym. I stick to myself, try not to gawk too much (not that it's really a problem in a place where some mornings I am the youngest guy in the room) and do my best not to draw any attention.

Three days a week, I lift weights. The other two days, I climb a machine, swing my arms and legs and quietly work toward a heart attack. This wouldn't be a bad way to go. It would look like you tried.

I think I've come close once or twice.

I am an angry exercise enthusiast. This is where I come to work out my rage, my aggression, my endless frustration and my ever-present sorrow. I do penance for the sins I have committed --both real and imagined. I do penance for the sins I have not committed --both real and imagined. I do not do it for love or for vanity or really even for my health, except to say that I need this. It has become my raft.

Pain is my constant companion. I overdo it and stay sore, particularly over the weekends after a leg workout. In high school, I used to dread squats. Now, I hate them, but I do them. The pain is a comfort. It is shelter against the numbness and the cold pit of indifference.

By accident, the exercise clears my head. Lying on a bench with a weighted bar slowly approaching my throat somehow quiets the noise. The crushing pressure of iron on my shoulders, pushing me to my knees, lances and drains the poison in my mind. This is where I find peace these days.

It lasts barely the length of a single day.

Watching the turtle men, meandering through their workouts, wasting time, laughing like a squad of junior high cheerleaders, I can't help but feel a little envious --not for their little morning communion, not for their fraternity, but that the weights I lift seem so much heavier.

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