It was required at IS70. One horrible hour each week that was set aside for humiliation, pain, and embarrassment, not to mention physical harassment. Junior High at its best.
The gym at IS70 at the time was considered state of the art; it had high bars, a track, ropes to climb, weights to lift, mats to wrestle on – in short, all the instruments of modern day torture. I always felt I got all the exercise I needed running from the muggers on Eighth Avenue, that I didn’t need any further conditioning, but the faculty thought otherwise. So we were forced to wear short shorts, sleeveless jerseys, smelly sneakers and the dreaded jock strap for that one hour each week which was Gym period.
The horror began in the locker room, where besides having to remember the damn stupid combination to my Master lock, I also had to dodge the cruel beat downs and sexual harassment from the goons that attended the school but were way older than me because they had been left back so many times. And that was before I even entered the actual gym.
And there, a couple of wanna-be jocks who ate fried food for lunch like it was somehow going to vanish from the earth at any moment, would tell us about taking care of our bodies and becoming a real man. The way to that questionable result was through fun things like sliding down a rope I couldn’t climb, watching my skin peel away with each inch, falling head first through the parallel bars when forced to do a forward roll, having one previously mentioned goon delight in pinning me to the mat in what was supposed to be a facsimile of a wrestling match, and the pain of a barbell smashing into my throat or chest because it was way more than I could handle, and the jerk who was supposed to be my spotter, was looking the other way.
Then, of course, there were the organized sports where I was put on a basketball squad with five other seven-foot Gargantuans and told to slam dunk a shot against an equally large opposing squad. Slam dunk? I could barely throw the damn ball. Or how about the football practice where I was told to shadow another pituitary aberration as he flattened me into the waxed floor on his way to an imaginary goal line. Or when I was told to bat against a clearly deranged future murderer as he threw a hardball at my head, not the pitching zone mind you- but my head – cause that was way more fun than throwing a strike.
Let’s face it – it was condoned violence all masked as the path to being what some chucklehead had decided was what made a fine physical specimen of a man. I didn’t know what was happening in the girl’s gym behind the folding wall but I was sure I would have liked that better and made a hell of a lot more friends. There were no friends made in the boy’s gym, just victims. Because you see, the bad kids-the bullies, would remember me as the weakling that couldn’t climb the rope or had his jock strap on backward, or as the guy who actually had the brains to duck that ninety mile an hour fastball that the future murderer had thrown at me.
And when you were marked, you were marked. And that just led to more beatings and more harassment.
Recently I tried joining a gym in the pointless hope of getting into better shape and losing a few pounds.
But as soon as I walked in, there was that gym smell; that horrible combination of human sweat and wax, of sweaty mats and unbound testosterone.
I turned around and never went back.
I am sure part of my aversion to physical exercise was born in those putrid locker rooms of IS70. I can walk the whole expanse of the Gettysburg battlefield and not break a sweat, I can traverse the entire city of Philadelphia without getting out of breath, but I will never step foot in another gym in my life, what’s left of it anyway. The difference, of course, is one of purpose; the exercise in Gettysburg or the city is incidental to something way more interesting; the exercise in a gym is at best boring, at worst a waste of valuable time.
You, you go lift weights, ride your stationary bike, do your stretches, and put the miles on the treadmill.
Me – I’ll sit here, read a book, have a smoke and a glass of bourbon and be happy in my un-sweaty, out of shape body.
So pass the bottle and the ashtray and I will see you later. Cheers!