Monday, January 22, 2007

January Notes

Been getting spanked at work, and wrapped up in various CD-making projects, thus haven’t had a lot of time to write. But I’ve been noting a few things over the past weeks.


Last Friday on the train, there were three bums on my subway car. I’ve written before about the bum wars that were fought in the late 80s on NYC subway trains, the penchant a lot of Bronx natives had for being brusque, to the point of physical violence, with these guys when they splayed themselves out over a few subway seats on crowded morning rush-hour trains. There were exponentially more bums back then – a few times, literally, they’d take up an entire subway car.

Well, there were three this morning in Astoria, and none of them stank, which is a rarity. I normally don’t see a lot of homeless folks these days on the train, but I guess with the colder weather, they’re looking for a warm place to sack out. Since there was no smell, I had no compunctions sitting directly across from one, a very big middle-aged white guy, obviously homeless by his clothes, but he was quiet, kept to himself, seemed a little ashamed. You look at someone like that, you see yourself on days when shit isn’t going your way and empathize. I had no problems with the guy.

But to get on that train, you’d think that guy was covered in burning shit. People would step on at our doors, take one look at him, register a mild frown, then bolt out of the door, or make a beeline for the other part of the subway car, which was packed with these arrogant pussies, so you had a car that was one-third SRO commuters, and two-thirds me and three homeless guys. Just ludicrous, and I got some insight into how it must feel to be homeless, that feeling of alienation beyond invisibility. Most of the people who blanched had that “not from New York” vibe about them – I’m not from New York, but have lived here long enough to know that demeanor when I see it. Homeless guy, doesn’t stink, minding his own business? Shit, I’d rather sit next to that guy than some little cellphone asshole, or my favorite, the Café Car people who eat and drink on the train, as if we all want to smell their toasted everything bagel and have them splash coffee on us.


January in the gym can be a pretty ragged time. Why? New Year’s resolutions and what must be gift memberships galore. Thus, the gym gets filled with people who really don’t want to be there, and they probably sense regulars grasp this and wish they’d go away. And most of them are long gone come mid-February. How many times in the past few weeks have I gone to the gym, only to find the circuit weights clogged with first-time users with a bad habit of zoning out on machines, so much that I’ll do two sets of 20 repetitions on two different machines, only to find them still spaced out on their piece of equipment, as if they were strapped into an amusement park ride that was broken.

Gym culture is a strange bird to begin with. In January, you get a lot of new people who, you can tell, just aren’t going to stick with this “working out” thing. I’ve never been much for resolutions – you can make one any time you want. But with gyms, January is always that special time, when people tell themselves, this is the year I get buns of steel, or six-pack abs. Six-pack buns of steel?

Something I’ve learned in my adult life: if you didn’t work out in any meaningful, self-regimental way as a teenager, chances are good you won’t do so as an adult. The key word in that sentence is “self.” Plenty of people went out for high-school sports. But if you didn’t have any urge to work out on your own, chances are as an adult, you won’t either, especially without that sense of a social status attached to it.

How many times have I seen people in my life who I knew never worked out, burn brightly in the gym for a year or two, then walk away and never work out again? A lot. Gyms and physical exercise just make sense to me, and they must if you’re going to incorporate them into your adult life. I didn’t like high-school sports, but I was a serious runner as a teenager and well into my adulthood. It was nothing for me to go out and run, and I mean a sub-six-minute mile pace, for six or 10 miles at a shot. I wish I could get back into that habit, but I just don’t have the time or inclination to get up early and run in the dark. (The only times I run now are when I go back to Pennsylvania, and I still have no problem doing seven miles a day for the 3-5 days I’ll be back there per visit, albeit I’m much slower now.) I also lifted weights three times a week as a teenager, but I think I was running so much that I found it virtually impossible to make my body bigger. (And now I wish I could be that thin again!)

As an adult, I find it very easy, and preferable, to work out nearly every day. It’s just a given, a solid gym membership the one luxury I allow myself. Another way to look at it: if you liked gym class in high school, you’ll have no problems going to the gym as an adult. I loved gym class – unless we were doing square/disco dancing or gymnastics (which are impossible to do correctly without serious training). The whole idea of it – getting into uniforms, engaging in sports I was good at, letting off steam in the middle of the day. About the only downside was taking showers with guys who were uptight about their penis sizes and whatever stray sexuality issues your average teenage male has in spades. (I don’t mind getting naked in front of other guys in a locker room, but I have issues with guys who take way too long getting dressed – any guy who dawdles in the locker room is either checking out cock or just plain weird.)

I just had a boxing class on Sunday that had 20 people, where we normally have from five to 10. The initial burst of ass-kicking calisthenics the instructor always does knocked out three of those people. Three more left after the shadowboxing portion, where you simply follow the instructor doing combinations. They all had that exasperated “don’t know I’m doing here” look as we went through the most basic of combinations. (The class is like a one-room schoolhouse with people functioning at all levels of expertise.) The rest stayed the course, but I can guarantee you maybe one or two of those people will come on any sort of regular basis after that first class – it’s just not something a casual gym-goer is going to do. These are January people, although we will get the occasional jam-packed class like that throughout the year, with the same predictable results.

I don’t want to portray too negative a picture. Frankly, if someone joins a gym in January, is raring to go, looks like they want to be there, has some idea how to use the equipment, I’m fine with them being there. Even with regular members, you get plenty of bozo behavior, especially from weightlifting guys, which would be better served by a life-threatening ass-kicking. But they seem perfectly content in their magical little worlds, in which some guy challenges you to a fight in a bar, and you bench press him in response.

The most human situations I see in gyms are when you get someone who’s really overweight either doggedly jogging on a treadmill or trying to use the equipment. Like the homeless guys on the subway train, they’re invisible to most of the people in there, because their physical presence is such an anomaly. The dorky “personal trainers” who wander the gym never talk to these people, as they’re too busy hitting on attractive women. I suspect a lot of them feel weird in the environment. But the truth is it’s an environment where it’s better off to be invisible, or so much a part of the place that they function within the environment without anyone else noticing. That’s the key to getting along and ultimately doing well in a gym.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

I will put up a very mild and minor defense for those people who scram when they see homeless men on the train.

Usually, they do smell. You know that. You took the time to sniff and, discovering they didn't smell, grabbed a seat. If they smelled like BO, piss & shit (as, alas, they often do) would you have stayed there? Of course not.

The other people just didn't bother to check -- figuring it'd be quicker just to move.

I know I myself have taken a seat on the subway without noticing a homeless person. Got settled in, and then nearly vomited from the above-mentioned odor.

I'm not proud of the behavior, but, yes, I usually leave these people alone as soon as I see them on the train, strictly for my nose's sake.