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This One Doesn't Even Have Sweaty, Half-Naked Men


I have become a person who Goes To The Gym. It's like I don't even know myself any more. Throughout the years, a few pieces of my identity have remained solid and impregnable. Amber: loves dogs and cheese, thinks light bulbs are made of magic, avoids the gym. Before this month, I hadn't set foot inside a gym since 1997, when a friend dragged me to the massive college athletic center where I managed twenty minutes on quivering, untoned legs before bolting in a panicked but geriatric shuffle toward the safety of the bagel shop.

The link up there does nothing to convey how intimidating that place really was. I found the wilds of New York City far less frightening than I found that gym. My memory is a confusing, dream-like jumble of images where people did unconscionable things perched on proud descendants of the Iron Maiden, where a beige running track stretched into purgatory, and hordes of sweaty young men played basketball on a court sunk deep into the earth. You'd think I would have enjoyed that part, the sweaty half-naked men part, but all the testosterone and yelling just made me back away and search for a suitably large plant behind which to become invisible.

To sum up, if you looked at the 17th-century seafaring map of my life over the last fifteen years, any sections that might have contained a gym would be plastered with "Here Be Monsters."

I'm actually pretty athletic. I like moving my body. I'm always happier when it's working daily. I enjoy realizing that I'm stronger than I thought I was. I like to sweat. But I've historically preferred to do so in a dance or yoga class - i.e., any exercise where I've paid enough money to be there for an hour that I won't walk out the second it gets hard.

When I look back on life patterns, my happiest periods were always when I was exercising daily. It would be stupid of me to ignore the fact that Moving My Meat Suit = Happier Me.

But going to a gym honestly never occurred to me. Why do that when you can do...anything else?

My first week in LA, I was handed a guest pass. Okay, sure. I'm all about trying new things these days and I've always been drawn by the allure of the free. I walked out of my first gym-based yoga class feeling like my brain had been given a sedative. All the machines looked mysterious, but in a gentle, encouraging way. Instead of the way that makes you suspect your flesh will be chewed up and unceremoniously spit out because your BMI is unacceptable. The locker room was clean and kind of fancy. All the people seemed normal and mostly sane. I was confused, but warily entranced.

Turns out, gyms aren't so much a modern-day gauntlet that charges a monthly membership (instead of gamely doing it for free like the Native Americans) as they are a nice place to go everyday and take classes that become practically free because you're going every day like a crazy person. Because I look forward to going to the gym. EVERY DAY, LIKE A CRAZY PERSON. My little haven of sweat and happiness. Who knew?

All this makes me wonder what else isn't as scary as previously believed. Speaking in public? Diving off a bridge with only a skinny piece of elastic anchoring you to life? Baking bread?