Guest Post Week: Zdeno, Part 4

Frost’s Note: This is more like it. Zdeno came to me, begging for an explanation: “W-w-whyyyy didn’t they like my post from this morning?” You know that face kids make when they’re doing an awful job of pretending they haven’t been crying? Yeah. So I told him, “Bro, you’ve got potential. It’s just, no one gives a shit about your thoughts on determinism and all that gay shit. Go write something about your honest experience with life, and let readers learn what they can from your observations and experience. That’s all you can do as a young writer. Now go out and do it well.”

He came back just now with this post. I kinda like it. Give the kid a few years and he might make a half-decent blogger. Handsome and charming as a dickens too, if I may say.


I spent my lunch hour today at the gym across the street from my office. It’s a simple, compact affair, heavily economized in its use of space, split into three roughly-equal sections of weights, floor mats, and an aerobics area. The walls are heavily mirrored and it has three scales in different locations, at least two more than could be required by any practical consideration. Every weekday, the gym swells for the morning, lunch and evening rushes, as hundreds of my colleagues and coworkers pour into the sweaty, crowded, clanking dungeon.

It’s easy and depressing to guess at a person’s life story while watching them work out. The forty-five year old woman in the skin-tight, two-piece matching outfit, her taut body carefully sculpted by hundreds of hours, reps and sets. Are her efforts inspired by the need to “win” the divorce with her ex-husband, unaware that no amount of tae-bo classes will make him doubt his decision to leave her for a 27-year old? Or were her salad years spent drinking and partying away her youth, surrounded by ego-inflating male attention that left her unable to settle for any of the mediocrities still willing to give her a second glance once the sagging and creasing began?

A man, and I use the word loosely, in his early of mid-twenties, spends an hour and a half each morning, six days a week, punishing his joints, tendons, and soul, fighting to add a few pounds to his frame, a quarter-inch to his bicep, and a girlfriend to his Facebook profile. How rigid is his diet and supplementation regimen? What pleasures, social and sensual, has he forgone in pursuit of achieving 195lbs (6% body fat) rather than 180lbs and 10% body fat? How strong will his hatred of women be when he realizes they remain uninterested in him?

In the suburban gyms I have spent time in before, I have witnessed the terrifying sight of children – not late-teenagers, but actual children under parental supervision – working out. What future is there for a boy of twelve, coerced by his father into after-school weight training and protein shakes for breakfast? What could possibly be going through the mind of the mother who, upon noticing that her pre-pubescent daughter has put on a few pounds, prods her on to an elliptical machine, rather than signing her up for a soccer league?

If I wasn’t so afraid of them (whatever they have, it might be contagious) I’d ask these people why they were here, spending so much of their precious little time one Earth in such a depressing place. Of course, we know what the answer would be:

“Health! I’m working out to stay healthy!” They’d say. “You can’t knock a guy (or woman, or child) for wanting to stay healthy, can you?”

OK, sure. I’ll buy the health explanation from the 40-year-old who spends a half hour on the treadmill, three times a week. Maybe they do some light weights too, because their doctors told them it was a good idea. I think they’d be better off, physically and spiritually, going hiking with their friends, tobogganing with their kids, or having sex with their spouses, but I will at least grant that they are trudging away to extend and improve their lives. The question then becomes: How fractured, lonely, and atomized has our society become, that the most popular form of exercise is the monotonous, low-intensity self-torture that goes on under the soul-sucking fluorescent lights of GoodLife Fitness? Activities that make your heart pump faster are not hard to find. Dreary hours on the exercise bicycle are the norm because we have chosen to make it so. Because we are sick, and for whatever reason our desire to connect with other people is so weak that we prefer a solitary workout over game of touch football.

And though I concede that the health benefits of a sane gym schedule, while easily attainable at a lower psychic cost, do exist, it is something other than health that drives the especially zealous. The gaunt 100lb menopausal woman addicted to step classes and the 21-year old power lifter with the equivalent of seventy years of mileage on his knees and shoulders are no healthier than the potato-chip-munching, soda-swilling video game aficionada – health takes on many forms, as does its converse.

The more self-aware gym-goers, particularly the younger ones, will admit that their goal is to increase their worth on the mating market. That’s certainly the justification I use for my twice-weekly half-hour workouts, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to look healthy as a means of attracting members of the opposite sex. But it’s a sad reflection on the reality of the contemporary dating scene, that we find it necessary to invest so heavily in our bodies. I can’t even fault the exercise-addicted men and women my age – I think they’ve accurately assessed that the people they want to impress are going to be won over by a well-cut figure, more so than intellectual or artistic accomplishments, a diverse social circle, or close ties to a supportive family. When so much of our courtship rituals occur on the dark, vodka-filmed dance floors of clubs and bars, there’s rarely time to explore anything deeper than a person’s spray-tanned features. The natural response of rampantly hormonal young adults is to adjust their efforts in self-improvement accordingly – more and more time at the gym.

Regardless of their motivation – sex appeal, an unhealthy desire to be unnaturally healthy, or just the need to distract themselves from an otherwise boring, lonely and unconnected life – the characters in the gym are a uniquely depressing bunch, shackled by sweatbands and malaise.

I’m taking tomorrow off.