Tuesday, May 22, 2018

True Colors

I found myself in an odd, but strangely familiar, situation today. I had eaten a healthy steamed chicken and broccoli entree for lunch, but I was still hungry, so about two hours later, after a bit of light shopping, I stopped by a McDonald's drive-thru, then pulled over into a parking lot to eat my second lunch, because honestly, I just couldn't wait any longer. That alone was bad enough, but the really sad thing was that the lot where I was wolfing down my food was outside an LA Fitness gym. I sighed and resigned myself to errant behavior, but soon, the addictive flavor of the french fries washed over me and erased any sense of guilt I might have had. That's when I noticed them.

Two young men stepped out of their vehicles, stopped to say hello to each other, and headed into the gym. Both were rather heavily tattooed, with buzz cuts that gave them a rough and ready air. They strutted into LA Fitness, muscles a-blazing, and it was then that I remembered that once upon a time, I sort of walked in those shoes. Of course, there were a few differences. For one, I don't have any tattoos. (I got a temporary lizard tattoo on a 2007 weekend trip with friends after we had consumed a very large amount of light beer, and it scared the bejesus out of my friend Neharika, whose childhood home in India had been plagued by lizards. Since that time, I have not messed with tattoos.) Also, my haircut is a simple 3.5 clippers "do" that is very easy to maintain but still has a Baby Boomer One Step Removed look about it.

My commonality with the two modern gentlemen harks back to 1988, when I spontaneously decided that a) I needed to take more vitamins and b) I needed to get more exercise. A new gym named Sportslife was opening in the area, and they were signing up people at an attractive introductory rate. I braved it one evening and headed over. The very first thing the trainer did was to line us all up and give us a fitness evaluation. The group numbered about ten, and we were pretty equally distributed by gender. We were asked to perform various calesthentics, including a series of push-ups and sit-ups. Sit-ups have always been a weakness of mine, and I only made it to about eight or nine. The young woman next to me, on the other hand, attired in a brilliant yellow outfit with coordinated leg warmers and matching shoes, did 25 without missing a beat. She didn't even look tired. I realized at that point that I had a long way to go.

To make a long story short, I joined Sportslife and became a regular. I worked out three times a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, for about an hour and a half per session. I was religious in the order I did things and cycled through a combination of circuit training, cardio, and free weights that just made for the perfect workout. I began to see results, and that was encouraging. At one point, I could set a StairMaster on its 8 out of 10 setting and easily climb for 20-25 minutes. If I tried to do that now, paramedics would need to be on call. Yet, I was doing this three times a week and feeling absolutely incredible. But the exercise alone wasn't the whole experience -- part of it was a visual thing, and here's where I contrast the experience with that of today's gyms.

Sportslife was a product of the 1980's, and if you actively participated in the 80's, you remember such things as bright colors, form-fitting attire, Big Hair, and color-coordinated scrunchies. The gym itself was architecturally stunning, and everyone in it looked at least somewhat happy, even though, let's face it, we were all glistening profusely. On any given day or evening, the place was populated by a dedicated group of exercising fools, dressed in every color of the rainbow. And this didn't apply only to women -- we men had our own scintillating array of duds. I owned a nice pair of Nike white and teal training shoes, three pairs of stretch athletic tights in black, blue, and purple, and t-shirts in a plethora of colors. You would think that I would have stood out like a sore thumb, but I didn't. This was because Joe Schmo, weighing in at around 250 with biceps the size of Staten Island, would also be wearing a brightly colored outfit, as would all the other guys who made their way through the locker room. Drab was out, flash was in, and it was a grand time. I was in the best shape of my life, and honestly, I felt like a million bucks.

But somewhere in time, many people, and especially men, began to be fearful of color. We all remember how 80's neon gave way to 90's grunge, so it wasn't just a gym thing. Over time, I had let my Sportslife membership lapse, so when I once again joined a gym in the late 1990's, first a YMCA and then some years later, LA Fitness, I noticed that everything had taken on this monotonic variation of gray and black. It wasn't just the clothes, but the people, too. No one seemed to really smile at gyms any more. The atmosphere had become street-ready and aloof, and it made me uncomfortable, so I let it go and started walking for exercise, which I've maintained to this day. Who knows? It may turn around, and we may find ourselves back in a convivial workout universe. I would like for that to happen, but I'm holding on to a memory, I guess.

I still have those purple workout tights. They only measure about a foot across at the top. Every few years, during a clothing purge, I'll try them on, just for old time's sake, but I just can't bring myself to give them away, because they remind me how good I felt back then. I can't wear them for any measurable amount of time, because my circulation would be cut off, and given my recent experiences with eye issues and kidney stones, I just don't need anything else. But you know, I still think there's a special place in the world for spandex.