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The Miami Gym: A safari

I’m grateful that gyms exist; without them, I’m sure I would have turned to messier alternatives for stress relief, such as pooping in mailboxes and shouting at small dogs. But the more time I spend there, the more I can’t help but notice that gyms are their own miniature ecosystems, with different characters playing unique and wonderful roles. So come with me on a social safari through Your Local Gym.

“Alligators pretending to be logs”

If you’re me, the process of entering the gym is a very simple one: I walk through the doors, have my membership card scanned, and proceed to have my ego deflated as I lift relatively tiny weights next to a genetic hybrid of Enrique Iglesias and The Incredible Hulk. But if you’re an attractive girl, then you’re obligated to stop, smile, and chat for a few minutes with the guy behind the desk because he’s like, so happy to see you here! Isn’t that weird? Seeing you here? You know?!

Speaking realistically, you can only be so surprised to see somebody when they show up at the same time every day. Also, it’s a little suspicious when you’re only surprised to see the people the people with wavy hair, high cheekbones, and ≥B cup. It’s even more suspicious when you come over to see how a gentle walk on the elliptical is going, and just happen to strike up a conversation about favorite colors. And “suspicious” goes right out the window after lines like “How do you manage to work out and smell so good?” You might as well just take things to their logical conclusion and start talking about how the bottle of warm tequila in your cupboard at home is filled with anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

My analysis is that the male gym staff have tried to adopt the strategy of many successful predators, by camouflaging themselves and lying in wait. Unfortunately, their motivations are utterly transparent, and their camouflage is mediocre at best. It’s sort of like watching an alligator pretend to be an innocent log, only it’s wearing clown makeup and a tragic honka-honka nose – and it’s trying to convince you to let it spot you real close while you do squat-thrusts.

“Mosquitoes at Sundown”

These are some of my favorites, partially because they’re a little hard to catch. You have to be in the right place at the right time – but when you are, it’s breathtaking I’m talking, of course, about the crowd of early-to-mid 20-somethings that swarm the gym like a Biblical plague on early Friday evenings.

Speaking as a man that flutters his hands and faints when a woman even asks him where the bathroom is, I can’t claim to understand the importance of those last few bicep curls and sit-ups in terms of the mating game. But I do like these peoples’ dedication to eliminating those last few decimals of body fat; I think it shows a very sensible approach to the lifestyle. I imagine these are the same individuals that leave plenty of time to digest their celery dinners, and employ Clark Howard’s Costco mentality when it comes to grabbing diet vodka tonics at whatever open bar they descend upon.

My only question is why the gym hasn’t capitalized on this phenomenon, and just started serving alcohol at the juice bar. This seems like exactly the sort of efficient crowd that would enjoy both a mango-Kahlua fatburner shake and the idea of cutting out the middle man.

“Babbling Baboons”

Just last night, I saw a shining example of this group. He was currently working on what looked like his third aneurysm as he heaved weights, glared at himself in the mirror, and called himself a bitch. But while he showcased perfectly the sort of mindset I’m talking about, he wasn’t by any means the template for this group. Rather, it group ranges from the guy that breaks a sweat clambering into an elevator, to the fellow that eats fistfuls of HGH and can reverse-press a fire truck – but whose testicles can only be described as “ghostly.” You see, it’s a diverse category, unified by a single, entirely questionable passion.

It’s easy to identify this particular species. Just listen for important-sounding key phrases, such as “blast the lats,” “shock the core,” “reset your whole system,” etc. To the uninitiated, it sounds as if they’re discussing the best way to break into high-tech bank vault. In reality, though, you’re witnessing a complicated vocabulary that has arisen from the common pursuit of piecemeal self-improvement.

The amazing thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter if they’re fat, skinny, or built like a Russian brontosaurus in the ’86 Olympics – these guys love to talk about working out. They’re so enthusiastic it’s almost heartbreaking. My personal theory is that it’s a form of escapism. When they talk about bee pollen and acai berries, they can forget that they nearly had a stroke while reaching for a donut hole. They can pretend that their little brother and his middle school friends didn’t force them to be the practice dummy while they imitated UFC moves all afternoon. They don’t have to face the fact that cycling classes and anabolic steroids have turned them into the reproductive equivalent of one of those old nuclear test sites where all the sand has been blasted into dirty, bubbly glass.

“Gorillas in the Mist”

Believe it or not, my life bears little or no resemblance to a 1980’s sex comedy, so I’ve spent little to no time in women’s locker rooms. I can’t speak with any degree of authority about what goes on in there, but I imagine it involves a lot of lounging around in towels, pouring glasses of iced tea out of pitchers, and laughing gaily as ponies nuzzle you for affection. You should know, I’m also working on the assumption that the toilet paper is made out of pure, unfiltered sunlight in there.

Men’s locker rooms, on the other hand, are dingy affairs that smell like the most mathematically awful combination of chlorine, steam, and activated deodorant. Every shiny surface is fogged over and beaded with water. It’s the perfect place for men to be men, and for the government to discover dangerous new strains of fungus to play God with.

And yet, there’s one species that feels entirely at home within this hygienic hellhole: the oblivious, naked old man. He emerges from the sauna with his towel in hand, and a beatific smile on his face, as though he and his balls are meeting the world for the very first time. A steamy billow flanks him on each side, as if to announce his arrival to all those with fear in their hearts and cloth over their naughty bits. And yet, there’s no sense of panic or hurry to him – why should there be? You can’t rush a good air-dry, after all.

I think what amazes me most about this strange, beautiful beast is his absolute, almost Zen-like state of calm. He’ll put those pants on in due time, but until then, why not read a magazine, or strike up a conversation? And hasn’t he earned the right? I mean, he comes from the Greatest Generation. Where would we be without convictions and work ethic like his? We never would have had the Industrial Revolution, or beaten back the Axis. We wouldn’t have pulled out of the Great Depression, or have the luxury and hindsight to bitch about Reaganomics. Conversely, I’ve skipped entire days of work because “it looks stormy outside,” or “there’s a spider on my doorknob.” His ilk are men of pig-iron, and pants probably barely even register as an afterthought.

I’m sure there are a number of sub-species and variations that I’ve failed to cover, but these are at least the broad strokes. So the next time you hit the gym, take a few moments to look around at the local wildlife, and see what you recognize. But definitely don’t look in the mirror, because there’s no way I was talking about you. There’s just no way.


Joe Sapien

Joe Sapien is a regular columnist. He is currently floundering through grad school and running up debt. He never got to be a bully as a child, but he would have been pretty good at it.

4 thoughts on “The Miami Gym: A safari

  1. I also find going to the gym as a great way to be fit not just for the physical but also for the social and even to the psychological aspect of my life.

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