Hello, sexy! Here's what I've written. Tell me what you think (and if you notice any really blatant misspellings. I'm a terrible proofreader.)
A Game with God
I smoke one cigarette and listen to loud music on the car stereo when I'm on the way to the gym. The loud music makes me feel like I'm someone else, if it is the right music, and the cigarette is used to balance out the healthy effects of the workout. The best music to listen to either before or during a workout is the early Ice Cube album The Predator. It's ear-drum-shattering, through a good set of headphones, and the lyrics seem to push the psyche forward into some ethereal zone of almost unadulterated pent up rage, which is precisely the zone in which one ought to be when lifting weights in the company of other men who are all much larger than oneself. Of the other men, I suspect some of them to be on steroids, but I don't reserve any particular judgment for these. The cigarette is always a Parliament Light, and I frequently think, as the smoke flutters toward the open window and then quickly zips away into the warm air outside of the vehicle, that they should have athletic clubs in which one could smoke. Especially when lifting weights, all is vanity, and I remain convinced that I would look particularly worldly and perhaps even menacing in the mirror doing dumbbell curls with half of a lit cigarette dangling from my mouth.
I walk into the gym with a confident stride, but I wear my gym shorts at least twice in succession to the gym, and they reek something awful if there is a little updraft. I feel bad wasting water and detergent on clothing I've only worn once since the last wash. My preference (because of my unfortunate odor) is not to pass anyone too closely as I navigate my way through the turnstile, which only allows patrons to enter after they have waved a small card, printed with a member-specific barcode on the back, in front of the red eye of a little peripheral code reader. The atmosphere is humid and warm past the airlock, and the code reader makes a familiar beep and flashes, for less than a second, a green light, permitting me to proceed. The older man behind the counter knows my name. He reads it on the computer screen every time I enter the gym when he is working. I don't know his name, but I always ask him "how's it goin'?" or make a comment on any out-of-the-ordinary weather. He is at least twice my size (all muscle) and I wonder what he must have looked like when he was my age. I wonder, then, whether body-building (is that the phrase for what men like him do?) is something safe for a gentleman of his age. But he seems healthy and happy enough. I grab a clean hand towel from the reception counter to my right as I walk forward. Below the stack of clean towels is a large wheeled laundry bin full of dirty towels. The new-born towels loom over their deceased brethren below, and in under two hours the towel I've just picked up will have lived out another lifespan and will join that graveyard of sweat and stale cotton.
Lifting is a chore. Well, at times I wonder if it is worse than a chore. But on most days, lifting is a chore and I don't really enjoy doing it. The best thing about lifting is the numbness of the muscles one feels immediately after a particularly hard lift. The numbness is accompanied by a little bit of euphoria, and a state of total alertness. I guess the body, under the stress of the weight, must pump out quite a lot of adrenaline and endorphins (and all that other stuff) into the brain to keep one pushing for that one more repetition. But it doesn't feel good, for me, until after the stress has stopped. As for it possibly being worse than a chore, I (because of my various neuroses) wonder about the economic efficacy of the act. When I lift weights on an even semi-regular basis, I plow through what appears to be twice as much food as I normally would. I worry about my food intake as it is, and I am the odd type who feels transient pangs of intense guilt about the fact that I have never experienced real life-threatening hunger, in a world where one billion (or however many) live in food scarcity. I feel guilty about eating, and I wonder how many extra calories are being consumed and (from a global perspective) wasted by large sweaty men lifting large cold metal plates on bars until they are so bulky that they, in my humble opinion, couldn't possibly be attractive to the top-drawer group of the opposite sex. So, sometimes lifting is an effort of will and physical exertion, and sometimes it makes me feel guilty. I rarely enjoy it.
Actually, to have the whole story out here, I do enjoy lifting on the days when my girlfriend and I are able to go to the gym together. This is enjoyable for a number of reasons. Although we lift at dramatically different weight levels, there's a certain amount of unspoken competition that goes on for me in my head when I am lifting with J. She is a dancer, and I could pass a polygraph saying the words "she has the bangin'est body I have ever seen." ("Bangin'est" is my crude attempt at creating the correct verbiage to adequately describe how she looks from the neck down. For the uninitiated, be warned: bangin'est is not precisely synonymous with "beautiful," in that you can't use "bangin'est" to describe a female's face. You're best to stick with "beautiful" or "angelic" or "stunningly cute in both feature and proportion" if you're describing the facial area.) She is athletic, more so than I, and I enjoy following her around the gym to the various weight lifting areas, switching off machines with her, and making sure that I am always working out at least as hard as she is. The little shine of a thin layer of perspiration on her mediterranean looking skin is sexy the way hot massage oil is sexy, and at the gym she dresses scantily in shorts that leave little to the imagination, and sometimes nothing more than a sports bra. We joke and laugh and I enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of watching her do squats under a weighted bar. Usually we alternate machinery and are both doing an exercise simultaneously, but when it comes to squats we both just watch the other, waiting our turn. J looks sublime doing squats in the miniscule clingy shorts, and I'm content to sip water and take in the sight. Occasionally, I'll notice other men (larger, better fed and stronger men) looking at the same thing I am looking at as I mentally count J's repetitions. I feel like the prize fighter, the champion, in that moment. I think to myself: "the only reason I could ever see spending as much time in the gym as these guys do would be to woo a girl like J." I'm across the finish line, then, as they continue to practice for the race. She never seems to notice when other men look at her. Lifting weights with her is not a chore.
My distaste for the lifting of the heavy things keeps me out of the twenty-four-hour gyms that have sprung up across America in dark and empty shopping center corner properties. The only thing to do in these "24/7" gyms aside from lifting is a cardiovascular workout on a treadmill or an elliptical machine. Indoor cardio is worse to me than lifting and I avoid it like the plague, and as such, I avoid the whole twenty-four-hour scene. Now, one might be inclined to wonder, what do I enjoy doing, if anything, at the gym? What compels me to get into the car alone, with an overfull backpack and a cigarette and a big bottle of water? Why would I suffer the stale sweat smell of the gym shorts the way I do? What is it that goes on in the gym that makes it one of my favorite places to go? I can answer this question by explaining that my backpack seems overfull not only because there is a full sized bath towel stuffed into it, but because there is a portion of a racquetball racquet sticking out of the top where the zipper will not fit up entirely around its length.
I love racquetball.
That is not to say that I love the sport racquetball. I have only played the actual game perhaps twice, and I don't know any of the rules. I don't know what the lines on the court mean, and I don't know how many points one would need to win a match. I know nothing. But, when I'm alone at the gym, the first thing I do after grabbing my nascent white hand-towel (equipped with a black plastic anti-theft device) is walk down a short hall, and directly down a six-step patch of stairs, to my right past an empty racquetball court, and on to the second court of the pair. There are three possible courts to play on at the Longmont Athletic Club, the third of which is elsewhere in the building, off of the side of the basketball court. Incidentally, I prefer only the one court, and feel deeply dissapointed when I show up and it is being used (which is refreshingly rare.)
So I don't love the sport, and I don't know how to play, and I don't believe myself to be particularly skilled at it, but I can hardly wait to do what it is I do in the court. I place on my right hand a snug red and gray athletic glove made out of some ultra light, space-age breathable fabric. I remove any necklaces or bracelets I might be wearing and empty my pockets. I take a big drink of water and pluck the racquetball out of its place in my backpack. I pick up the racquet. The racquet was gifted to me last Christmas by my parents, and it seems very nice to me. I don't suppose I would be able to tell the difference between a racquet of poor quality and a professional-grade one, but I know that I relish the light and airy feeling of my racquet in the tightly gripped palm of my hand. Its construction also seems space-age to me, and I can't begin to wonder about what fancy elements the body of the apparatus is made of.
The sound of the thick glass door closing into the thick glass wall behind me makes a booming, echoing noise, and I immediately bounce the ball, a blue spherical piece of rubber, off of the floor once with my hand, and then, with my racquet, to the end of the court. It makes a satisfying pop upon its impact with the white wall, and returns to me with once bounce off of the floor. I return it to the wall with the thwop noise the ball makes bouncing off of the taut strings spanning the racquet's open face.
It is slow at first. pop... thwop... pop... thwop
My mind doesn't wander far from the ball for the first five or ten minutes. My body starts to warm up and the speed of the ball's return to me increases. It seems always to increase from the beginning of a volley to the end, as if I subconsciously become more urgent about the act of hitting the ball back and forth to myself over a span of time. My focus is only ever on hitting the ball back to myself as many times as possible without letting it get away from me. I prefer that the ball bounce off of the floor only once on its return trip from the wall to wherever I am standing, and usually this is the case, but with the ever increasing speed of each volley, there comes a point when I hit the ball in some slanted manner and it goes way too high, or zips down the wall too closely upon return to hit it without whacking the wall, or it finds that exact spot (the crotch, they call it) where the back wall and the floor meet, reducing its momentum to almost nothing and destroying any desirable trajectory.
Nothing tamps my mood down when I'm in there, though. I have some sense at all times of how I am performing, but hitting the ball irregularly and without exerting myself at full potential doesn't frustrate me. If the ball goes astray like a sheep losing its herd, I simply pick it up and continue on. I start to sweat and after an interval I enter a state that is similar to what I have heard hypnotic states described to be. pop... thwop... pop... thwop. My thoughts become lucid and dreamlike, and my mind gets to wander. I am not certain about the physiology of this, but sometimes I theorize about it as my consciousness drifts. I imagine that the repetitive act of hitting the ball back and forth, engaging most of my muscles in unison to meet the ball wherever it desires to be met, and engaging most of my reptilian "kill or be killed" brain in the act, brings my entire being into a more natural and perhaps primitive state. My action, my reflexes, my eyes on the ball, all of this is an emulation of the hunt. This isn't the mind numbing drudgery of sitting at a keyboard pounding out weak prose and reading the news to distract me from my own filth. This is engaging a wild animal, small and nimble, in a battle of wits and speed on plains of the Serengeti. I am more human than at any other time, and most of my peripheral and distractible faculties are expired on the task at hand. pop... thwop... pop... thwop. With the lower parts of my brain adequately transfixed and occupied by their work, my neo-cortex is allowed to fire away in a manner it is not used to. My frontal lobe says: "thank God, the back portion is finally giving me a respite from its infantile pleas for sex and food. Now I can get some work done."
And then it's off to the races. I think about writing. I plan grandiose three volume novels in my mind. Novels about sex and debauchery and dope. Novels about love and redemption. Novels about alternate histories in which Christians actually listened to what Christ was purported to have said. I think about revolution, and what it would look like if someday I was involved in one. (I'd never hold a gun, nor a molotov, nor even a big stick, should the occasion finally occur.) I think about politics and about the time when I was recently at the DMV and the woman at the counter asked me if I would like to register to vote. I had let out half of a laugh, which would have matured to a full out guffaw, had I not stifled it. She smiled at me, I waved my hand in a signal of negation and said "no way." I would bet that when I think about politics, the ball is more likely to find the crotch of the wall and floor. I make an attempt to steer my now free mind away from such inanery.
I think about God a lot in those moments of bodily active meditation. I ponder the concept from all sides. I've prayed, on occasion, while twisting my body back to my left to get a good backhanded swing at a particularly fast return. I like, on certain days, to think of it thus: I am playing tennis with God. Sometimes God is a man, and sometimes God is a woman, and He or She is with me, in some sense. To clarify, She is with me in that She exists outside of our dimension, and so can penetrate and experience all things that we know and do. When I hit the ball, thwop, it doesn't exactly come right back to me per terrestrial physics. What actually happens is that the ball is, for an imperceptibly small period of time, sucked through a trans-dimensional-membrane from which it pops out into God's dimension. God, being the professional He or She is, is able to return the ball invariably to the exact same spot at which I had initially hit it. God returns my ball perfectly through the membrane every single time. pop. For me, it takes the ball a second or slightly less to travel from the white wall to my racquet, and, thwop, a second or a little less to get back to the trans-dimensional-membrane. God exists in a dimension that transcends time, however, and although I don't know how long the ball (in God's terms) is actually gone, from my feeble minded perspective it never actually leaves, but just bounces back to me.
I meander back in my freewheeling way to the Serengeti concept. What would it be like if I were living at the dawn of man? Physically uncomfortable, no doubt, but perhaps spiritually freeing. My imagination tells me in elementary terms that primitive man was perhaps living in a far more liberated fashion than I am today. Primitive man was not chained by ephemeral and synthetic concepts like state and church imposed monogamy. He wasn't obese, and didn't need to be told to exercise. His life was exercise. He bowed to another only out of the deepest respect, not because we was an abject slave to a childish economy of greed and its instituting statesmen. He bowed as he pleased, and if he didn't please, he got his furs and his spears and walked away. He needed no visa, no passport, no shoes, and the world was his. Or, of course, hers, as the case may have been. I fathom behaving more like a monkey, slapping the rubber ball to and fro, and think about all the hang ups civilization has hung up on me. I fathom walking around naked or nearly naked, and seeing other people do the same. I fathom people selling their televisions, or burning them en masse, because they've realized that their saintly monkey-selves have been caged by the garbage coming over the airwaves. I fathom teepees and mushrooms. A slight feeling of dissapointment washes over me when I realize that none of this can be real. I resolve myself, though, to be more like early man. I resolve myself to laugh loud enough that the sound of it would carry a mile across rolling grassy sub-Saharan Africa.
pop... thwop... pop... thwop. I'm sweating a lot by this time. I'm euphoric. Then, I glance at the clock. An hour has gone by blissfully. One more volley with God, five minutes maybe, and then it ends. I open the glass door and feel the hypnotic state follow me as I pack up my bag and trot up the six stairs, down a short hallway and into the locker room. I rig the temperature gauge in the sauna (a small piece of metal resting at the end of a thin but rigid wire protruding from a quarter-sized hole in the reddish wood) with two tissues that I have soaked with cold water. The cool of the water activates the heating element in the sauna, and causes the room to get far hotter than it is normally supposed to be. I lay in there, drifting out of my racquetball induced stupor, and now pouring sweat out of every inch. Not many people use the sauna. I'm alone in there nine times out of ten, and I try to stand it as long as possible. Slowly, the real world creeps back in as my reptilian brain realizes it is free to push the neo-cortex around again. What will I eat? When will I sleep? What is the weather outside? When is the last time I had sex? The drudgery of the truly primitive. When I feel as though I will suffocate if I stay any longer, I get out and take a quick rinse of a shower. Clothing is replaced on my body. I feel quite right, filling my water bottle at the fountain just outside the portal into the mens' room. I walk toward the lobby and the airlock. My hand towel has no funeral, no flowers, as it passes limply into the realm of its dead family, the laundry bin. As I pass the turnstile, I notice that the muscular old man has been replaced by a young girl who I'm sure works there only part time. She smiles at me each time I pass her, but I don't flatter myself, knowing that she smiles this way at everyone. I smile back. I find her cute, but J does not, so it's just a smile (unattractively dripping with residual water and sweat) and then I am back in the sun and into my car. I wait for a few seconds until the alcohol detection device tells me "BLOW" on its digital readout. I blow, while humming, into the device for five seconds. It tells me immediately: "PASS." Primitive man would never have had to put up with this. I start the car, and begin to pull out, but stop suddenly. I've forgotten something.
I light one cigarette, and breath in the first puff deeply. It feels refreshing. And I need to balance out the healthy effects of the workout.
Hope someone found that engaging. If you did, leave a comment. Or tweet me. Or e-mail me. Or whatever's clever.