So: today I timidly entered our apartment complex's fitness center hoping no one else was interested in working out on a Thursday in the mid-morning, but just my luck, there was a girl using a treadmill near the door who looked like a serious exercise person. This cut down my options; I was no longer interested in using any of the machines in the fairly large zone of her peripheral vision, but fortunately for my insecurity, there was a tucked-away alcove in the middle of the room that contained a few items I hoped I knew how to operate.
I powered one up after an initial period of confusion over the instrument panel. The next three minutes were spent adjusting the speed, from trudging to walking to fast-walking to competitive-fast-walking to jogging to running to sprinting to running to jogging, where I stayed for the remaining ten minutes. I tried to read an Economist someone had left, ostensibly for the purpose of reading while running, but vertigo cut me off at the first paragraph and I almost fell, to my death. Being hopelessly far from a remote and in the middle of a grueling 12-minute mile pace workout, I was left to ponder the blank wall in front of me and the curious question of why someone would have left a magazine to read on this treadmill if running and reading at the same time was such an obvious deathwish.
Soon, I was in trouble. The jogging was going okay, but new exercisers had entered the room - buff dudes in their thirties, talking about important deals they had recently made. They walked through with duffels to the locker room, and I realized that my time was limited. I had to figure out how to use the other machines before they got back, so that I could at least look as though I knew what I was doing. This would make up for the itty-bitty weights I would be pumping. Either incompetence or tiny weights could be individually excused, but together, they could only result in my being laughed out of the place, never to seriously pursue physical fitness again because of the embarrassment.
I swallowed my pride and stepped back into the peripheral range of treadmill girl. She doled out what I expected, a dismissive glance, so with this behind us we entered into a comfortable new phase of relationship, characterized by disinterest (real on her part, affected on mine). I applied myself to learning how to use four very simple machines.
All I have to say is, thank God for pictures, and machines designed for ease of use. It's like they knew I was coming when they built the place.
The buff dudes emerged after a couple of minutes ("yeah, and you know about our recent huge purchase with the SC corp, the fiasco that turned into, am I right? But hold on, where did that go wrong again? Well of course, the thing about...") to the sight of a totally competent skinny dude, flawlessly operating the Bench Press, Bicep Curl, and other strength-building devices, doing a normal number of reps at a low weight. Even treadmill girl, in her trips to the water fountain during my relentless workout regimen, seemed to implicitly give me some measure of respect. The buff dudes went over to the alcove I had so recently inhabited, with their special gloves and sleeveless shirts, to get warmed up on stairmasters. The trio ran in place while I furiously worked my twiggy arms and tried not to think about other people.
Sure enough, a few minutes after the buff dudes came out, my routine got too intense for me to care any more what the other exercisers thought, and it was at this point that I was able to experience some kind of liberation - the kind I imagine all exercisers feel, when they are able to transition out of a concern for their appearance as they exercise (not helped by the walls of mirrors) and into a concern for their fitness, or health, or whatever it is that causes them to do these terrible things to their bodies. This was a great experience, but for the agony.
I finished several sets of reps and could barely stand. Not sure if this was normal, I made as quick an exit as I was capable of, slouching past the buff dudes and treadmill girl who all carried on as though I was just another exerciser, staying fit like I had been for my whole life, no big deal. I just hope they didn't hear the sirens soon enough after I left to associate them with me.