Today’s Essay

Newbies

The second Friday in January is known as “Quitters Day” in America. (And probably around the world.) This is the day when most Americans give up their New Year’s resolutions, so a period as short as 8 days or as long as 14. Either way, not a long time. Why this brief moment of resolve? Part of it could be put down to resolutions being made in a drunken stupor on New Year’s Eve, some of it is the real difficulty people encounter when trying to quit a lifelong habit like smoking or poor dietary habits or money management. Mostly, I think, it’s the fact that we are never really serious about change.

I see this every year as on January 2nd, all the new members arrive at the gym. They come in brand new sneaks, pretty and colorful workout outfits all topped with bright, enthusiastic smiling faces. They have so much hope. Their lives are on the verge of change. I’m reminded of the old television show, The Six-Million Dollar Man. “Gentlemen we can rebuild him. We have the technology. (He) will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, Stronger, Faster.”

You can almost see them moving in slow motion and hear the accompanying sound effect of “Da da da da da da da da.”

But where do they come from? I will tell you from experience that few of these people purchased their own gym memberships. More likely than not, these were Christmas gifts from a wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend or significant other. Personally, I can’t imagine giving a gym membership to my wife. Why not just giver her a card that says “You’re fat! Merry Christmas.” Some, especially new members of the senior set might have been given orders by their physician to change their lifestyle or face some serious health consequences. Still others, and these are mostly newly retired men, have been chased out of the house by their wives who for the last 30 years or so have had run of the home.

Aside from the clothing, it’s easy to spot a new member. Each one is given a 3 day orientation with a trainer to teach them how to use the equipment safely and to try to sell them on a personal training plan to help them reach their goals. The successful trainers generally do not do this duty as they already have clients. This is left to the newer, less experienced trainers. I can just imagine the conversation in the office at the start of any given day.

“Who’s on old people duty today?

“Not me. I did it all last week.”

“C’mon. I’ll trade you a couple of days next week for today.”

That’s what you said last week.”

“Arrgh!”

Generally, the newbies end up spending most of their 3 days with the trainer talking about their lives, their kids, their grandkids, their work…anything except exercise. Once the 3 days are up, they’re on their own and, let’s face it, much of the reason to come to the gym is to have someone to talk to. If your buddies didn’t join with you, then you know no one except the trainer and she/he is already engaged with another new member.

Some of the new folks show up in various states of decay. Overweight. Underweight. On walkers, shuffling along with the aid of a cane or just plain shuffling. I always think to myself, “Maybe you should have started working out a few years ago.” My workout partner and I are mean and snarky. We tend to name all the newbies as if we were Adam and Eve naming the animals in the Garden of Eden. Many of these names stick, even if the person continues to come to the gym year after year, we still refer to them by the names we gave them when they first arrived.

This year, we have named one of the newbies the Pink Lady. She and older woman and dresses in a fuzzy, pink outfit and always seems to be right behind us and impatient for us to get off of the equipment we are using. Another recent addition is Wheatgrass, a younger man whose hair is cut in a fade all the way around his head leaving the hair on top sticking straight up at least four inches. Think Kid from Kid-n-Play with straight, black hair. If I were to be honest, most of these people name themselves by how they look or what they do.

There’s Blocking Carla and Not Husband Tim, the sort of couple. They work out together about three times a week, strolling side by side on the elliptical machine for about 10 minutes before moving onto the weight training floor. Carla likes to talk, and if you try to end a conversation to move on with your workout, she’ll throw herself in front of you like Magic Johnson denying you access to the hoop, blocking your progress until she finishes her conversation. Tim has little to say and just seems grateful that Carla has found someone else to talk to. Carla made it clear early on that Tim is not her husband.

Working out for no less than two hours a day on the elliptical directly in front of Carla and Tim is Tired Girl. She has zero fat on her and looks exhausted, her sunken eyes and gaunt face never smiling. It’ as if a Bond villain has strapped her to the elliptical and turned it on to full speed as a way to dispose of her. We’re pretty sure that she’s anorexic, but rather than not eating, she simply works herself into exhaustion every day.

Poodle is a woman who looks as if she has a dog groomer cut her hair. Goodwill Girl wears mismatched clothing from a thrift store. Joe Biden shuffles along on his walker and, I swear, sneaks up behind attractive women and smells them. Drop Shot wears his workout shorts so short that it’s not uncommon to catch a glimpse of an escaped testicle. We named one woman Mad Dog because she loudly and profanely went of on Drop Shot, not because of the testicle thing, but because he has the habit of grunting loudly during his weight training routine and she could take it no longer. That and if she catches you looking her way, she’ll mad dog you, glaring angrily in your direction.

We’ve handed out nicknames to people based on their resemblance to other people, (The cartoon character Maxine, Gordon the Fish Sticks Guy, Captain Nice a/k/a Tuna Boy, Jan Michael Vincent, The School Marm, Freddie Mercury, Andy Panda, Dragon, Hitler, Satan) their demeaner, (Mr. Smarmy, Mr. Smiley. Cartoon Dude, Sugar Daddy, Locker 50, Lover Boy, The Smelly Conductor) and their physical attributes, (Muffin Girl, Lefty, Lipps, Stripper Girl, One Car Garage, Hairless, and my workout partner’s favorite, The Package.) I’ll leave you to your imaginations to figure out what the character traits of all these people are.

Many of the new gym members never put in any effort. We’re pretty sure that they won’t be here long. They dress in street clothing, tend not to shave (faces, legs, pits. You name it.) and really don’t care about their looks. These folks we refer to generally as the citizens of I-Don’t Care Land. We never refer to anyone by their nicknames in front of other people or to their faces. We’re mean, not cruel. In fact, we don’t really have any relationship with any of these people except for the occasional nod of recognition or greeting. They’re all probably really nice people. (Except for Mad Dog who scares me a little bit.)

We just like making our workout time a little more fun, goofing on the people around us. I do wonder how people refer to us. Fat Man and Skinny Girl? Who knows. I’ll have to ask around.

Copyright 2024 by Jose Antonio Ponce