D. None of the Above: The thoughts that percolate in my mind...

D. None of the Above: The thoughts that percolate in my mind at the gym

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Health clubs, the gym, whatever you call them, have so much subtext to any visit.

First, I wave at the friendly, supportive people who check me in. I wonder, as they look at me and the photo taken when I got my membership, whether I look better than I did on that day. By definition, I’m older, but am I in one of those better periods or one of those I-just-got-back-from-a-wedding-after-eating-out-too-many-times periods?

As I walk towards my preferred piece of equipment, which is usually an elliptical machine, I hope it’s available.

Sure, there is a line of 17 other elliptical machines that provide the same exercise, but I hope the one that has the best view of the 12 TVs I can barely see when I take off my glasses and that has the smoothest stride as I kick into a higher gear, is available.

If it is, I drape the towel I bring with me — I’m not a huge fan of the non absorbent paper towels available throughout my gym — take a few moments to find the least offensive TV show or music on my iPhone and start pedaling.

As I start working out, the calculator in my head immediately starts to monitor how far I’ve gone and how many calories I’ve burned off for each five minute segment on the machine. I have a specific target I try to meet or exceed, which helps me push harder during the last two minutes of each five minute block. Within about 10 minutes, I’ve built up a good sweat and am starting to drift off into endorphin-boosted bliss, sometimes accompanied by one of Billy Joel’s songs or by a ridiculous Adam Sandler movie I wouldn’t dare put on the TV when my wife and I are getting ready for bed.

My journey into sweaty bliss, however, sometimes takes a detour when someone climbs aboard the machine closest to me, despite the availability of all the other pieces of equipment in the row.

“Can’t you use one of the machines further away?” I shout in my head.

At first, I try to ignore the start of their exercise, diving deeper into my leg pumping, while juggling thoughts about the work I have to do when I’m done.

But then the competitive part of me awakens. A monster version can’t help monitoring the speed at which the person next to me is pumping his arms and legs. Am I going faster? Is he on a higher level than me?

No, it doesn’t matter whether he’s 30 years younger, a college athlete or is clearly preparing for a triathlon with a body that repels any fat and that likely won’t age for decades. I have to win.

Of course, the person next to me isn’t always young and fit and doesn’t have the same age and genetic limitations. Sometimes, that person is not only older, but is also sharing a regular need to clear his throat or to cough without covering his mouth.

“Hey, have you heard of Covid, a tissue, staying home when you’re sick, or, I don’t know, another gym?” I again shout in my head.

I look away and breathe to the side, hoping whatever germs he’s expelling into the air are traveling in a different direction.

Even when people don’t exercise near me, I notice the groaning from the men who lift more weight in a day than I might in a year. They roar, Incredible Hulk style, as they drop weights heavy enough to cause the floor 30 feet away to vibrate sufficiently to register on a seismograph.

When I leave the elliptical machine, I circle other pieces of equipment slowly, as if I were selecting a menu item carefully, pondering whether to get the Brussels sprouts, the steamed broccoli or the french fries.

Who am I kidding, I shrug to myself. I’m unlikely to climb on any of these machines, particularly when I’m so sweaty from beating that young kid to the top of the imaginary mountain.

Covered in sweat, I triumphantly walk slowly out of the gym, knowing I’ve conquered another day of exercise and feeling revived, refreshed, stronger, faster and more alert. Now, if I could just remember where I parked my car.