Over the course of the last year or so, I have had several extended absences from my local gym, where I’ve been a member for about five years. First, there was a minor surgery that kept me incapacitated for a couple of weeks. Then, there were the panic attacks that resulted from experiencing said minor surgery, and a dental procedure that prohibited me from going out for about ten days. Most recently, I contracted an upper respiratory infection from my granddaughter that required courses of Amoxycillin and the dreaded Prednisone. If you’ve never been prescribed Prednisone, you’ll have to accept it as gospel from me that you don’t ever want to. If you are required to take it, rest assured that you’ll not be fit company for a dog—let alone a fellow human being.
As we age, our circle of friends, family, and neighbors diminishes slowly (primarily due to death and relocation). The older we get, the more rapidly the number of those “connections” dwindles. So, it’s no surprise that, for many of us, going to the gym and making new friends becomes an important step in maintaining contact with the outside world. And so it has become just that for me. There are several age groups of people who use the gym. First, are what I like to call “The Kids,” those boys and girls under 30, who charge in with headsets blazing the latest music, to pump iron and punish the stair climbers. Many are in high school, or college, they are always in a hurry—and most of them hardly need the workout. They politely nod as they quickly go through their routines.
Next, are the middle-aged, career-oriented men and women, between 30 and 65, who really do need the exercise, since they spend most of their workday sitting at a desk, more than likely in front of a computer. These are the “beautiful people,” who usually slip into the gym at the break of dawn, or after seven in the evening (as their work schedules permit). They tend to use the various machines (rather than the free weights) and gravitate to the treadmills, where they can watch either sports or a news channel, as they mindlessly complete their proscribed time on the machine. They, too, are polite, and generally offer a rhetorical “How’re ya doin’?” or “What’s up?” (neither of which requires a response on your part).
The final group is comprised of the “Old Timers,” mostly men (but a few women, too) over 65, who are undoubtedly retired. It is to this group that I belong. We can be found working the machines, and walking on the treadmills during the afternoon hours of the day (when the others are either at school, or working). In general, we are neither in very good shape, nor in very bad shape. We are simply just working hard to stay in whatever relative shape we are in. Progress is desirable, but by no means necessary.
At my gym, there’s Brian, Michael (more about him later), Jill, Jim, Big Jim, Sandy, Greg, Dennis, and a host of others—and we’re all friends. We know all about each other’s surgeries, favorite teams, grandchildren, most trustworthy mechanics, and likes and dislikes (especially when it comes to restaurants). Each has an endless repertoire of stories that he or she has told numerous times, and embellished differently on each occasion. Who cares? We love to tell them and hear them over and over again. One member likes to make homemade pizza, and brings an ample amount in occasionally to share with others in our group. At Christmas, there’re always people who bring in cookies, or other treats to share.
One story that exemplifies the easy going attitude of my group is this: For several years, (literally), I had been referring to one of the gentlemen as Ron. Ron drove a little red, convertible sports car. One day, I said to Sandy, the owner of the gym, “Hey, here comes Ron.” I pointed out the window at Ron’s little red sports car. Sandy gazed out the window at the car, and said, “You mean Michael.” I replied, “No, Ron. See, there’s his Miata.” Perplexed, Sandy pointed at the vehicle again, and said, “That’s Michael’s car, the little red one.” All the while I’d been calling Michael by the wrong name, he hadn’t bothered to correct me. When he got inside, I went over to him and said, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you?” He looked surprised. “You mean to tell me,” I said, “that all this time I’ve been calling you Ron, when your name is really Michael?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Ron, Michael. It doesn’t matter. I know you, you know me. That’s all that matters.” And he was absolutely right. The very next time I encountered Michael at the gym, I said, “Hey, Harry, how’s it going?” Without missing a beat, he replied with a smile, “Pretty good, Bob.”
One thing that members of my group all have in common is our ability to talk, an acquired talent to expound upon, even pontificate upon . . . well . . . just about any topic at all. Virtually anything is grist for our respective mills—and that includes politics and religion. Hell, when you’re “old,” you have the understood “right” to say virtually anything about everything—and we do! We don’t have time to be politically correct. We’re old. So, we think it, we say it. It’s that simple. And maybe that’s what we need the most, not the exercise machines, not the treadmills, and certainly not the weights. We just need to be comfortable in our own skin and to be (just like the song from Cheers says) in a place “where everybody knows your name”—and for me that’s the gym.
Do you go to a gym? What kinds of experiences have you had there? We’d love to know.