Let’s work it out

A young woman dressed in stylish new workout gear saunters over to a row of exercise machines and waves hello to her friend, who is jogging on a treadmill. Casually, she steps to the side of the treadmill to chat. Unfortunately, her foot lands squarely on the conveyor belt.

Like a cartoon character, her feet fly out from under her and with a deafening thwap, she slams down squarely on her butt, knocking her friend to one side. The poor woman spins down the belt to the end of the machine, where she’s dumped sprawling onto the fitness center’s concrete floor.

The room is packed, and every eye is on her. She scrambles to her feet, frowns and dusts off the seat of her pants, trying to pretend that nothing happened, while her friend laughs uncontrollably. Behind them on an elliptical, I bite my lip to hide a smile. 

“January,” I think to myself with secret glee.

During the first month of each year, fitness centers across the country overflow with doughy amateurs in oversized T-shirts, who’ve pledged once again to finally lose that last 5-to-500 pounds. Yoga classes are filled with people lying shoulder-to-shoulder on their mats like sweaty sardines. On the main floor, every single exercise machine is topped by a newb with a desperate gleam in his eye. And in the nursery, dozens of children run amok between the legs of workers, panic on their faces.

“Call someone else to come in!” one of them shouts, trying to soothe three crying babies in her arms.

“There’s no one left to call!” another shrieks.

Yes, in January, the convenience factor at my gym drops to zero. But I smile as I circle the parking lot five times and wait 15 minutes for an elliptical machine. Because in January, my workouts are far more entertaining.

In the weight room, a puny guy in a tracksuit gets trapped under his barbell. Upstairs, a rookie runner writhes in pain on the track, clutching at the stitch in his side. Below him, the treadmills claim victim after uncoordinated victim. My husband and I collect January workout stories like trading cards, eagerly recounting them at the end of the day.

“You should have seen it,” Hubs reported recently. “I hear this BOOM! And I look over, and this huge guy has been thrown completely off the back of the treadmill, into the machines behind him.”

“Was he OK?” I gasped.

“Of course,” Hubs said. “The only thing that got hurt was his ego.”

Both of us laughed wickedly and I told him about the woman I saw huffing and puffing through spin class, unaware of the sales tags dangling from the back of her natty new workout gear.

Of course I keep the tale of falling off an elliptical after my shoelaces got caught in it to myself. Besides, I’m suffering enough embarrassment already. This year, I’m one of the doughy amateurs.

I fell off the wagon somewhere back in September and pretty much immediately gained seven pounds. Realizing I was on a path of destruction that could only end with me lying on the sofa, yelling for more chips as I struggled to see over my enormous, Snuggie-encased belly, my New Year’s resolution was obvious: get my ass back to the gym. And when I made my comeback on Jan. 2, the regulars let me have it.

“Gee,” the nursery worker said when I brought in the kids. “Bruiser sure has gotten a lot bigger. And Punky’s hair is a lot longer.”

I grimaced. “I’ve been …” I said slowly, trying to think of something good. Modeling overseas? On a CIA mission?

“I’ve been busy,” I finished meaningfully, raising an eyebrow. The nursery worker snorted.

“Haven’t we all,” she replied.

Eyes downcast, I headed for the weight room. I was getting my comeuppance, but it wasn’t half as bad as the last time I returned to the gym after a long hiatus, fumbled for my barely-used gym card and attempted to run it though the laser scanner. Over and over, I waved my card in front of the scanner’s eye, to no avail.

“Um, that’s the camera we use for membership pictures,” a woman at the counter said after watching me for a minute or two. “The card scanner’s over there. Have you been here before?”

As I carefully check to make sure my shoelaces are tied before stepping up onto an exercise machine, I think back over the humiliation I’ve endured. This time, it’s not like that. It’s not like 2006, when I resolved to do a thousand crunches a day, or 2007, when I promised myself I’d run a half-marathon. It’s not even like 2008, when I swore I’d finally take up Pilates. No, 2009 is going to be different.

I think. 

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