Suicide By Treadmill

My idea of physical exertion is turning the television channels without a remote, driving a stick shift instead of an automatic and buying beer with the twist-off tops. I break into a sweat just watching a sporting event on television. The one time a friend took me to the driving range, I almost killed him. Not on purpose, I promise you, and not for the ludicrous notion of inviting me, as you might think. No, I actually looked forward to going. What happened was that, although the intention was to send the ball high and far out onto the already golf ball-littered green, it went straight for his head, which was on his body parallel to me. I gave him my club and went for a banana split.


I don't exercise. This is a fact that people have come to learn and love about me. They now had someone they could point to and say. "But, Honey, I don't lay around as much as Robbie does.” And I was fine being the lower standard in athletics for my friends. It made me seem more intellectual. "No, really, you go ahead and play volleyball. I'm going to sit under this pink umbrella and read War and Peace."



Of course, I have myself fooled into thinking I don't need to exercise. I do this by small pep talk rationalizations like, "I can still lift myself out of bed" or "Hey, I'm not on oxygen.” It also helps never to stand sideways in front of a mirror and when I shave I focus from my neck up. I have nice eyes. I know this now thanks to a stripper at the Inner Room who would only look into my eyes with every ten dollar dance we had.


Imagine my surprise, then, when the girls came home and told me we were joining a gym. Not them. We.


"What do I need a gym for? Look at me.” I stood as straight as I could and sucked as much of my gut in as possible. I was already exercising and lifting weights right there in front of them.


"We're going tomorrow at noon," Teri said.


"But isn't that lunch time? What about lunch?"


"I'll lay your clothes out," Char said.


"Clothes? I have clothes for the gym?"


And that turned out to be a good question. I don't wear shorts. I wasn't really sure I even owned a pair. I prefer pants and long- sleeve button down shirts with pockets. I only wear t-shirts on my way to the closet to get another real shirt. What in the world did they expect me to wear? Can you do nude memberships at a gym? Would they let me go in my boxers?


As it turned out, I had a pair of shorts. They had bought them for me at Wal-Mart a month prior when they went on sale for three dollars. Add two dollars for the fat size.


"How much did you pay?” I asked, holding the shorts to my waist.


Char ignored my question. "Go try them on."


"Wait. Why did you buy me shorts a month ago? You know I hate wearing shorts.” I had been trapped. This was premeditated exercise. Surely, there was a criminal sentence with this.



The girls had lined up our prison term with the coldest days in Florida history. They could make me put on shorts but they couldn't make me go outside in them. I dug around in my closet for awhile until I found a charcoal gray pair of sweatpants. There used to be a matching sweat shirt that went with it but I think I used that to wash the car back when it was warmer. The only reason I had the sweats was Char's mother caught them on sale at a five and dime and could give me a Christmas present without spending hardly any money. I actually got two gifts that year because she wrapped them separately. When I found them, I quickly tried them on. I looked like a sack of potatoes with too much stitching in the crotch. This was not going to work. Remembering television shows growing up where some people worked out for slap stick comedy, I grabbed the shorts and slid them on over the sweats. I was beginning to look athletic. Okay, I did if you ignored the Grinch belly hanging over my waistband.


Char handed me a t-shirt with a pocket. At least, I could exercise and keep my pad and pen on me. I wrote emergency numbers into the small pad. This would come in handy when I was crushed under the medicine ball or stuck at the end of the treadmill, my head being rubbed raw. People will now be able to pull out my notepad and say, "Yes, he did request Sparkling Casket Funeral Home." The girls, of course, will have already wandered off into their own routines pretending they had not orchestrated my demise. My parents will know better as, having watched every Matlock episode created, they will quickly deduce who the guilty parties are.


"Here, take this.” Teri held a beige pill the length of my fingernail in one hand and a glass of water in the other.


"Cyanide?"


"Vitamin."


I took the pill, which closely resembled those pellets domestic rabbits are fooled into believing is the reason they are better off then their free companions, and swallowed. It tasted like rabbit food, too.


"My mom used to give me grape flavored Flintstone vitamins."


"We're not mommy.” Char took the glass of water away.


"I know. She loved me."


It was bad enough that I had joined a gym behind my back, had to dress

like a homeless man, but now I had to swallow over-sized gerbil pellets every day. I really needed two scoops of Chunky Monkey.


It was happening. I was going to the gym. Just saying the words puts you in a whole different category of people.


"What are you doing tonight?"


"Going to the gym. Got to get my cardio in and work on my glutes."


"Really? The gym?” And just like that you're elevated above the couch potatoes. Gym-goers are a unique breed of people. They understand that a deltoid is not a small breath mint and glutes firmed up can get you whistled at on the beach. They enjoy vitamins and yogurt fills them up long enough to get them to their next granola bar and energy drink lunch. They enjoy sweating with their clothes on and don't mind same-sex open showers.


And now I was one of them. I needed to up my life insurance. Or, better yet, I needed to cancel it. Why reward the girls who roped me into this? I preferred weighty issues to actual weights


* * * * *


The next morning, we went to the gym. I felt like I was driving through town in my pajamas. This was close to driving nude in my book. Only old people or lazy mothers dropping their kids off at school drove while wearing pajamas.


"They're sweatpants, not pajamas," Char reminded me. As far as I was concerned, the only difference between the sweats and my pajama bottoms was the fact that the sweats were missing Super Mario running up and down the legs.


The gym I had been drafted into was one of those national chains that took the place of failed super markets in plazas and shopping centers. I pulled into the parking lot and crept up and down the aisles looking for the closest vacant spot. Women don't seem to understand that this is part of the hunter gene inherent in all men. We can't shoot buffalo but we can scour the parking lot at malls for the closest spot. When we find it, we walk to the main doors, head high, chest puffed out and keys twirling on our finger as we eye some poor sap who has to park further out. "Ha ha, Sucker! I already bagged this kill."


"What are you doing?” Char asked.


"Getting a good spot. Do you think that guy's backing out or did he just pull in?"


"There's an empty spot a few car links down.” Teri pointed ahead of us.


"But this one's closer."


"What are a few parking spaces?"


"You're going into a gym to exercise, after all."


"Well, I'm not in there yet, am I? Besides, when you have to carry my sweaty carcass to the car, you're going to appreciate a close parking spot."


No one was going to make me exercise before it was time.


When I walked through the glass doors, I noticed two things right off. First, painted on every wall were the words "Judgment Free Zone", which meant I was safe from the church crowd. And second, there were no fat people, which made me wonder if weights have a weight limit.


The springy Energizer Bunny behind the counter logged our arrival into her little computer and wished us a "Happy Workout". I wished her a "Merry Christmas" and bought a round of waters.


The place had four rows of treadmills, stationary bikes and something that simulated walking on skis. Each one had a television monitor you could hook your headphones to and distract yourself from realizing you were actually exercising. It worked up until the time a stiletto pain carved up my ankles with every artificial step I took. Twenty minutes. I had to last twenty minutes. Surely, I could do that.


It was the "Judgment Free Zone" and yet, I was already judging myself. How sad was I that I couldn't even walk in place for twenty minutes? Friends didn't distract me. Neither did the wacky antics of Fred Flintstone or the mutilated bodies of a sad after-holiday accident on I4 on the afternoon news. I kept trudging along.


An elderly woman beside me was going twice the speed and at an incline. This was embarrassing. The pain was getting worse and my feet were going numb. Ten minutes at the gym and I knew I was going to lose both my feet.


I stared at the timer. Two more minutes. Is this how they tortured POWs? I'm sure the Geneva Convention would have banned this type of treatment.


One more minute. I could feel my head go light, like that feeling when you're about to pass out. I was walking on toothpicks. Thirty seconds. I was going to die. I knew it. These treadmills have clips that you're supposed to attach to your shirt and if something happened and you fell, it pulled a button off the machine and the treadmill stopped. I had been too macho to put it on and now I was going to pay for it. I could see it now, my body sprawled on the ground, the black rubber pushing my head down to the floor repeatedly, leaving a burnt rubber mark that belonged in parking lots and not my face.