Gym Guy, Part II

To give you an idea of my general level of self confidence, I assume that I look exactly like this at all times.

The Planet Fitness in Inglewood was next door to a Vons supermarket in a relatively new shopping center that was completely encircled by a concrete and wrought iron fence, which offered decent protection from Inglewood’s robust criminal element and excellent protection from zombies, should a Dawn of the Dead situation have occurred while I was at the gym.

Sitting there in the parking lot, staring at the gym, my fears of getting shot in Inglewood subsided and my general gym-related fears returned. It was one thing to decide to go get a gym membership and get buff when I was sitting on my ass at home with pastries well within reach; here in a parking lot that was probably a shooting location for Training Day, it was a horse of a different color (and weight class).  

How can they guarantee that it’s truly a ‘judgment free zone’? What if you go in there and people start judging you anyway, silently? You know what you look like when you exercise. You’d judge you. And you know damn well they probably wouldn’t turn Helpful Dude away if he was willing to pay for a membership – their loyalty is to their shareholders, not dorky guys like you. Look, why don’t you just head into Vons, buy a couple pounds of thick cut bacon, head home, crack open a Strongbow, and just make this Sunday a tight butthole?

Sometimes I think I spend more time sitting in The Mystery Wagon psyching myself up to do things than I do actually driving it.

Since I’d already driven all the way to Inglewood, I reasoned that I’d probably hate myself for about a week if I didn’t go in and at least look at the gym. Of course, I knew I would probably also hate myself if I went in and started exercising only to get a cheerful lesson from The Helpful Dude. I was looking at self loathing no matter what I did, so on an impulse I threw open the door of The Mystery Wagon and started briskly walking towards the door of Planet Fitness – at the very least, I was burning some calories by walking, right?

I stepped inside and found myself in a fairly well appointed, spacious gym, full of incredibly ripped black and Hispanic men running on the treadmills and pumping serious iron on the weight machines.

I stood there on the threshold for longer than I’d like to admit, staring out at this vast room full of exercise equipment being used by minorities who were sculpted to perfection. Not only was I without a doubt the least athletic person there, I was also the only white guy.

Seeing as I’m from Oregon, I’m not used to being in situations where I’m the only white person, and I didn’t want this – me clumsily learning how to get into shape at a gym – to be the first time I had to shoulder the burden of being a minority and representing my race. Because, let’s be honest: I reinforce a lot of negative stereotypes about white people. I’m like the Flavor Flav of white people.

I mean, look at me – I’ve got no sense of style, I can’t dance, I’m weak, I’m awkward, I’m usually having serious anxiety about something, I have a blog, and I’m pretty much one bar mitzvah away from being Jewish. Sheltered white kids in the suburbs assume all black people are like Snoop Dogg; I didn’t want to give these working class urban folks the impression that all white people were like Truman Capps.

I feel like I owe my race more than that. Being white has benefitted me in innumerable ways – it’s kind of my duty as a white person to not fulfill all those stereotypes, but try as I might, I’m at my very whitest when I’m engaging in some sort of physical activity.

Ideally, I’d walk into a bar near some HBCU college campus on trivia night and get drafted onto one of the teams. And even if my team didn’t win, we’d all have a great evening and buy each other drinks and get drunk together and bridge all kinds of cultural gaps.

That’s when I’m at my best – in a bar, drinking, answering questions about pop culture. I do white people proud when I’m in a bar. Not at a gym, though. Never at a gym.

What’s more, I could see other people filling out the membership paperwork, and I started to ask myself if I was really that committed to fitness. Did I really want to get up early every day and add 12 miles to my 40 mile a day commute so I could drive to the ghetto and work out in what is supposedly a judgment free zone just because of my own neuroses?

What I realized, looking at the gym, is that even though it was well suited to my psychological needs on paper, it was still far from the perfect gym for me.

The perfect gym for me, I now realize, is a room with one treadmill and one weight machine, and I am the only member. When I show up, the staff pulls curtains over all the windows, leaves, and locks the door behind them, and then I am exercising completely alone, where nobody can see me and even start to begin to think about how stupid I look, thus freeing me from having to think about how stupid they probably think I look.

“Can I help you, sir?” One of the staff members at the front desk asked, smiling widely.

“Nope!” I said, probably too loud, and all but ran back to my car and my boxes of pastries. 

Truman Capps anticipates the next step in this process being a P90X blog.