Brutal honesty: Going to the gym for fun?

by Brian Clarey

I’ve been going to the gym.

I’m not getting all crazy about it – I’ll get in there at least once a week, sometimes twice and, rarely, three times. And I’m not looking to get all beefed up. I’m not Joe Piscopo.

I realize that was a dated joke. For my younger readers: Joe Piscopo was a comic, sort of, who was a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” He did a bit about being from Jersey. Ha ha. Then he turned into an iron freak, pumped himself up like Greek sculpture and started posing for muscle-mag covers.

Nothing funny about that.

My half-hearted exercise regimen is mostly the result of an impending mid-life crisis, an unwillingness to wear “fat pants” and an effort to stave off man-boobs.

I exercise to compensate for my encroaching baldness, because it makes my shirts look better, because it turns my wife on and because I secretly believe that five or 10 minutes of breathing deeply in the steam room each week neutralizes the effects of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

I exercise because it’s good for me. It lowers my blood pressure and rids my body of toxins, gets the heart pumping and the pistons churning. It makes me look at my body as a physical machine instead of the way I get my head from place to place.

And, I suppose, it’s a desperate offensive against the ravages of time.

As I lurch toward the age of 40, I realize that I want to live at least twice as long as I already have. I want to double up. And in order to do that I believe I must undo much of the damage my body has incurred over the years. My earthly vessel is a flawed machine.

It seems to be working. After a year I’ve got more muscular definition and tone. I can run a mile without stopping (but not without slowing down). My hands are becoming hard and calloused, like they were when I used them to make my living. And after prolonged sessions on an abdominal torture rack I’m starting to lose the belly I’ve worn around my middle since I was 10 years old.

There is only one abdominal torture rack at the gym where I work out, but there are many, many other machines – crunchers and rollers, padded benches and etched grip handles, treadmills and stationary bicycles, things with pulleys and cords and adjustable components.

There are mirrors where we watch ourselves as we pump and flex; we make faces at ourselves.

There is also a large picture window, through which I watched an entire building go up, from its skeletal girders to its faux brick façade. At night this window, too, becomes a reflective surface.

I see many others at the gym, and some of them catch my eye, the monster who presses 110-pound dumbbells while balancing on a Pilates ball; the dude who works out in street clothes – what’s up with that dude?; the five or so guys who want to sleep with my wife; the distinguished gentleman with the zipper scar who may have elephantiasis.

There is quite a bit of nudity at the gym where I work out – nothing fancy, pretty standard locker-room stuff – and there are unspoken rules about how naked heterosexual men regard one another: walk slowly and deliberately, maintain eye contact, keep your hands to yourselves.

The rules are different in rooms where homosexual men gather. This is not, strictly speaking, one of those rooms.

Still, I suspect there are chickenhawks at my gym. I suspect there are chickenhawks at every gym. But it’s no big deal, as long as they follow the rules like everybody else.

It is acceptable for men to converse while naked – in the steam room and sauna, on the benches laid throughout the locker room, on the couches by the television set in the small lounge.

I will not sit on those couches.

I’ve heard discussions about local politics, national crises, sporting events and medical procedures. I try to keep my mouth shut.

The steam room and sauna sit in a hallway lined with benches that goes past the bathroom, from which there is generally emanating the smell of fresh shit, and to the showers. I am reasonably sure people pee in the showers at my gym. This does not bother me, as I know there to be a pesky strain of fungus festering on the tiles by the drain and I believe that urine kills this fungus. I will not be swayed from this belief.

I am less certain that there is pee in the Jacuzzi, but pee in the Jacuzzi bothers me in a way that pee in the shower does not.

Intellectually I know that there is no amenity in my gym – save for the pool and Jacuzzi – that cannot be replicated in my own home. All of the exercises I do can be accomplished on the floor of my living room using gravity and a cheap set of weights or on a good stretch of road. I have a shower, and I suppose I could use it to fill my bathroom with steam. And if I worked out at home I would always have a parking spot and clean workout clothes.

But I prefer to work out at the gym. At least once a week, sometimes twice and, rarely, three times.

For questions or comments, email Brian Clarey at