The old lady’s neck is as big as her head, and her husband has my morning routine memorized. They had joined the gym in summer when I was jogging the local rails to trails.
“Cutting your run short today, eh? I can tell ‘cause your face isn’t red.” Okay, old man. I don’t need you calling me out on my general sloth-like nature or my face.
“Finally wore pants today! It is just a little cold out there.” Nosey old woman! Maybe she, in the process of building that block head/neck over the last 70 years had already learned that running shorts and -2° are bad for business, for lady business.
Yes, they weirded me out. At first. But these old people have been looking out for me, so woefully young and naïve at 33. Gradually, I have opened up with them about the weekend forecast, and they have confided in me about poor gym etiquette.
“He was hopping around here like a flea! I told him you gotta wipe stuff down. He said he don’t sweat.” She rolled her eyes as she said it. I tried to be outraged, but it was hard to hear over my own blood pressure.
“Who doesn’t sweat in here? I sure do!” That was my reply. She was working her deltoids while her hubs was on the incline press machine. I noticed their jeans and knew I was the only one with blurred vision and streams running toward my crack. We all mutually dropped the conversation in favor of annoyance at the discourteous, new “flea.”
This has become my routine. I go to the gym, where their 1994 Chrysler minivan is parked next to the door. She greets me with some degree of sarcasm regarding my attire and the cold. He says hello while giving me side-eye so he knows how hard I’m working. We watch Kickin’ It with Kenny on Cleveland Fox 8’s morning show (today, Kenny was at a pottery/design studio in Lakewood (Kenny has to work extra hard to make up for the morning show lady who used a racial slur earlier in the week (Yeah, I know))). The old folks and me, we have this chemistry like old, wet dynamite! There are 2-5 other gym-goers who make up the 7am regulars.
Change is good, they say. If your sideburns take up half of your face or your socks maintain the shape of your foot without an appendage in them, change is very
good. When your fitness gym merges with the medical rehab gym?
I heard a clatter in the stall while changing my pants and thawing my water bottle in the sink. I knew it was the old lady because that’s the kind of bond we have now.
“Full house,” she said as she shimmied out of a stall. The parking lot had been unusually full. I agreed and asked what was going on. “People down from the rehab place, I guess. They get a cheap membership. Froze your water again?”
None of this was news because it had already been news. I work in a town of 4,000, and it’s the biggest town in the county. What doesn’t make the paper, makes the local gossip. But this transition had made the paper. Farmers losing the odd body part to a greedy piece of farm machinery or strange haircuts are fodder for gossip. Redefined gym/rehab? No problem. I spent all of my life with a mobility impaired parent and half of my life pushing 350lbs worth of the other parent through public places in a wheelchair. I respect the tenacity and courage it takes to keep moving when moving becomes hard for whatever reason. That is my philosophy.
Philosophies are so beautiful in the head but evaporate when a half-crippled elderly man almost rolls the stationary bike on top of himself. Twice. I mean, absolutely the 40-something, Selleck-stache-donning regular who climbed on a treadmill was flashy. But did the old dude next to him have something to prove? The old man stopped his treadmill, stuck his arm through his man purse, and stood watching the ‘stache for long enough to make me uncomfortable. Was my turn coming? Yes. Why did a crusty fellow stand at the back corner of my treadmill for a full minute? I don’t know. I told myself not to worry. Geriatrics know how to manage themselves as evidenced by my other two senior gym friends. The side-eyeing, routine-memorizing, whip-cracking old man friend of mine manages even if modern social cues are a mystery to him.
I tried to block it all out. I tried to watch Kenny and listen to my run mix. I tried to believe the best about people and their capabilities. I worried about how long it would be before a hip broke. Shouldn’t they have had spotters working the recumbent bikes? Where were the seatbelts and helmets? Ellipticals should have been rolled out to the curb. The older folks were hobbling around down there with their jeans and adaptive devices as Contemporary Christian blared, and the triumph of humankind reduced to shriveled limbs being flung over gym equipment with hopes for the best. I let my stress pound out of my feet while keeping fingers poised over 911.
Change happens. My original old people are still there setting the standard. He has started wearing those pants that unzip around the knee, but he keeps it classy. She’s wearing old-school Reeboks with her American flag tee. I look young and supple. And if I have to sit in my car after my morning run to make sure the bow-legged octogenarian limping along while carrying his cane makes it to his vehicle without serious catastrophe, then that’s my new routine. Even though donuts go straight to the thighs, time and gravity are the real villains. But this is a feel good story. Go help an elderly person onto a stationary bike, and be fulfilled.