At the gym

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At the Gym

I was seated on a bench trying to make out the words in front of me. The letters were backward and upside down but the word looked familiar. I could make out the word “Song” but something wasn’t right. Then I got it: “20 kg”, the markings on the large, black weight attached to a workout machine on the floor.

I was between reps at the gym.

Friday morning is not usually when I go to the gym, but it was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and I had the day off. I like going to the gym twice a week but it doesn’t always happen. I’ll feel down if I don’t go even once so that at least never happens. On a Friday morning, there were no more than six of us in the cavernous workout room filled with weights and workout machines, treadmills and workout bicycles.

Located at Decarie Square on the edge of one of the largest ethnic neighbourhoods in Montreal, it’s no surprise that on any given day visible minorities outnumber us Caucasians; usually young Black and Filipino men and women are in the majority.

This morning, I was the only White person there and I marveled at the spirit and camaraderie of the Black men sharing the machines, kibitzing and chatting animatedly in English and what sounded like Creole, and I admired their physical prowess and discipline as they attacked the weights with determination and, of course, brute strength. It’s not uncommon for them to spend over 90 minutes working out (I listen to conversations…) while I might be in and out in an hour, including shower time.

The Black men who come to the gym seem the strongest group who attend while two of the staff are Caucasian, oxen with muscles bulging in places I didn’t even know muscles grew.

A lot of the gym’s members are older White guys like me and I’ll stop and admire (not too noticeably, of course) when an older man can lift or pull a very heavy weight. I’ve been known to whisper “Wow!” many times at impressive “performances”. They’ll surprise you, these old men, so don’t mess with us!

One young Filipina woman, who is already rake-thin, must believe that she has a cardio problem to overcome because she’ll spend at least an hour on the elliptical machine at a crazy-fast pace and do nothing more – no ab work, no arm or shoulder work. She’s like a machine on the elliptical; that’s her thing.

I sometimes watch the only female instructor – petite, attractive, middle-age, European-looking – instruct her clients, usually putting them through a very grueling workout. I don’t know whether to envy or feel sorry for her clients; they’re worked quite hard with no let-up. If I ever decide one day to approach her and ask, in a fit of masochism, for some classes, please stop me!

It’s taken a couple of years, but I can certainly feel the benefits of my time spent at the gym. When I lug my luggage and assorted bags up three flights of stairs to my apartment every Monday after spending the weekend in the country, or my bicycle, there are actual muscles to pick up the load.

And that feels good.

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