Anyway, my grandmother and her sister, my great-aunt, volunteered there two days a week, which meant they were supposed to go through the giant bins of clothing and toys and household items that people had donated, weed out anything not worth selling, and organize and price the remaining stuff for display on the sales floor.
What they actually did was raid and pilfer the bins for things that caught their eye and then burrow those items away before their volunteer supervisor could see. Not because the supervisor frowned on petty theft from charity organizations, mind you, but because (the way my grandma told it), she was a mean old biddy who wanted all the best stuff for herself.
Because of this ethically questionable racket, I did not receive any new (brand-new, from-a-proper-retail-establishment-new) clothing from the time shortly after I was born until I reached the fifth grade. Everyone with an older sister had hand-me-downs, but my hand-me-downs weren't just passed on from my sister; they were first worn by some other girl I'd never met, a girl whose grandmother presumably bought her pretty dresses instead of just stuffing them in her big purse alongside the sugar packets she'd snagged during lunch. Not that I minded, I suppose. At the time, it actually didn't even occur to me that this arrangement was in any way abnormal. New clothes were new clothes, and these were new-to-me, anyway. (Is this what it's like to be part of a crime family? Did A.J. Soprano grow up thinking his home life was mundane? Food for thought, I suppose, isn't it?)
Eventually, as I got older, I realized that it was actually possible to pick and choose your outfits from racks and racks of current styles. I did not have to cross my fingers and pray that someone would grow prematurely tired of her lilac-colored stirrup pants and toss them in a donation bin while they were still fully in style. No, I just had to convince my mother to take me to Kohl's or JC Penney instead of waiting for a bounty from my grandma. Easier said than done, of course.
How I felt about St. Vincent de Paul during my early years is basically how I feel about my gym right now. It has never really occurred to me to complain about my gym. The membership is free, courtesy of my employer, provided I go eight or more times a month. It's reasonably clean, reasonably well-equipped, and the number of meatheads and Barbie dolls there is minimal. It's the only gym I've ever attended, and with nothing to compare it to, I thought I had it OK. Until lately. Lately, lots of people have been writing about the little perks of their gyms, and I'm more than a bit aghast by what I'm hearing. Seriously... Movie theaters? Free pizza night? Your own personal TV?? Oh, the humanity. The injustice. I have none of these things. Is this how the other half lives, or is it actually how everyone but me lives? I have seen a glimpse of a better life (or, a better gym, anyway), and frankly, my gym now sucks by comparison.
My annoyance started with the towels, I think. I know in that pile behind the front desk are a number of thick, fluffy, bright-white towels large enough to cover all my most sensitive parts. Receiving one of those is like winning some small-scale lottery, however, because for every day I am lucky enough to wind up a proper and respectable towel I also have to endure six more days with a shrunken, threadbare, dingy gray towel that requires some possibly unintentionally alluring maneuvers in order to simultaneously cover both my knockers* and my ass.
Then there are the showers. At some point in the past few months, something seems to have happened with the showers (or with the water heaters that fuel the showers), because suddenly the hot water that should be a given is instead a rare commodity. Nearly all the women who shower there have figured out that the second stall from the left is the only one to reliably provide hot water, and as such, that stall is nearly always occupied. I now find myself hurrying through lukewarm showers actually praying for someone to flush a toilet, because the flushes that used to subsequently scald me are now the only thing that makes hot water flow from the showerhead for a bit.
My main complaint is the TVs, however. Have I mentioned the TVs before? Oh yes. It seems I have. To recap, however, at my gym, we have no personal televisions on each machine. If you want to watch something to pass the time while on the treadmill or elliptical, you have exactly five choices: CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, or ESPN. No Comedy Central. No Lifetime Movie Network. No All-Friends channel. None of that. Since I generally work out over lunch or after work, this limits my choices to news, fake propaganda news, talk shows, soap operas, or sports. I'm not proud to admit that I actually have a working understanding of the current plot lines on Days of Our Lives, but given those options, can you blame me?
So. Inferior towels, lukewarm showers, and a sadly limited TV channel selection. These are three things currently making me somewhat unhappy with my gym. Since it is Friday, how about I rattle on with five more?
Five things that have annoyed me lately at my gym
- Although this shouldn't really affect me, it somehow bothers me just on principle that any woman would pay as much for a lovely pair of Danskos as I paid for mine and then would leave them atop the locker room coat rack for six full weeks or more. I have been tempted (embarrassingly tempted) to snag these abandoned Danskos for myself (as their rightful owner clearly wouldn't miss them by this point), but unfortunately, (A. They are one size too big for me and (B. Last week, I noticed a similarly abandoned pair of purple underwear resting atop them for several days. Oddly, the underwear are now gone. The Danskos, though? Still there. My memory of the underwear, however, remains, and if my scruples won't prevent me from stealing someone else's shoes, the thought of underwear contamination surely will.
- I'm not honestly in any sort of scoping mode while working out, and I don't really think the gym is where I'm going to meet the man for me. Still, why are the cool hipster guys with the nice hair and the retro t-shirts always the ones with the wedding bands? And why are the balding men with the "egg on legs" physique**, wearing the tapered-cut running pants and baggy long-sleeved t-shirts always the ring-less guys whose eyes wander over to me?
- Yet another of life's pressing questions is this: when the gym provides free childcare during your workout, why wouldn't you just leave your kids there another 15 minutes while you change and get ready to leave? I really don't want my breasts to be the first ones not attached to a blood relative that any child sees, but the slack-jawed gawking by toddlers isn't even what really annoys me in the locker room. Far worse are the kids playing tag around the benches while their mother idly turns the other way. I'm not a parent, of course, so maybe I'm more easily annoyed than is necessary or warranted. But still. Free nursery! Use it, please!
- Since this list has suddenly taken on a question format, I'd like to ask one of the woman who came late into the step class the other night. Why, ma'am, when there are numerous wide-open spaces for you in any of a number of locations around the aerobics studio, why would you pick the approximately 36-inch space between my step and the one to my right and position yourself there, wedged in between the two of us? Why? No, really, WHY? You're in my dance space, sister, and I was here first. Step off and move elsewhere, OK?
- I ain't no Hollaback Girl, and I'm really not a fan of having "Go! Bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!" in my head on constant loop after each aerobics class I attend. In other words, the instructors at my gym need a new CD. Prefererably one with nothing recognizable nor catchy on it at all. (And by the way, if I just implanted that refrain in someone else's head as well, I do apologize. Really I do. Welcome to my brain, though. Fun, isn't it?)
* No, I can't believe I just typed this either, but I stared at the screen for a full 30 seconds trying to decide just which word to use, and for some reason this one seemed both the least clinical and least offensive. Substitute some other euphemism if you prefer; we all have our favorites, I'm sure.
** "Egg on legs"= round, egg-shaped torso with skinny chicken legs. Surely you know the look to which I refer.