Friday, March 16, 2007

We can't work it out

When I was a kid, my grandmother volunteered two days a week at her local St. Vincent de Paul store. Do they have St. Vincent de Paul stores everywhere? Maybe not. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, think Goodwill or Salvation Army. Same basic idea, I believe.

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
  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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!

  4. 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?

  5. 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.


3carnations said...

I haven't attended a gym since 2001. I thought three TVs for everyone to share was great. Don't disillusion me with the idea of a TV for everyone...:)

Pizza night? At the gym? Interesting...

Was Kohls around when you were growing up? I know you're my age, but I never saw a Kohls until in moved here in 1995...Maybe it's a midwest thing.

In junior high we had a aerobics segment in gym and the whole time we did it (over the course of a month or so) it was ALWAYS to the song Strut by Sheena Easton. Whenever that song comes on during some retro lunch hour, I get the urge to do aerobics...I'm sure Pavlov could explain this...

nabbalicious said...

My grandma was all over St. Vincent de Paul when I was a kid! So, we definitely had them in CA.

Not much has been annoying me about the gym lately, aside from the people who insist on running flat-footed on the treadmill so we're treated to "bang, bang, bang, bang..." for an hour. Grr.

Amanda said...

Just a guess, since you live in Mpls... but CERTAINLY you can't be speaking of Lifetime Fitness? Right?

The Lifetime that my parents belong to (in Plymouth) is the most beautiful gym on the face of the planet. While my gym in New York is twice the price and has individual TVs, it is nowhere as clean or as luxurious. If you are anti-Lifetime, it is blasphemy!

L Sass said...

EEK! My friend was still signed into gmail on my computer, so my comment registered as her. Sorry!

Just a guess, since you live in Mpls... but CERTAINLY you can't be speaking of Lifetime Fitness? Right?

The Lifetime that my parents belong to (in Plymouth) is the most beautiful gym on the face of the planet. While my gym in New York is twice the price and has individual TVs, it is nowhere as clean or as luxurious. If you are anti-Lifetime, it is blasphemy!

stefanie said...

3Cs--Yes, pizza at the gym does sound counter-intuitive, but it also sounded pretty cool (when Noelle wrote about it). And yep, we had Kohl's growing up, but they started in Wisconsin, so that likely explains it.

Nabb--Damn right nothing better be annoying you at the gym lately. You're the one with the movie theater in yours!!

L Sass--Ha. I actually read that comment and thought, "Amanda? I have TWO New York-based readers who are from the Twin Cities?? I had no idea..." Mystery solved now that I see it was you. :-) And no, I'm not talking about Lifetime. That's where most of my friends go, but my membership's at a single-location gym in the town where I work. (The free membership from my employer is cool, but it's good only at the gym THEY chose, which is the gym nearest to work.) Lifetimes seem to be hit or miss, though. Some are gorgeous, some not so much.

Paisley said...

My gym has a movie theater where you can watch the movie in luxurious recliner chairs while your loved one is still in the SWANKY locker room. We have a juice bar, free towels, personal tvs on every machine, a separate room for cycling, aerobic, and yoga/pilates, a hair salon, massage person, chiropractor, clothing sales, stretching area, childcare, basketball court...

but all I wish they had is a pool.

That's all. Just a pool.

And I'll be heading there every morning at 4:30 am starting Monday.


Simone said...

St. Vincent de Paul reminds me of Angela's Ashes because he mentions it a lot in that they really are everywhere, even Ireland. I've heard of one here, but never been there.

Yeah, my "fitness center" is IN my work building...they also have the tv's on cnn and other news programs...that's the last thing I'd like to watch. I always request they turn it to TBS as that's the only non-news or soap opera show I know about...I'm laughing over Newsradio and Drew Carey and feel like the odd-woman out. Methinks I need an Ipod.

Poppy Cede said...

Regarding item #2, perhaps the world is pulling a Shallow Hal on you (NOT that YOU are SHALLOW, because you most certainly are not!!!!) and all the men without wedding bands are actually drop-dead gorgeous.

Tom said...

I think if I was going to the gym often, I would skip eating any free pizza... typically, I'm in the mood for a smoothie or something, maybe a Subway... but pizza would not hit the spot.

but, i've never tried it... I'm likely full of crap and would eat my fill, thereby making my workout completely useless

Anniina said...

I don't have a gym at all at the mo' so I was thinking yours sounds pretty standard, until I read Paisley's comment. Really? Where do these heavenly havens exist? Not around here, for sure. I don't even like gyms, and here I'm feeling gym-envy!

guinness girl said...

HA! I really liked this post, Stefanie. If it makes you feel better, the towels and water pressure at my gym both totally suck.

Red said...

I LOVE that story about your grandmother! Also, eggs on legs: priceless.

stefanie said...

Paisley--My gym has about half that stuff (free-but-crappy towels, separate cycling room and basketball court, hair salon and massage, some sort of clothing sales, etc.) AND we have a pool (indoor and outdoor, actually), but I still want my own TV! (And hot water. Is that too much to ask?)

Also, 4:30 a.m.??? Good lord, woman. You are far more dedicated than I could ever be.

Simone--I have an iPod (or, an iPod-like device), thankfully, but still I'd love additional distractions, like the TBS sitcoms you mentioned. Hell, even "Everybody Loves Raymond" would be better than Fox News, and I do NOT, in fact, love Raymond at all.

Poppy--But if the world were pulling a Shallow Hal, the hot guys with wedding bands would actually be the truly ugly ones, and the Eggs on Legs would be gorgeous but asshole-ish, right? This is all so confusing... I guess what we're saying is I need to stick with the utterly average-looking guys? :-)

Tom--Hi! I saw you linked somewhere recently, but I couldn't remember where. Then I saw my pal Guinness Girl on your leader board for the American Idol contest and I figured it out. Anyway, thanks for stopping by. :-) And I would definitely eat the pizza and cancel out the workout, which is why it's probably just as well that my gym has no free pizza.

Anniina--I totally have gym envy. I want my own TV! And a towel that covers my ass! Argh.

GG--Thanks. And OK, I understand you've got it rough, too, but... personal TVs?? (Apparently I cannot drive this point home solidly enough.)

Red--Thanks. :-)

don't call me MA'AM said...

I work out on our gym equipment at home, but the hubby wants to join a club. I'm more concerned we'd have the same issues that you're finding with yours.

And YES! Moms should leave their kids in the day care center until they're ready to go. I'm a mom, so I can say that. :-)

metalia said...

Oh, wow..."eggs on legs" is my new favorite phrase; I've never heard it before. Awesome.

Darren McLikeshimself said...

The toddlers in the locker room would drive my shit up the wall too and not because I dislike children but for the very reasons you detailed here.

lizgwiz said...

I haven't had a gym membership in years, and when I did, it was the downtown YMCA, which is very definitely no frills. No TVs in front of the stationery bikes, but they did have People and Entertainment Weekly magazines. There were TVs in front of the treadmills, but they were all tuned to some sort of business/financial report every time I was there. Blech. Maybe I should start looking around--if I find a gym with all the perks you envy, I might get motivated to work out again!

stefanie said...

DCMM--I used to work out at home, but when I moved into a 1950 house with a tiny living room and creaky old floors, and suddenly doing aerobics tapes in my living room wasn't such a good plan anymore. Hence, the gym. If I had a proper space and equipment at home, though, I might do what you do.

Metalia--Thanks. I don't know how better to describe that body type, so I'm surprised more people don't use that same term. :-)

Darren--You don't want toddlers staring at your naked breasts either? Huh.

Liz--Good luck with that. Truthfully, the eight-times-a-month requirement is what generally motivates me to go there, so maybe you just need to somehow score a deal like that. ;-)

Darren McLikeshimself said...

No! I'd be put out because there's a place for them that they should be in until it's time to leave. Gah!