Thursday, May 6, 2010

Death Of A Gym: Repercussions

Today my husband and I got into our mud-spattered truck and went shopping for fitness equipment. With the nearby gym recently deceased, and the roads around here icy, snowy, muddy or wet for most of the year, we figured it made sense to get a machine that would provide us a way to burn calories other than gardening, building wattle fences, or walking to the mailbox.

Thinking that we should try out anything we were considering buying, we headed to Glens Falls, NY, a city that would strike most Americans as perfectly ordinary. But after five years in Vermont, a place like Glens Falls feels to me like another country, if not another planet.

There is so much one forgets, as a citizen of West Pawlet. The six-lane highways cutting through suburbia. The bigness of the big stores, which in turn have other big stores next to them, which together form a shopping center, whose twin you can see across the road as you search for a shady spot in the frying pan that is the parking lot (we had Bisou in the truck). The fact that you can drive three minutes and see two McDonalds. The nurseries as big as cow pastures (if they are so huge and so numerous, why isn't America greener?). The long waits at the traffic lights.

One criterion we used to help us sift through the thousands of fitness machines out there is size. Unlike me, who believe in going into a meditative state and listening to my body while I exercise, my husband believes in watching TV, so as not to have to listen to his body. We are so quaint that we have only one TV in the house, and it is in a small room already crowded with three sets of bookshelves holding such items as the record player my husband put together from a kit in 1970, his LP collection, two decades' worth of videotapes, and (I just counted them) eight remotes. So the fitness apparatus had to be, first and foremost, relatively small.

We started with the most upscale of the stores we planned to visit--Sears (did I mention that we are from W. Pawlet?). And there we saw treadmills so huge that you could land a jumbo jet on them, whose control panels reminded me of my rare glimpses into pilots' cabins. The elliptical trainers took up somewhat less space, but we still couldn't imagine one of those behemoths in our TV room. That left the exercise bikes. They, like the rest of America, had also put on weight since we bought our first one years ago. But they didn't have as many electronic gizmos (as a creative person, I can invent my own workouts, thank you) and one had movable handles, so you could exercise your arms as well as your legs. The nice salesman even pulled it out onto the floor and let us try it.

We next headed to the two other nearby stores that carried exercise equipment: W, and K (need I spell out their names?). Same huge shade-free parking lots. Same aisles broader than the streets of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter. Same huge people (non-assiduous users of home fitness equipment) pushing overflowing carts. But neither store allowed us to try out their machines.

After a fattening lunch at the only non-fast-food place we could find we returned to Sears. There, I hid myself in the women's clothing area while my husband, who came of age among the chickpea vendors in the bazaars of Abadan, Iran, negotiated with the Italian salesman. After allowing a sufficient interval for them to come to an agreement, I appeared in time to witness the signing of the credit card and graciously receive the salesman's congratulations.

After we loaded the bicycle on the truck we found Bisou an island of grass among all the oceans of asphalt and let her out, then put her back in her crate and headed home. And it was like watching a film in reverse: as the road narrowed lane by lane the stores got smaller, the traffic lighter. Soon pastures with cows replaced parking lots, and I knew we were home.

Do the last couple of sentences sound overly idyllic? Probably. Do I miss being able to wander idly through a store, looking at stuff, sometimes? Absolutely. Am I married to an Iranian? No.

8 comments :

  1. ah, those shade-free parking lots. at least it wasn't midsummer. they're unbearable then.

    i swear by my elliptical trainer. i watch DVDs while i exercise, on the old TV in the basement with the wonky color.

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  2. Your last sentence - what a pity. I just LOVED this image ... "There, I hid myself in the women's clothing area while my husband, who came of age among the chickpea vendors in the bazaars of Abadan, Iran, negotiated with the Italian salesman."

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  3. Hi Lali, I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast and imagery, but observe a major error in fact. You were contrasting West Pawlet, VT with Queensbury, NY. Glens Falls has no Sears, McD, W or K, nor six-lane highway. Our parking lots are cozy with shade. You can find ample choices for meals from other than fast-food joints. Glens Falls's major shortcoming is that it has no shop selling shiny, exercise equipment ...

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  4. UnCorked, you are so right! Major apologies to Glens Falls--a very different place from Queensbury. But what do you expect? I'm from W. Pawlet....

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  5. I loved this, Lali! I remember our drive through Glens Falls after visiting with you and Indigo Bunting. It was much different from West Pawlet.

    I also remembered having read a short story about Glens Falls in a book for a long-ago book group (Platte River by Rick Bass)

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  6. "Am I married to an Iranian?" was exactly the question I was going to ask. All the rest fell away and chickpea vendor was all I noticed. But then I was able to go back and read again. And think about where I live and where I don't. I'm in the polar opposite, as far as the US goes, in an inner city showing her age badly. And when I go to the suburbs, I feel the same way. A sort of otherworldly panic.

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  7. I gotta check out your machine someday. But you know that. Hope you both love it!

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  8. Mali and Bridgett, just to clarify: my husband is American, but spent part of his childhood in Iran, and went to the bazaar, though I doubt that his mother bought any chickpeas.

    Dona, given UnCorked's comment, are you sure you weren't going through Queensboro?

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