The Queens unemployment workout

Where working out meets rocking out.

Where working out meets rocking out.

Unemployment took away my last excuse not to go to the gym… work. And for that I will never forgive it. If you’re reading this, unemployment, consider yourself out of the will. The cats now get my ever-shrinking pile of assets. (Wifey will have to take it up with the furry ones.) My gym membership is cheap and paid through some time next year. All that prevents me from going these days is laziness and achiness (by which I mean laziness).

My gym has three reasonably convenient locations and many more totally inconvenient locations. One is in midtown, across the street from a previous employer and a short subway ride from home. Working out was so convenient until layoff #2. I still go there sometimes in the late morning to avoid the lunch-time and after-work crowds. Another location a few stops further downtown in Chelsea is bigger and better, but also more crowded. Working out during off-peak times is still perfectly pleasant. And then there’s the Elmhurst location within walking distance of my apartment, where I go if I’m pressed for time or – like today – just don’t feel like riding (or paying $4 to ride) the subway. That place is a madhouse.

I left for the gym at about 9:30 this morning. It was drizzling and sunny, and the sky threatened thunderstorms, portending another day of confusing weather. There was also a 30% chance of snow, a 20% chance of tsunami and 10% chance that the atmosphere would solidify into some sort of jello-like substance making it impossible to do anything. I crossed underneath the subway tracks as the 7 train rumbled overhead, and wound through Elmhurst past the hospital and the park. I turned down through a neighborhood of houses, most of which have been converted into apartments, judging by all the doorbells and Direct TV dishes. A few have been remodeled or torn down and rebuilt into some blocky, tasteless monstrosity. Many more are just kind of drab. At Queens Blvd., I crossed over to the gym.

The one-story box of a building sits right on the boulevard of death next to an LIRR overpass, some used car dealerships and a few hotels that probably rent rooms by the hour. One dealership I’ve watched shrink over the last year from two lots and 60+ cars for sale to half of one lot and about ten cars. And one motel I’ve watched go up right next to it; all they forgot was a sign big enough for passersby to actually see. A huge billboard on the overpass advertises Big Macs at McDonalds with the words, “Sobrang masala may kasamang extra bun.” Who knew that “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions” could be boiled down to four words? A huge public intermediate school sits behind the gym, and buses line up next to it. If I go around 8:00 or leave around 3:00, I inevitably end up following a group of 13-year-olds and looking like a total perv.

The gym was packed, because it’s always packed. Every person in Elmhurst is required to hang out at this gym for two hours each day; working out is optional. I signed up for a couple aerobic machines at the front desk. The earliest available was in an hour. Every machine looked to be occupied when I got inside. Some people were working out, some were talking on cell phones, and some were trying to do both. I jumped on a recumbent bike when one opened up.

As if the crowds weren’t bad enough, the noise levels were just ungodly. Pumping club music covers of 80s songs blared from the aerobics room, as the instructor yelled instructions into her headset microphone. Some of the TVs played corporate music videos of beautiful, disaffected white guys rocking out in construction sites and on the tops of buildings. The accompanying audio came through the club’s speakers. Other TVs tuned to CNN played the news. People yelled into their cell phones over all of this and to their friends across the gym. I hoped my head wouldn’t explode.

I moved from the bike to a cross-trainer when my turn came up, kicking off the woman who tried to take my spot and putting my towel in the drink holder not lined with hardened bubblegum. The air conditioning wasn’t really on, and I was sweating profusely. Soon after, a 40-something-year-old woman busting out of her stretchy black and white gym outfit took the machine next to me. She was all silicon and botox, and damn proud of it. I glanced over, and she flashed me a smile through her lipstick, at least what amounts to a smile for someone who can’t move her face. Distracted from a New York Times Magazine article about aesthetically unpleasing construction, I looked over again a minute later. The Williamsburg Bridge may be ugly, but who could possibly ignore a living, breathing disaster two feet away? She smiled again. I cringed.

When construction lady was done, one of the two people I know at the gym – an unemployed engineer – took over the machine. We chatted about what would happen once unemployment insurance ran out. He has his eyes on a job at McDonalds. I’m thinking Starbucks. My reasons are simple… I don’t want to get fat, and I’d much rather be scalded by coffee than grease. The conversation moved on to the situation in Iran and places to play ping-pong in Flushing. I finished up on the cross-trainer and went for some water.

By the water fountain in the locker room, I ran into the one other person I know at the gym – a heavyset retired guy who enjoys science fiction and Broadway shows. We met many months ago when he commented about The New Yorker magazine I was reading. He was surprised to see it in a gym where no one even speaks English. We chatted briefly about the drag cabaret show I saw over the weekend and what movies we wanted to see.

My time on the elliptical trainer was uneventful, except for the OK Go’s brilliant orchestrated treadmill dance routine video, which came on. Someone programming the music videos for Big Gym TV has a sense of humor, or not. It seemed appropriate either way. The old Jewish guy who works out like he’s on a mission was nowhere to be found. Nor were his right-wing buddies, whom he greets by yelling political nonsense across the room. The Tourette Syndrome guy who spouts off randomly in Italian wasn’t there around either; I think he comes in evenings. The stretching area was unusually quiet. The crew of old ladies who sit around telling dirty jokes was noticeably absent. I finished up my workout in relative peace.

Leaving the gym, I passed an employee returning from her smoke break and waited at the corner for the traffic light. I was tired and had the beginnings of a headache. It had been a relatively quiet workout, but I was still less relaxed than when I arrived. Tomorrow I’ll spend the four bucks and go workout in peace.

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One Comment

  1. YUD wrote:

    this is hilarious. i recall one of my first classes at the gym after i was laid off – it was a 10:30 sort of step aerobics/weights class attended by me and 4 other elderly folks who clearly knew and worked out with each other regularly. it was rather sweet. i have not been back.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

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    […] Going to the gym is my outlet, my shield against that overwhelming useless feeling. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. It helps me validate my existence. Look at me, world, err… Jackson Heights, err… other sweaty people in this ugly building on Queens Blvd., I’m good at something! That something is lifting inanimate objects twelve times using proper form. Working out makes me feel good about myself, or at least less bad. And hard work yields visible results, unlike submitting resumes. I’m in pretty good shape for someone who spends too much time at his computer and eats too many cookies. Take away my workouts, and my mental state goes downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. […]