2007 04 17

A few months after I started working, I realized I was stuck in something serious. Around me were people who had been doing this, walking into this building in the morning and leaving it at night, for years, and would continue to do it for the foreseeable future. Even with city turnover as it is, there are people here for whom work is more native than home.

This sort of realization affects you in different ways. One day you wake up and maybe the only thing on your mind is doing your best! and having a good time of showing off how legit you are. A week later it might be that all you can think about is retiring to an island somewhere, to whittle or breathe the air or whatever. But for me, consistently, I look at the free food we have, and I look at the asses of the people who had clearly been here awhile, and I put two and two together and I get “angioplasty at 35”.

So, the gym is the answer. And everyone does it! Man, what a social enterprise. At some level, it’s a well-lit bar that you briefly get naked in. There’s flat- screens and hipsters, gay folk and an unspoken, sort of universal code of law. You don’t slam the weights down, for example. You give the bench-presser deference over the cardio guy. You wipe your sweat off the machine! You probably don’t talk to someone in the middle of a set. Anyone who’s spent time pumping the irons can tell you these things.

But I encountered something in this place that was altogether new to me--the nomadic personal trainer, for the first time in his native environment. As best as I can deduce, they work like this: the gym will hire a bunch of these guys, so that at any given time there will be 3 or 4 or 6 of them standing around. They probably get some waiter-level wage from the establishment, but to make rent they’ve gotta get out on the floor and hustle. How do you drum up business in this situation? It’s a freaking art, and it’s amazing to watch.

First, they have to make contact with you. There you are, mildly sweaty and observing the Gym Code by keeping roughly to yourself, just finishing a set on the butterfly or pulldown or whatever. There’s the window of opportunity! The trainer swoops in, sits on the machine next to you.

“Yeah man,” he’ll start, I just got done working that one. The code has been broken, if ever so slightly! “Yeah, I gotta tell you though, I don’t really like it that much.” What? Here’s where it starts.

The guy has to work two completely different angles, without scaring you off. He has to appear friendly, encouraging and helpful; he has to make you comfortable and willing to tell him about “what’re you targeting today?” or if “you’re gonna need a spot on the benchpress next” or whatever. So he’s gotta butter you up a little bit. But at the same time, he has to let you know just how badly you need his help, by telling you how terrible you are at working out on your own!

So that machine you’re on? He doesn’t like it very much--in fact, it kind of sucks. But he’d be happy to show you a better exercise you could try, if you were interested in hiring him for an introductory half-hour session. And you look like you’re ready for it, look like you’ve got a lot of potential, man, but your form could use a little work right here, and was that you he saw over at the freeweights a little while ago? He wasn’t going to say anything, but you were way off on those curls.

It’s got to be a script that they use. I’ve heard it three times from three different people. And I guess it works! I mean, not on me. My form sucks, I’m not working to my potential… in fact, I’m basically a lazy bastard and am completely wasting the money I spend on the membership. I go three times a week, halfass a workout on the machines and weights, run my 2 or 3 miles, and get out of there hoping I’ve delayed the triple bypass by another month or two. But I definitely get a kick out of the pitch.