Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day One

It should come as no surprise that I'm rather unathletic. Most days I can barely pull off physically able. I trip when hurrying up the stairs, I even kick myself in the ankles if I'm not paying attention. I break glassware on a daily basis; a genuine lack of coordination the culprit every time. I fake it well, walking confidently wherever I go, dancing up a storm at weddings, that kind of thing, but don't ask me to walk a balance beam or participate in any light-hearted pick-up football games. The idea of catching a ball or a pen or anything someone might toss my way is enough to give me an anxiety attack.

So, keep all of that in mind when I tell you I started going to the gym today. Day One.

Even the shoe store where I bought my gym-appropriate footwear was intimidating, a cold sweat and increased heart rate immediate upon crossing the threshold. I had no idea what would happen when I got to the gym, waking nightmares of Adonises named Luke and Everett having plagued me for weeks. Thinking back on those awful ninth grade gym classes, I feared being that lanky, awkward queer in the wrong shoes, stumbling around tanned beach bodies, eventually falling into some Lucille Ball-style sight gag where I get my towel caught in the treadmill.

From a young age, I was placed in a category. I’d answer the phone, a salesman on the other end, an utter stranger, would crush me with one pleasant, opening line: “Good evening, Mrs. Hudson, I have a great new product to tell you about . . .” When I ran in the yard, I usually screamed. “Don’t scream like a girl!” my Dad would shout, so instead I’d barely speak, hiding out in the basement, dressing Barbie, undressing her. Perhaps Ken and Barbie had a dysfunctional marriage. Perhaps I’d invite one Ken doll to gently kiss another. Perhaps Ken screamed like a girl from time to time.

I was a boy who dared not play sports, who could not swing a hammer. A boy who had only girls for friends, one who hung out with the school secretary at lunch, for whatever reason.

Eventually, for fear of belonging to a group with so few members, I learned to keep certain things to myself: the backyard screaming, the Barbies, the penchant for stationery supplies. I learned to have no opinion of Diane Keaton’s Oscar dress. I’d stop helping my Mom bake at Christmastime, but rather feign interest in snowball fights. Even stifling my thoughts on abortion, for fear of being too pro-woman. It was similar to being the smart kid. You’d pretend not to know the answer, though of course you did. Boys like me had a lot to consider.

I spent most days in Phys Ed hoping I was doing it right. Not the sports, but the sitting. Praying I’d studied the other boys long enough to see how they nonchalantly sat with one knee raised, their arm draped over it, just so, as though they'd given it no thought. I’d hold my own limp wrist rock-steady, which wasn’t very natural at all. It was like they were born to huddle-up and catch things. I was not. I wore my uniform under my jeans, making every-other-day warmer than the rest, all bunched-up and uncomfortable. It was torture. Add that whole locker room scenario, hot bullies in underwear, and it's a recipe for disaster. I think Gym Class should be eradicated, it's only purpose to humiliate and divide the group: Athletes, ipso facto, men. And then the ones who can't jump hurdles.

But I guess I'm not that kid anymore. Not totally, anyway. I went today, Day One. I elliptically-trained, I curled some weights, and I left. No one pushed me or called me a fag or judged me harshly. Part of me will always be that kid, and I'm okay with that, because who else am I, really, but that kid? I still scream like a girl, from time to time, but now it's hilarious. I like to think it's become part of my charm.


  1. I cannot tell you how much I hated gym class. The thought of it even now makes me want to hide. eeekk!!

  2. i cried all the time as a child. like when i would lose at octopus. or when i couldn't land properly in long jump. bravo me!

    the gym is a terrifying place. and i work there and have for two years. and coincidentally i now have some casual work at a gym in sydney for evenings next week. why the hell am i working in gyms? i can barely curl my ribbon, let alone a barbell.

    well that's a lie. i can curl ribbon like it's nobody's business.

  3. I seem to share Brian's perverse magnetism to the things that repelled me as a child. I wasn't just unathletic - I was plot-to-break-my-own-leg-to-get-out-of-P.E. unathletic, and now, I too work at a gym.

    But that's not what I came here to say - I came to say that that picture is amazing, and looks like it was taken in about 1904.

  4. Oh God, sometimes I feel like your blog is an alternate-universe chronicle of the dispatches from my adolescence.

    I think that determination and pluck were the only things that got me through gym class. As bad as you think you were, I was even worse. Trust me. I still remember an interpretive gymnastics routine that was just…legendary.