Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Road to New York Sports Club is Paved with Baked Goods: a Hero's Journey

So I’m going to the gym on a rainy Wednesday. Im already in a bad disposition because a) I wanted to do something outside and its now pouring, b) my umbrella (which cost me some outrageous amount at urban outfitters that only an idiot would pay for an umbrella) is too small to keep me efficiently dry and c) I’ve been denying myself my daily cupcake/cookie/brownie/doughnut/whatever fix under the frivolous pretense that I should try to curb my sugar intake because “its not good for me” (I’d recently read a very silly little article on Type 2 diabetes). I get to the gym with hoards of other post-office-worker-outers, many of whom I recognize from repeating this ritual every Wednesday at 7, to find that the women’s locker room is under construction – we will be changing in a janitorial closet. Its everything I can do to not let this deter me from another confrontation with my archnemisis the treadmill. But after surviving near trampling, potential damage to personal property and multiple affronts on my girlish modesty by the other ravenously stressed-out corporate women in a very small janitorial closet (it may sound hot, but believe me, nothing could be less so), I’m now on the treadmill and at last left to sweat and suffer in peace to Britney Spears “You Want a Piece of Me” (Hey, you all listen to it too when you run. At least I can admit it…).

So I’m settling into the normal spaced out zone (otherwise known as the orange stripe heart rate zone, says my treadmill. I’m waiting for the day your treadmill will be able to give you your cholesterol levels, calculate your risk of cancer and give you relationship advice), when suddenly, there it is, this uncontrolled and pervasive smell wafting through the gym. And it smells like – waffles! Funnel cakes maybe. Carmel corn. Cookies baking? Whatever it is, its some sweet baked little number making everyone in the gym miserable.

You’d think that when you are cranking up the incline on your treadmill and sweating out the balsamic vinegarette you ate for lunch, that waffles would be the last thing you’d desire. Not so. The smell is so delicate and yet so unavoidable, no matter how focused you are on running in place and winning a race against Paula Ratcliffe in your head, you still cannot shake the image of yourself sitting on your couch eating waffles, fluffy and warm from the wafflemaker. Goddamnit!

Glancing around I see I am not the only one fighting off the effects of the smell – there are looks of grave despair on nearly all of the faces around me. A cruel and pathetic scene this one, and one of pure determination. Like a massive army of warriors collectively warring our physical impulses with societal expectations, we run place. But, you know, gloriously in place, like Mel Gibson in armour against a blue screen. The smell suddenly gets stronger as the outside door is helped open for a woman without adequate transitional umbrella skills, whatever it is outside that is so delicious is now practically sitting in front of us you can smell it so precicely and its right about now that we start dropping ranks like flies. With every man down, every ponytailed director of finance who jumps off the treadmill before the track even stops rolling, the rest of us look back at the casualty longingly. I grapple with the smell for 10 minutes more, mentally seesawing from self flagellation to uncontrolled indulgence, until finally, dripping sweat and quite possibly at my ugliest and hungriest ever, I stumble off my human hamster wheel, scoop up my gym bag and race next door to the bakery for whatever they are baking that most closely resembles a waffle. What kind of bakery is open this late anyway? And of course, when I arrive there is a line. I get behind two other gym-deserters I recognize from the janitorial closet.

If you look into this matter, you’ll realize that the majority of New York gyms are strategically placed in a similar fashion – right next door to aromatic “The Best Pizza in Manhattan” joints, delightfully well-lit liquor stores stocked with frosty bottles of Blue Moon, quaint kitchenettes and hearty delis. Many may attribute this phenomenon to New York’s famous variety of shops, food, pleasures and vices all compacted into a very small space that of course ends up being right next door to every local gym...making regularly eating things you shouldn’t just plain convenient and leaving we well-intended Manhattan-ites perpetually pursuing this constantly transforming version of hyper-hedonism while our metabolisms and wallets try desparately to keep up. You can tell I feel strongly about this matter based on the length of that run-on sentence. This is indeed a city where you can have everything you want (from shoes to midnight waffles) as long as you can pay it off…later. Now this mass consolidation and constant availability of all the things you should and should not do onto one island could be the reason that all gyms are next to bakeries, yes. But actually I think its really just a big conspiracy instigated by New York Sports Club to make sure that I never cancel my gym membership as I run off the cinnamon roll I have not yet eaten.