I’ve had a membership at Bally’s gym for something like ten years. Eight years, maybe. A long time. I haven’t actually set foot inside a Bally’s gym in three years; the last time I dragged my ass in there they’d added this ridiculously complicated card-reading machine at the entrance and when I couldn’t figure it out the twelve-year-old at the front desk wrinkled her nose and informed me that they’d had the card reader for at least eighteen months. I couldn’t deduce which was the least embarrassing: letting her believe my technological learning curve was so steep that figuring out how to insert my membership card into a slot with an arrow on it was literally taking me years, or telling her I hadn’t been to the gym since she was in the fifth grade. So I took off my sweatbands and my Walkman earmuffs and I bailed. Forever.
When I originally signed up for my membership they were offering an astounding deal: pay $29 a month for three years, pay $19 a month for the following two years, then pay nothing forever because after five years you will have earned a free lifetime membership. Fantastic deal, right?
Yeah, so apparently Bally’s went bankrupt. I’m sure they were just stunned. But things went so well for the first five years! What could have possibly gone wrong? I may not have a business degree but I do have a masters in Stupid Math and trust me, on a scale of one to ten this particular display of financial acumen rates a negative seventy. And a half. And fractioned and square rooted and multiplied by that one number that goes on and on without repeating itself and sounds like "cake".
Obviously I had no idea Bally's went under. I heard about it from my parents-- two other people with free lifetime memberships who haven't so much as driven by the gym in half a decade. My dad takes an "all or nothing" approach to exercise-- years of nothing punctuated by brief spurts of rabid workouts that leave him unable to walk for weeks at a time. Last time he stairstepped his way into shin splints in seven days. Teasingly ask him about it and he'll remind you that he's still the only guy to climb fifty-seven thousand imaginary flights of steps in under a week. Who lived. And my mom has had a slightly different priority list these past few years, and justifiably so, so we'll leave that alone.
But I was on the phone with my mom a couple of days before Christmas-- I'd decided to make the world's most complicated Christmas cookies and had thus just spent like six hours smashing red and green Jolly Ranchers with a hammer and zesting twelve limes and I needed some maternal sympathy-- and she told me about Bally's. I didn't so much care about the gym closing; after all, maybe they'd put a giant marshmallow factory there or a twenty-four hour bloomin' onion store or something, but it turns out that another neighborhood gym, Lifetime Fitness, was offering seriously discounted memberships to all the people who got screwed by Bally's. And I don't know if you have a Lifetime Fitness in your town, but it's like the Saks Fifth Avenue of gyms. There's a full service spa, all kinds of saunas, crazy indoor/outdoor pools and waterslides, granite countertops in the locker room, and... like, some other gym shit, I don't know. Mats and whatnot. The membership price generally reflects all that, too, so every time I've ever wheedled to Randy about how great it would be to be members he reminds me that a) it's roughly a zillion dollars to join, and b) I'm retarded. We turned a spare bedroom into a ridiculously adequate home gym that more than meets any of our fitness cravings. I use it occasionally, mostly the recumbent bike; I TiVo episodes of Intervention and then pedal away, secure in the knowledge that not only am I (sort of) exercising, I'm also not following up methamphetamine injections with a chaser of heroin and malt liquor. It's a double whammy of superiority-- which is primarily what I'm looking for when I make efforts to improve my general health.
"We're going to join," my mom told me as my stupid hard lime cookies burned. "Your dad and I and your brother. We're going down there tomorrow to get a family membership."
"I wanna go," I whispered into the phone, already mentally packing my gym bag. Bathing suit. Mascara. Done.
"So get Randy and get down there," she said. She'd footed the bill for the five payable years of Bally's. Apparently I'd used up all my "family membership" moxie.
"I wanna goooooooooo..."
"I'm not paying for you."
I went down there the day after Christmas. Or Christmas Eve? Christmas Eve, that's right. I called first and talked to a salesperson, Beth. Beth had a pretty hard time selling me, what with me screaming "IN! I'M IN!" over and over into her ear. She walked me through the entire facility, starting (sensically, I suppose, to her, poor thing) with the upstairs workout area. We're walking up the glass staircase in the middle of this gleaming atrium, right, and Beth turns to me, 98% perk and 2% insanely good hair, and asks, "So what are your primary fitness goals, Erin?"
I reached the top of the staircase, fake breathing so Beth wouldn't know one of my lungs had collapsed on step number seventeen. I'm a pretty good faker, I think, except for the drooling. It's always the damn drooling.
"Uh," I spat wetly. And here comes the Lower Middle Age Denial answer: "I'm really just looking to tone?"
Beth elbowed me jovially in the empty ribcage cavern that used to house my inflated breathing instruments.
"It's like you read my journal!" she laughed. I'm not kidding, she seriously said that. You'd probably need to see her to truly appreciate where I'm coming from here, but this chick could have karate chopped that staircase down and clawed her way to the second floor using only her triceps, a rough patch in the drywall, and a tiny bit of help from her hair.
The rest of the upstairs is kind of a blur since the only oxygen getting to my brain was coming in through my ears, but I perked up again when we got to the swimming pools. Beth gestured through floor-to-ceiling glass to where the tennis courts were.
"Is tennis included in this membership?"
Turns out it isn't, it's five dollars to reserve a court. I feigned disappointment; the last time I played tennis it was in a pity class at the Gulf Breeze Country Club when I was eight. We had an instructor named Buddy who reeked of coconut tanning oil and who tolerated my inherent tennis abilities for as long as he could stand before putting me in charge of ball collection. Those baskets with the wire bottoms? That you smush the balls through? I'm really good at that.
"Do you play tennis?" A fair question-- I couldn't walk fast or climb stairs or breathe through my nose so naturally tennis was probably my big skill.
"I used to," I straight up lied. Beth and her hair didn't need to hear about my smushing prowess. A man who was walking in front of us stopped then and turned to look at me.
"'Used to'," he repeated, "what does that mean?"
"I... think it's pretty self-explanatory," I laughed. Obviously I played club tennis all through high school whereupon I got a full-ride tennis scholarship to Arizona State. Or: obviously I tried to smash a powdered donut through my rental tennis racket twenty-five years ago while the coconut golf pro flirted with my mom. Self-explanatory.
"You should get back into it!" the guy yelled. "Hold on, I'll get you some material." And he jogged away.
"That's Brian, our tennis director." Yeah. Of course it is.
"Well that was lucky."
So as I sat in Beth's office filling out paperwork, Brian The Director of Tennis bounced in with thirty photocopies and a league binder. He was explaining the tournament schedule rotation when Beth interrupted to ask me when I wanted my membership to start.
"When do you think you'll want to start working out?"
"Oh, well, I mean, how about today?" Big smile from Beth. Brian came in for a high-five. So yeah, I went ahead and activated a gym membership on Christmas Eve.
I was telling my dad this entire story on the phone yesterday, December 30th, six days since I'd shared a very meaningful high-five and six days since I'd set a fucking foot inside that building, and he was crying laughing at me. He couldn't even breathe. I couldn't breathe, either. We have that in common, I guess.
"'How about today'," he mimicked, wheezing.
"Shit, how about right now?" I mimicked back. "Can I work out in these Uggs? Here, hold my purse." I thought one of us was going to throw up.
"So yeah," I said finally, calming down, "you want to maybe go to the gym with me this afternoon?"
Thank god. Lifetime Fitness probably doesn't show Intervention on the big TVs and I'm guessing they discourage napping on the mats. Plus there's a big couples tourney coming up and I need to get to the sporting goods store to pick up one of those ball baskets.