Why gyms are no good. No good at all.

I quit my gym a while back, on account of I never went. Apparently I hated money enough to give it to a place that was offering me nothing in the way of goods or services. Anyway, eventually I came to my senses, and realized I could spend my money on something better, like cookies.

The gym quit was perfectly timed: shortly after that we made our decision to leave Brooklyn and find a house in New Jersey, and my weekly bouts of ennui became hourly fits of plus-sized panic. I ran back to my psychiatrist, who told me that the best thing I could do for myself was get some regular exercise.

For a while I fooled myself into thinking I could exercise plenty without some stupid gym. The gym and I were through. Who needs a gym, when you have a park and good sneakers? I’ll jog! Okay, ha ha, maybe walk! Fast!

Whoever said walking was a good workout was lying. To me, a good workout means you sweat, and maybe I’m in better shape than I thought, because I couldn’t break a sweat, unless I wore two sweaters. Also, I kept tripping on the sidewalk. And I inevitably took my dog, because I would be lacing up my sneakers and there he’d be, watching me--and you try to get a workout when Charlie is tagging along. He has to pee on every tree, every hydrant, every garbage bag. He doles out his pee like it’s his gift to all of Brooklyn, to be evenly distributed to its residents. Behold his golden puddles! It’s Christmas, but not!

Lately my anxiety level has been ramping up day by day, as we near our closing and our departure from Brooklyn (I actually just screamed a little). So today I sucked it up, and called a local gym. This gym is not my ex-gym; it’s a gym that happens to be in the same building as Henry’s school, so I really have no excuse. I can drop him off and go. Mind you, during that 5-second elevator trip up those three flights, my brain will be screaming NO NO GO HOME AND EAT DING-DONGS. Nonetheless, the chances are not bad that I might actually get myself some exercise, sometimes.

So! “Is it possible to get a six-week membership?” I asked the nice salesperson. “No,” she said, “We don’t do short-term memberships.” Apparently this place hates money as much as I do! We were meant to be!

“Really?” I said.

“The shortest membership we could do is two months,” she said.

“I’ll pay for two months,” I said, and she said, “Well, this month would be prorated to start today.” So six weeks, in other words. Who was I to point this out?

She told me to come down to the gym, so I went to the gym, and when I got there she told me, and I quote, “The accountant doesn’t want to give you that membership because it’s too much paperwork for just two months.” Wow! They loathe money!

”Really?” I said.

“Let me see what I can do,” she said. I was getting good at this! “Why don’t you go home and I’ll call you.”

So I went home, and no joke, there was a message from her saying to come back, the membership was approved. I took my gym stuff with me! I was going to work out! Mental (and, I suppose, physical) health for me!

“The accountant said to give you a temporary six-week membership,” she said when I got there.

OH MY GOD WHAT OTHER KIND WERE WE TALKING ABOUT, I wanted to shout, but didn’t.

Then I exercised today for the first time in a long time. That in itself is not worth the effort it takes to type the words. I flailed around on an elliptical machine. I tried not to hurt myself stretching. I considered the weight machines but concluded that I had done enough for My First Workout in 2006. The End.

But here’s what I forgot: when you’re a nervous wreck, having had a workout is an excellent idea, but being in a gym is the worst thing you can do to yourself. First of all, you're surrounded by muscled, supple forms, and you're not one of them. You have to get naked in a locker room, which would not be a terrible thing unto itself, but inevitably, in this cavernous, mostly unpopulated space, a woman will stroll over and take the locker right next to yours . You will try not to look but oh god peripheral vision. You have to squeeze yourself into your five-year-old, pilly Lycra-infused pants and witness the horror of the visible panty lines. You suffer a glimpse of yourself in a full-length mirror, an object you have very wisely banned from your home.

Then you go to the Cardio Station (do they perform open-heart surgeries there? It would be a welcome distraction) and you put on your iPod and commence to feeling the burn and so forth. You imagine the elliptical trainer is the damn gym accountant and you step on his head again and again. Your freak-outedness begins to dissipate.

But then! A beefy personal trainer (is there any other kind?) keeps entering the room and peering directly at you, the sole enjoyer of Cardio. You try not to worry, but that’s what your brain is good at these days. There he is, back again. Oh god, is he going to come over and tell me I’m doing something wrong? Is he going to—oh please no—correct my form? Or did I commit some terrible breach of gym etiquette? Oh please let me be done before he comes back. And then you realize: you don’t have a towel with you. And you’re sweating all over the handlebars. You are gross. You are what you always loathed at the gym. The sweat-leaving person. You jerk.

Now he’s back with another trainer, and they’re standing in the corner, pretending not to be talking about you. One of them has a towel wrapped around his neck. It’s an obvious message.

You finish five minutes early because you can’t stand it anymore, rush past the trainers, get a wad of paper towels from the bathroom, and purposefully wipe down the handles, as the responsible gym-goer you are. Anyway, with your iPod off you can hear what they’re talking about and it’s something about their hours or their quads, or both, but anyway it’s not about you.

At least your conscience (and the elliptical machine) is clean.

So after you’re done with your comic approximation of stretching, you return to the locker room, where Next Door Locker Lady is just emerging from the steam room and she says hello. Oh god do you have to talk with her now? Sweet Moses, do you have to make small talk when you’re both naked?

After a quick retreat to the showers and subsequent drying, dressing, etc, you head to the elevator. Standing at the elevator is a cadre of seven-foot-tall, confident athletic types, all dressed in revealing workout costumes. Undoubtedly they Take It to the Max on a daily basis, right after they Push It to the Extreme. And you have to stand among them, with your workout clothes in a plastic shopping bag. The group includes the "your money is not worth the effort" salesperson and the trainer who had been staring at you over at The Cardiac Center. No.

You duck into the stairwell and head down the stairs.

And you set off the alarms.

While racing back up the stairs, you see the sign, cleverly angled so that you can’t read it as you head down the stairs: DO NOT GO DOWN THE STAIRS ALARM WILL SOUND. You get back to the elevator, and there they all are, looking at you. “Ha ha!” you say. “That sure woke me up!” No one says anything.

Anxiety: returned!