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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Gym Less-Than-Dandy

Getting back into the grind after a cold can be a challenge. This morning, I made it to the gym for the first time in a few days. Figuring I wasn’t quite yet up to pretending I could play squash again, I decided to try out a stationary bike.

You’d think I could spend twenty minutes riding a bicycle that goes nowhere without any sort of issue or confusion. You would be sadly mistaken.

I picked out a bike in the back of the room, set my towel on the floor, turned on my MP3 player, popped in the headphones, and started pedaling. Nice and easy at first; I didn’t want to gank a flexor or something in the first five minutes back in the gym.

(‘Gank a flexor’. That’s gym talk, folks. Don’t be afraid of all the technical lingo. It just means to hurt an… um, well, there’s this ball-and-socket thingy, see, and… oh, it probably has to do with the anterior cruciate doohickey, or… uh, you know, proper stretching and range of motion and the latissimus dorsal fin. Or something.

Look, it means ‘a boo-boo’, okay? Somewhere on your leg or your back or your earlobe or something. What do I look like, Jack Lalanne over here?

No, don’t answer that. Moving right along.)

” If I just started pressing buttons or opted for the ‘Random Workout’, there’s no question I’d be stuck with the three-hour marathon Himalaya climb setting, meant for former Olympians and experienced sherpas only.”

So, I’m on the bicycle, taking things easy. Partly to warm up the old legs, but mostly to conserve some energy to sort out the dizzying array of flashing lights and indicators winking at me from the console. The thing had a numeric keypad, a little LED racetrack to show progress, an adjustable fan, heads-up displays for heartrate, RPM and equivalent speed, and three or four other buttons and numbers that made no sense to me. Was one to call the front desk to order an in-workout sandwich? Would the bike dispense twenties if I punched in my PIN number? Could they wire it to call the EMTs to drive me home after a couple of miles? Quite possibly. I’m pretty sure its the same bike model they used to rebuild Steve Austin bigger, faster, stronger and with outstanding ass tone.

I’m assuming. Because if a bike’s got all those bells and whistles and blinky lights and doesn’t give you a great ass, then there’s clearly something very wrong with the equipment design. And they should probably ask for their six million dollars back.

I spent a couple of minutes fiddling with the controls, making sure to be very careful with my choices. I know my luck. If I just started pressing buttons or opted for the ‘Random Workout’, there’s no question I’d be stuck with the three-hour marathon Himalaya climb setting, meant for former Olympians and experienced sherpas only. They’d find me in the gym the next day, still pedaling and leaning back at a forty-five degree angle, already dead for several hours. And they’d say I died doing what I loved — getting my ass handed to me by technology, once last time.

But hey. What an outstanding ass it would be. Almost worth the torture and dying and the gym fine for not wiping off the machine when I’m done.

But not quite. So I was extra specially careful with the buttons.

I deciphered enough of the calisthenic hieroglyphics to ask the nice machine for a flat, level course and a difficulty setting of ‘3’. I didn’t know how far up it went — was that 3 out of 100? 3 out of 10? 3 out of 4,306? No idea. But I put my money, and my disappointing saggy ass, on it not being 3 out of 3, and therefore not beyond my limited capabilities at eight thirty in the morning after five days of hacking up chunks of what I think I’m hoping was lung. Not that I’m happy to have coughed up lung for a week, but if those weren’t bits of lung, then they were something else — quite possibly an organ I’m even more attached to. Like a kidney. Or a flexor. Or a dorsal fin. So I’m sticking with lung, until an X-ray or MRI or bit of fish scale proves otherwise.

Back to the bike.

With my (admittedly pretty easy) course set on the bike, I thought I was finished with the technical portion of the program and focused on pedaling. I cruised from maybe fifty RPM or so while I was fiddling with the controls up into the eighties without any real trouble. Level 3 being reasonably gentle — it’s probably meant for invalids and toddlers and people without legs, mostly — I went strong through the first five minutes, making the little LED lights on the racetrack go through two whole laps and start a third. I pressed my thumbs onto the little metal heartrate monitors on the handlebars, and saw my rate climbing steadily. Not quite in the ‘aerobic workout’ range yet, but I was getting there. Nothing left to do but sit back and pedal my buns off. Hopefully literally.

That lasted for about thirty seconds. Then I got bored.

Look, it’s one thing when you’re driving a car around town — there are things to see, a route to consider, small animals and schoolchildren and mailboxes to mostly avoid. You stay engaged throughout the ride. I assume riding a bike through the streets of Boston would be much the same, only with the anxiety and terror and fear for your life that pedaling on the same streets as a bunch of Massholes must provide. But working those legs in the back of a suburban gym on a sleepy Monday morning just doesn’t do it in terms of stimulation. I needed entertainment, dammit, and I needed it now. Or then. Which, at the time, was now. You know what I’m saying.

That’s when I noticed the little television screen sitting idle past the handlebars. Ah, so that’s what the remote control clipped to the bar under the console was for. I’d assumed that was for putting the bike on autopilot for a while, in case I needed a bathroom break or needed to reheat my sandwich or something. A little TV would be just the thing, though. So I punched the power button, and found the channel changamagig to find ESPN. Might as well watch other world-class athletes while I was sculpting my own temple. The monitor awoke on channel 2, so I starting flipping upward.

*click* *click* *click* *cli-

With no warning, the TV shut off, stranding me somewhere between The Price Is Right and an infomercial for something called ‘Maxiglide’. Which is either some kind of apparatus for straightening hair or the scariest damned dildo I’ve ever personally seen. The television went dead before I could figure it out, frankly. But boy, that girl in the chair with the sheet around her shoulders sure looked happy. Which doesn’t exactly narrow it down.

Anyway, I still wanted to catch some SportsCenter, so I hit the power button again, and continued my surf upwards. And again, after three or four channels, the TV suddenly and unceremoniously went black. I was about to give up on yet another piece of technology smarter than me when I noticed that the remote sported a label reading ‘CardioTheater’.

Oh, I get it. Now I see how the game is played. This sadistic little monster wants my heart rate in the ‘cardio’ range. And I’m betting it won’t give me my tasty TV carrot until I’m there. Fine. Cardio, here I come.

I leaned forward in my banana-seat saddle and put the toes to the grind. My RPMs edged up through the eighties and into the low nineties. Sweat began to pool in my eyebrows, and probably in other fuzzy places, too. With thumbs glued to the heartrate doohickeys, I could see that steadily climbing, too. With just one small hiccup when I tried to reach down and pick up my towel while still pedaling — yeah, don’t ever do that, unless you happen to enjoy 93 RPM sideways wedgies — I soon found my heartrate approaching the ‘cardio zone’. One BPM over the line, and I jabbed a sweaty paw at the remote control, determined to have my SportsCenter yet.

The TV flashed on and I clicked up one channel to find John Buccigross behind the desk in mid-sentence reporting about the A-Rod steroid scandal. And then…

He was gone. The TV went dark. Again. Clearly, the technology wasn’t listening to me. Maybe it wanted me to pedal harder now. So, fine.

Up to 95 RPM, 96, 97. Television on. Television off. Dammit.

Now 99 RPM, and a heartrate solidly in cardio land. Still only three seconds of love at a time from the SportsCenter crew. Time to turn it up a notch.

I peaked at 102 RPM, about as fast as my wiggly legs would take me without flailing my way off the bike and into a bank of treadmills. My heart raced, the monitor showing it inching near the top of the ‘cardio zone’ and into something called the ‘high impact zone’. Was that high impact on the heart, on the floor, or on the wall behind me? I didn’t want to find out. For the mere sake of scientific curiosity — because there was no way I could see any longer with the sweat pouring into my eyes and all the spots circling — I stabbed a shaky finger into the remote and vaguely saw colors and shapes appear on the TV screen.

For three seconds. Then, inky blackness. Fearing that blackness might soon invade my entire field of vision, I backed down from my pace, cooled off with a light pedal for a few minutes and finally, rubber-legged, stepped off the devil bike, defeated and score updateless.

This evening, when I’d mostly recovered, I mentioned the ordeal to my wife. She belongs to a gym in the same chain, sometimes rides the bikes, and I assume they have similar equipment. She’s an athletic girl, but I’m not sure I see her pedaling more furiously than I for a scant few minutes of boob tube entertainment, so I asked if she ever tried to watch TV on the stationary bike.

She said sure, all the time.

I pressed her, asking how in god’s name she managed to reach — and presumably sustain — a pace that satisfied one of those ‘CardioTheater’ bikes, when I could barely get a peep from the anchor’s desk before the fool thing shut off on me. Either she’s been taking professional spinning classes behind my back, or there’s something wondrous and remarkable that I’ve missed somewhere in the region of her thighs. I should probably do a little recon, just to check it out. Scope out the area, I said. If I’m not back in an hour, send a search party. Or a cigarette. Whichever.

She wasn’t having it. Circling back to my original question, she just shrugged and said:

Eh, it’s not the pedaling. You just plug your headphones in and it stays on.

Wait. You just what, now? With the headphones. And it stays? Not the pedaling? So now I can’t walk for the next three days why, exactly?

I guess that’s what I get for assuming that something named a ‘CardioTheater’ would have anything to do with, you know, actual cardiovascular exercise. Silly me. Maybe next time I’ll work out my brain before I head out to exercise my body.

Or ask my wife for help. She knows about all that gym equipment, I’ll bet. And she’s got the thighs and the flexors and buff dorsal fin to prove it.

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