Brothers in Sweat 
Larry Thornberry
by

I hate exercise for its own sake. I just hate it. In younger days, when I could be in the game, I played in all manner of softball and amateur baseball leagues, and took part in more pick-up playground basketball games than I can count. Thus fun and fitness were married for those years. (Where have they all gone?)

I enjoyed just about every minute of these athletic exertions, more so of course when my team was winning. But absent the game, and with fitness the only goal, putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over has to be one of the most charmless activities on the planet.

Aerobic exercises are the worst, as most of these require a half hour straight of the same damn thing followed by more of the same damn thing and then yet more… Trying to get my time in on these I get bored well before I get tired. Unless there’s someone on the elliptical machine or the treadmill next to me to visit with, about 10 minutes in, no matter my resolve to complete the full half hour this time, I’m thinking of at least 30 more stimulating things I could be doing with my time than grinding away on a torture machine invented by some evil drudge. One of the finest feelings left to a man of my years is to look at the timer on the elliptical machine and find that the 30 minutes have expired and I am now free to move about the country (after stretching of course, which is also a bore, but not as bad as the half hour on the aerobic equivalent of the rack).

The late John Mortimer, a former barrister, creator of the Horace Rumpole stories, and some amusing novels and screenplays (see the 1981 Brideshead Revisited mini-series), staked out the most unambiguous position on this matter. He claimed never to have taken any form of exercise in his entire life. During a physical in Mortimer’s later years his GP asked, “Do you have shortness of breath after exercise,” Mortimer answered, “I have no idea.” And somehow he managed to live 85 years, unscathed by exercise.

But please don’t misunderstand me. This is not a brief for the sedentary life and its real enough perils. As much as I admire Mortimer’s spunk and resolve, I know that absent my four to six trips a week to the gym my waistline, like water, would seek its own level. My blood pressure would likely reach perilous heights. I would have the energy level of a slug. And other unattractive diseases and conditions would probably ambush me. So I reluctantly set out nearly every morning for a good sweat. (As I live in Central Florida, walking in the neighborhood as an alternative to the gym is out of the question. If I tried this I’m sure heat stroke would overtake me before fitness did.)

Happily, my gym labors are made less onerous by a simpatico group of fellow sufferers who frequent my gym. I’ve worked out in various places over the years, including gyms where most habitués retreat behind ear buds and/or smart phones, ignoring their co-religionists. Not the case where I’ve been going the last few years. Here there are some personable fellows, and a few gals, who know how to take some of the sting out the disagreeable chore exercise is by socializing between sets. So I can add intellectual stimulation to fitness as an incentive for regular workouts.

All right, intellectual probably overstates the quality of most of our conversations. In fact, about 90 percent of the verbal space is taken up with sports, seasonally adjusted. This makes sense. Not all of us are on the same wave-length politically, so no use starting arguments. And we can’t talk about women, as there are women in the gym so we might be overheard and hauled up on charges. But sports are a feast sufficient to our needs, and we parse these to the third decimal point, mining them for insight and humor. It does make the time and the laps pass more agreeably. I owe these folks a debt of gratitude. Without their help I would doubtless be in worse shape than I am, not that Jack LaLane would have been impressed with how I stand now.

When we cautiously venture beyond sports we sometime break interesting ground. Several older regulars were talking about the debits and credits of the golden years when a younger member told us he didn’t want to live to be really old. (Young people are prone to say stuff like this.) We asked him why. “If I live too long,” he said, “all the women in my nursing home will be tattooed and the golden oldies will be rap.” A sobering thought, for sure. But the closer I get to the octogenarian years, the less force his argument carries with me.

On another morning we were dissing those TV commercials where pharmaceutical companies badger viewers to badger their doctors to prescribe various unpronounceable medicines. You know, the ones where they spend 15 seconds on how the drug will improve your life, then a minute and a half cataloguing the ways it can kill you. We came to those Viagra and Cialis ads where they say if you have an erection lasting more than four hours you should call your doctor. A gent of Viagra age chipped in that, “If that ever happens to me, I’m not calling my doctor. I’m calling the Dallas Cowgirls.” A man is only as good as his dreams. And this fellow can recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. (Not that any Dallas Cowgirl would waste 10 seconds on him, or on any of the rest of us.)

Most of my gym-mates, like this philosopher, are either past or well into that extended period we refer to as middle-age. Many are retired. One of the regulars, a fellow savvy about all American sports, and about those British TV cop series we both like, recently announced himself to be a member in good standing of the Loyal and Fraternal Order of Aged Gym Rats. I like it. I think I’ll put it on my stationery. Doubtless, in the years I have left, I will be called worse things than an aged gym rat, a name I don’t at all mind answering to.

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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