Monday, March 21, 2005

Friends Not Ignited

One of the boasts that modern health clubs often make is that you can “meet people and make friends” during your fitness sessions – your muscle pumping fixes, your aerobic machine obsessions - between the yanking, the squeezing, the dragging the hissing and the pishing, you can meet your soul mate or at least pass the time of day with another human being. I doubt this claim is true. The dud dud dud dud of stampeding feet pounding the treadmills registering a kind of thunderous harmony, the whirr-whirr of concept rowers, being rowed, nowhere The metallic thud of solid weight crashing down, its work over or a lift proving one too many or one too heavy. The cheesy loop of modern jaunty tunes pervading this production-less factory, aiming at making you do, what you are doing, faster, harder. These are guaranteed. But I’ve yet to experience anything which could be described as meeting like-minded people through the sharing of views and ideas, a useful measure used to describe the process of meeting people.

The mirrored walls are the nearest most there come to acknowledging a human shape. Exhausted glances at tired doppelgangers staring sweatily back is as sociable as it gets for most. The nearest they get to a ‘one to one.’

The only real exceptions to this worship of the self absorbed are a few fanatical and competing regulars precision handling loaded weights on little known muscle groups - places we mortals hardly know exist: 'G' on mate deeeshhh aaarrrrgh deeeshhh!!' 'yeah, nice one', and the desperate who want to be pals with the staff, who in return give the impression that customers like these are a bit of a nuisance. There are very few water cooler moments. Not even around the water cooler. Scarcely a smile of sympathetic recognition, no sense of a shared pain or an embarrassed hint at a pointless obsession. No kindred-like feelings, no community of spirits. No interest in anyone else.

People go there alone. But they don’t go there to meet people. They expect to be able to exercise in complete isolation. It’s as if they all carry a guilty secret which drives their real personalities underground. There is an invisible demarcation shield enveloping each individual. The normal posture is to stare into space between sessions rather than run the risk of accidental eye contact. Other exercisers are nothing but obstacles to this or that exercise machine. The unspoken etiquette, the turn taking code associated with conversation or flirtation with its repertoire of smiles and body language, are all sacrificed in favour of the swig from the bottle and the head–swaddle-waggle into the towel to indicate ‘I’m ready to move now, so should you be! ” Words or anything like them are never ever uttered. I don’t think health clubs with their emphasis on the self absorbed in pursuit of the elusive body perfect and dreams of eternal youth are necessarily places where people are on the look out for new chums.

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