A workout to die for

Kevin Cowherd

February 03, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

I watch them hurry in the door flashing their gold membershi cards and swinging their $70 Nike gear bags, a grim look on their faces as they stride purposefully to the carpeted locker rooms.

I am at The Health Club.

It's time for The Workout.

God help us all.

Stairmaster, free weights, Lifecycle . . . is this what it's all about?

Racquetball, Nautilus . . . whatever happened to a couple of beers after work?

In the weight room, sculpted bodies grunt and strain under the harsh fluorescent light. Huge men with wide leather belts lift enormous amounts of metal. People check themselves in the mirror. Man, you see that monster in the Oklahoma shirt? He's really ripped!

Lats, abs, pecs . . . you work out here often? Really? How come I've never seen you before? My name's Steve, what's yours? Bambi? Nice to meet you, Bambi.

Bambi, Bambi . . . didn't you used to tend bar at Christophers?

I walk by the membership desk. A trim young man in Reebok sweats and regulation Hitler Youth Corps haircut is droning: " . . . only the finest in equipment and facilities. Our instructors are certified in CPR. With our Executive-Plus membership, you pay just . . ."

The two women he's talking to wear eager, bouncy expressions. I want to scream: "GET OUT! SAVE YOURSELVES WHILE YOU STILL CAN!" But it's too late. They have The Fever. You can see it in their eyes.

Step aerobics, accelerated aerobics, Jazzercise . . . I saw a woman pass out in dance aerobics once.

They threw a bucket of cold water on her and dragged her to her feet. Valerie, the gaunt, pinch-faced instructor -- think spike-shoed Rosa Klebb in "From Russia With Love" -- slapped her hard across the face. Then everyone shrieked: "Angela, you are slowing down the class!"

No, not really. But it could happen. These are dangerously single-minded people here. Nothing must interfere with The Workout.

What is this, Wednesday? Upper-body work. I strap myself into the cold steel of the Torquemada-approved shoulder machine. One, two, one, two . . . that's enough of that. It's Miller time.

I wander over to the racquetball courts. The air crackles with intensity. The familiar THWOCK! THWOCK! of the ball echoes everywhere. So do horrible screams and violent oaths. It's like being in the bowels of a Turkish prison.

A small man with terrier-like determination is on Court 2. He yells to his partner: "Next time I drill ya in the head!"

Later, Sam, his partner, tells me: "My doctor says racquetball is good for stress."

Right. But not when you play the heir-apparent to Mark David Chapman. I tell Sam to memorize the term "walking time bomb" for the day his partner finally snaps and guns down three people in the locker room. The media will be all over this place.

The Club is crowded now. Snatches of conversation can be heard over the variety-rock blaring from the speakers. The talk is of cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) results.

A man says: "You want my othopedist's number? Best elbow man around."

Some poor fool lit up a Salem at the juice bar not long ago. A crowd quickly gathered. They beat him to death with their bare hands, punching and stomping him until the walls were flecked with blood. After that they paraded his body around while everyone raised cans of Carbo 2000 and roared in appreciation.

No, not really. But it could happen. This is Peking at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guard of the '90s permit only one vice. "Make Your Body Beautiful." This concludes a brief message from Chairman Mao.

I walk by the tanning salon. Men and women with milky, dead-of-winter skin shuffle lemming-like into the booths, only to emerge with that pinkish, pre-cancerous glow.

A staff member ("Hi! I'm Teri!") with a serious two-months-in-Barbados tan spots me. She flashes the requisite Health Club smile and chirps: "We have a 3 o'clock available . . ."

No, no, I was just . . . . a man lost his life on the rubberized indoor track yesterday. Apparently he wasn't moving quite fast enough for the fast-track young executive behind him, wired from 17 cups of coffee and a heady afternoon of mergers and acquisitions. The police termed the trampling an "accident," even though the man's body was subsequently run over by 32 different pairs of running shoes.

Believe me, it could happen. But none of that concerns me now. I lie spent and exhausted in front of the big-screen TV.

The Workout is over. I feel much better.

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