So something I do when I’m not
stuffing my face with junk food writing my novel at the office is go to the gym and work out. Yes, you read that correctly; me, who won the 2004 Olympic Gold Medal for Ass-Sitting. Who would always, always, rather be asleep than be awake. Who has coasted on having a high metabolism her entire life because Oh, I never gain weight so I’m obviously healthy as a horse. Borderline high cholesterol and flabby spaghetti arms are normal, right? But I’m at the gym because I live on the beach now. Because I’m over 30. Because I wanted to meet people. Because the gym I’ve found happens to be chill, inviting, affordable, and run by three wild and crazy guys; things that will make you actually look forward to working out. Apart from the whole living on the beach and high cholesterol thing. Can I tell you guys this? I love it. I. Love. Going. To. The. Gym.
But my new active lifestyle didn’t have an easy start. There are, supposedly, two million gyms in Terracina – all of which are hiding. Because Italians can’t give directions for crap: You don’t know where the gym is? Well, it’s over there. So I go “over there” and there’s no gym. You didn’t find it? I meant to go over there near the hospital. It’s right there. So I go “over there near the hospital” and there’s still no gym. You still can’t find the gym? But it’s right there, I’m telling you. Are we playing Screw the Foreigner? I can’t tell.
I looked for a gym for six months. I mean, I literally could not find a gym in a town 6km long for six months.Scratch that – there was one gym I found on Viale della Vittoria, but the entrance was blocked, and soon after I found the place, covered over with a Vendesi* sign. Was I doomed to be flabby and friendless in Terracina? It certainly seemed that way. Until I found it. The one. Right across the street from my local supermarket, but nestled in a three-story building, its sign visible only upon close inspection during several drive-bys.
There is a weight room. There are treadmills and exercise bikes, and loads of cardio-related classes. A peaceful place, never crowded. MTV on a TV on the wall in front of the treadmill in case I ever get a wild hair and feel like catching up on Jersey Shore, dubbed in Italian. I do the Pyramid course on the treadmill, or 10 minutes on the exercise bike, and then I go to the weights. I count in my head, in English, or sometimes in Japanese. Drink my water. Eat my protein bars.
E, say the gym guys when I roll up in the afternoons; my pre-caffe pit stop. Leonardo, Michele, and Carlo are the dudes who run Uno Fitness. Young and energetic muscleheads; obsessed with America – specifically, Venice Beach, which they pronounce Ve-ni-che Bitch – because California is where Gold Gym is and all the best body builders are. My accent makes them light up: Tell us again, they say, Tell us again how to say bicep and tricep and gluteus maximus in American!
Carlo, the youngest, has Mr. Universe dreams. Look, he says. I got this medicine from America that’s supposed to enlarge your veins but I can’t read the instructions. Can you translate them for me?
Yes, I say. With pleasure. The bottle says, “Do not take this medicine; it is seriously scary shit.”
Pffff, he says. I will be big, like Arnold. And no joke, dude’s biceps are the size of my head. I am like the Americans! he says, flexing his arms under a skin-tight t-shirt; his diamond stud glinting in the sunlight. I take these medicines and I’m like you!
Yes, I say, flexing my puny pigeon wings. Clearly, we’re all jacked.
It’s inspiration, in any sense. There are the gym dudes, running around like sculptures, and then the young women in the locker rooms who don’t have a dimple of cellulite between them and, of course, the women on the beach. It’s beach season here in Terracina and on the weekends we’re all out there, in the flesh, and if concern for my borderline high cholesterol doesn’t properly motivate me, peeling off my clothes in front of Italian men will. But it’s not just that. I don’t know myself this active; am pretty thrilled by the change. I feel motivated. I feel strong.
So leg lifts. Biceps. Triceps. Water bottle. Protein bar. And Carlo comes over while I’m doing stuff to my thigh muscles.
Bitch, he says, in English.
I do another leg press and say: What?
He points at me, grinning: Bitch. You?
I know he’s trying to ask if I’ve been to the beach. I know it, but it’s too perfect and I can’t help myself; crack up: Dude.
And I explain the difference between beach and bitch; long vowels versus short vowels; big difference. And Carlo’s mortified: I didn’t mean to call you a bitch!
I just wanted to know if you’d been to the beach yet.
I know, I say. But when you finally get to California and meet Arnold Schwarzeneger, these are things you should know.
Yes, yes, you’re right, he says. Next time I will get it right.