I'm John Short. I'm 41, single, and about 25 pounds overweight. I like sliced and skinned green apples, peeled and cut bananas, and one box of fresh blueberries for breakfast. I smother all of the above in honey, which I buy at Clark's grocery store along with all my other groceries. I like Clark's because it is owned and operated by a lovely couple that won't live forever. For lunch I like foot long Subway sandwiches (ham and cheese with pepperoni on parmesan oregano or veggie delite on wheat) and a candy bar (Snickers Dark). I wash it all down with a Diet Coke. Sometimes I replace the candy bar with a cookie. For dinner I like steak with potatoes or chicken with potatoes or fish with potatoes. Some green vegetable is acceptable but not a lot.
There is one particular girl I am concerned about. She's terrifyingly thin. She always wears her hair in one long, very long, braid straight down her back in that twisty fashion you sometimes see on a show horse's mane. The braid starts at the top of her head and winds it's way all the down to her butt. I suppose she needs to keep it wound tight since this woman loves the treadmill. One day, a Saturday, she ran so long a line of weekenders lined up three deep waiting for her machine. When she realized they were there she simply stepped off, went to the back of the line, and waited for her next turn. Skinny Minnie I call her. Minnie could almost be sexy if she weren't such skin and bones.
If Minnie is skinny and loves to run, then Bettie is sweaty and loves to lift. There is not one time I have gone down to exercise that I have not seen Bettie lifting her weights, lying back on those big balloons they have in the aerobic room doing her sit-ups or lunging through the middle of the gym with her fingers wrapped around the free weights. This girl puts in a tough workout everyday, including weekends. She fits the category guys at work joke about all the time, the "hot body, ugly face" group. Best I can tell she has three outfits - black shorts, but matching shirts and headbands - bright orange and pink, and a darker green. This morning she was wearing orange. It matched her eyeglasses that constantly slip to the rim of her nose. The pair are old school - oval lenses with thick orange frames. Real thick. It's not like I am stalking sweaty Bettie. She's hard to miss and the grunts she howls whipping those barbells around make it virtually impossible for the rest of us to miss her. Plus, no one sweats like her. Drench sweat. It just comes pouring out. Poor t-shirts.
And often I pray Grandpa Lee isn't wounded by an inadvertent swing of Bettie's buff arms. I have no idea if Lee is actually this man's real last name, but I am sure he's a grandfather. He couldn't be any younger than 70 and what I have to love about this guy is that he wears the same outfit for his workout that he does around the clubhouse and down to the mall for lunch. It's a classic look too and one I may not be too far from wearing, especially if I don't get my act together and marry. High top block Adidas sneakers with white socks, big old pair of blue khaki pants held up around the waist by a pair of suspenders (blue with gold buckles). He sports a short sleeve polo shirt in summer and a long sleeve one in winter. Suspender Lee tops it off with a baseball cap - straight brim, mesh backing. Every time our paths cross, usually as he pushes himself off the rowing machine and I make my way for the door to exit, I feel inspired. Here is a man that doesn't care what people think about him. He's too old to care. His doctor probably advised him to do some light biking and rowing and he's being compliant. Meanwhile, I care very much what people think. That's why I am in the damn gym to begin with! It's those 25 pounds wrapped around my waist and hips. Hey Grandpa, thanks for a brief reminder that I, like you, should not care. Just do what you can and go about your day. That seems to be his approach, and it's working.
As with so much of my life overseas, I am one of the only consistent foreigners visiting this gym. But I am not the only one. My friend from Japan is pretty consistent too. I say she's my friend but I have no idea what her name is, only that she isn't from here, she's got a husband and kid (I saw them together in the supermarket downstairs one Saturday afternoon in the produce section where, ironically, they were buying Japanese oranges), and that this woman dominates a step machine. Plus, she is flexi Alexi. That's what I've named her.
I try not to stare when she completes her 45 minutes on the step and glides into the aerobic room for her stretching exercise, but I marvel at her elasticity. She loves to plant her hands straight on the wood floor, then run her legs up the wall like Spiderman, twisting around so she is doing a handstand. Then she has the strength and the discipline to hang there, slowly pull her legs away from the wall and stand on her hands with no support sometimes for five minutes at a time. Once, I got caught staring, and felt embarrassed not so much by her finding me out but more so by those flabby 25 pounds that preclude me from ever standing on my hands upside-down! And this move is a small part of her daily repertoire of stretching that leaves me with little surprise the Japanese live forever. Alexi's core is stronger than dead center on a brick wall.
I've often wondered what drives these people. Why are they here? They're an interesting bunch that makes my 30 minutes entertaining. It's better than looking up at the televisions and having to guess what the news is since I do not speak or read Chinese. Why are they here? Why am I here? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? I need to lose at least twenty-five pounds! Oh, and one more reason.
Of all my fellow weight losers and exercise buffs, no one's prettier, and therefore no one at the gym is more compelling to me, than this beautiful woman who makes an occasional appearance on the treadmill. She must run elsewhere more often because she has the legs, butt, and upper body to prove it but if I'm lucky I am on the treadmill when she is and that just makes my day. Again, I have no name but I'm working up the courage to ask. I run a lot faster when she's in there and my mind runs even faster. Is she married? No ring. Does she have a steady boyfriend? Not one that comes to the clubhouse with her anyway. Is she too old or too young (you never can tell a Chinese woman's age)? No. She seems around 40. Perfect. Is she divorced? I don't care. Does she work? Maybe, but if not I work. Ultimately, would she be interested in a guy like me?
That's where I always get stuck. "A guy like me." My name is John Short. I'm 41, single, and about 25 pounds overweight.
To be continued.