The Sweat Shop
by Ed Orzechowski
 [Life After 50, The Springfield Republican January, 2008]

In this “Life Over 50,” I’ve joined an exercise club.

If it weren’t for my wife, I probably wouldn’t have signed up.  I wouldn’t say she dragged me to go.  But she had been working out herself – at first two, then three, four, and five times a week.

And a man who’s been married for more than 30 years, if he has any brains or self-preservation instinct at all, very slowly develops an ability to read signs.  I could see that she was setting an example that I’d best heed.  Sometimes the silent example is the loudest.

My wife has a passion for exercise.  She claims she enjoys the equivalent of a runner’s high when she’s finished a regimen of stepping stairs and treading mills.

But I’ve yet to experience this aerobica euphoria.  When I’m finished exercising, I just feel tired and sweaty.  

Maybe I’m still a bit scarred by memories of junior high gym classes, when a pair of post-WWII phys ed teachers introduced this future English major and his nerdy pals to an obstacle course of springboards, pommel horses and parallel bars, the ever-dreaded rope climb, dank locker rooms, and towel-snapping gang showers.

One was a burly, one-armed bully who ruled with intimidation.  Whispered legends abounded about how he had lost his right arm, but in those “Do-as-you’re-told” days, none of us ever dared to ask.  The other was an ex-Marine, whose favorite expression was a disdainful “American youth!” and whose favorite lesson plan consisted of, “Here’s a ball and a bat.  Go down to the field for half an hour, and don’t bother me.”

So what once was gym is now called an “exercise club.”  I call it a 21st-century American sweat shop.

Plenty of machines in this sweat shop, but they don’t produce low-cost widgits or high-tech gizmos.  They produce sweat.

These are devices cleverly designed to make you move your body, but not your location.  Probably the most popular is the treadmill, the runway to nowhere.  Then there’s the stair stepper – an escalator without a mall – the stairway to nowhere.  The boatless rowing machine, on a river to nowhere.  And the sadistic stationary bike.  What little kid wouldn’t love to ride a bike that takes him nowhere? 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not really opposed to exercise.   In fact, I enjoy walking at a brisk pace – heel spurs and weak knees be damned – as long as there’s a destination.  In a moment of unrestrained exuberance, I may even burst into an all-out jog for 25 feet or so.  And I’ve never minded climbing stairs, whether it’s to the top of the Washington Monument, or to our second floor bathroom.

After all, if I didn’t enjoy exercise, why else would I’ve been lugging around this 30-pound pot belly for the last three decades?

You know, if I really wanted to, I could easily shed that weight.  Let’s see … 30 pounds over 30 years.  If I just reverse the process, in another 30 years I could be the same, slim 165 pounds as the day I got married.

My wife would like that.