Frankly, I'm at a crossroads. I could get back on a diet and excercise program and lose most of my excess baggage in about ten weeks. I know how to do it and I've done it before. Or, I could tack on another hundred and start calling the producers of Biggest Loser for an audition. If you're gonna be morbidly obese, you may as well get your mug on national television, right?
So last Friday night was my once-a-week visit to the town rec center and "Treadmill Row." For those unfamiliar with how a health club/rec center operates, Treadmill Row is a group of no less than ten treadmills set side-by-side facing several televisions that hang from the ceiling. It's a modern day version of the carrot and the stick. Navigating Treadmill Row can be unnerving. Fortunately, I have a set of rules I follow religiously before and during my time on the machines.
Rule number one is: Find a buffer. I try to ensure that there's at least one open treadmill on each side of me as I begin my conveyor belt-aided walk/run, mostly so that no one can view my machine's digital readout to see either how fast I'm going or how many calories I've burned. That information should be on a need to know basis. Like when using a urinal at a ballgame, head and eyes must be pointed straight ahead. There's only one reason anyone should be looking at someone else while they're taking a leak and that definitely doesn't apply to me. That's also the reason you won't find me tapping my feet under the bathroom stall when I'm going number two. Homie don't play that. Got it? Good. Though I take precautions to keep workout evesdroppers away, invariably someone will get daring and step inside my force field of solitude to claim a machine next to me. Occasionally, I'll get lucky and the buffer will remain intact for the duration of my workout, but mostly i'm disappointed.
The second rule is: Lie to the machine. The treadmill will always ask for your current weight, as well as the desired speed, incline and duration of your workout. I like to feel good about my time spent on these machines, so I always inflate my real-life weight when entering the information. It's amazing how many more calories a 420-pound man burns versus a man my size doing the same workout. It's all about feeling good, motivating yourself and achieving a level of satisfaction. How much more satisfied could I be after that I've burned 855 calories during a half mile speed walk. Plus, the pinheads who still feel they can sneak a peek at my digital readout think I'm really busting my nuts on this thing.
My third and final rule is: Sweat a lot. This rule is something that I naturally do well. Hereditarily speaking, I sweat like roughly chopped onions on an episode of Iron Chef. Even if it wasn't a rule, I'd be champion. No one can out-sweat me. No one.
So, those are the ground rules.
Usually I go up to work out alone. This time I would drop my son and his friend off at the basketball courts on the main floor, then run upstairs to find a machine with plenty of elbow room. The boys wanted to spend some time at the indoor pool after their hoops session, so I planned to meet up with them after my workout was complete. I'd go longer than normal -- 45 minutes. I was really going to push myself tonight. In actuality, the Heat/Knicks game was on ESPN -- Lebron's first game in Madison Square Garden since "The Decision" (not really sure why I care) and I wanted to at least see the first quarter.
Come to think of it, maybe I should add a fourth rule: Always position yourself in front of a television that is tuned to something you'll find at least mildy interesting -- and (this is very important), make sure the closed captions are on, cause there's no audio on Treadmill Row. Bad programming can make your workout feel twice as long. ESPN means no matter what is on I'm content. I've made the mistake taking a machine in front of a television tuned to an old episode of Law & Order without closed captions -- that's a 45-minute workout that felt more like my last semester of college, I thought it would never end.
Once upstairs, I locked onto the television that was showing the game. I marked my territory with a few quick stretches. No one on my right. Check. No one on my left. Double Check. Time to roll.
You'd think a person as out of shape as I am would have a difficult time on Treadmill Row. No way. I'm exceptionally nimble for my size. I walk. I run. I use the incline. In many ways I'm like a bear during hibernation -- I might not look like much, but I can haul ass if I need to.
I really felt like screwing with the machine I was on, punching up 540 pounds as my body weight before I began. Hey, it asked. After 45 minutes and about two and half miles, the display said that I had burned something like 32,ooo calories. Next time I'm going as "hollow man" -- I'll enter 22 pounds and really mess with the machine. It ought to take me about a half century to burn 32,000 calories at that weight.
Anyway, about halfway through my workout, things started to really get busy on the running track that sits adjacent to Treadmill Row. One of those "boot camps" for women was beginning its evening class. The instructor had them doing all sorts of impossible maneuvers as they circled the track. Lunges, hops and sideways skipping to name a few. Just watching it spiked my heart rate to dangerous levels. The group included a dozen or so women in varying states of fitness, only a few able to keep somewhat close to the boot camp drill seargent. Several of the ladies barely resembled the example set by their toned leader. Whatever these ladies were doing, it provided some great comic relief during breaks in the Heat/Knicks action.
So, with a tough workout complete and super-boring game on the tube, I grabbed the boys from the gym to take them down to the pool. I had them change in the men's locker room, never realizing just how scary a place it can be for ten-year-old boys. Something about taking your clothes off in front of strangers had my son slightly troubled. I urged him to just face the lockers and get into his trunks. He chose instead to jump into one of the empty lockers to change. His friend had his suit on under his sweats. Hopefully I didn't traumatize him too much. I tried to block out thoughts of him crawling into a locker to change after high school gym class or football practice in a few years. Chances are that won't go well. That' something we're going to have to work on.
Once changed, we made our way onto the pool deck. The facility has a 25-yard pool on one side and a water activity area on the other -- pirate ship, waterslide and shallow (4-foot) pool with basketball hoops at each end.
The boys went straight for the basketballs and started taking shots from inside the shallow pool. They were having fun with creative and acrobatic shots, some as they dove and spun into the water from the deck.
I pulled up a chair to watch the action as I had remained in my workout clothes, not planning to enter the water. My thirteen-year-old daughter who had just finished swim practice for the night joined me poolside. As I watched the boys play I couldn't help but feeling that something just wasn't right.
Then I realized what what caused me to feel this way. In the corner of the shallow pool the furthest from us were about fifteen men, ranging in age from mid-30s to mid-50s. With them were a group of children and teenagers, also playing nearby in the activity area, some taking shots of their own with the basketball and hoop located at the other end of the pool. I wondered who these men were. And, the bigger question, where were their wives? In the wake of 911 I had my eyes wide open to what may or may not be going down here. I couldn't get close enough to hear what they were saying to each other. I was nervous about what this was all about. I tried not to profile these men, but they were all very hairy.
Their children and my children played together in the water, unaware of my growing concern. The lifeguards seemed oblivious to these shenanigans. Part of their job as a lifeguard should be to uncover and undermine any terrorist activities going on in the pool, right? I hoped so. It's in their job title -- guarding the lives of those in and around the pool area. It's not always about saving people who are drowning. If this was a terrorist cell, as I had fantasized, something would need to be done.
Speaking of lifeguards. The shallow pool and activity area was being patrolled by five separate guards. Five people ready to come to the aid of anyone dumb enough to drown in four feet of water or less. How much training does one need to save someone from the onrushing cannon spray of the pirate ship? Maybe someone forgets to stand up after coming down the waterslide and landing in the treacherous wading pool, which is probably all of a foot deep. A missed shot from one of the basketball playing waders skips onto the deck, knocking some unsuspecting person off their feet and onto the pavement, unconscious. The tragic scenarios are seemingly endless.
So, like I said, there are five lifeguards patrolling a relatively low-risk section of the facility. Yet not a single guard was keeping an eye on the most dangerous area of the pool -- the hot tub. At any given time, up to ten 80-year-old men sit in a semi-circle as bubbling water simmers around them. One slip, trip or ill-timed heart attack and they sink below the water line, never to be seen again. The bubbles could hide the body underwater for weeks until some other super-old guy stubs his toe on the water-withered body as he makes his way to his spot on the ledge to chat with his contemporaries. It's a morbid thought. Maybe some day the aquatics supervisor will decide to station someone there. It could save a life. Or at least prevent a stubbed toe.
Since the people in the red bathing suits weren't getting up off their duffs, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pretended to chase down one of the basketballs errantly heaved by my son near the group of men. I was able to get within about ten feet. It was then that I realized they were speaking to each other in a foreign language. Bingo! But where were these men from? What were they talking about? No way was was I capable of translating. If I lingered near the men, I'd run the risk of being discovered. So, I decided I'd go back to my seat and come up with an alternative plan to foil whatever plot they were hatching.
On the walk back to my chair, I heard one of the children call out.
"What is it?" Hmm. They both speak English. Broken English, but English nonetheless.
"Mother is ready. She's done with her boot camp. Can we go for ice cream now with everyone else?"
"It depends on Uncle Zoltan. It's his birthday."
See what the terrorists have done to us? I'm ready to go to def-con five because a middle-aged Ukranian was having a birthday. Good thing he didn't try lighting the candles before I could tackle him and make a citizen's arrest.
With the mystery solved, I suppose that a call to Homeland Security by the 540-pound sweaty guy won't be necessary afterall.