Health Clubs as a Social Venue – You Gotta Be Kidding!

My wife gave me a membership to a local health club recently which I thought was pretty cool on her part. There was no reason for it – she just thought I’d enjoy it. I’m sure this act of kindness will come back to haunt me. But until then I’ll take a membership to a health club over a wooden duck, a pipe or pair of slippers anytime.

I questioned the gift just the same. I prefer to work out at the park near our house and I think my wife knows that. But she felt a membership at a health club would give me a chance to meet people, make friends and get me out of the house. Despite already being happy on all three counts I figured it couldn’t do any harm.

I may be wrong on this, but I tend to think a health club in Southern Italy is a lot different from a health club in South Florida or upstate New York or where ever. This particular club (Target Fitness, 112 Via Commenda, Brindisi, tel: 0831- 584208) is split up into different areas. There’s a pool downstairs for water aerobics, another area for regular aerobics, a “spinning” room, a free weight and Nautilus room and another room for classes in kick-boxing and yoga. Plus a sauna. And don’t forget showers and a locker room. O-k, maybe they’re not so different after all.

I thought something was missing. Yep. No racquetball. They don’t play racquetball in Southern Italy. In fact, I’m not sure if they play racquetball ANYWHERE in Italy.

So I went to the health club. Had my little gym bag and my lifting gloves and a towel. “Maybe this WAS a good idea” I thought to myself. “I’ll make some friends”. My first agenda of business was to get learn my way around. I walked up to the front desk. “So let’s say today I want to lift, but next time I want to do aerobics. that’s not a problem, right?” Well, actually it WAS a problem. I just had a “general” membership. I could come and lift. Anything else was extra. meaning I had to pay.

I was starting to feel like Jack Nicholson during the rstaurant scene in Easy Rider. I tried to smile. “Isn’t it the same money? Why not act like next time I come in I’m just here for aerobics.” They explained to me that each membership was for a specific program and that the monies paid went ot a specific instructor. I scratched my head and made a mental note to slash this woman’s tires later in the evening.

I stored my gear, then proceeded into the weight room and walked right into the most intense atmosphere I’ve ever seen in my life.

Like any sport, I understand that body building and weight lifting demand focus. You have to concentrate. You’re supposed to envision yourself with Arnold-like arms as you hoist that weight over your head. But I also know that humor has its place in any activity. A smile would not be out of place here.

I walked around. “Hey – what’s up? How’ it going? I’m new hereâÂ?¦”

Blank stares for the guys�indifference from the women�and scowls from the guys that were at the gym just to make sure no one spoke to their girlfriends.

Well THIS is a happy place.

So I went through my paces at the happy health club and whenever I had a chance I mentioned how much I was looking forward to my WIFE coming with me next time. It was like a fog had lifted. I could practically see the thought-balloon above every guy’s head. “Oh. He has a WIFE. He’s MARRIED. He has no ulterior motive by talking to me. I am safe.”

Over the course of the next few visits, word got around: The new guy. He’s MARRIED. He has no ulterior motive. He is safe.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Health clubs are a young person’s game. I feel pretty healthy, but longer I went to this health club the more I started to wonder where all my peers are. I’m supposed to still have peers! I’m still pretty young (o-k…kind of young. Well, I FEEL young anyway). I have my original teeth. All my hair. So what’s the deal? Maybe health clubs are a social outlet, but the ritual of socializing has to occur within your own age group.

Things have lightened up considerably at the health club. True to the Italian culture and all its inherit machismo, it will probably be a while before I get into the back-slapping mode with my fellow gym rats. I’m still in the “Hey, how’s it going” mode. The “Are-you-done-yet-I want-to-do-some-sit-ups” mode. I’m not sure at what point I’ll progress to the “How’s-the-wife-and-kids” mode because I’m just not sure how many of these people are married.

But I suppose out of deference to my wife I’ll keep coming for a few more weeks. As health clubs go, this one I learned is supposed to be “one of the best”. But it’s no comparison to the park! Where I’ve noticed there are more smiles and which by the way is FREE.

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