One of the reasons I joined the mega-gym in town was to be more social and hopefully meet some new people. It has not gone well. I can’t quite put my finger on why not, but I think I am beginning to see a bit of a pattern.
First, and foremost, I am often motivated to talk to female members because I watch them talk to other men and everyone looks like they’re having fun. And especially of late, I’ve been more bold in striking up conversations with people that I’ve wanted to, regardless of my estimation at success. For your enjoyment today, I’d like to share three examples with you.
Before we get going though, I wonder how many of you have ever read Ben Franklin’s letter to a young man about a mistress? I doubt many of you have, so I’ll post the meat of it here for easy access. It’s well worth a read. I promise.
…then I repeat my former advice, that in all your amours you should prefer old women to young ones. You call this a paradox, and demand my reasons. They are these:
1. Because as they have more knowledge of the world and their minds are better stored with observations, their conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreeable.
2. Because when women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their influence over men, they supply the diminution of beauty by an augmentation of utility. They learn to do a 1000 services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old woman who is not a good woman.
3. Because there is no hazard of children, which irregularly produced may be attended with much inconvenience.
4. Because through more experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an intrigue to prevent suspicion. The commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the affair should happen to be known, considerate people might be rather inclined to excuse an old woman who would kindly take care of a young man, form his manners by her good counsels, and prevent his ruining his health and fortune among mercenary prostitutes.
5. Because in every animal that walks upright, the deficiency of the fluids that fill the muscles appears first in the highest part: The face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the neck; then the breast and arms; the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a basket, and regarding only what is below the girdle, it is impossible of two women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all cats are grey, the pleasure of corporal enjoyment with an old woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every knack being by practice capable of improvement.
6. Because the sin is less. The debauching a virgin may be her ruin, and make her for life unhappy.
7. Because the compunction is less. The having made a young girl miserable may give you frequent bitter reflections; none of which can attend the making an old woman happy.
8thly and Lastly: They are so grateful!!
It’s difficult to write after reading something as great as that. Anyhow.
Still with me? Good. The point of including that advice is to say that there is this older woman at the gym. I noticed her straight away one morning and couldn’t help but think to myself that she had a very natural beauty to her, the kind that is possessed by women who don’t know they have it. One day I introduced myself and we had a brief chat. The following week, her daughter was with her. Besides receiving all the important genes from her mom, the daughter appeared to be equal parts college student and cross-fit games champion. As such, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the pair. Suddenly, however, I was struck by something funny. On this day, unlike all others, the mom was going balls-to-the-wall as they say. Her daughter was spotting her every set and it seemed like some real results were nearby. This was rather silly to me. Nonetheless, my brain filled with what I thought was a good enough line to use to open the door to conversation. So I went with it. I finished watching them double team a machine from the close by station I was at and then walked over and said, as if delivering a useful secret, “I don’t know if you two know this or not, but the gym kinda frowns on two people using one machine at the same time. Something about liability.” Only half way through the delivery did I notice the daughter had in her ears the smallest, most invisible of ear-buds, which left the mom to be the lone recipient of my charm. And despite outstanding delivery on my part, which concluded with my beautiful smile, she responded with, “What?” And like a fool, I repeated myself. It was hell. No laughs either time. I walked away tail tucked between my legs and later apologized. Oh well.
Next, I have seen the same employee lady nearly every day I go and sometimes she even smiles at me. I figure to myself that gym employees, like all employees, would always prefer a fun day to a boring day. Boy was I wrong. This particular day I see that she’s helping a lady who talks like the Champion of Everything but appears to struggle daily with at least one thing. In any case, I happen to notice my girl enter a one-handed battle with a weight rack for possession of a 45lb plate. Again, leading with a tip-giving countenance, I offer, “You’ll find it takes less than half the time if you use two hands next time.” Crickets. I might have broken the no running policy to escape that real-life example of awkward.
Lastly, I see a lady with whom I’ve nearly successfully delivered one of these singular conversation starters in the past. She’s on the lying down leg curl machine. It’s the only one in the building. I would like to use it. Trouble is, she’s doing some other fandangled exercise on it. However, the exercise she’s doing on it is so wrong, that it must be right. Or, put another way, she must be intending to do whatever she’s doing. As an ice breaker after which I’ll ask to work in with her, of course resetting the machine for her after every set of mine as gentlemen do, I say, “So when I’m not sure how to use a machine, I usually look at the diagrams posted on it. For instance, you’ll see pictures right here. And if I’m still not sure what to do, I-” She cuts me off, asking, “Are you serious?” I continue unphased, saying, “-I then move to the written description of the movement. And, like everything, read left-to-right, top-to-bottom.” Another “Are you serious?” later and I smile. Minor conversation starts and I determine that the only reason she was a willing participant is because she has very, very low self-esteem and figured such a demonstrably wise man as myself might add himself to the list of men who award her daily validation from here on out and that’s just not my game. Conversation over.
And there you have it. I know I’d be friends with a guy or girl bold enough to deliver these lines.
Why? Why are you doing this to us? What are you even doing to us? We haven’t felt this way in years. Decades.
Don’t you remember the days when sitting is all that you had us do? Whether at a desk or in the cockpit? Weren’t those pleasant? Sure, you didn’t seem to be that stimulated, but at least we had it easy. Not everyone gets their way all the time you know.
Look at us now. Feel us now. Can’t you tell that we’re exhausted? So much running. And for what? Oh, and I spoke to Fingers the other day, they told me not to say anything, but they’re starting to feel it too. What about your piano? Are you really going to let Fingers become too tired to tickle the ol’ ivories?
We just don’t understand it. What are you running from? Responsibility? Failure? It doesn’t make sense. We used to live in harmony, and now look at us. Muscle mass is shrinking, and we’re sore all the time.
We aren’t saying we can’t keep up, we just believe you are underachieving at the moment. Remember what Bruce said in TDK? “I believe in Harvey Dent.” Well, we believe in you! We’re with you. No matter how far this road goes, we won’t let you fall. Just please consider us in the softer moments. Please. Okay, that’s all. Try to get us some rest.
After several iterations of exercising and adding weight, the two have settled into their routine. This routine involves a most serious approach to lifting weight, sprinkled with endearing bits of jocularity as the men rest–endearing from the outside, terrifying from the inside. Between these two men the topics of conversation are limited indeed. Listening closely, we hear discussion about diets, discussion about the rest of the week’s workouts, and discussion about physical ailments (the more acutely described, the better). We’re terrified to learn that most of the conversation is about sex. Not real sex of course—fantasy sex. Over the course of an hour or so, a good three-quarter’s of the conversation revolves around the women present in the gym, and what these men would do with them. As if Petey Pablo’s hit “Freak-a-leek” was accidentally placed on endless repeat, they reveal themselves to be animals. Or do they? Here we leave the scene to explore this a bit further.
Reflection, based on time spent in the community, reveals that among the base, the paltry, the pornographic language, something more is happening. Remember, we are talking about men who take things to the extremes. Bodybuilders put massive amounts of effort into achieving their size and strength. They need a way to know they aren’t wasting their expertise, and that’s how their discourse community is built. It is about filtering. It is about learning who can to stay and who must go. If you don’t get it, can’t handle it, or just don’t approve, then these men don’t want to be around you anyhow. Men like these are endlessly pestered with attention, questions, and potential protégés seeking tutelage. They simply don’t have the time to address everyone. So they create a set of filters. Where did they learn to use filters? Their mentors. Each bodybuilder decided to put up with the immature crassness if he wanted to learn the art. Along the way, they determine that it is a necessary evil. Do you really want to know their secret? Stick around. Deal with the language. Deal with everyone in the gym knowing that you’re objectifying women, engaging in self-love at its highest level, and making jokes about everything once thought sacred. Do that long enough, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll accept you as a student.
Sure, there is something maladjusted within these men, but that is irrelevant to this discussion. We’re talking about why men whose physical appearance alone clearly communicates their physical superiority over other men still need to have their own language, still need to use paltry and base arts and entrenchments. At first, it is easy to think that of all groups of people, bodybuilders wouldn’t need to use these uncouth methods to distinguish themselves. Upon further inspection, they do. They do because their mentors required it in order to prove that these students weren’t going to waste their time. Before becoming a bodybuilder, these men have a goal. They do what is necessary to achieve it. Then they become the mentor.
He returns his bag to his shoulder, exits the locker room and heads to the bench press. Free weight bench press of course. As he places his bag under the bench he looks around, a smile quickly forming. He recognizes a friend. This friend isn’t necessarily a giant, but there is something respectable about his physical prowess. As they banter, our bodybuilder tips back his water bottle—a full gallon jug—and takes a drink. Placing the cap back on, the conversation concludes with a handshake. With a hint of interest, he directs his attention to the reception desk. His hand nonchalantly rises to shoulder level as his lifting partner smiles and returns the gesture. Noticing he nearly ignored the receptionist, the partner stops and charmingly offers his sincerest of apologies. The receptionist appears to want to tell him he needs to sign in, but quickly reconsiders. Skipping the locker room, the partner (also carrying a giant duffel bag) heads straight for the bench press. The heartiest of handshakes completes the greeting and signals to all that they are about to begin
And begin they do. Our man grabs a ten pound plate, and begins warming up his shoulder and rotator cuff. One arm making deliberate movements, the other hand feeling the concerned area. Switching hands he repeats the process. His friend then takes the weight and does the same. During this ritual—which dates back to the first time they, not wanting to irritate their mentor, skipped warming-up as a consequence of being late to a work-out and then tweaked their shoulder—they discuss briefly how their shoulders aren’t quite 100%, but that they feel good enough. This minor chit-chat serves as a vocal warm-up, as much as a health conscious discussion. It is their way of talking about the weather. Finally, our man grabs a 45lb plate from the rack and loads it on the bar. The warm-up has officially commenced.
In the classic Moby Dick Herman Melville writes, “For be a man’s intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base.” Substitute “physical” for “intellectual” and you have a perfect description of a bodybuilder circa late 1990s-early 2000s. The paltry and base aids that bodybuilders call upon, however, have a specific noble purpose unlike those Melville references. At the turn of the 21st century, bodybuilder mentors used paltry and base external arts as a filter to weed out men who were weak in discipline and drive–to cull the heard as it were. As a matter of course, the student later becomes the teacher and the entire group ends up with its own way of communicating.
Quite unlike intellectual superiority, measuring physical superiority is easy. Whether in size or strength or body fat, the human body is quantifiable. Nonetheless, bodybuilders, these giants of our time, still create their own discourse communities. Join me as we enter the once secret world of bodybuilding.
Immediately, we recognize the man walking toward the gym’s receptionist as a bodybuilder due to his sheer size. He is a giant. Giant also is the duffle bag he has over his shoulder. It is oversized–as is everything in it. A 5lb container of protein power, the sturdiest weight belt on the market, wrist wraps and straps, medium sized notebook and pen, and a Tupperware container of chalk fill the bag. This bag wasn’t always packed this way. Initially, it likely had a change of clothes, or a towel. Over the years, one-by-one each item made its way, as if called, into the bag. Today, this bag softly whispers to the uninitiated, “You and I are very different. Do not expect to understand. That you stare only proves my point.”
Blushing, the young lady receptionist takes his flirtatious greeting to heart. If she is allowed any leniency with requiring members to sign in, this man gets the pass. “Have a good workout!” she adds, displaying a little too much interest as he turns towards the locker room.
Once in the locker room, he becomes king. Locker use is doubtful (who would dare touch his gear?), so he drops his bag wherever he pleases and heads to the restroom. Next, he returns to the designated sitting area and settles into his seat with an air of gravity. He hasn’t yet conversed with any other men in the locker room. Using their silence as a currency, the other members pay their respects. One last glimpse around the room ensuring he hasn’t missed anyone important, he bends over to tie his shoes properly. These shoes being a very unique, almost wrestler looking boot. Sturdy and serious, these shoes and the manner in which he ties them tell us he isn’t here for fun.