Column: Spot me, because I need some help at the gym


The first day I visited a fitness club — New Year’s Day 1995 — I vomited.

It was not due to any heavy-duty New Year’s Eve partying the night before. Those times were far removed from my life by then.

Let me explain. I was seven months into fatherhood, and my growing son seemed to be gaining one solid pound per day. All that lifting and carrying (tough stuff for a desk jockey) was a major workout, and I was humbled and winded by the physical requirements of fatherhood — something first-time fathers aren’t warned about by those infant-care instruction books.

There were times I almost dropped the baby and times when the crying (mine or his, I’m not sure, though he was the one with chronic ear infections) became so unbearable during strenuous airlifts from room to room, up the steps, down the steps — those endless, sleepless, bouncing, maddening, household laps — that I
wanted to drop him.

I wish I could say I bought a gym membership to get in better shape for the sake of my son’s safety. But I can’t. I did it as an excuse to escape the house, for my own sanity.

Anxiety caused me to upchuck that first day. I was nervous because of preconceptions I had about gym-like places. My preconceptions stemmed from the barbaric days of high-school P.E., what with all that locker room towel snapping at strategic
body parts (it’s a wonder any of us could father children years later), the jock strap (someone else’s) pulled down over my face (please tell me this happened to you, too), and even worse, having to shower with teen boys and experience all the associated taunting, teasing, testosterone and weird water sports involving bars of soap.

Notes from my mother designed to influence my pardon from the shower room experience proved ineffectual, the gym teacher wadding up each one, placing it in his mouth, swallowing, smiling and then burping up a cloud of my mom’s handwriting (or so, that’s how I remember it).

Despite these flashbacks, I plunked down about $200 to be a member of a place I was terrified to enter. I’m happy to report that being at a fitness club was a better experience than P.E. However, on that first day, I did catch the tail-end of a locker-room conversation between two tattooed tough guys. We’ll call them the Trapezius Brothers.

Trapezius Bro No. 1: . . . so I bit a piece of his ear off.

Trapezius Bro No. 2: Aw, man, I’ve never bitten a man’s ear off, but I’ll stick my thumb in his eye and work his eyeball loose anytime.

I kid you not. That’s what they said. It
was like I had accidentally wandered onto the set of a Quentin Tarantino movie. After vomiting in the toilet, I avoided eye contact and slipped out before they compared blowtorch scars . . . or decided that my head might be a perfect fit for a flushed toilet (this was called a swirly at my high school — trust me, I know).

I’m sure further conversation would’ve sounded something like this: Trapezius Bro No. 1 (waxing philosophical): I once complained about the condition of my shoes, but then I saw a man with no feet.

Trapezius Bro No. 2: So, what did you do?

Trapezius Bro No. 1: I beat him up, stole his wallet and bought a better pair of shoes with his money.

I was also nervous because I expected someone to ask me the dreaded question, “Will you spot me?” I had no idea what this even meant though it sounded like something I didn’t desire to do with male strangers. If someone asked me to spot him, I decided the perfect response would be to point directly at him, jump up and down, and excitedly shout, “There. There you are. You are spotted, sir,” and hopefully cause the guy to quickly look for an alternate spotter — someone sane.

On my inaugural fitness club visit, I was unnerved, too, by the blood-curdling cries, grunts and groans of a guy in the free weights area obviously attempting to lift
way more than he should. It sounded like he might be doing some spotting of his own — if you know what I mean. A Komodo dragon attack would’ve sounded less dramatic.

In a way, though, I could relate, for I was demonstrating a similar feat of sheer strength, and being equally, obnoxiously audible. In my case, though, I was sitting on the floor merely trying to remove my sweatpants without first taking off my tennis shoes. I don’t care how strong you are. Those damned sweatpants cannot be forced to slide over shoes.

I’m sure you understand now why I threw up during my first visit to the gym. There were a lot of anxieties gnawing at me that day. The bravest thing I ever did was return the next day for my second workout.

My son is 18 now, and though many years have passed since I last carried him, I am still a fitness club member. For the record, I have yet to throw up a second time, and so far, no one has asked me to “spot” them — whatever that means.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read (and sing) For Food players will perform a public benefit show for Crisis Connection at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at Forest Park High School. The show will include several special musical guests, including Marc Steczyk and Troubadours of Divine Bliss. Admission is a suggested $10 donation for Crisis Connection.

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