January 2nd is an extraordinary day at the gym. The number one resolution each year is to be healthier, and, after recovering from their hangovers on January 1st, people stampede to the gym in droves. It feels a lot like the first day of camp or something – new and nervous faces and a lot of bunching shorts. Of course, unlike camp, most people won’t make it a month.
I like seeing the new people, but I don’t like the crowded locker room or waiting for machines. More specifically, I don’t like that some woman was using my unofficial locker, which she should have obviously known was mine through either ESP or osmosis. I don’t like watching someone misuse weights and ignore the advice of the personal trainer who comes over to help.
It’s on these rare days that the gym regulars that I usually can’t stand (The Grunter, Guy Who Only Works Out His Biceps And Nothing Else, The Samurai, Guy Talking On His Cell Phone At The Gym) are my unlikely allies. When, for example, a newbie is somehow taking up an entire bench in the locker room with her shit, I can lock eyes with Girl Who Thinks She Is A Boxer Even Though She’s Really Just An Owner Of Boxing Gloves and, for one moment, not hate her with my entire heart.
Still, there’s something thrilling about seeing the new guys. It’s kind of like that scene in Shawshank Redemption when all the new prisoners arrive and the old prisoners bet on who’s going to cry first – everyone remembers their first day. On one hand, you want everyone to survive. On the other hand, you want to think that you were special simply by surviving yourself.
I like to guess who’s going to stay. Most people fade out and completely disappear by the middle of February. A handful keep showing up – even during the coldest days of the last half of the winter, even after it heats up, even if something goes wrong in their lives. It’s like guessing who’s going to get shot in a war movie.
For example, last year on January second, I noticed a big guy with a scruffy beard who was new – the kind of guy you see in Queens that is obviously a recent immigrant from any number of vague Eastern European countries that didn’t exist when I took geography in sixth grade. He was half-jogging, half-running on the treadmill and looking shy although pretty damn determined. He was there every single day until I switched gyms last spring, but I still see him at the local grocery store sometimes, looking utterly transformed. We still nod at each other – like we’ve been though something together (camp or prison or war, according to my lame mixed metaphors).
But for every determined scraggly bearded guy, there were ten people I saw today who won’t make it to next week. Some of them are easy to pick out: the girls with the brand new matching workout outfits that look like something Aerobics Barbie would slip into for her new animated video. The dudes who come to lift weights in jeans and work boots. The girl who tries to do the stair climber with chandelier earrings.
It all works out in the end, though. The people who stay are the people who we, the motley crew of regulars with our own idiosyncrasies, would like to stay, for the simple reason that they want to stay. If they keep coming, they’ll learn. The awkward mom who didn’t quite understand how to do the rowing machine will perfect it in a month. The 70-year-old grandfather who walks on the treadmill for 30 minutes each day will learn to not wear dress socks. The hipster chick with the leg warmers will soon enough trade in her five-pound weights for ten-pound weights, and then fifteen. Soon enough, we’ll all be nodding at each other in the grocery store. It’s a good feeling.