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When you work out with a partner, you can go harder, faster, longer. Maybe it’s the fact that somebody is urging you on, or you have somebody to impress, or maybe it’s just that talking while you’re running or lifting weights distracts you from the fact that you’re hurting yourself.
In any case, I always work out by myself because I don’t have a partner—no close friends or acquaintances who want to fly into the no-impact night with me on the elliptical crosstrainer, or climb that never-ending stairway to hell. I go it alone on these machines, watching CNN on the screen hanging above my head or just staring at the firemen in their blue shirts run on the treadmills, silently working my voodoo magic in hopes that one of them will come over and light my fire.
The other day was no different: there I was again, climbing up the endless down elevator, trying to read the closed captions on the TV screen through my sweat-smeared glasses, sexy as ever. Oddly, a man I’d never seen before climbed onto the machine to my left and actually said hello.
“Hi!” I panted eagerly. Was this somebody to work out with?
After we established our love/hate for exercise and found that we were both teachers, we exchanged names—the first steps in making a friend, as I recall. I was feeling pretty comfortable in the situation until wouldn’t you know, yet another man climbed onto the machine to my right, sandwiching me in. My frickin’ lucky day. And this was a familiar man: we’d seen each other around at the gym enough in the past four years that we already knew each other’s names and were friendly, but I didn’t know what he did for a living. I’d never asked.
“So what do you do for work?” I asked Man on the Right as we all climbed and climbed.
“I own a small business,” he said. “I started it a few years back and it’s really grown. I’m lucky—now I can leave and come here and punish myself anytime I want.” We, the work-out sandwich, all laughed.
That should have been my clue right there to shut up; I should have made no noise after this happy and innocuous moment. Why push it? But instead—because I am me—I cranked up the resistance on my machine and pushed harder. I was among men, after all.
“We’re all lucky to have jobs,” I said. In my defense, there was a money program on CNN and the screen was flashing words like “unemployment” and “benefits extension”. I was being subliminally programmed to malfunction.
“That’s for sure,” said Man on the Left. Man on the Right just nodded. He was the most disciplined of our trio, climbing really hard and sweating.
I went on: “Yeah, our governor thinks that by refusing federal funds to extend unemployment benefits, white people are suddenly going to start taking the crappy jobs. I mean, just look around this building complex we’re in right now: everything’s getting landscaped and do you see one white person out there in the heat planting anything? No. White people are not going to take jobs like that.”
My words hung in the air like suspended students, not knowing what to do with themselves.
Man on the Right spoke up first. “Um, I agree with most everything that the governor has done. She made a wrong turn on SB 1070, but otherwise I think she’s doing a good job.”
Man on the Left said nothing, just huffing and puffing. He was the bigger and bloated ingredient in this sandwich, a teacher like me. I already knew that many of his colleagues had been laid off, but I didn’t have to wonder if they were out in the parking lot at that very moment wearing sun protection gear and planting ground cover. I knew they weren’t.
In very quick succession, both men finished up and climbed down from their machines. We all said “see you later” and “have a good workout”, and they were gone.
Only then—with sweat trickling into my eyes behind my smeared glasses and my chest pounding with exertion and regret—did I realize that I had talked politics at the gym. Everybody knows you don’t do that.
And I wonder why I’m always working out alone.