THE RHETORIC OF EXERCISE
I’m 77 years of age, and lately my fickle heart has shown signs of wanting to lay down its burden: i.e., me. Three of its efforts to cut me adrift were judged to be “cardiac events,” and who am I to say they were or were not. So hie to the gym, my doctors pleaded, to undertake some–they mean a lot–of cardiac rehabilitation.
So I joined a gym.
Let me just mention that I am by origin a working-class West Texan, for whom physical work occupied the daylight. After sunset, the only work anyone in my house did involved cutting cards or shuffling dominos. Heart attacks often happened and were usually fatal.
But back then, of course, they didn’t have gyms. Not a soul that I grew up with had a personal trainer. I, a man of a different time, soon had three.
The gym itself has around twenty machines, all as neat and streamlined as Sweden, where some of them probably had been invented. West Texas is never that neat.
I dutifully exercised, quite a lot on those machines. I was far too slow on the recumbent bicycle, and not very good on a machine meant to strengthen the glutes. To this day I don’t know what a glute is, but gym people grow misty at the thought of them.
I began to think that just perhaps the gym world was not my world, when a young lady in gym attire caught me on one of the large bicycles–which I was pedaling at a cumulative distance of about five miles a week–and asked me if I was challenged by what I was doing.
Challenged? Heavens no. Had I not spent years of my life avoiding physical challenge? Wouldn’t any right-thinking person, especially one with a leaky heart, try to avoid challenge?
You would think so.
I soon realized that I had washed up in a place whose language was not really mine. I learned that effort produced the highest value, though in my part of Texas, effort was something to be avoided so as not to agitate the heart: the very thing I was working to avoid.
My curiosity survived my cardiac events. Now I’m wondering why gym people talk so strangely.
Shouldn’t they really be speaking Swedish?