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The personal trainer
My girlfriend Gaywynn gave me an hour session with a personal trainer as a birthday present. I had been whining about not being in shape. This was very nice of her, and it was also a handy way of shutting me up.
Actually, I was looking forward to it. At my age, which is 77, I need to do anything and everything I can to detour the rapid degradation of my body. Note to people my age or thereabouts: staying away from a mirror is extremely helpful.
So, a few days ago, I arrived at the gym, ready and willing. The trainer introduced himself. His name is Brian. He is huge. Like some sort of redwood. Even the loose track suit he was wearing looked tight. If you put him on a pedestal, you’d think, who did that statue? I’m running out of comparisons.
Clipboard in hand, he sat me down and began asking me a series of questions. He’s an affable guy. As he listened to me, he jotted down little notes. Even his hands seemed muscular.
“What are your goals?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, thoughtfully, “I’m not sure what’s a realistic goal at my age. Bench pressing 600 lbs is probably not within the realm of possibility.” Or is it?
“Probably not,” he said, an appealing smile appearing on his face. “Ok, let’s have you run through a few drills to see what sort of shape you’re in.”
He had me get on the treadmill first. He started the machine off at a slow walk.
“This ok?” he asked.
I think the setting was “Grandad.”
I can do this. I can walk.
He adjusted it several times to make it go faster. Then I started feeling like: where am I going? What is the meaning of life? Something about walking and going nowhere brings out the nihilist in you.
“Ok, good,” he said, noting something on his clipboard. What was it he wrote? “Alive,” perhaps.
He had me do a series of exercises. Curls with hand weights, push-ups against a bar, stepping up and down on a block of wood, etc. Then several sets using those menacing-looking gym machines that look like they had a supporting role in 50 Shades of Grey.
When I completed an exercise, Brian said, “Good job!” Even if the exercise was fairly easy, he said it. It’s surprising how positively I responded to this reinforcing praise, even for doing something one step harder than tying my shoe. I nearly responded, “Gee, thanks, Dad!”
In fact, this made me realize that almost every male authority figure—teachers, coaches, bartenders, bus drivers, etc.—has been a father figure to me from whom I sought approval. Which explains a lot. And which makes me wonder if I’ve ever had a simple encounter with any male I’ve ever met in my life. Has it always been about seeking my father’s approval? Which makes me….wait a minute! I’m just here for a workout, not for analysis. Let’s get back to the machines.
Along the way I asked Brian about himself. Turns out that he got one of his degrees at the University of New Orleans where I taught English for ten years.
“I actually grew up in New Orleans,” he said. “In Gentilly.”
That’s a neighborhood not too far from the university. I always thought it was such a pretty name, Gentilly. It’s also the name of a particularly delicious cake, a piece of which I could have eaten then contentedly instead of exercising. Followed by a sugar coma.
But, no. Brian kept pushing me. That was his job, after all. That was the reason I was there. Because I was too damn lazy to work out by myself. And even if I did have the gumption, I wouldn’t know what to do. Unsupervised, I’d probably design a workout for myself that I could do while watching TV. So, deep down, I was glad to be in Brian’s hands. Clearly, he knew what he was doing. Clearly, he had a plan. There is something so gratifying about putting yourself in the hands of someone who’s capable.
He kept pushing me and writing notes down on the clipboard.
I began to get tired. How much longer is this workout? I thought at one point. I didn’t say that out loud, mind you. I didn’t want to be put in the “Wimp” section of Brian’s report. The thing about a trainer is that he knows you want to quit. But he won’t let you, despite whatever woebegone, melodramatic look you assume, however hard and pitifully you pant. And, believe me, I did—all of that. At one point, I was grunting like a feral pig. He ignored me.
A few more exercises, and then, finally, it was over. I was spent. My chest was heaving. I was sweating. But I felt good. I’d lasted.
“Good job! You did really well,” Brian said, reaching down from his height and shaking my hand.
I really think he meant it. It sounded like he did.
I thanked him, and we made an arrangement for me to come for a second session that following week. I walked out of the gym feeling wrung out but slightly heroic. That’s the thing about a real workout, isn’t it? You make yourself, in a very small way, and for a very short time, a hero.
When I got home, I began the conversation with Gaywynn,
“My personal trainer said….”