Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Gym, Otherwise Known As the Pit of Despair

The other day I went to the gym to see about reinstating my membership. Okay, it was like four months ago, but who's counting? I just haven't been able to bring myself to write it down, it was such "the experience." What I mean by that is that I'm still having imaginary conversations about it in my head. The kind of conversations in which the characters say all the things they actually said, except for me. I say the things that I would have said at the time, if I had had any guts whatsoever. Actually, the fact of the matter is that I do have the guts, I just don't have the wits. I'm a little slow on the uptake. I'm like Kathleen Kelly. I don't have the talent of saying the "thing I wish to say in the moment I wish to say it," because I can't think of what to say until four months later when I'm trying to fall asleep after a long day of filling up the sippy cup to try to avoid the inevitable carpet stains, that who am I trying to kid, are already there.

In real life, four months ago, I went to the gym. I had discussed the matter with my ever-supportive husband and decided to go in and inquire about the membership that had been dangled in front of my carrot-seeking eyes via email. I'm forever looking for a bargain. "We want you back" the email exclaimed, and for half the price and no contract and no start up fee! And I figured, and my husband concurred, that it was at least worth checking into, being just $14.95 a month and all.

Jose and Clark were with me. We had all loaded up into our GMC Sierra truck and headed to Home Depot for one of Jose's work errands. Clark and I often accompany Jose on his Home Depot runs, just for kicks. And the gym, coincidentally, was right next door. We had just been talking about my rejoining under these new enticing contract terms and I thought, hey, why not take advantage of the fact that we're right here! Honey, I said, why don't you drop me off at the gym to talk to the rep about my new membership, and you can take Clark to Home Depot with you and then swing back around to get me when you're done? It was a great plan because I would have about 20 minutes of child and husband-free time while setting up further child and husband-free time! Not that I don't adore them both because I do. But 20 minutes all to my lonesome? Wow. That's hard to come by these days.

Jose agreed to the plan and dropped me off. And I walked into the gym perhaps more confidently, and certainly more focused, than I would have otherwise because I was now by myself and didn't have to worry about what anyone else thought or said or did or begged of me. And I was ready to sign on the dotted line, baby. Just show me where the heck to sign.

I was really at that point where I was ready to take charge, yet again, of my growing self. I was not pregnant, oh no, but I had still been gaining weight steadily since Christmas as if I were. It had all started with those two little measly rotten teensy tiny pieces of See's Candy on Christmas Day. But talk about snowball effect. Geez. That teensy snowball of an indulgence took on a life of its own and 18 not-so-lovely pounds later I had had it with myself. This was about the time the emails started showing up in my junk mail box. Thank heaven they didn't make it to my inbox where I would have had to really decide if they were staying or going. Inbox equals immediate action. But no, in my junk mail, they were safe to just float around for 10 days, be automatically deleted, and then reappear again in another last-ditch effort to get me back to the sweat and tears and gleaming facilities that I should have really missed, apparently.

So I stride confidently up to the front desk and wait politely for one of the two gym employees behind the desk to acknowledge my presence. They were young guys, children really, I mean they couldn't have been more than 18 years old, and they were chatting it up as if the entire universe only existed between them and whatever else it was that they were talking about. Of course. I clear my throat. Nada. Usually, I would just wait some more, but after a coupla minutes, I get antsy. I need to get this over with because Jose and Clark will be back to get me pretty soon. Time is not on my side and I can't stand here and put up with these kids not knowing how to pay attention and do their jobs.

"Excuse me?" I say nicely, waving to them. One of them sort of turns to look at me, and suddenly realizing that it was his responsibility to talk to me, kind of lurched forward and says, "Ah, sorry, can I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like to see about getting a membership?" It was a general, sort of open-ended question because I didn't know who to talk to. Where to go. Which chair to sit in so I could get the spiel, sign the paperwork and get outta here. That kind of thing. He looks at me like I'm from Mars. Or I guess, in this case, Venus. So I repeat. This time I realize questioning him is futile. "I need to talk to someone about getting a gym membership. I've had one here before that I canceled and I want to get a new one." And after two seconds too long of an awkward, blank stare silence, I try another question, "Could you tell me who I should talk to about getting a membership, please?"

He snaps to attention and springs into action as if he just remembered the water boiling on the stove, not that he's ever boiled water, I'm just sayin', I had finally said something that he had internalized, and he practically sprinted the few paces over to a desk whose occupant was a lanky man wearing a white shirt and tie, and from the looks of things, was flirting a little bit with a fairly nondescript teen-aged blonde in a pinstriped pencil skirt and white blouse who was hovering at his desk. Now I'm starting to get a teensy bit annoyed.

The kid interrupted the exchange and gestured to me, but I wasn't within earshot of what he said to Mr. Desk Man. My brain filled in with, "Hey Mr. Desk Man, this lady over there wants to know something about a membership?" And Mr. Desk Man responds with, "Oh, okay, send her over." But then they keep talking and I'm standing there waiting, wondering what the heck they could be talking about for so long because the clock is ticking people! Sign me up and send me on my way! Mr. Desk Man finally nods and the kid comes back and tells me, "You can go over there," and points to Mr. Desk Man. And in my mind I amend for him, poor kid, "and talk to the gentleman in the white shirt and tie who would be happy to assist you," but who am I kidding? This is the gym, for crying out loud.

I thank the kid and walk over to the desk and wait for a moment to be invited to sit down. But Mr. Desk Man is stretching. Arms overhead and face pointed toward the high vaulted ceiling and doesn't see me. I wait. He tilts back and then forward and then glances at me and then at the girl. Then back to me. Then out into space. "You need a membership?" Not exactly hello, now is it?

I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, trying to figure out why in the world this guy is acting like such a nonchalant jerk. The girl pulls up a chair behind the desk next to him and I realize that she is an employee of the gym, and that, amazingly, so is he and his name-tag indicates that he's some kind of manager. Oh boy. Well, this is going to be interesting, I think to myself and I take a seat.

"Well, yes. I had a membership here before, and had to cancel, but I'm ready to get another membership." I was trying to convey the fact that I didn't really need a lot of information about the gym, that I'd done this all before and that I just wanted to do the paperwork. You know, a succinct explanation that infers all the stuff I shouldn't really have to spell out.

"Well, what'd you cancel for?" he asks.

Uh. What? What do you mean, what did I cancel for? What the heck difference does it make? My head is starting to spin at this point because I'm now confused and a little taken aback, quite frankly, and I'm beginning to wonder whether this whole thing was such a good idea. "For one thing, my kid hated your daycare facility," I shot back, not really believing that he had asked me such a thing in the first place. The girl just sat, hunched forward, observing. She had a notepad and a pen.

"Well, how old is your kid?" he countered. I'm pretty sure I raised an eyebrow. This is the part where in my dreams I say something totally different than what I really said. This is the part where in reality, I started to unravel bit by bit and begin to question my very existence. In my dreams I say, "That's really none of your d*** business and has no bearing on this situation whatsoever." To say nothing of the fact that this guy really never looks me in the face. His eyes dart around constantly, like he doesn't have time for this. Ironic.

What I really said was, "He's three," with a now obvious scowl on my face. And Mr. Desk Man incredibly follows with, "What didn't he like about it?" And that's when I was able to snap back into reality and realize that this guy is truly the most ridiculous that I have encountered in quite some time. And I got some of my wits about me. Not all, mind you, but some. And then I completely ignored the question and said, "You know, I'm just here because I got an email that said if you had canceled your gym membership in the last year that you could get a new membership for $14.95 per month. And that is why I am here." Cut to the chase. It's what I should have done the second I walked in the door. It's not the way I like to go about my day to day encounters with people--I like to be nicer--but it was very clearly the only way I was going to get through this particular brand of so-called conversation.

Mr. Desk Man dramatically throws his hands up in the air and practically shouts, "I can't do that for you!" I keep my eyes on him but turn my head to one side, "What do you mean, you can't do that? The email clearly states that the membership can be reinstated for $14.95 a month. And no start up fee. And no contract." Mr. Desk Man starts laughing. Actually it's more of a chuckle. Like I'm the one that's looney tunes. And he tells me again, as if I didn't hear him the first time, "Oh I can't do that for you." I squirm a little in my chair, readjust my purse in my lap. "Okay," I start slowly, "What do I need to do? Do I need to bring the email in here in order for you to be able to give me that price?"

He laughs again. Shakes his hands in the air like he's at some kind of tent revival and tells me "Nah, I can't give you what you want. I can't do it." I sit back, and look at the girl. All of the sudden I get brave. "Are you in training?" I ask her. She just nods her reply and I look her straight in the eye and I say, amazingly, "Don't listen to a thing this guy says. Don't do it like he does. He has no idea how to do this." She gives a little nervous half smile. Mr. Desk Man is not even fazed one bit! It's like he didn't even get it. Didn't understand that I was basically calling him out on his total lack of social skills, much less his professionalism or ability to sell anything.

So, I try to reel him in, "You aren't selling me, at all, on this place." Still, nothing. Blank stare. He has no idea what I'm talking about. Then he whips out a piece of paper and starts jotting down numbers, presumably what I would have to pay in order to get a membership that night. He says, totally disregarding anything I've said, "Oh, I can get you a membership, but you don't want my membership. I can give it to you, but you don't want it." And he shows me a list of numbers, just numbers, mind you, that all add up to over $250, just to "get going," he says. I shake my head in wonder, thinking I must be on Candid Camera or something. Oh geez, that makes me feel a hundred years old. But unfortunately, Candid Camera is the only blooper-like show that comes to mind and it's just too bad that it's been off the air for a million years. I address the girl again, "Please, do not try to sell memberships like this. This is...not how it's done."

At this point, the whole situation becomes more comical than I could have ever imagined, because at that moment, the kid comes sauntering over from the front desk, throws a twenty dollar bill down on the desk in front of Mr. Desk Man and exclaims, "Yo, I need change." I sat in disbelief. This child's mother certainly taught him better than this, I mean, Clark is almost 4 now and can already say "Excuse me" when he is interrupting a conversation, not that I want him to interrupt me at all, but it's a polite start especially for a 3 year old. I mean, come on! So, I grab the kid's arm and I say, "Are you kidding me?" and letting go I continue, "We are in the middle of a conversation here! Please, tell me that you did not just interrupt for change!"

The kid absolutely looks mortified, which pleased me immensely. So he has some sense, I thought. He backpedaled, "Oh, ma'am, I am so sorry. Didn't mean nothing by it. Sorry ma'am." And he actually bowed and backed away to the front desk. See, I told you. His mother had taught him better than that. I knew it. "Okay, thank you," I said, "don't ever do that again!"

You know that part in the movie "The Blind Side" when Sandra Bullock is about to put the smack down about packin' heat in her itty bitty purse, the part where the idiot swears at her and her eyebrows go up and she huffs a little, composing herself, and then turns around to face him, you know, the part that basically got her the Oscar? Well, that's what I did just then when I turned back around to face Mr. Desk Man one last time. Not intentionally of course. I wasn't trying to be Sandra Bullock. Didn't even cross my mind at the time. I just realized, as I sit here writing this, that that's how I must've looked. Minus the already-been-to-the-gym body and the southern drawl. Although, I could probably pull off a y'all now and again, having spent many of my childhood years in Texas. I'm just sayin'.

I actually just sat there for a minute and then gathered the courage to be the polite version of Kathleen Kelly because I knew a few years from now I would probably regret whacking him on the head, and said, "You know, I'm going home. And I'm going to take a look at my email. And if I need anything from you, I will let you know." He shrugged.

And then I stood up, gave the girl one last long look, out of pity—I mean, can you believe all she did was just sit there and stare the entire time? What is that all about?—and then I turned. Walking past the front desk, the boys waved goodbye to me and I smiled at them and kept on going until I was out the door, out of the parking lot, and at the door of the Dunkin' Donuts across the street. True story. I actually swore when I saw that they were closed. Then I got out my cell phone and called the troops to come rescue me.

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