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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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I'm In...

Sleep Is
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Why gyms are no good. No good at all.

I quit my gym a while back, on account of I never went. Apparently I hated money enough to give it to a place that was offering me nothing in the way of goods or services. Anyway, eventually I came to my senses, and realized I could spend my money on something better, like cookies.

The gym quit was perfectly timed: shortly after that we made our decision to leave Brooklyn and find a house in New Jersey, and my weekly bouts of ennui became hourly fits of plus-sized panic. I ran back to my psychiatrist, who told me that the best thing I could do for myself was get some regular exercise.

For a while I fooled myself into thinking I could exercise plenty without some stupid gym. The gym and I were through. Who needs a gym, when you have a park and good sneakers? I’ll jog! Okay, ha ha, maybe walk! Fast!

Whoever said walking was a good workout was lying. To me, a good workout means you sweat, and maybe I’m in better shape than I thought, because I couldn’t break a sweat, unless I wore two sweaters. Also, I kept tripping on the sidewalk. And I inevitably took my dog, because I would be lacing up my sneakers and there he’d be, watching me--and you try to get a workout when Charlie is tagging along. He has to pee on every tree, every hydrant, every garbage bag. He doles out his pee like it’s his gift to all of Brooklyn, to be evenly distributed to its residents. Behold his golden puddles! It’s Christmas, but not!

Lately my anxiety level has been ramping up day by day, as we near our closing and our departure from Brooklyn (I actually just screamed a little). So today I sucked it up, and called a local gym. This gym is not my ex-gym; it’s a gym that happens to be in the same building as Henry’s school, so I really have no excuse. I can drop him off and go. Mind you, during that 5-second elevator trip up those three flights, my brain will be screaming NO NO GO HOME AND EAT DING-DONGS. Nonetheless, the chances are not bad that I might actually get myself some exercise, sometimes.

So! “Is it possible to get a six-week membership?” I asked the nice salesperson. “No,” she said, “We don’t do short-term memberships.” Apparently this place hates money as much as I do! We were meant to be!

“Really?” I said.

“The shortest membership we could do is two months,” she said.

“I’ll pay for two months,” I said, and she said, “Well, this month would be prorated to start today.” So six weeks, in other words. Who was I to point this out?

She told me to come down to the gym, so I went to the gym, and when I got there she told me, and I quote, “The accountant doesn’t want to give you that membership because it’s too much paperwork for just two months.” Wow! They loathe money!

”Really?” I said.

“Let me see what I can do,” she said. I was getting good at this! “Why don’t you go home and I’ll call you.”

So I went home, and no joke, there was a message from her saying to come back, the membership was approved. I took my gym stuff with me! I was going to work out! Mental (and, I suppose, physical) health for me!

“The accountant said to give you a temporary six-week membership,” she said when I got there.

OH MY GOD WHAT OTHER KIND WERE WE TALKING ABOUT, I wanted to shout, but didn’t.

Then I exercised today for the first time in a long time. That in itself is not worth the effort it takes to type the words. I flailed around on an elliptical machine. I tried not to hurt myself stretching. I considered the weight machines but concluded that I had done enough for My First Workout in 2006. The End.

But here’s what I forgot: when you’re a nervous wreck, having had a workout is an excellent idea, but being in a gym is the worst thing you can do to yourself. First of all, you're surrounded by muscled, supple forms, and you're not one of them. You have to get naked in a locker room, which would not be a terrible thing unto itself, but inevitably, in this cavernous, mostly unpopulated space, a woman will stroll over and take the locker right next to yours . You will try not to look but oh god peripheral vision. You have to squeeze yourself into your five-year-old, pilly Lycra-infused pants and witness the horror of the visible panty lines. You suffer a glimpse of yourself in a full-length mirror, an object you have very wisely banned from your home.

Then you go to the Cardio Station (do they perform open-heart surgeries there? It would be a welcome distraction) and you put on your iPod and commence to feeling the burn and so forth. You imagine the elliptical trainer is the damn gym accountant and you step on his head again and again. Your freak-outedness begins to dissipate.

But then! A beefy personal trainer (is there any other kind?) keeps entering the room and peering directly at you, the sole enjoyer of Cardio. You try not to worry, but that’s what your brain is good at these days. There he is, back again. Oh god, is he going to come over and tell me I’m doing something wrong? Is he going to—oh please no—correct my form? Or did I commit some terrible breach of gym etiquette? Oh please let me be done before he comes back. And then you realize: you don’t have a towel with you. And you’re sweating all over the handlebars. You are gross. You are what you always loathed at the gym. The sweat-leaving person. You jerk.

Now he’s back with another trainer, and they’re standing in the corner, pretending not to be talking about you. One of them has a towel wrapped around his neck. It’s an obvious message.

You finish five minutes early because you can’t stand it anymore, rush past the trainers, get a wad of paper towels from the bathroom, and purposefully wipe down the handles, as the responsible gym-goer you are. Anyway, with your iPod off you can hear what they’re talking about and it’s something about their hours or their quads, or both, but anyway it’s not about you.

At least your conscience (and the elliptical machine) is clean.

So after you’re done with your comic approximation of stretching, you return to the locker room, where Next Door Locker Lady is just emerging from the steam room and she says hello. Oh god do you have to talk with her now? Sweet Moses, do you have to make small talk when you’re both naked?

After a quick retreat to the showers and subsequent drying, dressing, etc, you head to the elevator. Standing at the elevator is a cadre of seven-foot-tall, confident athletic types, all dressed in revealing workout costumes. Undoubtedly they Take It to the Max on a daily basis, right after they Push It to the Extreme. And you have to stand among them, with your workout clothes in a plastic shopping bag. The group includes the "your money is not worth the effort" salesperson and the trainer who had been staring at you over at The Cardiac Center. No.

You duck into the stairwell and head down the stairs.

And you set off the alarms.

While racing back up the stairs, you see the sign, cleverly angled so that you can’t read it as you head down the stairs: DO NOT GO DOWN THE STAIRS ALARM WILL SOUND. You get back to the elevator, and there they all are, looking at you. “Ha ha!” you say. “That sure woke me up!” No one says anything.

Anxiety: returned!


Reader Comments (106)

The only thing worse than having to make Naked Small Talk is being forced into Naked Former Celebrity Small Talk. The town in which I live is home to a number of LA refugees who are now just "normal" community members who do things like grocery shop and go to the gym. It's one thing to discuss the recent wind with Naked Stranger; it's another to discuss it with a woman you watched at the Drive-In in your youth.

What I tell myself when I'm feeling self-conscious at the gym (which is most of the time) is that everyone else is feeling just the same way, so they don't have the time and energy to notice me.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNicole
That was hilarious! I'm crying and snorting....*eh-heh*!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSonia (DDM)
I count going from the basement laundry room to the second floor bedrooms sixty times a week a darn good workout. And I don't have to towel down the handles. (My ass, however, thinks it's a sucky workout routine and is threatening to strike.)
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMona Buonanotte
I applaud your courage! I still haven't made it to the gym, 18 months post-baby.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterabogada
So, so funny! Thank you for the morning laugh. I have just started back at a gym and it is only working because it is a sort of middle aged racquet club gym and I go in the evening when it is sort of quiet. I tend to go in my workout clothes and come home for a nice relaxing shower before bed. It means I miss the hot tub and sauna but I think the extra sanity is worth it. Are you going to go back?!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteraarin
good god woman, that made me laugh until i felt the burn. cripes!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteraaron
Hmm. But after you move, your neighbors will be fatter than you, they will wear pillier clothing, and they will trod from driveway to home in uglier shoes. It sounds bad, but the lowered bar will lift your spirits and you'll relax--and then you'll become like them. But it's nice to go out in a track suit, you'll find. Comfy. In general you'll de-stress just by being in a less urbane area.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterellen
This was a riot! I have to wait till I'm in shape enough for the gym...a lot like cleaning the house before the maid comes...I have issues.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwordnerd
I feel your pain, as someone who has tried repeatedly to join gyms. "This time I'll keep going! For sure! No, really!" And then I keep paying them and don't go. I just joined the YMCA and am now going swimming every day and I LOVE IT!! Way better than the gym, and the elliptical, and the stairmaster, and the treadmill. And the best part is that the aquasize classes are full of out-of-shape women in swimsuits! No need to feel self-conscious there! I highly recommend it! Good luck!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie
I'm proud of you for joing a gym, really, but OHMYGODTHATWASFUNNY! And thank you for reminding me why I don't miss going to the Y, even though it's directly across the street from my office and I see the lycra clad and the toned running on treadmills through the big plate glass window every day. I kind of like my solitary walks at the park on the walking trail. I'm gym phobic like that.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
Alice, JOIN THE Y. That's what I do. I'm constantly surrounded by naked old ladies. It's actually GOOD for my ego.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy
Sorry, but if it's between the Y a half-hour away, and the gym a half-block in the same building as Henry's school, the latter will win.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteralice
alice, you have motivated me to go back to the gym.

You also made me laugh, a lot.

I have a FREE gym. FREE. Here on campus. It is nice. Not quite as bad as grad03's gym with the noo-biles. But still, it's bad when I use the faculty as my 'feel good person of the day'.

I went to this gym religiously for one month. I didn't think it was helping. I have now had my gym stuff here at my desk for...3 weeks. I actually packed it all up, took it with me...and haven't gone.

If you can go, I can go! It is on my route to and from work, no excuse.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBotanicalGirl
OH.MY. GOD. you are my soul mate..!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAji Dulce
That is hilarious. It is so funny to me because it echoes my every fear each and every time I go to the gym.

Good for you for getting back into shape!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie A.
Eek! That's a bad first day at the gym! Hopefully it goes better from here on out. I once decided to take a step class at the corporate gym at my first job out of college. So here I was, new to the company and new to the gym, and I get on the step and am doing the routine, and about five minutes into the routine I trip over the step and fell flat on my face. Oh, and yes, the teacher put all the new people in the front so we could see her better.

I did actually go back after that, but I only rarely took the step class and insisted that I stay toward the back of the room.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJessie
Hilarious! I've had those exact fears of the gym. I hate that every time I walk in I think everyone is judging my chubs. Which reminds me of a story I'll have to post about why I will NEVER do pilates in public again.

Thanks for the laugh! (Uh, that's laughing WITH you, not AT you...)
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchilihead
That's it! No lie, I was contemplating quitting my gym today. After your story though, I will stick it out. The thought of having to go in there and tell them I want to quit frightens the heck out of me. I will carry on!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTracey
That whole post was so funny. But the part where Diet Coke really began flowing out my nose was the perfectly capitalized phraseology of Taking It to the Max and Pushing It to the Extreme.

March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca
I hate the gym - always have - so it was great to read your gym adventures. You funny lady.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMimimom
Ok, I belong to a gym on flatbush ave, and what you just spoke of is the story of every time I go there (which hasn't been in about 6 months...I have a shoulder injury, well that is what I tell myself). I don't understand why some people have to be soooo naked in the locker room!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline
my gym hatred is mighty, so i recently started kickboxing. the classes are held in the same studio as an elementary school-age karate class. even if i don't feel thinner, i know i could hand any of those kids their ASS, man.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle
OF COURSE they alarmed the door to the stairs. Otherwise, people would just work out by taking the stairs up and down and wouldn't need the gym at all.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEuropean
I'm kind of scared to even GO to my gym at the moment because it has been so long...I feel like they're going to scream, "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?" when I walk in. In front of someone gorgeous, naturally.

(reason #75,603 for not going to the gym this month)
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersandra
You know, the whole gym thing isn't for everyone. I mean its almost set up for failure unless you are already physically perfect. I think that, when you move, you need to really look at an alternative Alice. Something that feeds your soul and your body!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBeverlee

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