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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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Sleep Is
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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)

Do they have short term guest passes at your gym? Cause I would be happy to stand to next to you in the locker room. Not only would my very rotund and still naked self get all the attention, but you could totally hide your whole self behind me and no one would be the wiser. I have no modesty.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterclickmom
It will get easier Alice. And exercise does help a lot for anxiety. If you can find a class there that you like (yoga if they have it), you might have a better experience. Also, when you move, make sure you find a gym with the right atmosphere. A family Y would be great--you could bring Henry with you.

p.s. I only shower at home. No way am I taking my chances in some gym locker room!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCherie
I just had to read aloud to my husband (and who doesn't love that, especially when you're already reading your own book?) about your attempts to give them your money. He feels you should have looked aghast and *demanded* the Permanent Six Week Membership. He also didn't complain about being interrupted by my incessant reading aloud, so you know you're funny (Sunday mornings with those big old newspapers? Poor man.)
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
This is why instead of joining a gym and not exercising, I've instead bought these $250 MBT sneakers and not worn them. They're supposed to work out your thighs and butt while you walk. Except you can't get them dirty. Or wet. Or carry anything while wearing them. And they're hella ugly.

But the concept is great, isn't it? Almost as good as those "work out while watching TV" machines. And at least you don't have to be that person at the gym with the spandex butt sweat.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterteresa
Thank you! I've now worked out my abs by laughing so hard at this. You are so freakin funny.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Fire
Like JenB, I don't shower at the gym either. But when you don't, you add the anxiety you feel when you SWEAR people are watching you leave and thinking, "EWWW!!! That lady didn't shower!"
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Gah! I hate the gym! I always felt AWFUL, and once, after I had finished 30 minutes of weights and stuff, I ran into someone who I used to know and would love to impress. But I was bright red. Like a tomato.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJem
Hilarious, except that bit about walking not being good exercise. Walking is the means by which I am making a return to my former, thinner self, the one who cared not about changing naked in the locker room, the one who actually went to the gym.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercallisto
OMG. Thank you for validating why I avoid gyms. This was my favorite part:

"Sweet Moses, do you have to make small talk when you’re both naked?"

March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKristen
Ha. HA! I got a dog because I wanted a dog, but I thought (HA!) that a side benefit of having an adorable, sweet dog would be (HA!) that I would get to go for long walks with her (HA!) and get some exercise in the process (HAHAHAHAHAHA!).

Given that a) she's a pug, and pugs don't exercise and b) she's a pug PUPPY, who only wants to chew on grass and not exercise, with extra bonus points for c) Dude, pugs can't be outside for any length of time in the heat and I live in FLORIDA, where heat was born.

So yah. I think I'm going to have to go back to the gym thing.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJonniker
I was screaming for you while reading that.

But I love how the prorated month plus one full month does not equal 6 weeks.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterreenie
Oh! and I always just go to the gym in my gym clothes and shower when I get home. Much better than nakedness in front of others.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterreenie
Mary - In response to the "Eww - that lady didn't shower" thought I would counter with the fantasy that I was going to work out MORE, outside in NATURE! So that's why I didn't shower! Not that it matters, who cares if you let your sweat dry on the way home and shower or bask in the tub in the privacy of your own home?
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterreenie
sweetney's right. you need the gym, but *that* gym sounds like the devil's gym. i like the y. it is filled with plump older smiling ladies, and i end up feeling much better about myself and my quivering thighs. i am that shallow. hope jersey offers you the same sad pleasure..
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjoy
This is why I ride a bicycle for transportation, no need to join a hell gym to get exercise.

I hate that your anxiety is my entertainment. Mind you, I don't hate it enough to stop reading, oh no. But well, thanks for the laugh. It made my day.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCoelecanth
Alice, you must be in better shape than me because those elliptical machines confuse me. I'm just not coordinated enough to master them. Thanks for the laugh. Your site always brightens my day.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNMgirl
My LORD you make me laugh!

All true, except here in the south, the women don't get naked in front of each other. They will enter in and leave the shower completely dressed. it Freaks. Me. Out.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnita
I don't shower at the gym either and I wouldn't have it any other way. Why bother lugging a change of clothes, flip flops, shower products, hair products, and makeup when I have a perfectly good shower and all that stuff at home? And if I've worked out in sweaty gym clothes for an hour, I can handle another 10 minutes in my car. This admission probably isn't the way to win friends here, is it?

Well, there aren't any chatty naked ladies in my home shower either, which is a big plus.
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLori MacBlogger
LOL- I also donate to my local YMCA on a monthly basis. I am sending at least two kids to camp with my unused family membership. Which having worked there somehow makes it all the worse. I keep thinking I am going to give up running in the park and taking the dog hiking for the more 'gentile' atomosphere of elliptical trainer row. Oddly, I have grown addicted to dodging puddles, pups and the wacky comments from the denizens of park and the icy chill of winter hiking trails. I do miss the weights, but in no way do I miss the steamy, muggy locker room with hair on the floor....
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlotuslaments
LOL! Very reassuring to know I am not the only one that hits the gym feeling like a complete loser. And I mean that in the sweetest of ways. I go feeling like the biggest fraud and do my time on the bike and treadmill with my head buried in a book. Try it! Great way to pedal or walk/jog, something other than what is going on around you entertaining your brain. And man do I detest those women who so obviously dress/make up for the gym. This is not a meat market ladies, we are there to WORK OUT! (thank you, this has been really bothering me this past week.)
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
This is why we're moving back into an innercity apartment with a gym and pool. Then I sneak down during the day when all the skiny people are at work
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSassy
I knew there was a reason I avoided those places!!
March 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
Oh my God. This is hilarious. And an altogether completely accurate representation of me at a gym! And, I suppose, any other public place!

"You will try not to look but oh god peripheral vision."
March 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
If you join the YMCA you can join month by month and it's only $69 for the whole family per month including most of the classes. I hate the gym too and am hopelessly clumsy on the machines (I fell off the running machine once) but I manage to go to the classes a few times a week.
March 21, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteremma
I do not go to the gym because I get creeped out by the fact that a million other sweaty people have touched everything before I did and then the whole naked in front of strangers thing. Oh no ho thank you. However, I would like to give a shout out to all of the other peeps who hate using the locker room. Please, for the love of god, if you don't shower after your workout, please walk home or wait until rush hour is over to ride the subway home. Thank you.
March 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercraige

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