West Side Story on Steroids

This column first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post.

It is Monday and I am at the gym. As achievements go, this is up there with that time I made it through an entire episode of University Challenge without ripping my own head off.

I will be honest with you; it has been a while since I was last here. And on that occasion, so pleased was I that I’d dragged myself away from eating muffins in bed, that I decided to treat myself by skipping the treadmill and heading straight for the sauna room.

But today was not a day for the sauna. Today was about hitting the machines and pretending to know what I was doing.

Gyms, you see, are a lycra jungle; eat or be eaten. There are rules and pecking orders, and you break them at your peril. Rule number one, never admit you don’t know what you’re doing. This sign of weakness will surely see you struck down at the hands of a taunting, protein shake guzzling meathead. And today in particular, competition was fierce.

As I made my way onto the gym floor with a gallant stride that really belonged to somebody else, I clocked my nearest threat; an obvious gym fiend and leader of the pack. He wore those fingerless gloves like a sporting Fagin and clutched a bag of that powdered chalk that gymnasts use in the Olympics. This is not, as I’d previously assumed, to give their routine a pretty finishing flourish – but was in fact used to ensure a tight and firm grip on the apparatus. The sort of grip I may find around my neck, if this guy ever finds out that I am an impostor in his jungle.

We exchanged the customary passing grunts as I made my way to the leg machine and strapped myself in. At least, I think this is a leg machine. Wait… what if this isn’t the leg machine? What if I am using the machine for biceps on my legs? I will be exposed.

I glanced around to see if I could make my escape from the mystery machine before anybody had noticed and… the man! He had me in a death stare. His forehead vein so large and bulging, I was sure it was about to break free and strike me down itself. He thrust his now pulsating body around to face me.

‘This is it,’ I thought as he glided towards me, ‘he’s going to want to show his dominance. He and his vein are going to take me down for good.’ This is what gyms are like. The rivalry knows no bounds. It’s like West Wide Story on steroids. Clearly, in trying to keep up and pretend to know what I’m doing, I have breached the pecking order and I must face the consequences.

He leaned in. Sweat dripping from his forehead, his eyes bloodshot, as if the anger had lit a fire in them. Be strong, Darryl. Be strong.

“I’m not sure how most of this works, to be honest,” he whispered and I recoiled in shock at this most unlikely of admissions, “can you show me how to use the leg machine?”

This man had exposed himself. He had broken rank from the usual circus of showmanship and bravado. This hero of our time had bravely shunned the rules and opened up a new dawn of hope for us all. I could join this man in his pursuit of the truth and no longer would we have to lurk in the shadows, trying not to fall into conversations about TRX suspension systems and types of trainer. Finally, we could be free to be true to our athletic inadequacy, and be celebrated and respected for who we really are. I am Spartacus.

“Sure,” I found myself saying with a phony scoff, “follow me. I know what I’m doing.”

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By Darryl Morris

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