It had been a while since I had last worked out.
After all, working out was not a priority to me. It seemed to offer at best marginal benefits for your health that you could find other places whether they be in moderation, like just easting less or in disciplined activity like Judo.
I guess what it came to down to though, really, was that I just didn’t care.
When my parents got me a membership to the gym, I never went. After all, what motivation did I have?
I’d be happier seeing friends, hanging out, drinking. I’d be more productive doing work at home, more occupied playing video games or watching the 10:30 or 8:30 rerun of The Colbert Report, depending on the time.
When I did go back then, it wasn’t even a matter of health reasons but of social obligation. Extremely embarrassingly, my parents had hired me a personal trainer: a skinny, sarcastic Oklahoman named Jen.
Working out with her worked for me because I liked her. Jen was quick-witted; she laughed at my jokes and, better still, countered with her own. She would ask me about my day and offer me counsel on the various problems I faced in my life. What was best even was that Jen was almost as bad with guys as I was with girls and I felt like I had found a kindred spirit.
So it was that I ended up discussing the subway system, what neighborhoods were livable for an Oklahoman and the quality of the “hot bar” at Whole Foods, while also working my glutes, lats and delts.
Sadly though, it was the economy that did away with those days, though I suppose age would have done similarly. My father was feeling the crunch at his job and looked for ways to cut back. In personal training, an expensive endeavor that had made me stronger but kept me the same weight, he saw something easy to live without.
Both Jen and my father urged me afterwards to go to the gym, to keep working out by myself three times a week, to keep in touch about my progress. In a way though, it became impossible for me to go back to the gym I belonged to. I felt ashamed that my father had stopped my lessons with Jen. What would our relationship be, once two people who talked so openly, now that she wasn’t paid to communicate and indeed, had other clients to deal with? The same social situation that got me in the door ended up keeping me away; I wasn’t eager to find answers to my own questions.
When I did end up going back to the gym, three months and several jew-do lessons later, it was for the efforts of my friend Peter.
I saw Peter for the first time in my first Senior Thesis class as I endeavored to get my film made using my writing, my enthusiasm and my long-teneded connection with the professor. I hadn’t gone in to the class with friends; it’s hard to keep friends anyway with people you are competing with to make your dream film. Still, I didn’t know almost anyone in the class. However, when I saw Peter down in the first row, I thought:
“How the fuck did he get in here?”
He was a big guy, six-foot-three, probably two-hundred-and-something-pounds–enough to run me over. With his curly, black hair and his ursine stature, he resembled nothing less than the sort of Staten Island-Italian douchebag who used to, if not the beat the shit out of me, then to represent the football culture of my high school that oppressed and nearly destroyed me. Here was the symbol, in this man, of anti-intellectualism, of all that I fought against in my years in film school to escape. I felt my meticulously created film-school persona fall apart even sitting in the room with this person, I felt like I was going to crack. I hated him without even him saying a word.
How wrong I was.
Peter was the middle of three sons growing up, all of whom were to some degree, deaf. His mother, not understanding why her children were born this way, nonetheless decided not to teach them sign language, but instead to train them how to read lips so that they could always communicate and function in mainstream society. Of his two brothers, he is the least deaf, born with some hearing and given more by a cochlear implant, an advance recent enough that his older brother never was able to get one until it was too late and his brain had developed past the point of its usage. At this point, anyway, his older brother was lashing out at the world for the part of it he couldn’t understand. In football, he found a community and acceptance but at the same time he knew he was different than his peers. He loved films, watched DVDs and followed directors. When he ended up at a small, liberal arts school he took the only film class they offered and found himself in it. When he confessed to his teacher his love for the medium, his teacher told him that the college had no more to offer him and encouraged him to apply to NYU. When he told his friend from football, they were skeptical telling Peter “that’s not you” and balking at his choice, but he was accepted and attended.
Peter had had a hard time as a transfer student at NYU. He found, transfering in Junior year, that most people knew each other already, that it was a small community and even if he could try to make friends, because of his appearance he represented a sort of bogeyman to these students, as he did to me. He was a Specter of past identities and grievances, best avoided.
Eventually, as class progressed, it began to dawn on me from my perch of hatred, that Peter perhaps might not be the idiot I once thought him. In class, our teacher praised his script as a “near-perfect short film”. He was honest and lengthy in the comments he made about other people’s scripts, including my own; a quality I originally mocked in him, but later came to appreciate. When he came in to give his presentation, he gave the best one in class, showing sturdy professionalism. His presentation, unlike others, was fairly short and to the point with only relevant information. He had secured an amazing location and showed us pictures. He even had the fine points of his speech written out on note-cards, a small touch that I had much respect for, if only because it seemed old-school to me and to show a meticulousness that I found admirable.
Finally, one day after I gave my presentation and read my script, my third one of the class, Pete defended my script, complimented me and even balked at others’ comments. When he asked me after class whether I’d like to get a drink, I was surprised but I said sure, which apparently surprised him even more. Apparently, this was the first time at NYU someone had accepted that offer.
As I got to know Pete, I got to know his story and I gained more and more respect for him. Sure, he used idioms like “home-slice” and “what’s hangin!” but as always he meant them earnestly and his constant enthusiasm was infectious. When I introduced to some of my other friends, they universally liked him, even one friend telling me that he had “given up on meeting genuine people like that at NYU”.
So, it was after a few months of hanging out that Pete finally got up the courage to ask me to work out with him at the NYU gym.
“It’s just so much more fun with a friend, man and the people at Coles… well, they’re just dicks.” He told me.
I was skeptical. When I worked out before, it was under the influence of a slight Oklahoman woman; Pete was a former football player. Despite his constant assurances that we would “go easy”, I privately told friends to expect my obituary and mourn my death if I did not return from the gym one faithful day.
But of course, like most things with Pete, I was surprised. I had a blast working out with him. Sure I was embarrassed that he could lift approximately 150-200% of what I could on any given exercise, but when I would mention this, he’d just get all flustered and tell me to stop making fun of him.
By the end he was teaching me to jumprope, an activity I assured him that if I was terrible at it when I was seven, there was little hope for me now. Still, he kept on egging me and by the time we had to go I had jumped 5 consecutive times; pathetic, but an improvement for me. Pete was proud.
“You overthink things too much,” He told me. “Athletics are not something you think about; they’re something you do. Your mind gives up and your body does it automatically. It’s very calming actually.”
“Alright, man. Well I had fun,” I replied. “I just worried about your definition of easy.”
“You just thought about me like every other student at Tisch,” He told me. “You thought I was some gym-teacher-in-training.”
“Truth is, I hate those guys.”
I took him out for rolled quesadillas and rolled on with the rest of my day.