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In my neverending role as a plus-one to other people's more impressive lives, a friend endowed me with an extra free one-month pass to one of the city's more upscale (read: expensive [read: brag]) gyms. I had never heard of it, but that's not so unusual. I don't obsessively follow New York hotspots unless they sell ice cream, flapjacks, or ass. It's just too exhausting to catalog all the places that I'm not allowed to step inside, and I can't imagine feeling any sense of self-satisfaction were I granted entrance. I already know what assholes drink.

I should have known this gym would be an endurance test for my personality the moment I checked their web site. It devoted more space to a list of the celebrities who have showered there than a list of their workout facilities. It also read like a Page 6 of phsyical fitness: "Fresh off his swashbuckling role in Pirates of the Carribbean, we spotted Orlando Bloom buckling down with a bag of Pirate's Booty in our Fitness Café! S'wash happening, Orlando?"

After being treated with some measure of indignity by the gym's "hostess", we were given a tour, during which we discovered this sports club provides full uniforms - jockstraps included - for their members. I was glad to hear that, because this piece of trivia answered the question that was making elliptical revolutions in my brain: why does everyone look like extras from 1984 (the orwell novel, not the totally awesome calendar year that michael ian black skewers drolly on those delightful vh-1 specials.), fuelling the machines in their heather gray on heather gray running suits? (it was funny, because during my first day of training there i was also wearing a similar heather gray t-shirt, but mine was emblazoned with the word, "HEEB." i felt like i was being singled out at a prison camp.)

I also learned that members were permitted to rent small cubby lockers to hold their giant stacks of gold coins and slave ownership papers while they stretched-out. The hostess said, "you can rent one for only $55 a month," in a voice that was almost too surprised by the generosity of the offer it just issued. My old gym in Brooklyn cost nearly half that amount for human membership. That means, at this gym, my human life is less valuable than someone else's cell phone and Swatch. (as if i didn't already know this)

The gym is fairly full-featured. However, apart from being able to check your email from a treadmill or sign up for classes where, accompanied by a blazing hip-hop soundtrack, you can punch and kick homeless people aerobically, its true prize isn't even on the gym floor. It's two flights below, in the locker room. Great showers, great products, and a weird staff of below-the-equator nerds who actually, literally collect your used towels and jockstraps. This is a true delight for the regulars at the gym - a group of barely reformed collegiate date rapists with new corporate jobs where they earn plenty of great hush money. Writing a check for $5,000 is so much more dignified than dropping off a bottle of Kahlua at her sorority house with a note attached that reads, "You were special. No hard feelings?"

One of the locker room attendants, whose name I haven't gotten yet, is a character of nearly cinematic proportions. It's as if he's been studying American films from the 1940s and, in particular, the cadences and preoccupations of on-screen bellboys, valets, shoe shines, barbers, and ice block salesmen, in order to play his role at the gym more earnestly. I am not exaggerating when I say I overheard him discussing one member's upcoming business trip to Paris by remarking, "Ah, gay Paree! Wine, women, romance! (whistles) Ya got any room on that trip for me, boss? I sure could use some of them Parisian ladies." Root-toot-toot-a-doot.

The first time I met him, I was waiting my turn in line to exchange my locker key for my ID, and I studied him - skinny as a wick, hair smashed down in a greasy part that curled at the ends where the pomade forgot to reach, thick steel-frame glasses, and a moustache of the softest puberty. He was chatting with another member, talking about being exhausted, working seven jobs, etc. The member tried to slide him some money "for the holidays" and the locker room attendant made like he was bashful. Then the member pushed it harder, insisting, and said, "Come on. I gotta tell you, you're one of the nicest people I've ever known in my whole life." I was somewhat moved, and ashamed, because the entire time I was standing there, waiting my turn, all I was thinking was, "Hmm...I'll bet this guy has sex with prostitutes." I deserve a charlie horse.

WE FIRST MET ON 11.25.2003

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