strangers at the gym before dawn like a church gone quiet

I’m lowkey stressed about turning 30 next month but I don’t think it’s causing any legitimate ripples in my psyche except for maybe this one thing of being pointedly aware of my body lately–which, at 29, isn’t manifesting decay. It’s not even that I find myself having less energy than I did at 19 (although I probably do). It’s just that I’ve got this sudden inclination to fall pensive at every internal pang. 

            Something seems to flinch in my midsection and suddenly I go quiet. My mind is clear, but I’ve got a broody demeanor. 

             I know I can’t fly off to the doctor to investigate every little pang because, for one thing, I can’t afford it, but also, more philosophically, I’m reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Natural Causes at the moment, which is basically a book about how our terror of death is largely fueled by Big Pharma (why is it that, even though we all agree that Big Pharma is a very real and pernicious thing that snakes its poison into every single American household, I still feel like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat when I refer to it?).

           Ehrenreich, in her 70s, has decided that she’ll no longer subject herself to grueling preventative medicine. 

            No more painful mammograms, no more degrading colonoscopies, etc.

             And one of the arguments she makes, early in the book, is that the human body is really complex. It’s got lotsa systems. If you subject any single human body to a wide enough battery of tests, a physician will look at the slew of results and find something that’s underperforming. Something that “warrants” medical intervention, even if it’s just a pill. 

            So what I tell myself when I feel a little painless flinch in my midsection, or when I get a sudden headache that could be a tumor, is that, if the issue isn’t causing me pain, it probably isn’t an ~issue~.

            I’m fairly young, after all, and take fairly good care of myself.

           But also, if I do go to a doctor, the odds of being handed a perfect bill of health in return are slim. In fact, last time I went in for a physical, the doctor called me back a week later and said everything in my blood work looks great, I should be happy to have such a wonderful bill of health. But then he dropped his tone and said that my Vitamin D is kinda low and so he’s gonna prescribe these supplements…

           I’m concerned about my health, in other words, but increasingly wary of the influence Big Pharma has on American medicine (why does this sentence make me cringe?!).

            So I’m trying to eat better.

            I generally only have two meals a day and I try to make sure one of them is vegetarian. I drink a ton of water, I get lotsa steps every day (often walking several miles around the restaurant in the course of a bartending shift), and now, on a whim, I’ve gone and bought a membership to a gym. 

            It doesn’t cost very much at all and I woke up at 5:30 a.m. so that I could be there when they opened at 6 to enroll.

            What I was surprised to find, during the hasty enrollment, is that, by 6:10 a.m., the gym was pretty busy. There’s a pandemic going on, so I shouldn’t be cavalier about this, but lemme ruminate: This gym is affordable, so the clientele is working-class, and the working class, of course, is huge and varied. It encompasses just about everybody. 

            Thus, before dawn, the gym gets crowded with people who occupy a spectrum of body types, outfits, ages.

             The only reason I was here at the gym so early is because I had a full day of tasks ahead of me. And I figure that’s the reason everybody else was here at this hour too. 

              If that’s the case, then it was remarkable, I thought, to see that there are so many people in this city whose days are so packed with work, with responsibilities to which they rise before the Sun has risen to Her own, hoisting dumbbells at some godless pre-dawn hour in the interest of preserving their health, only to then march their sweaty butts right back out the door, and into the world, where jobs and children and parents will exact from them every remaining drop of energy.

            The relentlessness of life and of the human spirit somehow communicated so vividly in the vision of thirty misshapen strangers gathering in a vast fluorescent room to lift weights in silence while the rest of the city sleeps around us, the streets without traffic, bedroom windows dark and the roosters of Little Havana scattered about and crowing.

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