Conspiracy at the Y on the Serengeti

Exercise joints like the Y or Lifetime Fitness have really got it made, and not just because there is an endless supply of chubby people. They’ve managed to take something which exists naturally — movement of the body — created a space within which a person can move — created machines which resist movements — and designed a means to charge us for the whole of it.

Then there is an entire tagalong industry sprung up to dress us in appropriate attire while having our movements resisted. Attire which is generally unacceptable in any other context except perhaps, the bedroom, and even then only on kinky spandex evenings when the lights are dim and eyes glazed with fine — or in my case, cheap — wine, proportionate, I might add, to the quality of my spandex. Still, I’ve found that even in such a carefully crafted setting my movements tend to be resisted, if endured, by more than spandex.

So it’s my belief that we meet with enough resistance in our ordinary everyday lives, or have the potential to do so, that we don’t need specific places where we go to lunge, squat and thrust — it’s just that someone found a way to sell us thrusting, squatting and lunging, and once we paid for it we owned it, so to speak. Now it’s just the way we do things.

And one of the supporters of the way we do things in our culture is arguably the automobile. By taking away the potential to perform natural movements, these machines actually assist the body in doing less with itself. Inevitably, it will come out that the automobile industry is working to buoy the fitness center and spandex industries, sharing in the profits and laughs while the public is forced to drive to the Y and do leg kicks in agonizing embarrassment.

The renewable energy sector is probably in on it, too. Natural movements of the earth, seemingly here for everyone, are being resisted by machines like the windmills, which will allow that energy to be packaged and sold right back to us while little windowed envelopes demanding our address appear visible continue to show up in the mail, monthly, for the remainder of our lives.

What the energy sector should do is find a way to hook all people exercising at fitness centers up to machines, capturing their energy to supply the energy consumed by the fitness center itself. Of course, this would work best when the fitness center was packed with people to produce enough power to keep the lights on. But it might motivate those who exercise during odd hours to work real hard or risk exercising in the dark. Or, a person could go outside.

Opportunities to exercise naturally in daily life are everywhere, from the conventional walking or biking for business or pleasure, to commuting the Mississippi River by swimming to work in your suit and tie. For weight training, one could easily buy groceries and then arm curl them — or lunge home if you like. For endurance, do high repetitions of bread. For strength, may I suggest squatting meat? Or better yet, try bird watching in Theodore Wirth Park — it’s quite a climb in some areas. Imitate the birds you see by flapping your arms wildly for a good upper body workout. Don’t be afraid to flex those vocal cords and make various squeaking and quacking noises as well. It’s nice to have places like these, and we should celebrate them.

Not like the zoo, where like fitness centers, animals have been removed from their natural habitat, given much smaller counterfeit habitats and forced to be complicit in charging humans for the whole illusion. Probably, they agree to do so when zookeepers promise them air fare to their homelands. But the cost of fuel is high, so they’ll just have to work a little longer, especially if they want any in-flight amenities like pretzels (which polar bears love). Please help them return to their homelands by visiting the zoo, won’t you?

Maybe what we should do, is just leave them where they are, among the newly erected windmills, and place various treadmills and exercise equipment baited with their favorite treats — these machines could then easily tap into the same transmission lines fed by the windmills and help to power nearby communities. Or, we could just put exercise equipment in the zoo. This would probably make more sense, and would give the animals the idea that they’re traveling great distances. New promises could be made to them. “No more pretzels. Just keep running and you’ll be home soon enough.”

But maybe people aren’t that devious. And I have to suggest that because I’ve been to a bunch of zoos, and marveled at the kinetic beauty of windmills, and exercised at the Y. And I’ve driven a car. Of course, our intentions in creating zoos may be so that everyone, for a small fee, can see animals from around the world. Our windmill intentions might help to localize our so-far-unpowerable-by-exercise-equipment energy needs. Our intentions in building fitness centers are probably fine too; it’s a public place to endure bodily suffering with others, and after all we’re social creatures, or try to be when not enduring the hardships of spandex.

But sometimes I wonder … when I find myself outside of the city, or in the hills near Lake Superior or nearby Theodore Wirth, when I surprise a wild animal of a type I’m nearly unfamiliar with outside of a zoo (like a fox or a deer), and instinctively grab for my wallet yelling as they prance away “but the airport is south!”… I wonder if all this convenience creates distance; if charging to resist natural movements and withholding in-flight amenities from caged animals sometimes makes for abbreviated experiences. And then I think, “How much does a Safari in Africa cost?” It’s all very complicated. I suppose nothing can be free unless everything is free.

Adam Overland can frequently be seen squatting meat at the local Y and grocery store.  He lives in the Wedge neighborhood.