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"Reps" by Steve Passey


The gym I went to was old-school. No internet/wireless. No air-conditioning. It had racks and plates and bars and dumbbells that went to 160 pounds and two giant standing fans for the hottest days of the summer. It did have a water cooler. There was a stereo, an assemblage of cast-off equipment and a CD player. Excellent volume, by which I mean you could crank it up. The gym had a lined notebook at the counter. The policy was that everyone, before changing/training, had to sign in with their name and the date and time they were in. I was standing in line to sign in behind a guy we called Big B – an enormous man who weighed well over three-hundred pounds and one of only two guys I knew that ever benched over five-hundred drug-free. As Big B was signing in, the owner, from behind the counter, nodded towards a woman training in the back of the gym.

Big B, he said, is that your wife?

Big B didn’t even look. Nope, he said. My wife runs about three-fifty, chews snuff, and has hail damage on her ass. He walked into the changing room without looking.

The owner and I still laugh about that one.

I know Big B’s wife, by the way, they were clients of mine. She did not, in any way, fit the description.


I


Another time I was signing in, a woman who trained there regularly stood behind me. Her name was Paula. The owner asked her about Trucker D – her boyfriend. He’d been coming in with her regularly. She had him on a diet and a training regimen – he’d started to lose some weight.

I haven’t seen Trucker D lately, the owner asked Paula, where’s he been?

We broke up, Paula said.

That’s too bad, the owner said. What happened?

Well, Paula said. It’s like this - D is a long-haul trucker. He was never around. Once a week he’d stop by, leave the truck idling, and I’d give him a blow job and make him a sandwich. Then he’d be out the door and gone for a week. There’s gotta be more to life than that.

Paula finished signing and walked into the ladies changing room.

Nope, the owner said to me, there’s not much more to life than that.

I said it sounded pretty good to me, too.

After I had signed in and changed, I got on a treadmill beside Paula.

Did I tell you about my friend, she asked? She had a bladder-lift – do you know what that is?

I did not.

Anyways, she had a bladder-lift, Paula said, and it didn’t work. She sued the gynecologist who performed the surgery but she lost. $60,000 in legal fees. She’s paying it off now, eight-hundred and change per month, just like a second mortgage.


II


Big B told me that in order to own a weight you had to rep it 100 times in a single training session. After that it would never feel heavy ever again. He told me that to own 140-kilos (308 pounds), he’d benched it one-hundred times. He started with an eleven-rep set, and did sets up until three reps was all he could do, but eventually he benched that weight for a hundred total reps.

It took me about an hour-and-a-half he said, but I own it.


III


Leo was not drug-free. He benched 575 pounds. He had the worst bacne I’d ever seen. bacne is a type of acne you get on your back when running a steroid cycle. Acne Vulgaris of a sort, a moonscape of red and yellow. His bench workout consisted of working up to a few heavy single reps and then some incline dumbbell presses. That’s all. No secret Soviet formula. No curls for the girls, no beach muscle.

I’d spot for him. After he’d finished benching, he’d do the incline dumbbell presses with 160-pound dumbbells. He’d do three sets of eight repetitions. After he’d done eight, he’d drop the dumbbells to the floor. When he was ready for his next set, I’d pick them up and hand them to him one side at a time. Picking those 160’s up from the floor was one of the more difficult things I’d ever do in the gym.

Leo, I said one time, I’ve gone as far as I can go doing what I am doing. I need you to hook me up.

He knew what I was asking.

You don’t need steroids, he said. You just need to learn to handle weight.

Picking those 160’s up off of the floor and handing them to him felt like handling weight to me.

He never admitted to using. That’s fine. Some guys never do. Some are proselytists. I like the proselytists.

Leo ate like no one else I knew. Not in terms of volume, but in what constituted that volume. I’d seen him take a loaf of bread, still in the plastic bag, and crush and mold it with his hands until it was a large, dense, ball of bread. Then he’d take it out of the bag and eat it like an apple.


IV


Super Ed, the other guy I knew who could bench five-hundred drug-free, asked me if I took steroids.

I do not, I said.

Good, he said. Don’t ever use them.

He was very serious when he said this, but Ed was always very serious.

He then told me that when he was sixteen, he was being, in his own words, a shithead.

I was skipping school, he said, smoking pot every day, breaking into parked cars looking for change – stuff like that. One day, I got up around eleven, put on my leather coat, and went to walk out the front door. My mom blocked me in the hallway.

Are you going to school now, she asked me?

Fuck off, I said, and tried to shoulder my way past her. My mother was a large woman. Six-feet-two inches tall,two-hundred-and-forty pounds. She grabbed my head in one hand and slammed it through the drywall. She stepped over me and then walked back into the kitchen. I was sitting there with pieces of drywall and drywall dust in my hair and on my clothes. So, I got up and dusted myself off and walked out the front door and went and found the nearest pay phone. I called my older brother up – he had a good job on a drilling rig – and I asked him for a job. By the end of the week, I was working full time, and I never told my mother to fuck off ever again.

I believed him.


V


Paula’s daughter had posed nude for a glossy men’s magazine so Paula brought in a few copies. The girl had sometimes trained at the gym but I didn’t really know her. I looked. The girl was very attractive, and the photography high-end. It looked a lot like fame.

Paula put the copies on the counter, beside the sign-in book and over top of the supplements that were under lock and key.

The owner and I discussed it. Neither of us had daughters, and we agreed that although we wouldn’t dissuade a theoretical daughter from posing for a legitimate publication, we also would not bring copies into the gym.

Too many fuckin’ pervs, the owner said, starting with me and you.

I laughed.

In about a week the copies were all gone. The owner said that he thought a Hutterite had stolen them all. The Hutterite sometimes came in to use the bathroom when the colony was at the feed mill next door.

That guy comes in just to take a shit, the owner said, and now he stole our locally-sourced porn. That’s wrong.

The owner went on to say he felt he could not say no to the Hutterite for asking to use the bathroom because the mill was the gym’s landlord too, and they did a lot of business with the Hutterites.


VI


A guy named Saul trained there. He was a real biker. Flowing hair, a Fu-Manchu, and a metric ass-load of really good tattoos. We shared the same taste in music. You don’t look like a Motorhead guy, he told me once. What can I say? I am a Motorhead guy. He and his brother promoted Tuskers – a kind of biker-bash. A mini-Sturgis. Bands, hot-dog eating and wet-t-shirt contests, a motorcycle show and a burnout pit. He booked the bands. He had a good working relationship with the clubs. I knew he was real when he said the clubs. No one in that world ever refers to the clubs by name. It’s considered disrespectful.

Back to tattoos, he said he always got a new one when a relationship ended, to mark the passing of whatever the relationship-thing was back into the annals of his personal history. It was how he moved on, he said. He took off his shirt and turned his back to me. I got this one done after the last one, he said. The tattoo, a full back-piece, was of a screaming eagle diving, wings outstretched, talons forward. Below the eagle was a nude woman reaching up into the eagle’s chest, tearing out its heart with her one hand. Blood from the eagle’s heart dripped down onto the classical masks of comedy and tragedy that lay at her feet, and this blood ran down from the mask’s eyes like tears.

Holy fuck, I said.

I know, he said. She was something.

Saul was one of the best people I ever trained with. He was AA and spent every Christmas driving drunks around, having coffee with them, nursing their battered souls through their worst time of the year. He'd had his moment, he said. We kept a party room at a local hotel, he told me - we meaning the club. I woke up hung-over for two straight years. The first thing I did every morning was puke. I woke up one morning and puked, then looked in the mirror. I saw a dead man. I kid you not, dead. Grey skinned and grey-eyed. I knew what I would look like dead. I cleaned myself up as best I could and went to AA. I’ve been sober ever since.

Saul rubbed Tiger Balm into every joint before working out, and wore wraps on his knees, elbows, wrists. I gave him a hard time about this.

It takes you forty-minutes to get ready to work out for forty-five minutes, I said.

Wait until you are my age, he said.

He was right about that.

When I got divorced, he complimented me on my weight loss.

Divorced guy diet, he said. Working out, lots of coffee, not much real food.

He was right about that too.


VII


The owner had gone to a seminar on running a gym as a business.

I asked him if it was helpful.

Yes and no, he said. There are really only three rules to running a gym: Firstly, never let anyone in the door whose membership is not paid up to date and in full. Secondly, no juicers. They intimidate the more casual members and the casuals are who you make money off of. So, no juicers, not even in the parking lot. Finally, no one touches the music but the owner, no exceptions. Just like the juicers, a steady stream of metal or rap at volume ten sends the majority of members running the other way.

That all makes sense, I said.

The first one especially, he said.

They still let me touch the stereo. It’s metal for breakfast, lunch and dinner when I am in. Rock on.


VIII


Once in a while they’d have to kick a member out for some transgression. There were only two reasons for this: Creepy shit with women and fighting. One day I was in and a creeper sat on the leg extension machine and stared at women using the mirrors in a thinly-veiled attempt to hide what he was doing. He sat there for at least an hour. Never even moved his legs. I asked if I could work in – he shouted at me. No. I’m still on it. The weird little dude was just another creeper, for sure.

The next time I was in I mentioned this to the owner, that I was sure Creepy McCreeperson was just checking out ladies.

Already kicked him out, the owner said. One of our members came asking for a refund. She said she couldn’t train here anymore. She’d come here because he was doing that shit at the gym she used to go to. I kicked him out and he didn’t argue. I called the other gym she’d mentioned to give them a head’s-up and they said they’d already booted him too.

There were a couple of fights, both started by young guys with room temperature IQ’s and the confidence born of exogenous testosterone. After they’d kicked the one guy out, one of the female members told me that she’d used to room with one of the guy’s ex-girlfriends and that her roomie had broken up with the guy for asking her if he could watch her take a shit. I thought that was fucked up. The guy was like, twenty-one. Odd kink to start with. I told her exactly that, about the kink/age etc. and then told her that what made it weirder is that everyone knows girls don’t poop.

We both laughed.

Want to hear about period shits, she asked me? Mine are the worst.

No, I said. Not at all. Ever.

The one guy that got kicked out who wasn’t a creeper or a shit-starter was booted for stealing cds. I can’t remember much about him except for him telling me, every time I saw him, that alcohol was the worst thing that you could ever put into your body. He was a proselytist, but of a different sort, and he stole a few cds. He got my Jackyl Cd - the one with the “The Lumberjack” and the chainsaw solo. Mind you, I never saw him take it. I only knew that it was gone. A lot of people might have taken that one.


IX


Paula wrote a book and put it online for sale. Self-published, unedited. It described her childhood sexual abuse. It did not sell very many copies. I did not read it. I felt bad for her for a number of reasons.

She’d started selling supplements in a multi-level marketing thing too. A fat burner – caffeine and ephedrine. It was hot, like 30 cups of coffee all at once, and it made my blood pressure skyrocket. I didn’t lose much weight. I quit taking it.


X


Big B wanted to tell me how his brother had died. He was surprised I had not heard the story, but I was much younger than Big B and his brother had been older than him.

My brother’s daughter, he said, my niece – died from a rare form of cancer when she was nine. My brother got up and went to work every day after that, but he was in a fog. It hit him hard. Then, one day, he comes back from work. The house is empty. All of the furniture, all of the dishes, glasses and plates – knives, forks, bedding, the doormat even - everything except for his clothing, is gone. The phone is ringing – at least there is still a phone – so he picks it up. It’s the bank. His mortgage is three months in arrears, they are going to foreclose. They are just letting him know, as a courtesy. We’ve tried to call, they say. No one answers. His wife, of course, is gone. He went to the police to report her as missing – he feared the worst, but a different kind of worst than what actually was. The police never really looked for her. They assumed she was just a runaway. Anyways, he deals with the bank, the utilities, all of that stuff. Gets it together. Still can’t find his wife. A few weeks go by. One night the phone rings and he picksit up. A man he does not know tells him that if he wants to know where his wife is, call this number, and then gives him the number. Write it down, he says, and then call it. You have to remember all this was way before caller ID and all that. So, he calls it, and a familiar voice answers the phone. It’s his best friend. It was a different number from what he’d known for years, but still, it’s the guy. My brother adds two plus two and gets it.

He got drunk after that, B said, so drunk – and he was never a drinker. He took a butcher’s knife out of the kitchen drawer and got in his car - a big old four-door Chrysler, and put the pedal to the floor. He drove wild. People from all over were calling in to the police about him. He drove to the cemetery and smashed through the gates – it took him four tries, according to witnesses. But he got in. He drove to his daughter’s grave and got out. It was his intention to use the knife to kill himself right there after talking to his daughter one last time. The cops showed up then, two uniforms and a K9 officer. They told him to put the knife down but he just looked at them, knife in hand, so the uniforms shot him. I don’t know how many rounds they fired but they hit him three times and he dropped the knife. They called an ambulance and got him into emergency and the doctors saved his life. A few months later they finally had a trial. He was convicted of a few things but the judge was lenient and gave him a suspended sentence. Under testimony the K9 officer had said that he thought the other cops were too quick to shoot and that he thought he could have put the dog on my brother and subdued him that way. Good enough, the judge said to my brother, don’t find your way into my courtroom again and we’ll all be square.

Wait – so he’s not dead then, I asked?

Oh, he’s dead, said Big B. Three years after all of this he was unloading trusses for a construction project. He touched up against a power line and was electrocuted.

I am surprised you never heard of this, he said, it was news at the time.


XI


Eventually, the original owner sold the gym. He sold it to a guy who had won a number of amateur boxing matches and “tough-man” contests. He turned it into a “key club” – no sign-in anymore. No counter staff. Everyone got a key. A few people gave duplicate keys to their friends. Stuff disappeared. Fuck that shit, the new owner said, and he sold the gym over time to a fitness equipment salesman. The locks were changed. We had the sign-in sheet back. We had new cardio equipment. Good stuff, too. Then the new owner was arrested. He'd taken the equipment from his day-job and put it in the gym with neither lease nor purchase. The gym closed. The second owner got his own equipment back and many years later, still has it. He won’t sell it except as a whole. I wanted to buy a rack, a couple of bars, five-hundred pounds worth of plates, and set up in my garage but he wouldn’t sell me anything. All or nothing, he said. I don’t think he had anything against me and my four-hundred dollars, I just think he thought he could sell all of it at once. It’s out in the open I am told, in a farm-yard south of here, rusting.


XII


I saw Big B the other day, in his car. He rolled down the window and yelled at me.

Hey you fucking asshole, how come you never wave?

I waved.

He laughed and drove away before I could ask him where he was training these days.

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