Monday, February 8, 2010

Bikes and Boobs

I get a pretty decent benefits package through my employer. That is one of the advantages of working for a mammoth institution, in addition to watching every agonizing detail of a grinding bureaucracy in motion.

One of the benefits I was most looking forward to while I was job hunting was an employer-sponsored health plan. The other, which I was looking forward to even more than health insurance, was a discounted gym membership.

Our corporate discount is not that much - about $13 dollars a month less than what the masses pay. As cheap as I am, and as wheezy-out-of-breathy as I am after coming up a flight of subway stairs, the discount wasn't a particularly inspiring reason to start working out again. But, the idea of resuming my arm-sculpting project was.

They're not much for a normal person. I have such skinny arms that when I was a kid my mom used to tell me they looked like they were about to fall off, and she'd get nervous if my uncles or cousins grabbed me by the wrists and swung me in circles, in case the centrifugal force snapped me apart at the shoulders and sent me flying, unarmed, into the bushes or something.

Only a few months ago, my brother kindly observed, "My God, your arms are so skinny."

Well, it turns out that skinny arms are partly the result of my body being kind enough not to store my fat in them. That honor is reserved for the Big Tummy. So, with no layer of fat to dilute the visual outcome of my efforts, I almost had no excuse not to develop a rock climbing obsession and pump free weights at the gym.

A few years later, permanently good lookin' arms. Except that they require maintenance.

I tried while I was unemployed and unbenefitted. It's hard to grow bigger, more sculpted muscles without weights. Pushups only gave me elbow problems. There is just no substitute for the variety and endless body-building possibilities of gym equipment. Also, there is something about standing in front of mirrors watching my veins pop out while I do bicep curls in that is not just encouraging, but encouraging of narcissism.

Reason #148 that New York is directly responsible for my limited happiness: It's very difficult to climb rocks, swim, or ride a bike 1. safely, 2. without stopping at every intersection, and 3. through beautiful terrain.

The gym doesn't solve the rock climbing or swimming problems, but I recently discovered that some of the locations I go to (because my membership allows me to go to any of their ridiculous scores of gyms around the five boroughs) have these stationary bike machines that are similar to video games. The screen simulates an outdoor bike ride - or race, if you choose - with different environments to choose from. I'm convinced that some of those routes are from Marin County, where I put hundreds on miles on my bike, back in the San Francisco glory days. Which is redundant, by the way. San Francisco = glory days.

Anyway, each bike machine has handlebars that move so you don't ride off the "road" and into the surrounding rolling hills and coastal cliffs. The screen shows other bikers (usually passing me) and you can catch up and pass them, or set a pacer. It's pretty realistic, except for the part when I tried to run over the biker in front of me. On screen, that person just disappears. In real life, that person jumps off his bike and beats you with his bike helmet.

The first time I used the machine, I got sucked into the landscape and completely forgot that I was in crappy depressing vapid New York City instead of coasting through the Marin Headlands, overtaking a really fit dude wearing a red and blue bike jersey. It was pretty crushing when I looked up and realized I was still surrounded by annoying urban drones clomping away on their cardio machines. The second time I used the machine, I actually got disoriented while I was being convinced that I was "flying down a hill," and had to look away from the screen to avoid falling off my bike. The downhills are the least realistic part of the whole virtual simulation, since it's hard to replicate the laws of gravity, but of course, downhills are the best part of biking.

Well, life's not perfect, and neither is cool gym equipment. But thanks to stationary bikes that act like video games, I can now suspend my intelligence long enough to pretend that Marin County biking has arrived on the east coast. I am in love.

And then, for the big question that has been plaguing me for weeks: Is there some sort of locker room etiquette about keeping your boobs covered that I've been unaware of for 35 years, or is there some weird New York "modesty" going on here? Isn't the locker room a place where women can freely change into and out of whatever articles of clothing or undergarments they need to?

I have seen this happen to the exclusion of nearly any other method of bra removal: A woman puts on her sports bra or tank top OVER her bra, then removes her bra without exposing her breasts. Or, after a shower, she clutches a towel over her breasts and slips her bra on under the towel, so as not to offend us with an accidental glimpse of her boobs.

Are we not all women here?? Is this some sort of ridiculous "courtesy" that only New York women observe, or have I not been paying attention to this boob etiquette all my life? I would love for someone to elucidate this for me. I seem to be the only person, besides the middle-aged obese woman who stopped caring about her saggers 20 years ago, who thinks it's okay to let other women see your boobs in the locker room.

Well, whatever the answer, the women at my gym are going to have to keep putting up with seeing my boobies. Suck it up, bitches.

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