Finished with the weekly kickboxing session under the joy-free regime of tattoo-sleeved thug-warrior Franco—the man a shoo-in should a Russian gangster require a personal trainer—Jake was left with half an hour to spare. Figuring he’d squeeze in a few sets of arm reps, he strode toward the free weights.
For a weekday morning the gym was crowded. Jake nodded to regulars, flashed a smile of encouragement to a husky newbie giving fitness another go—who wouldn’t applaud The Biggest Loser’s hard-won transformations?—and wasn’t shy to let dawdlers register his impatience, or work in with the top-heavy muscle bound knuckle draggers who wanted nothing more than to monopolize equipment and suck back muscle-growth drinks like penned livestock, even though they’d piss out unabsorbed protein hours later. Polite deference had its place, but not at this grab bag of shark-grin realtors, pretzel-stiff nightclub security hued the tanning bed mahogany of Predator-era Schwarzenegger, gum-chewing junior executives, and stringently maintained spouses of white collar breadwinners: with everyone here posturing in alpha mode, push or be pushed was the law of the jungle. At peak times, the circuit machine line of heaving guys with corkscrewing neck ink re-cast the place as a middle class mirror of San Quentin’s exercise yard.
Though committing to a block of ninety minutes every second day, Jake possessed no special interest in fitness and health. Now that he’d attained the target specs maintenance was what mattered; showing up was a perennial item on a chore list to strike a line through, and not an accomplishment to brag about. He steered clear of running groups, core strength evaluations, boot camps, half-marathon training programs, staff offers of body fat assessment, and any back-slapping locker room gab about protein drinks (soy versus whey), powdered supplements (ditto), and “absolutely kick-ass, dude” lat/delt/pec/ab routines.
Musculature was simply a goal, not the must-have lifestyle promoted by magazines he scanned, nor even a topic to discuss at length. He couldn’t see it as anything except banal repetition, although a necessary means to an end like a driver’s license or a passport. If he could purchase a prefab physique with as little effort as he’d made for the condo’s décor or the shirt currently hanging in his locker, he would. But he judged a shortcut like steroids to be a risky, medically unsound gamble. And, besides, shriveled balls were out of the question. Otherwise, he’d write a cheque and be in like Flynn. Loyalty to routine, the next best option, was just onerous duty. Catching his reflection in a mirror, Jake confirmed the dedication had produced the desired results.
For work and leisure the semblance of being fit and healthy was crucial. What Jake had noticed since following a strict gym schedule was that people—men and women, though in their own ways of course—checked him out. That was true even in shadowy places where his silhouette alone remained visible. Whatever the truth might be—his insides might be riddled with disease for all anyone knew—taut bulkiness was universal shorthand for health and capable well-being. He had read a piece online about scientists claiming that a cut physique was understood at some microcellular level to stand for reproductive durability; sniffing out good genes, human survival instincts fixed on muscles. Health—or its body double anyway: wide shoulders, narrow hips, an erect posture, scant fat bulges—meant vitality, and that in turn gave the bearer presence and an advantage, not to mention social capital. And added visibility—of the right kind—was respected currency, any child could grasp that. He’d done the math.
Obviously it wasn’t a well-kept secret anywhere except the suburban obesity belt since on any given minute he could spot guys, younger ones typically, quickly lifting their shirts between sets to flex abs as perishable as hothouse flowers, faces satisfied despite being set in masks of cool evaluation.
Jake didn’t crave attention, not really, or at least not to the extent of the so-called talent he’d had the displeasure of working under in recent shows. Still, a fraction of limelight struck him as being good for business, deserved too. Success should be the reward for putting in the hours, that was the way of the world. If he was going to bother to make the effort of showing up, then why not generate some buzz—“Looking good, Jake” or, better yet, “Who’s that guy?” Sure, capturing the spotlight wasn’t equivalent to commanding respect, but it was close. The level of recognition seemed proper, hard-earned. Jake felt certain that if he could enter the same party twice, one time in today’s incarnation and the other carrying his frame from a decade ago, his former self would wander the room freely and capture a mere fraction of the eye contact. Being memorable, forgettable, or run-of-the-mill: as if there was anything to agonize over.
[I'm still serializing...that's the chapter's first half.]