Right, Carlisle. Lose some weight.
That'll help. Better yet, next time you want to compose
a Dantean tour through our body obsessed culture,
why not learn a few tricks from one of the following
writers, who actually have a talent for it.
In the Hand of Dante
by Nick Tosches
outrageous, testosterone-induced prose, Tosches bounces
back and forth between the tortured life of Dante Alighieri
and the scum of New York's seediest quarters.
(New - Hardcover)
for other copies
by Chuck Palahniuk
fashion model with her face blown off teams up with
Miss Brandy Alexander in this perverse, outrageous send-up
of our image-obsessed society.
(New - Trade Paper)
for other copies
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
knew I was in trouble the moment I saw that sign on the door
in no nonsense vinyl letters:
US HELP YOU ACHIEVE YOUR FITNESS GOALS
But I had already made my decision, so I sucked in my breath
not to mention my gut and thought, All
right, then, I will.
Last January, I vowed to make 2002 the year I got in shape.
Instead, it's been the year I wore out three TV remotes
and drank my couch's weight in beer. Unfortunately, it shows.
I look like Gilligan hiding a platypus down his shirt. So,
last week I resolved to slim down, firm up, and basically
get a manly grip on my life, which is why I was standing
there at the entrance to Full-On Fitness, determined to
follow through despite the overwhelming urge to run for
Once I'd made it past the front door, I arrived at the
Welcome Desk, where a young woman with violent blonde highlights
in her hair and teeth the size of Scrabble tiles greeted
me with surreal enthusiasm, as though I had just arrived
with her Xanax refill. "Hi. It's a great day for
a workout. How can I help you?"
"Um...I was thinking about joining. How much..."
"Super. We look forward to helping you meet your fitness goals. What's your name?"
"Great, Carl. I'll page an MC for a walk through and a
Before I could assent or protest or correct my name!
she bent down toward a large prehensile microphone
jutting from the side of her computer and paged "an available
Membership Coordinator" to the "New Member Vestibule."
Her amplified voice echoed back from the other side of the
wall separating the Welcome Desk from the gym itself.
"An associate will be right with you, Carl. Have a great workout."
"Actually, it's Carlisle."
But, she didn't hear me, for just then the phone rang.
She answered with gusto: "Full-On Fitness. Good afternoon,
my name's Janelle. Are you ready to have your best body
ever?" She beamed me another lambent smile and
pointed me toward a three-sided cubicle in the corner I
took for the New Member Vestibule.
I stayed put. I had quickly developed a morbid fascination
for this woman, so I pretended to browse the shelves of
protein supplements and racks of spandex sports bras near
the counter in order to eavesdrop shamelessly. The caller
was clearly not a customer, for the two were making plans
to get together on Friday night for power crunches: "Our
abs are going to be soooo flat." But before they had
finalized plans for extreme aerobics on Saturday morning,
I heard a chipper voice from behind me, "Hey buddy." I turned
around to meet my Membership Coordinator.
"Hi, I'm Brad. And you must be Carl."
I was a bit taken aback. Brad was one of the most perfect
human specimens I have ever encountered, flawless as cubic
zirconium. He had the chiseled features of Paul Newman,
the swarthy complexion of Benicio del Toro, and the commanding
physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, he also
had the personality of an Applebee's commercial.
"Actually, it's Carlisle."
"Got it, buddy. So what are you looking for in a fitness program?"
"Well...uh...I want to lose some weight."
He gave me a quick up and down. "Super. That's a great
goal. Why don't we have a walk around the place. I'll show
you our facilities, and then we can discuss how Full-On
can help you break through to your full potential."
Full-On Fitness occupies a renovated old warehouse, so
once we had left the foyer, we entered a vast open space
about forty yards square. The first thing you notice, though,
when you enter the gym is not the vaulted, beamed ceiling,
the stylish exposed brick, or the retro fans stirring the
air energetically. No, what hits you like a pie in the face
is the music, pulsing, pounding its steady, 4/4 encouragement
at full volume. To be honest, I was a bit surprised at the
selection. That clubby, industrial beat could have come
from a Queer as Folk soundtrack, which makes you
wonder what exactly Full-On is encouraging.
But I didn't have time to contemplate Full-On's musical
subtext. Brad, who was now squeezing his left bicep absentmindedly,
launched right in to his spiel: "At Full-On, we design our
gyms to help you focus your routine and maximize your workout
potential. Each of our gyms is organized into four levels."
At this, like some beefcake flight attendant, he swept his
hand across the room, which sunk downward in concentric
square steps, like a reverse ziggurat. "We call them
organized his Hell into nine increasingly malignant circles.
Full-On Fitness has consolidated that model or as
Brad might say, focused it into four squares.
Each level is home to a bewildering menagerie of insect-like
machines, so bewildering, in fact, I began immediately mixing
my metaphors. Fortunately, Virgil was there to explain.
ONE: "A good workout begins with an intense cardiovascular
burn to kill fat at the source. So on the first level, here,
you've got your basic aerobic machines." On this level,
there were oafish guys in dirty T-shirts dripping sweat
on Stairmasters, emaciated women in designer outfits reading
Cosmopolitan on stationary bicycles, and muscled
studs with Walkmans entering the Zone on treadmills. It
all seemed very diverse and inclusive. I thought, I can
TWO: "For maximum fitness, after your aerobic
set you'll need to hit the weights. On this level, you've
got your so-called 'weight training wheels.' These 'static'
machines are for people new to resistance training, people
whose muscles aren't yet prepared for a rad beating."
This level was empty except for one plus-sized woman with
elaborate hair standing next to a short, nebbishy guy using
one of the machines. She was in a voluminous, blue-green
T-shirt that draped to her knees, mercifully hiding her
stretch-pantsed thighs. He was wearing unfortunately short
shorts that revealed a pair of legs the color and consistency
of boiled tofu. I noticed that each time he absent-mindedly
pushed the handles out in front of his chest a single, slim
weight raised up and down beside him. He wasn't pushing
I understood perfectly. The two friends were having an
interesting discussion, and Woody Allen here didn't want
to be distracted by a lot of panting and dripping. I couldn't
actually hear what they were saying, but she had a copy
of the New Yorker in her hand, and I just knew they
were discussing that hilarious Anthony
Lane review. I wished I could dump Mr. Atlas, here (now
surreptitiously poking his six pack), and join them. But,
as they say, onward and downward.
THREE: "These machines offer controlled,
though independent resistance, and are therefore an important
intermediate step on your way to free weights." Though
I didn't see any New Yorkers on this level, neither
did I see any boiled tofu. No, this was meat-eater territory.
There was no talk of Anthony Lane. In fact, though there
were quite a few more people on this level, they weren't
talking much. They were too absorbed in their lifting, pumping,
and crunching, too busy knotting their brows and exhaling
elaborately. A few were busy jotting cryptic notes in tiny
Still, in all fairness their efforts were paying
off. The acolytes on level three were on their way, and
they wanted you to know it. The men were in tank tops that
showed off their firm shoulders. The women were in clinging
baby tees and spandex to draw attention to their slim thighs
and Formica tummies. These were the elusive, beautiful people
you see in No Smoking wine bars and bra-clad Chrysler convertibles.
And yet, I wondered whether these people were truly satisfied.
I saw more than a few eyeing the greener grass of level
four with longing and envy.
FOUR: When we got to level four, Brad lowered
his voice and began talking in a church whisper: "Once
you've developed basic muscle mass, you are ready to move
on to the ultimate in weight training free weights."
The privileged occupants of the Full-On inner sanctum were
fitness capitalists, true believers in the free market doctrine
of unlimited growth. As a result, their bodies were engulfed
in rococo masses of rock hard muscle. They had no necks,
arms the size of telephone poles, sequoia thighs, and veins
like drain pipes. They looked liked blowup dolls that had
been overfilled to the point of popping and they
couldn't take their eyes off themselves.
Around the perimeter of this area were the barbells and
benches of the seasoned weightlifter. In the center stood
a tall, mirror-faced cube. Facing the mirrors on all sides,
forming something like a circle, were a few dozen supplicants
gazing intently at themselves as they strained under the
weight of overloaded dumbbells, massive barbells, and immense
The scene made me vaguely uneasy. So when Brad asked if
I was ready for my sit down, I said, "Sure. Let's go."
We walked back to the New Member Vestibule and took a seat.
The space was cozy, about the size of a queen-sized bed,
with just enough space for a desk and a pair of chairs.
The walls had been papered with enormous before-and-after
photos of successful Full-On members.
To my left, a woman showing off a pair of thighs sleek
as dolphins and breasts the size and shape of softballs
(after) was standing next to a sad-faced woman whose bikini
was fighting a losing battle to contain her overflowing
belly and Cabbage Patch thighs (before). On the next
wall a slouchy bald man who looked like a pear made out
of vanilla pudding (before), stood, pale and reluctant,
next to a strapping man with action hero biceps, a stomach
that looked like a photo of the Himalayas from space, and
an easy smile that said, "Yeah! Babesville."
"So, buddy. Are you pumped to accept the Full-On
Fitness challenge? Shall we create a plan to demolish the
barriers between you and your perfect body?"
I looked back up at Babesville. He radiated satisfaction
and testosterone, and I realized that, to be honest, I liked
him better as a dumpy loser. I got up, offered Brad (who
I noticed was now pinching his thighs) my pale, pudgy hand,
and declined: "I really appreciate your time, Virgil,
but I don't think I'm Full-On material."
"Actually, it's Br..."
But I didn't hear the rest. I was already on my way to
I felt strangely exhilarated, as though I had just escaped
a fate worse than death. And just to cement the deal, that
very afternoon I took up smoking. I'm now up to five cigarettes
a day, but if I keep pushing my limit, I know I'll reach
my fitness goal. And who knows, I may even lose that weight.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]