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Bibliolatry: opinions from a very
independent
bookseller
No. 29: 

My Fitness Goals

Featured Titles

Editor's note:
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
In the Hand of Dante
by Nick Tosches


In 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.

List Price: $24.95
(New - Hardcover)
check for other copies

Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers
Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior
by James M. Dabbs


A fascinating exploration of everything you never knew you wanted to know about testosterone.

List Price: $14.95
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

Chemical Pink
Chemical Pink
by Katie Arnoldi


Who knew female bodybuilding could be so dark, so disturbing, or so much fun.

List Price: $13.95
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man
Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America
by John F. Kasson


A surprisingly entertaining social history of changing images of the male body since the dawn of the modern era.

List Price: $14.00
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

Invisible Monsters
Invisible Monsters
by Chuck Palahniuk


A fashion model with her face blown off teams up with Miss Brandy Alexander in this perverse, outrageous send-up of our image-obsessed society.

List Price: $13.95
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

The Culture of Narcissism
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations
by Christopher Lasch


One of the most influential works on the state of postwar society in the past quarter century.

List Price: $14.95
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

Wake Up, I'm Fat!
Wake Up, I'm Fat!
by Camryn Manheim


Arguably the best book out there on positive body image. Ms. Manheim is one hot steamroller.

List Price: $14.00
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder
Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder
by Samuel Wilson Fussell


A scrawny, maladjusted bookworm decides to beef up and gets carried away in this hilarious, insightful memoir.

List Price: $12.95
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

The Adonis Complex
The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys
by Harrison Pope


Here's the book that will help you understand the obsessive compulsive gym rat in your life.

List Price: $14.00
(New - Trade Paper)
check for other copies

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W knew I was in trouble the moment I saw that sign on the door in no nonsense vinyl letters:

LET 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 my life.

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?"

"Uh, Carlisle."

"Great, Carl. I'll page an MC for a walk through and a sit down."

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 Power Steps."

Dante 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.

LEVEL 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 do this.

LEVEL 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 his limit.

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.

LEVEL 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 books.

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.

LEVEL 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 egos.

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 the door.

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.

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