Friday, November 30, 2007

Does Your Character Know Gym-speak?

I hadn’t been to the gym since the day after Halloween. When asked about my workout routine, the fictional response is, “Oh, yes, I go three or four times a week.” But the non-fiction version would be “Well, there was that week last summer when I did go three times--in a month.”

Revved up on a Monday, I’d planned to listen to A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon on my iPod (if you haven’t read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, the audio version is great), but when plugging the buds into my ears, noticed my best friend had lost its charge. And as luck would have it, I’d just finished reading the emergency backup paperback and the spare tucked in my car.

So, I joined the other midday fitness-geeks and hopped on an elliptical machine in front of the wall of flat screens. No sooner had I punched in my erroneous weight to track my erroneous heartbeat, then an elfish blonde hopped on the elliptical right next to me and said, “Hi! How are you?”

So shocked at hearing her voice, I nearly slipped off the foot pads. People don’t talk to each other at the gym. They listen to music, read magazines, watch the tube, or stare through a sweat induced stupor at their sculpted bodies in the mirror. But they don’t talk. Ever.

Anyway, she asked me about my remaining time and I confessed to having just launched toward a goal time of twenty minutes—since it had been a while, you see. She’d just returned from vacation with her husband and two-year-old (she looked young enough to be returning from sleep-away camp) and was aiming for her usual ninety minutes. I’m not exaggerating. She was trying to fit into her favorite size 0 jeans. “Good for you,” I said.

Normally I don’t share private information with strangers, but before the phrase none-ya materialized in my brain, this little imp had me offering up the name of my son’s school, his football position and my daily carpool schedule. I didn’t encourage her; swear on my stack of writing-bibles. I clutched the heart-sensor handles, encouraged my calorie counter, wiped the drip of sweat off my forehead, and offered the minimum requisite responses.
She asked if I worked (when you exercise in the middle of the day, certain assumptions are made. 1. You don’t “work” and 2. When you’re not at the gym, you’re shopping—but that’s another complicated topic involving the difference between a 1980 size 6 and a 2007 size 6) and I smiled and said, “I’m a writer.” (Because it’s oh so fun to declare that!) She’d never known any writers, but she had picked up a book last Christmas (by an author whose novels are written by inserting new names into a best-selling template) and was almost finished with it (ten months later!). How ambitious of her. I fought my reclusive instinct to dash for the exit and caved to my writer’s curiosity to stay and gather interesting character traits for my next novel.

She continued to yammer about her needing to return to daycare to pick up her child. If she’s late, even a minute, they’ll strike a big red check in the record book. She’d begged the teenager to stop the clock on the time-counter for the five minutes she’d been summoned to change her child’s diaper, but the teen-in-charge disagreed. This baited me, I don’t know why, but I asked, “They call you to change his diaper?” Well, this of course invited a discussion on which category of diaper deposit required a call back to the hive. And the method used to determine which category of deposit said diaper is carrying.

And before I could cover my ears and shout, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la…” (since diaper deposits are not my favorite topic of conversation), I had trudged past my twenty minutes and was nearing the twenty-five minute mark. I politely excused myself before she could ask for my phone number, address or bra size and made a mental note not to enter the gym between 12 and 2. At least not without a properly-charged iPod.

I hurried home, recorded her quirky traits and began plotting a book to put her in. As you can imagine, I’ll be entirely too busy writing to get to the gym.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Today's blog is a hoot. Can't wait to see how the gym rat's character is incorporated into a novel. Make time for the gym, it's good for the brain....or maybe not if you treadmill for 90 minutes.