Stay at home dad/freelance writer I am, I have my morning ritual.
Scoop 5-month old baby Eden from her crib around 7:30, shuffle into the living room, descend into Lazy Boy and dutifully insert bottle in mouth. Most days, I browse the paper’s sports section as I rouse from my pre-coffee sleepiness.
This morning, though, I flipped through the most recent issue of SYNC, a central Arkansas weekly.
Good call, me.
At the bottom of page nine, I found one of the finest pieces of cross-cultural absurdist sports writing by an Arkansan I’ve ever read . In guest columnist Will Hehemann’s vignette on his experience weightlifting in Poland, I believe I have found the love child of a Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad and the screenplay of Freak and Geeks.
It is not the cutest baby you have ever seen. But you should try cuddling it anyway:
Tension in the workout room
By Will Hehemann
It’s difficult to execute a proper preacher curl while I’m sitting next to a marble-cut behemoth who moans every time he completes a repetition on the tricep machine. And though male moaning is likely an egotistical trait expressed by male gym members worldwide, I wonder where the regular people work out in Poland.
The bulk of the clientele at the gyms I have visited while living in Gdansk is composed of hard-bodied beasts with tan skin. Most of the men boast shaved heads, strong upper bodies and proud Polish beer guts — they look like tough gorillas. The women wear sports bras that reveal their toned tummies and the gorillas can’t keep their eyes off them. It’s crowded in this stuffy little gym, and I’m pretty sure they have the heat on.
My soft body and idiotic gym style (yellow Converse and Millennium Falcon shirt) didn’t stick out too much at 10 Fitness back in Conway. There, people of every possible chassis and dimension came as they were to work out and feel proud they made the effort, with little care as to which shirt they were wearing — Tasmanian Devil or Tweety Bird. But here, it’s a full-on Spandex show and I look like an idiot for not showcasing my butt in tight gym pants like everyone else.
The gym men actually show more skin than the ladies, wearing the shortest shortshorts I have ever seen, which highlight the quads up front and the buns in the back. I was pleased to hear I’m not the only one intimidated by Polish style in the gym.
Abby was fairly discouraged by the gym’s atmosphere — it seemed too small a cage for the wanton ape-men who flock to a lonesome girl and offer tips about how to complete an exercise in proper form. They are all too eager to stand close behind a woman and hold her quivering arms as she lifts the dumbbells up and then back down to her chest.
And though some of the girls do actual weight exercises, most queue up in line for that fat-jiggling machine you see in movies from the ‘60s. It’s quite a sight to see some woman checking her smartphone while her hips, belly and butt bounce around. I imagine the hundreds of calories just melting away.
Despite the theatrics of the gym lifestyle in Poland, I have been able to commit to a fairly regular routine with a couple guys from the office. We lack the fashionable Spandex, but still manage to get in four sets of 12, even when exercising beside moaning men.
Sometimes I admittedly fear achieving a good workout with the boys because when they attempt to communicate they’re sweaty and exhausted after the workout they say, “I’m so wet right now.” I’m not sure why that statement makes me feel funny, but perhaps I should tell them it doesn’t translate naturally in English.
I miss the familiarity and the relative ease of living on the corner of Dave Ward Drive in Conway. After the workout it was easy to drive to Kroger to pick up some milk to mix with my post-workout protein powder and rum.
In Poland, no one enters polite society wearing workout gear. In fact, you are automatically outed as a foreigner if you show up to or leave from the gym in your shorts and T-shirt. And unlike Conway where I formerly sauntered through Kroger aisles fi lled with other post-workout people, it’s understood here that wearing workout garments while out and about is forbidden. I suspect the last guy who attempted to shop in a Polish grocery store wearing a sweat-stained T was deported.
That’s why on Tuesdays and Thursdays I find myself struggling for air in a tiny locker room, changing back into my work clothes while sandwiched between a bunch of nude Polish men. Triceps-man gives a final moan as he opens his locker. Heading for the door, I duck under the arms of a couple men and accidentally hit one of their kielbasas with my gym bag on the way out.
N.B. The above originally published in print version of Sync. I excerpted the piece in its entirety because I couldn’t find an online version of the article.