Tomorrow, in an effort designed to ease several negative aspects of our first summer no-camp week, the Jawa will be joining me at 24 Hour Fitness. It will be his first foray into the workout world, his first time engaging with equipment and his first time walking among all of the gym freaks who populate your average 24 Hour Fitness.
It won't be the first time he's set foot in a 24 Hour Fitness. For the past two weeks, while he's been leapfrogging into Group Four (the final group) at Anderson's Swim Center, I've been taking great advantage of my free half hour by shedding 630 calories atop the Precor elliptical machine, conveniently located at the Pacifica 24 Hour Fitness, next door to Anderson's Swim (and Diving) Center.
My half-hour elliptical session actually takes 38 or so minutes when you add in time for cool-down (five minutes) and the three or four minutes it takes to flash your membership card, secure an elliptical machine, tear off your sweatshirt and cram it into your backpack and then jam your iPod speakers into your ears and choose some appropriate cardio music. Both times in the past two weeks, the Jawa has finished at swimming and come into 24 Hour Fitness to wait out my last gasping minutes aboard to elliptical.
How funny it looked the first time I saw him enter 24 Hour Fitness, dressed in his enormous Walton's Grizzly Lodge sweatpants and a t-shirt, his hair semi-dry and pointing in several directions, his Brandeis Hillel Day School bag slung over his shoulder. How clear the message on his face: I am ready to go now, yet I am forced to come here and sit at weird bar-like counter and wait while you run in place.
From my perch, I tried to indicate: "Two minutes left!" receiving only a blank stare in return.
Although I knew he was resenting every second spent waiting for me, I kind of enjoyed winding down my elliptical session while watching him move around in the world. It almost felt like spying, something I used to do regularly at his school when he was younger. I'd get there to pick him up, but instead of calling for him, I'd stand quietly, barely moving, playing Possum for a few minutes so I could see how he was when I wasn't there.
Naturally, as an almost-teen, the road that leads to 24 Hour Fitness is plagued with potholes, blind hairpin turns and hidden driveways. Having expressed an interest in lifting weights several times so far this summer, and having again lost his computer(s) and iPod(s) due to a recent ill-advised temper tantrum, Sandra Bullock saw an excellent opportunity for me to introduce my son to organized fitness. This, she reasoned, would kill a couple of hours in a day otherwise given over to television and tormenting the dog, give me a guilt-free way to get to the gym and forge a little father-son bonding, minus confusing hobby shops and spontaneous outings to get ice cream or donuts.
Predictably, though, when I introduced the idea to the Jawa, his response was less than lukewarm. "No," he said simply.
"I thought you wanted to work out," I pointed out.
"Not at a gym. At home."
"We don't have any weights at home."
"I know. I just, I just don't like 24 Hour Fitness."
"...based on the five minutes you've spent sitting at the entrance, waiting for me? Come on." As any parent of a teenager can tell you, this is a dangerous tack, for the same clear logic that might persuade an adult to accept your point of view is to a teenage Jawa what a red cape is to a bull. Feeling cornered, out of cleverish responses, he might simply snap, grow devil horns and start a confrontation that ends with a pile of personal electronic devices sitting atop my dresser and approximately three months removed from the end of my life.
This time I lucked out. He was still exhausted from our last confrontation, so he conceded. "Okay," he said. "I'll try it." It was easier for him to give in once I convinced him that I had no intention of running down to 24 Hour Fitness right now; I was thinking more about beginning our gym adventure tomorrow. Right now we would go there, but only to find out what we needed to have with us to pull it off tomorrow.
I don't know what they pay people who work at 24 Hour Fitness. Whatever it is, it's not enough to entice qualified workers -- that is, people with functioning senses of logic and a rudimentary knowledge of the 24 Hour Fitness users manual -- to work the front desk. When we arrived at the Pacifica 24 Hour Fitness, the girl at the front desk reacted to the following question:
"I'd like to have him (pointing to the Jawa on my right) come here as my guest. What do we need to do?"
by looking at me as if I'd just suggested we both tie my 12-year-old son to the back bumper of my Volvo V50 and drag him down the street a few miles.
"Uh, you want HIM to come as your guest?" she said, wide-eyed.
"Don't you have to be 13...?"
"No. You have to be 18, or 12 if you're accompanied by a parent or guardian. While my performance seldom merits the title of 'guardian,' I can produce papers proving that I am his parent."
I didn't say that last part. You shouldn't push your luck. What I said was, "I saw it on the website."
"Oh?" she said. "It says that?" she smiled. Since I had cited a rule established by her employer, whatever her personal views of men who force apparently undersized teenagers to endure draconian weightlifting workouts were moot. Her job being to welcome 24 Hour Fitness Members, to make them feel as though the gym were an extension of their living room, only full of sweating, often-misshapen and, in the case of one poor guy who shows up in shapeless black sweats every day, terrible-smelling strangers and a really loud stereo that never plays the kind of music you want to hear, she had to change directions quickly and invisibly. The rules say I can bring a 12-year-old, and rules are rules.
"It will cost $10, and you'll need to fill out a waiver."
"They're not going to take him away and give him a sales pitch, are they? I mean, he's 12 years old."
"Oh, no. They won't do that."
On the way home, properly de-traumatized by a five-pound jelly-filled donut at Donut Time, the Jawa accepted his fitness fate. "Do they have a sauna there?" he asked, finally showing some curiosity.
"Not at that one, but they have one at the 24 Hour Fitness on Ocean Avenue," I answered. The great thing about 24 Hour Fitness, a club no one would ever mistake for a serioius gym, is that they've got franchises all over the place. I've worked out at 24 Hour Fitnesses in San Mateo, Larkspur, Orange, even once in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. You just go up, show your card and you're in. You're not going to find Franco Columbu giving body-sculpting seminars, but at least you can break a sweat, even when you're on vacation.
So if you'd like to join us tomorrow, we'll be at the Ocean Avenue 24-Hour Fitness sometime around 10 a.m. Look for us among the mid-morning crowd of vacationing college students, spin class enthusiasts and weirdly muscled old guys. We'll be the sweaty bald guy and the 12-year-old, churning away on the ellipticals before heading over to the Nautilus machines and probably lifting the same amount of weight.