(To my new readers: Sometimes, on Friday, I’ll do a post in a series called “Forgotten Friday.” Its focus is modern archaeology, or things that have gotten lost in plain sight. See here, here, here, and here for previous post in this series.)
I have irrational empathy for inanimate things. In the small town where I did my undergraduate studies, there was a little Korean restaurant that I always wanted to go to, only because it never had any customers. I talk and apologize to damaged cars in parking lots because I feel like their owners don’t love them. I even go as far as to worry about particularly unkempt lawns, as if the grass is somehow in pain because it hasn’t been manicured regularly.
Remember that old IKEA commercial with the lamp? That’s how I feel, just about all the time.
I work in a nondescript office building in a small corporate park in Maryland. It’s one of those places that you don’t even notice that you don’t notice because it is so short and brown and plain; the kind of place that no one comes to except to trudge through their work day in whatever placed deigned appropriate by their boss’s boss’s boss.
In this building is a single room that is sadder than the others. A room that from outward appearance once perspired with potential, but has fallen into a state of lonely abandonment. It’s not some obscurely placed storage closet. It’s not the creepy, drafty loading dock. It’s not the deli of questionable freshness.
It’s the poor little fitness room.
The door is locked, which seems strange, because in four years working here I think I’ve only seen about four people in this room. It is organized and tidy, as clean as a fitness area should reasonably be, and at first glance, not so bad.
But the devil hides his cruel smile in the details. The rack of free weights is wobbly, and in a way that could be easily fixed. One of the 20 lb barbells is missing, making it the only incomplete pair. The metal of the weights is pockmarked with years of mistreatment. The lighter weights in the set look as if they were salvaged from the local dump.
Tucked in the corner, as if shamefully hidden there by some long gone member of this ghostly gym, is a stack of tapes. VHS tapes. Anachronistic fitness celebrities stare blankly from the brightly colored sleeves, echoing fitness crazes of decades passed. Billy Blanks grins at me, urging me to do some Tae Bo. There is no VCR in the room.
The machines are all functional, but dated. They wear the unmistakable clothes of the mid-90s; garish, unsophisticated LCD displays and boxy, hard-edged design. They were probably technological marvels when they first arrived, but now they look like rows of antiques, carefully lined up as if on display in a museum of fitness history.
Directly in front of the center treadmill is a tiny picture, pinned to the wall. This piece of paper has been on the wall for about three years now; it appeared as if by magic sometime in early 2010. Sometimes I wonder who took the time to so carefully cut out this picture and so intentionally place it where it is the only thing you can focus on while running. Were they aiming to one day conquer the seventh, using the idea of playing this hole as motivation to get back into shape? Did they ever make it to Pebble Beach? Did their time in this room, on this very treadmill, start a journey that ended with a little white ball dropping quietly into a hole as West-Coast waves crashed on nearby rocks?
I don’t think I’ll ever know. I’ll never know who used this place and to what end; whose life has been improved at the hands of these stalwart, endlessly hard working machines.
But I’ll continue to feel bad for this room. I’ll continue to think about its underused potential. I’ll continue to picture it sitting in the dark, on the bottom floor of the building, neglected by everyone except a select, disciplined few.
Maybe someday, when the economy rebounds, and this corporate park thrives with the energy of optimism and fervor of growth, this gym will once again become a place of dedication and personal transformation.