January 19, 2012 —
I couldn’t say for sure, but I have a hunch that my trainer, Mike, is involved with some shady people. Last week was the second time in the four months I’ve been seeing him that he showed up with a black eye. The first time I asked him what happened, he uncomfortably told me that he didn’t want to talk about it.
“I am an idiot,” was the only explanation he offered.
The second time, I didn’t ask.
Mike is in his late 40s, tall and thin. He has a silver-tinged beard and long hair that he keeps tucked behind his ears. He wears glasses and dresses like all of the other trainers in athletic pants and sneakers.
I like him because he is older than the other trainers and works hard to compensate. I like him because he has bad knees and patience for me. I like him because he takes pride in his work. I can also tell that he needs the money.
I joined the gym after looking in the mirror and realizing that I had recently gained a considerable amount of weight. Something had to be done, I thought, and quickly.
In my brain, I would blame the whole thing on quitting smoking. In actuality, who knows. It also could very well have been my terrible diet and lack of exercise. It’s a fairly common joke that editors get fat eating all day while sitting comfortably behind a desk. It’s not far from the truth.
The first time I went to the gym I stood awkwardly in my new sneakers and shiny shorts. It felt like everyone was staring at me. I didn’t know where to begin. I tooled around with some weights and ran on the treadmill for a mile and a half. Not very good.
The gym membership came with one free training session, so I set it up and arrived on time feeling good. It was a Saturday and for a (not so) nutritious breakfast I had had a bagel and large coffee. I was done after the warm up. By the end of the hour-long session I thought I was going to die. I literally couldn’t lift my arms. The next day, I felt great.
I signed up for eight more sessions. It was slightly more affordable than I thought it would be, and if I wanted to get serious about getting in shape, I needed someone to teach me how to work out. That someone was going to be Mike. I liked his goofiness immediately; he made bad jokes and danced in place while we trained.
It was a few weeks before he asked me what I did for a living. Gradually, we got to know each other. I found out that he recently moved back to NYC from LA. He likes movies, watches a ton and we bonded over the must-see-titles available on Netflix Instant.
I found out that he teaches Salsa dancing when I called his cell phone and got his voicemail for the first time. He sells instructional dance videos and books. He likes to stay out late; many training sessions in the morning he tells me that he hasn’t slept. I don’t mind, though.
Then he came in with the black eye. I wondered about it all session. It was the thing that I tried to distract myself with while I was alternating between box jumps and push-ups. Desperately trying to fill up my brain with anything but the physical pain of working out.
The fact that he didn’t want to talk about it was strange, I thought. He seemed embarrassed, more so than I would imagine if he walked into a pole or got into a bar fight.
A week or so later, he told me he was getting into real estate, and later that day he had to meet someone in a slightly shady part of town. The next week, he had another black eye. As he talked to me about Netflix, I looked into his eye and wondered.
My mind spun thoughts of the many things he could be into. Did he have a gambling debt? Owe money to a loan shark? Do they even have loan sharks anymore? And then I wondered if I was crazy. Is this what exercise does to you?
Maybe I’ve been reading too many true crime stories. Or maybe I should ask him if he needs help. I’ll watch his back for some free training sessions.