Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Number 36 in this series. Link to all items here.


Joining a Gym on Golden Pool


"Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a..." bench press machine? Me, for one. I have joined a gym in Naples. I think that is about par for people my age —60-something. I was never much of a fan 20 years ago of Thirtysomething, a TV program about young adults and their young adult problems. Those actors are now 50-Somethings, and that, in itself, is depressing, especially for them since there is not likely to be a new show about their age group.

Or mine. I don't really recall ever feeling Anyage-Something except maybe 17-Something, and that was great! Now, however, I do feel 60-Something, but I don't remember what happened in between. There's nothing special about 60-Something, either, and that's the way it's going to be from here on out. I'll just get sixtier and sixtier. So I joined the gym. It's a clean little place with a reception desk, various kinds of exercise machines spread around the premises, large mirrors on the walls, racks of weights and, actually, a small pool. Since it is indoors with heated water, the pool has to have some chlorine in the water, the amount apparently determined by someone on the staff having studied the Second Battle of Ypres.

I showed up in a replica of my old high school gym-class outfit: gym shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. I was ready to go but was immediately shamed by the presence of fashionable young Neapolitans in their name-brand sweat-finery, all color coded and elegant.

The pool is sort of like the "old swimming hole", a pond near the farm I lived on when I was little. I also lived near the Pacific Ocean once upon a time —big and impersonal; I didn't like it half as much as I did that pond. I'm not in a Pacific Ocean frame of mind these days. I no longer hyperventilate when I read Tennyson's lines:

"Push off, and sitting well in order smite
 the sounding furrows, for my purpose holds
 to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars…”

Let’s just say I am less interested in smiting furrows than I used to be. I'm content to do a few laps in the pool and then sit on the side, dangle my toes and brood over another verse, this by Yeats:

"I am worn out with dreams
a weather-worn marble Triton
Among the streams."

The gym has a selection of magazines. You can prop them up on the mill and read while you tread. One is called Longevity. A man and woman stare out at me from a glossy ad. They are the guru couple of health and long life. They're dressed in swimwear and look strangely earnest and happy at the same time, something like six-year olds contemplating quadratic equations. They are hawking life-extension amino acids for too much money. They have truly taken to heart the Vulcan dictum to "live long and prosper." No wonder they're happy.

Next is an ad for the Nordic Ski Machine: it gives you more this and that per grunt/minute than jogging or swimming or sex. I see that there is also a Nordic Stair Climber. Someone has determined that Nordic stairs are healthier for you than, say, Guatemalan Stairs or the stairs leading up to where you live. Not content with that, they have brought out a Nordic Climber, which makes you look like a drunk crawling up an escalator desperately trying to get to the last train home. There is also —I kid you not— a Nordic Chair. This is not some chair named Knut with blond hair and blue eyes, as you might think, but an exercise chair. It has movable parts. You sit down in it and move and live longer. No doubt coming soon to a gym near you is the new Nordic Pillage 'n' Plunder Machine. Talk about cardiovascular fitness! Talk about fun!

It's all so difficult. I think I know how to stay young without all this. Get rid of your kids. That's right. You know the eternal gripe of the younger generation: "Oh, no —(whine, moan, snivel)— I've become my parents."  The minute your children start to become you, it means you're getting old, so it's their fault.

Six...seven...fifteen...whew. Time to towel off and clean the bench I've been using. I have forgotten to pick up a towel at the check-in desk. I'll just use the jacket part of that young woman's very fashionable Armani gym/yoga workout suit that she casually left lying near my bench when she wandered off to spot some young stud pumping iron. She won't notice mind. There. Back to the pool.



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