This is the tale of a human being who accidentally signed up for a six-week-long, three-days-a-week class of exercise at a gym in lower Manhattan.
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The Ball #

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The first time I saw the ball was at Jim's house. We were drinking beer and horsing around on guitars when I spied it on his sofa. It was about the size of a soccer ball, though shaped like one that's been left half-deflated.

I was surprised at how heavy it was. Easily ten pounds, maybe more. I gave it a few quick tosses, spinning it my hands, testing its weight, letting the tips of my fingers brush along its sewn seams. All dark leather and musk. So manly.

What's this?

Where'd you go to school? It's a medicine ball.

Like what the old Russian guys throw at each other in the bathhouses?


Jim took it from me and told me the story. It's handmade by some old kook in a tiny shop in New England. He cuts the pattern by hand, sews up the pieces, then stuffs the thing with shredded leather scraps. Each ball is finished with some handsome stitching and tanned with dark oil that gives it a deep brown color resembling tobacco. As he talked, we tossed the ball back and forth absentmindedly.

Where'd you get it?

Internet. Jesus.

How much?

I think about two-forty.

The next catch was mine, and I grasped the ball tightly. Two hundred and forty dollars? You're crazy. This thing costs that much? You can get these for like thirty bucks on Amazon.

Yeah but it's handmade! The guy's a master! A craftsman. Look at the stitches! Gorgeous. It's a thing of perfection. My god.

Jim was grinning. I was sure he was fucking with me. He showed me some exercises. Hold the ball over your head and bring it down to the back of your neck, slowly (triceps and biceps). Hold it at arm's length and twist, slowly (shoulders and core). Sit on the stool with your elbows on your knees and do curls with it, slowly (triceps and biceps again). Squats (everthing). I was starting to ache in ways that I remembered from back when I was in shape all those years ago.

See? How many gym memberships have you wasted? How many times have you given up on running? This is way better. You're not at a gym, you're in the house. You're watching baseball, or talking to your wife in the kitchen. It's awesome. Totally worth it.

I was intrigued. A few weeks went by. I thought about it more. I decided I had to have one. I looked on Amazon, but no. I bought the same ball as Jim. I paid my two-forty over PayPal to the old kook in New England. A few weeks later, I had my own leather ball. I did all those things with it. The hold-it-over-your-head move, the arms-length-and-twist move. The crunches, the squats. I did these while watching baseball, while talking to my wife. Sometimes I unwound from the workday by lying on my back and tossing it into the air, toss and catch, toss and catch, one hundred times.

Now when people come over, they ask me about it. I tell them the story about the old kook in New England and they nod. I show them the exercises and they grunt. I tell them the price and they gasp. But in the end, I can sense it: they want one too.

It is better than the gym. Some days I do a lot of excercises. Some days I do fewer, or just one. Most days I never even touch it. It sits across the room looking like a half-deflated soccer ball. I drink beer and I admire it. It's beautiful. The stitching, the deep tan, the weight, the timeless vibe. All dark leather and musk. So manly.

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To talk about today, I need to tell you a few things. One of those things is that I'm doing this with my spouse, which works really well, because honestly I would never be out of the house to get to the gym by myself at an early hour and so this works as a system. (I'm not sure who's clocked this yet in the class; one of the guys today noticed we use the same locker and he was like "Oh!" Heh.) The other thing is that it's seven subway stops to the gym from our house. Today we did our usual morning routine—fed and watered the cats, had some coffee, put on articles of human clothing, that kind of jazz. We schlepped to the rush hour train party, which wasn't too bad. We got on the train. Then my stomach literally did that thing where it feels like it's being twisted upside-down like a cotton candy machine? My first plan was that my office is only two stops from the house. That was not gonna cut it, I decided quickly. So as we approached the very first stop I said "Hey I'm getting off here and I'll see you at the gym!" and he was like "... okay?" It was great, I think he almost wanted to laugh, because pants-crapping is a thing that makes us laugh a lot, all pants-crapping stories are wonderful, but also pants-crapping is only funny like a couple of days beyond the event so it was nice that he didn't laugh in my face. Anyway I got off and there was a Starbucks, GOD BLESS STARBUCKS, America's bathroom. I cannot count the number of times Starbucks has saved me from the tyranny of my body. In the end I did get back on the train and I made it to class with one minute to spare. I did not vomit or crap myself in class. The consensus in the locker room after was that class was "fairly terrible" and "quite miserable" today. I agreed, but of course being a Pollyanna I kept saying "well surely we'll hit some plateau in the next week or so and it'll feel great!" I don't actually believe that. Why do I say things I don't believe? The myth of the power of positive thinking. It's a lie.

Our instructor issued a disseration on the nature of ambition. What would Beyoncè—oops Beyoncé, right?—do? She would work harder. She would push further. She would not quit. This was one of the times that I liked him. (There was also a really horrific HI-N-R-G remix of "Halo" which was a sad thing to know about.) He also gave us a little talk about how we should respond right away and enthusiastically when we are asked a question. Again, this drill sergeant routine makes me furious. Week two was new exercises; some rowing, some squatting, some garbage, some awkward things that tear up your shoulders. It's funny deciding if you really like or really hate someone. I took a cold shower after so that the sweating would stop. Everyone looked completely wrecked. It's now 3:20 p.m. Ready for bed. In better news I have my gym strat down tight. The permanent locker thing is amazing. You can just keep things there! By the end of this nightmare it will be filled with rotting food and dirty clothing, just like my locker in high school.

There's something about the workout room having a wall of mirror. There's always bodies facing you, and you are among them, and they just look like distressed bodies. They are sad. Those are yours.


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I've bought some space on this page in order to respond to the excellent points made by sixfoot6 regarding the monetization of

In the curious and beautiful flowering of this project I, too, have experienced a certain sadness with respect to the way the Internet has worked out so far. But I should like to put some questions to sixfoot6.

I am paying ~choire to post here, sixfoot6. We are two individuals, and you are a third. There is no corporate entity involved in our conversation. Yet because I knew that ~choire's traffic is liable to be heavier than my own, it is worth it to me to post here, on a page he's offered, where I know you will be more likely to see it. It's just us.

Isn't that how we ought to have done it all along?

I don't blame anyone who took the gargantuan sums that a certain number of those of us who were involved in the Internet in its infancy were offered. This was a winning lottery ticket for them. I played in that lottery myself; shall we begrudge those lucky ones their good fortune? I don't want to do that.

But how passionately I wish we'd been able to imagine how to reckon the cost! How forces larger than ourselves were conspiring to use this beautiful pure thing as an instrument for profit and control, for making use of them, for silencing them instead of giving us all a voice.

And now. Here's a place where that can happen!! As if it were the first day of the world. (I borrowed the extra exclamation points from ~choire). I want to thank ~ford and keep going!

Don't hack this thing, don't trash it!! Love it and let it blossom forever~~~~~



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Today was the first day I haven't felt terrible. The whole cardio + bronchitis thing has been pretty amazing? Also the week before I got made fun of in yoga for coughing which didn't feel very enlightening. Oh yeah: made fun of by the teacher. But now the hacking is almost over. So I was awake and perky enough this morning to bring gym clothes into my gym locker and leave them there for the first time and get this the gym washes them for you? It's so luxe and ridiculous and privileged. Also kind of gross. Like they're going to throw my gnarly gym clothes into the boiling vat with all the towels with STDs. Fine. Class itself was fine to average. I started to have rebellious feelings about our main instructor. He got a little drill-sergeantey/gym-coachey today and I wanted to yell at him and act out. But he also advised me to change shoes. I am wearing super low-weight running shoes and he was like "Well that's why your feet are cramping sheesh." Now that we're bonded as a class somewhat, it's weird to be in the locker room nude after too. Like I was chit-chatting with the nice guy who works at G____ M____, where I used to work (lol), and then suddenly we were in the flesh and then in towels and there are plenty of people at this gym who spend a LONG TIME NAKED, just hanging out, doing their hair, being naked, and if I become one of them, put me down. The class is 15% complete now. Already things don't hurt after. I'm tired and maybe a little sore but it's like my body is used to the torture. Already! Three classes in! Why have I been so lazy my entire life? We don't say "STDs" any more BTW. I mean we didn't even say STDs a million years ago when I was an STD counselor.


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Not everything can be about the gym. Sometimes, there's more to life. Like taking the bus, for example.

I moved a few months ago and whereas I used to take the train most days (except on days I rode my bike, but that's a 10 mile ride, each way, and let's be clear about the fact that I am 41, deeply lazy, and often quite hungover so I almost *always* rode the train, dear heart) now I'm almost always on the bus. For some reason, this is embarrassing to me. It just feels fundamentally undignified, dig?

Which is weird because in almost every respect the bus is better. I take an express bus—the NX—and it picks me up at the same stop as the regular N Judah. So, I could take the train but I opt not to because the NX is so much more pleasurable.

It's faster for one, because it doesn't make any stops after 19th avenue until it gets downtown. It's rarely as crowded. It's cleaner. (Oh my god it's so much cleaner.) Unlike the N Judah, I've never seen anyone taking a dump on the bus—or at least, not on *this* bus. Why would you shit on an express bus? You wouldn't. You'd take the train when you need to shit. The haight street kids who ride the N Judah back and forth from the beach or downtown are nowhere to be seen, which is my euphemistic way of expressing gratitude that I don't have to sit next to some really drunk tweaker who smells like a campfire at 8 am.

What else? Oh! The best thing. I nearly forgot the best thing. I can put my bike on the front of the bus. So when I get off downtown, it's only a five minute or so ride, instead of a fifteen minute walk.

(Plus, everyone at work assumes I rode all the way. WIRED has a very bike-forward culture and it is important for me to be a part of it. People see me carrying my bike up the stairs, or hanging it in our fancy bike room and they say, "hey, Mat, how was your commute?" And then I'm like, "oh my god it's so hot out today, can you believe this heat? Ugh. Bring back Karl already!" And we chuckle and they assume I rode all the way from the Outer Sunset, the far-flung and very unfashionable part of town where I live, to WIRED's office in South Park. Which is nice.)

But, you know, it's the bus. The bus feels so unsophisticated. So pedestrian. The train! That's what cityfolk take. We didn't even have trains in the town where I grew up in Alabama. I mean, we had freight trains, naturally, but not commuter trains. Not light rail. Nothing you could ride from point A to point G instead of driving. But we did have busses.

Peace be with you.

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This class started off very painful and yet somehow became easier as it went? Everyone looked BEAT DOWN by it. I did not win the class MVP again today. I hope I never do. I also was not convinced that I was not going to barf. I met the other smoker in class. He looks very fit but we both agreed that we were like Ginger to everyone's Fred—we might as well be doing everything backwards and in heels, if we're smoking while doing this strenuous exercise camp. The component of this class that I do not like is that the gym REALLY likes to take pictures and videos of us. They gave us a consent form this morning. I crossed off "use of my name" on it, as did one other person. Like can you image. Do not put my name on the Equinox website, thanks, yeah, no. So basically I'm paying a large corporation money to be content for them. Which seems somehow like my karmic destiny. Of course maybe there are other smokers. Secret smokers.

It was terrible. They were yelling at us and there was house music. They made us like "put our hands in" at the end and there were winners. Everything hurt the day after really bad, and I can't remember any of the exercises they taught us that they will make us do now over and over and over again. That being said—the whole "it was terrible" thing—I did not a) black out b) barf c) leave so it was a success. Also they had weighed us and applied "fat calipers" and the like and I was only made up of 21.5% fat, which surprised me. Do I feel good about myself? I do not.

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