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Exercise on the

Exercise on the


Why even sliding-scale membership isn't worth the trip to the gym.

This friday is payday, and more important than the $400 I'll get for the two weeks I spent stacking cans of gluten-free cat food is the fact that I'll receive my third consecutive pay stub. I need it to prove to the San Francisco YMCA that I don't make enough money to pay full price for a membership, which I want because at the San Francisco Y you can check your e-mail while riding a stationary bicycle or watch a Forensic Files marathon while on the treadmill. Exercise was never easier!

Since becoming an alleged adult I've always felt like I should exercise -- or should at least want to exercise -- and make a feeble attempt at health, thus staving off terrible things like the coronary heart disease and high cholesterol described to me in 1980s margarine commercials. But the truth is that I find nothing so soul-crushing as spending my Slurpee and hot dog money on preventive health measures.

I've probably had nine different rarely used Y memberships in my adult life. My pattern is: Sign up, pay the enrollment fee, buy a new sports bra, go one or two times, guiltily watch the monthly fee deducted automatically from my bank account, get depressed, and cancel my membership under the pretense that I can use the money toward sliding-scale psychotherapy.

When I lived in Providence, R.I., my friend Lamby and I managed to finagle a $3-a-month membership at the saddest YMCA ever. Three dollars for both of us. The family plan enabled us to ride 1970s stationary bicycles in a room the size of a broom closet. When I see a room full of people pedaling away on stationary bikes, I fall into an existential spiral. It's confirmation that all we do as humans is pedal, pedal, pedal, and go nowhere. We're just specks of dust in the universe, riding 1970s stationary bicycles. Every wall in that broom closet was covered with signs asking members to wipe off the bikes when they were done using them. The few times I actually rode one, I got up afterward and looked hopefully for sweat to clean off the seat, but there was none. Still, I diligently wiped the seats and handlebars like a beleaguered housewife in a play, scrubbing, scrubbing -- my work never done.

During another burst of athletic inspiration, Lamby and I bought $200 worth of softball equipment because we heard there was a semiprofessional women's softball league starting up on the East Coast. Never mind that we hadn't played softball since we were teenagers -- and that we were now out-of-shape waitresses in our mid 30s. We didn't care that Lamby was anemic and that I'd had two failed knee surgeries -- we were going to be paid to play softball! We would have done anything not to waitress anymore. When we learned tryouts weren't until the following spring (and here it was only November), a substantial amount of wind came out of our instant-gratification sails. That winter we played catch twice in the park before putting the mitts in Lamby's trunk and vowing to practice again as soon as it got warm. But by the time her car died a few months later, we'd forgotten that her trunk held our softball dreams as we watched the car get towed away to the junkyard.

A few years later Lamby and I were shopping at Target when I realized my problem with exercise was that I simply didn't have time to go to the gym.

"I need a jump rope," I said.

Didn't Rocky jump rope? I thought as I threw the jump rope onto a pile of new workout pants. I'll eat raw eggs too. Lamby fell into hysterical laughter as I paid for my items at the register; I was indignant. As soon as I got home I put on my gym clothes and situated myself in the kitchen. I had to hunch over to keep the rope from hitting my low ceiling. The first couple of times the rope hit my feet, but after a few tries I managed to stumble over it. My dog looked sadly up from her spot on the floor. Within 30 seconds of what I would call "beginning low-impact jump rope," my heart felt like it was going to explode.

Well, I don't want to overdo it on day 1, I thought, before hanging my new rope neatly on a hook in the closet and heading out for a Slurpee.

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Ali Liebegott