Home

I Never Said Thank You John Z…

2 Comments

Of Mice and Men.jpg

-Tell them George….

-OK… Lennie… 

Stirring in my bed in the darkness, the fragile voice of Lennie intruded through my semi-awake state.

Lennie was getting worked up like a small child on Christmas morning, excited and wanting to share his enthusiasm in the same way that he got enthusiastic about petting little fluffy bunnies, soft furry mice, and rambunctious puppies.

And –  with no harm intended – young ladies’ pretty dresses.

Lennie just liked to touch soft things.

Have you read Of Mice and Men?… John Steinbeck’s beautiful masterpiece of two itinerant Depression-era farm workers in Southern California?

Did you see coverall-clad George and Lennie in the movie? Gold-toned cinematography capturing the simple dreams, and also the difficult but loving camaraderie between actors Gary Sinise (George) and John Malkovich (Lennie)?

Heartlifting and heartbreaking… just like real people’s lives. Muffled tears melt through my heart’s lining and ooze out my pores.

As a youngster and teenager, I harboured a soft spot for the little guy, the dark troubled souls, the odd man out.

MiceandMen.jpg

When I read Of Mice and Men, I think of my childhood friend John Z.

I say friend, but John was really a mere acquaintance, someone I knew and said hi to while passing on the wide echoing stairs beside the music room of Glendale High.

We never hung out or did stuff together after school, although we did chatter to each other each day while sharing a bench seat on the bus trip to day camp one summer. I never went to his house or met his family.

John was a lot like Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

John was big and strong like Lennie, but sweetly gentle unless provoked, just like Lennie.

He had a condition called hydrocephalus. John’s head was enlarged from fluid that accumulated in his head as a child.  His head spread out like an upside-down pyramid, narrow at the chin and unnaturally wide above the dark brown hair line, his broad forehead was intersected by eyes that were narrow slits when he smiled.

John was mentally “slow”.

He liked to laugh, really loudly. And when he was happy, John would yell out a boisterous “BAHOO!

I can hear his voice in my head still, all these years later.

John was a friendly fella living peaceably in a world, an era, that was mostly unfriendly to the “different” souls amongst us.

He took a lot of ribbing and ridicule from some of the hormonal teenage boys, mainly the jock crew who made mocking others their daily routine, like a sacred ritual of self-aggrandizement within their Temple of Jock’dom.

While I never joined in on the “fun” of poking jabs at John, I also never said or did anything to head off the bullies that tormented poor John daily.

I wanted to. I steamed inside, but as a small guy I was in self-protection mode, more determined to lay “low” and avoid any bullying thrown my way. There was a Darwinian survival protocol that drifted like a sweat-scented fog through the school hallways.

bullying

Today, I’m here finally… belatedly… to thank John and others like him who played a part in my early decision to make my occupational choice a “helping” career.

I was a medical lab tech for 37 years. I helped people. I hope.

The impotence I sometimes felt during those early school years were part of what motivated me to try to assist others who were struggling.

It could seem a stretch to suggest that high school bullying was what made me decide to jab needles in people’s arms, sucking out their blood and then testing the plasma and serum, seeking answers to their sicknesses and discomforts.

There are thin threads, minor rivers of connections that run through our minds.

Our daily experiences often seem meaningless or tenuous, yet they quietly mill about within our sub-conscious where the work of deeper understanding is done, weighing and parsing and figuring out what makes sense.

Those “helping” connections led me to the medical career that occupied more than three decades of my life.

It could as easily have taken me into other obvious choices such as police or firefighting, teaching or social work, a non-profit manager or an ombudsman.

And helping others can come in many less obvious forms.

The folks who pick up my garbage make my life easier and happier. The software writers that allow me to write a blog or access my bank accounts simply are heroes in my life. Truck drivers that deliver food supplies to my local supermarket keep me well nourished (and then some!).

Helping is often more subtle and broadly-based than we appreciate.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the book Of Mice and Men, as the law begins to close in, sweet Lennie heartbreakingly, unknowingly to him, meets his merciful death at the hand of his friend George.

Back in my own world, I did a Google search on my childhood friend John this week. I haven’t seen or heard a word of him since high school.

Sadly, I discovered that he died 7 years ago, 55 years old. His obituary picture looks just like the John I remember when you add in some lines and wrinkles, a few grey-streaked flecks adorning his temples.

His passing didn’t truly surprise me… but it did strike a nerve, an aching, sensitive scab was pulled back inside of me. I hurt for John then, and I hurt for John today.

John never knew it, and I’m even slow to understand it myself, but his struggles helped teach me a simple lesson: if you have a reason to get out of bed that is bigger than you, you will have a big life.

If you only help yourself, you live a small life.

Thank You John … rest now good soul…

-George?

-Shhhhh… it’s Ok Lennie… I told them…

Lennie and George.jpg

 

 

 

Advertisements

What Makes Jerry Seinfeld So Funny?

2 Comments

Jerry Seinfeld

Remember Stewart in my high school? You know, Stewart. Short. Unathletic. Funny dude.

We all knew that guy in high school … he wasn’t terribly popular … but he had an amazingly quick wit and sense of humour.

I would have loved to be the funny guy.

Even teachers begrudgingly loved the funny guy.

To our faces, they pretended he was just a wisecracking smartass, but when they turned their backs to the class, and wrote indecipherable math formulas on the chalkboards in their shirts with sweat-stained armpits, they too had silly grins that couldn’t be contained.

Cheerleaders wouldn’t get naked and screw the funny guy (at least during high school years) because he was kind of scrawny. And too smart. Not book smart. Life smart.

Bullies were even too afraid to beat him up because they knew he’d cut them down to embarrassing size with his quips and shrewd words. Bullies know they have small dicks and are stupid – they don’t need it pointed out to everyone.

Stewart became class president in Grade 12 because no one would touch him, physically or mentally. Stewart had power.

I don’t know where Stewart is today, but I’ll bet he’s in charge of something wherever he sits his ass down.

Of course there are all sorts of categories of guys and gals in high school… the jock, the cheerleader, the stoner, the free-spirit Bohemian, the math nerd, the politician, the loner, teacher’s pet.

Every school has them. Every one of us knows the full gamut of stereotypes that we can put names to … you saw it in school, and you see it in the workplace.

In today’s information-heavy world, it’s not muscle and brawn and aggression that win battles… well, not usually anyways.

It used to be that the strongest Attila or Ghengis in the clan automatically was the leader.

Later it was the Sundance Kid guy with the best pistol shot. Fear was derived from strength of body or weapon.

Butch and sundance

But today, the brain is the weapon of choice.

The person with the strongest wit and intellect and ability to think on their feet becomes the next great leader or popular messiah.

  • Barack Obama showed that in recent American elections with his folksy charm and ability to communicate and connect.
  • Bill Clinton won the people over with his magnetic appeal, intellect and charisma (and sexy allure!).
  • Bill Cosby was a big winner for decades with his warm smile and down-to-earth chuckles until his ugly arrogant ego was pulled out of the shitty cesspool.
  • George W. Bush paradoxically used old-era scare tactics and Cold War paranoia to wiggle his way through elections, a toss back to earlier times. No intellect or wit necessary. Which proves that there are exceptions to every rule.

George w bush

………………

But I hear you asking, “why in the world is he thinking about these images from his past?”

Well, it’s because I just bought tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld in Vancouver in November. Another funny guy.

I chuckle and titter at Seinfeld’s “observational-style” humour – unlike the Don Rickles “insult” humour style of comedy and fun.

Rickles: “I shouldn’t make fun of the blacks,” Rickles said, and then proceeded to do just that: “President Obama is a personal friend of mine. He was over to the house yesterday, but the mop broke.”

I laughed and I laughed … NOT!!!

Funny to me is when both the comic and his target are laughing. Does anyone honestly believe Obama would burst into a sincere belly-busting uproar at Rickles’ joke?

Did one black person smile and snigger? Right … NOPE!

Seinfeld: “I was best man at a wedding one time and that was pretty good. Pretty good title, I thought … ‘Best man.’ I thought it was a bit much. I thought we had the groom and the ‘pretty good man.’ That’s more than enough. If I am the best man, why is she marrying him?”

Seinfeld: “A friend of mine is going in for a nose job next week. You know what the technical term for a nose job is? Rhinoplasty! Rhino! This guy is aware he has a bit of a problem … he’s obviously sensitive about it, that’s why he made the appointment. Do we really need to compare him to a goddamn rhinoceros?”

Anyone can laugh at these observations. Or not.

I’m blown away by the minds of those who are able to pick up on minute details in life – like “best man” or “rhinoplasty” –  that can be twisted just a tiny wee bit to bring out the absurdity in the things we do and experience.

I guess it’s just a part of me that is on this continual search for inspiration and artistic genius.

Rickles and Seinfeld

I’ll have what he’s having…

Of course we all have our own taste in comedy and the things that make us spurt milk out our noses unexpectedly.

I’m not the guy who falls out of his chair at a “fart” joke but I respect that noisy, annoyingly smelly things can bring a naughty smile to some.

But I do pee my pants watching a knight having his limbs systematically and bloodily chopped off in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”… figure that.

Wouldn’t it be funny if I somehow ran into “High School Stewart” at the Seinfeld event in Vancouver?

Oh well.

Even if Stewart isn’t there, I’m betting I’ll sit and sniggle and chortle and crack up at a lot of what Jerry Seinfeld has to say for an hour or two. He somehow made a whole multi-year running TV show about “nothing”… absolutely “nothing”.

And that, my friend, is this guy’s kind of humour.

Master of your domain

Before There Was 50 Shades … There Was My Man John …

Leave a comment

When I sat in eccentric old Mr. Batchelor’s Grade 9 English class, I dreamed of my own personal Fifty Shades of Grey scenario with about half of the girls in the classroom.

The short mini-skirts of the ’70’s era, revealing cream-coloured, porcelain-smooth teenage thigh skin were a “blurred lines” invitation to a 14 year-old male pubescent mind.

The scene outside my Grade 9 classroom...

A typical scene outside my Grade 9 classroom…

I was hormonally primed and more than ready to give up elementary schoolyard swings and slides and pounce onto a new sex-charged high school playground.

Yep, I was a squeaky-voiced early version of Christian Grey. My last name “Green”, akin to Grey, was an obvious prescient sensual sign of great things to come.

I was possessed of a totally literary kind of schoolboy perspective with high ideals and best of intentions … NOT!!

I’m pretty sure that not a single one of my imaginary classmates-harem gave this short, cherub-cheeked boy in the front left desk any thoughts close to what I was living in my preoccupied haze.

I was giftwrapped in my brain’s illusion, and there was no one that would take the wrapping off and make it real.

But … aside from my adolescent fantasy world, I enjoyed the class for some of the academic reasons too.

…………………

As a decent student, I relished reading stories and literature that drew me in and took me to worlds of which I knew nothing.

But, to take just one example, reading Shakespeare left me in a a muddled whirlwind of incomprehension and confusion. Good God, what did any of his Renaissance-era Olde English words mean?

I loved it when we travelled on field trips to Stratford (Ontario, Canada … not that OTHER Stratford) to watch the plays acted live, because mercifully, I could eke out an understanding of the story. Live theatre was a pretty reasonable substitute for Coles Notes.

The actions showed me what the words never had.

Plus there was lots of drama, fights, sword-play, and naughty 50 Shades-style bawdy skirmishing.

It was great fun watching the serious-minded Shakespearean actors jettison streams of airborne saliva all over each other in their emphatic acting roles. Strange how live acting never appealed to me as a life choice after seeing one of those plays.

Members of the company in Kiss Me, Kate , 2010. Photography by Erin Samuell.

……………………

Fortunately, I wasn’t a total literary loss — there was one author that we young learners read at various times throughout high school that was understandable for me.

He told empathetic stories with struggling, heartfelt characters like justice-seeking Tom Joad and dim-witted Lennie Small.

He created a world of real life drama that took possession over me, carrying me into a time warp that dramatized my parents’ and grandparents’ era…the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Who was this wonder author that penetrated the hormonally-charged mind of a teenage boy?

John Steinbeck

.

The Grapes of Wrath. Of Mice and Men. East of Eden. Cannery Row.

Lennie and George...Of Mice and Men... so bittersweet.

Lennie and George…Of Mice and Men… so bittersweet.

I’ve told you in earlier blog posts that I’m not a great fan of Hemingway’s sparse writing.

On the other hand, I loved Steinbeck. I loved Steinbeck then, the way you might love Stephen King or Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling today.

By his words, you could taste the bone-dry prairie dust in your mouth. You could feel your heart breaking and tears rising when Lennie panics and accidentally snaps the neck of the boss farmer’s beautiful wife — Oh Lennie, why did you have to go and do that?

But I read his stories with different eyes in a different era from today. Society was a different place then, just as it is in every generation and time.

We look at the past world and see the words and actions of others as if they were occurring today. We judge Christopher Columbus by who we are now, not who he was in 1492.

Steinbeck chronicled an era, not unlike TV’s Mad Men, where women sat stoically in the background and waited for decisions to be made on their behalf.

Like obedient cattle, women were chattel, or sometimes Lady Chatterley, but never an equal co-driver or co-decision maker.

In those high school days, few of us ever saw his characters as being sexist or misogynistic.

Women were just people. 2nd Class people maybe, but it was what it was.

misogynistic-vintage-ads

Chapter 1 of The Grapes of Wrath had this telling scene of prairie folk fearfully surveying their destroyed livelihoods:

Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often.

And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men—to feel whether this time the men would break. The women studied the men’s faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained.

The children stood near by, drawing figures in the dust with bare toes, and the children sent exploring senses out to see whether men and women would break. The children peeked at the faces of the men and women, and then drew careful lines in the dust with their toes.

Horses came to the watering troughs and nuzzled the water to clear the surface dust.

After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant. Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break.

Then they asked, What’ll we do? And the men replied, I don’t know. But it was all right. The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right. 

Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.”

It’s a beautifully written passage of anguish and despair, finishing off with insight and hope.

But was this some kind of innocent early non-sexualized precursor to 50 Shades where women were meek and submissive – a place where the dominant male asserted his rightful supremacy?

Could you write a book today with lines like this?

Maybe, but I think that Steinbeck would more likely have this cheerless man and woman standing side-by-side, pondering the difficult choices to be made … together … equals. The man would want to know that she wouldn’t break as much as she wouldn’t want him to falter.

I still admire and enjoy Steinbeck’s stories, but I interpret and absorb the words differently.

The grey matter in this Green man’s head has been altered and shifted by time and experience. When I read a book (or view a movie) now that I took in as a younger person, I see it from the who and the where that I am now.

In a blog post I wrote about a year and a half ago, I told of my shock and dismay that 5o Shades of Grey had become such a popular phenomenon among women of all ages. It didn’t make sense to me that women would embrace a character like Anastasia Steele who would allow herself to be victimized and dominated so willfully.

It surprises the hell out of me that a society that clamours for gender equality, also enigmatically and breathlessly clamours for stories of female victimhood and inequality.

Who knows, perhaps in 20 years I’ll re-read 50 Shades and the words and scenes will look different to my older eyes just as Steinbeck’s stories and characters have changed for me over time.

NAH …

I’ll still yell at Anastasia not to sign that Dominant/Submissive contract with Christian Grey, and turn and run in the opposite direction.

50 Shades of Bad

Just Another Thursday? … The Day My Mother Died

5 Comments

The sun rose that morning the same as every day before but at the end of the day it set on a totally different world than I had ever known.

Bird at sunrise

It was a lovely Thursday April morning, very springlike and mild. The sun struck the young ash tree just starting to leaf out, casting a long shadow across the grass at the front of our house.

Our small, brown-brick home looked across the street at the expansive grassy school yard and field that housed my three childhood educational homes: Glen Echo, Glen Brae, and Glendale schools – there sure wasn’t a lot of naming creativity at the school board in Hamilton’s 1950’s era.

I was 15 years old and in the last of the three schools, Glendale, nearing the end of my Grade 11 year. I was biting at the bit for three months to pass quickly when I would turn 16 and could get my beginner’s licence for driving a car. I couldn’t wait.

The morning routine went along as normal. My father had retired 8 months earlier at his 65th birthday, and my 5-years younger Mom was getting herself ready to go off to her clerical job at an “Office Overload” temp hiring office.

Dad had experienced a heart attack while shovelling heavy snow ten years earlier. As a result, the entire family had become laser-focused on the state of his health and even a decade later still worried about a reoccurrence. Mom was always making sure that none of us siblings said or did anything that might upset him.

I personally worried more about my Mom’s health. She was a smoker, she was moderately overweight, and when she climbed up the dozen or so stairs from the basement laundry room, she was often wheezing and completely out of breath.

My night dreams were regularly filled with dark visions of her lying peacefully in a casket.

Like my mother, I was a worrier. I would lie in my bed, tearing up before I nodded off, brooding about her and how losing her would affect me.

dying dream

The morning pattern that day was disturbed when I came into the kitchen to get some breakfast and Mom was bent over the kitchen sink, vomiting.

Mom was never sick. This was pretty surprising.

Are you OK?“, I asked.

She deflected my concerns in her calm motherly way.

I’m fine. I’ll feel better in a few.

A few minutes later she was being driven off to work by my father and I was heading across the road to my classes where I fully expected to get a red reward peg from Mr. Mason in French class for answering some minor question correctly. “Tres bien Larry“, he would say, but with a quirky look on his face. Mr. Mason was an eccentric.

The work/schoolday finished and we all returned to our place at home. Mom took a few minutes to make some filterless cigarettes.

She used a little rolling machine that made about 6 cigarettes at a time in one long cylinder. She would lick her finger over and over and smooth her saliva across the glue edge before the final turn of the knobs on the sides that would pop out the completed smoke tubes. After turning the machine over and setting the tobacco roll into the little mitre tray on the backside, she would then cut the long tube into individual cigarettes using a razor blade.

They were just like machine-made except they had no filter on the end. When she smoked one, little bits of tobacco would leak out the end into her mouth and she would have to fish them off the tip of her tongue using her thumb and forefinger like tweezers.

A classic home-grown cigarette-making machine…

Homemade cigarettes saved the family money, and the household budget was usually tight.

My family culture was to begin working from the moment you could walk. This meant taking on paper routes or magazine delivery jobs, or orchard fruit-picking from the start of elementary school onwards. I was the 5th and last in a 5-person lineup of siblings who delivered the Hamilton Spectator newspaper.

At 15, I was not just sick and tired of delivering newspapers but also feeling much too mature for such juvenile work, so I quit the “family” firm.

The idleness of being jobless at 15 was too much for my parents to understand or accept, so on her way out the door to go for dinner that evening with my Dad’s sister Nina and brother-in-law Dwight, Mom popped her head inside my bedroom door where I was laid out on my bed.

“Larry, you might want to drop by McDonalds and fill in an application form.”

Those were her last words to me. 

Not very exciting.

It sounded like a polite request, but I knew it was much closer to a General’s command.

I was scared silly at the thought of seeking out a “real” job. It was like going to the dentist. There were managers at the local McDonalds who extracted teeth without freezing when asked about job openings and I knew it. So when I said, “Yeah, I will soon Mom”, I really meant “Yeah, when Hell freezes over”.

McDonalds Stoney Creek

Hell DID Freeze Over! This McDonalds became my teenage work home for 4 years after my Mom died…

A few hours passed. I continued to laze around unproductively throughout the evening until I heard a sharp knocking and a muffled yelling voice coming from the front door.

What the hell?

Startled, I hurriedly opened the front door where my Aunt Nina stood, “Your mother has fainted in the driveway.”

I followed her to the side of the house, adrenalin already surging, heart pounding.

Coming around the corner in the twilight, just behind our Ford Meteor car, I spotted my mother laid out on her back on the asphalt surface of the driveway, eyes closed, skin ashen-toned, her dress askew from the sudden tumble.

I wanted so badly to believe that she had just fainted as Aunt Nina said, but my inner soul told me this was far more serious than a simple faint. This was death, or close to it, laying on the ground, and it was my Mom.

My Dad and aunt and uncle were too shocked to know what to do.

I didn’t know what to do either when I bent over her and could hear only a very slight, quiet gasping intake of breath. None of us knew the slightest about medical resuscitation, CPR or artifical respiration.

We were all in a state of denial, but I knew we needed outside help. I ran into the house and dialled 0 for an Operator (911? No such thing in 1973). The Operator patched me through to ambulance dispatch and even though I could scarcely breathe through my fear, I blurted out that my Mom had fainted or  – I finally admitted it out loud – had a heart attack.

The lady calmly asked for my address and said an ambulance would arrive shortly.

I returned outside and in the confusion and panic we picked my mother up by the shoulders and legs and carried her into the house and laid her on the living room couch. The same couch we had sat together on a couple of years earlier on a hot July night to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon for the first time.

Helplessly – hopefully –  we waited the 3 or 4 minutes before an ambulance backed into the driveway. The 2 male attendants came in and did a quick assessment and then strapped an oxygen mask to my mother’s face as they lifted her onto the wheeled stretcher.

The shallow, raspy breathing sounds I’d heard her making earlier had disappeared now.

Lifting her into the ambulance, they climbed aboard along with my father and headed off with sirens in full wailing song.

My aunt, uncle, and I jumped into our family car and drove in pursuit of the siren’s din towards the Hamilton General Hospital Emergency room. The siren’s sound faded and disappeared in the distance. We couldn’t race through red lights the way an ambulance in full flight could.

Hamilton General Hospital

It was dark, the air was still when we pulled into the hospital parking lot.  Hurriedly, we rushed past the now-familiar ambulance parked by the entrance to the ER and through the whoosh of the sliding glass doors. The small waiting room just inside and to our right was empty of anyone except for my Dad.

He stood when he saw us and walked the few feet to where we stopped.

His face was red with a desperate look of anguish.

He simply said, “She’s gone.”

She’s Gone …

.

We like to think that each day is different and special, like little individual snowflakes wafting gently from the winter sky… unique.

In truth, most days just blend into the rest and we can’t remember what happened last Wednesday, much less October 19, 2002.

But the occasional day stands alone in our mind as memorable, and we remember the sun, the trees, the sweet, pungent smell of lilac in the air at the corner of our street.

Days like Tuesday, September 11, 2001 or Friday, November 22, 1963 or Thursday, September 28, 1972 (bonus points if you can name the events of these 3 dates!).

For me, Thursday, April 12, 1973 was a day like no other. The day my mother died.

It replays in my mind from time to time and the vision, the memory, becomes slightly more translucent as each year passes. But the emotions and heart-pounding I felt that day remain strong and intense.

I don’t want to lose them, as painful as they can be because they remind me of the special place my mother held in my life, my heart.

Her voice, her laughter, and her warmth live inside me.

Memories

Half A Man In Gym Class?

Leave a comment

My legs were screaming at me to stop. But the finish line was tantalizingly close, so I ignored them – as best I could manage when it feels like there’s a newly-graduated surgeon extracting a bullet from your quadriceps – and pretended I was a swift Kenyan runner.

8TTxwrcHd1BdqY3iUit4iD-7aCM48m30SLcikDxUw7A

“My” group of Half Marathoners…me in red, my daughter Emma in blue…

I enjoyed a run through the park with 25,000 others a week or so back … Stanley Park in Vancouver, as a matter of fact.

The mass of multi-colour clad, multi-aged runners combined in a tidal blur of sun, sweat, and spectacular vistas of the snow-capped mountains on the north shores of Burrard Inlet. With the bright sunshine warmly carpeting our pathway, a prettier running location would be hard to find in this world.

It was a half marathon run, part of the Vancouver International Marathon held each May.

Distance running like this is not something I was naturally born to. I’m no Wayne Gretzky, who, I’m pretty sure sliced and diced his Mom’s hoo-ha figure-eight style on the way out at birth with his sharpened ice skates. HE was a natural.

I’ve been a slowly smoldering work-in-progress, one New Balance running shoe step in front of the other to where I stand today as a middle-aged middlin’ runner.

Pet Peeve time: Calling the race a “half marathon” inflames the ire in me because it makes me feel like I could only bother to run half the REAL race. The medal hung over my neck at the end declares, “RAN HALF“.

It’s like they’re snickering and cruelly announcing to me and the world … “real athletes run a full marathon, but YOU could only run HALF a marathon. Lazy Slob!”

Don’t worry… I’ll get over it.

All of this is really just an introduction to telling you that I didn’t like gym class in high school.

It was populated by jock types and smart-ass morons and squat, juiced-up gym teachers with bulky brawn, shrunken testicles, and even further diminished brains. The gym corner office was full of male and female Sue Sylvester wannabes. It didn’t make me feel “GLEE”-ful.

Gym teacher

To be fair, some things were OK, but most of the time my gym experience was being squeezed like a stress ball wearing regulation blue gym shorts. The atmosphere was suffused with wrestling room acidic-scented body odour and unattainable rope climbs and gymnastics pretzels. My life flashed before my eyes a dozen times while attempting to do the mandatory spread-legged vault over the pommel horse.

In my gym classes, participation wasn’t the desired outcome. It was either total mastery of death-defying contests or utter, adolescent, esteem-crushing failure. The good-looking popular girls in their cute boy-melting mini-skirts knew within minutes if you failed to jimmy up the rope to the gym ceiling. Who needed Facebook or Twitter?

Somehow, I scraped through with only semi-crippling psychological damage.

And now, fast forward to today’s gym world.

Fitness-Club

The modern-day commercial gym is an amusement park wonder to gawk at.

There are machines with handles and barbells sticking out in various directions, all laid out in beautiful straight lines. Bright spotlights peer down from above onto stationary bikes, and rowers, and treadmills, and ellipticals, and all manner of thingamabobs with names that only Dr. Seuss could have contrived.

Huge numbers of average folks throng to these high-tech halls of power and fitness to make themselves more beautiful and buff and just plain healthy. It’s good to see but I’m mightily confused – as I am by so many things in my life. Let me explain.

The guys and gals pour through the doors, and plunk down their hard-earned membership dollars. Then, like in the old smoky-hazed drinking parlours from a hundred years ago, the men and the women disperse in opposing directions.

Men drift off towards the big heavy lifting machines and barbell racks where bench presses and monster leg squats await tantalizingly like BBQ’d steaks and beer on a hot summer day. The 350 lb. “grunt” lifts soon begin and the muscles bulge and ripple. This is the “BRO ZONE”.

Meanwhile, women amble towards the organized group classes of TRXBOSU, Kick Boxing, PilatesSpinBoot Camp, Yoga and…well, you get my drift. Lululemon butt-hugging apparel bursts out all around like an untended field of pretty dandelions, music volumes crank up and movement begins. There is hard work to be done and sweat to be shed. One of the best things resulting from these classes is a killer “aerobic” workout that pushes the heart and lungs way beyond the comfort zone.

Now, maybe it’s just the gyms that I go to, or the small’ish city  where I live in British Columbia, Canada, but in most of the group classes that I stop in to participate, I’m the ONLY guy. It’s a lonely world for those of us with a Y chromosome.

yoga ine guy

…alone again…naturally…

WHY??

Why do my male brethren avoid the group workout in a room filled with the fairer sex?

  • Too much talk? Who can talk with a heart beating hard enough to be heard across town?
  • Not enough muscle aggrandizing work? Guys…there is no lack of muscle building activity in a TRX or Boot Camp class, believe me!
  • Music too distracting?  Maybe, but it helps to take the mind off the pain and make time zip by faster.
  • Female Intimidation? Are the men coming to the gym fearful of what women might think of them if they can’t keep up in a class setting? Are the “ball-busters” just too much for the male ego to handle?

I wish I knew the answer to my own questions.

Today’s world is taxing enough for a man who is trying to understand how the double X chromosome sex thinks. But then to run into a wall of confusion regarding his own gender-kind seems perversely mean-spirited.

Have I been somehow cluelessly parachuted inside a Twilight Zone world where I’m straddling a gender fence surrounded by a dark, murky haze?

Maybe hanging out with my BRO’s will clear the confusion in my head and remedy the lingering pain in my HALF MARATHON legs.

I’m heading off to the gym to think about this.

kid planking

Way to go BRO!