Sunday, May 23, 2010

gymnastic thoughts

what it's all about

I always have half a dozen books on the go at once, and I must say that, unlike my younger self, my teen self, who devoured Hardy [and really inhabited Hardy's world for a time, which all things considered wasn't the most pleasant experience, though obviously it appealed more than my own world at the time], and Keats, and the Brontes, before going on to the continent to devour much French and Russian literature [all nineteenth century, strangely] - anyway, unlike that past self, my current self reads non-fiction almost entirely.
I've been trying to force myself to read some fiction, though, so it amused me yesterday to read a passage from the charmingly idiosyncratic O Henry. I recently joined a gym, a daunting place full of athletic, tattooed and largely youthful bods, and naturally I'm keen to turn my envy into scorn. Lines from a poem called 'Gym Junky', by a friend of mine, keep playing through my head, but it's never enough.
In his story 'The Coming-out of Maggie', Henry gently mocks the gym junkies of an earlier age. His members of the Clover Leaf Club, a social club attached to the gym, are local toughs constantly brushing against the law.
The young men of the Clover Leaf Club pinned not their faith to the graces of person as much as they did to its prowess, its achievements in hand-to-hand conflicts, and its preservation from the legal duress that constantly menaced it. The member of the association who would bind a ... maiden to his conquering chariot scorned to employ Beau Brummel airs. They were not considered honorable methods of warfare. The swelling biceps, the coat straining at its buttons over the chest, the air of conscious conviction of the super-eminence of the male in the cosmology of creation, even a calm display of bow legs as subduing and enchanting agents in the gentle tourneys of Cupid - these were the approved arms and ammunition of the Clover Leaf gallants.
Not really that much like my gym, where the female clientele possibly outnumber the male, and where I receive a modicum of low-key, scientifically based personal training in a thoroughly professional atmosphere,  but I can't help but be aware, given the sexual being I am, of the underlying sexual nature of all that whipping up of testosterone, the hope of gaining some slight advantage in the gentle tourneys of Cupid. My own hopes in such an arena, are of course, pathetic as well as quite possibly illegitimate. I was reminded of this, as if I needed it, when my personal trainer informed me that the stretching routines she taught me would come in handy in everyday life - 'for example, when you want to lift up your grandchildren'. So much for Clover Leaf gallantry. She's a kind and very likeable girl, but I'd never mentioned to her that I had grandchildren, which I don't, or even children, which I don't. I suppose one could do worse, though, than to be thought of as a kindly doting grandad. It doesn't help of course to have a body like hairy blancmange.

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