The Unseen Perils of Getting Fit

I’ve been going to the gym pretty early these days: Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m, whether I want to or not. I’ve turned over a new leaf, you see. I now realize that abdominal muscles do not appear magically as a result of wishing on Starburst wrappers. I have now reached an age at which I have to do my best to protect what natural assets I have left rather than book a one-way ticket on the gravy boat cruise to an untimely frumpitude.

I go so early because, after much trial and error, I have found that it is better to hit the gym before my brain can fully register how much exercising totally and royally sucks.

Because I am a highly suggestible person—a vulnerable adult, if you will—I was initially afraid that I would lose myself in this candy-colored spandex universe and morph into the kind of person I have always regarded with scorn. Because I come from strong, dedicated, working-class stock, I could easily see myself swelling into a female Tony Little—tank-like and relentlessly, horridly FIT! Complete with a thin, creepy ponytail and bulbous calves. But I never should have worried. There is too much of the old me at the core. The old me who, left unchecked during a bad breakup, once polished off an entire fried chicken in one sitting. Fee, fie, foe, fum.

So, to get to the gym on time, I have to leave my house by about 5:15. I walk down a set of four concrete steps that lead to my driveway. Every morning, at the third step, I lurch face-first through a line of sticky spider web. Because I am generally tired when this occurs, I swat blindly at the air around my face like a half-hibernating bear and growl.

One day, I told my husband about the foolish spider in our backyard. I wondered aloud why it always builds its house in the same location when it just gets ruined every day.

And my husband said the creepiest thing of all.

“Maybe it’s not his house you’re ruining. Maybe it’s his trap. Maybe he’s just really ambitious. Maybe he sees you stumble out of the house every morning and thinks: ‘Hmmm … all I have to do is land that big clumsy one, and I’ll be set for life.’ ”

So, I’m the Moby Dick of South Minneapolis, hunted by Ahab the Arachnid. I’ve got an eight-legged, net-casting maniac in my backyard. I’ve seen the spider in question, and he’s damn near big enough to take down cetacean prey. He’s tan, big as a Jordan almond, and when I put on the porch light to spy on him as he sleeps, I swear I can hear him snoring.

I grew up in a house that had bugs. Not roaches, but millipedes in the basement, kitchen ants in the summer, and water bugs behind the washer—all sorts of extracurricular critters that weren’t paying their rent by being cute. My friends who grew up in newer, nicer houses turned out idiotically compassionate. They’re the ones who solicitously sweep up indoor spiders and gently place them outside. If I find one of those little crawly buggers near me, I flatten it with a hardbound copy of Charlotte’s Web. Why? Because I’m some pig. In fact, I would like to catch all those bug lovers in less-than-humane traps and set them free in Colorado.

I look at a bug inside my house and I say, “I know what you’re thinking. Is that can of Raid empty, or has it still got one squirt in it? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself. So you’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Outside the house, the rules are different. It’s their turf. You won’t find me terrorizing them with a magnifying glass, only trying to stay out of their way. So when I’m on my way to the gym, I just hope old Ahab doesn’t immobilize me and suck out all my juices. But if he’d take about two pints off my keister, we could make a deal.