Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Ed Rule

Another Tom Wolfe book, all 670 pages of it, devoured, and now I have to wait another five years (at least) for another, assuming he lives that long. Whereas all previous Wolfe books, fiction or non-fiction, have introduced me to an alien subculture (bond traders, acidheads, astronauts, etc.), this one was familiar territory - college life. If you have a daughter, buy the book and make her read it a month before she heads off for college, so she'll know what to fear. If you have a son, do the same, so he'll know what to look forward to. As always, he gets reality more perfect than reality. Here he is describing the gym scene as one of the characters embarks upon shedding his 98 pound weakling body.

"The muscular students here were merely subscribing to the new male body fashion - the stacked, ripped, buff look. They were all over the place here on the weight-lifting floor! Ordinary guys with such big arms, big shoulders, big necks, big chests, they could wear sleeveless T-shirts and strap-style I'm Buff shirts to show off in! What were they going to do with all these amazing muscles?... Nothing, that's what. They weren't going to be athletes, and they weren't going to fight anybody. It was a fashion, these muscles, just like anything else you put on your body ... cargo shorts, jeans, the preppies' pink button-down shirts and lime-green shorts, Oakley sunglasses, black rubber L.L. Bean boots with the leather tops ... whatever. Pure Fashion! nevertheless, Adam wanted in.

Look at these fucking guys checking themselves out in the mirror ... Practically every wall is a vast sheet of mirror. The cover story, you understand, is that the mirrors are here so that you can see if you're doing your exercises correctly. Pure bullshit, of course ... They're here so you can drink in and drool over the beauty of your fashionable body! Between exercises, our dense fashion plates sneak looks at themselves. They can't even wait for the next exercise. Look at that one over there ... casually straightening his arm down by his side ... so he can sneak a look at the way his trices pop out ... and that one ... he's pretending he's just stretching ... so he can make his latissimi dorsi fan out like a giant stingray ... and that one, over there ... pretending to rub his hans together at waist level ... when he's really pressing them together with all his might so he can watch the mighty pectoral muscles pop out ... Behold! The fashionable brutes! The deisels, they called them! Every thirty seconds - you can count on it - some brute-in-embryo would straighten an arm and sneak a look in the ubiquitous mirrors at his burgeoning triceps. Muscles were very much in fashion."

I am guilty of all three casual mirror flexes, but what alumni of Total Soreness is not? For the uninitiated, Total Soreness is the nickname of a gym that me and many other ex cross-country runners used in partially successful fashion to shed our own 99 pound weakling bodies (in exchange for 160 pound weakling bodies). Nestled behind a Pizza Hut in a converted garage, we swarmed upon it on summer nights to build up our muscles for ... nothing, that's what! Too perfect. The only thing Wolfe missed was the Ed Rule - a rule that is so obvious that it only required implicit rule status until one within our group broke it, at which time the rule was codified in the annals of manly abuse and named after the perpetrator. The Ed Rule is that you can never (as a guy) force your lifting partner to take the 45 pound plates off of the bar in order for you to do a set of bench presses.

While in college, I joined a local Gold's Gym with a few of my fraternity brothers. That place was far removed from Total Soreness and its Rockly-like grittiness. The Ed Rule was of course only implicit there, as Ed had never lifted there, but one rule that was actually codified - up on the wall in big black letters - was that you were only permitted to take your shirt off for flexing. The first time we read it we thought it was a joke, but it was an actual rule. The gym boasted a couple of national body building competitors who would have it no other way, as that was part of their workout, and since the equivalent Ed Rule for them is never have anything less than two 45 pound plates per side on the bench, you can bet I never made fun of the flexing rule while at the gym. That place boasted a lot of cheesey guys. There was one - a shortish mailman with male pattern baldness who would wear cycling shorts, a muscle shirt, and those black high top Reeboks that weren't nearly sturdy enough for an actual game of basketball, making you wonder why the guy needed ankle support.

My gym days now consist of doing the beach workout once a week at the Washington Sports Club close to Dupont Circle, where I work. The beach workout was fashioned at Total Soreness, and was literally performed prior to hopping in the car and heading for the Jersey Shore. Just enough to get a good pump going - some bench, some curls, a little military press, a couple dips, and then it was off to try to get served at Kiddy Liquors to ease the pain of traffic down to the shore. By the time you got there, of course, the pump had entirely worn off, but not the memory of it. I was recently heading into the locker room at my gym when there, walking out of it, was none other than George Stephanopolous. Whenever I see that guy I think about the character in the movie No Way Out who is the aid to Senator Gene Hackman - a young closeted homosexual who is completely in love with his older, rather horny, and very heterosxual boss. He is ... very small. My guess is that had he been in our circle back in our days at Total Soreness, the Ed Rule would be the George Rule.


Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

Being a former member of Total Soreness, I totally enjoyed your post, Dr. Hatch. I often called the gym "Total Hugeness" if I felt huge that day (which was just about every day!). There were a wide variety of characters in the gym during my era, with names like "Bulletproof Dave", "Skydivin' John", and the Biggest Man in the Gym, Duffin. "Nobody is as big as Duffin thinks he is," we'd tell him. "Everyone is jealous of Duffin's hugeness."

When Total Soreness moved to a new facility (Super Soreness) in July 1999, there were twice as many weights, twice as many mirrors, and twice as much parking. But one element that was lost was the "garage" aspect, the Rocky-like grittiness. And by that point, guys like the Biggest Man in the Gym were memories; nothing more than ghosts of hugeness.

By the way, regarding the Ed Rule, by any chance is Ed's real name Tom? Just wondering if it is the person I'm thinking of.

It was always amusing (but painful to watch) when guys would throw their whole bodies back & forth when they did curls, or scream while on the bench. But I live by my creed:

"There is nothing wrong with throwing up or passing out in da gym."

5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I was a 140 lb weakling, not 99 lbs...but I was cut like a diamond, and that is what it's all about.

Was Georgie doing the beach workout?

Also, you said we built up our muscles for left out a step. We built up our muscles so we could try to score chicks, which most of us could never do, and so it was that we built ourselves up for nothing---nothing that is but hopeful anticipation running into Nadine on the way out of Kiddie Liquors while pumped up for the shore.

On second thought, I think you said it better by just saying "nothing"

6:59 AM  

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