I had started exercising beyond doing fifty push-ups in the morning, because that's what you're supposed to do when you're looking for work, do lots of reps while shouting out your objectives and qualifications, so when the interviewer asks you what your greatest weakness is, you can reply: pity for mankind. Besides, living on 20 baht a day had thinned me out somewhat so I started to look like John the Baptist and exercising gave me at least 45 minutes a day where I did not feel worthless.
There is a charming outdoor gym in Chatuchak Park สวนจตุจักร that looks exactly like the sort of gym the Flinstones would have had, if the Flintstones had been set in prison, complete with barbells made from poles set in two buckets of cement at either end, lots of broken mirrors and a wrecked car you are allowed to pick up. Refreshments were just around the corner, in the form of a girl with braces mashing papaya and her cooler. She asked where I was from. I explained that I was Thai, but I grew up in the United States (not everyone in Bangkok knows this yet, only every single person I've ever talked to). I added that I had come to Thailand to learn Thai. Oh really, she said, what's this then?
She was a pretty harsh instructor: it was cute. She asked if I had come with my girlfriend. No, I said, I came here to exercise. I exercise alone.
I haven't been back to Chatuchak Park recently, because my cousin Pui was kind enough to get me a free month's membership at her gym, The California Scarface Xperience. It's not really Scarface themed, but it is a something of a theme gym and an experience.
When I told my father that I was going to the gym he took one of his noted unspoken rhetorical stances where he doesn't actually speak, but it is clear that what you are suggesting is both stupid, dangerous and certain to fail, like taking a cab or getting a haircut by yourself. He said to be careful and see that they don't rip you off. Curious about his reaction, I googled the gym and found that indeed, there were complaints about memberships in an unrelated Korean company.
Thus forearmed, I was determined to give the poor staff there nothing during my induction, which featured me standing in my socks holding on to some Hubbard E-meter which measured the amount of body fat and true grit in my system. When it came to paperwork, I managed to maintain that I had no cell phone and did not know where I lived or what email was. This is one of the few times that fact that I sound like a complete idiot in Thai and have the demeanor of a simpleton really paid off. They smiled understandingly and as they took me through the gym to orient me, stressed that none of the handles were for the mouth.
They also asked me what my fitness goals were. I said I wanted my torso to blaze like the Face of God. What about your legs? No one should live to see my legs. I'm not sure that they understood, but they smiled again and gave me over to the trainer that had a bracelet made from real barbed wire.
This first time at the gym I discovered that the lock I had wouldn't fit on the lockers, so I had to work out in my slacks. This really isn't a problem in Thailand, where people can be seen working out in track suits, suits, jeans, and the denim outfit Neil Diamond wears on the cover of “Hot August Night.”
My biggest disappointment is that I'm not the biggest guy in the gym, not nearly. Once, at midnight in the Shanghai Hilton, on a weekday, I was the biggest guy in the gym. The other people seemed tiny and confused and pinned beneath the foreign equipment. I was magnanimous: helped them up and pointed out that they were flexing on a stapler. If I could work out in a retirement home, I probably would: lord knows, it's the only time I lap anybody in the water.
No, instead, the California Scarface Experience, being a really expensive gym, has some really huge dudes in it, guys who have like Anime-style muscles, or look like they came from Street Fighter II. In fact, the guy from Fist of the North Star is here and it looks like he's benching twice my max. On the other hand, it turns out we're both about the same height.
This was kind of a revelation, as what you generally hear about the youth of Bangkok is that they are spoiled, shiftless, lazy and girly. I contrast this with what I know to be best and truest about myself, namely that I am spoiled, shiftless, girly and lazy. Yet here I am, stuck between Sagat (สกัด), Blanka and Guile, who are doing concentration curls with depleted uranium.
The music is bad. BAAAAAD. The kind of pointless techno that lays eggs in your head that hatch hours and hours later, so this insipid thing with no memorable beat or melody becomes inseparable from your precious engrams and waking thoughts, cysting throughout your ganglion to gloat: I will always be with you. When age and senility have rendered your head and empty ruin I will be its final immovable tenant. On your deathbed, I will be there. I will be the last thing you hear. WOOOT-WOOT!
Things that make good gym songs:
- Songs about being a vampire.
- Any song about the First World War and What it's Done to the Narrator of the Song.
- Slavery Work Songs, particularly those dealing with the construction of railroads.
- And song where the lyrics about how much blood there is and how it won't stop coming out.
- Bernard Herman: Psycho, Taxi Driver
- All Songs About the Devil
- Devil Music
- Songs by and about Satan
- Rap songs about Mongols and Lane Bryant Models
- The Three M's: Monarch, Mortician and Black Sabbath
I don't care for the trainers they offer, though. I work out alone. On my headphones I have Rob Zombie to spot me.
“Pussy” he says, spitting tequila on me.
I do a few more reps and he gives me a swig.
Then he goes: YEEEEEEAAAAAH! on extension.
URRRRRRRRRH! on contraction.
Then AAAAAWWWWWWWW MAAAAAAAN! on extension again.
Then there are some chainsaw sounds and Sherri Moon moaning.
"Nexus 6!" he shouts, "Get it up there, Nexus 6!" He's gone from ashing on my chest to hanging and unfinished six-pack off one side of the bar. He's dropping dead soldiers all over the place.
"Come on man, get that axe up there! Chop 'em down! Chop em all down! Come on slimeball, you rinky-dink, CELTA having piece of shit! Don't you quit on me! Don't you quit on me! Don't you quit on me! You carpetbagging, fleabagging, no iPhone having monster poop eating loser!"
I'm tapped. I tell Rob as much.
"How'd that Halloween remake of yours, do Rob?"
I like to mediate in the sauna after my workout. This was more freaky back in Chicago when I had the long hair and Mongolian mustache. In Thailand mediating is about as unusual as wearing flip-flops. In the sauna it feels a lot like sitting in the sun, on a very sunny day. Then the sun gets much, much closer. I feel like a dripping statue, my cupped hands fill up with sweat. People talk about how hot it is and decide to go to Sizzler. I let all such phenomena go and sit and concentrate on my breath, which becomes tricky as my nose starts to burn with each inhale, like the shuttle on re-entry. All this time I have a familiar sly beatific smile, right up until the moment I snatch up my key and shoot across the room like butter on a hot skillet to the showers.
The shower room is vast and spectacularly lit. It's like an automobile showroom. There's a chandelier. The circular floor rotates and takes one past different nozzles. This is one's moment of victory, where one celebrates one's body. Between the many mirror on the walls there are also flat screen LCDs showing clips of shower and muscle scenes: Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, Christian Bale in American Psycho, as well as Conan the Barbarian and Al Pacino's counterattack from Scarface.
This is a critical moment, because sometimes at this point I feel like I am not ripped enough. I feel small and vulnerable among these titians, grunting, posing and shaving by just using their fingernails. I feel I want to cry and hide, but I know I can't. Sometimes I have to go run back into the gym and do a few more sets, but the truth is that I'm tapped; so I get caught in a cycle going back and forth from the gym to the showers sometimes until the place closes.
Christmas in Bangkok is a fine time to go the gym. Most of the equipment is red and white anyway. Being a very expensive and theme driven place, the design staff have done a nice job of decorating the place for Christmas, wrapping the weights in paper, and the bars in tinsel. The dumbells are hidden under a little drift of fake snow. I have a creatine egg nog smoothie at the bar and a monohydrate martini. I get offered some sort of free shooter. I'm not sure if it's alcoholic or not, but it's holiday green and tastes like Red Bull and ground Centrum. The bells on the barbells tinkle as I cheat out some reps.
They also have a “Fitness Santa” You can sit on his knee and tell him whether or not you made your fitness goals and what your goals are for the future. Then Fitness Santa explains that it's up to you and not him to make these goals come true and either punches you in the stomach or tweaks your bicep. Then he gives you a Cliff Bar.
It's not that unusual that Santa is here, since the California Scarface Xperience is run a lot like a theme park. That's why it's an "experience." Sometimes there are even trainers in plush character suits to meet and greet you, but they're really for the kids. I've only met the Ab Crab, but that's because we tend to work the same machines, over by the wall-sized poster of Yukio Mishima. I try not to get in the way of Sharky the kick boxer. That guy is ripped.
For going to the gym on Christmas is really the ultimate in nihilism. It is Christmas from the Angry Naked Way. You know that Santa isn't real. It doesn't even really matter if you've been bad or good. This is real, it says. You don't want promises, you don't want wishes. You know you don't deserve anything that you can't carve out of space and time with your fingers inserted into the busted gouged sockets of the face of existence. This is how Conan prays to Crom: grant me revenge or to hell with you. You'll have that milkshake when you're good and dead. Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.