Ah, to go where the beautiful people go

I’ve recently returned from working in a conflict zone for the past two years. This is the first in a series of posts about how the heck I’m supposed to live in America now….I’m generally befuddled.

There’s not a whole lot to do at night when you live in an aluminum container converted into living quarters. You can take a shower, brush your teeth, surf the ‘net occasionally when the link is up, and watch your dvds of Buffy the Vampire Slayer over and over again. Then you’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities. So to stave off boredom and to relieve a certain amount of job stress, I actually developed a good habit, which frankly surprises me and is somewhat out of character. Anyways, extreme conditions call for extreme actions, so I started exercising. Nothing too intense, but I would walk around the track surrounding our compound for about an hour every night. I’m quite sure that the guards snickered when I was passing and were taking bets about when I’d give up, but I just cranked up the Metallica and chose not to care. Here’s the surprising part, which I’m sure some people have discovered, it feels good to exercise. See, there are these things called endorphins and they make you feel groovy. Also, and this is shocking, exercise leads to weight loss, decrease in stress, and general heart health. I felt like a genius–in on a little secret that only a few people know…the beautiful people.

The beautiful people are not like us. They go to gyms, they wear clothes that weren’t bought on the out-of-style sale rack, and they shop at Whole Foods. They eat fancy cheese and organic vegetables. They breed and make more beautiful people. Those extremely small beautiful people get their clothes at Gymboree–all of them, not just Easter dresses. They live in perfectly remodeled craftsman houses. They recycle. They say they vote for democrats, but secretly they vote for republicans. They vacation in east asia. They’ve never been to a Cracker Barrel, in fact, they’ve never been on road trips. They don’t sweat. You get the idea.

I’m not one of the beautiful people. My idea of an exciting evening out is a trip to Target. I love strolling up and down the aisles, picking out Target music collector CDs, buying cheap towels, and topping it off with a trip to the vintage candy aisle. My idea of an evening in is laying on the couch in ripped pajamas and watching the dvd extras on Lord of the Rings. I don’t live in a craftsman house, I usually don’t recycle (gasp!) and I don’t go to the gym. I really, really don’t go to the gym. That is the kind of humiliation I don’t need in my life, or rather that I didn’t need in my life. But now I have problem, I have this groovy new habit, and a bit of an endorphin addiction. I’ve lost some weight, and am generally pretty proud of myself. I actually want to continue this new habit, and frankly, in my suburban neighborhood, the gym in the best option.

So I swallowed my pride, pasted a smile on my face, walked in the front door, and asked for a sales person. Much to my chagrin, they sent me to, well, let’s call him
“Joe.” Joe is 18, and just a teeny bit socially awkward. Here’s a snapshot of how it went. Him: “So I’m just going to ask you some questions.” Me: “Okay.” Him: “How much do you weigh? Sorry. They make me ask that. If I don’t ask, they’ll fire me.” Me: “xxx” (seriously, did you think I was going to type that number in on a blog for real!). Him: “Um, okay. So, um, where do you think you gain weight the most, I mean, like where does fat collect on your body. I’m sorry. They make me ask that. If I don’t ask, I’ll get in trouble. ” Me: “I guess my hips.” Him (turning a computer screen towards me): “So do you think this is pretty much what you look like with a bathing suit on? Sorry, they make me ask that.” Me: Holy crap, is this really happening! “Yeah, um I guess.” Him: “So, I’m almost done, I’m really sorry, but I have to do this. So, this chart is of your risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, blood clots, brain tumors, shark attacks, lightning strikes, and spontaneous cerebral hemmorhage.” Okay, I made those last few up, but seriously, according to the gym, I’m about to die. Me: “ummm, okay.” Him: “So, if you join the gym, this green line shows where your risk we’ll be after exercising.” The green line magically shrinks to almost zero, and I am promised eternal youth. Me: “ummm, okay.” Him: “So, do you want to join the gym?” Me: “Yep, that’s why I’m here.” Good golly, why else would I be here Joe? Him: “Sorry, they make me do this. I’m going to sign you up for a free personal training session. They’ll do some exercises, but basically they’ll try to sell you on more personal training sessions. Sorry, they make me do this.”

So, I am finally referred to the kind of person I expected to meet at the gym. A beautiful person. A perfectly-coiffed, buffer-than-belief, brand-name-sports-clothes-wearing beautiful person. Let’s call him “Blaine.” I swear, Blaine took one look at me and let out a little sigh. Clearly, we were not going to be gym buddies. Blaine started asking me a very familiar series of questions, and did not apologize for it. How much do you weigh? Where do you gain weight? etc. etc. etc. Then, Blaine designed an exercise regime for me. Apparently, to stave off certain death, I need to have a personal trainer three times a week, and the grand total will be? About the same as my monthly mortgage payment. I am not kidding. “Blaine,” I said “There is no way I’m signing up for personal training. That is way too expensive. Sorry, that is just the truth.” But certain death? Don’t you care about certain death? “Blaine, no personal training.” Then we did some squats, and I can’t move today as a result. Blaine got his revenge.

So I went to the gym on my own tonight after work. No trainer, just me and the treadmill. Here was a sample of my inner monologue.

Wow, I’m cool. I’m at the gym, listening to the ipod. Proudly moving among the beautiful people.
I’m hungry.
I’m really, really hungry. I should have eaten something.
I think this treadmill is moving faster than I walked around the track.
I think it is moving so much faster, I only have to do half an hour to get the same results.
Yay! Ricky Martin! I love my ipod.
It’s my first time. I’ll just do half an hour.
Oh, my gosh, I’m hungry, I feel faint.
I wonder if people will notice, if I put my t.v. screen on the news.
And when I say news, I mean the E! channel Daily 10.
I’m so hungry! I don’t think I can move anymore…I’ll just put the treadmill on a little slower.
Does time move slower in the gym?
I am going to die from hunger! I am going to die in front of the beautiful people.
Ashlee Simpson got a nose job? It’s hard to tell with the sound off.
I’m so hungry.
Three more minutes. Put on more Ricky Martin, I’m not going to make it.
I’m done! I’m so cool, I worked out at the gym!

So. Clearly I have some work to do. I’ll mix it up tomorrow, try to break up my grueling 30 minutes and up my time a bit. I have a plan. I just may be getting a little more beautiful. Oh, and by the way, I shopped at Whole Foods this weekend. Bought me some cheese. God Bless America.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    She’s back! And better than ever! Great to read you again Karen, and welcome back.

    PS to say Ashlee got a nose job is a bit of an understatement. She got a face job.

  2. To hell with the beautiful people.

    Karen, it’s good to e-see you around again. If you ever want to go to Cracker Barrel, it’s on me. Their fried okra is delicious.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Karen lives! Welcome back to civilization. Awesome post. You’s already beautiful people to me.

  4. Thanks Steve. You are, as ever, my pop culture guru. Mark, it’s a date. I’m an okra fan!

  5. Karen, I just recently watched the extras on the Two Towers dvds. It was awesome.

    Welcome back! And where are you?

    I recently began exercising as well. I’m just up to jogging for 25 minutes. My main goal is to still be exercising two years from now and to keep increasing what I’m doing at a slow but consistent rate.

    I could stand to lose a lot of weight.

    All of this is just my way of saying – don’t stress it too much.

  6. lol. Karen I love your writing!

    > Ashlee Simpson got a nose job? It’s hard to tell with the sound off.

    The Daily Show did a funny bit the other day about what it must be like for people whose entire news/world events diet consists of TVs at the gym with the sound off. linky

  7. Hey Karen! I used to exercise when I lived on a really small compound in the middle east and there was nothing to do. The minute I joined a gym, I stopped going and gained weight! :-) Welcome back to the land of overload! (And I know you’ll be a stellar gym-goer!)

  8. What kind of cheese?

  9. What is it about the overseas posts and exercise? I’m finishing up several weeks in a certain country that is teetering on the edge of the abyss. My one trip out of the capital was cancelled yesterday due to an attack on a US government vehicle. As a result, we’re in pretty much lock down mode. So what do you do? You work insane hours and work out. There’s really not many other options. I’ve enjoyed hitting the gym but this lifestyle seems very dangerous from a mental health perspective.

    So, Karen, best of luck with the gym membership but make sure you are taking steps to recover psychologically from your time in a hot zone. And thank you for making that sacrifice. The US sends more than just soldiers out there to serve in harm’s way.

  10. If you want to go to a gym for real people, you should try Curves. I really like it–at first it seemed cheesy to me, but I feel very comfortable there. Except that I just moved and my new one is run by a very outgoing evangelical lady who makes me a little nervous. Anyways, enjoy your cheese. I kind of like some stuff from Whole Foods, but a lot of it is a rip off…

  11. Aaron Brown says:

    Karen, good to see you around these parts again! I hope you’ll have lots of exciting Afghan stories for us.


  12. Is this gym part of a national chain? And if so, you are hereby duty bound to reveal its name.

    Seriously, I always hate joining a gym because of the hard sell and orientation they give you, but nothing in my experience compares with being greeted by a query on your body weight.

  13. You’ve always been one of my favorite bloggers. Hope to read more.

    I hate gyms too, but now I go to one. It’s better than no exercise. And I don’t want all those machines at my house. I just don’t get the girls wearing full make-up and jewelry at the gym. Jewelry? Obvioulsy not there to workout, and why in the world would they really want one of the gross guys (who is about to fall off his treadmill while he gauks at the girl doing pelvic lifts) hit on them is beyond me!

  14. Karen, So lovely to hear from you again. You are hilarious! I wish we lived close enough to be gym buddies.

  15. Time does in fact move slower at the gym.

    I would have punched the skinny kid in the nose for asking my weight. Ditto Blaine.

    You are beautiful people to me, Karen.

  16. jonahtrainer says:

    Great post.

    Too bad you did not make the connection between the beautiful and healthy people also being the wealthiest. According to the economist Dr. Pilzer the single largest most important factor in determining economic status is ‘healthiness’ based on the height-weight ratios. It has a higher correlation than zip code, race, etc. Maybe that is why they get their expensive green rabbit food and share it with their personal trainer.

  17. jonahtrainer,

    Are you saying that healthiness = wealthiness? It seems that it is easier to eat healthy and join said clubs because of the better economic status, no?

  18. Great. Post.

    And I have often worried about dying around the beautiful people — that one of the swimmers with the body of Adonis scowling from under his goggles would just push my bloated corpse into the lane where the old ladies walk in place.

  19. Peter LLC says:

    Antonio Maria Costa just reported that opium production is down 6%. That’s gotta make life in a container worthwhile.

  20. cj douglass says:

    Karen, Not all exercise cost money….and not all people who exercise are beautiful….but I guess nuance isn’t that funny. :)

  21. This post is fantastic. You’re very funny. But you know that.

    The only way I survive the gym is by ignoring pretty much everyone there. I don’t try to be nice, no smiling, no friendly chit chat, I just go and do my thing. Otherwise I think that the beautiful people suck away your life force and maybe blood (It’s one of their beauty secrets). It’s no good to be nice to them, it just encourages them.

    Also, though this will reveal you as a terribly white person sometimes it’s fun to workout to NPR shows. They’ll last like 40 minutes and are interesting to listen to when Ricky stops helping you live la vida loca. I like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

  22. I belong to the YMCA. Perfect for me, it’s like a used car lot, canes and walkers welcome! I *was* a beautiful people; I jogged and pushed weights for years. Now , I feel I am paying the price for pushing too hard. (But I *did* look good).
    I would like a survey of 80 year olds, still in good shape: who worked out , and who just lived a life?

  23. Awww, thanks all. It’s like you’re my own little cheer section.

    Rusty: Tetilla, Gorgonzola, Special Reserve Gruyere. The Tetilla is fabulous. Have yet to try the other two.

    Danithew, back home in the D.C. area. You go!

    Warno, thanks. Everyone says that you need to psychologically recover coming out of a hot zone, and frankly, I just don’t know what that means, other than weathering the inevitable moods, etc. It’s kind of an interesting idea that there are such a huge number of civilians in both Baghdad and Kabul. I just don’t think that’s a story that many know about.

    Katie, I’ll never tell….

  24. John Hamer says:

    Karen: I hate the gym. It bores me to death. That’s why I’m trying to move to a city that forces me out of the car and into a lifestyle where I have to walk around and be active.

    Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see you this weekend. That’s right, folks — we’re goin’ to DC to hang out with Karen. Gonna be blogtastic.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    John, you have a great time in D.C. — try not to let Karen snooker you into remaking any Star Trek episodes.

  26. John Hamer says:

    But Karen is my Carol Marcus, my Miramanee, my Edith Keeler…we…have…to…remake…Star Trek episodes.

  27. Great post, Karen – and comment #18 . . . what can I say other than I understand.

    “Blaine got his revenge.” I can’t stop chuckling at that line.

  28. Welcome back, Karen!!! I had wondered where you had disappeared to. Good to have you back safe and sound.

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