“I’ve been looking for a gym.”
I only offered it merely as fodder for conversation, not a plea for attention. Yet, despite the halfhearted way which I said it, the table erupted with a cavalcade of prescriptions. The men and women around me, flamboyant extroverts due to their professions or their professions due to it, have cycled around to the conversational cul-de-sac of diet and exercise. This is, of course, to be expected from Hollywood career managers, who tend to revel in the most superficial of human appeal. Although, their jobs may subsist on playing to the baser elements of popular culture, it is impressive how quickly they can deliver their expert opinions to their fellow citizens, like a doctor called to service on an airplane.
“Dude, two words… Cross fit.” Blaine said, his voluminous counsel bouncing off the walls of the bistro.
“P90X!” Ben advised. “Did it a couple years ago. Was back in business in no time!”
Julie chimed in, “Do you do any cardio?”
It’s stunning how such simple question could evoke such an assortment of shame and fixated self-reflection. To be truthful, I haven’t been doing much of anything. I guess on an occupational level, I’ve been productive. My work has picked up recently. The agency is dispensing high-profile clientele toward my desk. Are you familiar with Richard Harmon? Well, you will be. But beyond work and visiting the uninteresting venues of L.A. nightlife with my old college buddies, I’m pretty sedate. In fact, I’m often overcome with solid walls of weariness around 2:45 and again when I’m caught in the endless traffic on my evening commute. When I do arrive home, depleted from the day’s activities, I’m greeted by my bedroom mirror, dutifully revealing my flabby, uninteresting, shapeless body. How could my arms seem so skeletal, while I simultaneously develop a very employable set of love handles? Why do my Pecs slouch like that? Is it because they’re sad? Is this why L.A. nightlife seems so uninteresting? Is this why my romantic life is near to nonexistent?
I tell Julie that I don’t do any cardio and that I probably need to.
“Oh, it makes all the difference in the world.” She testifies. “I used to get groggy all day but now that I’m hitting spin class regularly, I feel like I could go on all day.”
I notice that Dan has reared himself to offer his charming brand of sage advice.
“I was totally in your shoes.” He says companionably, “I tried different gyms. I could never really get into the habit. It was just a cash drain. But about a year ago I tried this gym, not too far from the office.”
“Oh, this place…” Julie chuckles.
“Yeah… Quantum Fitness.”
I shake my head to indicate that the name doesn’t register.
“It was written up all over the place about a year ago. You’ve seen the place. Down a couple blocks toward 31st?”
“I never walk that way.” I respond.
“Oh, that’s right… You drive.” Dan recalls as an older brother would. “Well, it’s a new place. Only opened recently. It’s totally innovative. I can’t stop going.”
The whole table snickers in amusement with my ignorance.
“Yeah…” Dan responds evenly. “Just run by there and tell me what you think of it. I’m just surprised you haven’t heard of it.”
“I couldn’t go there.” Shot Julie from across the table. “I would just get depressed.”
I approach the front desk and ask for a tour. The gym dwells on the 3rd and 4th floors of a high-rise which faces Atlantic Ave. When I stepped off the elevator, I was greeted by a gang of sweaty, palestrato-types, getting on board. After I dweebishly curtailed their path, I met eyes with the perky customer service rep. I asked her if I could take a look around.
After an excavation back in the office, she emerged with a personal trainer, Cody. This guy was dangerously close to possessing frosted tips.
“Hey, man! You wanna take a look around?” He came out from behind the desk, maneuvering around the ferns that adorned the reception area and shook my hand.
“You lookin’ for a gym?”
I explained to him my new-found personal quest for physical health and aptitude.
“Well bro, if you wanna get motivated, then this is where you need to be.” This guy is a huge smile talker. “Lemme show you around.”
I follow on his left flank as we pass through the hallway that extends to the actual gym floor. This place has the highest ceilings, like a temple to Hercules. My guide shifts his shoulders like oars as he walks.
“So, tell me my man, what interests you? Are you trying to get more cardio in your life? Looking to burn some calories? Pack on some muscle?”
“A little of everything, I guess.”
“Well, the beauty of Quantum Fitness,” he turns to tell me, “is that we inform your work out goals like no other gym on the planet.”
“What do you mean?” I say sheepishly.
“Well, you’re probably aware of our break-through in Q.P.A. software.”
“Q.P.A.?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he responds unassumingly, “I don’t really understand this stuff myself… but… You haven’t heard about Oracle?”
Again I confess my ignorance. Cody goes on to explain that the owner of this small chain of gyms is related to a genius physicist and computer programmer and just recently that guy completed his monument achievement; a computer that can predict the future.
“Yeah, man. They’re really sure that this thing works better than anything they have come up with. Problem is that the government isn’t sure how or if citizens should use this software. So it’s pretty tightly regulated. But, our gym is the first business to use this tech.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I gape.
“Dude, come check it out.”
My t-shirt duded guide leads me over to a row of elliptical bikes.
“Here, let me show you.” He says mounting the machine.
I look over at the other gymnasts, pumping their legs away on the bikes, exhausted, with anxious, terrified looks on their faces as they stare into the monitors before them. Cody points out the blank screen that sits on top of his bike.
“So, all the equipment in the gym has a screen mounted within eye shot of the user.” He says. “This screen is connected to the gym’s computers. Those computers talk to a another big computer that keeps a massive amount of data on each gym member. We give people a big survey when they sign-up. The software takes everything it’s learned about you and based on that it makes a projection. It’ll show you what your life will be like if you don’t work-out.”
All of this sounds like garbage, but then he starts pumping his legs. The screen comes to life. It begins to chirp, displaying data about Cody, his weight, his blood pressure, his body-mass index. And then it throws to what seems like a movie with Cody in it, only Cody seems shluby and depressed. The movie shows him sitting on his couch, watching some weird future version of Jersey Shore, eating Cheetos, and wistfully swiping at pictures of his ex-girlfriend on his cell phone.
“Wait, so the computer is doing this?” I ask.
Cody turns around to meet my mystified gaze. “Yeah, man.”
The carbon copy of my sign-up sheet lay on the passenger seat. The radio whirs as I stare into the middle distance between myself and the asphalt.
I arrive at the gym for my first workout session, donning my brand new pair of red Adidas weigh training shoes. As I stride along natural-like, seeking to buoy come semblance of cool confidence, I can’t help but notice the monitors that shine above my fellow gym goers; the Q.P.A. percolating through possible destinies and selecting the worst of all possible outcomes. It feels rude to stare, but I suppose that there really isn’t any established etiquette on looking at stranger’s made up futures. Does anyone really buy this? Do any of these denizens really feel like they are getting a glimpse into a real outcome?
I glance at a screen in front of a woman on a cross-trainer. The images were severe, grotesque. The woman saw a future version of herself, sitting on a stool placed before a counter top inside an empty and undecorated home, pouring Jack Daniels into a bowl of Cookie Crisp Cereal while yelling at her cats. I can’t tell if the lady is perspiring from the workout or from sheer anxiety.
As I make my way over to the treadmill, I spot a man performing weighted squats while staring at another monitor. Like a funhouse mirror, it warped him into a flabby, uninteresting, stay at home dad. He winces in agony as he stares at his disproportionate doppelganger picking up his son from soccer practice while making a phone call to his elderly mother. No man of his constitution should ever have to see something like this.
While I pile on to the treadmill that I selected, which resides closest to the ceiling fan, I peak over at my neighbor’s glimmering screen. Holding a brisk pace, he gazes on at his worst possible nightmare, couple’s counseling. Through closed captioning I read that his wife feels that he seems emotionally detached and single-mindedly focused on one thing; watching cute animal videos on YouTube. By stolidly running toward better physical fitness , he runs away from myriad puppies and ducklings befriending one another.
I punch in the settings on my machine. I begin a light jog. The screen displays my proportions and heart rate. Then I read the words; loading personal projections. I try to act unnerved. Keep cool. How bad could it be? Don’t make a deal out of it. Don’t dignify this thing with a reaction. I hold my breath for moment.
Grey, gloomy skies. I see a city in the distance, crumbled, in wreckage. Empty, flat, barren earth fills the screen. Not a man, a woman, an animal or a single plant inhabits the landscape. It is simply bare. I notice a Toyota Corolla in the middle of nowhere, eaten by rust and erosion. One of those iconic cow skulls lay flat near the foreground. It took me a second to put together what I was seeing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the apocalypse.
The resident Q.P.A. technician turns his gaze from the treadmill’s display to meet me. With a mixture of boredom and frustration I stood there, waiting for his explanation. He had opened up the outer shell of the treadmill’s anterior spine with a key and messed with the equipment inside. I guess that was the computer. After running diagnostics and seeking to hold my attention while regaling me with his storied career, he finally turned and shrugged at me.
“Everything looks fine. I don’t know why it would project that.” He paused. “Would you mind trying out another machine for me?”
He follows me over to the elliptical bikes. I straddle the seat and he turns the machine on for me, punching in all the settings. As I pump away on low resistance, the computer generates it’s projections. And once again I greet the apocalypse, the scorched and tattered remains of our planet, with a dismayed complexion.
“What the—“ The technician dramatically removes his glasses. “I’ve never seen it do anything like this.”
I stop spinning.
“If you stick around we’ll get this all sorted out.” He assures me.
“No, it’s fine.” I say, “I’ve actually gotta go…”
“Sir…” He interrupts. “If you have any time we would really appreciate it if you could wait for us to resolve this.”
From the manager’s office I stare out the window onto the gym floor. I see a woman step off a stair master. She pulls the crook of her arm to her eyes. She’s sobbing. I look towards the stair master and see the rough outline of a tombstone. At that moment, the manager saunters into the office.
“You don’t actually believe in this stuff, right? Isn’t it just a gimmick?” I ask.
He walks over to his desk, processing the question.
“Is it a gimmick?” He pauses. “All I know is that if hundreds and hundreds of quantum physicist say it’s true, who am I to say it isn’t.”
I don’t really want to get into this. At this point, I just want to go home and eat the rest of that barbecue from that function on Monday.
“I actually have to get going.” I whimper.
“I’m very sorry for all this. We’re gonna give you a free membership. We, uh… This is unorthodox to say, but… we really need you to keep coming.”
“Yeah, I might keep…”
“Sir,” He cuts me off. “If the technician is right and if this gets verified by Oracle, then we feel like you should keep coming to this gym.”
“Wait…” I respond baffled. “You don’t actually think I could cause the apocalypse, right?”
“Have you ever seen The Butterfly Effect?” He says.
“Oh, come on!” I exclaim.
“No seriously, man!” He says. “They think that this could actually happen. I mean, your right, it is a little absurd to imagine that if you don’t get in shape that the world is going to end but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And if it could be true, then you have to do it.”
I can’t believe that he’s saying this. He hands me a free pass.
“We’ll call you when we know more. But, seriously man, not that I totally believe in this Q.P.A. stuff, it’s just that you have used our systems. And now that you’ve used our systems, you have a responsibility for what you do about that.”
I guess I understand what he means.
Again, I attempt to begin my fitness routine for the first time. I head into the complex with a bottle of water and energy bars at the ready in my backpack. I still don’t really believe that these computers are truly prophetic. I just want to get in shape. But, I do like the idea that I am lifting, pulling, stretching. pushing, curling, squatting, flexing and crunching, not just for me, but for all of humanity. I am not a merely a self-conscious, insecure man, I am a hero. Perhaps, I’m not a hero in the way that doctors and firemen are. They get all the money and attention and respect from the public. I am anonymous. I am utterly altruistic. I sweep my gaze across the gym. They don’t even know that I am saving their lives. Perhaps, even their children’s lives. I am sending that guy’s daughter to college and he doesn’t even thank me. That’s okay. I don’t need it.
I already have a cramp and I haven’t even done a quarter mile.
A couple weeks go by. I get another message from the gym’s manager. He sounds irritated this time. He says that I need to come back in to his office to speak with him about my membership and that I should contact him immediately.
Another week goes by. I’m swarmed with texts, e-mails and phone calls alarming me to updates that must be performed to my membership. I know what they want. They’re trying to gracefully coax me back in there. I was just in on Wednesday! I did bench presses and chin ups for the first time in years! Besides, I’m going to do some aerobics at home tonight. Probably. I’ll do it while I watch something on Netflix.
I just got another message:
Please check in to our customer service desk at your nearest location to update your account.
Your friends at Quantum Fitness
This just seems condescending. Who are they to tell me how I manage my health? I know my own body. I’ve done all my own research. You shouldn’t over do this heavy training stuff, you’ll get burnt out too quickly.
Besides, diet is more important than exercise and I am totally figuring that stuff out. I bought a huge bag of yam fries at Whole Foods. I’m eating Salads again. I’m using my vita-mix blender. If only that meat-head manager could see the smoothie I made this morning. I am totally saving the world!
After another two weeks I get a voice message. It’s the technician guy from the gym. He says that the Oracle computing company has checked the predictive algorithms carefully and that they feel certain that the computer is functioning as it should. He mentions that my gym attendance has dropped off from five times on my first two weeks to three times the last two weeks to only once this week. He mentions that it’s important that I think about the service that they provide.
I didn’t hear the rest of the message. I promptly deleted it.
I am totally going to head to gym, right after I finish watching this episode of Friends. I just need a minute to decompress.
It’s been five weeks since I last returned to the gym. I’ve grown tired of this self-produced lethargy. I’ve aloud myself to be a procrastinator for too long. Today is the day I return. Not for the future, but for me. Right now. I grab my keys and head for my car. My phone notifies me to an incoming storm system but I can’t let things like this forestall me any longer. I step outside, take three steps toward my car and then feel the first drop fall from the sky. The second. The third. The large drops begin to run down my face. After I reach up to rub my forehead dry, I absent mindedly look at my wet hand. A deep horror sets in. My hand is smeared with blood. I turn my face towards the sky. The storm has arrived.
The world is ending. Fire and brimstone hail down from the sky. Earthquakes eviscerate towns and cities. Typhoons swallow the coast line. Tornadoes tear into neighborhoods and government buildings. Monsters roam the streets and country side, breathing fire unto unsuspecting victims. Genetically modified crops and vegetables use their vines and branches to choke livestock and disappointed farmers. Robots feel human emotion and start committing road rage. Aliens enslave humans and wonder why we didn’t just colonize all the exoplanets that are just lying around out there. All felines realize that the time has come and they attack the pentagon, climbing in from inside the walls and crawling in through the vents. Bigfoot appears and tries to save an orphanage but to no avail. A wooden beam falls on him. And finally and at long last, the Globe Warms. It warms and warms so much that the polar ice caps meltly. They get all over the place.