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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Solace of the Y

I know I'm not alone when I say I always hated gym class. Back in grade school, the sense of dread it inspired in me felt like a unique and solitary thing, but as an adult I've since heard enough tales of gym class horror to realize my feelings were all too common.

It wasn't so much the humiliation of being chosen late (never quite last, but always close) for teams, not being able to hit/catch/spike the ball, failing to execute the requisite number of sit-ups for the annual President's Test or whatever that thing was called, although all that was miserable. I think most of all I just hated having to change out of my school clothes in the middle of the day. It felt wrong. And then the standing around with one's classmates in cheap gym uniform shorts and t-shirts, our unnaturally bare legs chilly in the big quiet gymnasium. And then running around and getting sweaty and tired in the middle of the school day, and putting the school clothes back on again, without showers, and with all of five minutes to get changed.

We only had "P.E." ("Don't call it Gym!" the teacher would insist. Why? Why did that mean so much to her? Couldn't she handle it?) a few times a week, so I was always in peril of forgetting my locker combination. I still have a recurring nightmare that I'm standing in front of my little beige gym locker and have no idea how to open it.

Things got a little better in college when I tried some sports and realized I wasn't quite as hopeless as I'd always believed (as long as no catching or throwing was involved). I had just been a prisoner of my own self-imposed, uncoordinated identity! I sometimes feel incredulous that I am that same P.E.-loathing girl, when I now go to the local gym by choice (though perhaps not that often), and pay money for the privilege to do so.

My current gym, the Cambridge YMCA, makes all the difference. There are no beautiful people at the Cambridge Y. There is no strutting, no competition, no "I would choose you last in basketball" vibe. This differentiates it from the tormented childhood gym experience, though ironically, it feels a lot like a school gym. It is, after all, a little smelly, a little worn. Maybe this helps give one a feeling of playing out past wrongs and making them right.

Among my Y-going friends, I like to call it the Wes Anderson Y (if Wes Anderson filmed in Cambridge). I find this makes the shabbiness of the facility much easier to bear, or even enjoy.

The lobby of the building has a run-down grandeur, with a stairway to the Y's own theater as you walk in. Very Royal Tenenbaums.

Down the hall a large paper dinosaur is displayed prominently on the wall. This would be a Max Fischer project, I like to think.

To get to the gym, we go underground. It's all subterranean. You hear the subway roar by periodically as you're getting changed in the locker room. From here on out, it's "The Life Aquatic." You might as well be running around in a giant submarine. It's all too easy to get lost. The lockers and fixtures are vintage '70s, with lots of beige paint. Through a a hallway window, you peer into the dreamy blue of the swimming pool, festooned with bright pennants and old-time orange life jackets.

Nope, you're not dreaming! Here are old photos of SCUBA lessons to prove the connection.

I'm not sure how these guys fit in, I just like them. Maybe we can relate them somehow to Chaz Tenenbaum and his sons in their matching track suits.

There's an indoor track at the Y, suspended above "The Small Gym" balcony-style, giving that room an incongruently elegant dance-hall ambiance. Ari and Uzi could go running there!


At 1/04/2006 4:04 PM, Anonymous chessie said...


At 1/09/2006 4:09 PM, Blogger Brian P said...

Cue the Mark Mothersbaugh score! Between this and other posts, your blog is making a good case for Wes Anderson to film his next movie in the Boston area.


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