Sitting in my old jeep in a brightly paved parking lot outside a boxing gym located in a new, brick-and-glass storefront building – one of many, mostly-empty storefronts – within a large, postage stamp of a shopping center that has squatted down recently south of town.
Just spent an hour, along with fifteen other novices, wildly hitting and kicking heavyweight punching bags, like giant, black sausages, hanging from the gym’s ceiling. For sixty minutes our trainer had us torture the black, 250-pound, canvas bags, which bounced and glistened with our sweat, reflected over and over along the mirrored-walls.
Our trainer, a tall, thin, black man named Albert, is intent on breaking us. Albert has no love for the amateurs in the class, especially me. I am the oldest participant and I feel his eyes watching me when I enter the gym and his irritation that I am not ready when the class begins, that I have to change out of my dress pants, shirt, and tie before I can wrap the protective tape around my hands and join the others in warm-ups.
Today, during class, for the two-hundredth time, he has had to jerk me into place, showing me how to stand as a southpaw boxer – I am left-handed much to my confusion and his dismay. Plus Albert wants me to throw my punches like I mean it – with my entire torso and not just fling my wrists at the bag – and, he says, I need to listen to him and learn to kick before I pop the veins on the top of my foot, or worse, break a toe.
I am starting to have my doubts about Albert. I stare at my knuckles; they are red, swollen, and sore. I have large black and blue welts up and down my shins. The pads of my feet are killing me, and I have discovered at my age, I can’t squat, I can’t extend my legs to the side in either direction, and I can’t lift my foot higher than a small crumbling curb on a desolate corner.
I’ve decided. I’ve got to kill Albert.
Why I am buying into this abuse? I guess, nearly two years into this exercise thing, I am no longer Pudge Man, known for my willingness to indulge in all manner of alcoholic and caloric debauchery, but now the newer, slimmed-down, clear-eyed, detoxified version of the notorious me. Indeed, I am the Seven-T’s Man – a Torrid Terminator Totally Training to Triumph over my Tubular Travails.
Seven-T’s me has established a weeklong exercise routine consisting of aerobics classes at the Health and Fitness Center, running on my own preparing for a half-marathon, and now, for fun, joining the new boxing gym next to Denny’s and Dunkin’ Donut, where Albert supposedly is teaching me and the others kickboxing.
I know from how Albert stares out the large plate-glass windows before class, he doesn’t like it here and he doesn’t like me. He’s old school and out of place in the suburbs. He doesn’t even like the word “kickboxing.” He prefers “street fighting,” where anything goes.
For me, “kickboxing,” is misleading too, especially when I can’t punch with power or lift my foot high and wide enough to kick the bag without losing my balance. Still, I no longer can worry about mangling unsuspecting muggers.
I must protect myself before Albert kills me…
Albert’s mission in life, I have decided, is to destroy anyone in his path, I mean, class, everyone who has a smidgeon of weakness.
Albert is hard-as-nails. With short peppery hair and a stone-face countenance, he appears to have weathered a few bouts and damaged a few cells. Wearing gray slacks, sweatshirt, long white socks and old sneakers, he comes across as the ultimate drill instructor. He is deliberate in his movement and when he shows me his kick, it lands with a devastatingly loud crack against the bag, as he watches himself in the mirrors on the surrounding walls.
To Albert, “age,” along with “out-of-shape” and “over-weight,” is simply an “in” into your psyche, an advantage to be exploited over sixty minutes.
Albert, it says in the brochure, is the gym’s boxing instructor. It doesn’t say tormentor but, in class, his focus is on technique, and we repeat them over and over. If we do a ’round house’ kick into the bag, it’s not once, but it’s for twenty repetitions, and it’s not just the twenty reps we do thumping our swollen legs into the bag, but the twenty reps repeated five times.
“Again,” he mumbles.
Albert is not loud or verbal; he simply, almost silently, grunts and everyone listens.
Maybe it’s the rap music reverberating throughout the gym, or the sounds coming from other corners of the facility, where boxers are sparing in a ring or lifting in the free weights area, or maybe it’s the same twenty or so kids I thought were crazy back when I was growing up, learning jujitsu all over again on the matted floor. Needless to say, I can’t hear shit from the noise and I don’t know “grunt” from “goobly gook,” so, wide-eyed, I watch Albert, whether on the bag or on the floor, to determine what he wants us to do before he grunts something else.
I’ve learned in calisthenics, Albert’s “ehh,” stands for ‘knees – for running in place five minutes lifting your knees as high as possible; “ehh” also stands for three minutes of ‘burpees,’ – jumping down on the floor, doing a push-up, then jumping back up. “ehh” can stand for endless jumping jacks, squats, men’s push-ups (god forbid anyone would do a woman’s push-up), sit-ups and leg-lifts too. Sometimes Albert’s “ehh” takes on complexity, such as, ‘what’s wrong with you people?’ But Albert’s most effective and devastating “ehh,” is when he uses it with a toss of his hand to mean “again… and again… and again…”
Tonight I couldn’t do the hundreds of repetitions. Albert came over afterwards and mumbled, “No napping in my class.”
Sitting in my jeep. Forget the Seven-Ts. It’s down to this.
I am burned out, worn out, thread bare, and feel my nineties approaching.
Albert, you crazy, mother-fucking relic. I’ll kill your class tomorrow.