After her cigarette break, Gretta, my new personal trainer, greeted me in the gym. The smell of smoke lingered on her clothes and hair, but her breath smelled like a peppermint factory. “Hello,” she said in a slightly raspy voice, “I’m Gretta. Welcome to your first session.”
I was taken aback. Gretta did not look at all like the other trainers at Forever Fit, who were buffed and wearing tight shirts to display their muscles. She wasn’t youthful and chipper either. Instead, Gretta was old. How old? Maybe 45, maybe 65. She had leathery, wrinkled skin from too many years in the sun. Her face was heavily made-up and her lips were extra puffy and drawn down like a fish – apparently from cosmetic injections gone awry. Her forehead lacked wrinkles (Botox?) and she clearly wanted to appear younger, but the bags under her eyes were still pronounced, and the lines around her mouth had caked foundation in the creases. Gretta wore a baggy T-shirt that said “NO PAIN, NO GAIN” and it draped over her large belly. She had skinny legs in black yoga pants and she wore clogs.
I wanted to leave, right then and there, but I didn’t want to be rude. So, I shook her hand and followed her to the gym floor. I was nervous about my first workout anyway, and I had little faith in this woman to guide me.
Gretta walked over to a large piece of equipment. “Sit on this here leg press machine and I’ll tell you what to do.” I sat on the padded bench and waited while she set the weight. “Put your feet up here and extend your legs.” I did so. It wasn’t too hard. “Good,” commented Gretta. “Do this 10 more times, and then do another set of 10. Be careful, or you might get hurt. People get injured all the time on this machine when they have bad form.” She paused and then announced, “I’m going to get a drink of water,” and she walked away.
Gretta returned with a paper cup of liquid, and she apologized. “You’ll have to excuse me. I am completely hungover. I’ve got a headache that could knock out a horse. I need to keep hydrating.” I saw her take a big gulp and wrinkle her nose. Puzzled, I looked at her. “A hair of the dog that bit you…you know,” she whispered.
“Come over here next,” she said, leading me to a machine that looked like it belonged in the gynecologist’s office. “This machine is for your abductors and adductors.” Gretta set the weight. Then she set the stirrups wide apart. “Sit down, put your feet on the rests, have the padded bar between your thighs. Then, squeeze your thighs together.” I sat in the seat with my legs spread wide apart, the padded resistance bars between my thighs, and I tried the exercise. I felt entirely exposed and embarrassed. “Do this 10 times. Then repeat. I’ll be right back.”
I watched Gretta walk toward a fellow trainer. She had an animated conversation for a long time, and then she finally returned to me.
“Well, I’ll tell ya. The trainer said that I have another appointment scheduled with some fat woman who I trained last week. The lady was a weakling and she complained all the time. She told me that she was going through a divorce. Wah, wah, wah! Let me see, what was her name? Joan something, Joan something easy. Oh, yes, Joan Wall.”
I knew Joan Wall; our daughters were in the same kindergarten class. Joan was a friendly, kind woman and we had talked about our children often. I hadn’t heard about her divorce, though.
“Also, another client told me that this Joan lady has a son who got in a lot of trouble – caught smoking weed at school. Ninth grade. He was kicked out of the public school, and ended up going to private school. I bet that cost a pretty penny.” Gretta went on, “Reminds me of a scrawny old man I trained. He had a son who got kicked out for playing a prank on the principal.” Gretta continued to divulge all sorts of personal information about her clients. I resolved to say nothing about my own life.
As it turns out, that resolution was unnecessary. Gretta proceeded to tell me all about her life, with barely a break to breathe. “I know all about divorce,” she informed me. “My ex-husband, the cheat, ran off with a younger woman. I had been married for just a year, but it still hurt like Hell. Since then, I’ve decided to sleep with anybody I want, but no marriage. Presents are nice, though. I like when I get presents. One guy I dated even bought jewelry for me.”
“Excuse me, Gretta,” I said, exasperated. “What is the next exercise?”
“Core,” she said. “Other men have brought me gifts – flowers and such, but I liked the jewelry best – and not the costume kind, but the ones with real gold and silver.” Gretta went on and on about her personal life, but I drifted out. I really just wanted to get the workout over and done with.
“Hey!” she said to get my attention. “We’re going to do core. Lie down on the mat. Engage the abs. Do crunches. 10 times, 2 sets.” I followed orders, as best I could, but I could barely lift my shoulders off the mat. This exercise hurt. What does that mean, anyway, “engage the core?” Cores make me think of eaten apples.
Gretta continued talking about herself and other clients. She gave me a few strenuous exercises for my upper body and then called it a day.
Somehow, my session with Gretta lasted for a full hour. I almost died of boredom and sore muscles. It was my first and last personal training session at the gym.