Monday, November 7, 2011

What’s That Burning?

I know I’ve said that I work out at a gym, but that to be fair, we don't really go to a gym. We are members of what is called a "fitness center". That is probably the politically correct term that replaced "gym" like Asian-American replaced Oriental. I'm not sure when people became so embarrassed of their heritage and ancestry, but somewhere along the way a gym became associated with brutish, iron-hefting thugs and had to be softened to appease the more gentle sensitivities of the easily offended. Besides, why would I want to go to a gym? It was those guys that kept beating me up in school.

Because it is a fitness center, it can now hold such things as massage chairs and tanning booths, which in a gym would probably be misconstrued as just heavier weights. The massage chair I didn’t necessarily enjoy even though I was told it was good for me. “It loosens up your muscles and helps you de-stress.”

“I think it loosened my spine from my ribs.” Truth is, the massage chair hurt worse than the treadmill. It was like tiny metal balls gouging into my back. I left the chair and tried the tanning booth, which I wasn’t too enthused about, mainly because I hadn’t seen any other men go into one. What would people think? Probably the same thing I was thinking.

A tanning booth is a circular enclosure of long light bulbs where you strip down, climb inside like a rotisserie chicken and cook for ten minutes to get the look you would get if you went outside for awhile and got your fat ass off the couch or away from the computer. Since I had no intention of doing anything more strenuous than walking the treadmill in the nicely air conditioned fitness center, I signed up for my ten minutes of baking.

"Do you provide the butter or do we roast plain?” I asked the thick bodied man behind the counter.

"I put you in booth number four. The timer will start in six minutes.” The use of the word "timer" only proved I was being cooked for a cannibal convention.

I entered door number four where there was a chair, a mirror, and what looked like an H. G. Wells time machine. There was also a roll of brown paper towels and a spray bottle of disinfectant so you could clean the ashes of the last person that had been roasted alive. The place smelled like boiled sweat.

The idea, as I was told, was to strip down to your birthday suit and step into the machine with your eyes closed and cook for ten minutes. You’re actually supposed to wear these special goggles so you didn’t melt your eyes, but what did a raisin need with good eye-sight? Besides, I was too cheap to spend the three bucks on the purple shades. Still, I would no longer have the tan lines that the rest of the world had and would look good staring at myself in the mirror. I still wasn't sure that all the parts God gave me should be tanned but the girls said to trust them as they pushed me through the door.

Once I was locked inside what basically amounted to a dressing room with no real ceiling, I stripped my clothes off, piled them on the folding chair and stepped into the broiler pulling the door closed behind me. I stood in a circular tube surrounded by eight foot ultraviolet light bulbs ready to punish my whiteness as I pushed the green yes-cook-me-now button and the toaster oven roared to life along with a giant fan above my head to keep me from melting. That scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory flashed in my mind where Grandpa and Charlie steal sips of the Fizzy Lifting drink and start floating towards the giant fan overhead. Quickly, I made sure I could burp, just in case. You never know.

Putting me in a tanning booth is a giant practical joke. I have hair in places that make absolutely no sense. I'm a walking carpet, shag carpet at that. It will take more than ten minutes a session for the cancer giving rays to break through the thick natural barrier. My nose would be nicely tanned, however, which is great for hiding the W. C. Fields' redness.

As I stood there wondering what would happen if I brought in a bag of microwave popcorn, my imagination started to scream, panicked in fear. I'm standing there with my eyes closed because ultraviolet rays melt your eyes, I'm told, and I'm blind enough already. It dawns on me that I can't see the timer! What if the guy behind the counter is a moron and instead of ten minutes punched in one hundred? I was on my way to being crispy bacon, and not even turkey bacon! I could already feel my body hair singeing as I smelled meat cooking. All they would find were the remains of a burnt jellyfish. I couldn't reach for the door or off button. What if my hands touched the light bulbs instead?

And then it powered down with a sudden hum that sounded much like a carnival ride at the end of its four minute cycle, the fan still twirling above me. Like pull down shades, my eyelids spun wide and I popped out of the tanning booth. Yet, I was still white bread. There wasn't even a tinge of pink color to my skin. I was cheated!

I stared at myself in the mirror, still unsure what the attraction was to these machines that have girls flock to them instead of sunbathing in the privacy of their backyards where I can see them six months later on Google earth. Still, it beat walking the treadmill and I avoided the sand on the beach. That’s a win in my book.

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