Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What's all the racquet?

For the past five years I’ve played racquetball with my friend Dale about three mornings a week at the YMCA. Sure, there have been occasions where I’ve been out of town for a week, or one of us has had to be at work early, or Dale has developed some sort of undetermined, unidentifiable disease in his joints…but on the whole, we’ve been pretty consistent.

I have to say, the fact that I have stuck with any form of exercise regiment for this long is nothing short of a miracle. Before racquetball I attempted to get in shape by jogging. But I stopped when it became obvious that my lungs had an allergic reaction to exercising. Plus it made my eyes bleed and my brain wish for death. Before jogging I mostly just thought about exercising. And even that made me a bit winded. So, needless to say, I have greatly benefited from playing racquetball. I have successfully tricked my body into not realizing it’s exercising, as it is totally distracted by the fact that there’s a game going on, until ah-HA – too late, body, you just got a workout. The joke is on you.

The downside to this whole racquetball thing is the facility where we play. The notorious YMCA, made famous by The Village People, who sang the song of the same name. Well, what most people don’t know is that this particular YMCA was built by Mormon missionaries who, when sent by Brigham Young to settle Las Vegas in 1855, were given specific instructions to build an adobe fort as a weigh station for travelers, and to open a Las Vegas chapter of the YMCA, where these travelers could get themselves clean, have a good meal, and do whatever they feel, ‘cause it’s fun to stay at the YMCA.

My point is that this YMCA building is not new. And neither are the folks that frequent it. It’s a safe bet that Dale and I are the youngest members of this YMCA by at least 40 years. And none of these older men feel any sense of importance regarding clothing. Once you walk through those locker room doors, you enter a world so mysterious and unnatural, it’s never discussed outside that room. Not even in a whisper, between friends. These men have no regard for public nudity. Myself, the transition between towel and clothing is so quick, it can’t be seen without the aid of a slow-motion camera. If I could, I would shower fully clothed and then change into my fresh clothes in a bathroom stall. But these gentlemen walk around all morning in casual conversation with nary a stitch between them. And I have yet to ever see any of them outside the locker room, on any form of exercise equipment. I imagine they just show up at the YMCA, head straight for the locker room, strip down, and strike up conversation. In fact, naked is the only way I’ve seen some of these men. I have no idea what they look like with clothes on. And this has been over the course of five years, folks, so I know some of these guys pretty well. Jerry lost his wife last year. They were high school sweethearts, moved out here from New York in the early 80s. He is still working – sells insurance. I discovered all this, even expressed my sympathy to him for his loss, completely au naturale. Dave goes fishing in Mexico every summer – even invited me on the fishing trip this year! I almost went, just so I could see Dave overdressed in swim trunks and a t-shirt.

But back to the facility itself. We play at this building because they actually have racquetball courts. Not very many athletic facilities in Las Vegas have racquetball courts (because most of them were built after 1980, when racquetball ruled the world), so we have to take what we can get. When we first started playing, back in 2000, the building was in decent enough condition. Aside from the 1970s paint job, there wasn’t too much to complain about. Over the course of the last five years, however, the place has really given up. If the YMCA were a girl, I would swear she was trying to break up with me.

The air conditioning is cranked up during the winter, and turned off in the summer. The water in the shower has two temperatures – “North Atlantic” and “Fire.” Benches in the locker room have broken and have been replaced by plastic lawn chairs. There’s a protective fungus coating on the floor. We’ve seen the racquetball courts used for a number of other uses besides racquetball – from storage rooms to a breeding ground for wild banshees. And recently we were told that if we thought we might get thirsty while playing, we should bring out own water from home, because the drinking fountains don’t work, and won’t for quite some time. Which is understandable, if you are living in 1945 Warsaw, Poland. But I went home and checked my 2005 Far Side calendar, and we’re not.

Eventually, I expect my walk from the front doors of the YMCA to the racquetball courts in the back to resemble the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ll have to remove a whip from my gym bag to swing over bottomless pits and outrun treacherous boulders. But as long as Dale and I can “stay out of the light” and avoid stepping on stones that trigger poison arrows, we’ll probably keep playing there. That way, in about 40 years, we’ll have earned the right to walk around the locker room naked.