Robert was hypnotized. She had a voice like chocolate and she smelled like lemon pie. Her teeth were perfect, and she was the color of sun. She signed Robert for a month’s membership even before he toured the gym. He held his stomach in as long as he dared. When the trainer turned her back to show him the exercise room and all the new, chrome equipment, he caught his breath, and sucked it in again, tightening his pecs and squeezing his buttocks until his face flushed.
He was self-conscious, not happy with his size, and his clothes were all wrong. He wore his old military dress shoes, black socks, corduroy pants and a tee shirt. Being new to the big city was intimidating, and a young man from far away knew little about the ways of Amerikatsi.
Maybe he would buy some of the Adidas sneakers he saw on feet in the gym. It had to be right. Robert was a mess. His mouth was dry and he was sure the back of this shirt was full of dandruff. He wanted to be beautiful for one of the American girls he saw in the city.
The gym was a short bus ride from the apartment he shared with his brother's family and his sister's fiancé, Dido, and their ferrets. The whole flat smelled of smoke, pee and litter boxes, mixed with the aroma of his sister’s Armenian cooking and the dog kibble they fed the ferrets.
Gloria was the head trainer. Her tattoo said something like "I love Harley Riders and...", the rest of the ornate lettering disappearing into the top of her pink shorts. She had Robert do leg-ups--hundreds of reps. Toes in, toes out, toes straight. The next morning his calves and thighs burned. When he took a step, he had to put his legs out slowly and flat-footed so he could walk to the bus. Gloria saw him come in, and pointed him out to the other trainers and staff. They had a good laugh. Gloria had done what she always did with the newbies—especially the ones that she considered yokels.
Rod was a gym fixture, and the first one in every morning. He was huge. No neck, and lots of blue veins sticking out of his arms and his forehead, looking like they might pop. He had a high voice, and no body hair. Working out by himself, in the corner, where the floor to ceiling mirrors were hung, he'd take off his shirt, and stand close to the mirror when he worked his arms and chest. He would yell to himself. "Come on, baby! Come on, bitch! Work it! You are a god. Come on! " No one saw any sweat. The blue veins would rise and pump in his neck and arms, and Robert could see the blood moving through them. Robert winced. He was frightened and confused.
So intimidated and scared by what he saw and heard, Robert stopped going to the gym. He soon met his neighbor—a demure, Armenian woman, who loved Robert just the way he was. She told him that his size was just more for her to love. Robert fell in love that day.