(Another week [in January], another plug for you to come see The Ruckus Proves It! over at ImprovBoston. This Saturday, 10:30pm. Come for the comedy. Stay for.. uh, more comedy. Or something. There's beer. You'll like it.
I mentioned a few days back that my new office building has a gym inside. Like, right there. So scandalously close by that if you don't join the gym and show up to sweat at least twice a week, then people on the street are legally obligated to shake their heads sadly at you and 'tsk' in your sloppy, husky-pantsed direction.
(Seriously. It was in the employee agreement. These people are serious, I'm telling you.)
So I'm going to the gym. And the real draw for me is the racquetball courts. For some reason, it's interminably difficult to find racquetball facilities in the greater Boston area. Squash, you can find. Handball, I'm sure is around. Tennis, for sure. Even ping pong. But racquetball has somehow become the lonely bastard outcast of the New England racquet set, shunned by all but a few brave gyms and underground blue-ball speakeasies.
(Why is that? I have no idea. Maybe the Redcoats enjoyed a nice game of racquetball back in the 'all tax, no represent' days. Or the Salem witches were caught with a court behind their houses. Does Eli Manning play racquetball in his spare time between football games and Opie Griffith impressions? Could be.)
Me, I'm a racquetball fan. I played for years -- in high school, in college, for a couple of years afterward, even. And not just a little, either. I got out there two or three days a week, sometimes for two or three hours straight. At some point work got in the way, and the gyms weren't so close by, and eventually I moved to Boston -- where racquetball is whispered about in hushed tones only, like people are talking about the color of Whitey Bulger's underpants. Frankly, I thought my racquetball days were behind me.
And now, not so much. I joined this gym, bought a racquet, sprung for some balls, and on Monday this week, stormed onto the court to bask in the glory of the sport once more.
"Any game that requires you to warm up your balls before playing had better come with a glass of Courvoisier and a candlelight dinner, is all I'm saying."
Mind you, I've been bask-free in this regard for, oh, on the order of fifteen years. Those racquetball muscles I once had -- toned and trained and twitching to go -- are long gone now. Shrunk. Atrophied. Layered over with a decade-and-a-half of wrong living, bad eating and racquet-free existence.
(Oh sure, I tried squash a couple of times. That was an unmitigated disaster.
Any game that requires you to warm up your balls before playing had better come with a glass of Courvoisier and a candlelight dinner, is all I'm saying.)
Anyway, back to racquetball. And my triumphant return to, thereof.
On Mondays, the gym has a 'round robin' tournament, which basically means that people show up sometime between six and seven in the evening, and play when their respective turns are up. There's no keeping track of who beat whom, who taunted whom, or who smacked whom with a ball 'on accident-purpose' after some smug comment.
Which is good. No paper trail. I like it.
We play our games on the two courts designated for racquetball -- except that one court designated for racquetball has recently been re-designated for some sweaty nonsense called 'Boot Camp', and the word is that we're never going to whack our bouncy balls in there again. It hardly seems fair.
On the other hand, those 'Boot Camp' do-rags keep a lot of awfully heavy equipment in there -- which includes a few of the participants themselves. We probably can't take them in a fight, and even if we sneak in when they're gone, all their shit is in the way. And I'm not moving that junk -- what, am I in the gym to exercise now? Please.
So we play on our one good court, and that's how it is. When I made my first racquetball session on Monday, there were a half dozen of us waiting to play. And I was kind of bummed, because that seemed like an awful lot of waiting between games.
Then I got onto the court -- picked for the first game, no less. And after roughly three-and-a-half points, I was seriously considering barfing the full contents of my chest cavity onto the wall and finding a nice comfy spot to die. Somewhere near the service line, preferably -- well-lit, and open spaces.
I made it through that game, and crawled off the court to a water fountain. Four hundred sips and a head soak later, and I was up again. I didn't quite run myself as ragged in the second game -- mostly because I'd lost most of the use of my left leg by that point -- but I did find myself panting, pained and positively peaked when it was over.
By the end of the night, I'd played four games -- a nice warmup back in the day, perhaps -- and I was ready to quit. Playing, standing, breathing -- you name it, and I wanted badly to stop. Several dozen body parts were screaming at once; it was like some sort of anatomic Parliamentary bitch session, and nobody ceded the floor without a fight. A stabbing, seizing, "forgot that muscle even existed, didn't ya, pally?" sort of fight.
Right at the end, as I made ready to hurl my broken flabby old carcass toward the locker room, the guy running the thing -- he's the "racquet sports guy" for the club -- gave me an especially helpful piece of advice:
'Oh yeah, I meant to say to you earlier -- it's really a good idea to warm up and stretch before playing.'
Uh-huh. Thanks, there, Jack LaLanne. That'll come in super handy while I'm collapsed and drowning in the sink downstairs because I can't move my arms, neck or legs any more. Pip, pip, old boy.
Luckily for me, the real pain didn't kick in until the next day, after all those dormant muscles had gone back to sleep and found that they didn't fit in the same body holes any more. That's a good time. And it led me to formulate a bit of advice of my own, for all of you within reading-shot of my agony:
Don't go there. Just don't. Look -- if you're young and healthy, or one of those insufferable assbags who jogs at four thirty in the morning in the middle of a blizzard, then fine. Congratulations. Join a gym, work out every day, eat your microgreens and broccoli shakes and live to be a thousand. And bully for you, Adonis. We're all very impressed.
But if you're not one of those -- if you've been sitting on the couch for the last umpteen years, and last worked out wearing non-ironic thigh-high leg warmers during the Reagan administration -- then don't do it. It hurts. A lot. And where's the payoff, really? You're likely to gank a hip or have something important fall off before you see any real health improvements. Go back to your living room, wait for a Seinfeld rerun, crack open a bag of Funyuns and enjoy the ride. You may not live as long as those health nuts -- or to finish reading this sentence, for that matter -- but at least your pain will be in the future, probably fleeting, and only centered on the chest region.
Is a longer life span, more energy and better-fitting jeans really worth the effort? Big Bang Theory is on for three hours a night now. Come to the dark side. I'm just saying.
Ah, who am I kidding? Assuming I can feel both legs again by then, I'm signing up for racquetball next Monday, too. I think I caught the fever -- probably while I was collapsed on the floor, with my tongue scraping the lines on the court. All I know is, life was a lot easier when I was just a 'glutton', and not a glutton for punishment.
Easier. And a whole lot less painful. I'm beginning to see why nobody's playing this goddamned sport around here, anyway.