The Task At Hand

by Daniel Oakes | September 02, 2020

barbell shadow on a gym floor

I stepped through the double doors onto a yellow-speckled blue carpet and was greeted by thump thump thump and a loud voice monotonously chanting “Dollar, dollar, dollar.” This was merely the exterior door though, which was always open to the public. To get inside the interior door I had to climb a small flight of stairs, on which every fourth step had a sticker saying “Stay this much (there was an arrow) apart – Working together to keep you healthy.” At the top of the stairs there was a kind of mural, which boldly stated the mission statement of the institution:

Empower       Wellness

       Vitality       Challenge

               Respect       Power

Once I came to the interior door I deployed my special VIP fob attached to my keys. After a few unsuccessful swipes there was finally a small beep and a click and the door swung open impressively. I was quickly greeted by a tall young man wearing a black mask who prompted me to place my hands under a soap dispenser, around which the wall was splattered with its contents.

As I ventured further into this mysterious place, past the main office, a row of lockers, a distractingly exotic chalkboard, toilets and showers, the thump thump thump seemed to become louder and more defined. Yet this time the voice wasn't chanting “Dollar, dollar,” but was murmuring about “hoes” and “cars.” Eventually I came to an open area full of strange-looking contraptions which looked like they'd come from either a spaceship or a scrap heap. A man who appeared to be an expert in utilizing such machines was waiting to make eye contact in my periphery. Head bowed, I moved swiftly on.

And then I saw them. The poor creatures: the very embodiment of Narcissus himself, surrounded by mirrors on every wall, as if encased in an eternal prism. They wore tiny tight vests and knelt on tiny benches while flexing their arms, and were emaciated to the point of looking sharply defined (their singular purpose). I gulped and tried not to stare; thankfully, I don't think they would have noticed if I had.

The Blue Book was my constant guiding source – my light of Eärendil – in this strange and confusing place. I held it close to my chest as I hurried towards my destination, past (and around) a large herd of women performing thunderous star jumps under the instruction of their trainer. Distraction at this point of the journey would have been fatal.

Once I reached The Grail, I set to work by first carefully removing the dust off the barbell, like I was Dr. Alan Grant himself unearthing a perfectly preserved velociraptor. I started squatting, and wondered whether the author of the Blue Book might have intended for his followers to look down during the sacred action in order to focus on the task at hand amid the barbaric sounds contained within strange foreign pyramids to false Gods and fatal mirrors – but such questions are unanswerable.

Midway through my prescribed sets of squats I accidentally caught the eye of a diminutive fellow hanging from an adjacent rack like a curious and hungry baboon. He presented with a faint mustache, like the down on a 12-year-old's shin, and a red cap which said “Pump.” I tried to avoid further eye contact, but he began grunting regardless, as if he just had to deliver some laboriously formulated idea, whether I existed or not.

“Keep ya thump, thump, thump back up, or ya gonna thump, thump, thump (hoes, niggas), snap shit up bad like.”

“Ah yes, yes,” I replied automatically without processing anything.

“Yeah, (thump thump, thump), ego lift nahh bruh, thump thump, thump. Light weight mate innit.”

“Ah yes, yes,” I said again. (Over the years I've refined the art of automatically and congenially responding to baboons without having to fully engage – a skill I think is CV-worthy).

“Good man!” he proudly declared, and wandered off into the mists of what was known as the “dumbbell rack.”

I safely completed the task at hand and headed carefully back towards the exit. As expected, I was stopped by the tall young man with the black mask, who asked me if I had “worked it” sufficiently. I replied with my usual “Ah, yes yes!” and burst out the door and down the stairs and into the street, and took in a nice big gulp of air (my throat was burning with disinfectant). I had survived – today at least.  

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