The New Year offers what looks like an unspoiled slope, a glittering stretch of fresh powder upon which the invigorated skier can glide. There may be moguls lying in wait, but they’ll surely not be as choppy as those encountered yesteryear, and if there are blizzards, today the weather is fine.
This year, the world found itself poised on the edge of a new demi-decade, 2015–2020. Would it be successful a successful one? Cataclysmic? Would Venice sink to the bottom of the sea; would Kim Kardashian make Congress?
But not all changes need be so seismic. Faced with the New Year, some resolve to call their parents more. Others vow to call them less. And many promise to visit the gym, diverting time they may usually spend in cafes to hours heaving and pushing in a roomful of machines.
In an abstract sense, setting oneself on the path to fitness is no bad thing. The festive season is, after all, no health trip: rich foods, family arguments and an overwhelming affection for the couch are not great for the body. Let the people exercise if they desire to do so; let degenerating muscle become sinew again, and thighs become svelte once more.
The problem is, the normal January upsurge in gym attendance seems this year to have gone hand-in-hand with a nosedive in gym etiquette. I go to Payne Whitney, whose gargantuan gym is on the fourth floor. This month has been busier than ever; at rush hour (5 till 7 p.m.), you have to queue for a treadmill, or settle for a seat on one of the exercise bikes. There are many new faces, and luminous sneakers that have never set foot outdoors. The gym in Payne Whitney is swelteringly hot, and tinkles with the sound of metal on metal. Finding a spot to stash one’s coat is now well-nigh impossible.
What’s more, the Ten Commandments of gym-going — invented by me, and listed below for your delectation — are being consistently flouted. You’d think that the masses were unaware of their authority. As an aide-memoire, these commandments are:
- Thou shalt wipe down the machines that thou hast used
- Thou shalt not leave the magazines in disarray on the table
- Thou shalt not swagger around as if thou wert Obama
- Thou shalt not hover by the thirsty soul using the drinking fountain; let him or her rehydrate in peace
- Thou shalt not grunt as if thou wert the Hulk
- Thou shalt not walk extremely slowly on treadmills at peak hours
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s abs / arms / outfit
- Thou shalt sign in if thou art expected to do so
- Thou shalt place thy rubbish in the correct trash cans, and never on the floor
- Thou shalt not read academic papers whilst using equipment — it lowers the morale of all in the vicinity
I’m not saying that all those who are breaking these rules are new-fangled gym-goers. The most heinous crimes at Payne Whitney are often committed by those who know the system best. One patron I often glowered at last semester sweats all over his machine and leaves it aglint once he is done, without bothering to wipe it down. A girl I used to smile at (but no longer do) rips pages from magazines meant for communal use. She folds her stolen sheets into fours and stashes them in her bra. I nearly fell off my treadmill in fury the other day when I saw her tear out a perfume sample from an old Vogue. So clearly, a lot of the criminals are old hands.
Still, January will not last forever, and soon the gym will empty out again. Resolutions made in the ferment of late December will quietly expire. Sneakers will lie unused in lockers as their owners abandon them for the comfort of the couch; thighs that once dreamt of svelte-ness will be rudely awakened. My promise to my future self — that I would learn to do the splits — is looking increasingly extravagant. But at least I will have the gym to myself.
One storm cloud, however, does loom stubbornly on the horizon. In 2017, Yale will open two new residential colleges, swelling the undergraduate population by 800 students. There is as yet not a whisper from the sports administration as to how Yale will cope with the influx. I fear that unless steps are taken to increase Payne Whitney’s capacity, every month in the gym will feel like a January — chaotic and panicky, with few free machines and absolutely no esprit de corps.