We spend years in the what i’ve termed the ‘Gymnauseum’, working on bettering our bodies, improving our strength, persisting in the iron endeavor for hopefully a lifetime. People term us ‘gymrats’, but perhaps another analogy would be more appropriate. I like to think of the gym more comparable to a massive aquarium, with the testoterone levels of participants rising and fall with the addition of larger, muscular, fish. This, all on surface value, and highly scientific of course.. When we delve deeper into the gym phenomenon we experience a whole other level of institutions. It can provide a possible means of income stemming from jobs available in the gymnauseum, a sanctuary away from decay of SSRI consuming psychotic everyday life, and most importantly: a social setting where friendships (and even relationships) are formed. The ‘Gymnauseum’ is host to many interesting characters or ‘gymrats’, and we’ve all encountered our share over the years.
At 19 years old, attending my 2nd year of school in Billings, MT I began work part-time at the Billings Family YMCA. I perhaps look back with rose-tinted glasses, but it was a magical time. I had a no-frills gym to work out in, some extra spending money, and was even ‘broken in’ by an older woman who worked there– showing me the ethereal mysteries of the femalien . I was 19, and she was 38; I was regularly getting laid and was ‘in love’. Days were spent moking copious amount of mexican dirt weed, going through grueling workouts with ‘My War’ by Black Flag providing the soundtrack; only to later go to school and work. Later in the evening I would penetrate my silver fox; as her 9 and 10 year old demon children shrieked and ran around the apartment all night.
The gym was magic in itself, encompassing a host of characters that has yet to be rivaled in other gym settings. There was a massive immigrant from Ghana (Perhaps the only black fella in Billings) who regularly repped 5 plates on the bench press, and who’s name translated into ‘man who doesn’t eat birds’ — ‘Onu Oglupu’ ( I believe..) A world champion arm wrestler named Jim, who made sure to proudly adorn his leather jacket proclaiming his title, every damn day in the gym. There were two insanely jacked and juiced up Crow Indians who sported ‘AIM’ (American Indian Movement) shirts and looked chronically pissed off, and a whole host of other miscreants. One character that sticks with me and brings a smile to my face now is ‘Keith’.
I first spotted Keith one morning at 7am on the Hammer Strength Hack Squat machine. He was lifting 6 plates a side with ease, as his eyes seemingly bugged out of his bald, perfectly shaped head. He had an imposing physique with big round, cannonball deltoids, a herculean chest, and his tall frame was filled with massive, dense muscle. He was by my estimates in his mid 30’s and looked function-able in society by his outward appearance. That morning, I did a 4 hour shift, went to class and came back later that day at 3PM, and noticed Keith was in the same position, on the same Hack Squat machine. I was perplexed… ‘Did he take a break, and resume his workout?’ I asked a co-worker named Dylan and he said ‘No, that guy’s name is Keith. He’s mentally ill and pretty much works out here all day’. In between sets I saw Keith mixing a concoction of powders from his backpack and siphoning it into a gallon jug of milk. I would later discover he routinely drank a gallon of milk every work out, every day. I took the notion to approach the unstable muscle behemoth. I extended my hand outwardly and smiled and said “Hey man, my name is Danny, what’s yours?” Keith was unimpressed and looked with a sour expression at his gallon of milk and replied ‘ANTI-SOCIAL”, and then proceeded to do another set of hack squats… To this day it remains the most awkward first impression I’ve participated in.
Eventually, Keith warmed up to me and even told me his actual first-name; eventually a friendship slowly blossomed. While not overly familiar with the DSM-IV psychiatric manual, I could tell Keith was suffering from a myriad of mental maladies. Each day, he himself had a different explanation for his erratic behavior; ranging from long-term effects of crystal meth use as a trucker, being a victim of the CIA’s ‘MK-Ultra’ Prorgram, or was actively receiving transmissions from aliens from the planet Niburu. He lived off of disability and worked out free courtesy of the Y’s scholarship program; which garnered memberships to low-income or disabled individuals in the community. The brief few weeks he had been siphoning powders into his gallon of milk he had blew all of his money on supplements, and forgone food to get the immediate strength results of ‘GAKIC’. He almost made me a believer in the snake-oil powder as I witnessed him routinely clean and press 285 lbs for reps. Ocassionally he’d pull out a ‘Little Orphan Annie’ book out of his backpack in between sets and laugh maniacally as if the vintage comic strip was the funniest piece of fiction ever penned in Western Literature.
Over the course of the next year I became pretty close to Keith and witnessed many of his strength triumphs and random, erratic outbursts as well. At some point there was controversy around the gym; as the YMCA, in order to renew his scholarship were asking for a ‘social security card’ or mailing address. Keith, always apprehensive of the government reptiloids controlling his brain, fought the impending doom tooth and tail. Eventually a few other members stepped up to the plate and payed for his membership. Keith continued to do his marathon work-out sessions for the next year, seemingly getting bigger and stronger off of whole-milk concoctions, and even drinking egg-nogg during the more festive times of year (during his workouts). I lost track of Keith when I relocated back home to Alaska, but I imagine he’s still occupying the same hack-squat machine today. More importantly, he’ll eternally occupy the doldrums of my mind with his colorful personality. In the end, we are all insignificant specks on a floating rock in the middle of space, our legacy only remaining with the people who’s lives we touch. Keith remains one gym-rat who touched me deeply and made me question what the human body and psyche is truly capable of.