Back when the job was new and fresh, I got myself a gym membership.
It seemed to be what all successful, career-driven people did. Also, the monthly fee was lightly subsidized by the Company. The idea was to go swimming for a half hour or so every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday rather than go out for lunch. It would break up the day and give me some time outside the office, not to mention what often turns out to be the whole pool to myself, all two of the short saltwater lanes.
Some weeks I manage to go twice. On those days work isn’t crushing, or if it is, it isn’t for the hour, and the whole activity – from packing up my swimsuit and toiletries and checking in to saying hello to the petite, scowling black girl that works in the locker rooms, adamantly playing her rap music from her iPhone speakers over the hum of generic gym pop – seems like a nice little work-day routine. On those days, I get the whole point of working and working out and the phrase “work-life balance” doesn’t seem like a hollow, worn-out phrase. Something achievable if not actually happening.
Though most weeks, I don’t go at all. Nor do I take a lunch. It’s not something worth complaining about here – lunch is not a communal thing, nor is it a priority. I once saw a row of bottles of Soylent in a consultant friend’s refrigerator – the bottles he had yet to take to work – and wondered why the hell he would subject himself to that. But on the days I’m scrambling to get everything done and eating seems like an impossibility, I find myself wishing I’d packed something fast and easy like a protein bar and suddenly, the whole Soylent thing makes sense.
Here, people are often seen stepping out for lunch at 2, 3, or even 4PM, at which point calling it “lunch” makes about as much sense as calling dinner “breakfast,” or Eleven Madison Park a “buffet.” They preorder to pick it up, or get it delivered, and as soon as food is in hand, are right back at their desks less than fifteen minutes later, munching away at salads positioned squarely in front of their keyboards.
“It’s very sad,” said a coworker who recently joined us from our Brazil office, “In Brazil, we work hard, but we always take time to have lunch together. Why don’t people do that here?”
I don’t know, I said, maybe because there is just that much work.
But is there?
It doesn’t matter. Three months into my 6-month minimum gym commitment and the whole thing started to seem like a questionable “investment,” like the detox supplements and green juice powders I used to buy but never got around to taking because real food always tasted better. Except work isn’t better than the gym. And that’s saying something because I hate working out.
But. The membership comes in handy when it’s Friday night, and you want to take a shower to wash the workday off before meeting friends. Going to the gym right around the corner from your office is easier than going home.
So that’s pretty much what I use it for, a shower away from home where the towels are always clean and folded.