For some inexplicable reason, there are people out there who tolerate – no, enjoy! – physical exertion. They like to sweat, gasp for breath, strain their body to the breaking point. They like to do jumping jacks, jog in place, and simulate the climbing of stairs.
My girlfriend is one of them.
And, so, I found myself entering a gym for the first time in my life, with the good intention of buying her a 3-month membership for her birthday. No, it wasn’t like “Happy birthday, now lose weight.” She had mentioned wanting to join a gym for a few months, figuring that since I have night classes for the next three months, she wouldn’t mind spending the evenings working out instead of sitting at home in the dark, shaking with loneliness. Women, ay?
So I’m a good boyfriend and decided to surprise her with a membership. Thus, after a long hard day at work and night school, I entered a fitness establishment – let’s call them Bully’s – and inquired about their membership plans.
What followed was something out of an absurdist horror movie. I was immediately trapped and detained, assaulted with a dozen different mind control techniques, and subjected to an emotional and intellectual beating that literally lasted hours. I’m not making any of this up:
Adam (to cashier girl): Hi, I’m interested in your membership plans.
Cashier Girl: (blink) Our what?
Adam: Membership plans?
Cashier Girl: Are you already a member?
Cashier Girl: Oh, so you want to be a member?
Adam: No, it’s a gift for my girlfriend.
Cashier Girl: Hold on, let me get a manager.
And this is where it all begins. The barrage of mental manipulation seemed to be structured and in stages: Admiration, Demolition, Demonstration, Humiliation, Exhaustion, and Seduction.
Admiration (whereby they build you up)
Manager: (big smile and wide eyes) You’re getting a membership for your girlfriend? Oh wow, that is quite an amazing gift. You are one incredible boyfriend.
Adam: Gosh, thanks!
Manager: She is going to love you forever for this. She is going to look great and have only you to thank.
Manager: You’re a great guy. Let me shake your hand. (We shake.) Follow me, please.
We entered his office and he shut the door and immediately asked for my credit card so he could process the down payment.
Demolition (…so they could smash you back down, leaving you defenseless and confused)
Adam: How much is the 3-month plan?
Manager: Ho-ho-ho! Not so fast; let’s talk about what your girlfriend needs. We want her looking her best. She needs a personal trainer, right?
Adam: What are your pricing plans?
Manager: (getting angry) I’ll get to the plans. Let’s talk about your girlfriend first.
Adam: She doesn’t need a personal trainer.
Manager: How do you know? Isn’t this a surprise gift?
Adam: Well, she already mentioned in passing that she’d like a membership. So it’s not exactly a surprise, but she doesn’t know I’m here.
Manager: Oh, but then this is something she really wants. Okay then, let’s process your credit card…
Adam: What’s the price?
Manager: (angry) I’ll get to that soon. Be patient. I need to find out what’s best for your girlfriend.
Adam: Well, she doesn’t need a trainer. She just wants to use the treadmill and whatnot.
Manager: So she’s not interested in learning how to become fit?
Adam: (pause) I think she’ll be okay on her own.
Manager: We have a lot of new equipment; a trainer could show her how to use them.
Adam: If she has a question, I’m sure she’ll ask the person next to her.
Manager: (silent for a moment) Fine. No trainer. (silent)
Manager: We’ll put her in the group classes.
Manager: We offer step exercises, Tae Bo, yoga, and dance aerobics.
Adam: I don’t think…
Manager: Let me finish. We now have TWO difference dance aerobics classes – Electro Groove and Booty Shaker.
Adam: No, I think the treadmill is fine.
Manager: Do you even know what yoga is?
Adam: Yes, of course.
Manager: And she wouldn’t want that? Every girl I know wants to do yoga. If your girlfriend wants a membership here and asked you to come here, she obviously wants a trainer and these group classes.
(This goes on for about a half hour, interspersed with him asking for my credit card. I slowly become mentally sluggish and zombie-like, preparing a hollow mindstate for the…)
Demonstration (whereby they gloss over your eyes and cloud your mind to better their chances of grabbing your money)
Manager: Fine. No trainer. No group classes.
Adam: (dazed and confused) Okay, so what are your plans?
Manager: Not yet. We have to figure out what kind of program she wants.
Adam: She just wants to get tone.
Manager: Because we offer Massive Muscle Gain, Extreme Weight Loss, and Total Health.
(He goes into an extremely lengthy discussion of the merits of each program.)
Adam: (mentally exhausted) Can’t she just have access to a treadmill or something?
Manager: Sure, but I thought you loved her and wanted the best for her.
Adam: (meekly) Treadmill’s all she wants.
Manager: Okay, but let me tell you what else she gets with each program.
(Goes into long spiel about vitamins, pills, natural supplements, and nutritional bars. I finally somehow convince him to move on to the plan prices.)
Humiliation (still not making any of this up)
Manager: So let’s see… that’s 36 months without a trainer, group classes, or program… (types into computer) Oh, fantastic, you can get a great price!
Adam: Wait, did you say 36 months?
Manager: Yes, we only offer 36-month memberships.
Adam: (whispering) I wish you told me earlier…. 36 months is way too long…
Manager: (firmly) No. Because she can use this membership at any Bully’s. So if you move in the next 36 months, she can still…
Adam: But 36 months is a huge commitment, and I really can’t afford…
Manager: (insultingly) You can’t afford a low payment every month?
Adam: (meekly) How much is it?
Manager: That’s what I’m trying to tell you, if you would listen. I can get you a very low monthly payment. Only (click click click) 49 dollars a month. And she’s going to have access to all our equipment, every Bully’s in the country and in Canada…
Adam: (trying to do the math in my sluggish and exhausted head)
Manager: …and she’ll be able to talk with our trainers if she needs any help, plus…
Adam: But, but, that’s way too much…
Manager: (stops, looks at me shrewdly) You can’t afford just $49 a month? (laughs) For real? Hahahaha.
Adam: (flustered, confused) Well, I mean, I can, but for 36 months…
Manager: So what’s the problem? Is it the months or the money?
Adam: (tries to think) The combination of the two.
Manager: But it’s only $49 a month.
Adam: I’m sorry, it’s too much…
Manager: Is it the down payment? Because I can lower that for you. Instead of $250, we can bring that down to $200. So if you want to just give me your credit card…
Adam: (wanting to cry) I’m sorry…
Adam: (getting up)
Manager: You can’t afford a small $150 down payment? To make your girlfriend happy?
Adam: (sits back down) It’s the duration and monthly payments.
Manager: Okay, hang on… (click click click) If she only goes to Bully’s in the tri-state area, I could lower your monthly payments to only $39 a month.
Adam: (softly) It’s okay, thanks…
Manager: I can’t believe that you’re telling me that your girlfriend isn’t worth $39 a month. (laughs derisively)
Adam: Yeah, but that’s still around $1500. That’s too much…
Manager: (condescendingly) You’re paying that over 36 months…
Adam: I realize that…
Manager: And the down payment is only $150. That’s pretty reasonable.
Adam: I agree, but…
Manager: Then let me have your credit card and we’ll sign her up right now.
Adam: (swallows) Can I go home and think about it?
Manager: I can’t promise you this great deal will last tomorrow. I can only give it to you right now.
Adam: I’d like to discuss it with my girlfriend first.
Manager: Then it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it? I thought you wanted to surprise her. If you want to impress her, you sign her up now and then you can shock her with this amazing membership.
Adam: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, but…
Manager: (click click click) Okay, it’s all ready, we’re just a step away from signing her up.
Adam: (with glistening eyes) Actually, I really have to leave right now. And I’d like to discuss this with her.
Manager: (sighs with annoyance) Okay, but you’re coming back tomorrow, right?
Adam: (thinks for a second) Of course.
Manager: Okay, wait here while I get my business card.
It felt good to be left alone after almost two hours of being insulted and aggressively pressured. I knew it was my chance to escape, but I was just too intimidated to move. I felt like I couldn’t leave without Bully’s approval.
The Seduction (my friend Matt told me this happened on an episode of Friends too)
After 10 minutes, the manager comes out with an amazing-looking, hot, sultry girl, who looked eerily like J-Lo. She came right up to me, like boobs touching my chest, and smiled up at me radiantly.
J-Lo Girl: You are so amazing, getting this membership for your girlfriend.
Adam: Thank you.
J-Lo Girl: (rubbing my forearm) She is going to be so excited. You really know how to make a girl happy. You will be giving her the greatest gift of all “the gift of health!
Adam: (flustered, mumbled reply)
J-Lo Girl: (grasping my forearm) You must come back tomorrow! We’re having our Mardi Gras Night, so it’s 15 percent off memberships.
Adam: (mumbles) Sure, yeah…
J-Lo Girl gave me one last squeeze and one last radiant smile and then turned to leave, her luscious butt grazing my crotch area.
Manager: Here’s my card. You ask for me. What’s my name? (He had me repeat his name four times) You got it. What time will you be here tomorrow? 8? Okay, give me your number. I’ll call and remind you. Your phone’s broken? You don’t have a cell? Fine, just make sure you’re here tomorrow and you ask for me. We’ll treat you right…
Soon, I found myself walking home, shocked to have been let free. I was absolutely exhausted and giddy from being out of such a high pressure, hard sell situation. I crumpled up the business card and decided my girlfriend was getting a DVD instead.
Ten minutes later, I arrived at my apartment, opened the door, and collapsed on the couch, my mind and body shattered. My girlfriend came over to the couch, and stood over me, laughing. “I can’t believe how tired you are, hun, just from walking the half mile home. You really should consider joining a gym.”