The bar goes up, leaves the platform, again and again, he hurls it up, but not high enough, and it drops back down just as fast. His head hangs over the bar in frustration. Sometimes you can hear him breathe out loud, "fuuuuck."
He's a short fuck, can't be heavier than a buck-fifty. Skinny arms, a little chicken-legged, the only way you can tell this kid lifts is that he's got broad shoulders and disproportionately large traps.
"I hate the way he walks," I say. He's got that awkward, stiff-armed gait that a math major or a computer nerd has, you know, like he's about to trip at any moment.
"Be nice," Laura tells me.
We're the desk girls at the school gym. We've seen all types of people in here; the frat guys and sorority girls, the college athletes, the director of the athletic program that used to work here is a powerlifter, and this month a biology professor got into the whole gym thing. Gym behavior is a weird thing. Generally people come in here to look good, except usually no one ever changes. Skinny guys or overweight girls stay skinny or overweight; big guys are usually already big. And they're forgetting an important thing about looks: working out doesn't help being ugly.
Rubber bumper plates crash into the lifting platform again, followed by a labored exhalation - did he just swear again? That's another thing, for a small kid he makes a lot of noise.
It took us a while to figure out what he was trying to do. It's a sport, weightlifting, and he's trying to get good at it. He started a few semesters ago, and his progress has been excruciatingly slow. But to his credit, he always puts in his time, three or four times a week, sometimes five (we would later find out that he trained more often when a certain filipino girl had unknowingly broken his heart). It used to be annoying; he'd come in about an hour before closing time every Friday night. Every Friday night! Like he didn't have things to do.
"Maybe he doesn't," Laura had said one day. "He does look kind of nerdy. I mean, Asian kid with glasses? He probably goes home and listens to techno on MySpace or something."
That was the first couple months. Almost always, he trained alone. Sometimes he would come in with friends, but they did the regular, familiar work out; bench press, some biceps curls, maybe some ab work if they felt like it. The short kid, he was always trying to put something bigger than him overhead. Sometimes we'd feel sorry for him when a football player or track athlete would come in for a workout and do some of his lifts, power cleans and whatnot. He'd watch them pull weights he hadn't touched yet, and you could tell he wanted to out-do them, but he couldn't. They were 6'3", two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle; he was 5'6", at best, and probably a hundred pounds lighter.
We didn't see him for a while, then he came back wearing a knee sleeve, apparently got hurt, and he still does every so often; he likes to tape his left wrist.
Months pass by. A year. He shaves his head every month or two, it makes him look monkish, and his monkishness is intensified when he hangs his head in frustration, which he does a lot. He's almost always trying to lift something that he just can't lift. He goes through a couple a phases of gym fashion, starting first with fitted t-shirts, then transitioning to the decidedly unpretentious mediums that only his shoulders and traps fit in, his arms poke out in a comically disproportionate way. When his hair grows back he lets it grow out in an unkempt way, like he's too lazy to get it cut. But he goes through the same movements in the gym every session; things called the "snatch," "clean-and-jerk."
You know, and who does that, really? Who does these kinds of things? He's in college. This is the height of his youth. He could be going to social outings, meeting girls, getting laid, the notion's not that far from reality, he's not hideous, and don't most nerdy kids have a pretty good sense of humor somewhere deep down inside? He should be traveling over spring break to Padre Island, spending his summer in Hawaii at an aunt's. If he wanted to do something cool in the athletic world, he should have started earlier. It's a little too late to make a name for himself in pretty much anything.
But it's almost like clockwork, how regularly he comes in. He's got to realize the hopelessness of his situation, the futility of his effort. He can't be that naive, he's like a junior.
It's 7:42pm on a Friday. Only a few people are in the gym. He's been dropping that damn weight on the platform for a while now, crash, crash, crash. He's sweating everywhere, on the platform, on the box he's sitting on, on the rubber plates. So he gets up and ambles over to the bar again. Will he do it this time?
He sits back on his heels, and then he pulls. The bar loses contact with the ground, brushes against his hips - you can hear the plates rotating on the bar - and snakes up in an S-curve. He catches it overhead and stands. Then he drops the bar (another loud crash) and pretends like he's that good every day.
"That was pretty," Laura says.
I say, "You can't blame him for trying."