Fight Club for Sweaty Cupcakes
But back to boxing class. Ridiculous as it is, I go. And I've gotten to where I look forward to sweating onto squeaky-clean wooden floors in a room full of synthetic tough guys. I spend my days silently in cubicle, dreaming of kicking someone's ass without opportunity or skill to deliver on the dream. I've gotten good at throwing punches in a controlled environment without having the slightest idea how to do it in real life. Boxing class is to me what a wheel is to a caged rat: nowhere near to close, but the best thing going.
The first few times are terrible -- you're sweating and heaving for breath and the gloves are like millstones tied to your wrists. "My god," I always think, "I am getting my ass kicked by an invisible person that is not even hitting back." The invisible opponent always pummels my Fight Club fantasy pretty good.
My partner last week was new to the class. And without wanting to be overly cruel, it seemed like it was his first trip to a gym, period.
Usually, I'm into that. I like seeing people making a fresh start, going for a personal best. And usually, I love an underdog. Like any adult worth being around, I was picked on in gym class during my formative years. Seeing normal people, dorks like me taking the gym back usually gets me stoked.
Not this time.
This guy, he was awful. Awful at the class, awful as a partner. His punches were like Hostess sno-balls on a hot day, limp and sticky little things that fell short of the mitts. Like he was applying gold leaf to my mitts with each whining grunt. His hips swivelled and jerked rhythmically while he swung a limp series of uppercuts, hooks, jabs. Richard Simmons may be the only other man to to bring that sort of hip motion into a fitness environment. He was even bad at holding the mitts while I punched, fliching and dropping them so much that it threw my rhythm off, inspiring the instructor to bark at me. He flopped and sweated, gut heaving beneath his soaked shirt. His ponderous pigeon impression was giving him a workout but leaving me sweatless.
And the thing is, in case you haven't noticed: I really resented the guy for it. Who was this guy, crapping up my workout, bringing this effete, pathetic indifference to the whole thing? I mean, it's not like he would have gotten detention for leaving. The frustration built, blossoming into anger. I swung harder, hit faster, secretly hoping I could tag this guy in the face.
What is it about pathetic people? Why is it that the desire to help someone out is layered on TOP of the desire to just crush someone? There was something about this guy, something simpering and sad that I just wanted to grind under my heel, to smack and splatter like a mosquito fat with blood. I swear, I have no idea how professional therapists and counselors deal with people who are yes, hurting and in need of help, but also so crying out to be crushed by Darwin's hammer.
And in that class, in that particular moment, I totally understood the bullies that used me for sport when I was a kid. I was a gawky dude with glasses and ZERO interest in sports. Add a short temper and no patience for idiots to that mix, and you've got someone who's going to explode fabulously and predictably every time. Kids are dumb, every last one of them, and patient self-control is not something they aspire to. It must have been so AWESOME for those mouth-breathing bozos to bounce a kickball off of my head.
In that moment, in that frustration with that simpering, sweaty sack in front of me, I understood some old demons and was able to make a long-delayed peace with myself. Jesus himself said "Love your enemies," and in that moment, I did, and I could feel my heart expanding to encompass the whole world. I understood bullies past and future, and understood the guy in front of me a little better -- we're just two schlubs who want physiques far better than the ones we get from our sedentary little lives. Even if his workplace dreams involved ice skates and perfect pirouettes and mine involve blood and concrete, we're more similar than different. This expansion and understanding, it felt magnificent.
But pulling my fist back after the bell and hitting the his mitt with thundering thwack, jolting that sweaty cupcake off-balance ... I have to say that felt pretty awesome, too. And now I understand why.