Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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Impressing The College Students

Back in my prime!


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There’s something about working in a university that makes me feel old. Perhaps it’s just the simple fact of being around twenty-somethings all day who have never heard of Rage Against the Machine and think that Ray Ban glasses look cool on them, and dorky on me. Just a few weeks ago one of my students mentioned that she was dating a 28-year-old. She is 19. And I said, “Wow. Your boyfriend could’ve been a freshman in high school while I was a senior.”

She promptly made a poopy face. A week or so later I found out that she dumped him.

Anyway, I’ve been lifting weights since October of last year. I tell people it’s just to help me get back into shape, but subconsciously I wonder if it’s to help me to be sexy again.

Before graduate school, I was really into weight lifting, but completing two graduate degrees, while teaching and raising a family, kind of made me put fitness on the back burner. (I’ve already written a lot about this, so I won’t go into too much detail.)

Anyway, I usually go to the campus gym on my lunch breaks (happens to be just across the street from my office). Just recently I started to realize that I could bench more now than I could in my 20s. I don’t look nearly as good, but I am stronger. I chalk this up to what I call, “my old man strength.” It’s physical strength that can only be gained through experience and wisdom. Perhaps this is all bullshit, but that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

Last week I was at the gym. It was chest day and I ran into a student I knew. His name was Jose. My primary job at the University is working in a program that helps first generation and low-income students. And Jose is a member of that program. He’s 21 and from the Portland area. Real nice kid. When I first met him two years earlier, he was a little on the chubby side. But recently he’d been really hitting the gym and it showed. He was lean and fit, with broad shoulders.

“Every time I see you, there’s a little more of you,” I said. “You’re looking really strong.”

Jose reached out, grabbed my arm, and said, “I was going to say that same thing to you. Looking really swollen.”

For those of you not familiar with Gym-Room Man-Talk, this is how gym goers compliment each other. I say it’s Man-Talk because I’ve only heard other men talk this way. They mention gains in once place or another, “Your chest looks stacked.” Or “Your legs are bulging.” They use dangerous sounding words that tend to off set the homoerotic nature of examining another man’s body, things like “swollen,” “ripped,” “bulking up,” “cutting up,” “shred,”  “skull crusher,” shit like that. I would never use any of these terms outside the gym. It’s kind of its own discourse community.

Once Jose and I got done complimenting each other, he mentioned that he was using the free weights. I hadn’t used free weights in a while, and I could tell that all the benches were taken, so I decided to join him next to the dumbbells.

I staked out a bench just a few feet from Jose and started working my chest. Now I’m not going to say that I started my pyramid set at about 20 pounds higher than I should’ve to impress this kid. But I’m not going to say that I DIDN'T start my pyramid set at about 20 pounds higher than I usually do to impress this kid.

Let’s move on.

By the end of the set, I was holding 100-pound dumbbells in each hand. Honestly, I hadn’t lifted that much free weight since I was 25 years old. I’m 31 now. But Jose was there, watching me out of the corner of my eye, and I felt I was too far along to turn back now. And just to make things worse, like I often do, I asked Jose to spot me.

He came over and I lay down on the bench.

“That’s a lot of weight, dude,” he said.

I gave him kind of a cocky nod that seemed to say, “I got this.”

But honestly, I didn’t know if I did. While 200 pounds of free weight might not seem like much to some, it was over my own body weight. For a man that sands 5’ 6”, it’s a lot.

And in that moment, as Jose leaned over me, waiting for me to start the set, and I looked up at him, I thought, “Why am I doing this?” Is it to feel young? Is it to be something that I’m not anymore” I didn’t know, but I felt an urgency to show this kid what’s up. To impress him. To prove to him, and probably myself, that I wasn’t an old man. That I was still young and cool and capable of lifting 200 pounds.

I started the set. And surprisingly all these months of lifting paid off. I did five reps. In fact, I felt like I could probably have done more.

Once I was done with the set Jose said, “You are f*&king ripped, man.”

“Yes,” I thought. “Yes. I. Am.”
For just a moment I felt amazing. I felt young again. I felt 25. And then it hit me. It felt like something had popped in my head. I got light headed. I felt strange and weary, and I was struck with the harsh realization that I am, indeed, not 25 anymore. I am 31.

The rest of the day I felt light headed. I didn’t pass out or anything, but I worried that I might. I even had a few co-workers ask if I was okay.

And when I told them why I was feeling that way, they all shook their heads, and their expressions seemed to say, “Act your age."

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley