Ludwig, who mans the front desk and broke the news, wore a pale blue shirt and lavender tie. What you wear is important when you pay your last respects. The rest of us wore workout pants and old T-shirts. There's no accounting for taste at the neighborhood gym.
The gym with the leaky roof and faulty air conditioning was shutting its doors. Not exactly a shocker, but still, this was it, the last day.
Everyone had on a long face and spoke in a whispered hush in the weight room, the spin room, on every elliptical trainer and treadmill. The gym had the feel of a funeral home. All that was missing was a big spray of gladiolus.
Even the magazines on the reading stand drooped their covers in mourning: Good Housekeeping, Elle, Ebony, Self, Running, Poker, Golf and Arthritis Today.
Closing the gym was like watching a chunk of community be chiseled away and drift toward the sea. The gym had been part of the landscape for more than 20 years.
It was a place where business deals were sealed on racquetball courts and white-haired men came early in the morning to exchange news, sit at a table and read the paper. It was a gym where everyone said hello.
It was a gym where, at one time, racquetball players could have a cold pitcher of beer and bowl of popcorn on the bench outside the court, waiting for them when the game was over.
It was a place where people shared their lives separated shoulders, broken elbows, foot injuries, knee injuries and "I'll pass your daughter's resume along to a friend."
It was even a gym where you could be fat. One of the trainers might take a friendly swipe in the newsletter, writing, "I can't believe how long some of you have been coming to this gym and your body shape hasn't changed a bit," but never with malice.
You could be 20 pounds overweight, join a Zumba class and have a good time.
A slug of new franchise gyms with helium balloons and membership specials now ring the neighborhood. The one I visited had big television screens hanging from the ceiling, blasting music videos. Each cardio machine has an HDTV attached to it, the kind with the wide screen that makes everyone on "The Today Show" look like a pudgy little troll.
They dress up at the big box gyms workout pants with colored stripes down the legs and matching spandex tops. The consultant says if I join there are 300 other gyms in the chain nationwide that I can go to. Why would I want to drive cross country to go to the gym? I liked going two blocks from home.
I can be a platinum, gold or silver member at the new gym. What kind of member did I want to be? Lethargic. That's the type of member I want to be. The type that comes and goes when she wants. The kind that can come with bed hair at 6 a.m., look like a slouch, and mix with others who slouch.
The old gym still has the sign up, but the parking lot is empty. As I was leaving that last day, one of the cardio rooms suddenly went dark. A woman on a treadmill yelled, "Hey, turn the lights back on!"
You said it, sister.