THE AFFAIR

New front desk phones! A generous gift from Corporate. Our new phones came with laminated phone scripts detailing how to properly respond to a call: "Good evening and thank you for calling The Gym! My name is Kenneth. How may I provide you with excellent service today?"

Of course, the first call that came in when I was on duty was from, who else? A crazy person.

What I didn't know is that the phone had a malfunction that caused a five second delay in response from the caller. After regurgitating the script, I waited a moment. Nothing.

"Hello?" I asked. 

"Who the fuck is this?" The voice on the other end of the line wanted to know.

"Excuse me?"

"WHO THE FUCK IS THIS?" The voice screamed.

I hesitated, giving him the exact ammunition he needed. "Stop. Calling. This. Number. And STOP FUCKING MY WIFE. What is your god damn name?"

"My name is Kenneth, but --"

"But nothing. I checked her phone records and this number pops up every couple of days at the same fucking time. Stop ruining my family!" 

"Sir," I said. "You've called The Gym. Is it possible that your wife is a member here? Or maybe she inquired about a membership? Our sales consultants can be relentless."

Silence. And then confirmation that his wife was indeed a member of The Gym. And now it made sense, because she had a personal trainer, too, and was "always running late for something. That must've been who was calling her every couple of days around the same ... time."

CAN YOU GET AIDS FROM THIS?

The Gym was open 24/7. Most of the folks who came in after hours were police officers, insomniacs, or bartenders. Let's assume the guy who came downstairs at midnight, terrified, was not any of these. When confronted with a terrified man clutching a gym towel, jaw quivering, tears flowing, one must brace oneself for some kind of experience. You can barely contain your smile because you are thinking: "This is going to be awesome."

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Okay?" He cried. "I don't know! We'll find out when I get my blood results back!"

He hurled the towel at me. I picked it up. Examined it.

"I'm going to get AIDS!"

I dropped the towel.

"Look," he said as he approached the front desk, wiping his tears away from his face. "Look!"

I stepped away from him as he retrieved the towel and pointed his finger at a small red stain. "BLOOD! I used this towel to dry my body! My hands! My face!" 

"First of all, this could be lipstick."

"No," he said. "This is blood and I am going to get AIDS."

"Second, I don't think you can get AIDS from using a towel that's been washed and dried." I said. 

"I'm taking this towel with me and I'll be back with my attorney!"

But he must have died fairly quickly, because I never saw him again ... 

FRANK 3:16

Frank, the new General Manager, called the entire staff together for an emergency meeting. The yoga studio, where we were planning to have this great meeting, was occupied with ... you know, a yoga class. The spin room was the only place where there was enough room for the entire staff.

So, as we sat on spin bikes, Frank explained that he'd defend his staff, build his team, and continue Kent's legacy. 

We were all ... relieved and surprised. Kent didn't like Frank one bit. He thought he was a pushover, remember? But here he was talking about standing up to Corporate and their bullshit policies. He was not going to be a micromanaging asshole who handed out paperwork and told us to memorize gimmicky acronyms.

And then he handed out some paperwork. With some gimmicky acronyms. 

SEE The Guest!

- Smile

- Eye contact

- Enthusiasm

BE A CHAMP!

- Create members for life

- Hire, develop, and empower a highly qualified and diverse team

- Actively engage in our local community

- Make The Gym the best in the business!!

- Profit, so that we may pursue our mission

As we sat on our spin bikes, it was obvious that he was all talk. We already hated him. And then, as he climbed off his spin bike, he clutched the papers in his hands and said, "Fuck these papers! I'm not about that!" 

And we loved Frank again. This brought us to the new "No Chair Policy." Not in his gym! Not on his watch. Forcing employees to stand in one spot for eights hours was ludicrous, especially coming from the fitness industry. Frank had a compromise: Desk personnel would stand during peak hours and sit during off peak hours, only standing when a guest entered the facility. 

Furthermore, he said if anyone from Corporate ever came in and questioned the chair at the front desk, he were to tell them, "Frank said I could sit!"

After the meeting, a personal trainer cornered Frank with a list of complaints about the sales consultants. They were stealing and pocketing money. They were racist and anti-Semitic. They had schemes. And one of them might even be committing credit card fraud. So, Frank called Kent to ask if these rumors were true. Kent said he knew about everything—except the fraud—and let a lot of it slide, because they were good sales people when it came to legitimate sales.  

You could literally see Frank's skin crawl. Corporate might have let that behavior slide with Kent, but that sort of behavior would get Frank fired. He called the sales team into his office and told them he'd heard about their shady behavior and would watch them closely, but they said that wasn't necessary, because they quit, leaving Frank to contemplate his next move.

Suddenly, Frank wasn't only our new general manager, but he was the only sales consultant.

Luckily, there was one more new hire coming in—Allie—a fitness manager. She'd relieve some of the burden from Frank in terms of sales. But after thinking about his predicament, Frank wasn't so turned off to the idea of being GM and sales consultant—double salary! 

I liked Frank right off the bat and decided to lend him a hand, working together to maximize his output as GM while also making sure he was able to sign up new members. I'd tell prospective members that Frank was busy, but if they wanted to workout for free, they could leave their ID with me and retrieve it from Frank when they were done. 

This plan worked nicely and things were really coming together at The Gym ... until a man entered the gym about two months into Frank's tenure. I stood up from my chair and greeted him. 

"What the fuck is this?" He asked.

I figured he must have been someone from Corporate and asked who he was. He shot back his name and I looked at him, clueless. He shot back his job title: Regional Manager. 

And then, remembering those five critical words spoken in the spin room staff meeting, I said, "Frank said I could sit!" 

The red-faced Regional Manager marched upstairs quicker than I could grab the phone to warn Frank. He proceeded to yell at Frank for two hours—his booming voice so loud I could hear every word of the verbal beatdown all the way downstairs (sitting comfortably in my chair). 

After the RM stormed out, Frank called the front desk from his office. There was a brief pause before he sighed and spoke.

"Can you ... please put the chair in the closet?"

Just like that, Frank had been broken. And the RM changed the rules when he discovered Frank was acting as a sales consultant: If the GM makes a sale—no commission. 

When the law school students who worked part time at the desk got word that the chair was gone and studying was prohbited, they quit, en masse. Like, boom. We're out. Mic drop.

NO MORE KENT

Things at The Gym were changing—new corporate policies were being rolled out and sadly, that meant Kent, the beloved "do whatever he wanted" general manager, would have to adapt and become a corporate asshole. Not wanting to risk damaging his reputation, he took a promotion as district manager—instead of enforcing the rules, all he'd have to do is make sure managers were performing their onerous tasks. This increase in job responsibility came with more money, but if you asked Kent, he was being demoted, leaving his beloved gym to schlep all over the tri-state area, screaming at managers for not enforcing policies. Better, he thought, than ruining the culture he'd cultivated over many years.

But first, he needed to hire replacements—a general manager and a fitness manager. He virtually lived at The Gym, which meant he did both jobs. But a new manager wouldn't be able to handle all that responsibility.

He told me about the upcoming changes: rules, policies, procedures. And worse, it was likely that an unqualified moron would be at the helm, someone so terrified to stand up to corporate mandates for fear of losing their job. We wouldn't have a leader, we'd have a follower.

The field of new managers provided slim pickings. He read the following cover letter to me:

"I comprise a diverse background in project management, sport marketing, event planning, office administration, and young athletes. I am devoted to working hard, determined to thrive, proficient in paying attention, am opening-minded to direction, and am very, very patient among many other zealous qualities."

That person was not hired. Instead, we got Frank. Kent hated him from the jump—said he was a coward and a pushover. 

Just like that, Kent was gone and the rumors of new policies were already spreading like wildfire. The first new rule was the removal of the chair from the front desk. But there was more to the rumor: We weren't able to use quiet time to read, write, or study, which was odd, because those three things are what forged so many friendships between members and employees. 

Under Corporate's new vision, we were required to be friendly, warm and welcoming. We'd have to "forge lasting relationships" with members by handing them a freshly folded towel upon entering the gym. We were instructed to give them a great big smile and say, "Have a great workout!" 

These things are what corporate believed would create "lasting relationships" with our members. I think otherwise. I think breaking away from a novel, journal, or textbook causes more conversations and friendships than tossing someone a towel and reading off a script. 

But that's what corporations do. They arrive with grandiose plans that end up chasing away the good employees and replacing them with morons. 

THE SALES TEAM

A charming neighborhood in D.C. offers a chain gym.  Chances are, if you live or work in the neighborhood, you're a member. You won't need seductive/annoying coercions to join your local gym. The local population will be tapped out—but that's not enough for Corporate. They wanted more sales! More members! More money!

It wasn't realistic to seek constant growth for a neighborhood gym where members eventually plateau. The goal has to shift to maintaining a happy environment. So ... what happens when pressure to keep hitting quota never abates?

The sales team schemes. 

I was a shy kid when I began working at The Gym. Since they never wanted to lose a sale, the membership consultants gave me the job of holding onto prospective members. "Don't let a prospect leave," they'd say. They were both named Alex and they brought me out of my comfort zone, and for that, I guess I owe them. It's too bad they probably stole a lot of members' credit cards in the process ...

Fat Alex, as he called himself, kept a bottle of Febreeze in his office to mask the constant smell of McDonald's grease. He was always getting into trouble, whether it was dating a mob boss' daughter or trying to use bolt cutters to cut a boot off of his illegally parked car or dealing drugs in the locker room, where there were no security cameras. 

Fat Alex even used his obesity as a way to pressure prospective members: "Join so you don't look like me!" But ... that begs the question: If The Gym was so great and the equipment was so great, and the trainers were so great, why were any sales consultants overweight? 

They had specific scams they loved to use. If you're asking if the 300-pound former soldier, professional body building general manager, Kent, knew about their behavior, it's unclear. My guess is he knew and let a lot of that shit slide. However unsavory, his club always looked like a standout. 

Fat Alex and regular Alex had a few favorite scams:

1. GUEST PASS: When a non-member entered, they'd charge the standard $20 guest fee and then say the printer was broken, so the guest wouldn't get a receipt. The guest would say, "No problem." After leaving the front desk area, one of the Alexs' would turn to me and say, "Lunch!" 

2. GIFT CARDS. At the end of the month, if they were behind quota, they'd head to the CVS across the street and buy several $20 Visa gift cards. They'd create a fake new member and generate a $50 commission—making a net of $30. 

3. FROZEN ACCOUNTS. The Gym didn't charge a fee for freezing an account. Going out of town for a few months? Freeze your account. But they discovered that for a new member, they could add three additional accounts, generating three extra commissions. They'd immediately freeze the accounts—the members would be none the wiser that they had four accounts on one. 

4. PT KICKBACKS. The Gym employed around fifteen personal trainers, but the sales team made a deal with two of them—if they referred all new members to them and the new member purchased a personal training package, the trainer would give them a 10% kickback. 

 

 

THE HEALTH INSPECTOR COMES TO TOWN ...

The weekends were usually pretty chill at The Gym. Not a lot happened after the morning spin and yoga classes. If the weather was cold enough, I'd walk up to the Whole Foods and buy my groceries for the week and leave them outside, sometimes shoved into the snow to keep everything cool. 

Alex, the membership consultant, and I watched videos on YouTube—pre Netflix—or we'd scroll through the member database, comparing our crushes. Sometimes, even the trainers got in on the game and eventually we devised a little code word whenever a woman we liked came in: "Hey Pedro, the leg press is broken."

We'd roll up towels, wrap them in duct tape, and play catch. Weekends were boring.

So when a man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts stormed in with a clipboard and a lanyard dangling from his neck, saying he was the health inspector, we shrugged and sent him upstairs. To play it safe, I called Kent to tell him the health inspector was here. He also shrugged it off and said, "Put his report in my mailbox."

We continued typing in names like, "Balls, Harold" for our personal amusement, rolling in laughter when there were actually people in the system that matched our names. Ten minutes turned into a half hour, a half hour became an hour. Alex went out for lunch and returned. More time went by before it suddenly dawned on us that the health inspector had been upstairs for two hours.

Perfectly timed, the health inspector came storming downstairs and hurled his clipboard at me, screaming, "I'M COMING BACK TO SHUT THIS PLACE DOWN!"

We grabbed the telephone and called Kent. We started reading the report and realized something was off. The report was dated "10/15/71" and listed the number of pubic hairs counted on both urinals. There was a rough sketch of the dried urine at the floor of the urinals (men's bathrooms are nasty). There was even a note that the sanitary trash cans in the women's bathroom needed to be emptied. He'd been in the women's locker room ... 

Kent made a few calls and discovered that the man was a former health inspector who had been fired, had a mental breakdown, and was using his old ID to perform fake inspection reports.

STRIPPERS

Sauna sex, knife fights, drug deals, strippers, and more poop and pee than one cares to imagine. What sort of place is this? It's The Gym. 

I worked at The Gym for five years. When I decided to share these tales, I emailed a former member to ask what memories stood out for her. She said she knew why The Gym lost its 24/7 status: "Someone took a shit in the men's locker room. And it wasn't in the toilet." Was that the time the member couldn't make it to the bathroom in time? Because that was an accident. "No," she said. "It was a different time. A disgruntled member." Ohh! Was it the time someone took a shit in the urinal? "No," she said. "It was a different time." The time someone peed in the sauna?" "No," she said. "There was shit everywhere. It was disgusting."

How many "bathroom" stories exist? We're talking about The Gym. Too many ...

I had an easy first week at the front desk. Kent, the G.M., was a retired war veteran and a bodybuilder. If Corporate rolled out a new policy, we never heard about it. Kent wasn't that sort of manager. He had two rules: Show up. Do a great job. When the phone rang, he'd answer, "This is The Gym." No scripts. Ask a question, get an answer.

Downtime at the desk? We studied or read. The front desk was staffed mostly by law school students. They'd study for the bar or talk to members who were lawyers—sometimes obtaining an internship. They were paid to study with a benefit in the form of a free gym membership.

The Gym was a normal, quiet, happy place. Until Kent's friends showed up. They were bikers and bouncers from the strip club down the street. Oh, and he was friends with strippers, too. 

I'd been a member of The Gym for years prior to joining the staff, so I'd befriended Kent long before a stripper came in during my first Saturday shift asking for him. She needed "just ten bucks for a taxi home."

I called his cell. "There's a woman from the strip club asking for you. She needs money."

"Take ten bucks out of the cash register and tell her to fuck off." I gave her $10 and Kent's instructions. She thanked me, ran across the street to Starbucks and sat on the patio, drinking a strawberry frappuccino. The sun set, the front door swung open, and in she came, tearfully pleading to see Kent. She needed money. "For a taxi home."

"Do you remember me?" I asked. "You know, from like, three hours ago when you came in here and asked for money? And you got a strawberry frappuccino?"

She wept. She begged me to call Kent.

"She's back." I said. "And she needs money for a taxi."

Through laughter: "Tell that bitch to fuck off or you're calling the cops."

I relayed Kent's instructions. More tears. "How will I get home?" She asked to go upstairs to ask members for money, so I picked up the phone. She left. A moment later, a member left The Gym, and then returned to tell me there was a woman sobbing ... and peeing behind the Dumpster in the parking lot. 

Welcome to The Gym. It gets crazier. 

IN THE BEGINNING ...

In 2003, I headed to Andover, MA to become a professional wrestler. If you read my bio on the homepage, you know that didn't work. I bounced around in the restaurant industry for many years before finding nirvana: My neighborhood gym. 

Since I thought I was hot shit rock 'n roll, I assumed I'd waltz in and just get a job as a membership consultant. You know, that annoying salesman who calls you at the end of every month begging you to join so he make his quota. I wanted to be that guy. I thought I'd be good at it. I knew what my gym offered. Weights. Cardio. Yoga classes. They even had toilets and stuff. I'd be an awesome salesman.

Unfortunately, there were no sales jobs available. But there was a meager, hourly gig sitting at the front desk. I took it, figuring it was my way in and pretty soon, I'd land a job in sales. Five years later, I was fired from my front desk post. But in all that time, I got paid a few bucks, made a ton of friends, and have a cache of stories so mind bogglingly crazy, you won't think they're real. But they are. They're 100% True Gym Stories.