I hit the gym today. I packed a white shirt and a pair of gray shorts and my scruffed tennis shoes but forgot my socks. Went into a local gym, which claimed to be hidden behind a strip mall on Google Maps but was actually ensconced at the back of a trendy garden patio assemblage over which spilled out expensive chairs and tables for a trendy restaurant. The gym goers were encouraged to walk through the restaurant’s parking lot, along the alley behind the kitchen and then cross out into the bright lights and matinee boozers for only five seconds before plunging through a side door and into Idol’s Gym.

Think big space, metal surfaces painted firetruck red, a projector playing a movie in huge dimensions above our heads. Something akin to an FBI procedural starring that guy from Memento. This German lady behind the desk effusively allowed me to wander around and take a look, so I drifted about, peering at massively tattooed massive men as they benched and squatted and crunched and curled. They all seemed very serious, very intense. I came back and said I was sold, and handed over my credit card.

A few minutes later I realized I hadn’t packed my socks. I hate wearing tennis shoes without socks, that slick feeling you get under your soles, slippery and damp. But hell, I was in a real gym with real men. I felt like I should embrace going sockless, should proclaim it casually to the other guys as we lounged by the leg press or something. Instead I forced myself not to grimace as I padded out like a footsore cat burglar and found myself a lonesome squat rack.

Now I love me a good squat rack. I spent a month or two eying interesting possibilities on Craig’s List and eBay. Ah, my kingdom for a squat rack, a barbell and about 200 lbs in plates. Forget isometric machines, gimme the open range and a slighty rusted barbell, the knurl worn down almost smooth, a slight curve to the bar where it’s bowed before the inevitability of gravity over the years, that iron tang, the clumsily piled mass of weights that nobody can seem to bother to rack.

My first day in the gym, the first of many, and I’ve learned enough to go slow. The urge, the tendency, is to do as much as you can, a gusty show of exuberance and hubris that will inevitably bring you low the next day as your hamstrings seize up and you walk around as if you dropped something of dubious value in your pants. So I gripped the barbell, pushed and pulled myself back and forth on it as if testing how firmly it was resting, and then nodding in a show of profession satisfaction I ducked under it, allowed it to rest on my bunched traps, and straightened.

Ah, me. How the years have gone by. Gone are the days I could bust out three sets of five reps with five or ten pounds on either end, boasting after at the local tapas bar that I squatted some sixty five or seventy pounds. Having swum this morning my legs were already protesting, demanding that I lie down and pick up a novel, and so placing more weight on my shoulders was a no-no.

Especially as much weight as an unloaded bar. With a crack that I felt more than heard my left ankle gave way, and I collapsed with a clattering clang that drew every eye even as blood began to fountain from my nose. I must have ruptured something, I said to myself in a cold and analytical voice even as the massively tattooed dude to my right began to scream, smothering his face and mouth with his hands.

OK, no, nothing cracked. Nothing broke, ruptured or gave way. I did my sets and walked away to do some shoulder presses followed by a little light benching, and then covered with a fine sheen of perspiration skipped out of the gym.

However, get this, there was this personal trainer there, a regular dude with a shock of styled hair and an uneasy look on his face like a drunken wildebeest slowly becoming aware of the presence of a lion in his midst. He was training this older guy, maybe late forties, the kind of dude with paper thin skin and googly eyes, hair thinning and cottage cheese legs. You know the type. Everything seemed relatively normal until the googly eyed guy spoke, and I swear he sounded just like Shirley Valentine. No wonder the trainer was spooked! I nearly dropped my unloaded barbell, which would no doubt have caused something to crack, a sound I would have felt more than heard, even as blood–

OK. Anyways, the trainer would say something casual, like, “Dude, awesome lat power, you’re maxillating like a seal, no blubber no hitter no batter,” and then the googly eyed older dude would pipe up in the weirdest falsetto, “I always told my mother I was born for the iron game. I always knew I had a soft potential. Tell me more about my lats.”

I almost walked over and asked him what was up. Was he born that way? Can you imagine how hard it must be to have cottage cheese legs and a voice like a sweet eight year old? Props to him to coming out and putting so much TLC into his lats.

Anyways, I did my thing and went home. I’m going back on Wednesday. Sure I am. Maybe I’ll even take a pair of socks.