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Dumbbells, trash talk and biscuits

I’m dumb.

Gotta be: I’ve been in what I call the “Dumb Room.”

The Dumb Room is the weight room at the recreation center.

I spend a lot of time there; I have nothing better to do.

It is the Dumb Room because of the tremendous number of dumbbells in the joint.

Dumbbells are metal, and they are flesh.

The metal dumbbells come in various shapesand weights. There are teensy dumbbells and there are massive dumbbells.

The flesh dumbbells come in varioius shapes and weights. There are teensy dumbbells and there are massive dumbbells.

The unfortunate thing is that some of the dumbbells can talk.

The metal dumbbells exhibit a steady zero IQ and are pleasantly unresponsive to all influences but gravity. The ambient air temperature has no effect on them, neither does the season of the year and the accompanying photoperiod, or the battle they had with their mate an hour earlier. There is no they.

The flesh dumbbells are a different matter. All of us flesh dumbbells in the Dumb Room also have a zero IQ, when we are actively engaged with the metal dumbbells. Weight training – i.e. picking up heavy things and putting them down again – is not rocket science. Sure, there are those who spout off about the technical complexities of this brutish activity but, remember, these folks are dumb.

Lifting heavy objects and putting them down again is a Zen activity – an emptying of the mind, a journey in an endorphin-rich mental wasteland. A wasteland in which you often hurt yourself because, well, you are dumb.

All in all, the Dumb Room can be a pretty nice place.

The problem is, as mentioned above, that flesh dumbbells can talk. And they do so when not actively engaged with metal dumbbells. Far too many flesh dumbbells forget why they are in the Dumb Room.

Some of the chatter is harmless — shallow social patter, short exchanges involving questions as to the status of family and friends, a report on the latest injuries suffered because people in the Dumb Room are dumb.

Other of the talk, however, is zero IQ material of the most annoying kind: politics, prejudices, the latest from cable news, conspiracy theories, the miracle food supplement that will enable you to live forever! In perfect health!

The Dumb Room, in other words, is like a neighborhood bar, without the booze.

As such, a visit for someone relishing the Zen experience can be frustrating. You have to listen to this crud. It’s like sitting in the hallway of a nursing home, lashed to your chair with heavy leather restraints, forced to endure the meaningless blabber that envelops you.

“I’ll tell you one thing: Obama has got us in one hell of a fix with these terrorists. The guy doesn’t know the first thing about how to fight a war.”

Hmmm, and his predecessors did?

“The real problem in this country is illegal immigrants. I mean, look at all the crimes they commit. They come up here (up?) and our police spend most of their time dealing with these illegals. What’s the government doing about it? And those activist judges in the federal courts; what are they doing? Giving illegals amnesty? They’re just letting them all in and doing nothing about it.”

Hmmm, wonder when most of those illegal immigrants came here? Do you think it was back when there was work? Let’s see, when was that? Oh, yeah, I remember: it was back when we had no crime.

“Well, I agree with you, pardner. But, a few of those people are hard workers. We need to find a way to keep them and throw back the trash. “

Indeed, if a man is willing to do the work of two citizens for half the price, keep him. Someone has to do the yard work and the heavy lifting.

“My ancestors were German. They weren’t like these people. They came here as honest, hardworking people, looking for a better way of life. And when they came, they had to pass a test and learn to speak English.”

Well, we know all Germans are hard workers, don’t we? If I recall, a lot of Germans worked hard at a bunch of things seventy years ago. Did a pretty good job of it for a while. And the German immigrants who came here? Who cares if there were “German” towns in the Midwest in which the German language was spoken for at least two generations? And how about those Italians and Jews who immigrated ? They learned English, right away, didn’t they? So did the Poles who came to the Midwest. The second generation, at least. (Forget that a lot of folks were still speaking Yiddish when I lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the ’60s). So, why let the “trash” get away with something? And, speaking of trash … what did a lot of folks call the Irish when they immigrated after the Potato Famine? Of course, they spoke English. Sort of. Not sure they could pass a test, though.

“These socialists are going to destroy this country with their big government. Have you checked out the deficit? Unbelievable.”

And the deficit a year ago wasn’t unbelievable? Or two years ago?

“You got it, buddy. And how about the health program those socialists want to put in place? Thank goodness there are people in Congress who refuse to go along with that crap.”

Yeah, you bet. Or we might all have to suffer a socialist program like Medicare. Or something like veterans’ benefits. Wouldn’t want that, would we?

“And can you believe what they are letting those bankers get away with? And how about all those socialist jerks complaining about corporations being allowed to spend money on campaigns!’

No contradictions here. Obviously, until this year, big bankers were right in line, fighting for fairness and honesty at every turn. That is, when they weren’t busy raising your credit card interest rate. The financial meltdown occurred just this year, didn’t it? And anyone in his right mind knows a corporation has the same standing as an individual American citizen, even if it keeps a large part of its operation offshore. After all, the Supreme Court said so. And who knows better than the Supreme Court — the good kind of activist judges?

I can’t empty my mind with all this blather in the air.

I grab a heavier pair of dumbbells (metal) and hoist them. It does no good. The two bozos broadcasting their sound-bite wisdom seem intent on publically establishing their severe limitations beyond a shadow of a doubt. They are filibustering my mindless bliss.

I can’t take it.

I leave.

I head for the next dumbest place in the center — the cardio area. I am greeted by an array of stationary bikes, recumbent bikes, treadmills, rowing machines.

The endorphins are harder to come by (at least for a lazy, fat guy,). The upside: very few people feel compelled to engage in dialogue or diatribe while using these medieval torture devices.

But, the activity is so stultifying (I am peddling like a fiend and going nowhere!) I have to grab something to occupy my attention , to keep myself from focusing on the absurdity of the recumbent bike.

My personal faves are magazines that come close to extinguishing the IQ: dumbbell magazines, those that specialize in revealing the scandalous behavior of celebrities and politicians.

Brad and Angelina? Tell me no.

Valerie Bertinelli’s weight loss drama? What a determined gal.

Madonna’s latest boy toy? Get a good pre-nup.

Wow, my mind is reduced to ruin in no time.

I struggle when I leave the gym to reestablish the mental skills necessary to concoct a menu for the evening’s dinner.

I could stay at the Dumb Room level and pop a couple Pop Tarts in the microwave, or serve up a bowl of dry cereal. But, no. Even when my IQ is squeezed down to reptilian levels in the Dumb Room and cardio area, I do not lose my discriminating appetite (I think it is located somewhere in the amygdala). In fact, the first skill I regain upon leaving the center is my ability to make menu decisions.

What to cook following a deliberate effort to obliterate my ability to think, compounded by lengthy exposure to toxic opinions?

On this particular day, I am still reeling from being hit repeatedly with the pinhead hammer. I wander the aisles of the market, captivated by brightly colored packages, by shiny lights above the displays.

I waddle past the refrigerated case containing pie doughs, bread doughs, tubes of biscuit mix … and it hits me: creamed something over biscuits. Buy the biscuits, ready to bake. I toss a tube in my little basket.

Then, to the adjacent dairy case for a carton of whole milk and some unsalted butter.

I am coming out of the fog.

Creamed … what?



Too much work.

Dried , chipped beef?

Too much like Boy Scout camp.


Only with fresh tuna and, as we all know, the chances of finding “fresh tuna” here in Siberia With a View, are slim, at best.



I find my way to the fish case. The packs of salmon have a “manager’s special” sticker on them. Only someone with a death wish buys fish on sale.

I find some choice red salmon in a can. It’ll do.

I pick up a pack of frozen new peas, a white onion, a lemon, some greens; I speed to the checkout and from there somehow find my way home.

The dinner is simple (as am I).

I sweat minced white onion in four tablespoons butter. When the onion is soft and translucent, I add four tablespoons flour and whisk until flour and fat are incorporated. I cook for a few minutes over medium heat then add milk, a bit at a time, whisking all the while. I add milk until I achieve the desired thickness. In goes a bit of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. I toss in a mess of dried tarragon and a half teaspoon of whole grain mustard. I take the skin from the salmon, debone the meat and add chunks to the sauce. I cook a cup of frozen peas, in boiling, salted water, drain them and add them to the sauce, folding them in so as not to destroy the hunks of fish (such as they are).

I whip up a salad and make a citrus vinaigrette with lemon juice, olive oil, tarragon, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.

Finally, I bake the biscuits and, when they are done, I split a biscuit, slop sauce over the top of the two halves and it’s time to eat. A bit of sriracha is a nice finishing touch.

As I eat, and my cognitive powers increase, I watch a single pea roll slowly off the top of a biscuit and across the plate.

A trash pea, escaping the sauce.

I squash the pea and I eat it.

If it won’t learn English, it has to go.