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Sunday, March 4, 2001

JAPAN LITE

A trip to the sports club really wipes you out


I'm wiped out. I've never been to a gym where people spend so much time wiping the machines after they used them. They wipe the mats after they stretch. They even wipe the drinking fountain after drinking -- excruciatingly polite. And if you forget to bring your towel to wipe, they've got wiping mitts at every machine, hanging next to a bottle of disinfectant.

Sure we've all wondered about sweaty machines. And that's where we stop wondering because we really don't want to know about other people's sweat. We don't want to think about that fine line between wiping and smearing, nor the possibilities of creating an explosive mixture by combining unknown sweats. The thought of sweat-carrying disease is something best not thought about at all while working out.

Until they invent the umbrella covers for humans, there is no way to contain our moisture. So we wipe.

But the more people obsessively wipe, the more you think, OK, someone in here has a serious disease -- who is it? Is it the woman over there with the tiny tush? Is it the hairy foreigner? The guy with the octaceps? No, that guy would scare off his own disease. Maybe it's me, and I'm the only one who doesn't know.

My Japanese gym is also very much into the shoe thing. To work out, you have to use virgin shoes -- ones that have never seen the streets. You walk into the locker room in your street shoes. Then you walk out of the locker room in your virgin workout shoes, across the same floor the street shoes have been on. Now if you ask me, it's not a good idea for Gucci to meet Reebok in the same neighborhood.

What's the point of changing shoes? I would have asked the staff, but I didn't want to give them more wiping ideas.

Once you're in the exercise room, you take off your virgin shoes before you stretch on the mat. Hopefully you are wearing clean socks. When you're finished, you put your shoes back on and you wipe the mat. Later, as you're doing your cardio routine, you wipe the sweat off your forehead and think: Yuck! Someone else's sodium!

When I was home in the United States recently, I visited my home gym, where people walk from their cars into the gym in the same shoes they work out in. As I lay on the mat, with my virgin shoes on, I must have been stretching among traces of motor oil, antifreeze and tar.

At about 4 p.m., when the gym was invaded by high-school basketball players with personal trainers, I knew it was time to retire to the locker room. That's when I noticed the suitcases.

Ladies, who had just jetted in from the parking lot, had brought their entire wardrobes and bathroom toiletries in suitcases called "Locker Mates." An act of "feng shui," this portable wardrobe and bathroom has shelves for toiletries and a place to hang clothes inside, and is tall and narrow enough to fit in the bottom of a locker. I made a mental note: "Locker Mate -- should I ever become homeless."

The Locker Mates have dual openings on each side for easy access, like a mini-van. I expect these ladies had a spare tire and a family of four inside.

I wonder what all this will lead to. Soon we'll have Locker Mates for transporting our living rooms: a TV, small refrigerator, wet bar, some artwork for the walls. One day we'll never have to leave our house to go to the gym; we'll just take the house with us.

A blonde lady who had showered, changed clothes, dried her hair and put on her makeup, pulled out a lint-roller from her Locker Mate and started rolling it over her blouse.

"Care for a drink?" she asked.

"Scotch on the rocks," I answered as I borrowed her disinfectant to wipe off the traces of motor oil, antifreeze and tar from my shoes.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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