So it is cozy. You might say small. Or even absurdly tiny.
And it is busy. Teeming, if you prefer. Perhaps you stand a greater chance of being struck by lightning while clutching a winning lottery ticket and barebacking flying swine than eyeing an open elliptical machine during peak hours.
And there is only one (legal) entrance. Despite the plentiful student government platforms based solely on outrage over this limitation. And in spite of the fact that a perfectly viable door marked “Stephens Fitness Center” which – true to its word – leads directly into the Stephens Fitness Center without a preceding labyrinth of double doors and disturbingly naked old men does, in fact, exist.
And it closes at 45 minutes past the hour. Meaning that you never see the end of a Sunday Night Baseball game. Or ER. Or, God forbid, NewsNight with Aaron Brown.
And the treadmills are always in use. Except when they are broken. And you must linger in the milling crowd that functions as a line either way. And if, after an extended period of false limbering up and the compulsory few minutes of confused half-sentences and verbal glances when a treadmill opens up, you become the anointed one, you just might have the misfortune of landing on one of the several machines prone to power cord foot-faults that lead to sudden outages and the painful exaggeration of that end-of-an-airport-moving-sidewalk sensation.
And the stationary bicycles retain the sweat sheen of eras past. And only a few have foot-straps affixed the right way. And the seats might inexplicably collapse the metal rod that fixes seat-height mid-cycle, causing your legs to shrink a couple of inches very suddenly while you look down in response to the metallic pop, contorting your face in mock disbelief as if this were the first time, and making you the temporary object of the latent schadenfreude of your fellow cyclists.
And then there are the musically-encased masses unwilling or unable to engage in conversation. The skinny you wish were not there. The obese you wish were somehow more there. The middle-aged guy you hate for lifting more than you can. And the bona fide male varsity athletes, looking annoyed at the forced indignity of shirts (luckily some own spandex), accruing your and everybody else’s vain hatred. Oh, and Governor McGreevey with his black car posse.
The inevitability and interminability of Coldplay. The sets of two water fountains that are each actually one split in half. The antibacterial soap dispensers waiting anxiously for first customers. The sign at the entrance proclaiming that all members and Princeton University students must have an ID handy because spot checks are imminent. The Stephens Fitness Center will be closing in fif-teen minutes.
So there might be a few things to complain about. But if you shake off the alcohol- or fatigue-induced coil of sleep at eight o’clock on a bright, blustery, spring Saturday, amble through the thankfully deserted Dillon Gym lobby, meander through the myriad sets of double doors, head through the creaking turnstile, nod at the sleepy-eyed trainer wading through the several hours until his job offers more than a trickle of interest, stretch out quickly, jump onto a stationary bicycle with two straps or a reliable treadmill or an elliptical machine and ride to the point of exhaustion while you try to keep your eyes attuned to Sportscenter but instead find yourself drawn to the strains of sunlight streaming through the partitioned glass, waking you and the few other still-slumbering patrons as if your mother were drawing the blinds on a Monday off from school, then eventually wander downstairs and find yourself confronted by a vast emptiness of metal over which you reign as you lift, until slowly, gradually you are compelled to demarcate an array of duchies for followers, the imperfections of the gym will fall away; the urgency of your life will break down as muscle; the worrisome thoughts of school, life and the future will flow out with your sweat; your pent-up frustrations will dissipate, billowing away in the occasional cool blasts of air from the corner air vents; and you will realize what a beautiful thing the Stephens Fitness Center is. (Just don’t try it anytime soon – I need my space.)