Climbing the Stairway to Hell
THE Stairmaster at the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center (Q-RAC) looks harmless enough--something like one of those horizontal escalators at the airport, only much smaller, and with the handles from the handicapped bathroom thrown in.
Like sex, everyone seems to be doing it these days. Everyone talks about doing it. Everyone survives doing it. But I'm not quite sure that everyone enjoys doing it.
After months of watching my roommates troop off to the gym each day and return looking robust and healthy, I decided it was time for me to give it a try.
I squeezed into my best pair of flesh-constraining Spandex, then pulled on my most inspiring t-shirt (the one that depicts Garfield saying, "I'm not overweight, I'm undertall,") and a sweatshirt. Palms sweating, I headed across Garden St.
THE Stairmaster sits upstairs from all of the other weight equipment, as if it belongs in a class above the nautilus machines and the ordinary, technologically boring stationary bikes.
I stepped onto the peddles of the machine. I looked at the instructions; the first one--written in bold letters--was to consult a physician.
Consult a physician? For what? To tell me how to use the thing? I was about to get off and call UHS for an appointment, when I thought to myself, "How dangerous could this thing be?"
Then, I happened to notice the Health Warning.
Caution: Stop exercise if you feel pain, faint or short of breath.
The grammatical ambiguity of the statement was disheartening. Was I supposed to stop when I felt faint or after I actually fainted? And isn't being short of breath what exercise is all about? I got short of breath just walking over.
The Stairmaster was sounding a lot like one of those rides at an amusement park that 13-year-old boys ride until they throw up. I scanned the rest of the console for a "You must be at least this tall" notice, thinking that my short body might disqualify me.
No such luck. It was either the Stairmaster or three hours of high-impact aerobics. I figured that the Stairmaster couldn't be that bad.
I turned it on.
THE peddles lowered and the lights blinked. The machine asked me to enter my weight.
This machine actually thought I was going to admit my real weight while there were people around. If I were comfortable with that information, I wouldn't have been on the damn machine in the first place.
So I lied. I entered a respectable number--my diastollic blood pressure. The machine beeped and asked me to enter my weight again. The person waiting in line behind me looked impatient. I smiled sheepishly and said, "I thought that meant ideal weight."
Then I realized that I was standing on the machine and that it probably had an internal scale to detect when people lied. I kept wondering if, after I left, the next person would be treated to the message, "Wooh! You're a lot lighter than the whale who was just on here." I briefly considered transferring to a river house.
I entered a number a little closer to reality--the last three numbers of the Cambridge ZIP code. Luckily, the evil machine did not challenge me.
It only made me pick my appropriately named torture. I had the options of "interval training" (intervals of two weeks, I hoped), "Pike's Peak" (for those who exercise in hiking boots instead of Reeboks), "random" (for my house assignment), "manual control" (for Gov. concentrators), "roller coaster" (the machine does a 360 while you climb), "lunar landing" (so you can space out while exercising) or "steady climb" (for underachievers).
I opted for roller coaster, reasoning that I could reasonably justify eating some cotton candy later. With all of the flashing lights and beeps, I thought it could be like a Nintendo for pre-professionals--pop a cartridge in and step all over the little stock market analysts.
As I was marching through my personal Coney Island, I started to get bored. There was nothing to look at but the muted orange decor of the upper level of the Q-RAC.
I imagined Sharper Image marketing a video-screen-equipped Stairmaster to go along with their similar stationary bikes.
The Sharper Image bicycles simulate riding down a road in the French countryside. For the Stairmaster, the videos would have to be more like a journey up the Eiffel Tower. Harvard-specialized Stairmasters could feature the dash up to the balcony of Sanders when you are late for class.
These thoughts were interrupted by the inescapable realization that I really wanted to trade in my Stairmaster for the yet-to-be-invented Elevatormaster.
My frustration grew when a curious bystander started to ask me questions.
"It doesn't seem as if you are taking big enough steps," this undernourished creature said.
"Oh, I see, it only lets you take eight-inch steps. That doesn't seem like very much. I thought this was like mountain climbing, but it's really only little steps," the pale fellow added.
I was about to take a very large step and kick him in the stomach.
"Doesn't this machine tell you how many calories you burn off?" he continued.
I looked down at the buttons and pressed one. The Stairmaster God told me that I had burned 27 calories off my body so far.
"Why that's about half a carrot," he said. "I wonder if that's in kilocalories or calories?"
What was he trying to say? That after 10 minutes I had really only burned off .0027 calories--about one-tenth of a sugar granule on the chocolate chip cookie I ate in the dining hall?
"I just burned off 200 calories on the rowing machine downstairs," he volunteered.
Now I was angry. This guy looked about as capable of rowing as I did to play rugby for the Romanian Olympic team. He had more likely spent the last half-hour in the locker room reading MacWorld.
The machine began to slow down. A brief flash of hope told me that my prayer that the machine would break down forever had been answered. Then I realized that it was only the final "cool down" stage of the workout.
The screen gave me my final message: "Goal attained." I went back to my dorm and ate the half of a carrot I had just burned off. Then I ate a chocolate chip cookie.
OK, a box of chocolate chip cookies.
Beth L. Pinsker '93 has determined that she is undertall.