WITH THE arrival of spring comes the predictable surge of activity at the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) as Harvard students frantically prepare their bodies for the transition from libraries and lecture halls to sea shores and swimming polls. Yet with each new face I see at the MAC these days, I grow ever more disdainful of Harvard's egalitarian approach to physical fitness.
Some people just don't belong at the MAC. Plain and simple.
You see, I'm what you might call a "MAC rat," one of those fanatical, all-season, rain or shine, day and night devotees of Harvard's most extensive exercise facility. I resent the amateurs and dilettantes who have invaded the MAC at the expense of its most loyal users.
We are to the MAC what Norm, Cliff and Fraser are to Cheers, the athletic equivalent of the Society of Nerds and Greeks.
MAC rats have watched as the Harvard masses turned what was once a decent, wellkept gym into a noisy, overcrowded circus where one must scramble for weights, fight for dumbbells and stand in long lines for the most popular (and most misused) equipment. That's why so many of us wake up early to beat the crowds.
But beyond the sheer volume of users these days, the MAC suffers other problems as well. For example, equipment frequently breaks or, worse yet, disappears--no doubt the handiwork if ingenious thieves who think they can accomplish more with a single 25-pound dumbbell in their room than with the entire set at the MAC.
OVER THE LAST few months I have identified several types of individuals whose expulsion from the MAC is necessary before we can reinvigorate the ideals of hard work and excellence that inspired its creation. While not scientific, my findings are the product of hours of frustrating encounters with countless nincompoops.
The talker. By far the most common irritant in the MAC, the talker chit-chats with his buddies about last night's party or tomorrow's midterm while others wait for the equipment he pretends to be using. Loud and obnoxious, he disturbs others with his incessant guffawing and meaningless banter. The talker should take his tea party to Boston Harbor.
The reader. Perhaps the most studious user of the MAC, the reader cannot pry herself away from a long enough to complete a workout. She fruitlessly attempts to build her mind while building her muscles. Often seen clutching a book while climbing the Stairmaster, the reader belongs in the library, not the MAC.
The meditator. This one mystifies me. He seems eager to perform an exercise and may even ask you to spot him. But upon grasping the equipment, the meditator drifts into a trance of sorts, sitting motionless and staring into space. The meditator resembles the average student in a statistics lecture. He should seek professional counseling before ever coming near the MAC.
The grunter. The most comic of all MAC miscreants, the grunter cannot help herself. When performing an exercise, she invariably growls, gasps, moans, snorts, screams or even yells to convey to everyone the intensity of her efforts. An interesting note: The grunter's loudness is inversely proportional to the quality of her workout.
The poser. Closely related to his friend, the grunter, the poser spends most of his time in front of the mirror. Whether flexing his muscles, straightening his shirt or fixing his hair, the poser seems more interested in picking up dates than in packing up weights. To regain his focus, the poser should spend an evening with an officer of the Radcliffe Union of Students.
To be sure, this list is not exhaustive. I have encountered many individuals whose behavior places them in more than on category. For example, the mediator-poser zones out while staring at himself in the mirror, as if frozen by the mere sight of himself in shorts. Others, like the guy who tried to do dumbbell biceps curls while holding a three-month-old infant in the other arm, defy any classification whatsoever. They're just weird.
BUT MORE importantly, they're dangerous--not only to themselves, but also to the continued maintenance and proper functioning of the MAC. As I see it, the MAC suffers from two principal problems that stem from its excessive accessibility to the public--overcrowding and misuse. To combat these evils, I propose two reforms: First, a membership fee of say, $25 per term, would force students to think seriously about their pursuit of physical fitness, thereby discouraging dabblers and jokers from wasting time at the MAC.
Moreover, individual investment in the MAC would help alleviate the problems normally associated with public goods, such as Aristotle's famous "tragedy of the commons." Right now, the MAC suffers the same neglect and mistreatment that afflict public housing projects, local parks and other products of modern socialism.