A Tale Of Health-Club Horror
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – True! Nervous, very nervous I have been, but will you say that I am mad? This onslaught has sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them.

It is impossible for me to say how first the idea entered my brain to attain a level of fitness superior to the one I now possess. Perhaps the excess of wheeze that beset me when forced to climb the stairs to the Metro North train at the end of the day distressed me. Or my sudden inability to drink six martinis and stay up until 3 A.M. without trembling like a dying moth for the entire next day. Who can tell? I determined one bleak spring morning to ameliorate my physical situation and so, full of hope and beans, took myself to the exercise emporium over the old Episcopal church near my meager apartments.

What happened there is unimportant. I am mad, you will say, and perhaps you are right, perhaps executive existence has shriveled my brain to the size of a rotten nectarine, but after a tour of the facilities, which were unexceptional but adequate, the extremely fit saleswoman took me to a small room, gave me a cup of coffee and some promotional material, and yes! Shameful but true ... I signed a form that committed me to not one, not two, but three years of total fitness at a cost of some $60 a month, said sum to be deducted automatically from my puny checking account.

Ah, my friends, the human mind is a fragile thing, is it not? ... Need I say that I never passed through the doors of the place again? At first, I gave myself excuses. I had to be at work too early, or had stayed up too late, or was tired after a long trip to L.A., or preparing for one the next day. After a time I even stopped offering those. But, oh, my friends! The horror! The inexorable, hateful deductions from my bank account continued even as I lay on my fetid bed of shame in the mornings, listening to the crows berate me for my indolence. Worse, my answering machine filled with messages begging me to come back and submit to personal training of various kinds. I answered not. And still I paid, as perhaps I should, at least for a while.

Then as sometimes happens in this arbitrary life of ours, the God that looks over even the most chuckleheaded of us intervened. I lost my bank card and was forced to change the number by which the mercantile establishments of this city know me. At first I viewed this as an inconvenience. I didn't recognize that my change in fiduciary status had severed the moldy ties binding me to a variety of vendors--and one of those was yes! yes, my friends! One of those was the health club.

The calls began almost at once. At first, they were human, but very shortly a mechanical monster was trotted out. "This is Bally's Total Fitness," an unearthly voice with a slight New Jersey accent would intone. "This member must call immediately about a matter of extreme importance!" or some such. The calls continued, one a day at first, then two or even three. Dread, my friends. Dread was what I felt when I returned from a day of work to find my message light blinking, for I knew too well what it meant. Good Lord! I had already paid more than $300! Had I not been punished enough for my foolishness?

I did what I always do when I have a problem that needs solving. I asked Dee, my assistant, to solve it. She is persuasive and decisive, while I was, at that point, a throbbing membrane of resentment. She called to quit for me. Moments later, she entered my office with a bemused mien. I hate that mien. "They won't allow me to quit for you," she said.

Now I was truly angry. Who were these people to create a problem that could not be delegated? I called my tormentors. "I quit!" I told a live entity. "I have never been to your facility! Not once! I have already paid a king's ransom!"

"You can't quit to me," said a male voice, calm and implacable. "I don't have the power to be quit to."

"Beast!" screamed I. "I renounce your procedures!" And hung up. I immediately faxed a formal letter of resignation. Yet answer came there none. Except ... the incessant, never-ending electronic demands to get back in touch. Calls to my office stopped after I screamed "I quit! perhaps a dozen times to a variety of gorgons. My home was not so fortunate, still receiving, as I have told you, one, two, three calls per day and mail, yes, letter after letter dunning me for huge sums that must needs be paid now! Now! Now!

They wake me on Sunday! They will not stop or rest! No! There it is again! That damned ringing, ringing! I must scream or die!--and now--listen! Louder! Louder! Villains! I admit my deed! I am to blame! Here! Here! It is the ringing of my hideous phone!

Now cut it out, will ya?

Stanley Bing is an executive at a FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He is the author of two new books: The Big Bing, a collection of essays, and You Look Nice Today, a novel. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.