'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
SWEATY GYM A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Living in the northeast means that winter months are dark, cold, and dreary. And thatís when itís fairly nice outside. If the weather turns bad, then it becomes REALLY dark, REALLY cold, and SO dreary it seems like April is about a million years away.
Recently I was reminded that there is one enjoyable respite from the dreariness of winter; a special place where the darkness and the bitter chill of this time of year can be set aside for a while. No, I donít mean flying to Miami for a quick weekend vacation. Iím talking about a place nearby, a place that is affordable to those of us who canít think about weekends in Miami since weíre too busy trying to figure out how to pay the heating oil bill. Iím talking about an oasis from the cold: a sweaty gymnasium.
Thereís just something special about a hot, steamy basketball court in the dead of winter. I have fond memories of being a wide-eyed 11-year-old, tagging along with my dad when he ran the Thursday night Park & Rec hoop league in our town, and sitting in the bleachers watching the teenagers play. Then a few years later, playing on the high school team allowed me the opportunity to visit the sweaty, stuffy gyms of the schools in the now-defunct Shoreline Conference.
Later, away at college, a highlight of the long winters were the nights weíd trudge through the snow from our dorms or frat houses to rickety old Davis Gymnasium and watch a young and unknown Jim Valvano try to instill some inner-city B-ball swagger in a squad that was too short, too pale, and had too many chemistry majors, at a small school out in the middle of Nowheresville, Pennsylvania.
After that, during the short window of time when I was out of college but before my knees turned into porcelain, YMCA gyms in Hartford and New Britain offered a chance to get out of the cold, work up a good sweat, and enjoy lumbering around in some of the most competitiveówhile at the same time least talentedópick-up games in history.
The common thread is the gym. When itís 10 degrees outside and the wind is howling and it seems like you havenít seen the sun in a month, walking into an old gym is like going through a time machine. Your senses are overwhelmed by the flickering fluorescent lights, the pungent locker room smell, the warmth, and the humidity.
It had been a long time since I experience those sensations. Then a few weeks ago a friend called and asked me to join him at a Torrington High School game on a cold Friday night. Not only did it turn out to be one of the best Naugatuck Valley League games in years (just ask Joe P. of the Sports Dept.), it turned out to be a delightful trip down Memory Lane. I closed my eyes and heard the distinctive squeaking of sneakers on the hardwood floor. I could smell the aroma of concession stand popcorn mixing with the mildew of sweaty socks. I could feel the bleachers vibrate as the crowd clapped and stomped at yet another spectacular play. And the trickle of sweat on my forehead made it impossible to imagine that it was cold and windy outside.
For a moment I was in a musty Shoreline Conference gym in 1971. Then in Lewisburg, PA, in 1975. Then at the Hartford Y in 1982. It was awesome.
If you canít afford to fly to Miami this winter, go visit a sweaty gym. Youíll love it.
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