In keeping with my New Year’s resolution, I joined a gym the other day. Yes, I can read a calendar. It just took me a while to work up to it. Gymnasia are weird places, sociologically speaking. There are so many competing behavioral codes all conflicting with each other. People are dressed in skin-tight outfits, maniacally trying to distract their brains with music, books, or discreet lewd gawking, drenched in sweat, performing repetitive activities which, in a previous era where sitting in one place for eight hours wasn’t called a “job” so much as it was called a “coma,” didn't need to exist.
They made me sign a contract before they let me join their loony bin. It was four pages long. Can you freaking believe that? Four pages. No exaggeration. According to the muscular, peppy, manequinesquely good-looking people who run the place, I am Client #4187. Even though my name is written in both print and cursive no less than seven times on these four pages, they still feel the need to assign me a number. I am #4187.
There’s so much to make fun of about this contract that I almost don’t know where to start. First off, why do I need to be contractually obligated to them at all? I guess I kind of understand their desire to make me sign a liability waiver. There is a lot of heavy stuff that could potentially kill me or someone else, someone better looking in tighter clothes. So, they need to know that, even if I die or kill someone, they won’t get sued. That’s messed-up, but so common in our overly litigious society that I get where they’re coming from. There are more ways for me to die in a gym than in, say, a Rotary Club meeting. That doesn’t explain why there’s a line for me to give them my social security number, but it does explain about a page and a half of the four total pages.
Like most forms, after the heading that states their name, address, phone number, website address, and logo, there’s a rectangle for my basic personal information: name, birth date, phone number, email, etc. This gym also wanted to know my occupation (as if that will somehow affect how I use the leg press), my work phone number (in case someone else lists me as his emergency contact?), and my social security number (in case they want to steal my identity).
Then there’s the payment method. That makes sense. They do, oh so helpfully, provide me with the option of letting them rape my bank account once a month. But, one of the only two reasons for the contract at all is to function as a payment receipt, which I understand.
They also generously allow me to get out of my contractual obligations if: I move (as long as I pay them $50), they move (they don’t offer to pay me $50), or I die or are permanently disabled (presumably by some non-Nautilus means). It’s nice of them to let me stop paying them once I’m dead. However, “Reasonable proof of death may be required under this paragraph.” It’s that kind of personal touch that really makes me feel right at home. What’s reasonable proof of death? Does my wife need to drag my corpse on a gurney over to the gym? Would one of their employees or representatives be willing to drop by the morgue and nod? Do I have to have an open casket?
Then there’s the liability novella. They always start with the doctor clause. “The Club urges you and all members to obtain a physical examination from a doctor before using any exercise equipment.” Really? Other than maybe paraplegics, who does that?
“I understand and am aware that that strength, flexibility, and aerobic exercise including the use of any equipment is a potentially hazardous activity.” So is cutting a porterhouse, but Longhorn doesn’t make you sign anything.
I think my favorite clause in the liability portion of the contract is the Child Care part. First off, there’s no child care. There must be at one or more of their other locations, otherwise why put it in there at all? Second, and this is priceless, the contract states, “The undersigned further understands that personal injuries sometimes occur to children while in the care of others, but knowing such risk and in consideration of the Services provided, the undersigned hereby agrees to assume those risks and to release and hold UNNAMED GYM harmless.” In other words, we may kill your kid, but hey, these things happen.
The contract has the nerve to state, in no uncertain terms that they don’t cure disease. Has this been a problem? “UNNAMED GYM and its employees or representatives are in no way intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease through its services or programs.” Really? They can’t cure my scabies? The girl on the treadmill next to me can’t diagnose me with gonorrhea? Even if she gave it to me?
Most of the rest is boilerplate legal nonsense, the kind of crap we all have to sign to do almost anything these days. It’s sad. It’s condescending. It’s insulting to them, me, my bereaved family of the future, the ancient Greeks, the bath towel industry, personal trainers as a group, Taco Bell, the makers of Lap Band, the makers of Ding-Dongs, the legal profession, and society at large. But, it’s just one those things you’ve got to do if you want to pay someone to let you lift their heavy shit and then put it back down again. May you live in litigious times.