Skin deep? Not those tattoos

So, I am sitting on a stationary bike at Bristol Health and Fitness, pedaling lazily. I am far more focused on the book I am reading than I am on the reality that I am supposed to be getting something that resembles a cardiovascular workout. It is a weekday afternoon earlier this month, and there are about 15 of us in the gym on the various bicycles and Stairmasters, or lifting weights on the other side of the facility.
On the bicycle beside me is Emily Kaster, a 27-year fitness trainer at the health club. Emily is — and let’s avoid hyperbole here — the most physically fit person on the planet. She is seriously buffed. Biceps that ripple like the thick ropes of a pirate frigate. Six-pack abs that might — if such a thing is possible — become an eight-pack if she keeps at it. Or, perhaps, a 24-pack. Not just a six-pack of muscles, a whole case of them.
She is also seriously tattooed. Emily is not merely into body art, she is also into face art. We’re not talking a small rose on her ankle or a discreet little zodiac sign on her hip. We’re talking the flesh as a canvas, with tattoos of lines and circles along her nose and her temples, large symmetrical designs on her back and her hips, a necklace tattooed along her neck, and rings around her elbows. Remember Harvey Keitel’s tattoos in the movie, “The Piano?” They were understated and tame compared with Emily’s.
“My mom hates my tattoos, but she has also told me that even as a little girl I used to draw lines and pictures on my face,” the trainer says. “And the good thing about having all these tattoos now? It means I can never get a normal job.”
In any case, Emily is biking beside me that afternoon, when suddenly she yells loud enough to be heard in Kuwait, “Let’s go people, 60 seconds! Finish strong! Go, go, go!” I should note that Emily is not teaching a spinning class. The spinning room is two doors and a long corridor away. At the moment, she is actually not teaching anything. She would, if she weren’t the most physically fit person on the planet, simply be sitting right now at the front desk. Instead, however, she is on the bike. And now she is pedaling as if she were on the last leg of the Tour de France, her knees pumping like pistons, her upper body hunched over the handlebars to minimize wind resistance — though, of course, wind resistance isn’t exactly an issue on a stationary bike inside a gym.
What did the rest of us on the bicycles and Stairmasters do? Suddenly we were all pedaling or climbing like lunatics. Without exception, we were dropping our books and magazines onto the floor and actually doing on the machines what we were supposed to be doing: Working out. Getting sweaty.
This wasn’t the first time that I have seen Emily energize the whole gym. Some people are natural born cheerleaders: They are capable of making even the most jaded among us get excited once again about life. Emily is like that.
She is also, my wife has observed, one of the most nonjudgmental people on the planet. If you’re willing to play nice at the gym — and, perhaps, go 60 seconds beyond death on the stationary bike or find it within you to shred one more set of muscles on a Nautilus machine — she will forgive all manner of otherwise antisocial behavior.
“I just try to remain genuinely positive about people. I like to see people leaving the gym feeling better about themselves than when they came in,” she says.
There is only one thing that drives her crazy: “When people begin a sentence around me with, ‘You’d be so pretty if …,’ I know instantly where that sentence is going. They think they’re being complimentary, but they’re not.”
Still, it is a testimony to Bristol that when we want to get buffed, we turn often to the tattooed lady.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on March 25, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

3 thoughts on “Skin deep? Not those tattoos

  1. Sue L says:

    I have a tatoo and show it off every chance i get It took guts to get it it hurt like the dickens and im proud of it I got it last year to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversay.. My hubby gary go few also they have deep meaning to us We were also 55 at the same time.. That was our way of celebrating it was August 21st HMM maybe we will do it gain this yr I have plenty of real estate left haha!

  2. John says:

    Any of you tattooed freaks(im one as well) have any tattoo business cards your willing to give up? I collect them. If so please send them to: John Puckett 2841 N.E 13th. Dr. Gainesville,FL. 32609

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