THE WEIGHT ROOM is the social equivalent of the neighborhood bar. The same formal conventions apply, the opiate of alcohol replaced by endorphins. You see the same faces again and again, and relationships grow but are essentially restricted to the specific environment. Newcomers are mistrusted and it takes a long time to be accepted. Seniority and strength are respected, not much else counts.

The general level of conversation is the same: relatively neutral subjects predominate, with a subcurrent of real life. Without too much being said, everybody knows everything about everybody. Eyes meet, love beams glow across the room. Affairs sprout, flourish, wither and depart. Sometimes somebody leaves somebody for somebody else and there's bad blood until one or the other disappears, but usually people watch their step.

For the most part, it's an exogamous environment. Women start gaining weight and you realize that they're pregnant. Every now and then somebody drops weight like it's being carved off with a knife and you know you've got a breakup or a death on your hands. People are kindly and keep their distance. They offer subtle comfort that will not cause embarrassment.

People know each other's routines, and if something changes it's usually cause for concern. Regular workout partners know each other like husband and wife. These are your friends. Some of the regulars are a bit crazy. Some of them are lonely and sad, some cheerful and helpful.

It's a community of people drawn together for the same purpose but countless different reasons. Weakness becomes strength. Endorphins blunt emotion. People drink for a reason. People work out with weights for a reason. In this fraternity of pain, everyone is there because there was a time in their lives when they needed to be strong and they weren't. And it might come again.

March 27, 1994