Fantastic Metropolis

Reductio Ad Abs.

Daniel Pearlman

I had just walked into the gym and tossed my membership card onto the counter when Monk, my personal trainer for the past year, looks at me strangely from behind the counter and says, “You’re… Eddie, right?”

“Of course I’m Eddie,” I say, as he picks up my card and checks the name on it! “Hey, I know I’ve bulked up since you’ve worked on me, but —”

“I swear, Eddie,” says Monk, scratching his curly black hair, “there’s a guy who came in here this afternoon, maybe five hours ago, who looks exactly like you. Me and Rob, too,” he says, pointing at his little bantam of a partner, who looks up from the cash register and eyes me with scrunched brows, “we both woulda sworn it was you until the guy sets us straight and — I forget what his name is…”

“I forget what his name is, too,” says Rob, “but he’s new, from out of town.”

“He in good shape?” I ask.

“Yeah, I would say… like you.” Monk tosses me a shrug, his humongous shoulders rippling above the line of his cutaway sweatshirt.

“Looks like he’s been in training?” I ask.

“Looks like he works his ass off.”

This is beginning to piss me off. “No one looks exactly like anyone else,” I say, “not even identical twins.”

“Hey, maybe Eddie’s got a twin brother,” says Rob, nudging Monk with his elbow. “His mother got rid of him at birth because as soon as she saw Eddie she said, ‘One like that is enough!‘”

“You just think he looks exactly like me,” I say. “Next time he comes in, look more carefully. You’ll start to see differences. For example, check out which way he parts his hair. My part’s on the left.”

“Will do,” says Monk.

“Hope he’s not wanted for murder,” cracks Rob.

“What’s the difference?” I say. “Half the guys in your free-weight room are graduates of Jailhouse Tech, and others come in wearing ankle bracelets who are supposedly on home confinement.”

“Call us your home away from home,” says Monk.

I swipe the air with my hand and rush off into the workout area. I try to get out within an hour and a half, finishing up just before closing, and I don’t like to waste time bullshitting. I hang my keys on the key-rack and then hang up my sweat-jacket in the locker room, where I always weigh myself before starting my workout. Just under two hundred. I was two-oh-one and a half just forty-eight hours ago. Am I getting enough protein? I wonder. I make a mental note to chug down, before I leave, some of that overpriced rocket-fuel they sell out front. Checking myself out in the mirror, I determine that my delts don’t look too bad — considering I’ve only been pumping iron for three years and didn’t even start till I was forty. Still and all, I’m just not big enough yet.

Back in the workout area again, I scan the historical crazyquilt of machines — a lopsided arrangement of different makes from different dates mixing the earliest types in macho red and black with the latest in unisex pastels — and I recognize, grunting among them, the familiar faces of the Dedicated Ones, the ones who live here, the “guys” (of both sexes) whom I always run into no matter what days I come in. Stuffed into the pec-deck, yanking the whole stack up and down like a toilet chain, sits our locally famous ‘Roid Rogers, while his girl friend Scary Mary pumps a military press nearby. ‘Roid Rogers is Alpha Ape; he “owns” this gym in every sense but the financial. I try to imagine what would happen if ‘Roid were suddenly confronted with his own spitting image, his hulking equal, his twin. What does physics say about a clash between equal and opposite forces? I can see them staring each other down, all four eyes glowing red. Suddenly, like sides of beef, their lunging limbs converge, and poof! — they annihilate each other. What’s left is a scoop of smoking testosterone.

I slink by these regulars, then peek at myself repeatedly in the long wall of mirrors leading to the free-weight room in the back. I hear the grating of the stacked metal plates beside me and the thudding of hundred-pound dumbbells on the mats of the free-weight room ahead. I don’t like what I see in the mirrors. Each time I sneak a peek at myself, I seem to have shrunk a little. That’s ridiculous! I say to myself. How can you be comparing yourself to a freak like ‘Roid? Among your own kind, now, the hominids, you stand near the head of your class — maybe even right at the top, if you consider only the men here over forty!…

The next time I come to the gym, Monk does a double-take. He leans over the counter and frowns as I approach. “What’s the matter?” he says. “Forget something?”

“What kind of greeting is this?” I say. “Is there something I’ve been doing wrong?”

“Holy shit!” he says. “Eddie? You just missed him, your twin, by five-ten minutes at most. Right, Rob?”

Rob nods and says, “You’re here early tonight, aintchoo?”

I look at my watch and say, “Right, I hadn’t thought about it.”

“And your look-alike came later than usual. That woulda been something,” says Rob, shaking his head, “to see you two bump into each other.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” says Monk. “He did have his part on the other side. I made a note of it, just like you asked.”

“And you know that little mole you have on the right side of your nose?” Rob butts in.

“What about it?”

“Well, he’s got exactly the same thing on his left.”

“Too bad I missed him,” I say. (And I do feel disappointed, but at the same time kind of relieved.)

“We told him about you, too,” says Monk. “I think you guys are unconsciously changing your workout times so you’ll be bound to run into each other.”

“Sure,” I say, “that’s all I think of.”

“I’d like to see what happens when you do meet,” says Rob.

“Why do we need to meet?” I say. “You’ve got mirrors. That’s good enough for me.”

“Ain’t you curious?” my trainer Monk says. “Maybe he’s a high-school science teacher too.”

“I already know we aren’t exactly alike,” I say. “His hair’s parted on the other side, proving once again that in nature there is no conservation of parity.”

“Conservation of what?” says Monk.

“Nothing. Just a physics joke.” I’m not going to take time out to explain to these guys the posited asymmetry, or lack of parity, between matter and antimatter at the origin of things that explains how Global Fitness came into being, but I do wonder, for several obsessive seconds, which of us two “Eddies” would be the antimatter twin. Antimatter was the loser, after all, when the world was created. There ought to be a simple way of telling, the way our Puritan forebears could tell, solely by people’s worldly success, whether they were predestined for heaven or for hell.

In the gym it’s easy to tell who’s going to heaven. I drag myself past the accusing wall of mirrors back to the free-weight room, where some young guy seated in a leg-press is surrounded by buddies shouting “Do it!” and is pushing sixteen Big Boys — that’s seven hundred and twenty pounds! — for an easy set of ten, his slick, bulging quads pumping rhythmically like pistons. As for me, I can barely push half that much — but I really ought to judge myself by my own body-class. He’s short and compact, and at least 230 pounds; I’m the tall, slim type and in a much lower weight category, and besides I’m forty-three. In fact, I’m probably Global’s overall leg-press champ when you look at things from a relative point of view. (Not that any of these characters would give a damn about what Einstein had to say!)

Well, the next time I drive over to the gym, on a late Friday afternoon, the giant parking lot is already nearly deserted. (Friday nights you have the gym practically all to yourself.) Normally I get here much later in the evening, but I guess I was feeling impatient, and soon I found myself buckled up and on my way in my old Volvo. On the far end of the lot, in the shade of trees, I spot another old Volvo. That’s where I usually park, and the grungy gray car looks a lot like mine, though I can’t tell which is in better shape. Wishing to avoid comparison, I park against the fence under the last tree, some twenty yards apart from the other car.

Unbuckling and grabbing my gym bag, I step outside and see someone approaching from the entrance to the gym about a hundred and fifty feet away. I wait for him to get to about the middle of the parking lot. Then I start walking toward him. Soon I’m sizing him up, admiring his general shape — and I see him sizing me up as well. When we’re about fifty feet apart, I can’t help noticing that we look a lot alike! Both of us slow down. We close in on each other with the greatest circumspection. Neither of us wants to pass directly by the other, but how do you veer away without admitting the importance of the encounter in the first place?

So we come up close, and a knot begins to burn in my chest, and the knot grows hotter and tighter. I can’t breathe, and I can’t turn aside, and now, like old enemies unable to control their rage, we’re somehow charging right at each other!

Suddenly there is a blazing light and I am knocked to the ground by the force of a tremendous explosion. After a minute or so, my blurred vision clears and the ringing in my ears tapers off. I look around the lot, but I don’t see my twin. I’m sitting on some jagged piece of asphalt, and the parking lot, big as it is, looks ten times bigger than it should. The few cars in the lot, including the Volvos, look the size of moving vans, and they are charred, and some of their window glass looks smashed. I feel okay, and even my clothes seem to have survived the blast, but I realize, when I finally stand up, that something’s wrong with the scale of everything around me.

It isn’t the parking lot that’s changed. It’s me. I’m about eight freaking inches tall! My God! I must be dizzy because instead of thinking of more practical matters, like how do I drive home, I start wondering how long it will take, if I work out every day at the gym, to grow back to my normal size again. My proportions haven’t changed, thank God! In fact, I reassure myself, I doubt if in my own body-class anyone even comes near me in the gym.

My double certainly won’t. It’s clear to me now. He was the big loser, the antimatter twin. And if not for that original violation of parity between matter and antimatter — which left over a scoop of matter when the two annihilated each other — our whole little universe wouldn’t exist. And I myself, diminutive as I am, would not be still around to pump iron.

Copyright © 2001 by Daniel Pearlman.