Wellness Industrial by Gordon Glasgow
Cities invariably lead to many forms of self-destruction. In New York, ethanol, cannabis, cocaine, and crystal meth had been the most obvious choice of personal demolition for many city dwellers, that is until prices rose and rent became too expensive to afford anything pleasurable. Those with health insurance stuck to prescription medicines like opioids and benzodiazepines to get high, though a lack of an illegal thrill and any significant social component made those drugs generally dull and unglamorous activities. Stealing your parent’s pain medicine was fun while a teenager, but being lawfully prescribed as an adult was as exciting as buying cookie dough; you don’t need to be in an expensive metropolis to indulge in either of those things.
Droves of city people decided to spend their money elsewhere, on something that could perhaps be more productive than destructive, a mode to fit the bludgeoning sense of advancement that late capitalism had imposed upon them. Fitness courses and nutritional supplements proved a good alternative, equally as expensive as drinking and drugs yet more useful to work, to the perpetual pursuit of progress, Americana. Fitness in cities soared while dive bars, the social refuge for many to wallow away together, began to become emptier and emptier, all until many didn’t have enough money to stay open any longer. In came the juice bars.
The abrupt trend toward health-food and fitness centers benefitted Kelsey’s career yet somehow made her anxious. She had come from a blue-collar family in Homestead, a dilapidated suburb of Pittsburgh, the Flint of Pennsylvania. Her parents would come to visit her in New York City only to find the ghost of someone they used to know. Kelsey had changed in high school, then more in college, and even more since moving to what was in her parent’s minds a sourly hedonistic, sodomy-ridden landscape of neoliberal desire.
She lived in Bushwick and taught yoga for a living at a Williamsburg-based studio called Droop Droop. Her prime-time power-hour booty-firming bonanza was the highlight of many 30-something mothers whose husbands worked at law and financial firms. It was a surprise to both her and her hick family that she was not only able to survive in New York City, but also to save, travel, and do things like live with only one roommate, buy gifts for her friends, and get manicures once per month — very good for 24.
Still, Kelsey’s anxiety refused to reside. The more successful she became the lonelier she began to find herself. The wonder and magic that would permeate her nighttime walks across a new and interesting city no longer seemed to exist. All she would begin to see was poverty and depression, communities siloed by a harsh economy along with a non-existent social safety net. The M.T.A., the bane of Kelsey’s existence, didn’t even seem to run properly, and her new reliance on Uber was both isolating and expensive. She would routinely get used to having to walk from deep Bushwick to North Williamsburg, because, well, biking in New York was out of the question. Not only was Kelsey too afraid to bike between cars and buses on a confusing, illogical variety of one-way streets that met two-way intersections, she knew that if she ever got injured she wouldn’t be able to work for a while. However profitable it was to teach yoga for the upper-middle class, rarely did a full-time salary with benefits such as paid-time-off exist.
So Kelsey often walked to work, and she hustled on a daily basis, left and right, up and down, diagonally and zig-zagged, in every direction possible, and she waited patiently, month after month, eventually year after year, for her life in New York City to feel less like an adventure and more like home.
A day in the life
During a hip-hop yoga course in late spring that Kelsey was subbing in for, the humidity was high and the clothing was low. The students were sweating before she even entered the room.
‘Sorry, was this supposed to be a hot yoga course?’ Asked a pony-tailed Latin man with truculent energy.
‘No, uhm. I’m so sorry. I know it’s burning in here,’ Kelsey responded.
‘Can we open up a window?’
‘Well, our neighbors have complained about noise so unfortunately the only thing we can do is turn on the fans.’
He looked at her for a moment as if she were an unreasonable sadist before turning around and sauntering over to the window. Kelsey knew it would not be worth apprehending him, instead having to sit back and take whatever disciplinary actions would inevitably come her way from Droop Droop’s militaristic management. Such consequences included being fined 50% of her fees for the class or being suspended from teaching for a week. Be that as it may, Kelsey couldn’t be bothered getting into an altercation. However irrational, aggressive, or crazy the student, reprimanding fellow adults for wanting air in the room wasn’t a good look. She often felt more that she worked in customer service than as an instructor of inner peace.
Kelsey was fully aware that a studio’s best decor is, however grumpy and irascible, a full house, and with a cracked open window that hardly made a difference for anyone inside, it was time for Kelsey to concoct some positive energy in the room, which would always begin with being seated on the floor, waving two hands up in the air, bringing them back down to the heart.
She moved through sun salutations and due to the scorching heat, opted for a lighter class that sped along to the rhythm of Jay-Z, Mos Def, and Destiny’s Child. Time flew by as Kelsey taught, the only period of the day she was able to forget about her sorrows and woes, her parents and her bills, her lack of romantic life and her confusing-yet-steady weight gain. During class, she was able to focus, no matter the farts, grunts, objectionable laziness, and maddening confidence that her students let out. And during Shavasana, the end part of class where everyone for a brief moment treats lying down on the floor in public as socially acceptable, the obnoxious man who opened up the window at the beginning of the class arose from his contrived torpor and walked over toward Kelsey, who was sitting upright in the front of the room with her hands in prayer, eyes closed.
‘I just want to say sorry for being so aggressive earlier,’ he whispered toward her.
No one ever really approached Kelsey in the middle of Shavasana before, so she didn’t quite know how to react. Nevertheless, she blushed.
The man stood there in front of her for another few, painful seconds.
‘OK,’ he finally said back, before walking out of the room prematurely.
And when the class ended, following a few pleasant but useless interactions with some of her students, Kelsey hoped to see the man again in the lobby, possibly waiting for her, maybe catching him on his way out.
Kelsey had contempt for the blunt, lonely nature of phone-to-computer culture. She would often sit in cafes during the day, ‘working’ on her ‘website’ amidst a cascade of light emanating from a collection of screens directly ahead, and she would hope, want, just wish someone would have the courage to come up and talk to her. Not even romantically, but just to make a quick connection, have a back and forth that felt uncoerced, volitional, voluntary, and willful, an interaction that allowed both parties involved to feel something other than the constantly expected nothingness that was all the internet-mirrored world seemed to allow. And in Droop Droop’s neon lobby Kelsey found no one there waiting. She walked outside, but still no luck.
With a frown on her face, she began to walk home, imagining the absent man’s interior life. She guessed his name was something extravagant, like Rigoberto Sanchez Osario Lopez, or Rigo to his friends, a man who came from nothing but money. A scion of Mexico City industrialists who moved to New York in his mid-20s with an architecture degree and a man-bun, not knowing anyone but a few family friends he deemed boring and conventional, frequently attending yoga classes not for the fitness element, but for the opportunity to meet someone spiritually likeminded, whatever that really means. But Rigo wasn’t that man, the imagined Rigo was someone else, somewhere else, probably alone at a bar trying to meet a woman. The actual man in question would likely never be grasped. The world is full, full of freaks.
Later, Kelsey went over to Peter Tompkin’s apartment, a corporate accountant by day and part-time drummer by night whom she met on Tinder a few months after moving to New York. Kelsey used Peter for company on the nights she felt most lonely. Peter lived in a one-bedroom in a building with a doorman and a gym. Aside from the aggressive, sometimes painful and humiliating sex, going over to Peter’s felt like vacation from a daily life that constituted dirt-filled walk-ups and squalor-heavy public spaces. Droop Droop was nice, clean, and peaceful, but it felt like work, a focus-grouped draft of what nirvana could and should be.
Peter provided fresh linens, good breath, scented candles, a cleaning lady who came once per week, an oddly-shaped penis, no roommates, a spiritually anesthetized atmosphere, and a rainfall shower. There could be worse places to spend a weeknight.
‘I just don’t know what I’m doing here at times,’ Kelsey said to Peter in bed, as they lay naked watching YouTube videos of Peter’s latest percussion arrangements.
‘You make people happy with your fitness stuff,’ he replied.
‘But there’s something about it here, no matter how hard I work or how many people I meet, I don’t think I’ve ever once actually felt happy.’
‘Weren’t you happy just a few minutes ago when I was-’
‘Hah, well, of course,’ Kelsey lied.
‘Look,’ Peter began, wiping some sweat off his forehead. ‘NYC is just something that is what it is, but isn’t good, and not bad either.’
‘What?’ Kelsey responded.
The audacity and lack of shame to refer, in spoken conversation, to New York as ‘NYC’ made Kelsey shiver and cringe.
‘More like NYC-you-later,’ she mouthed to herself as she picked up her clothes strewn across the floor, preparing for the lonely journey back.
‘What did you just say?’ Peter asked.
‘I said I think I’ll see you later, I’m really tired.’
‘You don’t want to stay over? I made Hummus on my own yesterday, I wanted you to try some. It’s really awesome.’
‘No thanks,’ Kelsie replied. ‘I have to go home.’