For six years I worked as a trainer and gym floor manager at the Vertical Club. What Studio 54 was to 1970s New York, the Vertical Club (VC) was to 1980s New York. A warehouse-sized health club, complete with neon lights and blaring dance music, it was where the Big Apple’s social elite came to sweat, strain, moan, groan, and gyrate. Occasionally, they even worked out (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The job paid like shit and many of rich clientele treated us like peons, but I made some great friends and felt a genuine camaraderie with my fellow workers. Overall, the place was a high-end lunatic asylum.
During my tenure, the Typical Male Member (sorry again) displayed his Rolex even while lifting weights. His eyes were adept at admiring himself while searching for women simultaneously using the same mirrors. He’d often wear a Walkman with the sound off so that he could hear what the female members (and employees) were saying about him. When he the earphones came off, common topics of conversation were how much he could bench when he was in college, BMW dealers, skiing exploits, and, of course, sexual braggadocio.
The Typical Female Member would spend a half-hour putting on make-up before her workout and wear a g-string leotard with see-through tights to display her buns of steel. Her hair was well coiffed, her nails freshly manicured, and she always wore her jewelry on the gym floor. She was obsessed enough to spend literally hours exercising on aerobic machines to ensure low body fat, but was not practical enough to cut down her partying and drinking. Common topics of conversation: house shares in the Hamptons, which aerobic teacher was doing coke, and, of course, plastic surgeons. Most amusing were the nightly Stairmaster battles. Whenever a woman would attempt to circumnavigate the 15-minutes-during-prime-time-rule, the ensuing catfight would make Vince McMahon drool.
Thanks to its once-ritzy reputation, the Vertical Club attracted its share of stars and this presented me with the honor of witnessing the behavior patterns of media-created celebrities and their pompous disdain for our gym rules. It also gives me the chance to play Michael Musto and offer some blind items:
****Which muscle-bound box office sensation (who was much more famous in the 80s), when faced with a female fan in her forties who insisted on following him around the gym in the hope of feeling his muscles, offered to “work her out”? Yep, with more than a few nudges and winks to the gym staff, he put this woman through a training routine that would floor a horse. All the while, he playfully slapped her butt and told her that she has to “tighten up.” The woman did her best, but soon gave up, panting as our boy told us to “mop her up.” (She wasn’t seen again for several weeks.)
****Name this celebrity: This was another muscle movie star who was also much, much more famous in the 80s. He trained with two bodyguards in tow and defied the rule that restricted members from wearing tank tops; he insisted on watching those famous muscles in the mirror. When informed of his illegal behavior, VC staff members rebuffed by his bodyguards. “Don’t bother him when he’s working out,” they warned. But poetic justice reigned supreme. Using a leg press machine, Mr. Tough Guy put on a little too much poundage and soon found himself trapped under the weight, screaming for his bodyguards to rescue him while the gym staff watched and laughed.
****Which investigative journalist-turned-social climber spent all his time either checking out babes or admiring himself in the mirror? He regularly worked with any one-on-one trainer he could find, but supposedly never paid for this service–a habit that reportedly got him into trouble at a downtown gym some years later (talk about following the money). None of the trainers ever wanted to work with him because he would rarely talk for the entire session unless it was to inquire about a new female member. ****Which pre-Monica scandalite had a distinctive, high-pitched drawl that became a running joke with trainers imitating her? She never stopped whining and no trainer wanted any part of her. This led to many confrontations with employees and, I was told, if she wasn’t regularly taking dictation from a big shareholder in Bally (they used to own the VC), she would’ve have been tossed out. When asked about her job by a female member, our gal sneered, “Honey, I fuck for money, what do you do?” Guess she still can’t type. ****Which local newsman’s inveterate prowling led to the following rumor? (Although I cannot vouch for its veracity.) Mr. Anchor dated an employee for some time while she cheated on him with a macho male trainer. When the woman became pregnant with the trainer’s child, she told the newsman it was his and he paid for the abortion.
****Which face that launched a thousand romance novels was something of a joke to the gym staff with his endless sexual bragging and his chest-revealing outfits? His description of the opposite sex was anything but romantic. He told us ad nauseam, “Women, I spit on them.” He extrapolated: “I fuck them for hours and do not break a sweat. They cannot keep up with me.” To him, the Vertical Club was “like a candy store. I see what I want and I take it.” One member who lived across the street from Mr. Body Beautiful told me that he’d watch him with a telescope as he entertained an endless parade of females who gladly submitted to his Neanderthal charms (and loudly boasted about it afterwards). However, there was one female member out of his reach. In fact, she was homeless.
The many labyrinthine stairways at the Vertical Club served many purposes–a “lounge” area for the underpaid trainers or a secret hideaway for sex, doing drugs, etc. These hideaways also provided a comfortable home for a female Verticalite who had been reduced to offering sexual favors to the porters in return for a roof over her head. The presence of Paula in the bowels of the gym was a well-kept secret among a select few for some time. The VC’s upper echelon of management chose to ignore her presence and the many Spanish-speaking porters who frequented all areas of the facility spoke of her in hushed and knowing tones. That is, until a coat belonging to an aerobics teacher disappeared one night. She asked for help and the staff searched the gym fruitlessly before bringing the matter to the attention of the health club’s vice president. This VC mainstay was notorious for having the demeanor of an attack dog and changing moods at the drop of a Nautilus pin. The aerobics teacher was dismissed after Mr. Vice President forced her to sit through one of his inarticulate tirades, this one about leaving her property unguarded. The matter seemed to be over until the next day when myself and another gym employee were give ourselves a guided tour of the notorious rendezvous spots in the massive spa. Upon opening a well-hidden door that leads to a catwalk above the gym, I was stunned to find a woman sleeping under a blanket. I closed the door and asked my tour partner about this. He happened to be Spanish and he told me of rumors from the porters about “Paula” who lived in the gym and would have sex with them. We headed back to the gym floor to decide what to do about Paula when we suddenly noticed that she had followed us out into the club. I immediately recognized the coat she was wearing as belonging to the aerobics teachers. We had found our thief. Like Starsky and Hutch, we followed Paula onto the elevator and proceeded to question her about the coat. Instinctively, she went on the offensive and grew indignant that anyone would accuse her of such a thing. As this situation became more and more amusing, I backed off and watched as she bought an orange drink from the juice bar and calmly exited the gym. All this was reported to the bosses and was greeted with knowing nods and grins. The story I got was that Paula was a member of the gym who had hit the skids. She lost her job and got evicted from her apartment, so she used her expired Vertical Club membership card to sneak in. To this day, I don’t know whatever happened to her.