By Brian Sonia-Wallace
Last night, the final hours of the 24 Hour Fitness location in west Hollywood saw a packed gym as longtime members crowded machines for one last workout. The energy was different — off-shift staff sat at the front desk to spend a few more moments with their colleagues, and in the last ten minutes they cranked the volume up to NSync’s, Bye Bye Bye, The Final Countdown, and Time of Your Life, as if this were a high school graduation.
Outside, members gathered with candles for a final farewell in a little mock ritual, complete with everyone “spreading ashes” — actually chocolate whey protein powder, in memory of the institution’s passing.
In my role as city poet laureate, I shared Emily Dickinson‘s poem “because I could not stop for death”. Poet Corey Saucier wrote an original piece for the occasion, reflecting on his 20 year history with the gym as a site of self discovery following his HIV diagnosis, a powerful reflection on blackness and self-love in a space that fluctuated between propagation and subversion of white supremacist beauty standards and heteronormative gym culture. Local poet and Melrose Poetry Bureau cofounder Nayeli Adorador-Knudsen finished off the evening reading Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnet LXXXIX:
“I want what I love to continue to live,
and you whom I love and sang above everything else
to continue to flourish, full-flowered”
The funeral flash mob attracted 30+ gym-goers, including delighted and slightly incredulous staff. 24 Hour Fitness on Santa Monica Boulevard has been bought by John Reed Fitness and is heading toward a $7 million re-model and membership rates of $130 a month, up from the current $50/month rate (and that’s not counting longtime members for whom the new monthly rate has been more than their entire year’s membership). Members spoke of “the end of an era,” though noting the various eras the gym had been through to make it more difficult for men to cruise. “[the new owners] are not familiar with the culture here,” one staffer said. “They are planning to have a nap room. Good luck!”
The original invitation to the mock memorial read as follows:
The Bureau for existential complaints invites you to…
A Dirge for 24 Hour Fitness
24 hour fitness closes its doors for the last time on Tuesday, November 30, at 9pm. The West Hollywood Poet Laureate invites you for a final walk-through of the space at 8:30pm, with electronic candles. Wear a shroud if you can. Or just take your shirt off and join us. The processional will finish with a mournful reading of Emily Dickinson outside and a group howl/beating of chests/rending of clothing (note: please bring clothes to rend, you beast). Let’s celebrate and mourn the death of space and use and tradition in the context of late capitalism paving the way for a more expensive capitalistic capitalism. Refreshments will be provided.