Public Comment

Commentary: Denial is Epidemic at the Berkeley YMCA

By Joseph Covino Jr
Tuesday June 13, 2006

At the so-called “Downtown” Berkeley YMCA suspended member Scott Prosterman’s abysmal but utterly unsurprising below par experience is, I can personally attest, par for the course—as is the absent or empty response members typically receive from the organization’s administration to their most compelling cares and concerns! 

In December 2004 I simply let my own “adult access” membership lapse un-renewed after being a “full-service” member there for some eight years since October 1996. Why? I just got extremely tired and sick to death of supporting financially the equally imperious and indifferent attitude toward members, to say nothing of the typically contemptuous atmosphere, so rampantly perpetuated there by both entrenched administrators and staffers alike. 

Like Scott, I had occasion to fruitlessly submit over my nearly decade-long membership multiple written complaints to then director Fran Gallati, who never once cared to address or reply to even the first one. Apparently, Gallati’s spineless administrative approach, now duly handed down to director Peter Chong, was(and is)to outright ignore and disregard member complaints long enough, hoping they’ll simply disappear. So Bravo to Scott for possessing the tenacity and resolve I lacked to persevere with his protest in the face of such obstinate administrative indifference and unconcern! 

Denial is epidemic in Berkeley generally but particularly so at that Y. But what’s really rich about Scott’s case is director Chong’s public pronouncements about expected member “decorum.” And man, do Y administrators and staffers alike exult and rejoice at all times in preaching their hypocritical gospels and sanctimonious sermons!  

Plastered all over that facility are silly signs superficially proclaiming and extolling the virtue of “respect.” Well, here’s just a small sampling of instances of the paltry “respect” consistently exhibited to members by Y staffers(especially those punk flunkies, as I term them)on a daily, excruciatingly regular basis which this entire sordid episode currently recalls to mind. And mind you, none of these are isolated incidents: 

• At the very outset there was one scowling, finger-wagging woman, signing me up for the “adult access” membership, sternly dictating to me to “make sure” sufficient funds were kept available in my account to be directly debited for my monthly membership dues “or else” this or that—as if I presumably intended to default on my payments, or as if management of my personal bank account was any of her business to begin with! If my limited budget priorities demanded that I pay my monthly membership dues later than the appointed transaction date then I(not her and not any other Y staffer)would decide if and when I would—and, indeed, sometimes did! 

• Rather than welcome you with a civil let alone courteous(God forbid!)greeting the front reception desk “union” night staff, riveted so immovably to their comfortable reclining chairs, would consistently and sternly accost you verbally with their punctual facility closing-time updates—as if after nearly a decade of membership you still didn’t know the operations hours already, or as if your entry might detain them at their shiftless posts a single nanosecond longer than they could possibly tolerate! Why, once I was accosted there by a puny little scowling preschooler barking aloud, “The Y’s closing in a half hour!” That’s the sort of “respect” toward members these permissive “adult” night staffers instill in their childish charges. So I leaned over to instill some edification of my own and told him quite simply, “No, the Y’s open for another half hour. Think positive!” 

• Either that or a gaggle of chattering punk-flunky groupies would stand there gawking and giggling like adolescent dunces should you encounter difficulty entering the front turnstile(because your faded and worn ID card was barely readable by the scanner light)rather than display some semblance of consideration and move their shiftless butts to actually assist you (again God forbid!). And then upon exiting the facility you’d witness that very same idle gaggle of groupies all gathered together, grumbling about how trying and troublesome toiling so strenuously at their shiftless little posts really was! 

• Then on to the “strength training center” weight room where equally inept and incompetent floor monitors pretending to be expert fitness “trainers” would abruptly disrupt your bench-press focus and concentration by imposing on you their unsolicited(and unneeded)“spots” or by dispensing equally unsolicited, not to mention downright BOGUS if not detrimental training tips and advice. For the longest time employed there was this graying senior and rather decrepit gaffer-staffer hitting 60 who actually deluded himself into thinking he was some sort of super-stud and irresistible to even the gym’s most pubescent girls! 

• The height of irresponsible folly occurred there when the Y hired through spousal nepotism a genetically oversized, mal-proportioned bulk-builder who was temporarily permitted to dupe a whole gang of gullible groupies, knowing no better(still), into practicing a multitude of unsound and unsafe weight-bouncing-jerking-and-swinging(rather than lifting)movements, consisting of cheat-style leverage and momentum(rather than strength or skill), compelling those groupies to attempt detrimental weight-lifts they couldn’t conceivably yet be capable of performing correctly much less beneficially; this all happening on absolutely no other logical or rational basis except that he was “big” and had won some amateur bulk-building contest trophies! Foisted upon the gullible groupies as well were the bulk-builder’s equally excessive protein-ingestion habits responsible for acidic ketones and kidney stress due to impossibly processed amino acids; contributing to their becoming fatter rather than “bigger” as they unsuspectingly expected due to excessive ingestion of fatty meat products. Most tragically was the recent premature death of an older weight-lifting kidney-dialysis casualty, killed by kidney failing-related complications—but doubtless aggravated by his own stubborn, exaggerated protein-ingestion—who had been likewise duped into following blindly and robotically that bulk-builder’s detrimental dietary mal-practices! 

• Then onward downstairs to the swimming pool where at closing time the listless lifeguards either shuffled lazily over to the hot tub spa to rudely eject bathers, moaning and groaning all the while about how tired they were and how badly they wanted to go home, or stood clear across the pool, lording it over everyone, shouting loudly and commandingly, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” One punk-flunky girl once insisted that I leave the pool area because it was five minutes(the recommended time limit in the spa for which I was headed)before closing and then leapt off her high horse to actually follow me to the spa to keep on insisting that I heel and leave—in front of multiple bathers still soaking in the spa, where I retorted just as insistently that I’d leave when she stopped singling me out and ordered everybody else out, including multiple swimmers still doing their laps in the pool! Another punk-flunky gave his orders resorting to the finger-wagging routine which I finally told him to stop pointing at me. So fed up did I get with these pool punk-flunkies that I finally myself shouted clear across the pool at one, admonishing him—to the great glee of all spa bathers present, “Address these people as adults sometime and you just might elicit a better response from them! Grow up!” And likewise in the locker rooms the incessantly harping “talking clocks” announcing closing time made their repeated rounds. 

Yes, gruff supervising “adults” at the Y inculcate their churlish charges to revel in giving their stern and surly orders. Please or Pardon Me, you see, just aren’t part of their already extremely limited vocabulary under their obnoxious mal-practice of “respect.” The redundantly tedious and tiresome situation there got so ridiculously absurd that sometimes I took to entering the facility with admittedly facetious quips like, “Request permission to enter the stockade!,” or, “Issued any good commands lately?” And upon exiting, saluting, “Yavo, Commandants!” 

Not even the slightest semblance of common courtesy much less civil customer service exists at that Y. Its supremely boorish staff appear incapable of grasping the painfully simple concept that members themselves don’t work hard at their own jobs to pay exorbitant gym dues to be high-handedly berated, condescended to, lectured, reprimanded or otherwise ordered around by a bunch of flippant punk-flunkies and their grumpy “adult” indoctrinators. 

Free speech and expression on the part of any members happening to object or take exception to the outright ludicrous and laughable situation there is of course held by the negligent, do-nothing administration in the most scurrilous contempt or even derisive ridicule. One haughty “Kinder Kid” punk-flunky, scolding me for lingering several minutes late in the weight-room, huffily commanded, “You know you’re not supposed to be here! Follow instructions!” Well, I just ultimately told them I follow my own instructions unless they come from others with some small semblance of politeness and “respect” (nothing too terribly complicated or outrageous to expect!), and that where I’m supposed to be is in the end my own decision: so I just left. 

Through the gossipy grapevine, though, I’d heard that my own infrequent complaints to the administration were quite the behind-the-back laughingstock amongst the Y’s sarcastic and scornful punk-flunky staff. Well, now that Scott Prosterman has defiantly dared to publicly protest against this preposterous nonsense and take the Y to task we can well wonder who’s then having the best, last and loudest laugh! 


Joseph Covino Jr American Council On Exercise-certified fitness trainer.