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Show some courtesy, people! Ditch the cell phone at the gym

At my local New York Sports Club, patrons are greeted by ...

HELLO! YEAH, I'M AT ON THE TREADMILL AT THE GYM! NO, I DIDN'T SEE WHAT KHLOE WAS WEARING! YEAH, I KNOW! I KNOW!

Excuse me.

OH! KAREN, LEMME CALL YOU BACK! THERE'S SOME GUY HERE TRYING TO WRITE A COLUMN! RIGHT! OK! OK! RIGHT!

At this New York Sports Club, people coming to work out are greeted by small rectangular signs scattered throughout the complex. They are there to remind people that, during exercise, cell phone usage is ...

NO, I DON'T THINK SANCHEZ IS BETTER THAN ELI! NO WAY, DUDE! NO WAY! YOU KNOW WHO SANCHEZ THROWS LIKE? TUCKER KASS, THAT'S WHO! YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY CRAZY, MAN!

Excuse me.

BRO! I GOTTA GET BACK TO YOU. SOME JERK WITH A NOTEPAD THINKS HE OWNS THE PLACE!

At this New York Sports Club, patrons are greeted by small rectangular signs scattered throughout the complex. They are there to remind people that, during exercise, cell phone usage is prohibited. Much like Eddie Mekka film festivals and advertisements for New Jersey Nets season ticket packages, the signs are either ignored or audibly laughed at. In a ritual I have witnessed, oh, 500 times in the last year and a half, people enter the gym, jump on a treadmill or elliptical machine, begin their workout, whip out their cell phones, dial away and talk ... LIKE THIS! SO THEIR VOICES CAN CARRY OVER THE HUMMING OF THE PLASTIC CONTRAPTION THEY HAVE BOARDED! SO EVERYONE CAN HEAR THEM -- EVERYONE IN BABANANGO!

"It's truly annoying," says John Bonforte, a personal trainer at my gym. "I work with a doctor who's on call, and with him I understand it. But most people are talking to their boyfriends or girlfriends, making evening plans, wondering about a TV show. People have this ridiculous sense of self-importance, where all the other folks trying to exercise in peace for an hour don't matter."

From Scarsdale, N.Y., to Santa Barbara, Calif., from Brick Township, N.J. to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, a maddening (and mounting) number of people think it's fine and dandy to gab on their cell phones during exercise. If, as studies show, more than 85 percent of American adults own cell phones, at least 85 percent of American adults who own cell phones, belong to fitness clubs and lack total and complete self-awareness, use them during workouts. Making matters 100 times worse, with the economy tanking and gym memberships lagging, many establishments are urging their employees to back off enforcement (for fear of losing customers).

"I was on the treadmill about two weeks ago when a woman next to me got on her cell phone," says David Krakower, a sales director at a Florida art gallery. "She's talking loudly about the date she had the previous night, and how she was conflicted as to whether to go into his house at the end of the night. But when she kissed him that sealed the deal and she was not going in. I'm not sure Mark would have been too pleased to know his date had been broadcast all over the West Palm Beach Bally's."

Mark can't be thrilled. And neither am I. For the majority of gym members, that hour (or so) of sweating, running, jumping, lifting and stretching serves as an escape from the minute-by-minute madness that is life. There are no screaming babies at the gym; no finance reports due in an hour; no dental drills or post office lines or tax audits or spilled milk dripping off the kitchen counter. Working out isn't always fun, but it is an opportunity to release stress and focus on oneself and reach that blissful fitness high. When you're cruising along, running at a great clip, arms pumping, legs churning, heart pounding, sweat ...

NOOOOO! HE ASKED YOU OUT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? REALLY? GOD, EXCEPT FOR THAT PURPLISH ZIT THING HE'S SOOOOO CUTE!!!!!

Buzz killed.

As Jen Miller, running editor of Liberty Sports Magazine, recently wrote in her excellent anti-cell phone diatribe: "If it's that much of an emergency, you shouldn't be on the machines. If you're working out and manage to have an uninterrupted 30-minute phone call, you're doing it wrong, which is why the offender is not in any semblance of being in shape."

If there's one thing I notice at my gym, it's that the majority of serious athletes (those dedicated to fitness) leave their cell phones behind. Thanks to TV monitors and iPods and (egad) phones, however, many self-described "casual exercisers" now seem to view working out as an unpleasant necessity that can be numbed and marginalized by imported distractions -- like very loud, inane conversations.

The end result: "You don't concentrate on your body, you annoy other people and you possibly hurt yourself because you're not focused," says Mike Douglass, a former Green Bay Packers linebacker who owns the Alpine Fitness Center in San Diego. "I have a general rule here -- act disrespectfully, and you have to leave."

I have a rule, too -- talk on your cell phone at the gym, I'll place my friend's copperhead in your sneaker.

The snake's name is Biff. He responds to loud noise.

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