It would be hard to believe if you saw me, but I've been hitting the gym.

The reason I started this relationship has more to do with my back than my gut (though I'm told those two areas are connected) so, while I was travelling recently, I wanted to stay committed to my exercise ball and chain.

I also felt guilty about leaving my family right before Christmas and inflicting physical pain is the sort of penance a recovering Catholic can get his head around.

In New York visiting a sick friend (cliché but true), I told another friend, Drew, I'd be happy to pay to be a guest at his gym.

"Only suckers pay," he said. "Tell them you moved into the neighborhood and you want to try it out. They'll wave you right through."

At Drew's gym, I was greeted by a perky receptionist who was a dead ringer for Elisabeth Shue when she won Daniel-san's heart in The Karate Kid. She asked how she could help me and I mentioned that my friend sent me.

"A guest pass will be $15."

"No no, no," I said, leaning on the counter. She obviously had me mistaken for a sucker. "My friend told me I could demo the place for free."   

"Have a seat. A supervisor will be with you in a minute."

That's exactly what I didn't want. Time was tight and I knew once I wasn't waved through, I was in a whole Mr. Universe kind of trouble. I sat on a padded bench across from a vitamin sluice vending machine and called home. They were scheduled to decorate the Christmas tree, which I wasn't heartbroken about missing since my wife Lala makes Martha Stewart look like a slouch when it comes to manipulating tinsel and ornaments.

My 8-year-old son London answered. "Dad, we have to call you back," he said. "We have, um, a situation here." Then he hung up.

I started freaking out. The last time I left on a trip to New York, Lala broke her wrist. As the different hemorrhage and fracture scenarios raced through my head like reindeer on the Tony Montana-type of snow, a youngish guy came up and shook my hand. His name was Riley and he wanted to know what I was looking for.

"Want to try out the gym," I said far too quickly, dying to hurry through the workout and then call home. "Just moved to the neighborhood."

"What's your name?"

"Steve," I lied, stupidly thinking a new name would streamline the process.

"OK, Steve, let's go in here where it's less noisy."

He led me into one of those sales pitch cubicles you see in car dealerships and the better red-light districts. Still wearing my overcoat, I started to sweat. Goddamn Drew, I thought, should have paid the 15 bucks.

"So, where did you move from?"

"Michigan. Can I just get a pass to try out the gym? I'm kinda in a hurry."

"Sure, Steve, no problem. Let me just tell you about our rates."

As he rattled off different payment plans including an offer that was only good for the next seven minutes, my phone rang. Home. "Sorry, I have to get this," Steve told Riley.

Now it was my daughter Poppy. "Dad, London didn't tell you but the tree fell on him. He's making himself a homemade cast now." Seems that once they had finished adorning, the heavy tree landed on top of the boy and one-armed Lala had to call the neighbors to lift it off of him.

"I need to call you back," I said and hung up. "Can I just get that pass?"

"Sure, just need to see your license. We have a lot of scammers around here."

"I bet," I said, knowing that once I handed him my New Mexico ID, I'd be in for a different kind of workout.

Robert Wilder's most recent book is Tales from the Teachers' Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.