It used to be you couldn’t crawl on the pavement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan without getting pricked by a used syringe or a shattered Ramones cassette case. Yet here I am, with my palms flat on the ground on a basketball court in what was once Manhattan’s grittiest ’hood — before that meant something other than the lack of a Uniqlo department store — holding my butt high up in the air, crawling like an ape as a personal trainer with ornate facial hair screams encouragement.
My friend Ed, whom I invited along for sadistic reasons, keeps dropping loose cigarettes from his slacks. We’re both panting and sweating like Marlon Brando in the Cambodian jungle. After we’re done crawling across the basketball court, we’re instructed to pick up heavy concrete bricks and hurl them with all our strength against a chain-link fence.
Parts of my body I didn’t know existed are singing with pain. My aspleendix hurts, I think. Ed’s turning green, and we may lose him from this earthly plane.
Let no car-insurance commercial ever tell you that being a caveman is easy.
Ed and I, and seven far-more-fit New Yorkers, are at Tompkins Square Park to experience the rigors of Neanderthal exercise. Trainer Al Kavadlo — lean, tattooed, bald and with a complex beard that may have been designed by Frank Gehry — leads what he calls “caveman-inspired” workouts.
No equipment, besides monkey bars or bricks you might find in a public park. Only short bursts of intense cardio, as if you were being chased back to your cave by a mastodon. You can even do it in your bare feet for maximum authenticity. And be prepared to have a small crowd of children and resting basketball players gather ’round to watch the yuppie Flintstones show.
New York City is my hometown, but one thing I don’t remember from my childhood is the burgeoning mob of self-described cavemen living alongside me. I’ve spent this weekend acquainting myself with the modern take on the loincloth lifestyle.
I went shopping with a caveman enthusiast named Doug, who bought $48 worth of beef and pork at the Western Beef supermarket near the Hudson River. Back at his cramped apartment — judging from his DVD collection, cavemen are fans of Al Pacino’s post-Heat years — he sawed off a corner of a raw steak, rinsed and dried it and popped it in his mouth, his eyes glimmering with smug mischief.
He then spent the next 22 seconds chewing in silence. Even in the caveman community, eating raw meat is a bit out there, which is one of the reasons Doug asked me not to use his last name: “I don’t want media banging down my door.”
Yes, in New York, even hunter-gatherers are besieged by paparazzi.
I also spent 30 minutes or so rampaging like a lone caveman through Central Park — after taking a taxi there, of course. To simulate the hazards of early man’s environment, I set off running through the bushes from every Shih Tzu, froodle or puggle I saw. Yes, I may have screamed “Ooga-booga!” at one point. Eventually I collapsed on the grass by a lake, my chest heaving with exertion, and enjoyed a lemon ice.
My own shenanigans aside, there is some sound medical science to adopting a pseudo-caveman ethic. It certainly seems healthier than my normal cubicleman lifestyle, which involves an encyclopedic knowledge of TBS’ weeknight programming and a lot of frozen enchiladas.
Considering I’m built like Tom Arnold and don’t eat meat — “You better cut that vegetarian junk out,” the Paleo movement’s 74-year-old grandfather, Arthur De Vany, told me cheerily, “or you’ll die!”— I might be the world’s least-qualified caveman. Excepting, that is, my friend Ed, who is a chain-smoking Brooklyn bar manager who subsists on takeout Chinese food, whiskey and irony.
After wheezing our way through the last of Al’s caveman reps, we stumble to Avenue B, where Ed promptly begins to retch loudly into a garbage can. For that briefest of moments, the Lower East Side is once again itself.
Afterward, Ed and I take a cab to Brooklyn and gorge on fried pizza. They had that in the woolly mammoth days, right?