Friday, February 17, 2006

Ah, but underneath

I’ve worked out in predominantly gay gyms, but the rabid poodle factor always made for a hostile, unpleasant workout environment.

I’ve worked out in predominantly bodybuilder/model gyms, but the distraction/intimidation factor always made my workouts unfocused and unproductive.

Now I work out in a predominantly gym gym—and I go over lunch—so the only factor in play is regular people trying to stay focused and healthy and get back to work in an hour so they can have lives at night. It’s not about gay or straight. It’s not about sociophysical class lines. It’s not about sex in the showers. It’s about efficiency. And I like it that way.

(There is one other factor in place here: convenience. The gym is in the basement of my office building, so even on my most wall-to-wall-meetinged days, I can usually sneak down and accomplish something for at least half an hour.)

One byproduct of this focused-businessperson-at-noon factor is predictability; I see the same people almost every day, usually in the same limited selection of T-shirts. (I’m guilty of this too—I’ll work out in the same shirt for two weeks before I can finally summon the decision-making power to pick a new one. Unless it starts fighting back when I try to put it on. Then I go just one week.)

And because of this predictability, when someone new appears in the gym, I tend to notice. Like this week.

I saw him as soon as I walked in the locker room. He was well over six feet tall, with a booshy moostache and a Harry Middlepart both dyed a brassy brown-black. I’d guess he was in his early 50s, but he moved like a man in his 80s: slow and deliberate, with audible wheezing and groaning to accompany every gesture.

And every gesture was an obvious effort. Though he clearly couldn’t hold his balance, he stayed standing to undress himself, bracing one hand on the locker frame while he reached down with the other hand to untie and remove one shoe, slowly, inefficiently, laboriously, and then the other one, slowly, inefficiently, laboriously. And then he started with the socks, which slowed him down even more.

I usually don’t fill in the backstories on the strangers I see in the gym, but I found myself wondering if this man was maybe a heart patient forced to get more exercise by his doctor—or by his looming mortality. Or perhaps he was a new grandfather who suddenly realized his sedentary lifestyle could rob him of a lifetime of playing with the baby, cheering him on at soccer games, watching him graduate.

By this time, though, I was changed and headed out to the gym floor. As I passed him, he started—still with one hand—pushing his pants down off his hips.

And then I saw it: A flash of red. Electric red. Sparkly electric red.

This feeble old man who could barely undress himself was wearing a shiny Spandex stripper thong.

What’s more, the thong was at least two sizes too small; it stretched tightly across the middle of his butt, a good two inches below the top of his buttcrack. And it could not have been comfortable.

But it spoke volumes about his real backstory. He was no longer a man in his twilight, staring death in the face; he was a man who, despite obvious obstacles, was trying to live. And if living for him meant dyeing his hair and walking around with a wad of petroleum-based fabric wedged in his butt, I could only applaud his proactivity. And his sense of humor.

This man, who probably takes a good half hour just to start his workout, is exactly the reason I like my gym. Unafraid of others’ opinions, able to see promise where others might see pre-emptive defeat, disciplined enough to go out and get some exercise, he personifies everything I like about the people I work out with every day. Even though we all rarely talk to each other.

But I could offer him one little bit of criticism. It’s more of an observation, really, and I say it only out of concern for his appearance and self-esteem: Jewel tones are so not his color.

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