Revisited: Adventures in the Y locker room

I just came from the YMCA and boy am I steamed. Actually, I’m not because the steam room is broken again.

It’s a bright Saturday afternoon outside and most people with any sense are slavishly mowing their lawns in the 90-degree heat. I chose instead to catch up on my treadmill work, spending 25 minutes running in place and trying to avoid looking at the idiots hovering above me on Fox News, who also seem to be running in place (“Obama bad; something else good”). I finish a pretty decent workout and head to the locker room.

This is my least favorite part of the whole Y experience. You’d think it would be the best, since the exercise is now finished and all that’s left is a refreshing shower and the satisfaction of 1.84 miles well-run. Instead I have to worry about the denizens of the locker room and the potential interactions they might try to initiate.

Even at my best (i.e., when I’m clothed), I’m not the friendliest guy around. When I’m naked, I’m even less interested in you and your life. My motto – nude or otherwise – is “don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, don’t sense my presence or respond to it in any way.” I know it’s pretty long as personal creeds go, so I’m thinking of having it tattooed on my pale white chest. Perhaps then, I can navigate my way around the benches and mildew stains without feeling obliged to chat with the folks around me.

When I enter the locker room it seems like no one’s there. That can be a good thing, if it’s true, or a bad thing, if there’s only one other guy in there, because then it seems the temptation to initiate contact becomes overwhelming. As I round the corner to where I’ve stored my stuff, I catch a glimpse of a guy’s head lying prone on a bench in the next row over. Fortunately his body is attached just out of view, but that makes me feel only slightly less awkward. I don’t know what he’s doing lying out naked like that, and I certainly don’t want to know. I’m able to quickly hustle to my locker before he engages me.

My locker is just outside the sauna room, and I strip out of my sweaty running gear without incident. I can never tell if there’s anybody in the sauna – unless they’re loudly discussing their latest medical procedure – so I always have this feeling that I’m being watched from those dark recesses. Occasionally someone will emerge, usually wrapped in the tiniest of hand towels because the rules say you can’t be naked in there, and seek a cooling break on the bench in front of my locker. If I rattle around and sigh loudly enough while squeezing past, they’ll usually clear out, but not before leaving an unfortunate vapor impression on the varnished wood where they’ve sat. This leaves me appalled for days.

As I turn toward the shower, my towel draped strategically in front of me, another guy steps into view and we nearly collide. It’s one of the regulars, an elderly cheerful man with more sags than I’d care to be aware of. He’s almost always here at this time of day during the week, but I thought he took weekends off. I remember him from the time I pulled open the curtain after my shower and there he stood, barely able to wait his turn to climb in.

“Hah,” he drawls. “How’r you?”

“Fine,” I reply, trying to summon as much of a don’t-bother-me tone as I can. If the conversation takes that pivotal next step to something like “have a good workout?” or “nice day, isn’t it?”, there could be a public discussion breaking out between two graying, naked men, and that never turns out well for anyone.

I’m able to maneuver past him to the shower room to find that my favorite stall is already occupied. Only one of the four has the kind of ledges that let me put my shampoo up high where I can reach it and has a step down low to prop my legs while drying them. It also has an easily managed faucet handle, unlike the other three which can be bumped while drying your hair, turning the water back on. There’s the open-floor design of a shower room available as well as this aging club’s excuse for a Jacuzzi (a bathtub), although those are out of the question for reasons that should be obvious to all.

I use one of the faulty showers without too much difficulty, careful to stay inside the three-wall enclosure to dry as much of myself as I can still reach before emerging. When I do, I can overhear a conversation taking place in the corner of the room. It sounds like Sagging Man has managed to ensnare Head Man into a discussion.

“Is your mother still alive?” the older man asks, mindful I guess of yesterday’s holiday.

“No,” says the other guy quietly. “She passed just last year.”

See, this is why you should avoid banter with strangers. You never know when an innocent remark is going to trigger a flood of emotions that you don’t have the psychiatric training to deal with. But that doesn’t stop Sagging Guy; he plunges ahead.

“Mah mother died 60 years ago,” he notes not too surprisingly, considering she’d be well into her 140s if she’d survived to today.

“I’m so sorry,” Head Man says. He sounds like he’s shuffling away as I hear his slippers flapping through the room. To continue the talk with an additional response – something like “life is fleeting” or “was she executed?” – seems obviously fruitless to both parties. I finally see Head Man in all his glory arriving at the sink; lathering up his scalp for a quick shave makes him look even more bizarre than he did earlier. The skimpy black briefs that kept him compliant with Y rules in the sauna are pitifully inadequate in the light of day, and I look away.

I hustle back to my locker to get dressed and get the hell out of there. I watch carefully to make sure the maintenance guy isn’t working somewhere nearby. There’s a fire exit door just down a short hallway from where I’m dressing, and the janitor has been known to open that door for a breath of fresh air. He doesn’t consider that the Y’s daycare playground is just outside, and the potential there is to turn innocent but exposed men like me into accidental sex offenders. Trust me, there’s nothing quite as startling to someone just out of the shower as the curious faces of several six-year-olds gazing down from the top of a slide.

I dress like a quick-change artist, gather my damp things and make for the door. I can’t help but wonder if I’ve burned more calories worrying through this awkward postlude than I ever burn on the treadmill.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: