I’m at the gym doing lat pull downs. The battery in my iPod’s gone dead so I’m forced to listen to the conversations around me. Normally I try and make the gym my dead zone, a place where I shut off the tape recorder in my mind, dumb down my sensitivities, and focus on moving weight and discreetly ogling women. The incessant chatter the headphones normally block out is quickly becoming a distraction.

“Goddammit,” I hear a rough masculine voice say behind me. “I’m sick of this country.”

“What’s up with you man?” another male voice responds.

“Fucking bitches,” the coarse voice spits. “Women in this country are fucking stuck up bitches.”

I turn around. The angry voice belongs to a towering guy I’ve personally seen bench press 500 pounds. Densely muscled and thick, the skin encasing him stretches and struggles to contain the power seething beneath the surface. He looks like the surface of an angry star.

“Why you say that?” his friend, a much smaller man, asks.

“I tried talking to that bitch over there,” Strong Man says, pointing towards a lithe redhead gracefully powering an elliptical machine. “And she wouldn’t give me the time of day.”

“Hey man, his friend says,” shrugging, “Whatcha gonna do?”

“She was stuck up yo,” Strong Man says. “She acted like I didn’t exist.”

I smile to myself. It’s hard to believe any one denying this man’s existence.

“My family has homes in Italy,” Strong Man says. “I speak Italian fluently. I should go over there and find a nice girl.”

“Yeah,” his friend says.”Someone to cook and clean for you.”

“Not just that,” Strong Man says. “A girl who likes me for me. These bitches today? They’re all holding out for millionaires or Brad Pitt.”

“Yeah,” his friend echoes. “Screw those bitches. Let’s go to Italy.”

I turn my attention back to my lat pull downs. Something tells me that the women in Italy won’t be lining up to cook and clean for Strong Man and his friend. Bitches? Please.

I finish my exercise and walk over to the water fountain. While I drink I use the mirror to take a surreptitious look at the redhead girl that reduced Strong Man to a profane crybaby. I’m almost 40 and I’ve seen many pretty girls in my time, but this woman takes my breath away. For a moment my vision tunnels and all I can see is her. As my consciousness alters a poem I read in high school floats into my mind.

“This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor,
all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what
was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,”

Translation? The girl’s a supreme hottie.

Suddenly I’m aware of the fountain’s water dribbling against my chin. I can feel the heat of impatient people lined up behind me, eager to take a drink. For a few seconds there I was consumed.I pull away from the water fountain and walk towards the elliptical machines. I need to do some cardio anyway. As I pass by the redhead’s machine she gives me an automatic once over. I know what she sees, a passably handsome middle aged guy with a gut. I self consciously smile at her. She doesn’t return the smile, flicks her eyes away, and returns to watching the TV monitor hanging above her. For a second I feel a brief stab of rejection. Maybe Strong Man was right. Maybe she is a bitch, holding out for a millionaire. Or maybe she’s just a woman trying to exercise and not get hit on. I can’t be sure what she’s thinking. I’m not a mind reader. My feelings of rejection quickly dissipate. A man will suffer more rejections in life than victories. You get used to it.

I hop on one of the elliptical machines and start pedaling. Of course I look at the redhead hottie while I exercise. Sue me if I like to sing the body electric. As I admire the redhead’s graceful form I think to myself what helpless creatures men are. How quickly women, even women we don’t know, can send our hearts reeling, remove our capacity for reason, and reduce our will to helpless vapor. Strong Man is big and tough but he’s no match for this woman. She probably reminds him of his incompleteness and aching need and that makes him afraid. When men get scared they get angry. Men fear the power women have over them. And you always fear what you don’t understand. And there’s no understanding women.

As I sweat and pedal I think of all the women I’ve known and chuckle softly. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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