I like the gym I go to. They keep it clean; the equipment is well maintained, the staff friendly and they have a nice juice bar if your body needs a post-workout caramel flavored protein macchiato shake. I also like the variety of people who go there – old, young and, like me, somewhere in between. But occasionally, I wish the staff would force the patrons to attend a primer on gym etiquette. Yesterday was a case in point. 

I was doing a compound set for my chest – pushups and the butterfly pec machine – when an old guy hopped onto to the apparatus as I was pistoning myself up and down on the floor. No biggie, you’re supposed to let people work in. When I got off the floor, however, the old guy was just starting off into space while resting after his set. Smiling, I said, “You mind if I work in? I have two sets left.” The man’s response was to glare angrily at me, get off the machine, and walk away muttering under his breath. 

“I have no problem sharing,” I said. 

“Whatever pal,” he said. 

“Okay then,” I replied. My first reaction was to wonder if I’d done something wrong. Did I violate gym etiquette? Nope. The signs plastered all over the place clearly spelt out the rules. Maybe I just caught the oldster on a bad day. Shrugging, I continued my workout and then when I was finished moving the irons, hopped onto one of the three empty stair climbers in the cardio section.

About five minutes in, however, a young guy hopped on the machine right next to mine, which was a small and, admittedly, unwritten, faux pas. Using the cardio equipment in a gym is like using the urinals in the men’s room. If there are three and a guy’s hosing down the one on the right, you use the one on the left, not the one in the middle – unless you have no choice.  Oh well. Not fatal. But then then my olfactory senses were suddenly assaulted by the scent of the kid’s cologne. “Jesus,” I thought to myself, “Is that Drakkar Noir?” Obviously, this guy had never heard of a “little dab will do ya” and, pushing through woody undertones of his scent, I also thought I could also detect the odor of salami.  Who eats salami for breakfast? Then the guy started blabbing loudly into his hand’s free device. 

“Yo man. What up?” he cried. “Did you even make it home last night? I got so fuckin’ destroyed.” Then he launched into a high volume recounting of the previous night’s alcohol fueled debauchery in excruciating detail. Isn’t there a rule about using cell phones while using equipment? There is but, today, that’s a custom is more honored in the breach than the observance. I leave my cell phone in the car when I go to the gym and find listening to music a distraction, so my mind and ears were unprotected from the young man’s verbal assault. Grimacing, I cranked the climber to seventy steps a minute in the hope the sound of my heartbeat would drown it out. It didn’t. 

Finished and covered in sweat, I slowly got off the machine, wiped it down with an antiseptic towelette, and then walked over to the calisthenics areas to cool down and perform some stretches. But even halfway across the gym, I still could hear Drakkar Boy shouting into his Bluetooth receiver, oblivious to his decibelage. Chiding myself over my aggravation, I tried remembering that I was once young and used the very same cologne. Sometimes I’m oversensitive – but then I watched the young man get off his machine and just walk away, leaving it dripping unsanitized in Nineties cologne and luncheon meat tinged sweat. How rude. 

Since I was going to visit my parents right after my workout, I headed into the locker room to shower and change. Entering, a found another young man sitting in the middle of the bench by the lockers with a sandwich in one hand and texting on his phone with the other. Talk about multitasking. I guess the kid was hungry, but man, that’s a weird place to eat. Would you like Herpes Simplex 2 with your tuna salad? Ugh. 

After keying open my locker, I took out my gym bag and placed it on the scant space available on the bench. Normally when this happens, the person sitting in the middle of the bench should slide over to give you a little more room – but not this kid. So, after stripping down and taking my shower sandals, towel, and soap out of my bag, I noticed the kid glancing at me like I was something he found under his shoe – which was kind of funny since his mouth was full of tuna salad.  Now, making eye contact with a guy you don’t know in a locker room is a no-no for all sorts of reasons, but I got the sense this guy was upset over me being naked as he tried enjoying his meal. No, scratch that, he was annoyed that I was naked at all. Hey, I’m certainly no Adonis, but I’m not hideous either. 

Ignoring his body shaming energy, I went into the shower and, after luxuriating under the hot spray for several minutes, emerged feeling clean and energized. After toweling off I returned to my locker but of course Tuna Boy was still there, still giving me sideways looks. Feeling a spurt of annoyance, I felt like telling him, “Kid, this is a locker room, what do you expect?” but decided against it. When I was a kid, seeing naked men in a locker room was normal. Now? I don’t know. Maybe I was violating some twenty-something rule I’d never heard off. For a moment, I thought about drying my balls under the hand dryer but relented. That would probably have sent him over the edge. 

So, I got dressed while the kid texted and ate, smiling as I watched him fidget in obvious discomfort. Nudity is all about connect. If I was walking around naked in the mall, the kid’s reaction would be appropriate, but in a locker room? Gimme a break. Since I was not privy to the workings of his mind, I had no idea what was going on, but I figured the kid had some sort of issue – but then again, sometimes the fear is the wish. As for me, I just figured my annoyances over gym etiquette were fueled by the encroaching prickliness I’ve noticed creeping up on me as I solider upwards through middle age. Maybe that’s why that old man go so angry at me. Let’s see how I do in twenty years. 

Well-scrubbed, invigorated and feeling invincible for at least a few moments, I walked out of the locker room and headed for the exit. “Have a nice day, sir,” the young man manning the juice counter called out. Detouring, I went up to him, leaned in close, and whispered, “You know what? You guys should make every member take a refresher course in gym etiquette at least once a year.” 

The staff remember rolled his eyes heavenward and said, “Brother, you ain’t kidding.”

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