A scandal is unfolding at my gym. Members are whispering about it in cobwebbed corners. Nodding to each other conspiratorially in hallways. A war is waging. There is a large parking lot at the gym, and it is always full. I assume that many people park there who shouldn’t. It’s a big lot and parking is at a premium everywhere in the city. They park and commute downtown or wherever they are going. I live close enough that I can walk, but the odd time I’ll be out and throw my gym stuff in the trunk. Takes me longer to find a parking space than it would to walk from my house.
The administration at the gym decided to introduce a parking fee. Members would have a two-hour grace period of free parking. The gym has contracted a company to oversee that no one abuses the two-hour rule, and if they do, it’s a parking ticket for you.
As I said: scandalous.
My gym is inside an Italian community centre and next to an apartment building for seniors, and since I go during the day, I’m usually the youngest guy by about thirty years. I hear a lot of complaining – not just about the parking – but one guy stood out. The parking fee put him over the edge. In the weight room, he was ranting at his friend, who seemed to be unsuccessfully ignoring him.
“How dare they,” said the ranter. “And without even consulting us. I mean, I come for those yoga classes, maybe an aerobic class, which is an hour gone, right away. Next, I like to lift some weights. Throw in a shower and some socializing, bang, I’m here a good three hours.”
Who goes to the gym for three hours? Who wants to be at the gym for three hours?
About a week later, I was walking down the hallway from the change room to the weight room. I heard his voice around the corner. This time he had accosted a lady with a walker. She was trying to get away from him, but he was faster than her.
“How dare they,” said the ranter. “And without even consulting us. I mean, I come for those yoga classes, sometimes an aerobic class, which is an hour gone, right away. Next, I like to lift some weights. Throw in a shower and some socializing, bang, I’m here a good four hours.”
A few days later, as I finished up and headed for the shower, I heard a familiar voice echoing in the bathroom. The same guy, bare ass naked, talking to another bare ass naked man. The showers weren’t on, they were just talking. And naked.
“How dare they,” said the ranter. “And without even consulting us. I mean, I come for those yoga classes, which is an hour gone, right away. Next, I like to lift some weights. Throw in a shower and some socializing, bang, I’m here a good five hours sometimes.”
By now, this guy was getting kind of annoying, and he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with the other members. I think he was trying to drum up some support for his cause, but I guess most people only need two hours at the gym.
At my locker, the men came out of the showers, both still naked, the guy still ranting. Finally the other man said, “Look, why don’t you go tell the office?”
“Ah,” the ranter said, waving him away. “They won’t listen to me.”
“Then why’re you telling me? It doesn’t change anything to complain to me.”
And the guy walked away. The ranter just stood there. He was still standing there when the other guy, dressed and leaving, said, “It was good to see you Paul.”
I perked up. The ranter’s name was Paul. And it dawned on me why I found this guy kind of annoying – he’s me in thirty years. Sure, I like to complain, and I’ve driven a lot of people away by being negative. But this guy was different, so different that… I don’t know why he was different. He still stood there and our eyes met. He looked lost and lonely, standing bare ass naked. Maybe he didn’t have much in his life. Maybe he sits at home alone every night, has a high ball to forget his troubles. Maybe he wakes up every morning and is momentarily brightened by the prospect of the gym. Like me, he nightly feels guilty about something and has no outlet. It’s good to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. He likes it here, gives him something to do. Hell, if he needs five hours, I say, give it to him.
As I left the gym that day, bang, I realized that I am not like the ranter. I don’t talk to anyone at the gym, I’m there to do a job and want everyone to leave me alone, especially in the shower. And I wear a bathing suit in the shower. We’re totally different.