Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Locker Room Exchange

I’m a disgusting exerciser. I like to think of it as sweating out my impurities: I must forcefully exorcise my dietary demons from deep within my muscles where they have rotted in iniquity for years, or since I ate that donut last week. I imagine sweat is poison leaving my body, clinging to my clothes; anyone who crosses my path will smell me and know I am UNCLEAN.

One morning after my run, sopping with sin and sweat, I stumbled to the locker room, peeled away the sodden skunk pelts my clothes had become, and shoved them in my gym bag like a body I needed to hide in a hurry (…not that I know what that's like). It was when I turned from the locker toward my salvation – the shower – that I encountered the hateful woman.

"Excuse me!!!" she said, stretching the phrase into more syllables than the normal three, enunciating in a way that implied multiple exclamation points. 

Still disoriented from my workout, naked, armed only with a towel and a toiletry bag, I was caught off guard. A dozen questions fired through my soggy synapses at the speed of decaffeinated thought: Did I run into her? Am I in her way? Did I put my filthy clothes in her locker by mistake? It's still morning, after all: is this angry apparition a dream? Will I wake up soon? Can there be coffee? I cautiously said only, "Yes?"

The woman, who was built like an aging supermodel and might have been forty-five, scowled. "Put some clothes on!"

That can't be right, I thought. I've only just taken them all off. They were drenched and so am I. "I'm heading to the shower," I said, by way of explanation. Perhaps she was confused since I was already soaked. I was prepared to forgive her for the misunderstanding.

"Nudity is still uncalled for!" she shrieked.

If you had seen my workout clothes before I took them off, I thought, you would know that in this case nudity is absolutely and totally called for. What I said was, "I'm not naked because I'm trying to offend you. I'm naked because I'm heading to the shower." And because I may need to burn those clothes later.

Her face screwed up like the wadded shirt in the bottom of my gym bag. "Maybe you need to get up earlier so you have time to shower at home!"

“Get Up Earlier” is, of course, the most offensive phrase there is. If this prudish stranger had looked me in the face when I was either fully awake or fully clothed and suggested I "Get Up Earlier", I would have responded with inappropriate language and crude gestures. Instead, I merely said the first thing that came to mind, namely: "Lady, if naked people offend you, maybe you need to get up earlier so you don't have to use the locker room."

She gasped, gathered her things from a nearby bench, and stormed away, sparing me one last glance over her shoulder.

The synapses misfired a few more times: was she right? Are there social mores I'm unaware of, societal constructs around nudity in the locker room that my unathletic upbringing has left me unprepared for? Maybe the showers are just for swimmers to rinse the chlorine off their suits before they get dressed again, carefully covering each body part as they go? Are there changing rooms I've missed? Do I need to bring a bathrobe next time? If she was so offended by my nudity, why didn’t she avert her eyes?

Hearing a polite cough, I turned to see an elderly woman on the bench behind me, white hair disheveled and workout clothes darkened by sweat. "Can you believe that?" I said, and then realized, briefly, that she had a perfectly unobstructed view of my naked ass and wondered if I would have to repeat the entire exchange.

"Honey," she said, lifting her own shirt over her head and slipping off her shoes, "I didn't see a thing." Kicking her pants off, she ambled toward the shower without even a towel to shield herself.  

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