(discreet, well-mannered, appropriate)
It’s true that I’ve been going to the gym regularly. Here in Chicago, known as The Fitness Club. As in,”What Fitness Club do you belong to? I belong to Eastbank…” We don’t belong to Eastbank, with Barack Obama or Oprah, because it’s too far from the brickhouse so that would be another excuse to not use it regularly. What with the monthly membership fees and the 5 restaurants, the drycleaners and laundry, the car wash, the meeting rooms, the spas, the hair salon, the 3 pools, the rooftop lounge deck and the stunning, yet totally evolved fellow who teaches Sunday morning yoga, I’d have to sell this place and just live there to justify the expense. Actually, I guess I could give up cooking and put a few things in storage and the cost would be about the same as the mortgage and groceries we pay for now…
Anyway, I’ve been going to the gym 2-3 times a week for a while now but I haven’t wanted to talk about it. Talking about going to the gym or writing a book or starting an Etsy shop is the surest way to put a hex on it. I’ve figured out how to ensure attendance by attaching myself to my neighbor, who has fragile bones and needs to go work out reliably. I drive so, together, we get there pretty consistently. Once there we use the recumbent bicycles and watch Oprah on TV (really, she’s probably down at the Eastbank Club working out with her personal trainer) and then I use a bunch of machines to build muscles and then I get on the step machine and watch food shows until my heart rate reaches the desired level. Then it’s off to the locker room.
Locker rooms, historically, have been traumatic places for me, even more than for most people. When I was eleven and my sister was six, my mother returned to school to finish her master’s degree before going to teach at Liggett School with Jean Harris, murderess of the diet doctor. Don’t we all want to kill diet doctors? My mom and dad were divorced, and my brother was living with my dad in New York, so during this period when she was unemployed my mother moved us into a four family flat in the heart of Detroit’s ghetto. There, she would head off to university each day and I was responsible for getting Betsy and myself to two different schools on city buses. Betsy seems to remember that as an okay time in our lives but for me, negotiating a middle school in Detroit’s inner city was akin to doing a stint in Beirut. Actually, the next year, after we had moved back to a safe neighborhood of tiny brick houses, the riots broke out and it was just like that.
Three times a week the whole 6th grade piled back on a bus and went over to the YMCA. Our school didn’t have a pool so we took some parody of swimming lessons there. With absolutely no stereotyping or prejudice, I can tell you honestly that every other girl in my class was big, black and beautiful. The emphasis here is on BIG. For the most part they were redoing 6th grade for the second or third time; some of them were 14 or 15 years old. And BIG. Possibly, it was my perspective, because I was young and skinny (I believe ‘skanky’ was the adjective I heard most frequently, as in “get yo skanky white ass offa my seat on dis bus!”) but in any case, the difference was most noticeable when it came to the bathing suits. These suits belonged to the Y and had been in use for probably about a decade before I got there and it would be another decade before I would require a bra. The suits were basic cheap tank suits made out of some heavy stretched out synthetic fabric that had taken on the odor of gym shoes filled with cat urine. They had a cross strap on the back and a round neckline that doubled as the waist line on me. The crotch hung to my knees. These suits were all in a giant laundry gurney that you didn’t have access to until after you had taken the pre-swim shower. Three times a week I had to dive naked into that gurney and scrounge around for the smallest suit, an XXL. My new friends cheered me on, laughing and pointing. After the first few times, in an effort to be sincerely helpful, one of my classmates said, “Listen! Why doan you turn that thang aroun and wear it backwards? That way yo can double them straps roun yo neck to hold it up and cover yo skinny ass at ta same time!” With 28 of my BFF pointedly watching, I stood there, with my white skinny ass shining like a distant moon, and did as she suggested. It worked. I got a very strange look from the swim instructor that day but from then on I always spent my time in the YMCA pool with a giant knot of strap under my chin and the rest of me basically covered.
I barely made it through high school physical education, usually loitering in the outfield, studiously avoiding eye contact with anyone actively participating, and it would be another two decades before I voluntarily entered women’s locker rooms. Nowadays, resigned as I am to the foibles of the human body, it’s no big deal.
At the gym where I currently belong, its a pretty diverse group of shapes and sizes. There are the usual number of young beauties who go to DePaul University and do aerobics five times a week. These women all remind me of my daughter: fit, tan, well muscled. There are a surprising number of overweight women who seem perfectly comfortable with their bodies, or at least able to move with ease around the locker room and in and out of showers. There are a lot of us on the downhill side of 50 who are also comfortably resigned to the shape of our vessels.
Here’s the thing: there’s a certain etiquette involved in women’s locker rooms. I assume this is also true in men’s locker rooms although prime time television suggests there may be more towel/butt snapping going on there. I haven’t observed women doing that. In the women’s locker room, you’re expected to go about your business of getting undressed, showered and redressed in orderly fashion without a lot of extraneous activity or horsing around. About half of the women wrap themselves in towels, the rest don’t and it’s no big deal either way. Chit chat is usually reserved for the time when you’re in a shower stall and you have the walls as a barrier of sorts and you call over them or for time spent in front of the mirrors blowing your hair dry when you’re either half way or fully dressed.
I would say the key point of protocol is that you don’t outright stare at each other’s naked bodies. This is sort of too bad because sometimes I would like to stare. I would like to look and see who has c-section scars or for that matter, see if, upon close scrutiny, I can tell whether someone has borne children or not. By that, I mean look at their hips or bellies and make a guess and then chat them up at the mirror until I find out if I guessed right. That would just be with the really firm shapely young women. My body changed, ever so slightly, after having my first child and more after the second, so I would like to know if it’s possible to have children without any outward evidence at all. But that would require staring and, as I said, we don’t stare at each other, especially in the vicinity of c-section scars, when we’re in the women’s locker room.
(less than discreet. Inappropriate.)
Today, Susan and I had finished our work out and she went out to wait by the juice bar while I took a quick shower. She’s still nursing a broken foot so prefers to shower at home but I like to use the club’s towels and shampoo as long as I’m there and then leave feeling clean and ready to go. So I showered and walked back by the bank of mirrors with my towel wrap and hooked a right at our row of lockers. At the beginning of the row I almost tripped over a woman about my age, sitting on the floor. So, of course, I looked down briefly and changed course around her and got to my locker. In those brief milliseconds this is what registered, nay, imprinted, on my brain. Burned in there like a camp project on a tree slice.
This woman was tall and lanky and had silver dollar pancake shaped breasts that were snuggly plastered against her chest. She was seated facing the mirrors, buck naked and legs akimbo on the floor with a towel spread in front of her with a book on it. Apparently she was worried the book might get a fungus or something off the carpet and I would be too, given that it’s a locker room floor. No such concern for her skanky derriere. Nope, she was sitting right there on the low pile damp green carpet. Giving herself a pedicure and reading an apparently fascinating book. She was hard at work with a pumice stone on her heels for all of the time I was getting dressed; this required a fair amount of shifting from right foot to left and back again. Sort of a naked and seated can-can dance. At this point I was doing that thing of actively looking away towards the opposite far wall and acting as though the row of lockers against that wall was the most riveting thing I’d ever seen.
In less than two minutes flat I was up at the bank of mirrors snatching up a blow dryer. It was then that I realized that everyone drying their hair had moved down ten feet, crammed up in a short section nearest the exit, rather than enjoy the mirror image of this woman comfortably reading and grooming her feet. I left, not knowing quite what to make of the whole situation.
(Questionable. Morning coffee lovers don’t mind.)
I almost used this as an excuse not to return to my regularly scheduled workout today. But then, the voyeur in me prevailed.