I had an experience a couple days ago that still is haunting me somewhat, but I feel it is imperative to get it down in writing as soon as possible, so as not to lose any of the salient details.
So, it’s late Saturday afternoon, and my wife suggests that I go to the gym for a workout. (Her ’subtle suggestion’ consists of walking into the family room - where I’m sitting in an armchair reading ‘Sports Illustrated’ - and she drops a pair of workout shorts, shoes and my gym ID card onto my lap and then walks out).
Somehow, I’m able to decipher the hint she’s giving me, and I bundle myself off to the local YMCA to sweat out some of the toxins and saturated fat that make up the majority of my caloric intake.
When I arrive at the gym, the cardio room is about as crowded as an Ashlee Simpson concert. Which is to say, I practically have the damn place to my damn self.
I make a beeline to the Cardio Room, where I select a stationary bike (recumbent style) all the way against the far wall, plunk down my water bottle, plug in my iPod earphones and start pedaling away and soon I’m sweating like Ted Stryker in ‘Airplane’. I glance around at the near-empty room, surveying it with satisfaction. I’m somewhat disappointed that ‘Conductor Guy’ isn’t here, as his presence always entertains (a guy who, one would presume, is listening to Brahms or Bach on his iPod and - while burning up a treadmill at 5-6 mph - is waving his arms wildly, looking for all the world like Leonard Bernstein wearing side-vent running shorts with a sateen finish). But no, Conductor Guy must be off with his symphony; this place is nearly deserted.
There is no one else in my row.
Let me paint the mental picture for you: five or six rows of cardio machines arrayed in a grid - probably more than 100 in all. In the front row, you’ve got the elliptical cross-trainers, then a row of stair-climbers. Rows three and four are a mix of stationary bikes, both recumbent and upright. Then finally, in the back you’ve got several flavors of treadmills. There are maybe four other people in the entire gymnasium-sized room, and not ONE of them is on a bike - they have all confined themselves to the elliptical steppers and treadmills.
Through the door in the front right corner walks our villain. A big fellow, he cuts an imposing figure that goes probably 6′6″ and he’s pushing three bills. He might even be a biscuit over three bills. I do not give him a second glance as I go back to watching the final few outs of a baseball game on TV, which shows the Brewers kicking the spit out of the Giants.
The Sasquatch who has just entered seems to be surveying the scene - he has paused momentarily, perhaps to consider his options.
After several beats, he moves down the far aisle before making a left turn at the row in which I reside and begins shambling down the row. My attention has now been torn away from the game once again, and I monitor his progress from just the bleeding edge of my peripheral vision.
Almost instantly, an interesting sociological question pops into my mind: considering that the man could have had an entire row of bikes to himself, how far down an occupied row will he come before selecting a machine?
The only acceptable answer seems to be that he should stop *before* he gets to the halfway mark of the row. (An even more paranoid cynic might suggest that if I were on machine #20, let’s say, in other words the last machine in the row, the correct answer would be that this interloper MUST select machine #1, to create the largest possible buffer zone between two sweaty males. You may argue that amongst yourselves, however).
And yet, he appears to keep approaching.
At this point, he has now broached ‘The Maginot Line’ of the halfway point and shows no signs of slowing.
He *wouldn’t* think of doing what I think he’s doing.
By now, you wouldn’t be able to separate or tell the difference between my honest, workout perspiration and the flop-sweat that has suddenly materialized on my back like a layer of frost after a cold, early-spring dawn.
I now allow myself the gesture of turning my head in the direction of Lurch, who has arrived at the two bikes immediately to my left, and he now begins unloading his personal effects between those two bikes: sweat-towel, newspaper, ’80s-era Walkman, an issue of ‘Model Trains Monthly’ magazine.
I’m not at all certain of which of the two bikes he’s going to select, but at this advanced stage of the debacle it seems to me as though he simply MUST leave a one-bike buffer between us, right?
But, with someone who clearly violates all known statutes regarding personal-space and gym etiquette, I would have to say all bets are off, no?
While I’m pondering this, he leaves abruptly - loping back down the row with water bottle in hand, in the direction of the water fountain. While he’s filling his microbe-infested receptacle, it leaves me time to consider my various options - y’know, just in case worse comes to worst.
As the anti-homunculus returns, he places his bottle on the floor and - realizing my worst fears - he grasps the handle of the bike *right* next to mine and begins to swing his furry leg over the seat.
He settles himself down in the saddle with an audible grunt and begins punching buttons with his sausage-like fingers.
Our knees are within five or six inches of one another.
I no longer am able to take it, so - without even attempting to conceal my irritation - I pluck the left iPod earbud out of my ear and whirl to face my oppressor.
“You have simply *GOT* to be kidding me?!” I hurl at him, while presenting my best expression of disbelief - I’m modeling at after the one I get from my wife when I return home from the grocery with a dozen items that were NOT on the list she had written out for me and I’ve neglected to purchase any of the items that actually were on the list. It’s not a comfortable position for me to be in, and I felt sure my nemesis would feel the same way when presented with my mask of reproach.
“What?” he asks, taken aback. He is clearly caught off-guard by my verbal assault.
I plow ahead anyway, “Is there a specific reason WHY you felt it necessary to pass nearly forty other unoccupied bikes to sit right next to the only person who is actually riding on one?”
“This is my favorite bike. It’s the one I always pick if someone is not riding it,” he offers, as though this is ironclad logic and should make perfect sense to a moron like me.
I’ve now had enough.
“Listen here, Lance Armstrong,” I say. “As if these bikes are all SOO different from one another - I think, just this once, you might want to make an exception. Give us each a little space… Hmmm?”
I think I’ve made my point rather nicely. I wait for his reply as the two neurons in his brain attempt to collide with one another. It’s a slow process. You can almost *see* the thoughts in his head tumble through his cranium haphazardly, making and breaking alliances like a pair of underpants in the dryer without a sheet of Bounce.
“Well,” he finally manages, weakly, “you can move if you want.”
And with that nugget of damn near Confucius-like wisdom, he begins to pump away at the pedals.
I decide that discretion is the better part of valor. I hastily dismount the bike and - with several haughty noises (mostly snorts) designed to communicate my derision - gather up my things and stride purposefully away.
The cherry on top of the sundae is that when I returned home, my wife accused me of making up the story to “get out of exercising”! The nerve!
As if it were possible to make up a story that strains the very fabric of believability. I assured her that my story was 100% accurate.
“Sure it is - that’s why you’re back here after only twenty minutes. If you’re not going to exercise, make yourself useful and go to the store. Here’s the list I’ve written out for you.”