I'll buy the YMCA some rat traps

In my ongoing quest to prove my younger self wrong (when I was in elementary school I’d sort of assumed I’d be dead by age 35 or so), I go to the YMCA every weekday and exercise. Thankfully, the Y is free of that annoying stereotype of the musclebound asshole whose workout routine consists solely of pounding back four protein shakes while adjusting his biker shorts to show off his steroid-shrunken package to the gym bunnies he’s unsuccessfully hitting on. Oh, and the gym bunny, who never comes there to work out, but to show off her $400 pink Nike shoes, her $150 pink athletic ensemble, her makeup, nails, hair, and of course, her silicone-riddled “gym body” to the musclemen who want to hit on her.

But when I talk about the YMCA henceforth, I will have to amend the second sentence in the previous paragraph to read “Thankfully, the Y is mostly free...” because I was proven wrong today. But as things that happen to me often are, it was funny, and I am now going to tell you about it.

I had finished the cardio section of my workout and was midway through my circuit in the weight room. I choose a slow time of day to go, because I like to have the place to myself. But today it wasn’t completely barren. At the start of my circuit, a youngish man with bulging gym-grown muscles had been futzing around with the free weights for a while. I didn’t realize he was One Of Them until I saw his face. He even looked at the weights as if they were beneath him. Then a young woman wandered in. Most of the women who use the Y’s fitness center are either older or are making an honest effort to lose weight. This one, however, looked like she belonged on the cover of a magazine. Already fit and trim, she wore skin-hugging clothes (honest workout clothes, not strips of cloth held together with bobbypins and prayer), had long blonde hair and a pretty face sans-makeup. Not a gym bunny.

But, ladies and gentlemen, what do you get when you put an incredibly cocky (pun not intended– see above for why) musclebound gym-rat and a pretty young woman in the same weight room?

To answer your question, if you really need it answered, I will tell you that if this were a cartoon and there were sound-effects to accompany people’s actions, I’d have heard him come to a screeching halt, seen his eyes pop comically out of his head (boioioioioinnnnnggggg) and his face take on a decidedly wolfish cast. Let’s not forget that triangle-toothed grin.

At first, I settled for chuckling to myself and letting the tableau spread out before me. She looked like she had enough presence of mind to fend for herself; I knew for a fact she’d been hit on before. Any woman with a body like that in a town like Oswego’s bound to have gotten ogled, catcalled, pinched, panted at, drooled on, plied with alcohol, groped, licked, what have you.

I kept one earbud out so I could hear Mr Muscleface get shut down. But he didn’t. I listened, he talked at her. About... wait for it... about his muscles. I’ve encountered gym rats before at Gold’s Gym, at Planet Fitness, and at that one sleazy gym I went to once out in Carrboro (if you know about Carrboro you know why I never went back). But all the gym rats I’ve known never actually talk about their muscles. It’s always about themselves, sure, but it’s usually about what they do for a living, how much money they make, what kind of car they drive, how cute their new puppy is (yes really), etc. Most of the experienced gym rats know that talking about their muscles is about as interesting to women as when women talk about their periods to men.  So they pick topics they think women would be interested in, and some of the shallowest women are.

But Miss Magazine Cover was not shallow. Nor did she apparently have the stones I thought she’d had. She just sat there, twiddling her thumbs on one of the machines, as Mr Biceps stood in front of her with his hands on his hips, putting himself on display. And talking. And talking.

About technique, about tone, about core muscles, about absolutely everything Miss Magazine Cover did not want to hear. She tried her best to tune him out, bless her, but he followed her around the gym, running his mouth and waggling his arms as if to say...well... what he was already saying.

This went on and on and began to make even ME uncomfortable. He was not giving up, and she was not shutting him down. Normally, I don’t interfere. Normally I just let these things work themselves out, because, well, it’s not my business and I’m not a people person. But this was just not working itself out.

So I did something I have never done before, and may never do again. Now that I look back on it, it wasn’t the wisest move, but it’s one of those things you do without much thinking. Because if you thought at all before doing it, you wouldn’t have done it.

I walked up to the pair and said, loudly and plainly, staring the woman in the face, “Hey. I’m new here. Can you show me how the cardio machines work?”

The instant of confusion in the woman’s face bloomed into the most sublime expression of gratitude I have ever seen in a human being.

“Oh, I’d be happy to,” she almost shouted and teleported across the room to the stairs that led up to the cardio area. I followed her, daring not to look back at Mr Musclehead, but figuring he either hated me passionately or was just confused.

Or maybe he was still talking to himself about his muscles. I will never know.

Miss Magazine Cover made a show of explaining the elliptical trainer to me, then went to a treadmill on the farthest end of the room, away from the doorway. Then she let out a huge sigh and said, “Oh my god, thank you. You have no idea how awkward that was. Thank you so much.”

I said my welcomes and I let her talk Mr. Muscleface’s assault out of her system. Then we formally introduced ourselves. She glanced back into the weight room. Mr Muscles remained, so we decided to hop on the treadmills until he left.

Those next 15 or so minutes were enjoyable; I found out she had moved to Oswego from Vermont, that she was here for a job, and that she wanted to get the hell out of this podunk town (her words) as soon as she could. I laughed and agreed. Mr Muscles finally left; Miss Magazine and I went our separate ways. But I have a feeling that if I ever see her again, I’ll have a workout buddy for life.


In which the writer is made to feel quite awkward, actually

While I never quite relish my job at Childwatch, I can’t bring myself to hate it. Nothing ever happens twice, and the writer in me comes at every day just hunting for story opportunities. Like this one. Again, names are changed to protect the almost innocent.

I often have the dubious pleasure of bringing children into any one of the three racquetball courts at the Y to play. If you’ve ever played this whopper of a game, you know that a racquetball court is an indoor affair, just four high, sturdy walls and a shellacked wooden floor. Needless to say, sound echoes tremendously in the courts. So while I’m able to relax a bit and interject only when there’s a problem, I have to deal with... let’s do some complicated math here...

7 children(10 rubber balls+ 4 hula hoops+2 corn poppers)
divided by my patience
times some figure or formula involving the loudness of a sound, how many decibels are added when echoes are involved, and how much louder all of it is when enclosed in a cube with glass and drywall sides

And all that equals a combined decibel level on par with a jet engine at 100 feet. Okay, I’m exaggerating. Maybe it’s a little less.

Until everybody thinks it’s a wonderful idea to scream at the top of their lungs at the same time.

I digest. Today it wasn’t as bad because there were only three kids in the gym with me: Tommy, Sarah, and her little brother Max. “Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” does not begin to describe Tommy. He reminds me physically of a hummingbird: tiny, wiry, bright red hair. If you manage to catch him, you won’t be able to hold him for long. The apocalyptic amount of energy contained in that tiny body will vibrate him right out of your hands. So what I’m really trying to say is that Tommy didn’t spend very long in the racquetball court. Then it was just Sarah, five going on a bratty fifteen, and her long-suffering and gentle little brother of three.

For a while they were content thwacking racquetballs back and forth in that awkwardly adorable way that only children with undeveloped fine motor skills are. Then Sarah pranced over to me and (literally) flung herself into my lap. She didn’t like me; I didn’t like her; we both knew it. But Sarah liked being under the seasoned and veteran eye of the Childwatch Overlord even less. So to me she would cleave, as long as Max found entertainment in striking at a ball, missing, and hitting himself in the face with a racquet. Which was, bless his heart, a lot longer than I’d have thought.

Sarah, using me as her personal lounge pillow, immediately began regaling me with stories (how true they were only she knows) about herself, her friends, herself, her family, herself, her dog, oh and did I mention herself. Usually I can get away with only pretending to be attentive, but Sarah must’ve had some sort of radar installed that went off whenever she detected any flicker in my attention. She’d yank on my shirt and bleat “Are you listening to me?”, then ask me to repeat back to her what she’d just said.

Sarah’s mom, pay attention to what your child is learning from you.

In this way we passed the next several minutes. In a moment of weakness, I raised my hands to my face and rubbed my eyes. I expected to hear another shrill reprimand from Sarah, but instead she seized my left pointer finger and shoved it in my face.

“What happened there?”
A band-aid decorated the tip of the finger in Sarah’s grip. To be honest, I don’t know how I’d gotten the bloodless but incredibly painful laceration on the pad of my finger, but I offered the best explanation I could to Sarah, otherwise I’d be fielding questions thrown at me from further and further out of left field.
“I got a cut. It must have been when I was using a knife to cut up chicken for supper last night.”
“Are you a mom?”
Left field; am I right?
“Wh–what? No. What warped and twisted path of logic dropped you at that gem of a conclusion?” This level of vocabulary and abstract idea-making may have been a bit above Sarah, but she has special ways of making one’s life miserable who dares to talk beneath her. So I err on the side of caution. She seems to grasp the gist of it anyway; for all her snottiness, she’s a bright kid.
“Yes you are. You were making dinner.”
“Just because I make my own food doesn’t mean I’m a mom. Your logic is faulty.”
“You make food for you and your kids. Duh.”
Brilliant volley by Sarah. Let’s see if Kate can return the hit.
“Do I honestly look like a mom to you?”
“Don’t answer that.” I clapped my hand over her mouth.
Ooh, a point for Sarah.
Sarah laughed and shoved my hand away. “How old are you?”   
“Hah! You’re old! You must have like six kids!”
“Yes, no, and you’re very mean.”
Game, set, match, Sarah.

It’s kids like Sarah who keep her own mistaken judgment about me from ever being accurate.