Today’s excerpt from my upcoming book, The Workout, is a piece about the childish (and outright disgusting) behavior that some gym members display. If you’ve spent any time in a gym you’ll recognize the characters immediately. Enjoy.
For better or worse the gym represents a suspension of reality, a way to put on hold the mental stress of household chores, the in-laws’ constant interference, a talk with the adolescent child about habitual internet porn surfing, the clinical upkeep of a dull marriage.
Unfortunately, the downside of mental vacancy can mean the loss of decorum and tact as some members regress into elementary school nitwits. The gym must trigger memories of 4th grade and I can see the recess hierarchies still intact. Social cliques and belligerent twits interact together while loners drift beyond boundaries. The playground atmosphere keeps the gym buzzing with gossip corners, popularity contests among rival group fitness members, and bullies. This last group can be a problem—people who don’t know how to behave courteously or who hector for fun. They commandeer benches already in use and refuse to share equipment. They almost dare you to challenge them just so they can wrap you around the flagpole. These ruffians must get hounded at work and need an outlet for their frustrations or they bully others and can’t relinquish that domineering mindset.
Traditionally, men unleash more aggression when establishing their workout space by leaving sweat on equipment like they just peed on the mailbox. Women tend to ask for machines while men silently claim their turf and expect bystanders to move if they’re in the way. Every so often, though, I’ll watch a woman switch gender roles and refuse to give back the weights I was kind enough to share. Then, I’ll start looking around for one of those alpha males to elbow her in the face while he flexes in the mirror, admiring his guns.
Bullies don’t have a monopoly on tactless behavior, though. The most off-putting part of my job deals with, not the client who slumps into child’s pose whenever she’s stressed (during our sessions), or the doctor who cancels at 5:30am for our 6 o’clock appointment (in the middle of fucking winter), but the shameful spreading of germs.
Regretfully, I’ve watched members sneeze without bothering to cover mouths, spraying dumbbells like a crop duster coating a field of apple trees. Unknowing bystanders grab those weights for curls or presses, often scratching a nose itch or redirecting errant bangs, bringing someone else’s cold dangerously close. I’m repulsed by the infirm member who coughs into his hands and then grips the banister on his way downstairs. Nose blowers occasionally opt for towels instead of tissues and then use them to wipe their benches after a set. I’m sure you’ve seen people sweat all over equipment, leaving drops around treadmills and sweaty head outlines on machines, and then fail to clean up their mess.
Anonymity in the gym allows some insolent members the freedom to be absolute pigs. Besides, why not abuse the maintenance staff a bit more? It’s not like cleaning poop from the steam rooms or bodily fluids from the shower walls sucks at all. And it’s not as if these silent laborers can visit the doctor if they get sick from such exposure—they don’t have health insurance. Let’s burden the lowest-earning, hardest-working employees even more by having them disinfect equipment after entitled members sweat, spray, and walk away.
Public safety lesson: Use a towel when lying or sitting on any surface, don’t touch your face (even to fix your tousled hair—you shouldn’t be too pretty at the gym anyway), and wash your hands after every workout and bathroom break.
Keep on Movin’