As a teacher I am respected, appreciated and even loved. I have an ongoing mutual admiration society with my students. These days my higher ups think the world of me and co-workers enjoy my senses of fun and humor. At work I am a garrulous dynamo. Similarly at family gatherings I am typically a delight and my presence adds to the occasion whatever it may be. All that being said I can be and often am a misanthrope. I am a sullen commuter with my nose buried in a book. I am the shy neighbor who barely manages a hello and avoids stopping for chats. And at the gym I keep to myself and don't use the setting to socialize. There are a few people at the gym I know and exchange how-ya-beens with, they are the exception. I go to the gym to workout and am serious and focused on doing so. I'm not interested in locker room banter. I want to get in my gym clothes and get to sweating or want to get dressed and go home. The very idea of talking during exercise is anathema to me. But I have ever been an observer. I notice other people many of whom bug the heck out of me. I have been diagnosed as being hyper vigilant as many abuse survivors are. Little things irritate me and there's not a whole lot I can do about it. What follows is some of the people I regularly observe at my local YMCA. I don't dislike a one of them, but to a person they either vex or bug the hell out of me.
The Deceased. I think this gym member is dead and no one has had the heart to tell him. He looks like a walking cadaver. This is true: Once he’d finished getting dressed for his workout and left as I went to the sauna. I was in the sauna for ten minutes and the shower for five. For the math challenged out there that totals 15 minutes. When I returned to my locker, there he was, his workout over, he was readying for a shower. He literally spends more time getting dressed then he does working out. It would be no never-mind to me except he always seems to use the locker next to mine. And forever gets in my way and I in his. The deceased “talks” but these verbalizations are in the form of half grunts half words. Whatever he says is indecipherable. His skin is veritably translucent and his movements suggest that rigor mortis has set in. I've never seen a bead of sweat on him, probably because all of his bodily fluids have long since evaporated.
The Pacer. Fortunately I rarely see the Pacer anymore, but when I do all my buttons are pushed. Part of the reason he bothers me so is that I sort of know him. His daughter was a student of mine a dozen or so years ago so we chatted at parent conferences and back to school nights and what not. When I first saw him at the gym we exchanged pleasantries. Now when we pass each other we give the quick head nod. The Pacer lifts weights. The Pacer — after every single set, mind you — paces the gym in a serpentine fashion. Seriously. This is wholly unnecessary and distracting as hell. I and many others are forever bumping into him during these circuits. If I’m on the treadmill or another apparatus I’ll see him walking by over and over again. Some people have said that this is very odd behavior indeed but they don’t see why it gets under my skin. I don’t either but it sure does. A half minute rest between sets is sufficient. What the hell this bozo is doing is beyond me.
The Gabber can't and won't shut his pie hole. If he put half as much time into exercising as he does to talking peoples’ ears off, he’d be in magnificent shape. As it is he has a protruding belly unusual for someone who logs so many hours at the gym. Last weekend I saw him buttonhole someone as I began a 30 minute run on a treadmill. When my run ended he was — you guessed it — still yakking at the person. I do mean “at” and never with. I’ve observed maybe precious few occasions in which someone got in a word edgewise. Perhaps worst of all he is a “close talker” as defined by Seinfeld. He turns his head at an angle and looks the person in the eye and prattles on no more than two feet from the poor sap's face. I’ll give him credit for one thing, he knows a lot of people. He never seems to run out of people to talk at. A few times I’ve seen him workout but I've also noted that he'll stop his workout if he notices a victim -- I mean a person to talk to.
The Popper is a fully grown man of perhaps 60 or more years. He is a distant second to the Gabber in talking, which is to say he talks one helluva lot. But he does take time out for exercise. What he is second to no one in is the thunderous sound he makes when popping his gum. Yes, an adult male popping gum. If you don’t know the Popper is there, that first pop can sound like gunshot. Even when you do know he’s present, the pops — which seem to come in 20-40 second intervals — are unnerving. I have never in all my years on this planet met or known of an adult bubble gum popper or smacker who is an intelligent human being. Imagine meeting the person who is going to perform your open heart surgery and find that he is popping gum. Or being introduced to your lawyer and as you're speaking she's smacking her gum. I am not alone in abhorring gum sounds. I realize some people chew during workouts which is fine. But popping? Gimme a break.
The Sniffer. Maybe its not his fault. Maybe he's got an allergy of some kind or asthma or a breathing problem or nasal or adenoid issue. In any case I’m certainly not alone in finding him annoying. As he runs on the treadmills he sniffs. Repeatedly. Loudly. I just want to scream at him to blow his goddamned nose, already. The fact that he doesn’t get off the machine and give his proboscis a good blow suggests that perhaps that is not a viable solution for him. I also wonder if he should be running at all given whatever is vexing his schnoz. Sniffs are another irritant to me and this bloke is a world champ at it.
The Sitter is a real puzzle. Here’s what I know about him: he is a successful immigration lawyer and he’s gay. Here’s what I don’t know about him: why he comes to the gym. On only a few occasions have I ever seen him in the workout areas and I have never seen him do any form of exercise or stretching. Where I always seem to see the Sitter is either sitting (hence the name) in either the sauna or on the bench outside of it. He goes back and forth between the sauna and the bench. I’ve also observed him showering and dressing. Maybe he considers taking off and putting on clothes and the rigors of a shower to be ample exercise. One person theorized that he’s there to pick up men. No. While there are gay men at the gym the vast majority of members are straight (pure conjecture on my part). Also, if he wanted to meet someone for purposes of sex he’d be better served going to Berkeley’s gay bath house which I assume is patronized exclusively by gay men and you can engage in the act right there. As an attorney he could certainly afford it. Maybe, suggested one person, he wants to look at men. No. No straight woman or gay men is going to enjoy most of the old coots, geezers, reprobates, eczema sufferers and lard butts that go to the YMCA. There are but few Adonises such as yours truly. I don’t know what this guy’s deal is.
The Beast. I award him this moniker for the noise he emanates while running or while on the elliptical machine. Every other breath sounds as if it is emanating from a water buffalo. I’ve never heard anything resembling it. It is a bellow that comes from deep down and suggests a great amount of air is being expelled most adamantly. I can’t for the life of me understand how a human can create such a noise, least of all during strenuous exercise. The Beast is of average height and slender, he certainly does not boast a frame that one would associate with such load exhalations. He also does one helluva work out. The beast is washed in sweat at the end of his workouts.
The Hummer, it shouldn’t surprise you, hums. Not the soft humming of a favorite tune but a loud tuneless hum of compulsion. I believe the hummer has no control over his humming. I recently worked with a woman who hummed constantly, never creating a tune. She hummed during conversations she was having and between bites of food. It bugged the hell out of everyone, particularly those of us (and we were many) who didn’t like her. This Hummer had a personality that was as sour and cynical and caustic as any I’ve encountered. The humming was the ideal background music for her angry trod through life. The gym Hummer may well have quite the opposite personality. Indeed I’ve noted him in pleasant conversation on several occasions. He seems agreeable and intelligent. But that goddamned humming has got to go. It's remarkable how loud and incessant it is. I believe if used as torture it would violate the Geneva Convention.
I close by mentioning a former member of my gymnasium "family." She was a woman who looked to be in her late 30s. She was a handsome woman whose body reflected her rigorous work outs. For many months we were on the same workout schedule so I saw her a lot. We often ran on adjacent treadmills and did so at a similar pace. Once she made an observation to me about the new treadmills the Y had installed. This led to a much longer and more pleasant conversation than I typically have at the gym. I saw her twice after that. Then I saw a photo of her on a website dedicated to news about Berkeley. She had died. Age 40 in her sleep of causes that were not revealed. She left a husband and seven year old daughter. She had been a middle school history in Berkeley. I had been a middle school history teacher in Berkeley for 20 years. Her tenure began after I left the district so I didn't know of her. The news hit me like a punch in the gut. For months thereafter (she died at the end of August) I would look for her in the gym hoping that the person in the photo was merely a lookalike. But in the gym they had a memorial photo of her. I still hoped to see her. A young successful woman with a family. Tragic.