There was a heap of white towels just outside the glass door, and the cold, dank smell of bleach, sweat, and pain permeated the room.
"You're doing a great thing for yourself," said the lady in the suit.
She smiled, her face nothing but taut angular muscle. Jaws, cheekbones. Though it made sense that even here, in the sales office, the people should look healthy, if not chiseled, it still made me wary.
I sat across the desk from her, as she watched me hold the pen above the page. I was about to sign my name to a 1-year gym membership. A great thing for myself? Why was she so happy for me? What was I missing? I felt like someone was pulling a fast one on me. A bit nauseous and having come too far along in the process, I scrawled my name on the line, initialed there and there, whereupon I was issued a little laminated keychain card. It was done; I was on the path to wellness, a six pack, a beautiful woman who would melt, like so much soft butter, in my rock-hewn embrace.
What they don't tell you is that this path leads through a homoerotic nightmare called the men's locker room, where a couple nights ago I found myself, rank and numb from a wimpy hour-long workout.
Upon entering (oh dear god, forgive my diction!), I took one awkward turn about the carpeted room. Things I was looking for: areas without mirrors, areas far from the showering rooms, empty corners. Things I was NOT looking for, but saw anyway: butts, dicks, balls.
Finally, I opened an empty locker in what I thought was a fairly hidden, unpopulated nook of the room. I stripped to my boxers facing the locker. I could smell and here men passing behind me in the passageway. And in what I'm told is a method handed down to us from the British, I wrapped a towel around my waist and slid my boxers off underneath. It should be noted, however, that these towels at the gym were all the same size: too fucking small. Pinching it together at my waist, I walked over to the showering area--a white, tiled, steamy room. I found an open shower stall. If I could have, I would have stapled the curtain shut.
It was a nice shower. Why lie? As the hot water percussed against my shoulders and back, I momentarily forgot that I was in a public area, separated from other naked dudes by only a thin, opaqe sheet of fabric. I started getting comfortable. Why not? Maybe I farted. Maybe I thought quite seriously about peeing down the drain, stopping only because I remembered that Seinfeld episode where George gets caught doing the same thing. (Oh, thank heaven these weren't communal showers!) There was body wash and shampoo and conditioner in three labeled dispensers. The strong punch of aloe filled the little stall as I lathered. This wasn't half bad.
After a minute of this, I decided it was time to towel off and head back to the uninhabited region around my locker and put back on my street clothes in as discreet a manner as I had changed out of my gym clothes. Unseeing and unseen. A transparent eyeball. But first, I padded over to the bathroom to take a leak, and unthinkingly left the door open. It was starting to feel like home.
Relieved, I turned the corner to approach my locker. That's when, I saw him. He was sitting on the only bench in the area, naked except for a pair of boxer-briefs. I had to squeeze past him just to get to my locker. Oblivious, or perhaps completely conscious (a thought too frightening to acknowledge), he proceeded to slowly massage layer after layer of lotion to his body.
He was methodical and excessive with its application. He gaped at his rippling muscles in a mirror nearby. Barely a foot away, I faced my locker, wriggling on my street pants, trying not to think about how he was facing me now and applying an inappropiate amount of lotion in a completely inappropriate way. I blocked out the stories I'd heard of dudes who "cruise" the gyms of New York, looking for sex.
I raced out of the gym and flipped open my phone. I had to call a woman, some woman, any woman. I dialed a number. A woman picked up.
"Hi," she said.
I'm not gay, I was about to say.
"Hey, woman!" I exhaled for what seemed like the first time in hours. "Yeah, just finished working out. Pumping iron and what not. You know, guy stuff."
"Very nice," she said.
"Yeah, pretty cool, I guess...I forgot how homoerotic the locker rooms are though," I said. "So creepy."
There was a silence on her end.
"Aren't they?" I said. "So creepy?"
"I'm not gay if that's what you're thinking!"
Still no answer.
"All that fucking lotion! Why?!...Uh, Hello?"
This is when I realized that, many moments ago, like so much weight from the pulley system of an exercise machine, or like a bar of soap, our call had been dropped.