My girlfriend Liz and I try to go to our college gym as many times a week as we can manage. As with any gym, it draws a certain type of patron. Boisterous, confident students strut and grunt and clown around the two-story, thirty-million-dollar, state-of-the-art, glass-enclosed supergym. On a typical weeknight, expect a lot of punny t-shirts from frat parties, a lot of girls in track shorts, a lot of rocky triceps and bronzed, exposed legs, and not a lot of room for doubt.
This has consequences for the locker rooms. When Liz and I meet up after our ritual post-workout shower, we compare notes. What Liz overhears in the women’s locker room is without fail richer, funnier, and more worth repeating than what I hear, which is mostly swearing and grunts. It’s as if the women’s locker room is a sanctuary, a confessional, and the men’s is just another weight room.
Liz: Today there were these two girls in the shower discussing laundry. They couldn’t figure out how it worked. “I don’t get laundry,” said one girl. “I feel dumb. Like, how does it work?”
Rog: A few guys from the indoor hockey team came in while I was showering and they said something like, “Fuck that fuckin bullshit.” And, “Yeah.”
Or, this. Liz: There was this one girl, a little big, but in an athletic, beefy and ripped way, wearing a bikini, who was talking nonstop to this unresponsive mentally handicapped girl she’d brought along with her. Church outreach or something. The athletic girl lay down on a bench and stretched out sideways, head propped up with one hand, elbow on the bench, and gave her “friend” her phone and asked her to take a picture of her. “There,” the athletic girl said, after her friend took the picture. “Now Mom will see that I’ve still got it.”
In response to this one, I told Liz about a kid with zero body hair who, looking at a couple of blow dryers on the wall, said he didn’t know what “this crazy shit on the wall” was. Then he tried one out, and soon he was blow drying his body.
So you might understand when I say that, even as a musician, the primitive nature of the men’s locker room is enough to dissuade me from singing along in the shower to the satellite radio station playing awesome (possibly ironic) 90s tunes, “How Bizarre” or “Jumper” or “Sixth Avenue Heartache.” That I’d be forgiven for my silence in the shower, wondering if perhaps this is yet another way of drawing lines. After all, silence is another way of flexing.
However, last night, I went to the WRC by myself. It was about forty-five minutes before closing time, and there was a distinctly different clientele—none of the frat tees or short shorts, no boulderous bodies or dudes wiping their foreheads with the bottom of their t-shirts to show off their flat stomachs. No, this late-night exerciser had a distinctly different body type. Softer. Rounder. Layered. Less brash, and more distant, more quiet, more scattered across the gym. And though we all kept our distance from each other, choosing stations three or four spaces removed, it was still a communal experience, a surrender to something, and my workout under the golden, energy-star-approved lights was inspiring and validating in a totally different way. It was like a confession, sharing that space in secret. When the staff announced over the PA that it was closing time, that the gym was shutting down in fifteen minutes, I hit the showers. And this time, I was all alone, and I knew the song, and I sang.
Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.