I parked behind my destination in a parking garage, crossed a side street and then walked around 2 corners before reaching the entrance. The gym felt & looked clean. Most of the people working held their head high and wore warm smiles. The girls at the desk all were upbeat and friendly - schooled well on how to win over the 3 day passers like myself. The manager made me feel at home and could probably see jacuzzis swirling in my eyes because he kept the orientation super brief, asked a couple questions and then I was let loose. The locker room was uncrowded. I did not have a lock so I spent about 3 minutes figuring out how to use one of the comped ones. Entering the pool from the men’s locker room means the first thing you see is the pool. I walked along it, 25 yards in length, 3 lanes watching the 2 swimmers. One used a snorkel, the other had flippers. Together, i think, they’d be complete. I walk around the corner and see R’s shiny bald head sticking out of the jacuzzi. Expressionless except for his eyes. His eyes are screaming something. I can’t hear them. It’s like they’re 20 thousand leagues under the sea... I join him in the hot water. It has a capacity of 24 people. The thought of 24 people in here stuffed like sardines sends a cold tingle up my spine. R's already paid for a year. He wants me to join. R talks up 24. I listen. R talks down 24’s less expensive competition, La La. It’s a class issue in his mind. You pay less but the people there are from a lower class, a lower stock. It’s New Year’s Day and thankfully, its not crowded in the jacuzzi or pool. I end up swimming 250 yards free style and a 100 yards back stroke. Later, my burning eyes spent many hours reminding me of why its a good idea to wear goggles when swimming in diluted chlorine.
The steam room felt nice. I breathed in the Eucalyptus infused vapor encouraging my body to relax and release. R tells me how some guests pour water over the thermostat to make more steam. It breaks then. Takes a couple weeks to fix. I can barely see him. It’s supremely steamy. R tells me that the women never go in the steam room. They think it’s 'gross'.
Back in the big square 24 capacity jacuzzi, I quietly share a pattern to R. “The girls all wear clothes in the sauna.” R just stares. I whisper: "They’re wearing sneakers too.”
R stares at me with his silently screaming bulging eyes. He speaks: “Yah, they’re not supposed ta wear shoes in there. Every once in a while someone complains and then 24 kicks the rule breakers out of the sauna.”
Gym culture has changed since the last gym I belonged to. I’m stunned. R and I discussed this custom a bit but the initial confusion I felt while sitting in the sauna with these three women, remained They all had all their clothes on - sneakers too! And their ears and eyes were plugged into their smart phones. No one looked at anyone. No one made a sound. Later in the jacuzzi, R tells me: “Yah. It’s coed. And nobody wants to have to talk to anyone.” I just stare. “Yah, its too dirty for them. They think it’s gross.”
“Isn’t it too hot for a smart phone in there?” “Hey, they're probably afraid to bring their phones into the steam room. Clearly, the steam room is hostile to smart phones.”
R just stares at me. A few beats later, he says “Yah.”