Picture from The Guardian
Tom Cox is the author of six books, the most recent of which are Under The Paw: Confessions Of A Cat Man and Talk To The Tail: More Adventures In Cat Ownership And Beyond.
I am a member of a gym, but I don’t actually use the gym, just the pool. I find the idea of a gym boring. I also worry that if I walk in there I’ll not know what to do, be pegged quite quickly as a foppish impostor, or break something expensive. I find the idea of swimming boring too, but it’s a kind of boring I feel more comfortable with. I like wearing tight-fitting 30 waist flares, and, unlike when I was 24, I do not have the luxury of being able to stay rake thin whilst consuming skiploads of pizza and beer and getting my sole exercise by trying to dance like Mark Wahlberg does in Boogie Nights. I also like crisps. Really like them, to the extent that I fear, without them, my life would be considerably less rich in texture, and I’d become a dullard. If I had to choose between giving up sex or crisps, I’d obviously give up crisps. Nonetheless, they’re important – especially during times when I’m single. This is why I swim. Sometimes it’s fun, and meditative, and I see interesting things as I do it. Today I witnessed a man clinically use his small child’s swimming ability to win the swooning affection of two young women. Another man asked me if I was called Wolfie. I said no, despite myself.
A lot of odd things have happened at the pool in the last week but I think my favourite was yesterday when the bloke who looked like former Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz got into the pool next to me, flexed his arms, tied his wristband around his special pro swimmer water bottle, rubbed his fingers through his hair, spent two minutes adjusting his goggles, then proceeded to flap up the lane in front of me like a massive flamboyant bird.
Conversation in gym changing room. Youth one: “All right, Rob? What you here for today, mate? Kick boxing?” Youth two: “Nah, most times I just come here for a shower these days, to be honest.”
When I’m in the swimming pool changing room, I’m like most people: I keep my head down, my business to myself, and my turning circle tight. That said, when someone is standing three feet away from me, blowdrying himself, I can’t help but notice. I’m a little grazed by the experience, but I think I’ll recover. I fear the accompanying questions, however, will continue for some time. What is wrong with a simple towel? Is texture that important to him, and why? Does he use product? When did this start? Was it something his parents taught him, and which just kind of stuck? I, and many others, will probably never know the answers.
Heard man in changing room today say “I’m not being funny but I’m not being funny.” My guess is that he was, in fact, being funny.
Last night, I watched the latest series of Mad Men, in which Don Draper, the main character, swims a lot. Don is a proper, old-fashioned no-nonsense early 1960s man, and, after he swims, he always seems to GET THINGS DONE. In much the same way, I will be intending to GET THINGS DONE after my swim today. One thing I hope to GET DONE is “buy new zip for cardigan”.
They played that Duffy song at the pool again today, and I hid underwater until it was over. I can block out many things at the gym: the splashing of men who swim with the same arrogance with which they drive their BMWs, my rather childish irritation at the posey woman who makes her arms go in weird shapes when she does crawl, the shouting of hyperactive children. The sound of a Dusty Springfield dying, however, seems to be beyond my powers of patience. I can’t imagine another scenario where I will be quite so glad for the sweet embrace of ‘Street Tough’ by The Rebel MC And Double Trouble.
Like anyone who’s been to countless gigs in his life, I have a large experience of ticket touts. Gym touts, however, are a new experience. Today as I was getting changed after swimming, two young men with darting, pisshole eyes approached me and asked me if I would like to “buy” a free voucher they had received for the gym sunbed. I didn’t want to be quick to judge, but they didn’t seem, from first impressions, the kind of people I could see myself having a strong and mutually loyal future friendship with. I couldn’t see them enjoying my house parties or local pub quiz, and, seeing as I was clad only in my underpants at the time, and a little thrown off balance, I decided to stick to a simple “No thanks”. I felt a little violated, to be honest. Yet there was simultaneously another part of me that had wished I had been completely naked at the time of their asking. Maybe I could have done a few squat thrusts and press-ups, as I explained in very slow, laborious detail exactly why I would rather eat my own furniture than go on any sunbed, let alone pay for a free voucher for one. Then, just as they were turning to go, I could have said “No, actually, I’ve changed my mind!” and offered to pay for the voucher using my three-quarters empty bottle of shampoo and an old, inkless pen I’ve been meaning to throw out of my gym bag for two months. Maybe we could have brokered a deal after all, and the man who blowdries himself could have joined in on the negotiations, whilst blowdrying.
I’m always a little bit scared when people talk to me in steam rooms. I think it’s because I get worried they might be a ghost.
Today I wrote a song in my head. It’s called ‘Dear Angry Naked Man, Cursing About Your Gym Locker Not Closing: Please Do Not Try To Make Me An Accomplice In Your Pointless Rage’. It’s about the angry naked man I saw today cursing about his gym locker not closing and trying to make me an accomplice in his pointless rage.
I’m thinking about changing the photo on my gym card membership. I’m not sure it’s any longer consistent with my personal branding, or the real “deeper” me.
To the man sitting on the high ledge in the steam room today, whose crotch I came within about two inches of touching, as I sat down: I am sorry. It was very dark, and so were you.
This morning as I swam, bright sunlight streamed in through the windows. I took a break between lengths, leaned back, and admired the pretty patterns it made on the water, and how it lit up a blood-caked plaster that floated along in front of my face.
It’s been months since I’ve seen the man who blowdries himself now. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I slightly miss him. In other news, the gym are currently having a major crack down on the dangerously prevalent condition of “dirt leg” amongst members. Or at least, I’m assuming that’s why the cleaner sprayed my legs with disinfectant through the gap under the door while I was in the shower. Still – it is nice to know the facilities are being kept clean, particularly after some of the stories I have heard about the other, public pool up the road. I also suppose if some people view swimming as “exercise salad”, many of them might view shower-based urination as its accompanying vinaigrette.