Just Another Day at the Gym

Circa April, 2014: He was at it again. Per usual he was naked, and still dripping from his time in the nearby shower. He stood at the long counter of sinks, gazing in to the large mirror with a narcissism that could not have had anything to do with his actual appearance.

His need for a viewing satisfied, at least temporarily, he reached for the lone hair dryer mounted on the wall. The dryer’s shrill shriek filled the air, and he lovingly applied its heat to various portions of his body, until he settled in on his groin.

I was coming in from the weight room when I came across this disaster, and there’s no way to avoid it. Once the locker room was entered the only way to the actual lockers was by walking past the sinks.

I walked past briskly, averting my eyes, and got to my locker. I shrugged out of my sweaty clothes, which soon lay in a equally sweaty pile at my feet, and put my phone and earbuds into my locker in exchange for a clean towel.

I closed the locker and reversed course to once again pass the sink area as I made my way to the showers. Per usual, Hair Dryer Man was still going strong and now had his left foot braced on the counter. With every part of his aged body exposed, and dangling, he continued his unique beauty regimen by holding the hair dryer with one hand whilst he did something else with the other (since this was all happening in front of a large mirror I could’ve easily seen more detail, but opted for a life free of whatever nightmares would be caused by this viewing). 

I hung my towel on the hook and entered the shower area. The shared shower area was about 15 feet long and 12 feet wide. Four shower heads ran along each of the 15 foot walls.

The vacant shower head at the far back left called out to me as it was theoretically the furthest I could get from the horrors taking place at the sink. I turned the water on full blast and hoped that the combination of the sound and heat would distract me from the continuing noise of the dryer, as well as the guttural sounds being made by the man of Chinese descent two shower heads down as he compelled phlegm from deep within his chest out of his mouth and down onto the previously white tile floor of our shared shower stall.

Throat temporarily cleared, the Chinese man began singing something between an opera and a chant. The song, which seemed to be in Italian delivered with a thick Chinese accent, was actually quite beautiful and would have been even more so if it wasn’t interrupted by more rounds of coughing, spitting phlegm — some of which slowly ran down the tile wall.

I made record speed with my shower as I needed to get back to my office and it was obvious that the sights and smells I was experiencing here in the men’s locker room weren’t going to get any better. I tuned out the coughing and tried to listen for the shrill hum of the hair dryer. I couldn’t hear it, which I hope meant that the show at the sink was now over.

Shutting off the shower head, I stepped gingerly over the piles of phlegm slowly making their way towards one of the two communal drains in the shower area.

I grabbed my towel from the rack and was pleased to see that the hair dryer was back on the wall with  only a vacant sink stood before me. I was even more pleased to see that Lotion Boy appeared to have taken the day off. Lotion Boy typically sets up shop a couple of sinks down from Hair Dryer Man. His aim is not to dry off but to moisturize. His large silver chain glistens on his otherwise naked body, standing in front of the mirror and using the majority of the contents of one of the industrial size bottles of communal body lotion set out on the sink to thoroughly lubricate every single inch of his skin. The process was both time-consuming and energetic and appeared to require the application of two coats.

While I unfortunately saw more of Hair Dryer Man and Lotion Boy in the locker room than was desired, I had never seen either of them within the gym itself nor had I encountered them in the lobby or the parking lot. They appeared, naked, in the men’s locker room with no evidence that they existed elsewhere on the planet.

With the show, thankfully, over for the day I returned to my locker, dried-off and changed. As luck would have it there was someone using the locker immediately next to mine so I shared the confined space with an 80-year-old man wearing a diaper that unfortunately concealed none of its contents as he gingerly bent over to pick something up off the floor.

Averting my eyes as I stuffed my sweaty clothes into my gym bag, I caught a whiff of a smell so pungent, so pervasive that it tok my breath away.

The owner of this smell was unknown, but his powerful presence had been felt on many occasions. I hurriedly close up my bag, took a deep breath (through my mouth), and walked towards the exit.

This path required yet another pass by the sink area as well as the two stalls that sit behind them, sharing a wall with the shower area. The opera music continued from the shower area, providing ominous mood music. As usual, both stalls were occupied with the doors shut. Unidentifiable/unremarkable tennis shoes and bunched up gym shorts appeared at the bottom of both stalls, presenting further evidence that the owner of this unique stench was still hard at work while providing no clues as to his identity.

My nose, which has done stints in college dorms, youth hostels and plenty of gas station bathrooms, is the photojournalist of the olfactory world. If a smell has been made, my nose has a first-hand account.

That being said there is no way to describe the stench that now attempted to burrow between the fibers of every fabric I was wearing. There was no distinct nationality involved. It could be the result of an all-you-can eat buffet from several different cultures. It could be chili, or soured milk. It is all of these things and yet none of them.

What’s most remarkable about this stench was that it presumably belonged to just one individual. Since there were two stalls, this meant that another human was choosing to occupy the adjoining stall and experience this event at ground zero.

The phlegmy opera singer emerged from the shower area and grabbed his towel from the rack. As he passed the stalls he grabbed his nose and shrieked something that was most likely a curse word (I can barely speak Spanish; Mandarin or one of the other seven+ related dialects is off the table). His eyes found mine as I continued to make my way to the exit and seemed to say something like, “Can you believe this place?”

I grabbed the handle that I know all-too-well has been touched all-too-often by the miscreants that reside inside the men’s locker room and hoisted open the door. The smell and I emerged together, and I was greeted by looks of shock and horror from women in fancy work-out gear who have the misfortune to be passing by on the way to their pilates class.

I held the door open a few seconds longer than needed and smiled at the women. My wife has told that the ladies dressing room is clean, not smelly and generally unremarkable. If you only knew ladies. If you only knew…