Circa November 2014
The sauna at the gym is small and dark. The only light sources are an overhead light tucked behind a sheet of cloudy plastic and a small rectangular window cut in to the door.
I typically use the sauna at the end of a workout to try and push out any sweat that might have otherwise stayed in an attempt to make me fatter. It would be hard to validate the notion that the exercise or the sauna sessions are helping. At best I’m not losing any more ground on this front.
I can manage about 8 – 10 minutes in the sauna before I have to flee. Whether or not I have this time to myself is a 50/50 proposition. Some days I can get my entire session in without seeing another soul. Other days it’s a full house of attendees in their birthday suits.
There are two rows against one wall of the dark room. The first row holds two, uncomfortably, as the last few feet are devoted to the sauna’s heater. The second row holds three normal-sized men. None of these measurements factor in what happens when someone wants to get in or out.
Since I’m a short-timer I typically sit on the bottom row next to the heater. This means that I’m subjected to a close encounter of birthday suit magic every time someone comes in and goes up to the second row. I’ve tried sitting on the second row but each time I’ve done so the bottom row fills up and I’ve had to squeeze between the sweaty, naked bodies of those in the front to exit.
Today starts off well. I’m parked on the front row and am flying solo. A rerun of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” plays on my phone with the volume routed through my earbuds. Life is good.
At least it was until a shadow falls across the dim light from the window. In the darkness that is now the window I can make it only a flash of gold and white.
The door opens and there, framed in the light from the hallway, stands a naked, already sweaty man. He’s holding something in his right hand but I’m more than happy to divert my attention back to my show.
I watch Danny Devito on the small phone screen as the sauna door closes. I’m fully aware of the fact that my unwanted companion is standing just inches away from me. I didn’t start out looking for a conversation to begin with but this guy appears to be waiting on me to acknowledge him. Since any movement of my head is going to be greeted with a view more common to those who practice urology I ignore him and continue to watch my show.
A few more extremely awkward seconds pass. He’s still standing there in the darkness facing me. He shifts what he’s holding in his hand and plastic crinkles. The noise compels me to peak and out of the corner of my eye he appears to be holding a large ziplock bag full of chopped fruit.
He exhales loudly.
When I don’t take the bait, Fruit Guys forces the issue. “How you doing?”
I know I must look like I’m dying to talk to someone with earbuds in and my head glued to my phone. That said I am, I suppose, forced to at least acknowledge him. I do as little as possible to meet my social obligations in this situation. With my head down and my eyes still on my phone I murmur back, “Good thanks. You?”
Another awkward pause ensues.
Fruit guy leans uncomfortably close. “You watching a show or something?”
The bag of fruit sways and brushes against my shoulder. His sweat begins to drip off of him unto the boards next to my feet.
“Ok, I’ll leave you alone then.”
I mumble acknowledgement as he puts his foot on my row to make his way to the one above. I see a flash of tan, gold and what I hope is pineapple as he passes. Instead of sitting close to the wall by the door or the wall furthest from the door, he chooses to sit nearly directly behind me. The boards creak as he shifts his weight and sits.
I decide to ignore him and just ride out the 5 – 6 minutes I have left.
My effort are defeated by the loud sounds of the ziplock bag, which is just a foot or so away from my right ear, crinkling. Loud, messy chewing noises ensue. He chews with his mouth open and breathes noisily as he chews.
His sweat is already running off of his arms and hitting the boards next to me, forming small pools. The bag continues to crinkle and the chewing and breathing escalate. The smell of cantaloupe, which is atypical in a sauna setting, fills the damp air.
Small remnants of fruit now also begin to hit the boards next to me and mix in with the growing pool of sweat. I’m still wearing clothes and have a towel under me so my sweat footprint is nominal. Fruit Guy has no such encumbrances and the sweat and the fruit flow freely downhill from his perch.
I should just leave. I’m going to leave in a few minutes anyway and I don’t need the headache of dealing with this guy. On the other hand, if he plans on making this a daily event I’m going to have to forego the sauna. I like the sauna. I’m not the one creating the problem. He is. My path is decided. I angle my head ever-so-slightly towards him.
“Excuse me. Do you think you might be able to eat somewhere other than the sauna?”
The chewing stops.
Without bothering to chew or swallow the fruit in his mouth, Fruit Guy sputters out, “Does it bother you?”
I wasn’t really expecting to get in to a conversation. Asking someone to stop eating a bag of fruit in a sauna seems akin to asking a stranger to stop practicing violin on my front porch. This isn’t complicated. I turn my head a little bit more to make partial eye contact.
What I see in return is a husky, sweaty man with a tan so deep and dark that it almost overshadows his large gold chain. His left hand holds a pile of mixed fruit, much of it leaks out between his fingers and runs down his arm.
He shoves his hand into his mouth and most, but not all, of the fruit is gathered by his bleach-whitened teeth. The residual bits of fruit left in his hand are shed when he flicks his hand towards the bench and land in a scatter pattern next to me. If he could have driven his Camaro into the sauna I’m sure he would have.
Fruit guy, still chewing, continues. “No one’s ever complained before. I do this all the time.”
We’re in unchartered waters now. Not only is he not stopping, he’s going to argue the point?
I gesture to the growing pool of sweat and fruit stew.
“This is a sauna. You’re dribbling food all over it.”
“They clean it at night.”
I glare at him.
“Okay, okay. Fine.”
I shift back and return to my show. I’m actually ready to leave but now that I’ve made a stink it seems like I should stay a while longer. It’s awfully quiet behind me. There’s no chewing and the heavy breathing has died down.
A couple of minutes pass and the bag again rustles by my ear. Fruit guy taps me on the shoulder.
“Since I’m already in here do you mind if I finish my fruit?”