I have a pet peeve I'd like to get your thoughts on. It concerns gym etiquette. I do a sort of modified circuit-training workout, which has me going from one machine to the next in somewhat rapid succession. Ideally, there would only be a minute or so between exercises, but because I work out during a busy period I fully expect to have to wait for my next machine to open up. That's no problem. What's a problem is the increasingly huge number of people I have to kick off the machines because, even though they're not pumping any iron at the moment, they fully intend to do so should the inspiration ever strike them. Seriously, this happens to me several times a day.
I used to ask permission to work in, which I believe is the proper thing to do in such situations. And often that works out just fine. But about a third of the time the other person either gives me a look that could kill or says something like "I only have two more sets." Funny, that's all I have. My only recourse at that point is to go find a staff member. The one time I did that, though, I felt like a sixth-grader tattling on the class bully. And lest you form the impression that these are always guys doing this, let me point out that some of the worst offenders are little old ladies, who plant their fannies for hours, talking with one another from adjoining machines.
Gym Dandy: I'm here! I'm here! I was just waiting for you to finish your little spiel so that I could take my own turn. That's the essence of civility: waiting one's turn. And gyms, where we all gather to inhale one another's various body odors, offer a wonderful illustration of what Freud, in one of his most important tomes, called Civilization and Its Discontents. On the one hand, we have these instinctual urges, some of which are on prominent display when a guy - or a little old lady - is squatting, say, 300 pounds. On the other hand, there is our collective need to get along, lest the weaker among us get our asses kicked. And the collective need to get along requires that we repress those instincts - hence, the need for laws, rules, regulations, civilization. But rules, as we know, are made to be broken, the so-called return of the repressed.
Bones are made to be broken too, which is why, when someone's on a machine I want to use, I first do a quick assessment of the person's muscle mass, fat composition and likelihood of having just gotten out of prison. If the guy looks like Hulk Hogan, he can stay on there all day long, as far as I'm concerned. But if it's a little old lady, and especially if it's a little old lady who bench-presses less than I do, she's coming off of there, even if I have to pry her cold dead fingers from my sternocleidomastoids. And if it's somebody about my size and age and fitness level? Well, then it gets a little tricky, because guys my size and age and fitness level can surprise you sometimes, whereas I haven't surprised myself since fourth grade, when I beat the crap out of Ricky Cheatum.
Where am I going with this? I'm getting at the fact that gyms are microcosms of life. Some people are stronger than we are, some aren't, and we have to choose our battles carefully. Sure, there are rules, both spoken and unspoken, but if a guy wants to be an asshole, there's not much you can do about it except raise the ante on a poker game he'd love to play with you. So go ahead and ask him how many sets he has left, ask him if you can work in. And if you don't like the answer? Go beat up a grandma.
For hygiene tips from a clean jerk, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR EMAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.