Robert’s Review: I see a hit reality show in the works; with romance, drama, and bad smells.
I spent eight and a half years working at a gym…in the administrative office. It was a great job; I got a free membership and the gym was only a mile from my home. There are some drawbacks to working in a gym though…namely the working conditions in a gym.
First there is the noise, a mad cacophony of machine susurrations, weights thundering to the floor, grunting, farting, piercing chitter-chatter. And a constant complaint from our members: people talking on their cell phones in the workout spaces. Really? The grunting and farting don’t bother you? After a while, it all becomes background noise (mostly).
Then there are the sights. The tight bulgings of too much body grappling with not enough athletic wear, the free swingings in flimsy gym shorts, glistening muscles of chubby middle-aged guys sweating like waterfalls. And the most frequent complaint from members: naked people in the locker room. I don’t know what our members were expecting to find in there! (Can you please do something about naked people parading around in the locker room?) From the indignancy of the complainers, it sounded as if there were nudies marching down Main Street twirling batons. Naked people never just walk around, they parade! It’s true that some people are more comfortable being naked in front of others, while those others are offended by the slightest sighting of pubic hair. After a while, you learn, walking into a locker room, to look down, at the floor…at all times
Then there are the smells… of the ripening of 100 unwashed bodies. Boy funk, Lycra- confined-vagina musk, the bathroom stink of effort-induced farts, the sharp cheesiness of athletes’ foot, the knockout pungency of failed antiperspirants. And, after a while one becomes used to, or at least comes to terms with, mostly learns to tolerate the stink fest. The only thing between me and the mad symphony, the alien sightings and this nauseating olfactory soup was one thin door.
Or I should say four doors separated the gym offices from the workout space. One door into the office, one into the conference room, one into the copier room and one into a hallway which led to the office bathroom. These doors were not locked during the day and gym traffic flowed freely through these spaces as though there were, in that confined space, treadmills and free weights for the abusing. I generally called the office, behind door number 1, “the asylum.” I frequently had to cover the phone with my hand and yell “hey I’m on the phone.” The miscreants would stop to give me a dirty look as though I was the rude one for shouting down their conversations. Employees, that is grown men, would push and shove one another, pretend to trip and run into the walls and shout names at each other. Names like “Bill” when neither of them was named Bill. Oh, I was a good sport and generally ignored this nonsense until they smashed into my computer or sent my chair spinning or drew blood.
Door number 2, the one into the conference room, was generally left open. There was a conference table and microwave in that room. Personal trainers, mostly men (I have nothing against men really except when I am forced to act as the only available adult or first responder), would use the place as their cafeteria. Thinking maybe their mothers worked there and would clean up after them, they left the room in a condition I would call “in need of light housekeeping.” Microwave spatter, food bits and smears of grease on the work table, Whataburger wrappers crumpled up and left for, well…someone else to manage. As this was a room meant for business purposes, we…as in we women, had no choice but to clean up before we could spread out our paperwork for group operations, which included grumbling and swearing. I did most of the swearing. Maybe all of it.
Door number 3, the copier room. There is nothing so alluring to cheap-ass bastards as access to a free copier. Everyone and I mean literally everyone wanted to sneak in and use that copier. I felt no compulsion to police this activity except for the fact that printing out a 50-page paper for your Intro to Gender Studies class gets in the way of printing out my 5-page report that I am being paid to produce on that exact copier so of course I will get a bit testy with you when you are hogging the machine for personal use when I need it to do my work. There was also a microwave in this space. I adopted the mantras: Please stop cooking your stinky leftovers in the microwave and making a mess AND… Your mother doesn’t work here, so I suggest you clean that up!
Compounding all of this madness was the situation behind door number 4. The office bathroom. Just one bathroom with a sink and toilet meant for use by the office staff. There were a multitude of sinks and toilets available for the general population of members and employees via the locker rooms on the first floor. This particular facility provided the holy grail of bathroom amenities. Privacy. That door locked…from the inside! One could boldly go! In (that) space, no one can hear you farting. Though perhaps you could hear wailing office staff standing outside that door, jiggling the handle, holding it in whilst someone, unhurried, did their business.
The unfortunate reality of providing one small room for the many who cherish that privacy is starkly evident when entering through its door. Mothers, it seems, are expected here as well. Only…bathroom leavings are, shall we agree to say, slightly more offensive than Whataburger wrappers. I’m not just talking about a forgotten push on the flusher. I’m talking about wholesale spreading around…seat and floor-wise. Woe to the woman that finds the great mess. The general rule was, if you find it, you should clean it up. The performance of this miserable task creates something twisted deep in the psyche and plants an immutable desire to find the culprit. This kind of careless deposit calls for revenge and Clorox..lots of Clorox, sprayed vigorously until the fume becomes an environmental hazard in its own right.
My intuition was telling me this was a man-style bathroom transgression, which may have been unfair; yet I thoroughly trusted my instincts. What was needed was intervention. Intervention and revenge (in full Kill Bill style). We the women of the office, launched a campaign to put an end to all this crap. The big boss, the owner of the gym, was a man (but not a suspect). He had an office staff which included six women and three men. One woman might get nowhere. United we stand. Complaining incessantly, we annoy, fester, convince. Safety, security, sanitation. These were the perfectly good reasons why we needed to have all the doors locked! I don’t know if he just got tired of us bitching about it or if he, himself, happened to walk in on a nasty bathroom situation. He finally installed coded locks on all the doors and stressed that the codes were to be restricted to as few people as possible.
The door wars began.
Who may have the code? Of course, there were men in the office too. We had to let them have the codes. With a limited subset of men with entry to the bathroom, there would be an equally limited number of suspects. You’d think. The bathroom door automatically locked when it was closed. Some men in the office rebelled against the code by leaving the door open so that their buddies would have access, and the list of mystery, shit-smearing cretins could not be narrowed down.
The door to the office would also be left open as would the door to the hallway and conference room. Laziness you say? I could not help but believe this behavior was designed to punish us, with the noise and smells and the continuing bathroom hi-jinks. I had to frequently get up from my desk in a huff to close the door to my office. And I was taking it personally. What to do…. what to do. How to crush this petty, little rebellion?
A thief unwittingly came to our rescue. Thieves looking for a quick return, broke into cars in the parking lot and sometimes paid the daily fee or sneaked into the club, just to have access to the workout rooms, pools, locker rooms and the offices. This fellow chose a Saturday (when we guardians of the inner doors were absent) and came into the office to sniff it out. Sitting in his private, inner office was the owner/manager of the club, who politely asked if the intruder needed assistance. The man mumbled something about looking for the locker room. Ha! The door was clearly marked “Office,” but had also, just as clearly, been left open by an employee with the code. The manager stood up and the thief ran off and out the front door. This breach of security was unacceptable.
We women huddled together the following Monday in order to fully (yet covertly because it was a bad thing and somebody might get fired) revel in this turn of events. Official notice: All office doors must be closed and locked at all times!! Even the bathroom! Halleluiah all great and powerful she-god. We have been delivered!
Faithfully locked doors meant that the incoming noise and odor were kept to the tolerable minimums. The copier was more-than-usually available. The microwave ovens were thenceforth cleaner. Whataburger wrappers found their way into the trash.
Fearing incrimination via being on the short list, no man with the code would dare risk leaving our bathroom in a state such as which would result in a six-woman retribution. Of course, that did not keep any official, code-carrying man from relishing the privacy of the single bathroom while we women stood outside that door, jiggling the handle, holding it in whilst he, unhurried, did his business.
God, I miss that place!
Guest Editor Robert put up with my whining about working at a gym for years. His response was always “write it down!” Well, here we are.