It’s been a little over a year since I started going to a gym consistently (2-3 times a week). The breaking point of deciding to join wasn’t a physical need, but a psychological one. At the time I was dealing with some anger at work; when I prayed about it I felt like God impressed upon me to run more. So I did (on a treadmill) and it helped greatly. It’s cool how God designed the interconnection between the body, soul, and spirit in humanity.
Gym culture is weird though. Even if we have internal motives that differ, we’re still all there working on our external image. You can hide thoughts and ideas a lot easier than your body; to some degree by going to a public gym you are asking for comparison and judgment. The atmosphere calls for you to enter in either in apathy, discomfort, or narcissism. Mine is discomfort.
I never know where to look as I’m walking through the collesium. If I glance at the older ladies I’m inviting cougar town, if I look at the younger, I’m a creeper (or expressing my interest). If my eyes go towards the younger guys, “what are you looking at”, while with the older gents there’s a sense that I’m the cougar. Attempts to just look at the machines are futile, being on my smart phone is a ridiculous charade, and I can’t look at a wall cause there are mirrors every-freakin-where. Trying to focus on not focusing on anything gives me vertigo.
A 2002 article from the Economist takes a look at the booming gym industry back then. Amongst other observations (such as the correlation with obesity and fitness), it relates the system to a religious (although usually godless) experience.
To anthropologists of the future, however, the gym boom may look as much like a sinister cult as a commercial triumph. Gym-going, after all, has all the basic lineaments of a religion. Its adherents are motivated by feelings of guilt, and the urge to atone for fleshly sins. Many visit their places of worship with a fanatical regularity. Once there, believers are led by sacerdotal instructors, who either goad them into mass ecstasy during aerobics classes, or preside over the confessional tête-à-tête of personal training. Each devotee has his own rituals, though most rely on the principles of self-mortification and delayed gratification.
Then there is the locker room. Gymnasium comes from the greek gumnasion meaning to train nude, the root of that Greek is gumnos meaning naked, so by definition it makes sense that there is some nudity in “appropriate” places in the gym. I got out of organized sports as a kid right before the group shower phase, so there were some adjustments for me to make mindfully with being at a sausage fest. Previously the closest thing to being naked with guys came a couple years ago where some friends invented residenting. Residenting involved stripping down to the undies (or further) and making your way around the house or apartment without touching the ground. It’s kind of like the lava game with less cloths, funnier snapshots, and more broken furniture.
Most guys in the locker room are normal, but there are a couple “characters” listed below that interact with their manhood around others uniquely.
- The Donald Duck – This guy waits to put the mouse in the house until there is no other option. After toweling off, he’ll first do the upper deck (t-shirt, dress shirt, maybe a tie and watch) then move to the basement and get on his socks. Only after he has naturally dried his slong-o-saurus region do the underwear and pants go on. Business up top, party on the bottom.
- The Penis Whisperer – Seems like a normal, quiet guy, but once he’s naked he starts talking to himself with a hushed voice. You might think he’s chatting politely on a blue tooth headset, but no luck. Then you realize that he is talking to himself, encouraging his genitalia like it’s his pet using words like fella or that’a boy.
- The Illusionist – He’s usually in the locker room before you and no matter what angle you’re at, his back is always toward you. It’s like a nuanced dance as you cross the locker room, going from the restroom to the showers. You know his butt more (unfortunately, but there are worse things) than his face. One moment he’s there then you go to grab your deodorant from your gym bag and he’s vanished. It’s impressive really.
- The Curious George – One might easily confuse him with a creeper, for they share some similar characteristics, but George’s mind at the core, is scientific, not deranged. He compares dongles, but not in a value system, almost categorically like an entomologist would with insects. He’s weird, no doubt, but has saved a life or two by pointing out odd discolored patches of skin. Sure, it meant a black eye and a reputation for a bit, but once the health scans confirmed the suspicion, thanks ensued.
- The Exaggerator – You typically meet him at the urinals and he always opens up chit chat with an enthusiastic “Wooo!” followed by something like “Just did 20 minutes hard core on the elliptical.” Then by the observation of his grunt and contorting of body and pants, proceeds to, apparently, take out his 3 foot salami and relieve himself with another “Wooo!”.
- The Absentee – You literally don’t notice this guy, because he’s not there in the locker room. Though his house is in the opposite direction of where he’s heading after the gym, he’ll get up an hour earlier to shower in the privacy of his own bathroom after the workout.
- The Bullhorn – He’s kind of like reverse sonar in that he always lets you know where he is in order to not come face to face with his junk-a-do. Whether it’s bodily sounds or consistent jingle-jangle of items on the metal locker door, he’s an expert at taking control of the room, making sure no accidental “sword fights” happen.
- The Social Butterfly – This guy is waaaay too comfortable with his doodle-dong. He’ll strike up a conversation with you in all his glory, one leg propped up on the bench in a calisthenics, stoic pose, all while eating an apple he just had in the shower with him. Eye contact is so direct with the Fly Guy that it’s uncomfortable, yet you don’t want your eyes to wander.
- The Castanza – Classic Seinfeld fan doesn’t want to repeat George’s mishap by the pool. So after showering and before locker room interaction, he primes the pump making sure to achieve maximum flaccidity. Watch the whole clip HERE… seriously, it’s hilarious and insightful.
For those guys who want to take a deeper look (both seriously and humorously) at penis culture, I recommend the documentary My Penis and Everyone Else’s. A couple things I found of interest were the social stigma exploration (why is nobody happy with the average size and why does/doesn’t it matter?), the historical viewpoint (large penises [peni?] were mocked in ancient Greek), the most disturbing surgery of all time (an above average penis sliced and diced open in order to put ass fat in for further enlargement), and the directors journey to find that while having a penis makes you male, it doesn’t necessarily make you a man.