One of the boys

Today I went walking around my neighborhood. I bought an Ali book and I ran into my friend H.R. on the street. Then I was gonna head home, but I decided to go to the gym and do some weights, even though today is an off-day on my running regimen.

When I went into the weight room, there were two older guys having a very loud, semi-combative conversation about smoking. One of them I’d seen in there before. He always wears a full set of sweats, a weight belt, and a heavy knit cap. In the weight room. From under the back of his knit cap wiggles a little sprig of a ponytail. It’s more than a sprig actually, more of a bundle, but a sad saggy little bundle. I figured him to be in his late 40s, but listening to his conversation, I learned that he’s 58, and that he started smoking when he was 8. Yep, 8. He explains that he grew up in a tough neighborhood, and he needed to look tough, and smoking made him look tough.

His counterpart, an older man probly in his late 60s, was of course arguing that smoking is bad for you, but Ponytail would have nothing of it. He called it all a bunch of lies, especially that bit about second-hand smoke. All lies. He apparently knows lots of people who never smoked their whole lives and they’re all dead. I kinda wanted to interject that smoking isn’t the only thing that kills people, but it’s a big one, but I thought it better not to get involved. Old Guy kept up the argument though, saying, “You know if you blow smoke through a handkerchief, all that tar and stuff that you can see on there, you don’t think all that crap gets all over your ALVEOLI?” He pronounced this word in way I’ve never heard before, “al-VEE-oh-lie”. Something like that. At this the Ponytail had had enough, and for the next few minutes, while Old Guy continued, Ponytail kept saying “Spread your shit somewhere else.” Over and over. “Spread your shit somewhere else.” “Spread your shit somewhere else.” Then, after saying this at least ten times, he changes his tune, and starts saying, “Spread your manure somewhere else.” Then he says, “There’s a lady present, I don’t wanna swear in front of a lady. Spread your manure somewhere else.”

Then somehow the conversation between the two men shifts to something they both agree upon — the stupidity of vegetarianism. Now they’re both loudly extolling the virtues of beef, and trying to outbrag each other as to which one of them eats more beef and fewer vegetables. A third guy, a younger guy, joins in, saying how much he loves a good steak and asking if they’d ever eaten a vegetarian hamburger. Here there were general cries of outrage. “Oh! It’s like eating cardboard!” “Who are these skinny people trying to sell me health food?” “Tofu! They say it tastes like whatever you cook it with, but it just tastes like shit to me!” And so on.

I took in most of this conversation from the far end of the room, smiling to myself and occassionally laughing out loud. They were funny.

Then I went to use some of the equipment near them. Now they started talking about George W. Bush and the mess he’s created in Iraq, trying to bring freedom and democracy to those people. I was glad to hear this, a sign that they might have some sense to them. Then Old Guy gets really hot, stammering, “It’s impossible! They’re all illiterate! You can’t have self-government if the damn SELF can’t READ!”

Here again I wanted to interject, to point out that the vast majority of American colonists could not read or write at the time that America declared its independence, and we seem to have done all right. (That little factoid may not actually be true, but as these guys clearly demonstrate, you don’t have to be right when you’re having a conversation like this in a gym — you just have to be loud.) At any rate, I again thought better of getting involved.

Somehow the conversation turned to purgatory. Old Guy confessed that his favorite sin was adultery, and that’s what would probably hold him out of heaven. Here of all places, I felt compelled to chime in for some reason, and I piped up, “If it weren’t for adultery, most people wouldn’t have sex at all!” This brought lots of laughs and no small amount of nodding approval in my direction. Someone clearly more macho than me occupied my person, and I continued, “What happens in Vegas!” Here the others emphatically completed my sentence: “Stays in Vegas!”

The macho poltergeist in me somehow neglected to tell his new-found macho weight room buddies that I had never been to Vegas, nor I had I ever been married, much less committed adultery.

As I headed for the showers a bit later on, I passed one of the guys on the stairs, and he said to me, “Take it easy, buddy. Have a good weekend.” Some part of me, the geist perhaps, soaked up this small bit of buddyness and reveled in it.