I went to the gym for the first time in over 3 years last week. The first machine I used was the rowing machine, which was placed rather publically by itself facing all the treadmills. Rowing solo in front of 20 pairs of beady joggers' eyes was an intimidating prospect, and I was worried I'd embarrass myself by putting the difficulty setting too high. The joggers' expressions would remain impassive, but they would all silently enjoy watching me strain ineffectually at setting 10, then 9, then 8, and then give in and skip to 3. But in fact, even the hardest setting offered little resistance. Obviously I was less feeble than I thought and I powered away, shooting back and forth in my little seat. After about 3 minutes of frenetic rowing I noticed there was an exercise bike with no pedals to the left of me. It dawned on me that I was not Olympic-grade, I was sitting in a broken rowing machine. I could feel the joggers' endlessly bobbing heads turn as one to watch me as I strolled into the free weights room. Warm-up complete.
Muscle-wise, I felt under-dressed in the free weights room, but I didn't feel too self-conscious because I don't wear glasses in the gym. This means I can't see anyone until they get very close and for long periods I can pretend I am working out in my private gym. The downside is that I go up to pillars thinking they're machines, and when I see they're not I have to read the poster about gym safety or use the water fountain. Even when I correctly identify an item of gym equipment, I have to get closer still to establish whether it's unoccupied. On my first attempt a blurry headrest suddenly resolved into a nervous face. Usually I would apologise, but being out of practise I moved on without a word.
The tone of gym chat is pointedly casual. Everyone wants to appear calm in a small room filled with sweaty men pumping their muscles. If you're a gym virgin it's easy to miss the subtleties and appear either despearate to nuzzle or like you're trying to conceal that you're desperate to nuzzle. After a punishing set of squats you must be able to compliment the improved tensile strength of your partner's buttocks in a warm but irreproachably heterosexual manner. Over-praising is a mistake, but a stiff silence and a cool stare is equally suggestive.
Working alone means I largely avoid these difficult scenarios, but some interaction is unavoidable. This time a professionally-muscled foreign man asked to "work in with me" on a bench press, and I immediately agreed in hand-wringing supplication, then watched as he changed the bench into a seat and added more weights. It took a few minutes so, a little peeved, I decided to just use a different piece of equipment. I slid into a mechanical L-shaped black mattress on the other side of the room and started happily pushing against it with no effect. Some time later I noticed Olaf was standing next to the bench press pointing at it. In a hurry to speak because he may have been there for some time, I shouted out, "You're fine! I'll just play with this one!" My gym patois was calibrated too gaily. It was time to conclude my work-out and repair for a douche.
The showers had been communal when I was last there, but now there were cubicles, albeit the only one which was unoccupied was doorless and facing the changing room. Well, I was down with that, and I knew that a good display of uncaring public washing would repair my creepy reputation. As I collected my towel after an especially disinterested and thorough clean I noticed there was a door, I had simply failed to spot it. There was a tense atmosphere as I got changed, but I left flushed with the pleasant sense of fatigue that only comes from physical exertion followed by a hell-bent tug in the shower.
The simultaneous benchpress & squat combo offers both efficiency and, when in the crouching position, smothering intimacy.