Thursday, November 29, 2007

Profiled at the Y

So I had myself a nice little workout this morning at the local low-frills YMCA: lifted some decent weights (for me), worked up a pretty good sweat, and generally got myself into a narcissistic froth over my own manliness (it helped that the only other people working out at the time was a group of Korean women, none of them a day under seventy-five). Lots of fun. While I was completing my post-workout stretch, I remembered a quote from one of the many Horatio Alger, Jr. novels my grandfather gave me to read when I was a kid. At one point, the hero, an Italian immigrant named Ben, addresses a sickly companion:

"You are not so strong as I, Giacomo," said Ben, looking down with some complacency at his own stout limbs."

That line, with its odd combination of cockiness and formality, was something of a catch-phrase when I was growing up. If ever my mother thought I'd done something that smacked a bit too much of self-regard, she'd follow it up with a quick "...looking down with some complacency at his own stout limbs," and I'd get the message to clamor on down off my high horse, and don't catch my breeches on the stirrups on the way down.

Anyway, I was thinking smirkingly of this line from the past when a trainer came up to me.

"Are you done working out?" she asked. I assumed she was going to ask for some advice, or a spot, or to simply tell me how amazing it was that I'd managed to lift not just the bar itself, but a couple of those plates at the same time, and maybe say a word or two about how witty I am in my blog, from which she'd somehow managed to recognize me. As I said, I was in a personal-record-setting-induced revelry at the time.

"Yes, I'm done."

"I was wondering if you could put your weights away?"

I was momentarily flummoxed--had I left some weights out? Quick to accept blame (I'm working on that one), I started towards I the squat rack I'd been using, but saw that all the weights were in fact already put away. The bar was completely stripped, ready for the next kid to use, just like I'd been taught in nursery school. Scanning across the gym, I saw that the dumbells I'd been hoisting were also happily on their home in the rack, awaiting their next victim. I was relieved to see that in fact I'd been a good citizen.

"Sorry," I said, trying not to sound like a jackass, "What weights are you talking about?"

" know...those on the Smith machine...some barbells over there," she gestured vaguely towards an area I hadn't come near all morning.

"Oh," I said, "Those aren't my weights. I wasn't using the Smith machine."

"So you do put your weights away, then?"

"Yes," I said, for some reason feeling it necessary to add, "always."

And she strolled away without another word, but with a "I"m watching you, bucko," vibe.

I didn't think much of the interaction until afterwards, when I realized that this trainer hadn't had a clue about what I'd been doing in the weight room, and didn't have a shred of evidence for her accusation. She'd cased the joint, seen some stray weights and, just because I looked like the hardest-core guy in the place at the moment, fingered me as the culprit.

Come to think of it, she didn't even have a specific CRIME in mind. She just thought, 'Ah, here's a guy who looks like he leaves his weights lying around for the trainers to pick up,' and sauntered up to see if she could get me to do her job for her by tossing a general accusation in my direction.

She'd PROFILED me!

Look, I'm not going to get too bent out of shape about this; I'm a WASPY straight guy, after all, so maybe a little profiling will build me some character (though, come to think of it, some nasty cases of profiling have been levelled at some pretty WASPY straight guys of late). Still, I wanted to make a plea for myself and the other people out there who take their time in the gym relatively seriously: don't assume that just because we work hard in the gym that we're jerks. Don't assume we never put our weights away, that we'll never spot you, that we'll hog the water fountain or the squat rack or refuse to let you work in with us.

Most of us are insecure, anyway: we don't feel like we're strong enough, or big enough, or good enough yet, and that's why we're there in the weight-cave in the first place, hoisting inanimate steel instead of making friends with those beings called "other people," who secretly confuse and frighten us.

We're too timid to be jerks.


Mich said...

Oh, you missed a perfect opportunity to look down your nose at her and intone: "I do not use the Smith machine." :-)

tommythecat said...

In my experience, most Guenthers (read as serious body builders) are generally very polite and try to help you if you ask them. And they would never look down on you even if you are just going to press 40 kg on the bench: a) They appreciate your efforts b) They are so much advanced, they do not need to compare themselves.


Andrew said...

I was actually close to uttering something disparaging about the Smith machine...and you're right, I wouldn't touch that mostrosity...

Good point on the Gunthers. They know they're the Silverbacks in the weight room; most of 'em don't seem to feel the need to do much chest-thumping to prove it.