Bless his heart... and... all other organs that aren't clearly visible.
I'll call him Burt. He's an older guy; looks to be in great shape, like he's led an athletic lifestyle since before I was born. The two of us have been cohabiting the Y locker room on an early-morning basis for the past few months.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, Burt had faithfully regaled a different patron of the cramped men's quarters, his raconteuring prowess something I'd passively processed with minimal attention. But when his main listener stopped showing up, Burt's extroverted demeanor required only seconds to view its options and realize I was the only other dude in the locker room for him to talk to. Obviously undeterred, he promptly introduced himself and has been regaling me with his lanky yarns, and has ever since.
As you can imagine, it's not easy to be at your target emotional and physical plane at six in the morning, which is cool since all I usually have to to is listen to him and nod. Speaking with calculated nonchalance about his DEA agent son-in-law or brother with a PhD from MIT or friend who randomly encountered Frank Sinatra in Palm Springs and ended up spending the entire day with him, Burt waxes on the daily abut his life's journey and the many fascinating individuals who've orbited his world. So don't get me wrong—Burt's a treasure, really, and what I'm about to tell you is my problem, not his, so I'll cut to the chase.
He seems to like to talk to me most when we're both naked. I wouldn't say he waits for it, but, well... After having spent my adult life in and out of YMCA locker rooms and getting to nakedly know several fellows, it didn't take long to learn one of the cardinal rules: When having a conversation with someone, all talking ends when your last article of clothing comes off so that you might move unencumbered into the shower. Why? Let's just say that assuming the role of stationery naked man presents profound challenges, where constant motion is as critical to the nude male as swimming is to the shark.
Standing still presents an alarming risk of contracting the scurrilous Italian malady, "Roman eyes." An errant, split-second glance is all it takes to tell the other person, "I'll finish hearing your story, but I'm gonna need to check out Little Anthony and the Imperials real quick. Okay, go ahead, I'm listening now."
In other words, dudes tend to do anything to avoid the dreaded "lookdown," which brings me back to Burt. The other day, just as I stepped past the scale, mere inches from the shower area's relative shelter, he suddenly blurted, "One day I was drying off in the locker room of a Jack LaLane gym in San Jose, I want to say around 1963. Well, wouldn't you know it, a goddamn woman came right in there and started talking to me."
My fears realized, I stood motionless. I had no idea what to do with my hands—no pockets, no towel to hold—all I could think to do was put my hands on my hips like a humbled pink superhero. I felt my peripheral vision surveying naked Burt as he demonstrated how he was standing, one foot on the bench and the other planted on the floor. as the lady entered the room. "It was like we were both at the grocery store or something,. She didn't even blink," he said.
It felt as if my chin had grown two eyeballs that were focused on nothing but Burt's balls and the hanging hypotenuse that bisected his bold stance. Thankfully, the clouds briefly parted and a line came to me straight from the pages of The Towel-Snapper's Guide to Locker Room Clichés.
"Did she laugh and point?" Good one, I thought. Put Burt on the defensive so you can make a quick exit.
It took Burt a second to get it, but when he did, he began laughing so boisterously that his belly shook, which in turn made a few things start rhythmically nodding and bobbing. That's when I'm convinced I lost focus and surrendered my gaze to Burt's single-act puppet show.
Attempting to avoid further embarrassment, I interpreted his prolonged laughter as a signal to continue into the relative haven of the shower area and maybe just hang out until he was dressed and gone.
As I said, Burt is a great guy who tells wonderful stories and obviously doesn't clutter his life with superficial hangups (hangdowns?). as I do. Maybe someday I'll be as comfortable in my air-dried skin as he, but until I arrive there...
... I'll need to keep moving.