Archive for March, 2007

Tales From the Gym – The Society of Random Picnickers

Why anyone would dine in a sauna is beyond me – it’s a small, 200 degree room, filled with naked sweaty people who occasionally moan, and fling drops of perspiration about while exercising (which is, incidentally, against the rules in the sauna). Not, in my opinion, a place where I feel like… say… whipping a grapefruit out of my gym bag. And yet that is precisely what happened the other day. A woman came in, settled into the top shelf of the sauna, and began peeling a monstrous grapefruit the size of a melon. It was so big I could see the veins in the transparent skin from across the room, in spite of dim lighting. I think they were pulsing.

Midway through the grapefruit she was joined by another woman – a friend with whom, I presume, she had discussed her post-workout picnic plans. The newcomer added significantly to my experience with stylish sauna-wear; in addition to a modest one-piece suit, she wore a two-strand pearl choker, and a purple chiffon turban. And she brought a contribution to the picnic – pickles and what appeared to be a large shitake mushroom. They began visiting, though unfortunately, neither in English nor French or I would have had some context for the performance that was about to begin.

A few minutes later a third woman joined their group and indicated her insider-status by accepting the proffered pickle with a ready smile. After a few bites and a bit of conversation she launched into the most unlikely dance – standing upright, she began twitching her arms and legs in awkward directions while jumping up and down and turning her head about as though it was on a swivel. It looked, to me, like an impressive imitation of a marionette – wooden, weirdly-jointed, and all sorts of horrifying.

I was equally intrigued by the dancing picnickers and by the rest of us who clearly weren’t in the Society. We had all adopted various “I can’t see you!!” postures – eyes resolutely closed in spite of the strange sounds, heads craned into improbably positions. Two ladies were faking sleep; sitting upright, but with their heads down on their knees – a most unlikely position to take in the sauna. It’s a strange experience, being in the midst of a joke shared by people who speak a language you don’t. You can laugh along with them in an attempt to blend in – even though it’s clear to everyone you’re faking. You can be honest and watch the spectacle with a stony face, which makes everyone including yourself uncomfortable. Or you can pretend that you can neither see nor hear anything out of the ordinary which excuses you from the responsibility of responding, but requires weird head contortions and bouts of fake narcolepsy. Personally, I’m working on a modified form of “the horror movie squint” – where you cover your eyes with your hands but spread your fingers just enough to see everything. When executing “the sauna squint” I turn my head as though staring at the opposite side of the room, but roll my eyes back – into the back of my skull if necessary – so I don’t miss a detail.

Add comment March 20th, 2007

Tales From the Gym – Why You Shouldn’t Cry Wolf in the Sauna

We’ve probably all had the experience by now – you’re sitting in a public toilet stall when the person next door suddenly begins speaking in loud clear tones. “Hello? Hello?? Can you hear me???”

I think one time I was so convinced the person was speaking to me, and in some distress, that I actually answered. Of course, I quickly figured out that the person had just placed a cell phone call and was battling to be heard in spite of the (surprise) sketchy reception afforded by a concrete public bathroom. So never again will I answer cries of distress coming from a public bathroom stall. A generation of improprietous cell phone users has cried wolf too many times, and victims of bathroom emergencies are out of luck!

In any case, something similar happened in the sauna the other day. A woman came in and, instead of picking a bench, dropped silently to the floor and then stuck her feet straight up in the air. I opened my eyes enough to be sure – yes, she was doing a headstand in the middle of the sauna floor. Why not? Exercise in the sauna is against the rules, but does it count as exercise if you aren’t moving?

But then she started talking. “Hello? Hello?? CAN YOU HEAR ME??!!!!” Oh dear, I have no cultural frame of reference for this. Only the voices of a thousand yoga teachers from my past saying “do not attempt the headstand if you are not absolutely sure that you can do it safely.” What if this woman was in trouble? What if she’d gone up and couldn’t come down? What if her neck was hurting? Maybe she thought that, with her voice all the way down there, and our ears all the way up here on various shelves, her cries for help were barely audible? What if, contrary to all common sense, it isn’t a good idea to stand on one’s head in a 200 degree room for a prolonged period of time?

I had nearly decided to answer her when she answered herself… “Hey, I’m in the sauna. Where are you? When do you want to leave?”

“Sacré Bluetooth!” was my fortunately non-verbal response (to paraphrase and mangle a French epithet). She was talking on her cordless cell phone earpiece. Where she’d stuck the rest of the apparatus I have no idea. Safe to say, she’s blown it for everyone else who might someday have a legitimate headstand emergency in the sauna!

Add comment March 19th, 2007

Tales from the Gym – Greek Tragedy in the Sauna

Today the TARDIS/sauna took a group of us to Athens circa 500 BC; at least that is the only explanation I can come up with for the emotionally virtuosic Greek tragedy I witnessed. It all began as it often does – I was lying on a bench in the otherwise empty sauna, eyes closed, contemplating the universe. Ten minutes into my reverie the door swung open and a group of women walked in, talking and laughing. One of them interjected, rather stridently, “… That one! I leave to get a drink of water and that one takes my place!” As I was the only person in the sauna when they entered, I could only assume that she was making reference to me. Being falsely accused and referred to as “that one” made me both indignant and nonplussed. Fortunately, the two emotions cancelled each other out and, rather than feeling compelled to act on either, I decided that feigning sleep would be an appropriate response.

Everyone settled onto their benches and Strident Lady began sharing beauty tips. She explained that it is essential to remove one’s makeup before entering the sauna; otherwise the heat opens the pores, the makeup gets sucked inside them, them forms a thin layer of goop underneath the skin that will never, never come out because now it’s like a wax tattoo. ?? She repeated her directive three times to one woman in particular until finally the woman replied – “What, do you think this is make-up? These are my eyes. These are MY EYES. I don’t know what you’re looking at me like that for.” Strident lady replied, “Oh I don’t know… I’m just saying that you should really take your make-up off, and it looks like make-up to me.” The accused fought back, “Quit looking at me like that! I can’t help if I have dark lashes. I was born this way!” Strident Lady replied “I don’t know… I’m just telling you what I see…” The volleys flew back and forth, escalating in intensity, until I was afraid they might come to blows. But then Strident Lady changed the subject.

“Do you know my husband died today?” The sauna collectively gasped. “He fell down downstairs and I heard a big thump. I ran down there and there he was – unconscious! I called 911 and said ‘come help me; my husband just died!’ Then they came and took him to the hospital and fixed him up. Now he’s better.” We all exhaled, tried to relax our rigidly tensed muscles, and sank back into the benches. But there was more.

“I don’t have any kids. My kids are my dogs. But I had to give them to the doctor, they were too sick. It broke my heart. I’ve had them since they were two week old babies. Imagine – giving your children away because you can’t take care of them anymore. That’s what I had to do.” We all wiped away a tear.

Strident Lady asked everyone in the sauna where they were from; I got passed over because I was still miming invisibility. When one of the other ladies said she was Italian Strident Lady began wailing. “My best friend was Italian! Oh how I loved her! Oh how I miss her! She was Italian, and so the US kicked her out. No reason at all, other than that she was Italian! Now she can never come back ever again. I can’t find her. My best friend in the world, lost to me!” Granted, my eyes were closed, but I think we were all nearing emotional exhaustion at that point. There was a great deal of silence, and a bit of sniffling.

Strident Lady then bid everyone a cheery goodbye and left the sauna. Immediately the other ladies began grumbling. “She’s always like that…” “Can’t think a thought edgewise when she’s in here.” I come here to relax; not to get beat up and interrogated…” Then everyone else left the sauna as well.

Stealthily, I opened my eyes to make sure all the ladies were all gone. All but one. And she was looking right at me. No turning back; I had to admit that I was conscious and accept the consequences. As I picked my way down from the top bench she smiled broadly and said, knowingly, “you slept!” I managed a sort of limp chuckle in response and added “yeah, it’s really relaxing in here.”

Add comment March 6th, 2007

Ripostes & Rejoinders – Twelve Vikings in a Sauna

Following my adventure within an adventure, “Tales From the Gym – Sartorial Subterfuge” two readers wrote in, urging me to make good on my threat/promise and wear my green velvet Renaissance Festival dress the next time I’m headed for the treadmill. One reader went so far as to speculate what might happen if I wore such a costume into the sauna afterwards. Would my own sartorial subterfuge trigger another splitting of realities? What, my reader asked, would a Renaissance Sauna be like? She immediately (virtually) shivered and took it all back – urging me to forget the project entirely. Apparently the visual of a pre-modern sauna was enough to kill the fantasy. For me, on the other hand, it was a delightful jumping off point. Renaissance Festivals and SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) events were the playgrounds of my childhood; when I’ve worn this dress before, I’ve been surrounded by all sorts of delightful characters – most of whom ended up being costumed as 9th century Vikings. I feel certain that if I do, in fact, break out the green velvet dress, the sauna at my gym will immediately be populated by large men clad in iron and leather, all of whom will be drinking home-brew from big horns, invoking Thor and Loki, threatening to raid and pillage, stomping around and swearing to see each other again in Asgard.

Incentive, or disincentive…?

Add comment March 2nd, 2007

Ripostes & Rejoinders – Restricted Readers

A reader recently wrote in with a compliment and a request for an expansion of my imaginative terrain. She writes, in reference to my Muse, “…it is, as usual, highly entertaining, but I’d love to read about something other than just your visits to the gym! :) …” First of all, thank you dear reader! It is always an absolute delight to discover that people are reading my Muse, and when I discover that people both read and enjoy it, my joy cannot be contained. Which means that I must take requests for, shall we say, a broader narrative scope quite seriously. I don’t think I can leave the gym just yet – it has provided too much fascinating fodder. “A rich vein of material” as one of my writerly friends puts it. But I do plan to introduce a new series next week detailing my adventures at the Venice Beach drum circle, along with a less narrative, more whimsical category called “les poesies quotidienne” (French for everyday poetry). And I have a couple of other stories up my sleeve as well. Hopefully if I dilute my tales from the gym with some tales from elsewhere, you will continue to indulge my fascination with naked networking?

Add comment March 2nd, 2007

Ripostes & Rejoinders – Outstanding Friends

There are many definitions of an outstanding friend. Here’s one that’s particularly apropos today: an outstanding friend, first of all, is someone who offers to keep some of the things you can’t bear to part with, but can’t begin to wedge into your car. She sets your things up royally, giving them primo real estate on the wrap-around porch of her techno log cabin, or downstairs in the “Cowgirls Kick Ass” basement. She reads your blog, learns that you are an anti-materialist animist who is dealing with some separation anxiety following the jettisoning of your material possessions, and immediately writes you an email – channeling the personalities of some of your favorite left-behind objects.

“Hello! This is your desk! I’m hanging out here in East Lynne, and just wanted to let you know that I’m doing fine!”

An outstanding friend then goes on to describe the conversation she had with your rocking chair: “so then I said to your rocker, ‘you know, when spring finally gets here, we’re going to do some serious rocking out here on the porch!’”

That’s an outstanding friend.

Add comment March 2nd, 2007

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