Archive for March 20th, 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.

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