I push through the frosted glass doors, and a steamy cloud of rancid sock and Brut suctions to my face.
So many sounds at once:showers running, labored breathing, grunts, phlegmy coughs, someone expelling their nostrils onto the floor.
A sea of bobbing genitals and flat, yellowed buns.
This is not a place for germaphobes, or prudes, or women.
I can't imagine the men's locker room at the YMCA as being a place for anyone, really.
And yet, here I am, not breathing through my nose, not knowing where to look.
Though the student with me, a young black guy named Wayne, wishes that I would just go anywhere else.
He feels strongly that, despite his missing leg, he should be able to navigate the soapy tiles of the locker room showers by himself. I agree with him, and then I slip on a pair of rubber gloves and let them snap shut on my wrists.
Wayne suddenly realizes that I am not here to help him get around at all. This is not about mobility; my role in his life is going to be much more intimate.
"Really?" he asks, rolling his eyes.
Jeez. Typical twenty-year old. All exasperated and resentful about having someone watch over him while he washes, and give directions like "the inside buns too" or "no, your whole penis", complete with a lot of pointing and pantomiming.
There is only about four feet between us and the shower stall across the way, where an elderly man stands watching. Water pours over him and runs into the floor drain.
"Supposed to be a storm today," he states grimly."A bad one. Maybe a tornayda." He turns to rinse his back and spray ricochets off, crossing over to our side and splattering my bare arms. The man lets out a loud groan.
There is a complete lack of self-consciousness among these locker room veterans that amazes me. They'll stand around, buck naked, and prattle on like the Ladies League. None of them can hear all that well, so they have to stand so close together that their genitals almost Eskimo kiss. Words like "scrimmage" or "Briggs and Stratton" get thrown about.
I can't read anything into them; nothing to go on but their loose, liver-spotted skin and tickly looking moustaches.
But then, as the clothes come back on, I see obvious farmers, tradesmen, professor types, lawyers; a whole survey sample of of old white guy occupations.
I guess clothes really do make the man, or at least make him less repulsive to have to look at.
One loud, slow-speaking guy is always insisting that people say good morning to him. If someone walks past and doesn't return the greeting, he leaps from his bench, wearing nothing but a cut-off shirt with the words "Cowboy Up!" on it. He keeps bellowing good mornings and chasing the person down until they turn, awkwardly apologize, and wish him a good one as well.
When I see him, I start screeching a preemptive "Good morning!". I do not know if I could face the spectacle of that wide, pale body bearing down on me.
I finish toweling Wayne off, and we go upstairs to the Fitness area.
Televisions hang in front of a humming, whirring collection of ellipticals and stationary bikes. The face of Dr.Oz fills every one of the screens.
He is a new phenomena to me, and I am enjoy watching his show with the sound turned off. The blocky close-captioning is always running behind, so the good doctor might be yucking it up with a guest and the on-screen text will still be saying something like "cancer throughout his body."
Dr.Oz looks like a person who breathes deeply and loudly through his nose; he doesn't just smell things, he takes long, meaningful whiffs and then murmurs "Indeed."
It bothers me that he is so hilarious because it distracts me from my craft, which is doodling in my Ducky notebook. The cheapest notebooks the dollar store had were decorated with either ducks or flowers, and the floral pattern was out of the question.
The Ducky notebook contains my most personal insights: titles of movies I might want to borrow from the library some day, little messages to myself about how much of a failure I am.
I highly recommend keeping a journal, if only to have a chronological record of the obsessive uselessness of your own thoughts.
One of my students was teasing me for bringing the Ducky notebook onto the city bus. I deflected her hurtful observations with a series of questions about her personal life. She told me how she had just purchased some Axe Body Wash for her boyfriend.
"Oh my god, he's going to smell so good," she said. I wondered if I should buy some too, because my wife has never sniffed me and said anything close to that.
The girl suddenly grabbed my arm.
"Listen, listen," she said, almost whispering. "Do you believe that souls get trapped here with unfinished business?" I wasn't sure where she was going with this, so I played it safe.
"Well I do. I think my Grandpa was in my room last night. He turned my radio off."
"Why would he do that?" I asked. She stared out the window while thinking of an answer.
"He didn't like the song, I guess."
"What song was it?"
"It was...Ciara...2-Step...from my Kids Bop Cd. And one time he turned it off when I was folding laundry and listening to Shania Twain." I pressed her for reasons as to why her grandpa disliked her music choices, but she shook her head.
"It's just a mystery. I need a medium to find out. A Long Island medium." Her gaze drifted back to the window and I made a note in my Ducky journal to look up articles on how to be a better-smelling man. I scribbled it down next to a picture I had doodled earlier of the Grim Reaper sitting on the toilet.
Why am I forever drawing toilets? Butts and bathrooms, bathrooms and butts-why can't I create something beautiful? Something bursting with life and color, like an Italian movie or the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
If you were made to stare at buns from birth, buns and only buns, what then would you dream of, but of buns?
It's a question that everyone has to ask themselves eventually.
Another time I have to look at buns is when I take Gregory to the bathroom.
Gregory has Cerebral Palsy, and only has use of his head, neck, and one arm.
To get ready to toilet Gregory, I have to prepare the bathroom.
First, I prop the door. If you've never propped a door open, I highly recommend it. It's genuinely interesting.
Secondly, I have to push this white wheelie-throne over the toilet seat. If Gregory sat on a regular toilet, he would topple over. When no one is around, I sit on the throne toilet and issue decrees with a wave of my toilet paper scepter.
You have to remember to lock the wheels of the throne, or the person you've seated upon it might roll a small distance away and start panicking, and later tell your co-workers that he's not sure that you really know what you are doing, even though you felt as though you had the situation under control the whole time.
Finally, I position the lifter directly in front of Gregory's wheelchair. The lifter has all these levers and up/down switches. It's not a toy. I accidentally smooshed Gregory's foot in one of the lifter's openy closey legs and I felt really terrible about it. To make things even, I draped my own foot between the legs and crushed it. The pain was awful, and I was kind of annoyed with Gregory for letting me go through with it. I guess he didn't exactly let me do it, he just kind of bugged his eyes out and said "What are you doing???"
After I get Gregory up in the air, I push him over to the toilet. Before I can let him down, I have to pull his pants and underwear off. That's when I see the buns that I mentioned I've been seeing. I take my gloved hands and guide his hips backwards so he is directly over the bowl. It's the only time Gregory stops talking to me, and that makes it seem very still and awkward in that little bathroom stall.
He has a wide, bubbly surgical scar that runs the length of his spine. I look at the scar and try to think about things like human dignity and suffering and the stupidity of my own meager depressions and mild hardships, but usually I just space out, or silently hate on whomever consumed all of the Hershey's minis in the staff candy drawer, leaving only crumpled wrappers and a handful of the dreaded Special Darks in their wake.
When Gregory is finished, he always makes me assist him in positioning his penis comfortably back inside of his sweatpants.
"I like it up," he says. "No, up!"
I apologize to him, and make the necessary changes.