Locker-room etiquette

At first we didn’t recognize each other. We tried to remember where we’d seen each other last, and scrambled to decide if our acquaintance had been a brief sexual encounter or an inconsequential cruise.

His hazel eyes probed my face while I awkwardly tried to unbutton my shirt. My eyes scanned his tanned and chiseled body from his square pecs down to his sweaty brief — he’d just finished working out whereas I was trying to motivate myself to start mine. We both ran through our mental list of family, friends, and hook-ups trying to map the familiarity which was now obvious to both. Then, in a moment of recognition we both smiled, remembered, and began our next sentence almost simultaneously, “Oh, hey, how are you doing? Long time no see!” It was sincere, but without any depth to it. It was the standard greeting we both knew would go no further. If our conversation were to be traced on a map, our destination would point us to Nowhere city limits.

He said he’d just return from California, and he had the tan to prove it. I hated him at that moment. I told him I’d been busy, you know working, studying, life, and everything else. I hated myself for a moment for not having a more interesting life, or enough money to buy myself a more interesting one. He smiled and said I looked good. I knew he was lying, but liked him for saying so. I told him he looked great, and that his tan suited him. I noticed he was beginning to peel on his shoulder and I believed in God again.

Then he turned around and I could not help myself from looking as he pulled his underwear down and kicked it off next to his shoes. Nice ass I thought. I turned away from him when it was my turn to strip. Why couldn’t this have happened six months from now when the swelling and numbness of starting at the gym for the millionth time were gone, and I could move more gracefully, not like a stiff? I didn’t notice if he looked at me or not because my shorts wrapped around my ankles, almost making me stumble and fall on the locker room floor. So much for grace, I thought, and pulled my shorts on before I embarrassed myself further.

By then he was almost done dressing and I was tugging my T-shirt on trying to escape further scrutiny. He asked how everything was and I told him everything was good. I was in the midst of studying for board exams, catching up on movies, and enjoying the good things Miami has to offer.

He asked if I was dating or seeing anyone, and I told him I remain single. The few dates I’d been on didn’t lead to encores, and the last guy I dated decided he did not want a romantic entanglement. That was — God, how long ago was that? A year ago? Longer?

He began packing his gym bag, stuffing a sweaty jock I would have paid good money for in one of the bag’s pockets, and mentioned the few times we’d seen each other around the city. I noted how our previous conversations had never been longer or more intimate than now. Like any chance encounter, we’d kept our exchanges to waves, a smile, a short greeting, and the quick assessments of looks, goods, and fashion gays endure from each other.

When I told him that I had been dating someone every time we’d run into each other, he admitted he had been too. Our chance encounters never appeared to take place when we were both single. He wanted to know what happened and why I’d broken up. I gave him no specific details but instead offered broad strokes as to what happened. Almost four months together, I said to him. But what can you do? Then he told me his boyfriend dumped him for someone else and move away. Almost five years together and he was gone! It had been rough. Now we both had more in common than just a gym membership. He immediately wanted to know if I was okay. Yes, I said. I was trying to get back on the game, meeting new folk, making friends. He nodded. And he? Looking around; nothing serious. It’s hard, you know? I know.

By then I was ready to head out to the work out floor to begin stretching. He had finished dressing and zipped up his bag. “Call me,” he said. “We should get together sometime. Do you hang out in South Beach? I told him I did not. It was about an hour’s drive for me, and weekend traffic made it close to impossible to find parking. I don’t spend as much time in parts of Miami as I would like to. “Let’s go out for a drink soon. Next time you’re at the beach let me know.” He went over his schedule for the next few weeks—booked solid. But he said to call. I wondered for a moment why he never called me the times I handed him my card in the past. Was he being polite? Was he genuinely interested now?

Dressed respectively for our tasks, we walked out of the locker-room together. He nodded good-bye and walked out to the parking lot; I stretched out on a mat and closed my eyes. I felt awkward and exposed. Had I revealed too much? Did I appear needy or lonely? Did he really want me to call him to go out for a drink?

Before leaving the locker-room I asked him if he still had my card, the one I gave him when it was me the one who wanted to go out for a drink six? nine? twelve? months ago. He said he did. Why hadn’t he called then? I wondered.

A million excuses, the same ones I’d use, came to my mind. That’s just the way it is, I decided. He didn’t call, or wouldn’t call, because he’d be busy; or have work to do; or be going out with friends; or be away on vacation; or have a family function to attend; or someone from out of town would be visiting; or he’d be on a date; or be interested in someone else. Which is all fine. I would come up with the same excuses. Our encounter was no different than any other taking place a hundred times over in a hundred other locker-rooms around the city. Ours was another typical locker-room exchange ruled by typical locker-room etiquette.