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A Day at the Gym
A short story
You may remember( ) from the excellent short story The Plainview Robbery that was showcased here earlier in the year. If you haven’t checked that out yet you should. Well, to cap off another excellent week of work here we have another AJ story for you. This one is more of a slice of life than a foray into genre and it features AJ’s alluring, deceptively simple prose style and eye for the right detail. You’re gonna love it.
I was doing pull ups in the gym when a guy began hitting on my girlfriend in between his sets of bench presses. With his thin glasses frames and slim build, the guy looked more like an accountant than the stereotypical gym denizen who approached girls at the gym. Still, with his chest puffed out and his hands on his hips, he wore a confidence that annoyed me in a way that
I hadn’t felt since my college days nearly a decade ago.
To some extent, these are things that every guy has to go through, given the dating norms of guys approaching girls and the lack of neon signs above each of our heads indicating our relationship status. And I’ve been on the other side of these situations as well - although in my head, I was just the protagonist who summoned up the courage to approach the prettiest girl in the room.
As I wrapped up a flustered set of pull-ups, I reluctantly turned my head to take another look at the bench press section of the gym, only to find Amy and the accountant continuing to have an animated conversation. Maybe they knew each other from somewhere? It was highly unlikely though - we were new to the city and the guy looked to be around twenty years older than Amy.
I thought about making some sort of point to let him know that Amy was taken. But on the other hand, was there really anything wrong with two adults having a conversation?
If the guy was bothering her, Amy could tell him off. And if she was having an enjoyable conversation with some guy she just met, then that was fine too right? Well, should be fine. I obviously wasn’t feeling all that fine.
I began to wonder if my annoyance was just the standard emotional response for men in this situation, thanks to a blend of testosterone and societal norms in America. Or, maybe, I was just being way too insecure about the whole situation, a trait that was maybe rooted in me attending an all-boys high school.
I remember being a college freshman explaining all this to my floormate, a vegetarian hippie who seemingly always had a joint in hand. When you’re not meeting that many girls during high school, every girl you meet is evaluated through a romantic lens, I had tried to explain. I’m pretty sure I had come across as problematic in some way to my floormate, but that was the truth for me then.
Over time, that high school attitude softened, but I continued to have a subtler cynicism about men and their interactions with women. A guy offering to help a girl with calculus homework at the end of class would eventually ask her out on a date. Some dude at the gym giving unsolicited feedback to a girl about her deadlift form would surely ask for her number in a few minutes’ time.
I had a bit of an “I told you so” moment a few years back when Amy had told me about an Uber driver who insisted on exchanging numbers. He seemed nice - I’m pretty sure he just wants to be friends or something, Amy had said at the time. It came as a surprise to exactly one of us when the Uber driver insisted over text that they get dinner at some point, which prompted Amy to block the guy’s phone number.
Towards the end of my workout, I made my way over Amy and asked to borrow her belt so I could do weighted pull ups. There was a lull in the conversation between her and the accountant, so there wasn’t a need for an interruption.
“Ah I don’t have it with me actually,” Amy said as she combed through her gym bag. “Must have left it at home or something.”
“No worries,” I said before walking back to the pullup bar.
Looks aside, I do get why guys are drawn to Amy. Amy treated anyone - friends or strangers - with the warmth of a bride making her rounds to the various guests at her wedding. Amy told me once how her disposition made it hard to make male friends since so many seemed to interpret her friendliness as something more than just that. I felt so much sadness for her in that moment - that the warmth I loved about her could box her into these situations she didn’t want to be in.
Eventually, the accountant moved on to do some other workout in another part of the gym, and not too long after, Amy and I both wrapped up our workout. We began to exit the gym together when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the accountant who introduced himself to me as Rick.
“Hey, I just wanted to introduce myself to be respectful. Your girlfriend and I were just talking about work since it turns out we’re in the same industry.”
I shook his hand and told him it was all good. I wasn’t worried about it, I told him.
On the drive back home, Amy was busy trying to look up Rick on IMDB who apparently was a fairly prominent casting director. He had talked to her about working on Dawson’s Creek in the 1990s and on the Sopranos in the mid-2000’s.
Yet, by the time we had arrived home, Amy still wasn’t able to find anything about Rick on the internet. Maybe he goes by a different name in Hollywood, Amy mused.
Maybe, I replied. That’s probably it.
I wouldn’t think much of this incident until decades later, when my grandson Jake asked me about the Sopranos. Would you say it’s worth the watch? It’s still on the list of greatest TV shows ever after all these years, he explained.
I frowned as I collected my thoughts. In recent years, every question seemed to draw out half a dozen memories, each one pulling me further away from the present.
In this case, the first memory that came to mind wasn’t of Junior Soprano getting dementia or that final scene with the whole Sopranos family at the diner, but that gym session with Amy and that casting director from the Sopranos from way back in the day.
Was he really the casting director from the Sopranos? And what was his name anyways?
But more importantly, where was Amy?
I frowned to myself as Jake looked at me patiently. Yes Jake? I asked him.
Nothing grandpa, Jake replied. Just glad to be here.
But I still got the sense Jake was waiting for me to say something.
Was it his birthday and I had forgotten? Or, was I in the middle of some story that I had gotten side tracked on?
But it was right then that I remembered.
I forced myself deeper into that moment and felt what it was like to be young again in a new city, feeling the emotional rollercoaster of nascent love -
Where was my phone?
After spending a few minutes combing through my car, Amy and I figured that I must have left it back at the gym.
Up until that point, I had never left behind my phone, wallet, keys, or any of my belongings at that gym, which was a testament to how distracted a guy can get when his girlfriend is being hit on.
I drove quickly back to the gym, and when I parked at the underground lot, I raced up the two flights of stairs to get to the gym entrance, surprised to find Rick at the counter, speaking to the receptionist.
“Hey, I was just about to turn this in,” Rick said as he saw me walk in. He handed me my black iPhone which had a background of Amy and I holding hands on a white-sand beach in Hawaii.
“Thanks man,” I said, sighing in relief as I put my phone in my pocket.
I then noticed that Rick was wearing a Lakers 2010 championship tank top.
On the walk out of the gym, we spoke of that legendary run in 2010 - the Ron Artest I’ll-advised three late in the 4th quarter of Game 7, Pau Gasol’s weight room investments showing their returns against Kevin Garnett, and there was, of course, Kobe’s broken finger. Of all the Lakers’ championships, we agreed that this was by far the best one, given the sheer amount of grit required for them to get revenge on that Celtics team in the Finals.
Once we got to our cars, we said our goodbyes, and I drove back home once again - this time, with my windows down so I could enjoy the summer breeze.
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