Today at the gym, I got into it with an older gentleman. I know that sounds horrible and to be honest, I’m embarrassed that this even happened. How did I get myself into a situation where I had a condescending and outraged senior citizen talking down to me during my workout? I’m not sure.
This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me all that often. I suppose walking around with a natural semi-frown upon my face keeps the riff raff at bay. Additionally, I actively avoid stranger conflict by not getting in people’s faces and generally staying out of the way. Usually, this works out fine. Today, however, something went awry.
Back at the gym, I had just finished up my cardio routine when I decided to switch over to weights. I have a bum wrist and limited range of motion in my right hand so I use the weight machines instead of free weights. I feel safer and less likely to hurt myself this way.
I use a few different machines and I try to switch them up regularly. Today, I hopped on the pull-down machine first. I did my regular routine, and flipped through my iPod between sets, looking for musical motivation. The music keeps me focused and ensures that I don’t slack while I’m working out. You see, I hate the gym and I despise having to go there. I do it because I have to, but I resent it the entire time. Sure I like to feel energized and refreshed when I’m done, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t complain throughout the process. Music gets me through it all.
Since I get lost in good music easily, I use it to keep the pace and keep my mind occupied. Too much time to think and I’ll rationalize cutting out early. As a matter of fact, I was considering skipping the last two machines in my workout today. Fortunately, I managed to guilt myself into staying long enough to do one more: the chest press. My preferred chest press machine is located one aisle over. “Too far,” I thought as I got up from my current spot. Instead of making my way to the next aisle, I moved over to the awkward machine next to me.
This particular chest press is awkward because, no matter how low I adjust the seat, my feet hang there when I sit. When I use it, I have to do so with my feet dangling and it just feels weird and unstable. Normally, I avoid this machine and only use it when absolutely necessary. Today, however, I was using it out of sheer laziness.
I completed one set of twenty fairly quickly. I thought, “the sooner I get done with this, the sooner I can get out of here.” At the end of my set, I rested, looked down at my phone and then grabbed my iPod. I wanted to switch songs because I needed a burst of musical energy, to keep me going. I was mid-scroll when I noticed a pair of legs walking toward me.
This older fellow stopped in front of me and made it clear he wanted to talk. He’s an interesting looking character, this guy. He’s got something of a longish 70s style mane and knobby knees. I know this because he was wearing some rather nifty shorts, which matched the sweatband on his head. I was admiring his ability to accessorize when he sauntered up and stopped directly in front of me.
This senior fellow motioned for me to take out my ear buds. As I plucked the buds from my ears, he said something, but I couldn’t make out what. I asked him to repeat himself and he said, “Can I workout on this machine?” Baffled and with a confused half-smile on my face, I replied, “Sure, when I’m done.” Instead of responding to me, this Angry Older Fellow (AOF) slowly and melodramatically, looked down at my iPod and then back up at me. He did this flashing a broad and insincere, sardonic sort of smile on his face.
“Was this old guy seriously giving me shit about being on this machine? Was he insinuating that I haven’t been working out, but mindlessly scrolling through my phone the entire time? How dare he?!” That was what I was thinking when I noticed that another snide remark was bubbling to the forefront of AOF’s ancient mind. I could see it percolating in slow motion, inside his skull. Instead of allowing this man to continue to be outwardly rude to me, I cut him off. With an annoyingly bright and equally sarcastic smile, I said, “You know what, sir... You go ahead. Go right ahead,” as I surrendered my spot to him.
As I got up, I grabbed my gym bag and made my way past AOF. I was heading toward the next aisle, to jump on one of the other, unoccupied, chest press machines. As I stepped away, AOF called out to me, “You’re not the only one working out here, you know. Other people want to use the machines.” In reality, the gym was mostly empty and the other two chest press machines in my line of sight, were free. Nevertheless, AOF insisted loudly, “There are a lot of people here that want to work out. It’s not just you.”
This last comment gave me pause as I stopped walking and swung around. My mouth opened as I spun. It opened big and it opened wide. I felt like a python unhinging its jaw, preparing to consume its prey. I had intended to drop the mother of all smart-aleck responses, but I didn’t. What I did instead was look him in the eye and say, “You are a dick, sir.” I followed that with an exasperated “…What a dick,” as turned back around and proceeded to walk away. It was at that point that I decided to forgo the damn chest press machine and head home instead.
I was furious by this point. I was angry that I had to cut my workout short, even after I had managed to convince myself to stay those extra 10 minutes. I was indignant at having to give up my spot to this old jerk. Above all, I was offended by this guy’s tone. He was talking down to me and attempting to shame me in order to manipulate me.
The thing is, I didn’t want to give into this aggressive senior when he asked if he could use the machine I was sitting at. His approach provoked me and I felt attacked. Because of this, I got defensive. When I get defensive I want to sling insults like ninja stars. Fortunately though, I had enough sense to back down after telling this guy he was being a dick. A full-blown verbal altercation, complete with ninja-star insults, would have been awesome, but then I’d forever be known as the woman who yelled at the old man at the gym.
I was glad I managed to walk away, but I didn’t want this old fool to feel as though he’d run me out of the place. So, instead of high tailing it to the parking lot, I hung out in the lobby for a minute or two. I took my time putting away my headphones, iPod, phone and water bottle. I lingered and then moseyed on out like I owned the joint.
While I’m not angry any more, I was put off for some time following this exchange. At first I thought I was upset with myself for giving up my spot and letting the guy, “win, ” so to speak. Then, I thought I was mad at the fact that AOF continued to be rude to me even after I'd relinquished my spot. I soon realized it was neither. I was actually pissed at myself for not being able to keep it clean and refrain from calling this man a dick, twice—even if he deserved it.
I’ve been working on my temper and lack of patience for some time and I thought I’d made great progress. I thought I’d grown out of eagerly participating in verbal sparring, but I haven’t. What it looks like, is that I’ve failed at personal growth, yet again.