Generations Collide at the Gym
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Embarrass"
Originally featured on 01-03-2008
As part of our series "Relatively Forced Holiday Laughter"

The older man on the stair machine in front of me has an amazingly hairy back. At first I thought he had some kind of shirt under his yellowish-white tank top, but when I looked closer I saw what it actually was. The blackish hair with strands of white is thick and wiry, like the coat of a llama or maybe a goat.

Jogging on the treadmill (incline 7.5, muthafucker!), I stare at him and wonder why he would decide to wear a tank top. Why expose the world (or at least the patrons of The Fitness Zone) to all that hair? Does this man have no shame?

And his shorts! They’re made of what appears to be faded light blue polyester. They look like basketball shorts circa 1979, something you’d see on a grainy ESPN Classic episode. To say shorts are short is perhaps redundant, but these shorts are short. Incredibly, obscenely short. Nearly all of this man’s pale white (surprisingly hairless) legs are exposed. I’m afraid any minute they’ll creep up and reveal much more than I want to see. His entire outfit is offensive. Is it so hard to go out and buy some nice new clothes?

Desperate for something better to view (and not a lot of attractive women working out this morning), I gaze at myself in the mirror and grin. In my red running shorts — down past my knees, thank you; my favorite sleeveless tee; and my well-worn but still excellent white sneakers, I’m looking good. I adjust my black headphones and fix my blonde curly hair that doesn’t really need fixing. No, not just good, damn good.

The old guy’s breathing makes me glance at him again. Even over my music I can hear him. He’s not walking fast but he’s breathing heavy anyway. Why not just walk around the mall like everyone else your age? I think. Or at least go over to Silver Foxes, that new gym they opened across town.

Just then I notice Julie walking towards me. Julie is a personal trainer and a real cutie. She has her dark hair in a ponytail today and her customary black spandex attire is hugging her in all the right places. I quickly increase my speed a couple points and suck in my stomach (not that it needs to be sucked in too much). I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to ask her out almost since I joined the gym last year. She smiles at me but keeps walking.

As I happily watch her go (not happy she’s going, but with the view), I notice a man on an elliptical off to the left. The machine is going very fast, his large arms and long legs are moving rapidly. The man — well, really not much more than a boy — is decked out in a gleaming white shirt and white shorts with bright red stripes running down the sides. His sneakers are shiny and black. His short brown hair is messy but it seems intentional. Small white plugs peek from his ears.

I glance in the mirror again and notice he’s staring at the old man, an amused expression on his face. He must be thinking the same thing I am, that this guy, this relic doesn’t belong here with us. I don’t know this young man but I like him; I can see we’re not that different. We even look a little alike. Sure he’s a bit younger, a tad thinner, and his arms are slightly bigger, but the similarities are there. We could be brothers.

The old man’s stair machine slows down and then stops. I watch as he picks up a small white towel perched on the edge and wipes his forehead. He gingerly steps down and slowly shuffles past me.

I peer into the mirror prepared to give the young man the same knowing look, the same “What is this guy thinking?” glance. He still has the derisive expression on his face but the old man is gone. Who’s he looking at now? I glance around but nobody else is near me. That’s when it hits me: he’s staring at me. The little smile with a hint of disgust behind it is meant for me.

I’m stunned. Why would he be looking at me like that? I look good, don’t I? I gaze at my reflection. Suddenly I notice a small hole in my shirt. How long has that been there? There’s also a little rip at the bottom of my shorts. I realize these clothes are actually pretty old. Why have I had them for so long? Is it so hard to buy some new clothes? I peek at my sneakers. How can I wear these things? They’re like something my father would wear. And my hair, what’s wrong with my hair? It’s not neat at all anymore; it’s damp and stringy and gross. And was it always so thin in the front?

I glance at the kid again. He’s no longer watching me; something else has caught his interest: Julie is standing next to the machine gazing up at him. She’s smiling and sticking her chest out slightly.

Suddenly I’m not feeling so good. I decide to cut my work-out short and hit the showers. But before I can reduce my speed, I feel my right leg give way; I wasn’t paying attention and stepped on the side. I try to regain my balance and reach for the railing but miss. My left leg buckles and I’m flung backwards. My head and back collide hard with the wall — I think I hear something crack — and I’m frozen there for a moment before slumping to the floor.

I hear snickering and although I can’t see them, I know it’s Julie and the kid. My last thought before I black out is, I wonder if Silver Foxes is accepting new members.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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