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Dear Old Man

I started going to a gymnasium a couple of years ago. Yes, kind readers, I like to call it gymnasium. I have a good friend named Jim and if I said I was going to “work out” at the gym, the vision of me doing jumping jacks in front of Jim always comes to mind.

Where did the term “work out” come from? Did it derive from working outside? Is “working in” the opposite of exercising? Would a good “work in” be a big cheeseburger and a beer. The people at the gymnasium always ask me if I’ve had a good work out. Maybe instead of asking me if I enjoyed my beer and burger, the bartender could ask if I had a good work in.

My dad is 83 and goes to a gymnasium in the winter months. Like many oldish people, he wears his work out sweat pants and comfortable flannel shirt (with sleeves rolled up) and after his exercising he drives home and changes his clothes. In fact, this is a ritual of many younger people also. Why not just wear that perspiration home and deal with it in the privacy of your own shower. I think this is more common with women. Men seem less concerned about having access to the finer things – like their own showers. Actually, I know for a fact that our water bill decreases if I can shower off site. Lower water bills are not normal motivations for exercising

There is an old man at my gymnasium who’s 93 years old. I hope that I am able to be active, let alone alive, at 93. He comes to the gymnasium several days a week – usually to attend one of the old person exercise programs. In all fairness, I don’t think that is the official name of the class. It may be something like “Silver Sneakers” or “Golden Oldies”. It may be harder to get people (old people) to sign up for something called “Old person exercising class”.

The 93-year-old I speak of, let’s call him Bill, is fairly slow-moving – which is actually moving much faster than most of the people born the same year as him. Bill has a couple of canes that move him from his car to the locker room and then into the old person exercise class.

Many of the old people move directly (and slowly) from their cars into the old person exercise class. Bill moves into the locker room and changes from his everyday flannel shirt and khaki pants to his workout flannel shirt and khaki pants. After his workout Bill moves back to the locker room where he disrobed down to his nakedness and moves very, very slowly to the showers. This is the part that makes me nervous.

Here’s where many of you will believe I’ve gone too far, offending old people around the world. You understand, dear and comfortable-in-your-own-skin readers, I think old man Bill is reckless and selfish. I think old man Bill is some kind of arrogant showboat. What’s Bill thinking? He’s 93 damn years old and it takes him two canes and ten minutes to get into the locker room, then after an old person workout he’s got to take all his clothes off and shuffle his way – without canes and naked – across a slippery shower floor, with nothing to hold onto but the smooth tiles made moist from shower steam. Good idea, Bill.

I’ve heard that Bill cross-country skiied until the age of 80, and I am proud for him – but this insanity must stop. Bill is run of the mill old, but you can still see the remnants of athleticism hanging on dimly to his frame. He has probably always forged ahead on natural skills and a naïveté understanding of danger. But, I’m positive that most of his past athletic achievements have been completed at least semi-clothed.

I am an ill combination of being more laid back than most people, coupled with a nervousness that runs deeper than most people. I have made half a lifetime of spontaneity that in most cases is planned one year in advance. So, now if I am to continue going to the gymnasium at the same hours as old man, show-off Bill, I will need to start understanding how I will cope with the day that Bill slips and falls on his way to the shower. As I stand with no jack-knife or straw (used to create a crude tracheotomy) wearing my birthday suit – no, not my green velvet one, but my nakedness – watching in slow motion as Bill slips and falls and his kind older head bounces off an unkind tile.

It’s this scenario that plays out in my mind every time Bill is doing his naked creep to the place where water goes onto his body. I assume I will need to get the shampoo washed out of my hair to be helpful. I have to imagine that I will be more helpful if I have my clothes on. If he falls, do I quickly amble past him and put my clothes on? I’ve already played it out. Naked me will tell him that I’m going to get help, then I’ll get my clothes on – very quickly, of course – and bring him a couple of towels to cover up with if he can’t get up. By the way, in most of the scenarios that I have gamed through I assume that he’s broken his hip. After covering him with towels, I’ll go to get help.

I’m irritated with careless Bill. I don’t want to have to rescue a fallen naked old man. Look deep inside dear, kind reader and see if you can honestly tell me that this opportunity is on your bucket list. See, that’s what I thought. Judge not thee who does not want to be naked and helping thee naked old man. But, I’m a responsible sort. If it’s only me and selfish Bill in the locker room, I generally stick around until he is safely and slowly back onto a carpeted surface.

On the other hand, if another person comes in – let’s say, for example, a friend of mine – I’ll call him David – I get out as quickly as I can. I’m sure David hasn’t played through the scenarios as many times as I have, but he works the stairmaster every day with fortitude and grace. He will take charge in the case of a naked Bill fall. Besides, David knows everybody at the gymnasium and he can get people’s attention faster than me. In fact, I imagine David will one day be way too old and putting others in the same uncomfortable position of gymnasium guardian (naked) angel.

The concern here is that I shouldn’t have to worry about this old man daredevil living his unclothed Evil Knievel stunts. The problem here is that we want old people to be independent. Well, I’m here to say that independence is great as long as you’re clothed. This great country was not forged on the backs of naked dudes dumping tea in a harbor. The Gettysburg address was not made by a naked guy in a tall hat. The Berlin Wall did not come down by naked people with sledge hammers. Please, people, tell your respective old people to shower in the privacy of their own homes. Old people, stay healthy and active, but keep your clothes on in public locker rooms.

Sadly,

Jason Spafford

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