I went to the gym this morning, although it’s not my favorite thing to do, because I know I need to accumulate a little exercise karma in advance of all the pigging out that’s going to be happening tomorrow. Such is life.
I joined the Y this year, giving up my 24 Hour membership for a variety of reasons:
- The Y has lots of stuff for kids
- The 24 Hour has been overrun by Pauly D wannbes who hog all the machines and are generally totally obnoxious
If there’s one thing the Y has going for it, it is a very low number of Jersey Shore types. On the flip side, there are a huge number of retirees who like to go to socialize. Which is fine, except when they try to talk to me, because I’m usually trying to get things over with as fast as possible and I hate losing count of how many bicep curls I’ve done because I’m too Type A to not do exactly 3 sets of 10. It’s one of the standard gym archetypes, along with Showoff Meatheads and Women Who Wear Too Much Makeup and Just Stand There Not Sweating, the standard Annoying Old Guy who Likes To Chat Up Younger Women.
Such was my position today when I was on a machine, concentrating, when out of the corner of my periphery I notice a man in his early 70’s to my left eyeing me. I ignore him, because eye contact is an introduction to chit chat, which I’m not in the mood for. But he is not to be dissuaded.
“SMILE!” he says, leaning over, which only makes me more nervous because then he might drip sweat on me, which will absolutely ruin my morning. “It can’t be that bad.”
And it kind of was that bad, because I hadn’t worked out in a while and my shoulders were burning and some other older person ran my foot over in the grocery store that morning with a shopping cart overloaded with Stovetop stuffing and marshmallows and my swollen toe was painfully filling up my shoe in a way that made me all too certain something might be broken.
This makes me indignant. Am I the only person who doesn’t sit around smiling while they’re exercising? I like to go all GI Jane when I’m working out. I grimace. I wrinkle my forehead. That is just what I do. And to think, someone is so disconcerted by my apparent lack of joy that they feel the need to point out my lack of a sunny disposition while I’m doing shoulder presses.
But I also know that this is something people of a certain generation just like to do, and it’s mostly harmless, so putting aside my glare for one quick second I give him a meek close lipped smirk, then go back to my grimacing. He gets the hint and leaves me alone.
I never really gave that annoying pleasantry much thought until my friend Jessica blogged about the Mood Police one day. Jessica, as brilliant a writer as she was a thinker, neatly dissected the subtle sexism inherent in such dictates in a way I never could put into words, and dubbed such tyrants of others’ outward expressions the Mood Police.
She was the victim of one such onslaught one sunny morning in a parking lot. “Smile,” the unsuspecting man said, “It can’t be that bad.” Now, in her case, she was undergoing chemotherapy for the Stage IV cancer that would eventually take her life at the tender age of 34, so yes, it was that bad. It was that bad. And she let the guy have it.
She has been gone for several years now, and I miss her wit and her beautiful way with words all the time. And strangely enough, I’m actually kind of grateful to this guy, for although he was taking part in a tried-and-true ritual long past its prime, every time it happens I remember how annoyed the mood police would make Jessica. And then I think about her, her gorgeous wedding and her adorable dog and how I would read her blog posts and wish I could craft the English language with her mastery and most of all, that I had her here to talk to. It’s strangely ironic that of all my memories of this amazing woman, it’s this petty statement that more than any other thing brings her face into clear focus, allowing me a moment to reflect on happy times ten years ago when our lives were all so full of promises yet to be fulfilled.
And then my shoulder and my toe seemed rather inconsequential, and I had to admit that the guy had a point. For me, it’s not that bad. I’m getting to do amazing things and wake up every morning to a big hairy Golden breathing in my face and kids screaming in my ear, and really, that’s pretty cool. Life has been good to me. So I am thankful.
And then I did have to smile, because the guy had moved on to another hapless victim who had the bad fortune of being on a leg press machine with no hope of escape. So I sneaked out and took Brody for a walk, which is another thing to be grateful for: my faithful companion who doesn’t care how ragged my sweats are, how I look with no makeup on, or what expression I have on my face at any particular moment. And best of all, he doesn’t talk.
This is a very beautifully written post, I am sure your friend would be proud!
As for the mood police…
I once had a women (very intoxicated and odd) kiss my hand on the subway because she felt that I was lonely and stressed (I was studying for a university exam) and needed some cheering up. It did not cheer me up, matter of fact I nearly vomited after she kissed my hand and smiled at me and I noticed that her teeth were half rotten which means her mouth was a giant vat of grossness.
Dr. V says
Oh, that would gross me out as well. DO NOT TOUCH STRANGERS.
Scott Parmer says
Girl…too damn funny (says a fellow Y member)
Anytime I hear “SMILE, it can’t be that bad” I think of Jess too and her Mood Police. What an amazing friend she was to us and how badly she is missed. It’s funny how certain phrases can trigger the same memory for all of us.
And you have to love the strong silent type. The kind that are always wiggling and licking no matter how sweaty and smelly you are. 🙂
I’ve always had an issue with Mood Police, as if we’re supposed to be happy for their sake. Screw them, I say 😉 I’ll feel the way I truly feel and not suppress either happiness or sadness for someone else’s sake. Only the critters can make me change my mood, and that’s because they make me feel happy, not because they expect me to.
LOL! Here’s where I get into your type-A brain. There’s a lot of science that says 3 sets of 12 is much more effective. But I don’t really buy into it!
That said, having quite afew type-A doctor friends, I can see you now at your next visit to the Y. There’s a big thought bubble over your head saying 10 reps or 12? Maybe it’s true…..
Happy TG! : )
Dr. V says
Now I will have to grill the trainers there. I cannot rest until I know.
Karen Hume says
ugh, i also do not appreciate the mood police! At my work there are a lot of older men that feel the need to tell me to smile when i’m just sitting at my desk….why would i just be sitting here smiling? I’m just doing paperwork!
Megan Baebler, DVM says
Man, I use a community center for my gym and people don’t talk to each other. It’s like an unwritten rule. Maybe you should come here to work out 😉
Ah yes, live is ALWAYS better with a dog! Thanks for sharing, Dr. V & have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Lisa W says
I love that my dogs never care about my facial expression (unless it’s accompanied by a stern voice and it’s directed at them). My husband has this annoying habit of looking over at me and saying “smile!” — it drives me up the wall! I know his intentions are good, but I look at it this way: if you want me to smile, do something to make me smile. I don’t smile on cue. Oscar, on the other hand, just lies down, groans loudly, and looks at me with such sweet brown eyes that I can’t help but smile….
Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving (and smile a lot)!
On my way home from the hospital where my mother had just died, I was pulled over & issued a speeding ticket. At the end of our “transaction, ” the officer added insult to injury by telling me to have a nice day. I was not going to be denied. I followed him back to his motorcycle (not smart) and poked his chest with my finger (even less smart) as I blubbered that my mom had just passed away an hour before, he’d just issued me a really costly ticket, and he wanted me to have a freaking nice day? His chest sunk and he replied that departmental regulations required him to leave every encounter with those words. He learned that day that advising a stranger to “smile” or have a nice day isn’t always a good tact to take, and I learned that any day you wake up with a pulse has endless potential to be that good day…
Dr. V says
And he still gave you the ticket? That is cold.
Heather W says
You made me cry. Happy Thanksgiving, Jessica.