things aren’t always what they seem (I did what?!!?)

IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY that I joined Ironworks Gym. I chose Ironworks because it was a ‘serious’ gym: mostly men went there to mostly work out. There were a few women and they were also there to work out. That is, Ironworks wasn’t a ‘health club’ or any such sort, and it certainly wasn’t a place where you went to check out the chicks, let alone actually meet available women.

I was there to work out, but one day the owner asked to have a word with me in private. It went downhill from there.

You went there for one reason: to work out.

Which is why I was there: to work out. 1

My brother Charles began working with weights and took up karate as a teenager. At one point, he owned a gym where he taught bodybuilding and martial arts. My sister Mary Alice took up bodybuilding later and spent years as a personal trainer while also wring as a substitute teacher.

So I had a few tips from them that I could share with other members. I say this because as a beginner, I would need tips and assistance from those Ironworkers around me.

If you have never been to such a gym, camaraderie comes easy and sharing tips and time is almost a given.


Why I didn’t join a gym

I say all this because I want to repeat myself: I did not join Ironworks to meet or ever stare at the opposite sex.

But one day, the owner asked to have a word with me in private.

“Sure. About what?”

And he then asked me to stop staring at the women while they were working out. Apparently, my staring made them uncomfortable.

Well, I certainly understood how a strange man in a gym staring at a woman in gym shorts and a tank top while pumping iron could make that woman uncomfortable.

Except that I hadn’t done it.

So I said, “What are you talking about?”

He told me that a couple of women had complained that I was staring at them.

Except that I hadn’t done it and told him so.

“I did what?!!?”

It went downhill from there. 

While I enjoy staring at women . . .

Now, I was single at the time, and I certainly admit to admiring more than a few females in my years, but I knew better than the do anything like what he was accusing me of. 2

Worse, it aroused long dormant feelings of insecurity based on having been socially ostracized as something or other in grade school (weird? nerd? egghead? gay? alien? all of the above? I never knew) and then picked on by the usual bullies in high school and finally fought back and won one and lost the rest and I felt belittled and this in turn aroused the ol’ fight-or-flight and emotionally I responded as though this accusation was an act of hostility and was this where I called him out and asked him to step outside and am I about to get into a f*cking fight with a guy ten years younger and thirty pounds heavier than me and I’m too old for this shit and that only lasted a few seconds and then just went away . . .

. . . and then I considered that he was telling the truth. He was acting as the owner of the gym and were I in his place I no doubt would have handled it similarly.

But I still hadn’t consciously stared at any women in the Ironworks gym.

The operative word in that statement is “consciously.”

. . . I enjoy a good epiphany even more

I have always been a writer, and like so many of that ilk, given to moments of insight or reverie. The cynical among us refer to it as ‘daydreaming’ and ‘navel gazing.’

Or, at least daydreaming is what others interpret when a thought inspiration motivation epiphany strikes. And it happens whether I am walking the cat, watching a movie, doing the dishes, having a conversation, writing an article, or even working out!

When the Muse wants my attention, I give it to her.

And when I am heeding my inner voice, what does it look like to anyone else?

Like I am staring at something.

And while I am actually staring straight ahead at nothing at all if you are in my line of vision, it looks like I am staring at you. 3

So, I was ‘staring’ while working out at Ironworks.

I just wasn’t staring at what everyone thought I was staring at.

I did my best to be more conscientious

And so an innocuous behavior was understandably misinterpreted as questionable if not unacceptable behavior and I was reprimanded. 4

So, while I have used the art of staring in the past to make a woman aware of my awareness of her, it wasn’t happening at Ironworks. I did my best to be more conscientious of my Muse’s demand for attention while jerking weights. 5

And I also did my best to be conscientious about assuming that I knew what others were thinking or doing (or meaning or implying) (or even whether or not they were insulting me or flirting with me).

There are many sayings coined over time to address a situation like this—and yes, this whole story has been about getting to this point—but I prefer my own coinage: Things aren’t always what they seem, even when they are so obviously so.

PS: And no, I never found out the identities of the women that I was supposedly gawking at. I suppose that is for the better . . .


HEADER IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page catches Woody Allen under the spell of Scarlett Johansson. It was taken on August 4, 2008, at the Los Angeles premiere of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The photo above is of the cast of the film and was taken shortly afterwards: Chris Messina, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Allen, Rebecca Hall, and Javier Bardem. 6


1   I had done some weight lifting in the past: I had free weights and benches at various places I had lived, or had access to a small gym. But I had never joined a serious gym to seriously work out before I joined Ironworks.

2   The whole affair was ironic: I had only recently had my heart ripped out of my chest and used as a doormat by the woman I had been loving for thirteen years. I was emotionally numb and had taken a silent vow of abstinence from and avoidance of women as potential sex partners or love interests.

It was one of the few times in my adult life where the accusation could not have been further from the truth of my day-to-day reality.

3   Occasionally, a fleeting glimpse of the Void catches my attention, but even then dust mite poop gets in the way.

4   And being called on the mat like that made me feel like a dork and resurrected my childhood feelings of insecurity and ineffectiveness, but that’s another story.

5   And also a bit ironically, the one woman in the place who I did find attractive was the owner’s girlfriend! Aside from being a knockout, she was intelligent and personable and enjoyed swapping jokes. Still, a vow is a vow. (Heyna?)

6   The director and the actor have an open mutual admiration society: Allen has said that she is “not just a passing pinup girl, but a genuinely meaningful actress.” She has starred in three of his movies. Johansson claimed that she would “sew the hems of his pants if he asked me to.”

Comments, suggestions, additions, and arguments welcome!