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  • Ken Ilgunas

The gym

Before radical living began, the shower situation was a huge concern. I figured the gym—like any gym—would have showers, but I worried what kind of showers there’d be. That’s because—I’m embarrassed to admit—I am deathly afraid of those no-walled, “rape-me-in-the-ass” prison showers where I’d be subjected to bump rumps with wrinkly old men lathering up on all sides of me.

Because of this fear, no man, in my entire life—excepting the bathtub shots I posed nude for as a toddler—has ever seen me naked. And however insane that may seem, this is a streak I plan on taking to the grave.

I have several other ongoing semi-irrational streaks. For one, I have not had pop in three and a half years. And I love pop. Nor have I ever had a puff of a cigarette, a joint, or any illegal narcotic for that matter even though I’d probably get some enjoyment out of them, too.

After a while, for whatever reason, these streaks—perhaps just for the sake of having a streak—take on an importance and must be strictly adhered to.

So you can imagine my relief upon seeing individual showers with curtains in Duke’s gym locker room.

I usually end up spending half my time practicing my hook shot. (I do have a nasty hook; and when I say “nasty” I mean I can make slightly more than 20% of them, which is astronomically better than the rest of my shooting repertoire.) I should add that in actual pick-up games I never get to use my hook. At 5-foot-9, the hook is about as useless as a blind man who has a 105 mph fastball, or a boxer with great foot work, but no arms.

I also joined the Graduate Chemistry Department’s dodgeball team—the first team I’ve been on in ages—which would become the outlet for all the unexpressed rage I’ve bottled up over the years. My teammates, disturbed with my pre-game ritual of frothing at the mouth, yet evidently pleased to have me on their team, kept a healthy distance and let me do my thing. I heaved balls at the other team not just with the intent to hit, but to hurt. And I dodged balls coming at me with bodily contortions I never knew myself capable of.

I’ve always been fiercely competitive. Athletic competition—like nothing else—rouses my wildest emotions. It’s a good thing I’m not religious. I’d likely be one of those quiet practitioners who—when given a snake to handle at a backwoods revival—begins speaking in tongues, mumbling prophesies, and writhing epileptically in between the pews before a host of sweaty male congregants hold me down to give me an impromptu exorcism.

We rarely notice some of our cultures most striking eccentricities on display at the gym: heterosexual males freely feeling other males’ biceps; women either wearing practically nothing or draped in full-length tights; a naked Asian man in the locker room ceremonially dries his testicles with a towel as if in preparation for hara-kari; orgasmic man-screams erupt from benches like mating calls betwixt purple-faced beefcakes.

The gym—like most things today—is a modern oddity—(a “mododdity,” if you will). There obviously was never any need for gyms when our daily toil—hunting, growing, and gathering—provided enough exercise to keep us in a state of physical homeostasis. Now, in lieu of the strain of daily living, those cubicled in our sedentary society must spend exorbitant sums to lift hunks of iron and walk in place on conveyer belts.

As a former landscaper and backcountry ranger, I prefer to get my exercise outdoors during my working hours, but now, as one in the droves of the deskbound, I must acknowledge the benefits to swimming pools, basketball courts, and a laboratory for observing my culture’s many eccentricities.


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