The mercury was just creeping up over 2-degrees this morning when I rolled into work-- coldest temperature in St. Louis in over 10-years. As I turned the corner past the receptionist and down the main hallway toward my work station, I was unwrapping myself from the several layers of scarves, coats and hoodies, when I stopped, face-to-face, with a young man coming out of the break room with his cup of warm beverage of some kind.
I was certain to pardon myself as I did not want him to spill on himself, the floor or, most importantly me, and quickly went on about my way. As far as I was concerned, a long, drawn-out conversation was not needed because, although this guy had worked in our office of about 100 employees for a little over a year, I knew his name and said, "Hi, how you doin'?" in passing before, we didn't really work together or socialize, we had nothing in common, I was running a little late due to a stalled car on the highway and I am not big on the small talk, anyway.
He just couldn't leave well enough alone, however, and had to come back with the witty, "Cold enough for you?" I stammered for something to say, not expecting to be presented with such a deep question at 8:02 A.M... "No, I was hoping we would get to see negative numbers today"... "It's not the cold, but the humidity, that will get you"... "You know that is 14-degrees in dog-temperature"... didn't come to me until later. All I could think of at the time was, "Yeah, Buddy!" followed by a, "you, tool"... under my breath.
Why can't anyone just go about there business and not say anything when you don't have to? Why is it that, when found in an uncomfortable situation, we often have the need to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind? Has the phrase Silence is Golden lost it's impact with the falling prices of precious metals?
I had only been working-out at the YMCA for about a week when I realized that there was an unwritten routine and an etiquette that one needs to follow. Among other things, certain people are in certain places and doing certain things at certain times-- like clockwork. It didn't take too many dirty looks before I figured out that, at 6:05, treadmills #4, 5 and 9, and elliptical machines #1 and 6 are available, but by 6:15 all of the ellipticals are being used, however, treadmill #5 is still open and #6 and 7 have opened up, too.
It took a little longer to grasp the pecking order in the locker room. Grown men can be pretty territorial when it comes to changing spaces. It is best to search for a spot without padlocks on, at least, four adjacent lockers, in each direction. In addition, you should try to keep to yourself and never speak unless first spoken to. You may, however, give a head-nod or hand-raise, accompanied by a low-volume and -tone grunt or an inaudible, questioning mumble as a salutation upon coming or going.
After two-and-a-half months of-- over-an-hour-long workouts, five-days-a-week-- not talking to a single soul, I really thought that I had become invisible or something. Perhaps, since it was early, I had morning breath, but I never opened my mouth enough for anyone to get a whiff. Can people really go for months without interacting with anyone? Maybe it just takes a while for individuals to warm-up to each other and feel comfortable sharing conversation? It could just be me, though, because I have actually seen people in the gym talking to each other, and on one occasion I could even hear words coming out of their mouths and smiles on their faces!
In fact, there is one guy that must have been a member for many years as there has been more than one occurrence that I have seen him talking with more than one person. For weeks, I would see him make his rounds and say, "good morning", to other members, but not a word to me... until that faithful day just after Christmas...
With the holiday upon us, the Y was going to take care of some maintenance issues while they were less busy between Christmas and New Years. Among the things on their "to-do" list was replace the shower heads in the men's locker room, so they shut down half of the plumbing at a time to make repairs. Although there were, definitely, less people working out during the holiday, it was still a bit crowded in the very early morning and with some of the facilities unavailable, the guys were cramped in the tight quarters. Instead of leaving one or two stations between bathers, some were forced to do the normally unthinkable, and shower right next to another man.
I wasn't too very freaked out about this as, since I was exposed to a lot of new experiences when I had the stroke, I had become much less inhibited. I couldn't help but feel a little uneasy, though, when the dude that was always friendly to everyone else but me, pulled up to the shower-station next to me and said, "How you doing? I'm John."
In my shock and embarrassment, I was unsure if he stuck out his hand and I was too afraid to look so I just squeaked out out a quick, "Good. Scott." and went on about my business. Is it considered rude to not shake the hand of a naked man? It has been awkward and we haven't said a word since-- just the occasional head-nod and grunt in passing.
I'm not sure if you understand or not. There are rules! Men do not visit the bathroom in pairs like women. They do not speak to each other or look anywhere but straight ahead when they are using a urinal so I would assume that the same would also apply to public showers. Maybe he was from a different Country or something?
About a year ago, I was still in therapy but progressing very well so they put me in a group psychology session that met every Friday at lunch-time. The group consisted of usually 6-10 other patients that had suffered brain injuries of some kind and were getting ready to get back into their everyday routine in the real world so there was a variety of people attending in the eight-weeks or so that I participated.
On this particular Friday, I was dropped-off by my driver a bit early which was both unusual and advantageous because I really had to use the restroom. I did my best to limp past the meeting room down the hall towards the lavatory as quickly as possible when I approached a guy that I recognized as being part of the group but he had not been there in several weeks. I gave him a head-nod and a "how-ya-doin'" as I hobbled past him and he mumbled something back that I didn't pay attention to as I reached my goal and turned into the bathroom.
I entered the middle of three stalls with a big sigh of relief that I held back as I heard the door squeak open and someone else come in. I sat quietly and, through the space between the door and the frame, saw the gentleman, slowly passed my stall and occupy the one right next to me-- serves me right for picking the middle one. I now tried to delay my business as I didn't want to draw attention to myself with someone sitting right next to me.
And then he said, "Hey, how you doing?"
Stunned I replied, "Pretty good... How are you?" not thinking that the conversation would go any further... but it did... "Alright. So what are you up to?"
OK, so this is really freaking me out and I thinking, "Don't answer. This is nuts. Don't answer."
But I say, "Well, I have a group psych session and had a few minutes to kill so I thought that I would come in here and take care of my busin..."
But he cut me off with, "What time are you going to be there?" and at this point I'm thinking, "Yeah this is crazy that we are having a conversation in the stalls in the men's room, but you started it and now your cutting me off? That is just rude, but again, I answer, "Well, group starts at noon, but they usually run a little late so I've got..." and this time I stop, myself as I hear him say,
"Hey, I'm going to have to let you go because there some moron in the stall next to me that thinks I'm talking to him.
I didn't even finish what I started and left as quick as I could without making another sound. I was glad that none of my group partners were there to see me make a fool of myself. As we were getting ready to start, the guy that I saw in the hallway came in, plopped himself down in the chair next to me and said, in a very familiar voice, "Hey, how you doing?"
We had a good laugh about it after the session and then I never saw (or heard) him again.
I know this story is so good that it sounds like a joke. In fact, someone emailed me a similar story, shortly after the event occurred. The only proof that I have that it really happened is that guy that was there-- maybe he started the email about me.
Sometimes it's just better to say nothing.