The YMCA here in this little New Jersey town is nothing like the one we were members of in Los Angeles. This one is bright and clean, with new exercise machines set up before a bank of television sets. In L.A., the kids just took swimming at the Y, but here there are art classes and science classes and a parent-and-me t-ball class.
Unlike Los Angeles – with its fancy-schmantzy gyms and twelve gazillion different programs a child could enroll in – this Y is the only game in town. Everyone works out at the Y because there’s no place else to work out. All the kids learn to swim at the Y because there aren’t any other pools. The rhythm of so many mothers’ days goes: drop off at elementary school, drop off at preschool, work out at Y, pick up at preschool, go to Y for child’s sports-and-swimming class, pick up at elementary school, go to Y for other child’s art class…
Like the one in L.A., this Y is the great equalizer. Almost everyone of every age ends up there sooner or later over the course of a week. There’s just less to equalize here than there was in Los Angeles.
The most fascinating contrast, however, is the locker room. For one, there is no homeless man hanging out in the men’s locker room here, which I think is sort of a shame but my husband considers a drastic improvement. For two, there are no naked people.
In L.A., everyone sort of milled around after showering, making conversation as they lotioned and deodorized and brushed and whathaveyou. Fit twenty-somethings and overweight seventy-somethings and everyone in the middle just let it all hang out, no modesty whatsoever.
Here, however, the locker room is completely devoid of naked people.
Now, I know that sounds strange. It’s a locker room. Traditionally, one would change one’s clothing in a locker room, which – even for the most creative and flexible yoga instructor – eventually will require some form of nudity. Yet, somehow, no one is ever naked. People manage to change, shower, dry off, and dress themselves without ever actually showing any skin.
I can’t figure out how it is done. Yes, there are little curtained off booths that some people go into. But, you have to get to and from the shower to make it into those stalls, and presumably you’d be naked when emerging from the shower.
I’m the oaf struggling to hold a towel around my chest while clutching my soap dish. Not that I would normally go to any lengths to cover up my nudity. That’s what locker rooms are for. However, despite my habitual inability to pick up on subtle social cues, it was clear to me pretty early on that no one was going to go strutting around with her belly rolls flapping in the wind in this particular locker room. So, for the sake of blending in, I try to cover myself the best I can.
Not that I am blending in anytime soon.
I like to read while I exercise, and this week I brought the latest issue of one of my favorite periodicals: Ms. Magazine. Those of you who subscribe have already seen the cover and are probably aware where this is going.
You see, I have lived many places and done many things. Rarely have I ever been accused of fitting in with the crowd, I must admit. However, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as conspicuous as I did this week, walking from one weight machine to another in this small, conservative town, holding that magazine.
You want to stand out from the crowd? Carry Ms. Magazine around in a Y where people are so reserved that people hide their nudity in a locker room. With this cover on it: