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Commentary: I made a new friend … kind of

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William Carter

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

I didn’t really want to be at the gym, but I was because I think I convinced myself years ago that the best time to work out is when you feel like doing it the least. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but, then again, I never pick up pennies off the ground unless they’re heads up, I won’t put a hat on a bed because it’s bad luck to do so, and I never, ever, look through the doorway into a supposedly empty, dark room when I pass by in the hall in the middle of the night just because I’m 100% certain I will see someone or something looking back at me. I also sing a secret song to myself whenever I cross a bridge, because if I don’t, the world will end. You’re welcome. 

There are many other nonsensical but otherwise perfectly reasonable rules I live by, but I won’t list them all here because I can’t be sure I didn’t make a rule sometime in the past that also governs list-making. I’ll have to think on it. Whatever the case, my rules have gotten me this far in life, and there’s no way I’m going to abandon them now. 

So, I was at the gym even though I didn’t want to be there and was sitting at one of the machines psyching myself up to begin my workout. My sweat towel was around my neck and I had on a pair of those fingerless, weight-lifting gloves that make me feel like I’m doing more than I actually am even though I’ve never figured out if there’s any real benefit to using them. But I don’t care because, in the spirit of full disclosure, I just think they look cool as hell and make me feel as if I have some kind of weird ninja powers when I’m wearing them. I was also wearing a mask, mandate or not, as I do all of the time now when I’m out in public even though I’m fully vaccinated, because A, I don’t want to die from a virus that’s still possible for me to get, and, B, as weird as it may sound, I like wearing a mask because it fits in perfectly with my introverted nature and adds an extra layer of protection — a shield, so to speak, in my mind at least — against unwanted interaction with most other human beings. 

I still get eye-rolls every now and then and comments on occasion from folks who, I guess, think I’m wearing a mask only because of some kind of passive/aggressive political activism on my part, but that doesn’t bother me at all. It is kind of comical to me, though, and a little sad, too, that through those unsolicited comments I’ve received, I’ve realized how many clueless people go through their lives believing other people actually give a damn about their opinions. But that’s another topic for another time. 

Just as I began my workout, a guy about my age comes and stands in front of the machine to the left of me. He’s wearing a mask, too, and lifts his chin at me in greeting. I lift mine back, completing the “bro” ritual. He adjusts the weight on his machine, and then sits down and begins his workout. 

A few seconds later he says, “How’s it going?” 

I groan a bit to myself because I’m not that much into conversations with people I don’t know, but always go along because I like to think Mama raised me right. 

“I’m doing fine,” I reply. “You?” 

He doesn’t answer through a couple of reps on his machine, but then says, “Well, I didn’t really feel like coming to the gym today, but figured my body was telling me I needed to.” 

“Hey! Same here!” I said, and then told him about my own weird rule regarding physical activity. 

We work out in companionable silence for a bit before he laughs and says, “I guess when you get to be my age, it just makes good sense to keep moving whether you want to or not.” 

He then says something about his son I didn’t quite catch — I don’t hear too well in my left ear — and then laughs some more, and I laugh right along with him even though I didn’t know if what he said was funny. 

He mentions how many people are at the gym that day as compared to the day before, and I agree with him, and then he says something about something else, and I agree with him on that, too, even though I didn’t hear what he said. 

I began to think then that it wasn’t so bad having someone to work out with and talk to when I was at the gym, and that maybe it was time for me to get over my introverted ways and allow other people into my life. Maybe I’d ask this guy what his name was, and what time of day he usually worked out, and maybe we’d become friends in that weird, daily way we all kind of become friends with people who we only see a couple of times a week and only a few minutes at a time.  

I was just about to introduce myself and ask his name when he asks me if I got the check he sent. At least that’s what I thought he said. 

“What?” I ask.

“Well, don’t worry about it,” he says as he gets up from his machine. “I’ll ask Shelia about it.”  

He walks away then, still talking, without even lifting his chin in my direction, and that’s when I notice the white ear-buds in his ears, and that he’d been talking to someone else on the phone all along. 

Looking around, I figured, from what I could tell, I was probably the only person there without some kind of ear phones stuck to their heads, shielding themselves from the rest of the room. 

I’m not the only one, I realized, who masks themselves against unwanted interaction with other human beings. 

At least I made a new friend, though.

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