"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Diversity–The Creep, The Man Who Polishes His Balls, And The Barking Scarecrow

The gym is not only a place to work out, but a place of special diversity.  The Laurel Heights Sport and Health Club has by no means the cultural diversity of, say, the James Fennimore Cooper rest area on the Jersey Turnpike.  The club caters to Washington’s power elite – Supreme Court advocates, Republican lobbyists, network news anchors, and high-profile surgeons – while the rest stop takes all comers.  It has a greater diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, criminal record, criminal activity, runaway husbands, desperate lovers than the gym could ever have.


The diversity of the gym is of a far more fundamental kind.  Every behavioral twist, turn, quirk, and odd behavior is here. The Club, of course, is no asylum. There is no schizophrenic behavior, and members have learned how to hew to the mainstream once they enter; but the edges are still very ragged indeed. 

Take The Man Who Polishes His Balls. Before he gets into his gym clothes he could be a K Street lawyer, accountant, or dentist.  Even with his clothes off he is no more misshapen than anyone else. His only curiosities are his badly bowed legs, thicket of body hair, and slightly humped stride.

It is when he finishes showering that the vaudeville begins, for then he begins drying his balls – not the casual, practiced, indifferent rub; but a deliberate stropping.  With a hand on each end of the towel, he begins to whack away at his crotch like a shoeshine boy. Whippety, whippety, Whopp!. Whippety, whippety, Whopp!, first on one side then on the next.  Then, changing direction and angle and bent over from the waist, he snaps the towel back and forth up and down his backside. 
Image result for image forties shoe shine boy grand central


“Be sure to get yourself nice and dry”, his father might have said, showing him the proper way to get at the nooks and crannies of his body.  “With a dry body you will never get a fungus or a rash.”

These innocuous, helpful, and practical words must have had a particular salience for the young boy.  Perhaps he was already a hypochondriac or had had a bad experience in the shower, or was simply prone to exaggeration.

By the time he was fifty, his scrotum had been so stropped and given such a frottage that it was like leather. Because he had lost so much sensation there, he was unable to tell whether or not he was really dry; so the time spent on whipping the towel in his groin increased until now stopping was arbitrary and prolonged.

The Barking Scarecrow is anorexic, loud, and needy. She barks instructions about proper positioning on the adductor machine, the best posture for working abs, lats, and tris; the shortest route between Falls Church and Montgomery Village; how to test for doneness on a roast chicken; and the number of miles she has logged for the week.

It is hard to feel sorry for this barking, insufferable woman even when she is sitting on the bicep machine, positioned at the top of the stairs, disconsolately waiting for someone to talk to.  She struts like a model on a catwalk, but with an exaggerated jock-walk that has not an ounce of feminine allure, sexuality, or even grace.

The Creep is scary.  At least 6’5” and scowling he reenacts the torture chambers of the Inquisition between the stationery bikes and the rank of television sets.  He straps himself in rubber tubing, tying his legs together, immobilizing his arms, and restricting movement of his chest and torso.  He always wears a black hoodie, pulled over his eyes, black sweatpants, and black athletic shoes. He grunts like an ox and moans like a cow.  He prances back and forth, then sits on the treadmill, staring out over the elliptical machines, rowers, and pulleys.

He, like the others does not seem overtly psychotic; but his behavior is marginal relative to the mainstream. He never talks, is solitary and weirdly predictable, and everyone gives him wide berth.

What can be his story? Post-traumatic stress disorder after a bad tour in Iraq so bad that he has avoided treatment? Shot at so many times in a neighborhood that as frightening as he appears to others, this is his good side? Borderline psychotic, unable to hold a job but has claimed disability and access to the gym thanks to a Social Security loophole?

The point is that here in a wealthy enclave of Washington, in an expensive club with a swimming pool and private fitness lessons, there are so many dubious people.

Or does it just seem so because of the confines of the club?  Perhaps in any randomly selected group of 100 people there are as many who fall into the dubious category. It is hard to tell, because once one eliminates the obviously deranged – the man who wears a multi-colored beanie with a plastic propeller shouting about the Second Coming; the woman who covers her head in tinfoil to deflect alien radio waves; the woman who dresses all in black, wears mascara, and does martial goose steps on Connecticut Avenue, careful to miss every other line in the sidewalk – everyone seems more or less normal.  Somehow in the anonymous and yet personal, half-naked and buck-naked environment of the gym, those on the mental margins are more visible or at least harder to ignore.

Image result for schizophrenics radio waves

A young man on the Metro was heard talking to his boss.  His demeanor was unmistakable – eager, attentive, and respectful.  He was freshly-showered, shaven, and neatly dressed.  He nodded his head, smiled often, and listened intently. Once the boss got off at Dupont Circle, however, the young man changed. His left cheek began to twitch in a bad tic.  He snorted and dry-coughed.  His shoulders involuntarily jumped, the tendons in his throat contracted.  He was a mess of neurotic spasms. In other words, he was just as loosed from his moorings as my gym colleagues, but was able to hold it in when it counted. 

“There is room for everybody in the big tent of America”, progressives are proud of claiming.  True democracy, they say, is one in which black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, male and female not only rub shoulders but interact, engage each other and celebrate their uniqueness. Yet despite such clamor for inclusivity, progressives stay clear of the marginally demented just as much as the rest of us.

Image result for image large circus tent barnum bailey 50s

A Washingtonian active in liberal causes ever since he graduated from college is as spooked by the creep as everyone else.  There is no room in the big tent for him or anyone like him.  The Barking Scarecrow is off-limits, and The Man Who Polishes His Balls consigned to some outer circle of inclusion.  All three of them do not belong in acceptable society no matter how much they may try to conform and have a surface respectability.

The Ugly Duckling syndrome is alive and well in progressive corridors just as it has always been everywhere. There is enough familiar in the transgender sales clerk for us to be tolerant if not fully embracing.  Unschooled and dysfunctional black teenagers from the inner city despite their anger, hostility, and antisocial behavior are still recognizable as a disadvantaged minority.  But the unfathomably quirky, those who dip in and out of insanity on a daily basis, who wake up sane but by ten o’clock are twitching like St. Vitus until they calm down in the park, and who bark, intimidate, and alienate without even knowing it will always be excluded from the big tent

Image result for image The Ugly Duckling

This is a good thing. We are already taking things to the edge in our tolerance of every kind of marginal behavior.  The compulsively obese are simply a variation on a common theme. The dunces have ‘other intelligences’. The ghettoized simply live an alternative but entirely valid lifestyle.

An animal which displays the same type of abnormal, marginal behavior as the Creep, The Barking Scarecrow, and The Man Who Polishes His Balls would be forcibly excluded from the herd. In a highly evolved human society ostracism, avoidance, and zipping up the flap to the big tent is the only civilized way of dealing with irritating, uncomfortable, and discomfiting behavior.

This is nothing new, progressives notwithstanding. Even the most charitable and compassionate among us run the other way when The Creep gets too close; block our ears to the barking of The Scarecrow, and turn away from the spectacle of the man who has polished his balls to tough saddle leather.

Of course de gustibus non disputandum est means that my distaste for their antics may be perfectly acceptable human theatre to others.  Nor can we discount the possibility that we are all a little bit off the mark.  Everyone is an ugly duckling to someone else, and we are all part of The Grand Scheme whether we know it or like it.

So much for diversity.


  1. I just had a nightmare about one such outlier in my life whose only crime is having a crush on me and being too old and too mental to leave me alone. He pushes and pushes to get my attention. I ignore him but he keeps popping up at places I want to be and feel safe at. I can't do anything about it since we go to the same church and the closest one I could go to is half an hour away but that may be what I end up doing.

  2. I just had a nightmare about one such outlier in my life whose only crime is having a crush on me and being too old and too mental to leave me alone. He pushes and pushes to get my attention. I ignore him but he keeps popping up at places I want to be and feel safe at. I can't do anything about it since we go to the same church and the closest one I could go to is half an hour away but that may be what I end up doing.


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