25 August 2006

At The Gym

The gym I go to is not one of the posh uptown gyms, or even one of the posh downtown gyms. It's not even a posh Brooklyn gym; it's a little grimy, machines are always breaking down, and the customers... Well, let's just say you won't be spotting too many celebrities there.

But it's cheap and relatively cheerful, and does pretty much what a gym is supposed to do. And most of the time if I go early enough, I practically have the place to myself, which is nice. But starting about 9:30 am, the place gets taken over by a gang, er, group of youngish men, maybe in their late 20s, early 30s, max. You can tell the minute they hit the front door, long before you've seen them: somebody yells, "Turn that shit UP!" and suddenly the background music switches from gym disco to hardcore rap and quadruples in volume. If you happen to be listening to you iPod, might as well switch it off and save the batttery, because you're won't be able to hear it anyway.

Then these guys – there’s usually five or six of them – spread out and pretty much take over the gym, monopolizing most of the machines and the free weights, even though they do more standing around talking and flexing their muscles than actual exercising. There’s one guy in particular who seems to be the ringleader. He’s sort of a cross between Tony Manero and Tony Danza, only less good-looking and with a bigger mouth. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy at all, but he’s one of those people who has to make a lot of noise just to let you (and maybe himself) know he’s alive.

Instead of just lifting weights, he slams them together, and then slams them into the ground when he’s finished, letting loose at the same time with an ear-piercing “YOW!” or “What it is, what it is!” before shouting at one of his buddies across the room, “You gonna lift that shit or you gonna sit there staring at it?”

His buddies are mostly Italian or Puerto Rican, though a couple of them are dark enough to have some African in them, and the other morning, one of the darker ones was standing next to Tony, who in turn was on a bench right next to me. I was concentrating on my weights and not looking at them, but I couldn’t help hearing the buddy let loose with something to the effect of, “So, I’m like, nigger, don’t tell me that shit, and the nigger’s like, I ain’t telling you no shit, so I told the motherfucking nigger to keep his nigger-ass shit out my motherfucking way” – you get the picture.

I found this kind of bemusing; here’s an African-American talking to an Italian and using the word “nigger” on an average of every three seconds, and then when Tony gets a chance to get a word in edgewise, he’s saying “nigger” right back with similar frequency. Times have definitely changed, I thought, and was reminded of the Italian guy who was recently sentenced to 15 years for beating up a car thief while calling him a nigger. The use of the racial epithet made it a hate crime, you see, even though the Italian guy tried unsuccessfully to defend himself by claiming there was nothing racist about his use of the word; that was just how “everybody” talked.

So did he have a point, I wondered? Just then I got up and noticed that the guy I’d thought was African-American probably wasn’t at all, but instead was just another Italian with a very dark suntan. That put things in a different light, I guess, even though both guys were chattering away with not just the slang but the intonation of anybody you might hear hanging out down in the ghetto. With your eyes closed, you’d never have a clue they were anything but black.

Still, my philosophy has generally been that if black people want to use the word “nigger,” that’s their right, but I’d just as soon white people avoid it. It may be common parlance these days, but I think there’s still too many people to whom that word is just plain painful. So my opinion of Tony and his buddies turned downward a notch or two.

Then minutes later a song came on the radio featuring a Donna Summer sample, and Tony literally shrieked. “Yo girl,” he shouted up at the front desk, “that’s my song, girl,” and sang along in an ear-piercing falsetto. The thing was, the “girl” he was addressing at the front desk was actually a guy, an enormous body builder guy, actually, who is as black as the ace of spades, as camp as Christmas, and gay as the Fourth of July.

So what’s up with that? I’d figured Tony as 100% hetero, and maybe at least a residual racist, yet here he is singing along with Donna Summer and dishing the “girl” dirt with Mr. Big Black Gay Bodybuilder. And nobody apart from me seems to think this is the slightest bit unusual. Actually, I’ve been in Brooklyn long enough now that I shouldn’t either.

1 comment:

crystal said...

awwww i miss exodus.