Locker Room Stories Preface

A couple colleagues approached me at work. They seemed happy to see me so I stopped. They wanted to know my take on locker room etiquette. Why me? Why ask my opinion? I wanted to ask, “Why are you asking me in the middle of a high school lunch period?” But I thought the question might pose an awkwardness that would derail their intentions, and I wanted to hear their intentions.

I frequent the gym. I have for years. YMCA? Was there this morning. JCC? Yep, been there for a swim. I’ve seen variety.

Carpeted floors and tiled.

Opened showers and stalls.

Pure water filtration machines versus drinking fountains.

Two complimentary towels or one.

I know the world of the locker room, and I’m quite comfortable there, not because I want to be, because I have to be. I enjoy the sweat, and determination, and burn, and pain of a work out. I just do.

After a work out in the early morning, a deep freeing breath comes easy to me while I’m in the shower or standing at the mirror, and I relax, and I’m ready for the day ahead. The locker room is a place of accomplishment for me. It’s also a place of camaraderie.

The locker room is a place where doctors, lawyers, business men, teachers, ministers, scrappers, construction workers, and landscapers are equal. Titles don’t exist in the locker room.

“So, what did ya want to know?” I asked my colleagues.

“Do you wrap yourself in a towel in the locker room or no towel?”

Before I answer this, allow me to explain, well, partially explain. I’m a comfort guy. I place comfort above looks. Comfort for me isn’t what someone thinks of me — it’s how I feel, physically, and a towel wrapped around me after a shower feels like a heavy-breathing boa constrictor with a fever wrapped around my waist. So, no, I don’t wear a towel in the musty locker room.

“You just walk around naked, like an old man?”

I giggled. “Yes, like an old man.”

Whatever my physical age is, according to the locker room culture, I’m an old man.

1980, through the eyes of a seven-year old

I’m one of those people who always roots for the underdog. I see them as just, struggling to battle their way through obstacles.

I’m not sure why I have this view.

Maybe it’s biological. There’s something about the way all that coil of neurotransmitters in my head are wired that leads me toward the side of the underdog. Maybe.

There’s something good and pure about underdogs. Their cause is romantic. They battle, no matter the odds.

In Superman II, three bad guys from the planet Krypton pummel the Man of Steel before he ultimately prevails. Superman is the underdog, and the good guy.

Or maybe I believe this good underdog thing because of 1980, the year Superman II hit the screens.

I was seven. And when you’re seven, the good guys win. Or at least, that’s what you think should happen. When they lose, it’s confusing. Your brain can’t quite make sense of the loss, and it sends the confusion to the heart, “Here, you deal with this.” A dark cloud entrenches itself there to agitate every beat.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was gunned down outside the Dakota apartment building across from Central Park in New York City. I remember lying on the floor in our family room looking at the illustrated image Time Magazine printed that showed how and where Lennon was killed. At seven, the concept didn’t really register, but I knew that the guy in the Yellow Submarine cartoon had died, even though he appeared quite perfect and happy in person at the end of the movie.

I had loved Beatles songs since 1978, when my parents took my older brother and I to the Bee Gees film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I loved it. The music! Peter Frampton’s hair. Barry Gibb’s beard. Steve Martin’s craziness. George Burns’ thick-rimmed glasses and cigar, which by the way was his character in every movie, from God to, well, God.

I came home from that film humming the songs. I tried to sing the words, but didn’t know any, so I just made up my own, which became my Beatles soundtrack for years: accurate in melody, yet awfully kid-like in lyric.

I wrote a paper on John Lennon in college, seriously. I researched his solo material, from his rather angry early albums starting in 1970 to his more positive and hopeful songs of 1980. With time off in the middle, Lennon seemed refreshed in 1980, and just as he was looking forward to leaving the 70s behind and growing old with Yoko, he was killed.

Similarly, just as Brian Sipe was orchestrating the Kardiac Kids down the frozen field of Municipal Stadium, the drive was killed.

The Kardiac Kids of Cleveland were the first team I supported. My family wasn’t much into sports, but the enthusiasm of the 1980 Browns was too much to ignore. My cousin had a record that played the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, but instead of describing gifts of birds and milking maids, it sung about Brian Sipe and Don Cockroft. I jumped on the bandwagon, learned the rules of football, and begged someone to buy me a Kardiac Kids shirt — one of those shirts that replaces the word “love” with a heart.

But then they lost in the playoffs on the last play of the game. An interception in the endzone.

How? Why? Again, I was too young to understand, so I went on to root for the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. They were crushed 27-10.

In 1980, Luke Skywalker’s hand was chopped off, Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, and it looked like the Empire would defeat the underdog rebellion.

In 1977, when the original Star Wars opened, I was immediately a Darth Vader fan. My face-scratching plastic Halloween costume was Darth Vader. My older brother was more a fan of C3-PO. In fact, the first two action figures we bought were Darth Vader and C3-PO.

But when 1980 rolled around, my worldview had changed. I was sure Ayatollah Khomeini was working with Darth Vader, as his menacing dark eyebrows scowled at the television and his white beard spoke, “The United States is the Great Satan!” No, I thought, the U.S. is filled with good guys.

In 1981, luckily Harrison Ford returned to the big screen not encased in carbonite, but Ronald Reagan was shot. We watched this at school, and though I wasn’t sure why the student next to me said, “I hope he dies,” I wasn’t sure why I cared either. I just saw him as a good guy battling the evil Grand Ayatollah and Darth Vader.

In the same year, my dad was sent to prison. How could that be? He was a good guy. I had just seen Clash of the Titans with him, even though I wanted to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, but my older brother, an Ancient Greek scholar at the age of 10, demanded we see Titans. In that movie, the good guy won. In Raiders, Indiana Jones at least didn’t have his face melted off, but he didn’t get the Ark as he had hoped.

When would the good guys win? My brother showed me Bridge Over the River Kwai to show me that Obi Wan Kenobi was in more than just Star Wars. In that movie, I couldn’t tell who was good or bad, or was everyone good, or bad? In the end, it didn’t matter, they all died. What the hell?

In 1982, the aggressive military captured and entombed E.T. Why would they do that? He was a good guy. At least he escaped, unlike the Kardiac Kids or John Lennon.

Does it pay to be good? It didn’t in 1980. Or at least it seemed that way to a seven-year old. But I didn’t care. I’d continue to root for the losers. My 1981 birthday cake was decorated beautifully with an orange and brown Cleveland Browns helmet.

As much as I see good guys as losers, I’ve spent much of my life trying to prove that seven-year old view wrong. And even though there is plenty out there to support my seven-year old self, I won’t give up. I’ll keep trying until the good guys win, especially if that means rooting for the underdog.