Somebody Stole My Soapbox

I was getting dressed at the YMCA. Next to me, lurking in my peripheral vision,  was a large, naked, elderly woman sitting on a stool.

“Oh no. I forgot my underwear,” she said, horrified.

I felt horrified too. She was gazing down at her gym bag, which was strategically placed at her feet. Her skin was flecked with sun spots and lingering redness from the shower. She looked like a very plump, squishy tomato.

“That happens to me too, sometimes,” I said.

And that’s true. It does happen to me. But somehow the thought of her going commando gave me the chills.

“Good thing I’m just going home,” she said.

I nodded. Yes indeed. Good thing. Wouldn’t want to amble about town with no underwear beneath those high, elastic waist, grandma pants.

My general rule at the YMCA is that once you enter the woman’s locker room, keep your eyes straight ahead. Do not, no matter how tempting, give in to peripheral vision. It’s like the whole car wreck theory. Car wrecks are ugly, vaguely nauseating, wrinkled heaps of metal and flesh. Why look? But for some odd reason, we want to. And looking can lead to your own car wreck. So it’s important to keep your eyes on the road. Or, in my case, the tiled locker room floor.

No other gym operates quite like a YMCA, or has the same range of clientele, from young to old, big to small, 3 to 83. YMCA’s are a place for the entire family. I get that. They are a community place, a place for after school clubs and young aspiring athletes. I appreciate their service to the Door County area. I also appreciate the very generous scholarship they give me, so that I can afford to go. But it does not make the interactions in the locker room less scary.

I have a gift for getting to the YMCA when all the grandma’s have just finished water aerobics, and are milling about, completely naked, discussing their grandchildren, how much they ate over Easter, how the scale lies, how they’ll never be as thin as when they first got married…one must navigate through this carefully. I walk slowly behind them, bob and weave between them, get undressed for the pool surrounded by wrinkled flesh and very aware of my own youthful glow in comparison.

The problem with being a substitute teacher is that, naturally, you go to the gym when you finish the school day. Unfortunately, that’s also when all the parent’s and children go. So there you are. Sub teacher. All mixed in with the students from the elementary school. They’re staring at you, and they’ll definitely recognize you. In the locker room, I’m once again self-conscious. This time about being seen naked by a student who I’ve taught that day. It doesn’t matter if they’re 5 years old. The locker room is an awkward, lawless space. The kids are running about, getting ready for karate, gymnastics, or swim lessons. They see you and it’s like they’ve been struck by lightning. A TEACHER. OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM. It’s like, yes, we’re people too. We work out, and shower, and do other normal things, like grocery shop. They’re astounded by this.

So, needless to say, I’m not thrilled about sharing my naked-space with screaming children I may, or may not have given a spelling lesson the same day. Furthermore, many of the children are ill-disciplined. I’ll tell you right now, there’s never been a better birth control.

For example: I’ve just completed a long run on the treadmill. Watching a show called, “Holmes on Homes,” which was less than spectacular entertainment, about a contractor that goes in and fixes all the bullshit that goes wrong when people renovate. In any case, it gets the job done. I get off the treadmill and walk into the locker room, keeping my eyes trained on the ground. On the floor next to my locker are several brightly colored bags, some water shoes. I shove these aside and grab my showering gear. Moments later, an older woman in a swimsuit comes around the corner. She apologizes for all shit she left on the floor, and asks me if I finished working out. I say yes, she congratulates me, and confesses to only having attended a pizza party. Some days are better than others when it comes to working out, I say.

I’m in the shower. It periodically scalds me with hot water and then turns to lukewarm. A small boy appears outside of my shower stall and starts yelling for his mother.

“I’m not your mom,” I say. I can see him peering in at me through the crack in the shower stall door.

“Mom!” he says.

“That’s not me, buddy,” I say, trying to ignore him, and wash my hair a little faster.

“Mooooooooooooooom,” he says.

“Andrew? I’m in here,” his mother yells from the other room.


“I’m not your mom,” I say, more forcefully. He is still peeping in at me.

“I’m in here, Andrew,” his mother says.


“I AM NOT YOUR MOM,” I say, and watch, horrified, as he crouches down as if to climb under the door, and into my shower stall. Fortunately, at that very moment, his mother came around the corner and grabbed him. An apology would have been appreciated. Crisis narrowly averted.

Some people at the YMCA are reminiscent of Maggie’s line from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof about no neck monsters:

“One of those no-neck monsters hit me with some ice cream. Their fat little heads sit on their fat little bodies without a bit of connection…you can’t wring their necks if they got no necks to wring. Isn’t that right, honey?…Think of it, they’ve got five monsters and number six comin’ up.”

These people make a person wonder. They are very large, and they spend most of their time wondering from the hot tub to the recreational pool. They seem to do nothing but make conversation with each other, and the lifeguard.

“My wife cooked so much food over Easter,” one man, lounging in the deep end of the competition pool, said. “That she said she was glad to go back to work today for a break.”

He was a solid mass of deep tan fat. He most definitely had no neck, and I wondered about all the little rapscallions he and his wife had produced. Whether they had necks. Whether his wife had a neck. I could see him idly moving his legs about underwater as I swam. I tried not to look.

“Well you better thank her for all that work,” the lifeguard said, keeping her eyes straight ahead.

“Oh yeah. Well I bought all the food, you know. I went shopping for all of it,” he said. “I ate so much, though. I probably won’t get my appetite back until Thursday. Especially with the left overs.”

“Uh huh,” said the lifeguard.

“That’s holidays, right?” and he started listing off everybody that came, who was having babies, the different dishes he consumed en masse.

The point of all this is that some fiendish, YMCA frequenting, little old lady stole my soapbox. Not my figurative, political speech-making box. My literal, body washing soap, box. Who else would’ve done it? The thing’s maybe worth 50 cents. Who else would’ve taken my soap out, put it into her cruddy soapbox, and taken off on the town with mine? It reminds me of how my Nana used to save egg cartons, plastic cereal bags, wrapping paper, and ribbons…

This is how it happened:

I have rosemary/sage soap. It’s very distinctive. It’s got pieces of rosemary in it, and smells, to me, like standing on the edge of your herb garden with the breeze blowing. I had a nice, white, clean-looking soap box to house my rosemary/sage soap. The soapbox was given to me by my stepdad for a road trip, and had become the perfect way to tote my soap to the YMCA. One day, in a rush, I left my soapbox behind in the shower. Several days later, I went back for it. I asked at the front desk if there might be a soapbox in the lost and found. The staff member presented me with a dingy, off-white, broken soapbox. Inside, there were remnants of bright blue soap stuck in the groves. There was also, unmistakably, my rosemary/sage soap, and only one conclusion to be made.

So I’ve been using the broken cream-colored soapbox, and it’s not okay. It’s not okay at all.


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