Tuesday 11 October 2016

The locker room

I go there most days, when I go swimming. Aesthetically, these are crummy places, though the one I’m now used to is nicer than many I’ve known, and some I still know. There’s a jokey notice when you come in, putting off women who’ve strayed in through the wrong door.

There’s a TV right above the towel-dump and sometimes it’s on, sport or rolling news, but most often it’s broken.

Women have the same. Different door.

I assume, I think, more conversation goes on in their place, though there’s a sexist assumption. In ours, not much. Some friends in at the same time, chatting, joking. I once heard a man referencing a certain ice-cream shop in Musselburgh, Edinburgh, and inferred he’d been to the same school as I had, decades ago, and this was true, but neither of us were interested in following through.

Maybe once a year, a notice gets pinned up: hair dryers are for drying head hair, not your crotch or your armpits. And for a time, it's observed.

It’s pretty neutral, pretty bland. No banter (weird loaded word) of the kind I remember reading in locker-room scenes in Saul Bellow novels, Chicago, back a few decades. Nothing like the two guys in the Tube, today: “But hey, she’d be good for a hand-job.” Any men saying similar, they don’t now need locker rooms to say it in.

Trump is giving the locker room a bad name, and that’s one of the several million reasons why I have some difficulty with him, why I’m failing to understand how he and I inhabit the same world, and I’d like to defend it. I like the locker room. Stripped down, same-sex nudity in a neutral place: such huge variety in body shapes, and the genitals, a sort of democracy, mine no better or worse. And the tattoos, of course: some, why did you bother, some amazing ones. Some men are extremely tidy, some not. Some men can’t pee next to other men peeing. Some men close the shower curtains, some don't. This is fine.

Something single-sex boarding-school familiarity about this, for me, but not for most of the others. It’s just a place, briefly, I pass into and out of, back into the world where there are also, wonderfully, not just men. Hell is a single-sex locker room, with Trump in it, without exit.

(Incidentally: locker rooms imply locks, and I don’t like having to wear keys so the number option, but I forget my glasses so have to ask others to unlock. The punch-key padlock, not widely known, is the answer.)

A few weeks ago, when I came in from the showers, there was a pigeon that had got in and couldn’t find out, and a staff guy tried to field it and couldn’t and this completely naked tall guy stuck out his arm – Greek god, minus trident – and caught it, and then cupped it, with tenderness. Everyone clapped, spontaneously. What bodies are for, that tenderness. And that reaching out, that rashness, that too, that confidence in the body, which locker rooms do highlight at the expense of a knowledge of Kierkegaard, but I’m fine with that.

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