April 1997
s m u g
mystery date
by Bill Barbot

Who are these Naked Men?

To call him a fat man is not only politically insensitive but also an understatement: the man is a house. No brick rambler either: a full-on duplex or even a small cluster of moderately-priced townhomes would have a hard time getting this guy up on a see-saw. This fat man, this duplex, became a fixture of my early attempts at this year's resolution, regaining some of my high-school hardbody at the gym. No matter what time I arrived or left the locker room, he was always there. He would sit for an unnaturally long time in the same spot by his locker, talking to whomever walked past about whatever was up, always smiling, pleasant and disturbingly moist. And except for the shoes, he was always completely stark raving naked.

So the fat was never really the issue so much as the naked. "Why the hell," I screamed at him in my inner voice, "is a 300-pound forty-year-old man paying $650 a year at a health club to sit around all day being naked? Don't you people have jobs?" But I was the new guy (not to mention considerably smaller and considerably more clothed), so me and my inner voice never got up the nerve to get the scoop.

Who am I to talk anyway: as a so-called "professional musician," I have been euphemistically "self-employed" for the better part of this decade. I try to shelve any notion that just because a man isn't wearing a desk-tie-and-suit outfit (or in the fat man's case, any outfit at all) from dawn 'til dusk doesn't mean he can't be if not employed at least, well, gainful. "Yes, I am different!" my inner voice shouts. "I lead the exciting life of a self-starting indie-record-label operative, professional rock musician, and moreover, I'm a wiry little cuss! I make my own hours! These other cretins are all ... erm ... unemployed, or at least, weirdos! What in the name of god are all of these able-bodied men doing naked at the gym at 2 PM on a workday?"

You don't know anything about what goes on in the locker room until you know Fred. Fred is a transplant from Nigeria, a place he still calls "home" even though he hasn't been there since 1978. He is technically what sociologists might call "invisible people;" he cleans the toilets, squeegees the mirror, picks up the discarded towels. But Fred is far from invisible. "WHY YOU QUERYING ME?" Fred is screaming at Pablito, the subordinate towel boy, an authentic invisible. "WHAT ARE YOU SOME KIND OF LAWYER?" That inimitable and unimitatable African monotone - note the lack of any inflection or punctuation - makes his presence in the room all too known. It also sucks you into conversation with Fred.

The fact that he's "the help" doesn't stop all the retired white guys from getting all buddy-buddy with him while giving him grief about the towel bin being too full or too empty or too whatever. The white guys talk to Fred like he's a good dog: they'd pick him up by the ears if he wasn't twice their size. But Fred never seems to care about how somebody talks to him (maybe he hears in monotone, too?), and since everybody talks to him, I figure he's my best source to figure out what these jokers are up to besides not pitching in to the Gross Domestic Product.

But I'm a bit shy around strangers, so I have to rehearse my line several times to make sure I don't come off as a complete jackass when I do actually open my mouth to speak. Which, of course, ensures that I positively will sound like a jackass. More so when I open my mouth and ask Fred, "So, Fred, this might sound kind of weird, but I'm a freelance writer and I'm working on ..." and turn around to look at him. And now Fred, everybody's buddy, health club employee of the month, special envoy of the People's Republic of Nigeria, is also standing there stark raving naked. "What are you saying my man?"

So my piece about what all of these characters at the club are doing there in the middle of that Ramadan for America, Regular Business Hours, turned into a piece about naked guys. It turns out a few of them are real estate agents between closings, a few more are bouncers at clubs, one sells sex toys and leather goods on the web (www.bedtime-stories.com), one took an early retirement from the police and another is the night man at the Washington Post distribution center, according to Fred, who caps off each day with a quick jaunt on the treadmill and a subsequent period of nudity.

No story there, until you see them naked, which I do now, and all of the time. They come out of the shower naked, they shave naked, they fix their hair naked, they talk sports naked, they sit down and look at the walls naked for hours at a time. For all I know, they leave the damn club naked and go work at the Washington Post Naked Distribution Center. Naked Nightclub. Naked Real Estate. Naked Sex Toys, of course. Naked or not, it seems like they are the ones who should be asking me what I'm doing there in the middle of the day fully clothed. Besides being gainful.

Walking down the street with my dog the other morning I ran across a couple of neighborhood kids beaning the bejeezus out of an aluminum can with a slingshot. The pellets, rocks and particles were flying all over the place, not too close to me, but close enough for an old-fashioned white-guy "Heads up fellas, coming through." But that doesn't stop kids these days, intent as they are upon becoming liberal homosexual glue-sniffing campaign-contributing video ciphers; no, these punks just kept right on plugging away at the old (and now thoroughly unrecyclable) can.

As a Shakespearean aside, and more as a test for myself to see if I could really say what was on my mind to a couple of twelve-year-olds sorely in need of a whipping, I muttered in my best old man mutter, "Don't you kids have to be in school?" Very Abe Vigoda, I admit, but one of those things that just slips out. But the friggin' wiseguy with the slingshot had an ace up his sleeve: "Don't you have a job, naked man?" Touché. Ouch. Can't fight 'em, join 'em.

Bill Barbot, c/o staff@smug.com

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