Clandestine

by anna on September 25, 2009

This is what you get for peeking in windows. Even if it's the window to the spinning class.

This is what you get for peeking in windows. Even if it's the window to the spinning class.

You were not surprised that somebody from spinning class was fucking the instructor.

As it was, the ecosystem of the gym was ripe with inappropriate sexuality on weekday mornings. And besides, was there an outcome that was more likely than an illicit affair, given the mixture of scantily clad, lonely wives with younger, mostly male personal trainers? Set the whole thing to a soundtrack of suggestive pop music created by oversexed teens, and you’ve got a perfect storm of adultery on your hands. You would not have been surprised to learn that it happened regularly, right there in the gym — in some out-of-the way storage room, perhaps, or maybe behind one of the Pilates machines, where frosted glass could hide everything from view. Almost.

No, the part that you didn’t see coming was that it would be this instructor, Evan, who would be the one to become involved with one of his students. Evan, the mild-mannered, almost timid personal trainer whom you could see had to coach himself to get up the nerve to yell out instructions to the class over loud music. Who would start out each class by saying, “Hi, I’m Evan, I’m a personal trainer here. I don’t know your names, but I recognize most of you,” as if to explain, up front, that you shouldn’t expect friendship from him. Though he was clearly an introvert, Evan was not unfriendly, even if personal training was a strange job choice for him to make, what with the large amount of human interaction required, and the need to display enthusiasm, whether feigned or real, to clients in need of inspiration. When he was first chosen as a replacement for Chris, the ill-tempered former instructor of the Wednesday morning spinning class, Evan’s choice of songs for class demonstrated the degree to which his soul was at war with his choice of profession: there was too much Coldplay, too much Keane, too many slower-paced rock ballads from the late eighties in his playlist for Evan to be a natural-born personal trainer, much less a spin instructor. This was a young man unhappy in his own skin, you thought, though you expected his acting-out to take the form of an overdose or perhaps a dramatic public alcoholic breakdown.

You were wrong about that, and you had also underestimated Evan’s commitment to his profession. Because even if Evan was not the type of instructor to stand in front of your bike and scream instructions to you until you decided to work harder, even if he did not yell out your name in the middle of class, to rely upon the threat of public humilation to get you to turn up the resistance on your bike, it was Evan who finally succeeded in bulking up attendance on Wednesday mornings to an almost fully populated class. Before Evan, Wednesday mornings were never more than a few mainstays, plus a new mom or two trying to lose baby weight, and those few older gym members who showed up and pedaled slowly so as to adhere to their doctor’s orders to “get some exercise.” As Evan’s experience with teaching spinning grew — a process that was punctuated by small gestures like the inclusion of more mainstream pop songs on his playlist, louder overall volume for the music he played, and a more judicious use of the cycling room PA system — the Wednesday morning class grew into something like a community, a feat that several previous instructors had quit before being able to establish. And even if you still didn’t have to sign up early to be a part of Evan’s class, you also knew you would not be the only one there. And best of all, to be a part of this community, you would not be expected to make indecipherable enthusiastic exclamations throughout class, to provide the “WHOO!” noises that fuel the atmosphere of spinning classes taught by other popular instructors. To be a part of Evan’s group, you mostly just had to show up. And that was the kind of exercise group you could get behind.

But if things in spinning had changed subtly at first, they had snowballed a bit in recent weeks. For one thing, Evan’s class had been changed to Monday mornings. Also, after about a year of being an invisible member in the back row of the class, people had started to notice you, a tacit understanding had been reached that you were part of the group of spinning regulars. It was as if they had a waiting period before they considered the investment worthwhile — that they wanted confirmation that you were not just another person who was going to show up for a few classes and then disappear — before they made the investment of what? friendship? no, not exactly — comraderie? it wasn’t clear. But your initiation into this social group, such as it was, was made official the day that Jenna, a stay-at-home mother to older children who had what you could say sans irony were rock-hard abs (as well as a husband who was a partner in a downtown law firm) started to talk to you.

“Was I talking to you about Carrie’s baby?” Jenna had asked that morning, as she clicked into bike number 9, directly to the right of you.

“The instructor?” you asked, curiously, because you knew for a fact that Jenna had never spoken to you before. But you smiled, lest she misinterpret your confusion and rethink her decision to start speaking to you.

“Yeah — she lost her baby,” Jenna said, in the kind of conspiratorial whisper, this detail of gym gossip marking the place you now occupied in the social community of the spinning regulars.

“Oh, really? That’s awful,” you said, remembering that Carrie, one of the female spin instructors, had announced to a class that she was pregnant a few months before by saying, “Yeah, that’s not a beer belly, there’s a baby in there,” and pointing at her stomach. You remembered the incident because you had found it odd, at the time, how she had quantified a baby in size that way, and had also found it odd when, later on in class, she had made a remark about “if this baby comes,” as if it wasn’t a given that the baby would come. You had remembered it because it made you realize that you had always thought of your baby, while in gestation, as a “when,” had never considered the “if.” And it had made you wonder why that was.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Jenna said, nodding her head in agreement, and with that some kind of relationship had been forged between the two of you. And though this relationship was not likely ever to amount to more than a friendly wave here or there on the way to class or on the way out of the parking garage, it was also probably what made you notice that Jenna had become much more vocal in class of late. That you could hear, in the gaps between the beats of choruses, her singing along with the songs as she rode, and not just to the occasional Cure or New Order singles that Evan might throw in for nostalgia’s sake, either. You could hear her singing along to mainstream pop, to the cheesy singles that you imagined Evan downloaded based on the Top Tens features on iTunes: she was singing words like, “Wanna make love right now, right now,” and “Gotta make love right now, right now,” and she was adding in the occasional “WHOO!” during the course of class where it was not even required of her. Her freely given enthusiasm was infectious, and its display was like a gift to the instructor, because the more involved the class became, the easier it was for him to teach it. And you started to get that feeling that you had had only one other time in your life before, the sense that something clandestine existed between two of the people with whom you were now sharing a room, and you wondered if you were the only one who could feel it. And then Jenna started to make a comment to you, a joke about something unrelated and unimportant, and you realized that now you would have to make a different assessment of her, but that it probably did not matter in the long run.

And when Evan saw that Jenna was making idle chit chat in the middle of class, he announced in front of the class, exhibiting something like virility that you were not sure you had ever seen on him before, “Jenna, remind me to tell you later why you should always listen during class.” It was at that moment that you knew you were right about them, just as you had been right the time before, even if back then you had not yet learned to trust your gut. And you were glad that this time, it did not matter: that these were choices people made that did not require your approbation, and that you could keep your seat at the back of class all the same.

{ 13 comments }

Rob Beverly September 25, 2009 at 6:45 am

That’s the first time I’ve ever seen an “edgy” take on a gym class. Your take on seemingly normal things is a lot like mine. I just don’t express it as well. Good post.

anna September 25, 2009 at 8:47 am

Thanks!

Kerry September 25, 2009 at 8:24 am

Ohhh, that was totally worth the wait.

anna September 25, 2009 at 8:47 am

Yeah, but do you think they’re having an affair? Or am I making it up?

Kerry September 25, 2009 at 9:01 am

Either they’re having an affair, or some sort of not-yet-consumated flirty thing. I mean, clearly there’s something. You can see that from here.

Becky September 25, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I’m with Kerry. I don’t think they’re screwing yet. Because I have some experience with this too, and once the deed is underway, people often act cooler towards each other in public, not flirtier.

So I think this liaison is in the planning stages.

anna September 27, 2009 at 10:47 am

You make a good point. It’s probably not consummated yet, or else they would probably try to be more careful.

Tricia 2 September 25, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Yeah, she likes him, she really likes him …..but the deed has yet to be done.

You’re gonna have to keep writing about this, and eventually turn it into the pilot for a television series. “The Not So Good Wife” maybe?

elder cleavage September 26, 2009 at 6:02 pm

“Though he was clearly an introvert, Evan was not unfriendly, even if personal training was a strange job choice for him to make, what with the large amount of human interaction required, and the need to display enthusiasm, whether feigned or real, to clients in need of inspiration.”

If you do keep writing this, kindly check the stereotypes (introvert = unfriendly) at the door. (Also the run-on sentences, of which this is a raging example.) If there’s something specifically awkward about Evan, then talk about that, but don’t confuse introversion with shyness — they are not the same thing.

Introverts often make quite good instructors and mentors (and salesmen) especially if they prefer feeling rather than thinking. It’s the ability to sense what the other person needs, and provide it, that makes a good teacher or coach, not “extraversion versus introversion.”

Apparently Evan has done just that, if he was successful at filling up a class where the “extraverted = friendly” instructors failed.

I’d also be interested in hearing how “clearly” you can tell how someone else is introverted, as there are degrees of introversion. My bf is capable of being quite gregarious at social events, but he still has to turn off for a while afterward.

And those textbook geek-introvert-in-extraverted-job plots are mostly just bad movie fodder. Most introverts learn at an early age that interacting with others is a requirement (it’s a pity that extraverts aren’t required to learn to handle solitude and silence just as easily).

anna September 26, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Thanks for your comment. I am an introvert so I’m quite familiar with their habits and tendencies. Tell me, though, what is this “extravert” to which you keep referring? Never heard of it.

Andrew Stevens September 30, 2009 at 11:49 am

Extravert is actually a perfectly acceptable alternate spelling, especially in psychological circles (though not widely used by the general public). The original Latin is extra (as in extra) and it didn’t change to extrovert until circa 1918.

Kerry September 27, 2009 at 4:46 am

I’m clearly an introvert, and I’m unfriendly.

Denise September 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Speaking of introverts, the Cabbage Patch asks about you! Come back and tell us about the possible new little crumb…

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