"I brought you a talking book," he said. He fiddled with his racket and shifted his clear blue eyes to the floor then back up to meet mine.
"You did?" I was puzzled.
I had only spoken, in passing, once to this man. A girlfriend of mine had introduced us. I had carried on a polite conversation of economy with both of them and made my excuses. I had to return to my workout. I don't go to the gym to make friends, ya know. I go to build up my guns and squeeze into my skinny jeans.
"I remember you saying how much you like Malcolm Gladwell. You said the only book of his you had not read was What The Dog Saw."
He extended his hand toward me. It held a box entitled What The Dog Saw.
I tried to collect myself and remember the conversation in which I had shared so much. The recollection was dim and distant.
"Oh! My goodness! How thoughtful of you!" I said. "I have been wanting to read this book. I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's writings. I find them fascinating... I'm sorry... I don't seem to remember your name. I'm terrible at remembering names."
"Chuck. I'm Chuck."
"Well... thank you so much for the book, Chuck! I can't wait to listen to it. ...I'm Crystal, by the way...".
"I know you're Crystal," he chuckled as though I were daft. "EVERYBODY knows you're Crystal." He waved his arm grandly to indicate that the entire population of LA Fitness knew me by name.
I was embarrassed and blushed. I am rarely embarrassed. Blushing isn't my thing. And yet...
For the last two weeks Chuck has found the opportunity everyday to approach me and discuss the book. I am kind but never let the conversations go on for too long.
I did enjoy the book immensely.
Chuck is a man in his golden years. He frequents the gym and plays racket ball three times a week with his golden years friends.
Last week the golden boys brought him a sheet cake for his birthday. They ate it cheerfully in their tube socks and terry cloth sweatbands. They ate without hurry among the various grunting meatheads. I was offered a slice but declined. (Thank you so much! But I am watching my figure... to which came the reply You look great. You can afford some cake... Used to be women enjoyed flaunting a fuller figure...)
Chuck's friends have noticed I am kind to Chuck.
I never meant to be kind to Chuck...
I am certainly not kind to the drooling young men who don't seem to care who they gawk at so long as she has all the necessary female anatomy. I stare right through the young, single set. The manner in which they stalk their prey makes me feel hostile. In addition, I don't have time to play with fire. Thank you very much.
Chuck's friends have begun to approach me.
The other day Bill thought he would engage me in conversation thrice. I did my best to be patient though I began swelling with irritation.
"I look at my face in the mirror and I can't believe it," said Bill. "I know my face looks old and I'm bald... I can't believe I'm BALD! But under my clothes I look great! I am in great shape!" He gestured to his abdomen. I glanced involuntarily. Doh! I was now checking out old men?!
I blushed and stumbled through a weak response.
On Bill's second visit of the hour he found me red in the face and pushing an inordinate amount of weight on the leg press. He waited patiently for me to finish my set. There was clearly no hurry. So considerate of Bill.
"My x-wife almost killed me. She actually DID kill her second husband."
"She KILLED her husband?" I gasped.
"Yes. She took him out into the desert and shot him to death."
"Why would she DO that?"
"Because she is *&@%ing nuts. That's why. I told him. His name was Bill too. I said, 'Bill, she's &@%$ing crazy. She'll kill ya'. She'll kill ya dead.' And she did. She shot him. In the desert... She's locked up now".
"Wow. That's terrible! Narrow escape for you, huh, Bill?" I smiled.
"I used to be real bitter and angry all the time. I had a terrible temper. I threw things. I thought I couldn't control it. B#LLSH*T! We all CHOOSE our reactions. Temper can be controlled. ...But now I am a healer and I realize every moment past, present and future is Now. This minute is all I have. Now is forever."
I allowed him to talk for far longer than prudence as a gym rat generally allows. On his third visit he found me lunging my way into dumbbell oblivion.
"You're working hard there, Crystal."
"Yup. I've got to go soon so I'm trying to hurry...".
"I just wanted to give you a Christmas gift." He handed me an angel ornament. He was dripping wet. He had run out to his car in the rain to get me the angel. "I thought you needed an angel princess."
I was touched. (Not physically, you understand, because I do have my limits and I would have knocked his block off had he laid a golden hand on me.)
"Thank you, Bill. This is very kind of you. I love her. I'll be very careful not to break her."
"You know what I think is sad?" He searched my face.
"What do you think is sad?"
"I think it's sad that some folks just come to the gym so that people will talk to them.... See that woman over there? The very heavy one?"
I nodded gravely.
"That woman doesn't hardly work out at all. She just comes here to chat. She's just a chatty Cathy."
I cocked my head and looked at Bill. I glanced at Chatty Cathy. I thought of Chuck.
I really looked at Bill this time. Focused in. I saw his soul. It dawned on me that he is a soul of great worth. It was a startling realization.
It is sometimes hard to remember in the hustle and bustle of life and in the ingratitude of our blessings that the older gentleman eating sheet cake in the gym with a racket in his hand is a soul of great importance. A Divine being with infinite value.
For one brief moment in time my mind was enlarged.
I smiled warmly ( no teeth- so it was a soft smile) and without a hint of the irony I had previously seen in his statement.
"Yes," said I. "Sometimes people just need someone to talk to."