In real life, I’m far less confrontational than I am in my writing. I’m one of the many people who are more likely to say something from behind the safety of my computer screen—for example, I’ll call my boy Madison Cawthorn an insecure rich kid in the Asheville Citizen-Times, yet in person, I recently apologized to a Subway employee who screamed at me for no reason. Now, I like to think I’m not a pushover, but let’s just say that things getting so heated that a stranger sticks their fingers in my face and screams “suck a dick” while I’m half undressed is not a normal occurrence. Yet, that recently happened.
I may have mentioned previously that I’m a 5 AM gym person (I must have because one of the main requirements of being a gym-before-work person is letting everyone know you’re a gym-before-work person). I’m pretty good with getting my workouts in before work during the week but decided to sleep in a few Mondays ago and ended up working out around 2, and subsequently going for a post-workout sauna session around 3. I only mention the time changes because I was at the gym at a non-routine time and didn’t know the players.
When I got in the sauna, there was a young man in there, I’d guess to be between 22-25. I took my seat, started sweating, and internally rolled my eyes because he was the type to break out into elaborate yoga poses and pushup routines where most people close their eyes and relax. However, I didn’t say anything because while exasperating, he’s technically not bothering me. Then, he walked over to the heater, and I swore he spit into the hot rocks. I told myself I must be mistaken. There’s no way I just witnessed a fellow adult do that. A minute later, I swore he went and spat again, but again, I told myself I was probably just imagining it because, again, that’s not something adults do in public spaces.
At this point, two other gentlemen had joined us, when low and behold, this kid walks over and spits into the rocks again. I was sure of it this time, and I bemoaned not saying anything while it was just he and I. Maybe it was his youth, maybe I’m just anti-embarrassing people in front of others, but now with an audience, I wondered if I should say something or just let it ride if he didn’t do it again. Only he did it again. “Excuse me,” I said to him tentatively, politely, I think, “did you just spit into the rocks.”
“I didn’t just spit in the rocks,” he said aggressively. “I spit on the floor.” MY MISTAKE. “I’m in here to get the toxins out,” he said before I could respond, “and I’m not spitting in your direction.”
I quickly explained that we’re all here to sweat toxins out, but it’s a tiny public place, and that’s unsanitary (I didn’t even bring up that we’re in a pandemic where germs are spread through what comes out of your mouth) I asked if he’d not spit on the sauna floor while there are other people here. “I’ll do what I want,” he snapped, but he didn’t spit for the next five minutes. He approached his spit corner a few times, but, stepping right back into my teaching days, I watched him like a hawk, which effectively made him not do exactly what he wanted…for a bit. I was still watching when he gathered his things, headed for the door, turned around, looked me directly in the eyes, and hocked a loogie into the stones before making his exit.
“What an asshole,” one of the other guys said. “I’m glad you said something. That’s disgusting.” The other gentleman had been zoning out with earphones on but took them off to ask what happened, and we filled him in. I’d been hesitant to say something, but these other two guys validated that I did the right thing, and one volunteered that he was going to report the spitter to the front desk. I was thinking about doing the same. I wouldn’t have if he’d just stopped politely when I asked politely, but the whole making eye contact and hocking a loogie was a step too far. The other two guys and I talked about the crazy things people think are acceptable when the spitter reentered the sauna. He’d left his water bottle. I didn’t hesitate this time.
“That was super mature,” I said.
“What was?” He was playing dumb all of a sudden.
“Getting my attention and spitting one last time before you left.” He went off here, going on about how he was detoxifying and in a public space.
Luckily I had allies now, and one of the other guys interrupted him and said how the exact problem is that he’s in a public space, so he needs to be respectful of everyone else. That was too much for spitty to take. “Listen, I could do what I want,” he yelled. “Enjoy sucking each other’s dicks in here.” Then, he did a classic, “F*** you, f*** you, and f*** you,” finger-pointing at each of us before leaving for good and slamming the door to get his point across.
I’ve had people ask me before about my hatred-nee-obsession with Madison Cawthorn. I often point out that it’s not Madison per se (though at the same time, it really is)—it’s what he represents, and what this kid at the gym embodied—that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with no regard for anyone else. I think Americans have always conflated selfishness with freedom, but I think the pandemic has amplified this.
Anyhow, I left the sauna, showered, and of course, when I went to change afterward, realized spitty and I were using lockers across the aisle from one another. He stood up and glared at me the entire time I changed. When I moved away from the lockers and went to the row of sinks and mirrors to fix my hair, he followed, making eye contact with me in the mirror from a couple of feet behind, beckoning me, I interpreted, to continue this fight. I’m a 35-year old man who’s never been in a physical altercation as an adult. I’m certainly not going to start now. I’m sure this gentleman bragged to all his friends how he intimidated some guys at the gym that afternoon, just like how I’m going to brag to you, my online friends, about how I reported him to the front desk like the proud, mature Karen I’ve become.