The Metaphorical Ladies of the Gold’s Gym Sauna Doth Protest Too Much, Me Thinks

There are a lot of fantastic people-watching opportunities in Asheville. Still, for my money, one of the most interesting places I’ve found for observing some fascinating (some might say very telling) behavior is the sauna at my gym. 

I’ve written about sauna encounters before, and I don’t think they could be categorized as good. Despite that,,my daily post-workout saunas are typically one of my day’s most relaxing parts. However, I think part of that is because I plan my workouts for times when the gym is emptiest, and ideally, it’s just me and one or two other guys sitting and sweating in silence. Still, not unoften the sweatbox fills up, and, well, there’s something about a bunch of guys sitting and sweating half undressed that really makes some gentleman feel the need to espouse just how masculine they are. Like I said…telling.

Does Eating Meat Make You a Man?

My first encounter of note was a couple of weeks back. I went to the gym at a very crowded time, one I usually avoid. I did a quick run, then got into the sauna. When I entered, an older gentleman told a guy around my age who was leaving to “take care.” When the younger dude left, the guy looked at me, smiled, shook his head, and said, “lost cause.” I smiled, non-comitally said, “sure,” and started to pretend to meditate or some shit. He was undeterred. 

“Ever been to Charleston?” he asked. 

“I haven’t,” I responded. 

“That here guy is going there this weekend. I told him he might as well not even go.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, despite myself. 

“Because he’s a vegetarian. You might as well not even go to Charleston if you can’t eat meat.”

“Oh,” I said, genuinely confused (I don’t know much about the culinary scene in Charleston, but I imagine it’s very seafood based?), but also, I could see the route this guy was starting to go down, and sometimes it’s fun to let people hang themselves. “Why would not eating meat be a reason not to visit Charleston.”

Naturally, he scoffed. “Charleston is known for barbeques and steak. Why even go if you won’t eat barbeque and steak?”

“I imagine it has a lot of excellent seafood,” I said. 

“Vegetarians don’t eat seafood. They don’t eat anything that was once alive.”

“That’s a vegan,” I said. “Vegetarians can eat seafood, dairy, eggs…I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff for them to eat.” Then, for good measure, I added, “I imagine there’s enough good food for vegans to eat these days. I don’t think it’s a reason not to visit somewhere.”

“He doesn’t drink either,” the man added, apropos of nothing. 

“I have friends who don’t drink,” I said, “that I travel with often…some of them travel much more than I do.”

“I just don’t get it,” he said. “Back when I was your age, guys weren’t vegetarians.” I didn’t argue the stupidity of this statement. Why ya know? “I like that guy too! But he doesn’t drink or eat meat. He tells me that a couple of minutes ago. I thought maybe I could change his mind by describing the best steak I ever had in Charleston, but I don’t think it worked.”

I find myself getting more and more combative the older I get. Still, sometimes I think not combative enough because what I thought but didn’t say was, “wait, so a stranger tells you he’s a vegetarian when you recommended a steakhouse, and instead of just saying ‘oh, cool,’ and suggesting something else, you then take it upon yourself to try and ‘convince’ him that he shouldn’t be a vegetarian by describing a steak dinner that I’d be good money came from Ruth Chris’s?” 

For what it’s worth, the vegetarian was built like a body builder and well…you can probably imagine the state of Capt Bbq-and-Steak.

The Trouble With Sam Smith

I’ve 100% reached the age where I’ve stopped following popular music. I don’t know what the kids are listening to, and frankly, am ok with that. That’s the precursor to letting you know that while I know Sam Smith is a singer who exists, I’m largely divorced from any of the discourse surrounding him. 

After overhearing another inane sauna conversation, a recent Google deep dive told me that Sam Smith went from mom-friendly soft rocker to the feared they/them who wears dresses, women’s jewelry, and is definitely the first musician ever to invoke Satanic rituals during award show performances. And that transformation had deeply upset two fellow sauna soakers. 

A few weeks ago—whenever the Grammy’s were—I heard one gentleman turn to the other and and say, “Did you see that Sam Smith at the Grammy’s?” 

“It’s really too bad,” the other guy said. My interest was instantly piqued. Both of them reminded me of my father, a man who definitely isn’t interested in what the kids are listening too and will casually reference “Facepage.” 

“I just don’t get it,” the first guy said. “All this gay stuff. It’s being forced on us. We can’t escape it.”

Once again, I regret I stayed quiet. Because what I wanted to say was, “No, you 100% could escape it. The Grammys and Sam Smith are not for you. You’re not the target audience. He’s not doing this at the Superbowl, on commercials,, or during guest stints on CBS procedurals. He’s doing this at his concerts and The Grammy’s, an award show that caters to young people. This wasn’t pushed down your throats in any way, shape, or form. You sought it out so that you could be upset. And now you chose to discuss it when you were sitting two feet from another man wearing just a towel.” 

I Have a Feeling There Will Be More

One of this blog’s 2023 trends is the start of several series. I’ve already got Overheard on Haywood Road and my Southern Book series, but just as I’d bet good money that the best steakhouse that first gentleman ate at was Ruth Chris’s, I’d be good money there will be more sauna tales to be told of manly men who’ve definitely never had a homoerotic thought in their lives. Watch this steamy space.

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