Compliant. That was the word Adam felt tumbling around in his brain as he pushed the off button of his Prius and sat in silence for a few minutes to gather up his psychic energy before walking inside 24-Hour Fitness. He liked to park on the roof, even though the ground floor parking lot was mostly empty. Old habits die hard. The elevator still wasn’t working, not that he would use it. No showers were allowed and they’d shut down the air conditioning system as a precautionary measure.
When faced with a global pandemic and a government that finally cares about the welfare of the American people instead of a pathologically lying narcissistic racist fascist dictator who only cares about himself, Adam knew that compliance was key to conquering the pandemic. Wear a mask! He wore them even though he was fully vaccinated - and put the badge on his Facebook and Tinder profiles. He wore them to show he was NOT a Trump supporter.
Thank goodness Gavin once again implemented the mask mandate indoors. At least now he would not seem so out of place when he wore his, which he took off only in the privacy of his own home. He wore it in his car and at the Farmer’s Market, and at the beach. He couldn’t help it that when he saw people not wearing masks, white people anyway, he immediately thought — KNEW — they were racists. They had to be. If you didn’t wear a mask you might kill someone. Like Biden says, they’re KILLING PEOPLE.
Adam gathered his workout kit: water bottle, sani wipes, towel, rolled up exercise mat (he refused to call it a yoga mat - that wasn’t what it was). In addition to his wipes he brought along anti-bacterial spray so that he could spritz doorknobs and things like that. Who knows what kind of people worked out in 24-hour fitness. He didn’t even want to be here. But a year of lockdown, too many Grubhub egg rolls and Pad Thai, too much rage-tweeting, too much couch sitting had given him an unfortunate spare tire. He was worried about his cholesterol, blood pressure, and overall mood. He knew exercise was key in bringing those things to a more even keel.
Adam had blown out his knee jogging, so now it was either a pool - and pools were out for at least the next two years - or the elliptical. It wasn’t ideal. He knew he looked ridiculous hard charging on the thing, his arms flying one way, his legs another. The faster it went the more ridiculous he felt. Worse, they always played Fox News on the monitors. He knew that meant that somewhere in there were Trumpers. There had to be. Otherwise, it would be MSNBC or CNN. But no, it was always FOX. Sometimes it was too crowded to avoid the glare of White Supremacy in broadcast television and he was forced to glance up at it. And so, in addition to looking and feeling ridiculous, he was also cast in the light of the blonde bimbos and rednecks. Great. Glossy lips, shiny hair. Repulsive. He was an oppressed man.
As Adam was entering the stairwell, a lithe blonde woman trotted past him and bounded down the stairs. She turned and smiled back at him - straight white teeth - a smile that said “sorry but you were going too slowly.” And of course, she wasn’t wearing a mask. Adam’s heart skipped a beat. His body was responding to how attractive she was. But she was a Trumper. No mask. Ugly inside so ugly outside. Even if actually she wasn’t. Even if there was a good chance she was not only the most attractive woman in the gym but the most attractive woman he’d seen in a year. Maybe ten years. He pushed back his reptilian brain that was screaming like a car alarm — WOW LOOK AT HER. But no, he could overcome his baser instincts. Mind over body. Rational thought over irrational impulses. Unhealthy impulses. After being locked down and totally alone, he’d become addicted to the wrong websites, he knew. Grubhub and Porn Hub. The hubs. He vowed every day to give up those addictions. That was why he was hitting the gym today, come hell or high water. Even with the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen not wearing a mask somewhere inside.
Adam had already signed in with the app 24-Hour Fitness has provided its users so they would not have to touch the keypad. He would not enter the locker room unless his bladder could not hold. He filled up his water bottle before he left so he would not have to touch the drinking fountain. He could move in and out without touching a thing. That was the plan.
He scanned the gym and the elliptical machines to see how many people were on them, and whether or not they were wearing masks. In front of the ellipticals were the treadmills. He had to make sure he wasn’t staring at the back of some terrible person, but also that he wasn’t in front of one of the monitors blaring Fox News.
He spied an empty machine near the mirrors on the side. The monitor in front of it was blaring a baseball game and it looked mostly empty in front and in back of it. The coast was clear. Adam made a beeline for his target. He climbed aboard the elliptical, carefully placing his water bottle in the cup holder, planting his wipes within reach, and balancing his iPhone upright. His Apple Watch would keep track of his steps and his heart rate. He hoped no one called him or messaged him. Who was he kidding? No one ever called him or messaged him except the Democratic Party constantly asking for money to stop the wave of Nazis overtaking the country.
He used his index finger to start the machine at a level five, quickly wiped it down with a sani, and then began the coordinated arm and leg movements the elliptical required. It flashed in his mind for a brief moment how little he actually did for himself anymore. He had little tiny computers and AI that did almost everything for him. Maps. Reminders. Notifications. He was at the mercy of technology. Even this machine was basically moving him and his muscles around. But he pushed that idea out of his head and tried to watch the calories count up, the miles tick forward too slowly, to agonizingly, and listen to the music from his noise-canceling Air Pods.
No one had to know that he still listened to boomer music. He had never really evolved his musical tastes past 1979. Nothing sounded good after that. Everything that was good in music came before. Nostalgia was its own kind of addiction, he knew. He often tried to put himself in the place of younger people today and tried to look at himself from their perspective, remembering how little respect he had for older people when he was young. He remembered being in his 20s and meeting someone in their 30s and thinking, wow, they’re so old. Now, here he was, 56. In 25 years he’d be 80. What would be the rest of his life? Grubhub? Pornhub? Apple Music? Netflix? Google? 10,000 steps? Tinder? Lengthy like-baiting emotional posts on Facebook? Loneliness? Looking ridiculous on the elliptical? Was this really it? Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and this is the height of the experience?
Adam felt his heart beating in the way that usually led to a panic attack so he tried to modulate, to redirect his thoughts to something that made him feel better. At least Biden was President. At least the first Woman of Color, Harris, was Vice President. At least Trump was banned from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. That was good, right? Surely the last four years of pure hell were worth it to have our sanity back. Our New York Times back. Our decency back.
As Adam’s heart began to beat normally again, he caught a flicker of blonde hair in the corner of his eye and he could see that the beautiful blonde had claimed one of the treadmills within his line of sight. Her perfect body was running at a swift clip. She had to be at 5 miles per hour, he figured. He sped things up on his elliptical, as though if he moved his arms and legs fast enough he’d catch up with her and beat her. But his heart couldn’t take that speed so he slowed back down again, miserably.
His eyes could not look away from this woman, this terrible awful Trump supporter. Why are all of the most beautiful women Trump supporters? He pushed that idea out of his head, even though he’d had run-ins with quite a few of them on Tinder. God and Trump. And pretty and blonde. His taste in women was the wrong women. Every time and arguably white supremacist in its own way. Why did he only like white women? White blonde ARYAN women? There was something wrong with him. He was the problem. He was what was holding back American culture from being fully realized for all it could be.
He was what the Trumpers would call a beta male. A soy boy. A cuck. He was that guy. But he had to be that guy now. That is what women wanted. They hated toxic masculinity. They hated tough guys. They wanted a guy who checked his white male privilege. He did everything that was required of him. He did everything right. And here he still was - ogling an Aryan Trump supporter. There was something very very wrong with him. It was nothing he could ever admit out loud. The list of things he could never admit out loud was growing longer.
He tried to like the other kind, the progressive women, but something about them made him feel like a plant wilting in the heat. They were always talking about empowerment and doing better and being better and finding their bliss. They dutifully followed every cause, had their pronouns in their bios, hated any phobes of any kind. Fat phobes. Trans phobes. There he was every day, cheering them on. He did what he was supposed to do.
Maybe he needed some sort of therapy to get right, to do better, to be better. But the women he was supposed to like seemed to have it all figured out and to Adam that looked like one closed door after another. He needed to feel like he mattered. And even admitting that out loud would cause a wave of mocking laughter. How dare he, a symbol of the Patriarchy, complain? Boohoo.
He unglued his eyes from the perfect backside of the Trump blonde and tried to find a better woman to look at. His eyes landed on a woman around his age whose hair had evolved naturally, to a steely grey. She was slowly modulating her feet on a stair-stepper. She was wearing a mask. She was reading an article with lots of words and fine print with, Adam could see, a picture of the Trump supporters gathered at the Capitol on January 6th. She was glued to it. That was Adam’s kind of woman. No doubt watched Rachel Maddow, read the New York Times, listened to NPR while driving her Prius to and from the gym. He could show her off at Starbucks. They could go on hikes together in Griffith Park. They could go to the Hollywood Bowl. They could attend Black Lives Matter protests. She would be up for anything. A drive to Big Sur, a flea market, wandering around a book store. She would know the name Henry Miller. She would know Charles Darwin and Dorrie Greenspan. Adam felt relieved at the sight of her, his salvation. His hope. His forever.
But his eyes rebelled against his better instincts and found their way back to the blonde. She was hitting her second mile - with perfect form, and no part of her body undesirable. Gravity-defying body part, a tiny waist, golden wavy hair, bronze arms moistened with beads of sweat. She wouldn’t even know who Tuesday Weld was but that is exactly who she looked like. He couldn’t take her anywhere. He’d be scrutinized, laughed at. Trump supporters can be spotted from a mile away. She’d probably be that woman spitting in the face of the cashier at Walmart for not wearing a mask. She was a Karen waiting for a cell phone video to expose her. She’d bring him down. She’d be his downfall.
As Tom Petty’s American Girl sprung to life in his earphones, Adam allowed himself a few minutes of imaginary happiness. It was a different world. A different country. There was no Trump. There was no war. It was just him and her. It didn’t matter what she believed. He would kiss her anyway. They would kiss even though he didn’t know for sure if she had COVID. And when they kissed the rest of the world would go dark. He wouldn’t want to go anywhere if she wasn’t with him. He would spend every day making her happy - knowing he was the man and she was the woman and everything felt normal.
Because that was how it was going to be. Today. Forever. Him and her. His girl. His American girl. And for a few minutes, to Adam, he was 16 again. There were no problems except how to get someone to buy him a beer on a Saturday night. They were barefoot at the creek. They were making out under the bleachers. They were holding hands and going to the prom. They were driving up the coast, with her head on his shoulder. She would be his girl. His.
Adam’s thoughts were interrupted by the blonde’s abrupt end to her running. She was finished and that broke his fantasy bubble. He was reminded of exactly where they were, who he was, who she was. He even saw a tiny gold cross hanging around her neck as she wiped down her treadmill with a damp paper towel then looked at her Apple watch. Her big brown eyes briefly caught his and they exchanged some sort of primal communication buried way down deep, deeper than a Tinder profile - the look said she knew, he knew, they knew.
But she quickly looked away and moved over to the section of the gym for weight lifting. Adam looked away too. Who did she think she was anyway? Did she actually think he would ever be attracted to a woman who was not wearing a mask indoors? Apparently, that is exactly what she thought. How typical. Adam watched the woman reading the magazine for a while. He wanted to be attracted to her. That was home to him. Or it should have been. That woman was a good liberal. She was good at heart, you could tell. She was under the hypnotic spell of the magazine story like nothing else in the world mattered.
Adam could not take this for much longer. He had only burned 125 calories but the blonde made it impossible for him to continue. Why was she even here? Why would she come around infecting everyone in the gym with her COVID Trump germs? Her yucky beauty? Her perfect ugly face?
Adam hit “end” on his machine and dismounted. He thought about how he must have looked to the blonde, his limbs all akimbo, a mask on his face. His eyes startled that she looked his way. He saw on her face the same look all beautiful women have, those who are used to being stared at. A kind of forced indifference. She could not afford to give him even the smallest flicker of interest so she kept her eyes vacant and empty. What a terrible person, he thought.
Adam wiped down his machine, spritzed his hands and his face with anti-bacterial spray, and trudged towards the exit. At least he did something. Maybe he would complain to the management about the blonde on the treadmill. Maybe he would tell them he would cancel his membership if they didn’t expel her. Maybe that was the best way out of this mess. Get rid of her. And everyone like her. Then it would just be him and people like him. With no temptations, he could force himself to be happy with the woman he should want.
Just as Adam was about to approach the front desk, the blonde trotted past him and towards the stairs. Adam followed her. Maybe he’d confront her directly instead of telling the management. He’d explain to her why she should be wearing a mask indoors since Gavin Newsom had mandated it. She was up the stairs much faster than Adam could keep up. Eventually, he hit the top, huffing and puffing, his face a soggy mess of redness and sweat. This was not his best look.
He saw the blonde rushing towards her massive Ford F-150. Of course, she’d drive that gas hog. Killing people and the environment, that was a Trump supporter all right. But she was too fast and too far ahead of him. She also kept looking back at him, slightly afraid, it looked like. Was that fear, he wondered, or desire?
The blonde started her engine and drove forward towards the exit. Adam, with nothing left to lose stood directly in front of her and waved his arms wildly. She slowed the truck to a stop, giving him a curious questioning look and holding her hands as if to say, “what!”
Adam walked slowly to her driver’s side and made the hand signal of rolling down your window. She obeyed but looked mildly annoyed.
”Yes, can I help you?” She snapped. He noticed an accent immediately. It sounded Irish?
”Oh, um, wow - so you’re not from here?” He sputtered.
”No, Dublin. Ireland.”
”Oh! Wow! Well, I noticed you weren’t wearing a mask, Gavin Newsom says—”
”Oh…” she said, and let out a little giggle. “You Americans are hilarious.”
Adam blinked back at her, unsure of what she meant by that. Hilarious? He was also taken aback by her beauty up close. He thought he’d take his one shot. He was searching for just the right words to ask for her number or her Instagram. As he opened his mouth she interrupted him, impatiently.
”Well, I’m sorry but I didn’t know about the directive,” she said. “I didn’t have a mask with me, I’m vaccinated, and I drove all the way down here from the mountains. So … sorry. Now, do you mind?”
Adam hesitated but then, knowing he might get accused of harassment if he continued any further, backed away and watched as the massive truck drove glided out of the parking lot. He noticed farm equipment in the back, a bale of hay. Loose golden straws escaped their confinement and lightly landed on the roofs of cars. There were no MAGA or Jesus is My Co-Pilot bumper stickers.
Adam stood there, confused and annoyed. Well, how was he supposed to know? They all look like that. They all act like that. They’re all awful terrible disgusting people. She should know that is how she is coming off and that is what people will think of her if she doesn’t wear a mask.
Adam clicked the door opener for his Prius and slid into the driver’s seat feeling deflated. Why did he feel like he lost something just now? What was that? He felt like half a person. He gave one last wipe-down of his hands with a sani wipe. He guzzled from his water bottle. He would do some meditation when he got home. He had an app for that. He pushed the start button and drove his environmentally responsible car down the same driveway the blonde had driven just moments before. Two people at the same gym on the same day. That was all that was.
Maybe he would never come back. Maybe he would just buy a machine for his spare bedroom. Maybe set up a whole gym in there. Download a workout app. Maybe he would just cancel his gym membership. Maybe he would write them an angry resignation letter that he could then share on Facebook. Too bad he didn’t take a photo of her to post along with it. Maybe it would go viral.
Things were supposed to be getting better. But they weren’t getting better, Adam knew. He would have to find a better road to wellness. He had no other choice.