February 22, 2011

“You want a spot, my man?” asks a short, stocky training room assistant.  He has been milling around the free weights, scoping out the various exercisers: a 78 year old man, a 65 year old woman, and me.

I’m on the bench press.  Typical me.  You know…working out all the time.  I’m huge Jerry.  Huge!

“No, I’m ok.  Thanks though.”  I start my set.

“Haha!  See you youngsters still have strength,” he begins.  “You have the energy to take those weights and attack.”

I rack the weights.  I’ve seen this type of person before.  He’s going to start talking to me and he’s probably not going to stop.  His name-tag says “Juan.”  From the light streaks of grey in his crew cut, I can tell he is probably in his early fifties, although he still looks strong.  He has a healthy-sized gut which seemed to be the basis of his power.  If he was a professional wrestler, there’s no doubt his finishing move would be the bear hug.

“See I keep my weight right here,” Juan says, pointing to his belly.  “I’m two-hundred and fifteen pounds.  I bring power from my stomach.  I bring power from my neck.  I bring power from my shoulders.”  He is looking intently in the mirror.  Never makes eye-contact with me.  He bares his teeth. “You need to see the weights and attack!  You have to attack them!  Because that’s what makes life happen, you know?”  I don’t have my DSM-IV manual on me, but I’m pretty sure Juan is a raging psychopath*.  “If you don’t attack is when you get hurt.”

Like a true enabler, I nod, smile and say, “Exactly.”

“That’s right exactly!”  He snarls and stares at himself in the mirror.  “You see there’s the darkness that’s out there.  There is temptation.  You want revenge.  You want to take revenge on people.  ‘No way, White Man, I didn’t do that!  You can’t blame me for that!’ And you could take them out.  But it’s just a path to darkness.  You need to go to church.  Go to a group setting.”

“Exactly…”  I smile and nod again.  Apparently, he’s not picking up on my polite, WASP-y, fake-encouragement.

“Exactly.  Because when I was coming up there was all sorts of drugs.  Acid was real big.  Prostitutes too!  I would have friend come up and say, ‘Hey, Juan I got two for you.’  I’d say, ‘Two what?’  He’d say, ‘Two women!’  But I never did that though.”

“Oh man…that’s crazy…” Please stop talking.  I’m begging you please stop talking.

“That is crazy, but now you need to hold your strength.  You need to explode.  Explode against that.”  He flexes in the mirror and grabs the air.  It looks like he’s pulling the Invisible Man’s heart out.  It’s like watching a shark swim.  There’s nothing behind those eyes and it scares you.  “See people when they make you mad, they don’t know that you can explode.  Sometimes they beg you to cut them some slack.  You can or you can’t.”  He shrugs and smiles.

“Exactly…” I respond.  Smile.  Nod.  I’m going to die here.  He’s going to strangle me with a jump rope or push me down the Stairmaster.

“Exactly right.  You’re right.  See before this I was a cop for 30 years.”


He continues, “See that’s why I see a guy like you: young and you have strength.”  He’s not even looking at me.  He’s addressing the Juan in the mirror.  “But there are people who don’t.  They don’t have strength and they don’t explode.  They implode.  They cave in.  And they’ll go down the wrong path.  They always go down the wrong path.”  He smiles at me and extends a fist.  I give him the obligatory pound.  He explodes it and walks away.

Five minutes later I overhear him talking to the 65 year old woman.  “See acid was real big back then…”

“Exactly…” she says.

* My girlfriend insisted that I just write “DSM.”  She said, “It’s redundant.  The DSM-IV is already a manual.  It’s like saying an ATM Machine or a TV Vision.”  Also, the term psychopath is no longer in the DSM-IV as a mental condition.  Fact checking!

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