Back In The Locker Room Again

Thursday, June 4, 2015 | 0 Comment(s)

Many of my long time readers will remember my series of pieces all set in the locker room of the UMass pool gymnasium.  To be clear, I'm not talking about the new multi-million dollar Athletic Center where everyone on campus goes to exercise, but rather the building that now holds only squash courts, physical fitness classrooms, and a state of the art pool that seems totally out of place.  The pool is the last remaining sentinel of the gym that came before. This used to be where students worked out 20 years ago, but now the place is deserted save for the swimmers forced into occupancy because of the lack of an aquatic center in the new building . . . so far.  As it stands, the locker room is an elephant graveyard of grey beaten lockers, and the shower room is straight out of a Revenge of the Nerds script.

Just add the smell of musky dead rabbits
A few weeks ago I signed up for my summer membership at the pool, and was handed a padlock and a locker number.  I loaded my suit, towel, and deodorant into the locker that time forgot. I wrote the combination on the back of my Faculty ID.

Last Thursday was my fourth visit to the pool.  As I flopped down on the bench in front of my locker, my eyes were still fighting against gravity's insistence that they close.  Once I hit the water, gravity's force would no longer apply to me.  My weightlessness in water kept the lids permanently lifted. These were the benefits of weekly exercise and a surge of adrenaline.

I twisted the padlock to zero.  I got lucky in this regard, my combination actually starts with zero -- so centering the dial served a double purpose.  I lazily cranked the dial around to the next two numbers and then yanked downward.  Nothing.  I repeated the sequence again with the same result.  The third attempt I held the lock in my left hand as I carefully entered the combination.  I pulled harder than was necessary.  Still locked.

I knew this was the right locker AND the right combination, but I pulled out my wallet to recheck the numbers on the back of my ID.  Just in case. As I suspected, I had correctly remembered the two number sequence. I tried the lock about seven more times.  Nothing.

The reason I didn't give up after the first four or five attempts is that the result of this failure meant I would have to walk up to the undergraduate women working the towel locker and confess that I, a doctor of psychology, couldn't open a padlock.

"I can't open my padlock . . ." I said sheepishly to the undergraduate surfing the web on a computer in the towel closet.  "I have the correct locker, and the right combination, but, it won't open."

She was less fazed than I expected.  Maybe she instinctively didn't want to shame a professor, or perhaps she'd seen shit a whole lot worse than this during her tenure at the athletic center.  Either way, she opened a rolodex and pulled a half sheet of paper out of the file.  Grabbing a scrap piece of paper, she scribbled down a 8-digit number.

"See if this matches the number of the back of your locker," she instructed.

I did and it didn't.  Now I was bordering on upset.  I kept my composure and walked back to the towel counter.

"The number didn't match," I told her.  "And if I could just clarify for a second. Doesn't that mean that someone took my lock off, went into the locker, and then put their lock on?!"

The reason I got a locker in the first place was literally ONLY so that this exact situation didn't happen.  The only purpose of a locked piece of rectangular scrap metal is to keep everyone else outside of it.  If my lock can so easily be replaced, the whole pretense of security is a sham. I might as well throw my shit in one of plentiful unused lockers, sans lock.

It wasn't this student's fault, and I tried to make it clear my frustration was due to the breach in privacy, not directed at her.  She understood, and was apologetic on behalf of whatever seemed to be going on.

A minute later the young women reaches under the counter and pulls out a plastic garbage bag filled with the contents of my locker, minus whatever they deemed garbage.  She looks horrified. Embarrassed.

"I'm so so sorry," she pleads, "I'm so sorry. That's not supposed to happen. I'm really sorry," At that point it was as if she were saying it into the ether.  Like she was awaiting my finishing move to  inevitably come to end her misery.

"It's not your fault," I said sincerely. "It is pretty screwed up, but it's not your fault."

Some hero of locker room preservation went rogue when clearing out the lockers leftover from Spring semester.  In his/her zeal to make sure no one got even one extra month of access to the dilapidated elephant graveyard where mold goes to die that is the Boyden Gymnasium locker room, said college employee ransacked my newly purchased Summer locker in what I envision was a Kristallnacht-like evacuation.  I concede that I am prone to dramatization.

Just cause . . .
The student, still intermittently apologizing, grabbed a huge binder and began to look up the number I had retrieved from the back of my new lock. She scratched out the 8-digit number and wrote out a new combination underneath it on the scrap paper.

"Here's your new combo.  And again, I'm so sorry about this."

I sat down for the second time in front of my locker.  To say that I was now awake would be an understatement, the adrenaline of frustration having long since lifted my lids to peak awareness. Zero was not the first digit of my new combo, which pissed me off right away.  Thankfully all three numbers in the new combination had a common multiple. The mathematical relationship was unique enough that I figured I'd remember this new sequence after a few iterations.  I wound the dial and pulled.

The U-shaped bar released, immediately obeying the meticulously inputted succession of numeral commands.  I was back alright. This experience serving as an apt metaphor of my experience on this campus.  While the pool is unquestionably top notch, every bit of privilege at UMass comes with an equal amount of bureaucratic frustration, from the Aquatic Center all the way to the Provost's Office.
Dive right in.

No comments:

Post a Comment