Gym-nation Politics

Recently I switched gyms. Such a good move. My new gym, a YMCA, is clean, friendly, and well air-conditioned. Everything my old gym was not (which is why location after location appears to be closing, like slow-moving corporate gangrene).

Really, the cleanliness of this particular YMCA is remarkable. It smells clean. I think it could have something to do with the fact that there is a spray bottle and microfiber towel on EVERY SINGLE weight machine, and most of the ellipticals. Several are lined up on the wall behind the treadmills. Those spray bottles are everywhere.

And it’s a good thing, because there’s a lot of DNA, bacteria, and yuck on those machines. I’ve seen people sneeze into their hand and go right back to their pull-ups. Or just sneeze straight onto the elliptical!  Skin cells, sweat, mucous. It’s a forensic nightmare (fortunately there are not many crimes happening at the Y).

Those spray bottles have a big job. And there seems to be a sort of social contract at work about how to not become the origin of the plague.

So I began to notice how people used the spray bottles as well, and thought that this might reflect something of our broader outlook on personal vs. communal responsibility. Could how you use the spray bottle and microfiber towel say something about how you vote?

Those who clean the machine before they workout, but not after

These are the libertarians of the gym nation. They believe that that it’s up to each weight lifter to make sure that his machine is sanitized. If you get sick because Joe licked the chest press for some reason, well it’s not Joe’s fault, it’s yours. Should’ve pre-cleaned.

In society these are the people who believe that it’s up to parent alone to educate their kids, that hard work will necessarily pay off, and that there shouldn’t be a public version of anything that can be privatized. They would like to pay for their gym membership with gold doubloons.

Those who clean the machine after they workout, but not before

These are the bleeding heart liberals of the gym-nation. They have put their full faith in the social contract, believing that everyone will abide by the big posted sign that says: Clean the machine when you are done. The believe that even that meathead checking himself out in the mirror between sets has their best interest at heart.  And so they do their duty, and trust that no matter what strain of flu is going around, that we will all survive by taking care of each other. (Or maybe they are just rule followers.)

These are the ones who dutifully put their kids in inner city schools, believing that the reasons those schools are failing is because all the concerned parents pulled their kids out. They pay their taxes without looking for loopholes. They participate in Park Clean-Up for parks in other neighborhoods, and they vote yes to public programming and environmental efforts every time.

(Full disclosure: I’m one of these people at the gym, and for the most part in public life too…verdict still out on the public school thing.)

Those who clean the machine before and after

These are the “trust but verify” types.  They’re doing their part to prevent the global pandemic, but they are also doing their part not to get any of Joe’s mucous on their hands. These people often came from gyms where the machines were visibly dirty, or they have used the keyboard at a public library.

In civic life, these are the wealthy/middle class liberals. Their kids are in private school…even though they vote for public Pre-K programs. They have private insurance, even though they believe in Obamacare (or some variant thereof). I had a British friend tell me that while he believed that the NHS was vital to civilized life in Britian, he used a private practitioner. These are the ones who live in the suburbs and work/volunteer/donate in the city.

(It has been noted that many conservatives would fall into this category via church and volunteer activities. There’s more than one way to take care of others!)

Those who do not clean the machine at all

I really wish there was some sort of monitor to make sure these people were chased down and required to go back and clean the equipment. When we all die from some beefed-up superstrain of the flu in coming years, I’m pretty sure it’s origin will be on the freeweights at an American gym. Not only are they germs…they are fit germs.

The only time I habitually did not clean my workout machine was when I was stuck in a contract with the worst gym on the planet. The machines were constantly breaking, the management was apathetic, and the cleaning supplies were never ever available. They had one spray bottle and one roll of paper towels that was never anywhere to be found. It was a failed-state gym-nation, and I, like many people in a failed state, turned to anarchy.

These people in society are the criminals and freeloaders. They are not taking care of themselves or others. Some of them are just slime, while others are operating as best they can in a society that they feel has failed them. Some of them need to be locked up, and others need to be helped to find their place in society.

The point in all of this is that we have differing views of our obligations to ourselves and others, and those views might manifest themselves in more than just our ballots. The point is also that we should all wash our hands after we work out, regardless of our spray bottle habits.

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