Monday, December 17, 2018
The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
My kids signed me up for an exercise class at Anytime Fitness. They told me it would help me "stay healthy" and "meet people my age." The undercurrents of those two comments could carry someone away to sea. But truth be told, it is walking distance from my house and I don't really have a whole lot to do, so I agreed to try it out. I had just finished this wonderful novel, and I was eager to find someone to talk to about Colombian history and conspiracy theories in general. But I figured I shouldn't just jump in with a comment about Rafael Uribe Uribe, so I tried to warm up the crowd with, "Good morning! Do any of you walking corpses like to read?" Cue crickets chirping. I believe I saw someone drool. So no luck there, but all in all, the class was not so bad. It's good to know that my body can still perform most of its basic gross motor functions, albeit in a somewhat slower manner than in the past. And the class leader was not nearly as annoying as one would expect from someone willing to take that job. At the end of the day, I might have gone back if it weren't for the altercation I had with the kid on the way out. This gentleman, if I may profane the term, looked to be about 19, with a baggy shirt that he had cut the sleeves off, seemingly with a pair of left-handed safety scissors. It appeared that he had used a random number generator to determine which parts of his head would be shaved and which would be spared. And as I was getting ready to leave, I distinctly heard him say to his girlfriend, the aspiring Spandex model, "It smells like old people in here." I thought for a few moments about how often I had told my children to ignore people's rude comments and walk away, and I realized, not for the first time, what bullshit advice that is. So I calmly turned in his direction and said, "I'm sorry - did you ask me something?" He said he hadn't and smiled at his girlfriend, but I was not to be deterred. "Oh," I replied, "I thought you had said something about how it smells like old people in here." He stopped abruptly and turned back with an ashen look on his face. Busted, sucker. My daughter has told me that I have an exquisite talent for taking a joke too far. But I see it more like juicing an orange. If you squeeze once or twice, you will get plenty of juice. But if you're willing to push just a little harder, you get that extra bit that makes it all the more satisfying, and you know you haven't wasted anything. So I went totally dead pan and took a deep breath in through my nose. "Oh," I continued, "I smell it now...But I'm not sure it's old person smell. <pause> It's something a little mustier...maybe...sweaty balls?" Then I locked his eyes without smiling, just a quizzical look on my face like we were in it together, trying to decipher this mysterious aroma. His mouth was open, but he didn't say anything, so I shrugged and turned away, but I caught a definite subtle smirk on his girlfriend's face, and I figured that was worth the price of the rest of the classes I won't be attending.