Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Best Intentions

Some of the new lockers in Dillon gymnasium

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions I am a bit of a trimmer.  While I recognize the logic and perhaps even the inevitability of making a mental connection between the desire for personal reformation and the rebooting of the calendar, I grow wary.  The problem is that I have an exalted understanding of a resolution.  In my mind a resolution is the secular analogue of a religious vow.   A good deal of my academic work has concerned medieval monks and nuns for whom vows were inflexible moral contracts imposing awesome responsibilities that ordinarily could not be abrogated without invoking a terrible social opprobrium in addition, of course, to the mortal sin.
   Linguistic manipulation frequently offers an excellent salve to the conscience.  You have undoubtedly run into the remark of the historian Tacitus concerning the Roman mode of military pacification.  “They create a desert and call it peace.”  So I do not speak of New Year’s resolutions.  My term of art is intentions.  We all have intentions.  Some we achieve, others we fail to achieve.  Such failure may be disappointing or discouraging, but it carries no necessary moral indictment.  I won’t list all my current intentions, but they include remembering that garbage pickup day is Friday, hanging no more than three garments from the back of any one chair, flossing under my dental bridges, and reading Don Quijote in Spanish.  My intention most like to succeed is to continue regular physical exercise at an early hour in the Dillon Gymnasium swimming pool.

  The gym is never open on New Year’s Day, but I have noticed over the years that on the second of January, the number of people who show up as the door opens is considerably larger than at any other time of the year.  This augmentation in pre-dawn athleticism generally lasts about ten days to two weeks: the average time a New Year’s resolution takes to fall by the wayside.  Well, yesterday morning I supercharged my intention by deciding that I would be the very first person to enter the men’s locker room in Athletic Year 2018.  So I set off especially early into the frigid blackness intending to be at the very front of the line.  There is a walk of two or three hundred yards from car to gym door.  The campus was very dark, very cold, and very empty.  I saw not a soul, and I was at first simple enough to believe that I had indeed achieved my intention. 

What had actually happened was that the guy who monitors the door had opened it some minutes early, doubtless as an act of charity, as the temperature was, I believe, seven degrees Fahrenheit.  As I entered the locker room I could hear door-clanks from several quarters, and my friend Gary, already in his workout gear, greeted me with a hearty “Happy New Year!”  I was big enough to admit to him that the irrefutable evidence that I was approximately the eighth person to enter the locker room in AY 2018—evidence of which his mere presence was a crushing part—had already made it less happy than it might have been.  This confession elicited friendly guffaws from other, unseen sooners behind various locker banks.  The locker room is fairly small, and has annoyingly good acoustics.

But there was further unintended mirth ahead.  I had not been swimming since before Christmas.  I was in Montreal for a week, and the gym was shut over the long New Year’s weekend.  I had taken the opportunity to put my favorite swimming trunks—actual a pair of green Champion athletic shorts inscribed with fading letters that read COLGATE ATHLETICS—through the washing machine.  I do this on general principles a couple of times a year whether they need it or not.  Naturally they went through the tumbler dryer as well—a material fact relevant to this narrative in a Chekovian sort of way.

For as I stood in the buff preparing to put them on, surrounded by the overachievers who had already and quite without malicious intent blasted my own New Year intention, a funny thing happened to me.  The swimming suit, which I had carried to the gym rolled up in a towel, seemed slightly heavy to me.  I was puzzled.  I shook it a little with both hands.  From one of its legs a kind of neutral colored satiny something slithered to the floor.  It was unmistakably a pair of women’s panties.

You have doubtless yourself experienced the odd effects of static electricity on the well-spun contents of a clothes dryer.  Ours is a somewhat unusual locker room.  Here “locker room talk” sometimes includes disquisitions on Kant or the Kuiper Belt.  One of the gawking sooners was actually an electrical engineer, and could have made of it a teachable moment; but no matter.  The whole room went momentarily silent.   For of course we are absolutely culturally au courant around here.  Among the improvements made to the Dillon Gymnasium during its long rehab was the installation of a “gender inclusive bathroom”.  I nonetheless gathered up the fallen garment as quickly as possible.  When later I related the anecdote to my wife, she was mildly amused.  “But what I am really missing,” she said, “is one of my black stretch socks.”  I intend to keep my eye peeled.