It is early in the morning and you are working out on a cross-trainer in the exercise room. The room unsuccessfully attempts to give an illusion of being twice its actual size by dint of a carpet-to-ceiling mirror attached to the wall directly in front of you. It also means that you can’t help looking at, from time to time, your own contorted face as you labour on the cross-trainer. On the sidewall is a plasma screen television showing news: a sultry brunette newsreader is discussing with a foxy blonde economic analyst the credit crunch and the crisis on the Wall Street. Both have an air of mild excitement about them as if they had, both, just then, received, or were waiting for, with eager anticipation, what they hoped to be a jolly good rogering.
The door of the exercise room opens and in walks a muscular man of above average height. He is not bad looking in a stolid, dull, vacant way. He seems overjoyed to see you and gives an ear-to-ear grin, revealing a full set of shiny white and rather larger teeth. You feel obliged to rearrange the muscles around your mouth, with an aim to position your lips in a way that could be construed as a hint of a smile.
This turns out to be a mistake. The man takes it as a cue to start conversation.
‘Are you having a good day, so far, sir?’ he asks.
It is a quarter to six in the morning. You had had a late and not very pleasant evening the previous day. You ate in a Chinese restaurant, the company not very sparkling, the waitress over-familiar, over-talkative, over-enthusiastic (and middle aged), feeling it was her duty to inform you how each and every dish you’d ordered was prepared—‘We marinate Mongolian Beef overnight’—till you’d wanted to slap her, and the adjoining table being occupied by a family with destructive toddlers who either wanted the same seat or the same apple juice or their mother’s attention at the same time. One of the toddlers was a girl who, having recently made the discovery that she could speak, was yakking non-stop (shamelessly abetted by her mother, who, instead of telling her to shut up so that others could eat in peace, was beaming at fellow diners with pride every time the girl made some inane comment, as if she had split atom), while the other toddler, a boy, not having attained, yet, the same level of linguistic competence, was throwing forks and knives in different directions with grim determination, much, you’d noticed, to the merriment of his father. One of the missiles had missed your nose by hair’s breadth and you’d felt obliged to tell the father that he ought to control the little brat more effectively, and he’d taken great pleasure in informing you that while he’d noted down your concern there was precious little he could do about it—‘Children will be children’. You had washed down the Mongolian Beef and Hakka Noodles with a bottle of Turner Road Merlot and had woken up at four thirty in the morning with a bursting bladder and your throat feeling as if someone had rubbed hot sand on it with a polish paper. Having considered your options, and voting in favour of exercising over a wank or watching porn, you’d come to the hotel’s gym, hoping that you’d not be disturbed. And then this saphead walks in.
Ignoring that you have ignored his greeting, the man walks towards the window of the third floor exercise room and, looking down at the car-park, declares, ‘Gorgeous day!’ He seems pleased with this discovery. You carry on peddling on the cross-trainer, hoping that he’d shut up or, preferably, go away.
‘You want a towel?’ You look over your shoulder and he is standing behind you, holding a small Turkish towel from the rack in the corner, provided by the management.
He makes his way towards the weights and looks down at them. You are looking at him in the mirror. He flexes his upper arm and gives an admiring glance to his bulging biceps. He then proceeds with the weights and is soon emitting sounds not unlike those one makes on the bog when constipated. As your ill luck would have it he pauses just when you pause to take a breather.
‘Where are you from, friend?’ he asks.
Not knowing, immediately, how to disabuse him of the misguided notion that you're his friend, you tell him.
‘Oh! My brother lives there,’ he exclaims. Every second fuckwit you meet these days seems to have a relative hiding in some hole in the city you live in. You know, with a sinking heart, what is going to follow.
‘He is in Computers,’ the man says.
‘Oh!’ you reply with tremendous incuriosity.
‘Yeh! Has been living there for almost ten years. Says he likes it there. I can’t see myself living there; I’d feel cramped.’
‘Have you been there any time?’
‘Nah! Jim—that’s my brother— invites me every time we speak, but it’s too long a distance to travel. I have never travelled to abroad. Never felt the need.’
‘There are aeroplanes, these days, you know. You can reach the other part of the globe in less than twenty four hours. Mind you, you’re not missing anything. It is an over-crowded, over-polluted, over-inflated, over-hyped place where there are only three seasons: miserable, more miserable and absolutely dreadful.’ You don’t know why you are saying this and prolonging your agony; you don’t really want to carry on with this conversation.
‘Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! You’re a funny guy. I’d love to share a few jokes with you over cocktails.’
‘Unfortunately, my schedule is rather tight.’ While the chances of your meeting this man during the rest of your stay in the hotel (three days), outside of the exercise room, are very slim, you tell yourself you are wise to take precautionary measures.
‘This is a beautiful state,’ the man ventures more information.
‘Compared to what?’
‘It was just that you said you’d never travelled out of the country. I was just curious to know what your reference point was.’
‘Yeh! Just that,’ the man replies. You suspect that the full range of human potentialities is rather limited in his case. Or, as Aldous Huxley would have put it, out of ten octaves that make up the human instrument, he can compass perhaps two.
The man walks to the water-fountain in the other corner of the room and starts drinking greedily, as if he has remembered, just then, how to do it. You return to your cross-trainer. He then walks back to the middle of the room and lies supine on the floor. He stretches his arms behind his head and lifts his hips in what you assume is some sort of stretching exercise. As his pelvis rises up, his loose black shorts fall back, partially revealing his balls and limp penis. He remains suspended in that position for a few seconds, then brings his pelvis down, his buttocks landing on the floor with a soft thud. You look the other way, quickly, before he attempts the manoeuvre again. A side-on view of the-word-you-think-is-Carajo-in Spanish is not something you wish to see first thing in the morning (or for that matter at any time of the day) on an empty stomach (or for that matter on a full stomach). The man gets up; in one quick motion readjusts the position of his penis (and scratches his balls); and returns to the weights. But not before making some more observations, this time on the national game.
‘Did you watch the World Series final last night? Cracking game.’
‘World Series final? Which game might you be talking about?’
It turns out he is talking about baseball.
‘I am afraid I don’t follow baseball. Is it possible to hold a world series for a game that is played in only one country?’
This query is met with the expected non sequitur. ‘We are crazy about baseball, here. You guys play a similar game, don’t you? Cricket? Very quaint.’
‘Yes. Very. It is played in a few countries.’
‘Do you follow it?’
‘Oh God! No! What’s the point in watching a game which goes on for days and ends without a result? And I can’t be bothered with all that jargon: you are in when you’re out, and out when you’re in’; rubbish like that.
‘Is it Football, then?’
‘Hate it. Entertainment for the lobotomised by the lobotomised.’
‘Which sport do you follow then?’
‘Let me think. Tennis. Women’s tennis to be precise. When Sharapova is playing, to be more precise. When she is bending down to receive a serve and the camera is focusing on her ass, to be even more precise.’
‘You are absolutely cracking me up.’
Well, as they say, de gustibus non est disputandum.
‘Wow! That’s, like, profound. What does it mean? Is it Latin?’
‘You are wrong there. It does sound like Latin, but it’s in fact Sanskrit.’
‘Are you sure?’ The man asks dubiously. Perhaps he is not as simple as that.
‘Absolutely. And it means: in matters of taste there is no argument. Anyway, it was nice talking to you; I have to get going, now.’
‘Well, it was great talking to you. Have a smashing day.’
You leave the exercise room thinking the rest of the day would indeed be smashing if you did have to listen to his vacuous drivel.
Later . . .
You walk into the breakfast room, which is half-empty, and, to your dismay, you see the man sitting on his own with a pile of rashers on his plate. He grins at you and you wince at the sight of those teeth; he indicates with a wave of his hand that he’d be delighted if you joined him. You really are left with no option. You go to the counter; add breakfast cereal to your bowl and pour (virtually fat free) milk on it. Then you walk slowly back to where the man is sitting, and sit on the next table. You turn to him and, in the immortal words of Sid James, say to him: ‘Do us a favour sunny Jim; go and fuck yourself.’