We almost had an “incident” at the gym the other tonight, and it would have been my fault. I pulled back in time, but it was a close call. I almost broke the fourth wall.
In the theater the fourth wall is the imaginary wall at the front of the stage through which the audience sees the action. Speaking directly to the audience through this imaginary wall (or through the camera in film and TV) is referred to as “breaking the fourth wall“
There’s a fourth wall at the gym, too. It’s the one that separates you from your neighbor on the next machine.
The gym has the following posted rules:
- Children must be supervised
- Joggers use the last row
- Wipe off your machine after using
The last is an unwritten rule, but it is the most unbreakable;
- Do not look directly at anybody while they’re working out
Like other gyms, the Y sets up their treadmills, stair-climbers and other machines mere inches away from one another. This maximizes prime workout real estate. With that little personal space between you, boundaries are crucial. Looking directly at your neighbor is breaking the fourth wall and it is strictly forbidden. They should just issue blinders like horses wear when they’re in harness.
When entering and exiting your machine, you are allowed a brief glance. Even then, only the most cursory inspection is allowed. This is just to establish if you’re next to your sister-in-law or someone else it would be rude to ignore. After you’re launched into your workout, however, you cannot look directly at your neighbors.
While direct lookage is verboten, one can glean the basic facts about ones neighbor through the judicious use of the sideways glance. In this way you can determine sex, relative age (old, young or like me) and relative workoutedness (skinny weakling, fat weakling, work-out Barbie, etc.)
The only time you are allowed to break the unwritten rule without consequence is if you suspect your neighbor may be in danger.
That actually happened to me last year. I was working at a weight machine when I heard a dull thud behind me. When I turned around I saw that a fellow sweat-maven had fallen to the floor in an apparent faint and was wedged between the machines. Naturally I rushed to her aid. I stayed with her until the lifeguards and eventually the ambulance EMTs took over. After that little heart-stopper I have been ever vigilant about the health and well being of my workout neighbors.
Fast forward to the other night.
I did my allowed swift appraisal when I mounted the treadmill and determined that the left-side neighbor was a young woman, apparently fit. Where I walked briskly, she ran.
After a few minutes I could hear, even through my headphones, that she was making an odd noise. Every couple of minutes she emitted a kind of a “huhhhhh-h-h-h” groan.
I surreptitiously let the ear bud fall from the ear farthest away from her so I could get a better listen without her knowledge.
“Huhhh-h—h-h-HH!” she groaned again.
I did a brief peripheral glance – she was still moving. That was a good sign.
I swung my gaze back around front where it belonged, but kept an ear free just in case.
“Huh-h—h, huh-hhh, huhh-h-h-hHH!” She was practically honking now. Fearing that this goose might be cooked, I decide that stronger measures were called for. Maybe she was trapped, George Jetson style, and didn’t know how to stop the crazy thing. Casually, oh so causally, I picked my towel off the right arm of the treadmill. Burying my face in its stained, rough bleachiness, my eyes peaked above for a full, sideways perusal of Grunting Gretel.
Still running; check
Sweating, but not excessively; check
Still breathing; hard, but not too hard: check
Everything was OK next door. All I could figure is she thought making noise added something to the workout, or psyched out the other exercisers. I had an Anna Kournikova wannabe next to me.
I put my towel down, put the ear bud back in my ear and assumed the usual position – gaze fixed on the mini-TV in front of me. I know I would have had the courage to break the fourth wall if it came right down to it, but now was not that day.
All was well in the workout world.
*****Alert!!!!****Alert!!!! Now that I’ve got your attention, don’t panic, there is no international emergency. I’d just like to point out the snazzy contest going on, right over there in the right-hand column. See it? That brightly colored whatsit right there? Yeah, that one. Click on that and enter my contest.
Just keep your eyes on this gold watch as it goes back and forth, back and forth …your eyes are getting heavy…you are sleepy…so sleepy…you will enter my contest…you will enter 4, no, 5 times…when I snap my fingers you will wake up refreshed, with no memory of this alert. Except you will honk like a goose whenever you see the contest picture. Snap!