"You're not supposed to wear shoes in here," the woman said.
We were the only two in the steam room. I was perched on a bench, wrapped in a towel from neck to knees, wearing pink rubber flip flops.
She, a woman old enough to be my mother, was lying flat on her back below me, stark naked.
As she proceeded to full-frontally scold me about the germs that lurk on the soles of shower shoes, I wasn't listening. I was too busy trying to focus my gaze elsewhere, somewhere, anywhere but on her. In the end, I gave up and closed my eyes. I find this is the best approach at my gym, a senior-friendly neighborhood Y whose grandmotherly female members have turned out to be flagrant locker-room exhibitionists.
I'm no stranger to gym nudity. I was a kid when racquetball was all the rage and spent innumerable weekends watching my parents play, and then waiting in the ladies' locker room while my mom hit the jacuzzi. A prude even then, I was astonished that these women would willingly appear in their birthday suits in front of strangers. "They're comfortable with their bodies," my mother explained. "It's healthy."
Perhaps too healthy. Years later, the same women who were young and nude at the racquetball club are now 60, 70 and beyond—and nuder than ever. At my gym, women friends will stand, mutually starkers, swapping photos of their grandchildren. They'll wear a towel around their hair and nowhere else. A few days before the steam room incident, a silver-haired woman stripped off her towel in the sauna to perform a series of in-the-buff yoga contortions worthy of a spread in Penthouse.
This must be a generational thing. I can't imagine women my age acting this way. Too many are hung up on their supposed flaws. To take off the towel would be, in their minds, to subject themselves to the negative scrutiny of others. That's too bad.
On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about the 1970s "let it all hang out" attitude. In theory, it's great that these women don't give a damn what anyone else thinks.
But in practice, I'll be keeping my towel on in the steam room. And my shoes, too.