The most memorable scene in The Grapes of Wrath comes near the end, as the Joad family gather up their few meagre coins and treat themselves to a half hour in a motel Jacuzzi. In Southern California, it has long been the habit of stressed and unhappy people to cheer themselves up by soaking in warm bubbling water in a state of near, or entire, undress.
As the Depression grinds on, I have found myself surrendering to similar urges. What really attracts me to my gym is the Olympic-sized spa pool. It is a subterrannean marvel. It sits below a low concrete ceiling at the rear of the changing rooms; vast, blue-tiled, Roman.
You lower yourself into the water and feel indulged. You have had an hour of stomach crunches and pull-ups and trying to maintain face alongside Rob Waddell on the rowing machine; now you have your rest.
Life is good at 42 degrees, no matter what the bankers have done to it.
Always, uncannily, and within moments, Spock-like, Wallace Chapman materialises. It doesn't matter what time of day you're there, within twelve seconds of getting naked and lowering yourself into the warm waters, there he is alongside you. I sometimes wonder if he's really there for the exercise.
We canvass the political issues of the day, and compare notes of misfortune, then I get up to leave and Wallace hits the plunge pool.
As far as I know, there is nothing about this behaviour that is contrary to the terms of our gym membership. But consider the ambiguous phrasing of the sign which hangs at the entrance to the changing rooms and also in the showers:
INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR WILL NOT BE TOLERATED
Les Mills Auckland management advise instant membership cancellation if found acting inappropriately in these areas.
I'm pretty sure I know what they're talking about, but how can I be sure when they're too coy to spell it out?
I surreptitiously copied the words down on a scrap of paper in order to be sure I would faithfully quote them. I'd have taken a photograph with my cellphone, but you can no doubt understand my hesitation.
There was a time when men's changing rooms were a bastion of strong language and frankness, and I imagine that in Matamata and Timaru, they still are. But around here I sense the prissying effect of neo-Victorian sensibilities in Parnell advertising agencies and the strangulation of our language by modern management.
We want people to behave themselves in the men's changing rooms. There have been...complaints. Can you make a sign?
Many years ago, in the changing rooms at the Freyberg Pool, I was astonished to look up and see a certain National Party MP scoping my junk with a lecherous grin. But that was Wellington. I can't say I've noticed anything 'inappropriate' in any gym I've used in Auckland. I have to conclude, therefore, either that it does not take place, or that it does, but I don't know it when I see it. Might it be, for example, talking politics in the pool with your mates?
Why shrink (fnaar!) from spelling it out? I'm guessing: making unwelcome sexual advances, taking a long lingering look around the changing room, taking snapshots and, perhaps, if you're not too tired after all that Pilates, having sex.
I wouldn't feel troubled to read such things on a sign, and frankly, I think it would not hurt for modern business to grow a pair.