By Kenneth Weigandt
At the ripe age of 18, I was a summer camp counselor at a local park district. My summer job consisted of providing safe, enjoyable activities for a hoard of 25 first graders. As you can imagine, my goal every day was to wear the little mutants out so they’d stop asking me questions. Luckily, nothing tires kids out more than a swim in a public pool. They could jump of the diving board and piss in the shallow end till their little arms couldn’t paddle anymore. Since we had direct access to the park’s pool, I took my kids swimming every day of the summer. It was at this job that I observed the most unusual trends in social interaction; men in the locker room.
Let me begin by stating that I’m not shy when it comes to nudity. When necessary, I’ll drop trough and get dressed in front of anyone. However, a quick shower or getting changed is one thing, but during that year, I saw a shocking difference in how men of different generations interact in the buff. Since first graders take an excruciatingly long time to get themselves showered and dressed, I spent more time hanging amongst naked men than anyone ever should. That being said, I was able to develop a series of observations that will forever be ingrained my understanding of human beings. What I found was one of the most unique examples of how life comes full circle.
It begins when you’re a kid. I call this the I’m a naked little gremlin stage. When you’re a little kid, being naked is sheer bliss. In a world where kids have very little freedom, there’s a certain liberty children feel when they can get completely naked in a room full of strangers. And, since they haven’t hit the age of “this is weird,” little guys have a blast running in nude packs. Let’s face it, when you’re 6 years old, seeing your buddies naked is hilarious (I’ll return to the hilarity of male nudity later). Since this naked excitement is shared with all little kids, when left to their own devices, they terrorize the social structure of the locker room. Similar to the movie Gremlins when the cuddly little fur-balls run wild and threaten man-kind, that’s what a hoard of 6 year olds is in a locker room is like.
As the authority figure for these kids, my role was to keep things productive in the locker room. Not an easy task. To be successful, I needed to get my kids showered and changed in about 15 minutes. The difficultly was cemented in the fact that the showers and locker room were separated by about 15 feet. So while some were changing, others were showering, and I couldn’t simultaneously keep an eye on both. Believe this, it’s unbelievable what those little turds could turn into games. At one point, I left the showerers to check on the changers. When I returned to the showers, my little pack of wild hogs had pulled the liquid soap dispensers off the wall, had dumped every ounce on the shower floor, and proceeded to have a naked slip and slide. Since the showers were full of other patrons. I had to lay down the law. However, inside I was applauding. Not only did it look fun, but incredibly innovative. Meanwhile, on the changing side, my kids liked to ask inappropriate questions to strangers about their bodies. Usually, they’d point directly south of the border and make keen comparisons about the differences between them and their dads. A mix of childish curiosity and no censor leads some shocking Q & A. Most of my time was spent apologizing to other pool patrons.
This unadulterated urge to play in the locker room doesn’t last long. Soon, kids hit the “If you look at my while I’m changing I’ll kill you!” stage. While most of us quickly graduate from the awkward body part of life, most men don’t return to being gremlins. Instead, most male habits can be described as “eyes to myself, get in, get out.” This approach is ideal for all parties involved. My good friend and writing colleague Evan Trapp perfectly described his stance on showering with other men in the military.
“While I was in boot camp I had to share 6 shower heads with around 45 guys. We typically had around 15 minutes or so to shower, shave, brush and dress out so waiting around for an empty shower-head was not an option. This was by far the most psychologically difficult aspect of the training. A naked man, sexuality aside, is just not meant to be comfortable around another naked man in a shower/locker room setting; it is unnatural for our generation.” -Evan Trapp
While Evan’s experience is far more extreme than any public locker room, he’s absolutely correct. Two young adult men can shower and change next to each other without issue, but given the choice to do so alone or in a crowd, he’s going to choose to fly solo. This mind set is what keeps the locker room system running like a Cadillac. That being said, there are some continual wrenches that ruin the social system.
This is where things get confusing. Children having a great time makes perfect sense. Kids are shameless, they haven’t learned about social norms, and hanging with naked pals is new territory for a good time. But the confusion lies with old men who not only spend extraordinarily long periods of time without clothes, but seek as much social interaction as possible in the locker room.
Back to my summer job. While I was waiting for hoard of wild children to get changed, I was blown away at the subculture of old men who treated the locker room as a social club. There were three instances during that fateful summer that left me utterly perplexed:
- The Naked Intro: There I stood fully clothed shouting, “Tommy, take your underwear off your head.” (standard request that year). Then, a very tall nude man came up to me and said, “Kenny! Rock Adams (the name has been changed to protect the naked man’s identity) I’m Amy’s dad.” As he stuck out his hand waiting for a handshake, his junk hung inches away. I immediately panicked. As previously stated, I’m not afraid of nudity. But if you think I’m going to rub palms with a guy I’ve never met while his nether region is staring me in the face, you’re out of your damn mind. I pretended that one of my kids was asking me to tie his shoe and fled the scene. The good news is that I have no idea how he knew me, or who Amy was. I never saw Rock Adams again.
- The you don’t need a shower crew: As I said earlier, I took those kids swimming every day. And every day, the same trio of old men would sit on the same benches in the locker room and bullshit for hours. Of course they were stark nude. What confused me most was that these guys would be there when we got changed to swim, and would still be there when we got changed to leave. My theory was that they told their wives they were going to work out, but instead just stripped down and hung out in the locker room. I never once saw these gentlemen in the pool, the hot tub, or the attached gym. A typical swim session was two hours long. Over a three month summer camp, I calculate that they spent approximately 180 naked hours together. To this day, I wonder if they ever worked out, and why that setting was their preferred choice for social interaction. Needless to say, it made me extremely uncomfortable.
- The empty locker room conundrum. I’ve picked on old men in this essay, so I’m going to hit all age groups with this one. In every public locker room I’ve been in, there always appears to be thousands of empty lockers. However, no matter which locker I choose, I always get some jack hole that decides he needs to choose the locker immediately next to mine after I’ve started changing. So instead of having plenty of space to change my clothes, I have to rub butts with a wrinkly old bastard! And, even if you choose the locker next to mine, that doesn’t mean you need to change inches away from me. Usually, this perpetrator likes to make some crack about the weather as dries his balls. I’m not a violent person (I’d probably be a 4 on Peter’s fighting scale), but I want to drop a roundhouse every time.
I have a theory that male nudity has a lifecycle. You start with bliss, then move to fear, to acceptance, then back to bliss. The one exception comes from the “Holy shit that’s a penis” joke young men play on each other. Dongs are always shocking, so when your buddy asks you “what’s on my shoe?” and you look down to see his exposed weiner, the joke is on you. I’ve never been a big fan of the “Holy shit that’s a penis” joke, but I get it. Keep in mind, this joke only works with the closest of friends, and it usually loses its luster after high school. Recently, a spree of films have used the shocking dong humor for some cheap laughs (Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a perfect example). But that conundrum can easily be solved by the move from fear to acceptance and shouldn’t destroy my life cycle theory.
If my theory holds true, I’ll begin to seek out nude social opportunities at the same time I find my medical mishaps fascinating conversation topics. The “you don’t need a shower crew” only talked about their hatred for modern medicine. I’ve since taken a career path that has led me away from locker rooms. But I’m still haunted by what I observed that summer. However, on my bucket list, #18 reads: Naked Slip and Slide. Those little gremlins were a pain in the ass, but I salute their ingenuity.