Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.
It was March of 2000. Y2K came and went. Nothing has changed. I was 18 years old, still attending college, still training at the university gym, and still failing with girls.
One thing has changed though. I now understood the basics of training and familiarized myself with all of the equipment at the gym. I worked out so often that everyone in the gym began to look familiar. I even mustered up enough confidence to say "hi" to them when walking past. Even my arch-nemesis Chris would ocassionally mutter a gruff greeting to me, but that was probably because he was working at the gym now and HAD to be polite to everyone. It was during this time that a new guy came to the gym.
Standing taller than most people at the gym, this new guy's tanned arms rippled with musles, and his blond, wavy, long hair gave him a California Golden Boy appearance. He flashed his shiny, white-teethed smile at everyone. Even though he was new, he walked around the whole gym like he had been there for years. Girls beamed at his presence, and doted on him. I began to hate this guy already.
Unfortunately, he frequented the gym as much as I did. He worked out and spoke to many people between sets, his bellowing voice and booming laughter carried across the gym, pissing me off each and every time. One week, I saw him talking to one of the prettiest girls in the gym. She was clinging to his every word, playfully slapping him on the arm, and at the end of the conversation, she handed him a piece of paper with what I assumed was her phone number. He flashed her his white smile and muttered something. The girl looked elated. What the hell? Here I was unable to even get one date after a year of college and failing miserably at picking up girls, then this guy comes in and starts picking up chicks left and right. I seethed with jealousy on the inside as I wished I was like this guy working his magic.
One day while I was working out on the gym's only incline press, the blond guy approached and said, "Mind if I work in with you?"
I looked up in surprise and I didn't know what to say. "Um, sure," I muttered.
"Great," he said cheerfully. As I got up from the bench, he extended his hand. "My name's Tim."
I shook his hand. "Dion..."
"Nice to meet you, Dion!" Tim said, with sincerity. "And thanks for letting me work in! Anyone ever tell you that you look like Brandon Lee?"
His jovial attitude took me aback. This was unexpected. I stood there dumbfounded, but Tim broke the silence and offered to let me do another set. Before he arrived, I was lifting 185 lbs. on the incline and dared not go any further without a spotter. I leaned back down onto the bench and pushed out nine repetitions by myself, and three more with Tim spotting me and pulling up on the bar.
"Good job, man," Tim said, slapping by shoulder. "You're pretty strong. For your next set, let's try 205 and see how many you do."
I managed to push out a few reps, Tim helping me with the last one. "Great job," he said. "With that intensity, you'll be pushing three-hundred in no time!"
Tim said that he was going to do some shoulder exercises next and asked if I wanted to join. By this time, I felt like the size of an ant. Here I was hating Tim out of jealousy while he went out of his way to be nice to me and invite me to work out with him. I obliged and we went in front of the dumbells.
Chris was doing a set of curls on a preacher bench nearby. I ignored him and alternated a few sets of shoulder presses with Tim. The whole time, Tim spoke incessently, inquiring about my training goals, school, and work. Unlike the shallowness of small talk that many people use, Tim seemed to carry a genuine concern to know someone with the questions he asked. The more I talked to him, the more I found him likeable and felt comfortable talking to him. I explained that I worked out because I wanted to get bigger, and that I wanted to be a teacher. Tim said that he was going to school to become an engineer. All of my enviness and jealousy melted away, replaced by a desire to learn from him. From that moment on, I decided to watch his interactions with everyone else, mentally taking notes.
After Tim and I finished shoulder presses, we left the dumbell rack and headed over to the cable machine. I asked Tim about his popularity with girls. He laughed, then shrugged off the idea as though it were myth. This degree of modesty impressed me, because even he had to know about the degree of popularity he carried. During this time, Chris stomped over towards me, scowling. "Did you leave all of those dumbells on the floor over ther?" he demanded, pointing at the dumbells section. Several dumbells lay scattered on the floor.
I sat there dumbfounded. "N-no," I stammered. "We racked all the dumbells."
Chris leveled a finger at my face. "You better not let me catch you leaving those dumbells around, cause I have to pick that shit up." He stomped away back towards the dumbell section.
I watched him walk off, my surprise fading away into humiliation, which started to boil into anger. Tim walked up to me and said in a low voice. "Don't take that shit from him. I don't know what his problem is, but you didn't do anything wrong. Go over there and tell him that. He owes you an apology."
"Nah, I don't want to start nothing," I said without conviction. In truth, I wanted to walk over to Chris and slam a fist into his face.
"Dion, trust me, man. If you don't say something, he's going to treat you like shit every time he sees you. Don't let him get away with that."
Tim was right. Chris has been treating me like shit every time he has seen me, and I was getting tired of him getting away with it.
"Don't worry man," Tim said. "I got your back."
I thought about every incident that Chris treated me like a fool, and anger filled me. My vision began to dim until everything around Chris darkened. I was unaware of anyone else as I walked up to him. Chris was sitting at the preacher curls again, and he looked up at me as I approached.
"Listen here," I said to him. "I don't appreciate that attitude you gave me back there."
Chris stood up immediately and faced me. "You got a problem!?"
I quickly closed the distance, entering his personal space and thrusting my face directly in front of his. Rage flowed throughout my body. Any sudden movement from Chris and I was ready to use Chris as practice for my new takedown move I learned in Jiu-Jitsu class recently. However, he did nothing. Instead, his face quickly shifted from anger into surprise and discomfort. "You heard me!" I said. "I'm sick of you pickin' on me. If you want to start shit with me, I'll be happy to end it."
I heard Tim's laughter in the background. "I've got a hundred dollars on Brandon Lee."
Chris's gaze wavered. "Calm down, man. I just thought you left the dumbells there, because I seen you working out there last."
"Well I didn't. And you need to quit fuckin' with me." I jabbed my finger into his chest. "You fuckin' got that?"
Chris said nothing, did nothing. I walked off, my heart was pounding in my chest. For the first time, I began to notice that everyone in the gym was staring at me. I walked the back door of the gym and sat outside on a concrete slab. My arms and legs began to shake uncontrollably as the adrenaline left my body. Guilt washed over me. Perhaps I went a little too far...
A hand clapped me on the back. "That was awesome, man!"
I looked up and saw Tim grinning. "Thanks," I said.
"I didn't expect you to try and start a fight with him," Tim said, laughing. I smiled. "I stayed behind and talked to him, told him how wrong he was. He won't give you shit anymore. Hell, I don't think he's going to work out for the rest of the day. Good job, man!"
From that moment on, Chris never said another word to me, and whenever I had to sign the member sheet to enter the gym, he just sat behind the counter and avoided eye contact with me.
I became friends with Tim and worked out with him every time I saw him in the gym. He coached me a lot on weight-lifting and nutrition. One valuable lesson that I learned from him though was social skills. During every work out, I watched and listened to how he interacted with people, especially girls.
One thing I noticed was that Tim spoke with girls in the same exact manner he was speaking to me, or with other guys in the gym: casual, confident, and sincere. From outside appearances, Tim showed that he was interested in how people were doing, instead of seeking a date or a phone number from a girl. His jovial responses made him fun to talk to, so people went out of their way to speak with him again.
All of this contrasted to my awkward nature. I was constantly fumbling for something to say, and often making a fool of myself in the process. After casting a chunk of self pride aside, I decided to mention this to Tim during a trip to the water fountain at the gym.
He waved the notion away as if I was being ridiculous. "Man, there's nothing wrong you with. Just act like the way you're acting now---natural. Act natural, as long as it's not boring. And never, ever use one-liners. Just make a casual conversation. Here, watch this."
We were passing through treadmills and elipticals when we saw a blonde girl working on a shoulder press machine. Tim pointed to her shoes, "Hey, I like your shoes. Those running shoes? How do they hold up for you?"
The blonde girl smiled. "Oh, I don't really run. I play tennis."
"So are you any good then?"
"I play on the team," she said, referring to the college team.
"So you must be really good then," Tim said, flashing with teeth with a wide smile. "I play from time to time. Perhaps you can give me some pointers if I see you on the courts."
"Sure, no problem."
"So what else do you do besides tennis?"
The girl began to launch into a variety of topics, carrying the conversation beyond tennis. Tim prompted her with a few words and she continued talking, her workout forgotten.
After a few moments, Tim said that he had to get back to working out, then walked back to the weights section. I followed him. Once we were out of earshot, he turned and said, "Do you see what I did there? I started up a conversation with her about nothing, kept it short and sweet, didn't bore her to death. I kept her talking about herself, because people love to talk about themselves. Now if I see her again, like here or out on the tennis courts, I know something about her to start up another conversation to build from there. Just gotta keep the flow natural, man. And keep 'em talking. That's where most guys fail, because they get into a habit of bragging about themselves."
I nodded, impressed. I didn't realize it at the time, but Tim's short exchange with that blonde girl had a profound impact on how I took to interacting with people. His advice was so simple, but I never realized it before. People love to talk about themselves. That's why I liked talking to him, because he was a good listener. His advice made perfect sense. I jumped back into the workout with a lot more questions than ever.
Two weeks later, Tim told me that he was moving. This news shocked me. "Where are you moving to?"
Tim explained that he had to move to Georgia to finish up grad school there. "Today will be my last day here," he said.
Life is strange sometimes. You meet someone you get along with well for a short time, and then they disappear forever. But in that one month, you learn enough lessons from that person that you can use for the rest of your life. I don't know how much Tim has influenced me, but he taught me some basic fundamentals of life, and these fundamentals are what crafted me into a male striper. Part of being a male stripper is conversing and relating with people from all walks of life. Tim excelled at that, and his interactions with people taught me how to talk to people in general without the shy awkwardness. There was so much more to learn, but I had to figure out these lessons elsewhere.
Tim extended a hand and I reached out and shook it. "It was a pleasure knowing you, Dion," he said. "Good luck with everything and keep training."
(Continued in Part 4)