I call him “Where’s Waldo” because he wears a red and white striped shirt and blue pants. He’s an older man, who frequently walks around the neighborhood. During the summer months, he walks to the pool, strips down to his swimming trunks, and does several laps. I’ve watched him repeat this pattern several times from our community gym’s window.
Sometimes when it rains, and he cannot swim, he comes inside the gym. This is how we met.
“They should have another treadmill,” he once said, taking slow strides.
“I agree,” I replied, while using the elliptical. “I’ve told them that before.”
“I can only walk. And swim,” he added. “I have an injury, so I can only do those two things.”
“Maybe you can ride a bike?” I offered.
“I can only walk. And swim,” he repeated.
Before he left, he waved good-bye and bid me a good day. I did the same, and as is customary, I felt a little closer to him. I wished I would’ve asked him his name, so I could stop secretly calling him “Where’s Waldo.”
The next time I saw him was a few months later.
I drove to the fitness room, as usual. As usual, I sat my yoga mat next to the treadmill, wiped down the surface, and placed my phone, water bottle, and towel in each appropriate place. Then, I went back to my car to get my free weights.
That’s when I saw “Where’s Waldo.” He was either headed to the pool or headed to the gym.
“Good morning!” I said, happy to see him.
“Morning,” he mumbled.
Turns out, he was headed to the gym, because when I returned with my weights in hand, there he stood…on the treadmill.
“That’s my stuff,” I said, pointing to my belongings: the white towel, hanging on the equipment’s right arm, the water bottle in the cup holder, and my phone, sitting in front of him.
“Well, get it then,” he spat.
“Oh no,” I clarified. “I was about to use the treadmill. That’s why my stuff is here. I just had to get my other things.”
“Well, I’m here now,” he said.
For a moment, I thought he wasn’t for real. However, his wide-legged stance implied that not only was he not playing around, but he also wasn’t moving.
Though there were many thoughts rolling around in my head, they weren’t polite, and I’ve been working on being as kind in speech as possible.
“This is incredibly rude, you know.”
“So,” he replied.
I’m positive I resembled the wide-eyed emoji. I stood behind him…on the treadmill and retrieved my belongings, and I said, almost in his ear, “I hope you have a good day.”
“You, too,” he said, with a laugh.
Then, I practiced what I knew to do, so I wouldn’t let this man’s behavior dictate my morning:
Grounding: For those of us who ruminate, it can be quite easy to keep going over a situation, until it culminates into a bunch of “what-ifs” and “I should’ves.” That’s not helpful. For us, it’s important to ground ourselves in the present moment. So, I called my husband and told him the entire story. I didn’t need validation that I was right, but rather, I needed a way to release the narrative, so it wouldn’t fill my head. Talking to Dwight for five minutes helped.
Exercising: I was red with anger at this man’s behavior and my helplessness in the situation. I almost went home. But then I remembered, exercising helps move energy around and out of the body. I was actually in the perfect place to be angry. I stayed in the fitness room, and worked out in a different order. He left after 20 minutes, and I was able to use the treadmill at the end of my routine.
Ignoring: In the past, I would’ve placed my phone call to Dwight inside the gym, so the guy could hear the conversation. That’s called being passive-aggressive, and I’ve worked extremely hard to not embody this trait anymore. Long ago, I also would’ve stared the man down, which probably wouldn’t have ended well. Instead, I set up my equipment so that my back would be to him. I needed to work out, but I didn’t need to look at him. Our interaction had ended.
Like I’ve said before, we’re living in some weird times. You never know what folks are going through, and it’s important to reman level-headed. People seem to be on edge, which is understandable. But it’s important to remember that we can only control ourselves. I couldn’t make the man get off the treadmill, but I could control how I reacted in the situation, which prevented things from escalating.
Be safe out there. People are unstable, and sometimes peace relies on you.