Class Words image Title/Author image Menu image
The last time Lincoln added stricter social distancing requirements, I made what I figured would be my last trip to the Capitol Athletic Club on West P St. (formerly Prairie Life) since the new restrictions went into effect the next day (I always go late at night). I’ve only missed doing this a handful of times in quite a few years, so as I scanned in I asked the person working, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’ll still be open tomorrow?” He said, “We absolutely will be open! The owners say we are not in violation of any of the new restrictions.” So, even though I knew this was questionable, I continued to go there every night for a while. Until 4 days ago.
I’ll explain why I changed my mind, but first a few words in my (shaky) defense. During the time I continued to go, there was always less than 10 people in the club, and with few exceptions we were all way beyond 6 feet apart. I usually didn’t even see more than 3 or 4 people, and used sanitizing solution to wipe down whatever locker I used and the parts of the exercise bike I came in contact with (only a few times since the new restrictions; mostly I swam laps). In spite of this, I still knew it wasn’t a very safe environment. For one thing, it’s impossible to wipe down everything you touch when you use an athletic club to work out. Also, I’m sure the club has much heavier use during the day, and any possible “contamination” from that would still be present.

To be fair, the Club did discontinue all group classes, shortened their hours, put out extra bottles of sanitizer and towels in workout areas, and the last few days I went there the pool was closed for painting and probably will be for a while. Their attitude kind of felt like, “No one’s forcing you to be here. It’s not an essential business. But since it’s still allowed we’ll make it as safe as reasonably possible for those who choose to use it.” I never heard them go so far as to suspend payments for people who chose not to use the Club because of covid-19, but I was hardly in a position to be critical, as I continued to use the steam room, where I was usually alone but sometimes with the same 1 or 2 other people usually there. Technically, we may have still been 6 feet apart (barely), but I doubt that the 6 ft standard is very applicable under steam room conditions. And I continued to use the whirlpool and the pool till it closed, reassuring myself that both were similarly uncrowded. Of the three, the steam room seemed most perilous, and I can easily imagine Donald Trump sitting in there in a real pinch, turning oranger in a sweltering mist of self-admiration, perhaps alone, in one of the kinds of places least likely to have yet been scrutinized by science for coronavirus correlations, oblivious to the obvious fact that no one with any intelligence was likely to go in there anyway, this incubator of heat induced visions where lurks a deadly corona doppelgänger, a virulent virus of the intellect that spreads seemingly unstoppably, threatening to erase anything resembling reason.

Time to cool off. It was not a nightmarish vision of Donald Trump that scared me to cease and desist from the sauna, but some people I had actually shared it with. When I read in the paper that a new case of covid-19 had been confirmed at Zoetis (formerly Phizer), a large producer of animal pharmaceuticals, I remembered having been in the steam room with two fellow club members, naturalized citizens from the Iraq area I believe (not at all unusual at this location), one of whom worked at Zoetis and was advising the other about an upcoming interview for a job there. This was well before the corona outbreak but seemed like something that could happen at any time. Not too long after this, I spoke with one of them and found out that he lived just a few houses down from us, on the other side of the street in a house not much be bigger than ours, but where there is almost always 10 or so cars in the driveway, the adjacent street, and sometimes even the yard. I’m guessing an unusually large number of people are living there. He reminded me of a conversation we had not long after they moved in, when he had seen me working in the yard and walked over to introduce himself and apologize in advance for a large potentially noisy graduation party that might run somewhat late that night. He seemed shy but was very pleasant to talk to, and though their party was indeed large and ran late, it was relatively noiseless and unobtrusive. Their home continues, however, to be a place for social gatherings that are large beyond even the number living there, often several times a week, and these have not abated in recent weeks. I mention this only to highlight the unpredictable interconnectedness of questionable social distancing practices, including my own.

In this somewhat off-handed manner, covid-19 struck close enough to home to make me seriously rethink what I had been doing. I still continued going for two more days, but my guilt over doing so seriously impaired my enjoyment of the usual routine. Finally, four days ago, I quit going to the Club. Four days is a significant number. I have had no coronavirus symptoms, not that I ever seriously thought I would. But had I written and published this 3 days ago, I’m sure some of you would have read this and thought, “we’ll see.” I don’t blame you. Maybe there’s something to my latent skepticism about the dangers of covid-19, but more likely I am just lucky to have escaped it. Either way, it seems an excellent time to exercise the existentialism I was so fond of my first years in college, and maybe to even let my hair grow out again.