Some days I really hate civilians. I’ve used the term before, but just to clarify, by “civilian” I mean anyone who’s wandering around in the fond delusion that there isn’t any effort they really have to put out on their own behalf. It applies across a wide variety of contexts — think of the people who never try to so much as change a light bulb without calling the building engineer — but in the gym, they’re the people who futz and fiddle their way through the place without any sign of serious engagement, or only show up once in a while, or never do anything so hard it hurts, or all the above.

It’s not about conventionally acceptable body image — some serious lifters have a gut on ’em and some of the most annoying civilians are wispy and barely visible within their all too sleek casual outfits. They tend to look bewildered, like a person trying to find an office that’s on some other floor. Their pace on the treadmill wouldn’t exhaust a bypass patient. They wave tiny dumbbells tentatively in the air in trajectories that have nothing to do with optimum conditioning, or move stack machines through ranges that barely qualify as fidgeting. They may actually believe that simple contact with weight equipment produces fitness.

And they have no clue about the deep engagement of the limbic system that goes with an honest workout. There is another middle-aged redhead at my gym, tall and wiry with a voice that could peel paint. I love Janet to bits. She has rescued fifty cats and has little use for humankind. One day she was bench pressing a couple of dumbbells and a ditsy little thing in a powder blue leotard, who had come for an aerobic class, passed by just as she repped out, which is always counted as follows: “… ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen… shit!” (If you don’t make  your rep count, the last rep is always “shit!”) Powder Blue shook a finger at Janet and said “Now, when you say a bad word, you should always put a nickel in the box.” Janet, dropping the dumbbells, came up at her in one fluid movement, howling “Fuck OFF!” I’m not sure if Powder Blue ended up in the locker room or Fairfax Station.

Yeah, yeah, I know they’re not my problem, but they’re distracting. It’s like being an auto mechanic and seeing people in nice clean business suits and oblivious expressions wandering around the body shop. You’re always afraid you’re going to back into one or drop something on them.

I had a college chum who once said to me in a tone of despairing disapproval, “It seems as if you actually loathe your fellow man.” That was not fair. I just can’t think of any reason to be around most of them.

Today I had them up the wazoo and finally, after some concluding inversion experiments that didn’t work out, fled to do business at the bank. A raddled-looking, polo-shirted guy came in a few moments later, looked around the lobby, lifted his watch to his mouth like Dick Tracy and said “The mother ship has landed and I’m looking for the space aliens… and I’ve found them.”

I grabbed my deposit slip and booked. Some days that squat rack is the only thing that ever gets me out my front door.