An obscene scene

I have joined a fitness club. I will now take a short break to allow time for laughter.

Seriously, I have tried to become a devoted walker, though I am more the flaneur, from the French meaning “one who strolls.” It’s a daily effort of reasonable time, reasonable distance, reasonable sweat. All by my definition. Which means very reasonable.

When I was living in Pittsburgh a few years back, I had first taken the plunge as a mall walker. Returning to Indiana, I found the gift of strolling the neighborhood. But that had the drawback of a northern Indiana winter, which generally goes from All Saints Day to the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. I didn’t want to be a frozen flaneur.

So I joined a local club with a senior’s rate — everything I do now has a senior rate — and visit just about daily. The club offers a host of exotic machines and weight-training stuff, but I stick to the basic, boring treadmill with a basic, boring attitude. No classes. No trainer. Just get in and get out.

The clientele skews pretty young. A lot of millennials lifting, jerking and grunting while decked-out in designer training garb. When they get on the treadmill, they run fast. When they do that next to me, I feel a curious mix of guilt, inadequacy and annoyance.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. There are any number of gray-heads, some of them a wonder to behold. With a pair of shorts from the bottom of the closet and a T-shirt celebrating a concert from the ’80s, they keep at it with the goal of simply staying limber and fighting off the vapors of age.

On only a few occasions have I noticed millennial and baby boomer culture encroaching on each other. An example: I was on my treadmill when a lady about my age or so got on the machine next to me. She clipped her book to it and began reading and plugging along.

After a few minutes, a couple of millennial friends got on the two machines on the other side of her. They began their warmup, chatting each other up. To be heard over the workout sounds, the conversation was loud and clear to everyone nearby.

Once again, I was struck by how obscenities have become commonplace. Their topics were ordinary — work, sports, family and dating. And virtually every sentence included full-frontal obscenities of every flavor.

I’m old school, and I glanced at the woman next to me, expecting a blush and wondered what she thought. But she just kept whatever she was thinking to herself while I wrestled with breaking stride and going over to remind two young men of decency and self-respect.

Before I could screw up the courage, the guys finished their warmup and headed off. I leaned toward the woman and offered an apology for her having to put up with that.

She smiled, then pulled out her ear plugs. “Excuse me?” she said.

Which raised the eternal metaphysical question: “If two jerks utter obscenities in the gym and the lady doesn’t hear it, does it still make an offensive sound?” I’d say yes.

I don’t know exactly when we crossed the language barrier. Obscenities used to be confined to teenagers, barrooms and sailors. And it was considered the height of low class to utter them in front of a lady. Today, a lady is just as likely to be the source as the victim.

As we learned at Pentecost, language is a sacred thing. And, as Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Or, as the Old Man told me when he overheard a bad word from me, “Talk garbage and people will figure you’re garbage.”

That seems reasonable. Very reasonable.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.