There is honor in cleaning up other people’s messes at five
in the morning. There is honor in pushing
a vacuum cleaner, in spraying down urinals and wiping them out, in digging hair out of
the shower drain in the women’s locker room. I think
this as I watch the vacuum devour tiny bits of yesterday from the health club’s spongy
teal carpet. I think this as I repeat the
mantra that is my official position here: “Tyler
Langston, personal trainer.”
It is my second week working for the
Forest Hill Health Club in Derringer, North Carolina.
Each day I arrive at five a.m. to open the club for its most zealous members. I am in charge of the place until seven when
Mac, the manager, shows up. Until then I
am the only trainer, the only janitor, the only manager, in the building. If
anyone needs anything they come to me, “Tyler Langston, personal trainer.”
We open at six. I
unlock the back door so members can enter, place a stack of clean towels on the table,
and set the register beside it. We work on
the honor system here, and so far it seems effective.
The phone whines upstairs, and I trudge across the club to
get it. I hate the phone in the morning. It’s always some nasal-voiced wife or snot-nosed
husband needing their spouses to take the kids to school or to come get the keys out of
a locked car.
grab it and hastily answer.
“You’re open?” an
invitingly husky voice asks.
“Yes, ma’am,” I
“Well, Tyler, my name is Lynda
Graham. I’m new to the area, and would like some
information about your facilities.”
I begin the sales pitch I have rehearsed
thousands of times. “We have ten racquetball
courts, free weights, Nautilus, a swimming pool open in the summer, aerobic classes,
and a nursery that goes along with the aerobics…”
I wouldn’t need the nursery. I’m
single.” She emphasizes the word “single”,
lingering in its essence. “Are you
“Yes, I am,” I answer,
not realizing the full extent of what she’s asking.
“How old are you?”
“I thought you sounded young, perhaps twenty-one. How do you feel about older women?”
“Um. Older women?
Older women are fine.”
“Great. Tell me something. Do you look as good as you sound?”
I consider answering her question by asking the same thing
in return, but the words that flow from my lips are “Well, some people say I look
“Have you ever modeled?”
“I’m in the business. If you’re interested you could make around seventy-five dollars
“Really?” I imagine a check for fifteen hundred dollars
for one week’s work. Five times what
I make at the club.
“Pretty good money, isn’t
“It varies depending on what you model.
Of course, swimsuits earn the most. Would
you be willing to do swimsuits?”
“Describe yourself to me.”
“Well, let’s see. I’m
about six feet tall, hundred and seventy pounds. My hair is
dark. Um, I have greenish-gray eyes.
I’m lean, but fairly well-developed.”
“Do you have a hairy chest?”
“How tan is your skin?”
“It stays fairly tan year-round. Not marble white, but not extremely dark either.”
“You know, there are several types of swimsuits. Which would you model? Would
you model the G-string?”
“Yeah. I have no problem with that.”
“Not too modest, are you? Lots
of people have problems with that. Back
when I was a model and not a manager, if they asked me to model a thong, I would. You know, I’m a 35-26-35, so I believe if
you’ve got it, flaunt it.
“I don’t mean to get personal,
but for the G-string I need to know how well-endowed you are.”
“You know, how well-endowed
Silence smothers the conversation
as I ponder her question.
“Uh...average,” I mumble,
imagining myself wearing only a broad smile and a patch of spandex.
“Well, you know, five to seven
“Hah, you are a little modest.”
“No, I just don’t see how size matters much.” I think of the male swimsuits models I have seen, their tight suits
stretched over impossibly large genitalia.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
She makes “embarrass” seem like a dirty word.
no. I’m just average.”
“Well, I know I check out other women in locker rooms. I’m glad to see that guys slip a peek also.”
“Actually, I know because being a personal trainer, I know
the average sizes for most body parts.”
“What’s the average?”
“Five to seven inches, erect. I’m right in there.”
“What do you call it?”
“That sounds too scientific.”
“Well, it’s a scientific body part," thinking maybe I
should take the measuring tape down to the locker room later.
would you call it with guys?”
“I don’t know, probably penis.”
“Would you call it a cock?”
“I’ll bet you’re going to go to the bathroom after our
little conversation here and measure yourself.”
“Well, I’m going to take a cold shower.
Talking about your cock with you has got me all worked up.”
“What gets you worked up?”
“Well, um...you know. Just
“Do I get you worked up?”
I went running this morning and now I talked to you about your cock, so I’m
going to take a cold shower.”
“Why don’t you give me
a number where I can reach you, so that once I’ve got an appointment set up to see
you, I can let you know.”
I give her my phone number.
“I’ll talk to you later, Tyler.”
“Bye.” After hanging up
the phone I fall back into the manager’s chair. It rolls backward and
slams against the wall. The woman’s
voice lingers in my mind. I can see her peeling
the clothes from her body. 35-26-35. She
has blond hair, long and tied back for her run.
Eyes made blue by contacts. She glides
into the shower, where streams of water caress her body in the same way that I want to.
She’ll come by this afternoon, to check out the club and to
examine her newest model. I’ll be waiting
by the door to greet her when she arrives.
“You must be Tyler,” she’ll
say in that voice that slinks like cool jazz. “You
do look as good as you sound.”
She’ll circle me, systematically taking in every inch of my
body. Then she’ll say, “Tyler, let’s go
back to my apartment. We can start to set
up a portfolio for you, and I want to get a good look at all your various endowments.”
Her apartment is decorated sparsely with expensive
furniture. A framed blow-up of her in a thong
bikini graces the wall above a black leather couch. A saxophone eases
mellow tunes from her stereo.
don’t you stand over there,” she says pointing toward
the fireplace and adjusting a camera already on a tripod.
off a few pictures. “Now, take off your shirt.”
The camera continues to click as I
lift my shirt over my head. I smile at the
lens, and she blows a kiss at me.
“You have beautiful skin, Tyler. Very smooth. Now, your pants.”
I slide my jeans down my legs. She continues to work the camera.
Wonderful. What a finely tuned body
you have! You are one well-built man. Now, let’s see what you got hiding in there. Take those briefs off.”
I comply, and when I flip my underwear from my body she
exaltedly exclaims, “My God!”
Four dull thuds intrude upon my dreams. Lynda’s curves fade into a half-lit office. Someone knocks again on the outside door. I glide from the manager’s office flexing
my sculptured body, imagined camera flashes glinting my eyes. I won’t quit this job, I decide.
Many of the top models are also personal trainers.
Perhaps I’ll be able to use this new job as a lever to raise my minimum-wage
At the glass door waits a uniformed
police officer. His hands rest in fists on his hips.
“You Mac Lamond?” he asks when I open the door.
“No, I’m one of his employees.”
here?” He strokes his peppered mustache
and lowers one eyebrow.
“No, I’m the only one
“Well, son, it appears we have
“One of our patrols watched a man run from this building to
a car across the street. After the car sped
off we pulled it over and found something interesting inside: the safebox
for one Forest Hill Health Club.”
“Oh.” Mac keeps the safebox locked in an office by the weight room downstairs.
“I’m afraid you’re gonna have to call your boss and let him
know what’s happened. Get him to come
down here and press charges. We’ve been
investigating a burglary ring in this section of town for quite some time. Now
that we’ve nabbed these suspects we aren’t letting them get away. We’ll need to take you in for questioning as well.”
“Take me in?” My heart
doubles its tempo. I suddenly feel light-headed,
as though I’m watching the events from a place distant from my body.
“We just need to know where you were, what you were doing
at the time of the incident, whether you got any strange phone calls—you know, that
kind of stuff.”
I pick up the phone. The warmth of
my breath, of my conversation with Lynda, lingers on the mouthpiece. I dial the numbers slowly, watching the old-fashioned
dial spin like a seductive wheel of fortune.
Mac is pissed. He yells at me for waking him up, and yells at me for allowing someone
to take his money. His thick accent makes
him sound like a New York City thug. He threatens
to fire me.
Tasting Lynda on the mouthpiece I
tell him to go ahead. “I’ve received
an offer from a modeling agency,” I say. “And
my boss would be a whole lot better looking than you.”
His hollow laughter rattles the phone. He tells me to get my stuff and
leave, that he will be there immediately to take over, and that I don’t have to worry
about a thing. My employment is terminated.
Outside, the sun rises
and casts a crimson glow to the mountain morning.
I get in my red Fiero, slide on my seat belt, and grip the steering wheel. An imaginary pit crew eases me backward into
starting position. I slip the gearshift
forward and feel the power of the engine as I pump the accelerator. I imagine the starter waving his flag, and I
let the clutch out. The tires grab
asphalt, squealing into the road, launching me into a bright future with a beautiful
Holderfield’s work has appeared in national and
local publications, including Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina
Poetry, Wildfire Magazine, Damfino Press, and is forthcoming
in 2Leaf Press. He is currently shopping two completed novels, Atahualpa's
Redemption, a spy thriller about a covert agent
struggling to come to grips with his role as an enabler of America's addiction to oil,
and Hemlock Hollow, an Appalachian family mystery
set in the 1890s.