Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mini Maria Callas Invades JCC Locker Room; Holds Innocent Women Hostage

It was cute for about three minutes.

While stepping out of the steam room at the locker room of The JCC in Manhattan, a tiny, tinny voice singing faux arias reached my ears. Walking to my locker, the sound grew stronger and soon I passed a dark-haired little girl singing to herself while her mother sat quietly beaming by her side, helping her get dressed.

At first I smiled. It was sweet, this screechy, off-key voice in baby falsetto. Opening my locker, I was therefore surprised to see women around me rolling their eyes, pursing their lips and even setting their teeth with displeasure. Wow...what a bunch of misanthropes, I thought, retrieving my knapsack from the locker. Ladeez, I wanted to say to them as I applied my body lotion, don't you feel recalled to your own childhood at the sound of this innocent child chortling to herself, oblivious of her surroundings? How could you begrudge a little girl her self-expression?

Within another five minutes or so, I found myself joining my sisters in sourness. The voice of the little girl swooped and soared with fake fealty with nary a peep from the mother to the effect that her little darling might want to keep her voice down as they were in a public place. As I hooked my bra, the screeching soprano bounced off the metal walls of the lockers in a manner reminiscent of fingernails on the blackboard. A woman next to me actually placed her hands over her ears, grimacing. I nodded in sympathy, furrowing my own brow in annoyance as I spritzed on perfume. Struggling into my pantyhose, I thought I discerned vibes of pride radiating from the silent, doting mother as she presented her little vocal prodigy to the public of the JCC's locker room.

If you want a laboratory of life on the Upper West Side, you might do well to spend a day inside the women's locker room at The JCC in Manhattan. I love this place and often plan my professional appointments around making it to my beloved 5th Floor gym (not to mention the numerous cultural programs at the facility) but after several years spent hanging out there, listening to conversations and observing behavior and interactions, I feel ready to deliver some jeremiads to my fellow Upper West Siders.

The theme of this series of sermons is Self-Absorbed Lack of Consideration.

Sermon number one would be directed to the preteen girls on the swim team who talk at ear-splitting decibel levels and generally leave their sopping towels on the floor, obviously awaiting the ministrations of the cleaning staff.

Sermon number two would be directed to moms of babies and young children who tend to occupy miles of locker room space with their paraphernalia, seemingly oblivious to the needs of anyone else.

Sermon number three would be directed to these moms and caretakers who do not seem to notice their kids running amok, popping in and out of lockers and flipping open the curtains of the supposedly private section of the space.

Sermon number four would be directed to the girls and women who hold forth on their cellphones as if they were in the comfort -- and privacy -- of their own homes, revealing details about their lives you never wanted to know.

Sermon number five would be directed to the girls and women who feel moved to leave disgusting personal items in the shower stalls and damp towels in the steam room.

And finally, my last sermon would be directed to the mother of the mini Maria Callas and all of her sisters in crime. The central message of this missive is as follows:

Your kid's singing is cute for about three minutes and we will smile in friendly acknowledgment of their innocence, charm and precocity.

After about three minutes, however, we start to entertain severe doubts about your intelligence and maternal fitness and self-esteem. It will become clear to us that you are actually getting off on the exposure your extraordinary offspring is getting by screeching to a captive audience that is trying to simply get dressed in peace. And because you remain so oblivious to the fact that the locker room is, indeed, a public space, we will fantasize about sending you and your singing darling "straight to the moon, Alice!" as Ralph Kramden so memorably and poetically put it.

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