As a general rule, I do not do a lot of on-the-ground reporting from inside men’s locker rooms. Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to news, I prefer more traditional locales: press conferences, courtrooms, artisanal doughnut shops.
However, given Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent insistence that the lewd comments he was recorded making in 2005 were nothing more than “locker-room talk,” I decided it might be worthwhile to check in on the current state of the American locker room.
Having last spent time in one more than a decade ago — back when conversation among my high school cross-country teammates centered primarily on the best way to eradicate Cheetos from one’s braces — it seemed a lot had changed.
And so, around 11 a.m. on Monday, I headed over to the Boston Sports Clubs gym on Boylston Street, finagled a free one-day pass, and made my way through the maze of workout equipment to the men’s locker room, ready to see what I could discern.
(It should be noted that during my time in said locker room, I did not record, photograph, or in any way visually document the goings on. I merely hung out for a while, which is at least marginally less weird.)
Based on Trump’s descriptions of what goes on in such places, I prepared myself for what was sure to be a raucous scene — some sort of combination of frat house and small-town bar. Posters of models hanging from the walls. Lots of Ben Roethlisberger jerseys. Maybe a Kegerator.
At the very least, surely, I would find large clusters of men in sleeveless shirts, high-fiving as they shotgunned beers and boisterously compared weekend notes.
So you can imagine my surprise when, upon entering, not only was there no Kegerator, but the handful of men inside weren’t discussing female anatomy at all.
This, of course, was highly confusing. But a good reporter keeps digging. So, figuring it was only a matter of time before the crotch-grabbing talk commenced, I took a seat on a nearby bench to wait.
While men’s locker rooms tend to get a bad rap — widely viewed as dirty, damp, stinky places — this particular locker room was quite pleasant. There was nice carpet, rows of tidy lockers, and the gentle thump of top-40-ish music flowing from speakers. The only noticeable smell was that of soap and, occasionally, deodorant.
What there wasn’t, however, not even after 15 minutes of waiting, was any discussion of women.
One by one, in heroic displays of self-control, dozens of men managed to shower, dress, and exit the locker room without once bragging openly about their sexual conquests.
In fact, with very few exceptions, the men didn’t talk about anything. Not the weather, not family. Even sports, the conversational sweet spot when men find themselves in close proximity to one another, warranted no discussion.
Instead, it was a haven of uncomfortable silence, avoided eye contact, and the hurried zipping of gym bags.
Far as I could tell, the primary objective of those passing through was to get out as quickly as possible.
And over the course of the next hour, this is how it continued. At 11:37 a.m., someone sneezed, which was notable only because it was the first man-made sound in the previous 20-minute period. And a few minutes later, another guy blew his nose, which was notable because it was the first man-made sound since the sneeze.
The closest things got to the type of discussion Trump referenced was when a 20- or 30-something guy walked past on his cellphone, engaged in what sounded like the sort of mundane, can-you-pick-up-a-gallon-of-milk conversation you’d have with a spouse.
And while it’s certainly possible that this man was simply using coded language to mask some sort of sexually derogatory epithet, all I can responsibly report at this time is that he never used the word “p---y.”
Around noon, an hour or so after arriving — and approximately 57 minutes longer than is socially acceptable to sit in a men’s locker room taking notes — I figured my work was complete, and gathered my things to leave.
Stepping out into the chilly October afternoon, I took a moment to reflect on the past hour. Despite Trump’s claims of the kinds of things routinely discussed inside locker rooms, my reporting had uncovered precisely zero conversations involving kissing, groping, or the female form — and, in the end, had led me to only one logical conclusion:
I must have been there on the wrong day.