Most of the men I see in my gym's locker room every morning are probably decent people. They have, one assumes, respectable, well-paying jobs—otherwise why else work out in midtown Manhattan at 8 a.m. on a weekday?—and they are presumably upstanding members of society. So why, once they pass that threshold that reads MEN, do they devolve into feral beasts? Why do they discard the entire social contract by which they abide outside the locker room once in the realm of towels and benches? Balls out, butts jiggling, hogging coveted real estate, they become locker room anarchists. The gym locker room is a place of rules. Here are some basic guidelines that must be followed:
Don’t be an asshole and take a stack of five. Two is perfectly reasonable. One for your body which then becomes one for your feet to stand on while the other (unused) towel can be used for spot drying and general modesty protection.
CHOICE OF LOCKER
Gravitate toward the least inhabited locker room area. This follows both logic and the laws of equilibrium. This also avoids potential struggles over real estate (see below).
REAL ESTATE STRUGGLES
All wars are wars over resources. The same holds true in the locker room. Conflicts arise over two pain points: locker space and bench space.
There are only two parties: the occupier of said space and the desirer of it. The property of these two men is often in adjacent lockers. Once the occupier becomes aware of the desirer, he must make a good faith effort to step aside. Depending on what stage he is in, this might mean continuing with an increased clip or, and this is what often does not happen, grabbing what few remaining items he has left and relocating within the same aisle to allow the desirer, in turn, to become the occupier.
As for the desirer, he must have patience and prudence. If there is no space to access one's locker, or even if there is but none to perform the act of drying and dressing, he must wait. However, he may adopt the slightly bored but nonetheless recognizably covetous look to indicate he is waiting.
(Note: There is a 90-second grace period for both sides.)
They are for sitting on. Not for putting one’s bags on. Benches are a shared resource over which members have shared, but not exclusive, rights. Do not keep your gym bag on the bench. Do not spread the contents of said bag on the bench. Sit on the bench. Dry ones feet while sitting on the bench. The bench is solely for bottoms, not for bags.
At last, a private space where a man can be free, almost. Few rules pertain to the proper use of showering except that if there is a line, limit the length of one’s shower to approximately three minutes. Also, do not pee.
Toweling off from a shower, however, is perhaps the most important element in locker room etiquette for, from it, follow a host of complications. If one does not dry off one’s feet before one returns to one’s locker, the trail of water will trigger the impulse of other members to place their bags onto the benches. If one does not properly dry ones balls, penis and butt area, this might lead to butt-in-face problems later on. So drying off must be done quickly and thoroughly in the close proximity (or even inside) the shower.
SHAVING AND ASSORTED GROOMING
The most common violation in terms of the future of mankind is allowing the water to run while shaving. It is an insidious, entitled habit which will doom all of humanity to a future of drought and privation. It also poisons the locker room dynamic. On the one hand, there is the shaver, perhaps blithe but nonetheless sinning. Then there is the observer, for whom the endless stream of water is an insult, representing, as it does, a conception of nature that is at once exploitative and deeply harmful. There can be no verbal admonishments in the locker room so the observer is left to swallow bitterly his outrage and cast dirty looks in the mirror, often misinterpreted as come-ons. Do not let the water run while you shave. Think of the children.
BALLS, BUTTS AND PENISES
The locker room being men-only, all parties have balls, butts and penises. You should not look at another man’s in any other way but glancing. Also in terms of exposure, keep it to a minimum. Do not use the hair dryer to dry your balls. Do not “towel change”—which is an example of an insulting narcissism—but please, do not loll about with your junk out, either.
Lock your locker. It’s not called a "not-locker." Admittedly, at upscale health clubs like the Equinox that I belong to, few members are inclined to burgle. But as the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the excesses of capitalism as a whole shows, being rich never stopped anyone from stealing more. From a strictly interpersonal standpoint. securing one’s locker also erases doubt of one’s fellow members in the event that something does indeed go missing.
ONE MORE THING ABOUT TOWELS
Toss them in those bins marked “towels” before you leave. Do not leave them on the floor or the benches. Yes, there are locker room attendants. But they are not servants.