FUNNY WOMEN #14: A Play About the Men at My Gym in Five Acts



Scene: DEREK*, is in his early thirties with a military haircut, moderately toned flab, and tinted eyeglasses. He grabs the 50-pound barbells from the weight room rack and groans awkwardly as he tries to carry them to a nearby weight bench. He is the kind of man walking around with an undiagnosed personality disorder. He has a complete lack of awareness as to how his actions affect those around him. After situating himself on the weight bench, he grabs hold of the weights, lies back on the bench and begins a series of breathing exercises which can only be compared to Lamaze techniques. In and out he breathes, loudly, wetly. Each time he raises the barbells above his chest, he grunts, making everyone around him uncomfortable. After a rigorous set of four reps, he drops the barbells to the floor and sits up, beads of sweat dotting his forehead.

DEREK (looking down at his arms): I am so fucking ripped. That’s enough for today, I think. Don’t wanna overdo it.

*Names have been changed for political reasons.



Scene: HAROLD is in his late forties. He is balding but he has not yet conceded victory. While there is little hair on the top of his head, the hair on the back is quite long, luxurious, and well-maintained. He wears a scooped-neck tank top, worn leather weight belt, and loose fitting parachute pants. Nothing matches. His entire body is bright red. Harold has never been married. He is getting in shape so he can make himself more marketable. He mentions this every day when he walks into the gym. His goal—to marry within the year. He is quite pleased with himself and the progress he has made.

ELLIE is a twice-divorced woman in her early fifties. She has a sassy haircut and applies makeup before heading to the gym. Her outfit, a ribbed tank top and Capri pants, and her sneakers, are perfectly coordinated with her makeup. While Harold does bench presses, Ellie hovers nearby, one foot coyly crossed behind the other.

ELLIE: So Harold, how’s the wife hunt coming along?

HAROLD (his voice strained as he completes another bench press): You tell me, pretty lady.

Ellie giggles like a teenager, swivels around on the tips of her toes.

ELLIE (sighing): It is hard being single around here, what with the long winters and all.

Harold does one final bench press, sets the barbell on the bar and sits up, his legs spread.

HAROLD (flexing his arms above his head): I’ll keep you plenty warm during the long winters.

He pats his belly.

HAROLD: Also, I could use the cooking of a good woman.



STEFAN is a man who likes his routine. He comes to the gym every day at 4 o’clock, after his shift at the video store. He wears basketball shorts and a fancy long-sleeved exercise shirt, the kind that theoretically wicks the sweat away from one’s body. Stefan has exceptional calves, the kind where you can see the muscles flexing when he wiggles his pinky toe. He uses the fourth exercise bike from the wall right in front of the television where he watches Fox News. For an hour, he pedals at 80 RPMs. He stares directly at the television screen but his face reveals nothing. He does not stop. He just pedals. And he sweats, profusely. By the time he’s done with his workout, there are puddles, literally deep puddles of sweat on the floor around the bike. The puddles are sizable enough that you could float a toy boat in them. His sweat streaks the sides of the bike. When Stefan finishes his workout, he alights from the bicycle, gets the disinfectant spray and a rag, sprays only the seat, wipes it clean, and walks away, the rest of his sweat still coating the bike and floor.

STEFAN (walking away): Bike 4 is free.



MARTY is a professor at the university who, like many faculty members, prefers to work out at this gym rather than the campus facility so as to avoid the awkwardness of seeing students outside of class. Marty likes to wear comfortable clothing at the gym—tattered t-shirts covered in stains and loose sweatpants that have been cut into shorts. Marty does not like to wear underwear. He also enjoys using the Hip Abduction Machine.

MARTY (sitting in the Hip Abduction Machine, opening and closing his legs, not without passion): As I was telling my wife, it’s easier to work out here than on campus. Students have no understanding of boundaries when they’re not in the classroom.



ETHAN is the golden boy of the gym. He is so good looking you can’t look at him for too long or your eyes start to hurt like you’re staring into the heart of a solar eclipse. And still, you continue to watch him from the corner of your eye. Ethan is tall and muscular. He has a full head of hair styled in a manner reflecting his command of the use of product. He is not married. Ethan doesn’t sweat. He shines. When he runs on the treadmill, he not only has a perfect stride, the kind of stride that looks effortless and reveals his thigh muscles for the wonders they are, his feet make no sound. He is magic.

ETHAN: Blah blah blah blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah and so on.

ME: You are a God.


Original art by Ilyse Magy.


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Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and Hunger forthcoming in 2017. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. Roxane was the founding Essays Editor and is a current Advisory Board member for The Rumpus. You can find her at More from this author →