Fear in the Wake of Newtown

One of us fled. The rest of us hung around hoping the screamer would just leave.  He scared us all.  And the front desk attendant came around quickly and said we might consider sending a complaint to the gym director.

I’d heard about the guy who wasn’t quite right, but until yesterday I had not experienced him. He’s short, stocky and wiry — a veteran of the gym.  You could tell it. He was silent, a man of cynical grin. Yesterday before he mounted the tread mill, he sauntered around coughing and hacking.  Once on the mill the coughing and hacking grew worse.  He never covered his mouth. I wanted to present his macho with a paper towel but was apprehensive about such a confrontation — such was my fear. Because he was downwind in the draft of the big circulation fan, I tolerated his respiratory eruptions, but contamination and contagion did occur to me at the same time  I wanted my own workout.  The coughing and hacking grew worse, more violent, and then they subsided, became intermittent and eventually paused.  But then it all resumed.  Still no sign of a courteous hankie.

Finally, the man switched from treadmill to the leg extension machine.  He  carefully folded and placed his sweaty towel on the back of the seat.  The coughing and hacking returned.  I swapped the bicycle for another machine.  I was working on arm muscles when the primal, piercing scream permeating the entire room squelched the sounds of television, fans and other   machines. It sounded like a sustained karate yell only prolonged, anguished, ferocious.  The scream stopped, started and returned again.  One woman left the gym and did not return.  Just as I was about to flee myself  the screamer left, went into another room, uttered his barbaric, clarion banshee call and left.

Someone, an  amateur psychologist among us who had heard it all before said, “He has issues.”

“He’s a nut case,” I said, “like the guy who blew away 26 people in Connecticut.”

“That guy was paranoid and schizophrenic.”

“Oh, that really makes me feel better. Issues do become problems.  He’s still a nut case.”

The three of us remaining in the gym finished our routines as quickly as possible.  I wondered why I hadn’t fled with the first woman.  I half-expected The Screamer to return with an assault rifle.

Being the last one to leave the gym, as I departed it was the first time in my life that the conceal carry law appealed to me, but I won’t tote a six shooter and yes, I’ll go back to the gym, counting on the odds.


David Milliken


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