Something strange is happening with my Thursday boxing class, but not in a bad way. For reasons I don’t understand, that class is sparsely attended. The gym is right next to a major transportation hub in midtown, just after work, with one of their best boxing instructors, you’d figure there’d be 15-20 people there. But it’s usually more like 4-8 people, which makes for an excellent workout, but worries me that the revolving-door gym manager might poke his head in and wonder if the class is worth keeping.
Lately, the New York Jets cheerleaders have been showing up and prepping for their workout in the large stretching area outside the gym. Here’s a video that shows them working out in our gym. This may not be the actual squad, but finalists training for the last audition. It’s hard to tell. I recognize only one of them in the pictures on the website, and we’re talking about 20-25 women I’ve been seeing in that stretch area.
Rest assured, they’re real physical specimens. I was surprised by how short they were: you see professional cheerleaders on TV, they all look to be about six-feet tall with, allow me to quote Rod Stewart, legs right up to their necks. They’re not: notice the high-heel boots in the photos. Most are around 5’ 8” but do have a certain body type: lean, zero extra fat, long legs even if they’re not tall, and the prerequisite, long flowing hair, mostly blonde. Surprisingly, not all drop-dead gorgeous in the face – I’d imagine a slightly above average looking women with the right body and hair type can pull this off if she has the moves and make-up skills.
It’s a welcome distraction, to say the least. A few of the guys are under the misguided impression that “they’re looking at us, dudes.” But they’re not. We’re working out in the gym, in front of the wall mirror that these women are trying to look at themselves while they run through routines. We’re in their way, which is why they appear to be engrossed with us. I don’t doubt for a second that “look at these old, out-of-shape dicks” is the main thought in their minds, seeing as how they’re used to being around finely-tuned professional athletes. And we’re blocking their mirror!
The women in the class? You can sense a mild tension. Really, there are two or three regulars in that class who are good-looking women, as in most boxing classes, real tomboys who are in great physical condition and easy on the eyes. I’d be much more inclined to spend time with someone like this than a flighty twentysomething cheerleader … but that doesn’t mean much when there are 20 stunningly attractive women gathered together in a group outside the door going through traditional cheerleading routines in unison. That hair toss you see all the time? It doesn’t come naturally: they rehearse it constantly.
I’ve been studying them (said the old man in the dirty raincoat). No, but I’ve been paying attention to how they interact, how the two black girls position themselves away from the others (and often won’t work out with them at all), how the slightly older looking women (probably ancient at 26) tend to group together. Mostly, I notice the over-powering self-confidence they have in a large group. When they first start showing up in that area, there are a handful or less, and they tend to make small talk, not really exert much of a presence. But when everyone starts showing up, it’s interesting to see the transformation. It seems like each of them purposely makes eye contact with everyone in her line of vision.
Eye contact is a big thing in New York. I’ve learned when to use it and when not. Generally, it’s a good idea to make brief eye contact with people on the street, let them know you’re aware of their presence, but not to dwell or linger on it. I’ve also learned if I want to intimidate someone walking towards me, it’s best to make no eye contact at all, just focus my eyes lower, about chest level, but straight ahead. With people wrapped up in smartphones all day long, I use this all the time to let people know I will walk into them rather than around them because they’re not engaged in reality: it works.
If someone’s making prolonged eye contact with me in public, I take that to mean they either want to intimidate me or simply want something from me. Overly confident people in business do it all the time. In their minds, this is a normal function to exert their dominance. They’re usually smart enough not to do it when they recognize they’re not in a power-struggle situation. Much like people raising their voices … you have a lot more to worry about from someone who’s completely silent. I equate intimidation with fear, not self-assurance. Or put it this way: the people I’ve seen who are convinced they’re the most self-assured people in the room are generally suffering some mild form of mental illness … for which they’re often financially rewarded! The world isn’t upside down – it’s always been this way.
So when I see these gorgeous cheerleaders, all white-teeth smiles and direct eye contact with everyone in their path, I take it with a grain of salt. They’re young. They’re beautiful. They’re in a gang. This is what Hitler had in mind, especially with the blonde hair and blue eyes!
The odd thing is, the past decade of my life I’ve made friends with one of my old high-school’s cheerleaders, who was beautiful in her teens and 20’s. She looks pretty good now, too, but think Brooke Shields in the early 80’s: just a stunningly attractive woman. I wouldn’t be off mark saying this was the best-looking girl in high school, not just our class. Guys our age wouldn’t approach her unless they were brash and “running the show” in terms of high-school popularity. (And there’s a very odd story about one of these situations that’s not mine to tell!) Older guys tended to hit on her because guys her age figured, “Snowball's chance in hell. Why bother?”
And I can see that even decades on, those two or three years when they were cheerleaders still affects how they are now. There were and are cliques, some of them going back to grade school, related to brains and beauty, almost as if they had a game plan for high-school domination. I think they were mostly innocent then and simply rode the wave of popularity such a position entails. The cheerleaders in my class were by no means wicked, as so often portrayed in movies. They were often pretty smart, too, and hustling for high grade-point averages as much as anything else.
A very odd thing is more recent reunions – in that a lot of the cheerleaders (not to mention the class president) haven’t showed up for any, despite the fact that they’re all doing reasonably well in life. Seemingly by default, my cheerleader friend and I have become heavily involved in running the reunions, so we have good insight into people’s situations whether or not they choose to attend. We both get vague whiffs of those old cliques when it comes to this. One decides not to go, and the others similarly choose to veto. It just seems odd. We’re talking one night a decade, with invitations going out a year in advance. I surely understand things like “getting fat” – I got fat for 20 years and still went! But maybe that’s because I felt I had very little to lose in terms of power nostalgia, i.e., I wasn’t running the show at all in high school and out-of-hand rejected so much of the social hierarchy (and I wish I had been more involved with some things).
One of the worthwhile things about reunions is they humanize people from an important part of our lives. Very few people show up to be assholes. You have a lot of money? Nice house? Nice car? Show up a decade later, you might be divorced and suffering from some unforeseen disaster that damaged your life irreversibly. That’s how life works. Things go your way, and then they don’t. Our lives tend to be a constant stream of success and failure, you’d have to be fairly blessed to show up at one of these things and advertise that your life has been one stunning success followed by another. Shit happens. Good and bad. I’ve had pleasant, reassuring conversation with just about everyone I spoke to at one of these things, whether the person had been popular or not.
None of the small cliques I was part of in high school survive to this day, and I’m glad for that. I know individual people from that time period, but we’re not all on the same page, living hundreds or thousands of miles apart, doing different things, each with a wealth of knowledge and experience that has nothing to do with those few years we spent awkwardly slammed together in high school. Going to college was a revelation for me, where I came into my own, far more than high school. And moving to New York allowed me to walk away from so much of my past that just didn’t matter. It granted me permission to be whoever I was … only to realize who I was already seemed to be woven into my character by how and where I was raised!
I’m trying to figure out how all this information feeds into the head of those New York Jets cheerleaders doing their routines in the stretch area. They did the near-impossible: they took a high-school fantasy into the adult world. Thousands of grown men lust after them, whether on the sidelines or those brief glimpses we get of them during games on TV. And they are lust worthy! It’s hard not to return eye contact when a woman who looks like that gazes at you, even if it’s only some bizarre form of territorial pissing. Like sirens calling your ship to the rocks!
Meanwhile, we’re in the gym, pounding out that day’s frustrations on heavy bags and hand pads, getting our batteries recharged after eight hours of grinding adulthood. I can’t help but feel like I’m in high school in some sense when they’re out there, but not in some fantastical way. I can’t say the opposite, that I feel like some inadequate dick in their eyes. I don’t. As noted, I can guarantee I’m older than some of their parents. And maybe it’s because of the age gap that I don’t feel intimidated. A good word to describe it is “giddy.” Everyone gets giddy when they show up, the abnormal sight of that many beautiful women gathered in one place engaged in a high-school phenomenon that they’ve all been privileged enough, through looks and talent, to engage in. There’s a purity to it. If I was sitting in a dressing room with a bunch of similarly-aged strippers getting ready to go onstage, the sexuality would be up front and far more visible. Here, it’s still presented in a somehow hokey, “rah rah” fashion of cheerleading.
The point is I shouldn’t feel intimidated by them: that might be part of the cheerleader myth of high school that loses its nasty edge in adulthood. These are beautiful women, most probably with day jobs no better or worse than mine, or still going to college. Some of them probably still hope to be professional dancers or choreographers. Most could surely run an aerobics class or even a gym. I’d rather not project any negativity on them, the same way I’d rather they not do the same on me. I’d imagine if I saw a dolphin swimming next to a boat I was on, I’d feel the same way.