There are many gripes one can have about the gym — guys who don’t rack their weights, who grunt so forcefully you’d think they were giving birth, who hog the equipment, or who sing aloud to their iPods oblivious that they are off key and audible to the whole world. But it’s in the locker room where, for me, the worst offenders reside: the guys who leave the water running while they shave (their faces, heads, backs, whatever).
Maybe because I grew up in Africa, where water is precious and some people have to walk miles to get some, or had a second-grade teacher who knocked it into our skulls that if we left the water running while we brushed our teeth we would be wasting gallons and gallons of a life-giving substance, but the act of turning off the tap when you are not using it seems the most obvious and simplest way to do the world good.
Whenever I see men shaving with the water running, not only at a drizzle (which is all you need to rinse your razor) but at full blast, I am both fascinated and appalled. Sometimes they leave it running while they go somewhere else to fetch something they’d forgotten or study their faces in the mirror. On numerous occasions I have gone into the locker room after training and have undressed, showered, dried off and gotten dressed again, and in that entire time a guy will be running the water. In my mind, meanwhile, I would picture woman after woman in Chad or Niger carrying a bucket of water on her head over a beaten path; these days, I see the malnourished children of East Africa, in the grip of a severe famine and the worst drought in 50 years.
I used to try confronting these guys. But telling someone he is wasting water elicits such a terrible and affronted reaction that you would think you had infringed on one of his most cherished and inalienable rights. (Hey, man, I pay a hundred bucks a month for my membership and I can waste water if I want.) I have tried adding “In parts of the world people don’t have water at all,” but that only seems to make things worse.
I realize many modern buildings have faucets that turn themselves off (since the hand washer, sadly, is not to be trusted) — but that is still not the case at my neighborhood Y.M.C.A.
I have tried contacting the gym’s management, thinking they might install water-saving faucets — or at least put up a sign advising people to turn off the ones that are there. When I finally did get through to someone, via e-mail, he promised to put up notices in the changing rooms, but it never happened.
So, the question remains. How do you tell someone in an inoffensive way that in a world of shrinking resources access to potable water is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted?
Ted Botha lives in East Harlem and is the author of “The Animal Lover” (Jented Publishing, 2009; Kindle edition) and other works.