Let us call my friend… Alphonso. Alphonso is my guide. He has a blender in his room. Into the blender go four beers, two bananas, one raw egg. Blend it! In three tremendous gulps, Alphonso and I drain our 32oz. Lambeau Field souvenir mugs of this sweet, smooth Lil’ Abner, and stand there panting. Next – in separate rooms – we layer up. One pair Hanes boxer briefs, white. One navy blue Under Armor unitard. One sweats set from our respective high schools, top unhooded. One ‘Bama “Beat Auburn” ‘87 sweatshirt, hooded, sleeves removed. (Rare to come by up North, Alphonso luckily had a spare one of these.) Lycra/cotton elastic head – and wristbands, white. The band on my left wrist was a Celtics. I got it at Finish Line.
Walking toward Dillon gym with my guide, Alphonso, I feel poised at the very clavicle of this coy bitch spring, a pungent wet freeze at my nostrils. All the rest of me feels braced and strong beneath the warm layers. It is the end of afternoon, and the sun has fallen well below the bulky stands of gothic dormitory to the immediate west, kicking up a glow. The Lil’ Abner is kicking in. It’s all so… heady. If fitness had balls, I would be tripping them. Finally, we are there.
Past the turnstile, down the stairs, through the locker room, more doors and stairs, and then into the bright yellow lights of the Stephens Fitness Center. At this time of day the gym is fairly crowded. Wads of outerwear bulge out from almost every cubbyhole. I find that word vulgar, filthy. Cubby. Cubbyhole. For proxing, it suits perfectly. Alphonso watches to see that the the attentions of the supervising staff are directed elsewhere. Then he takes me along the rows of cubbies, pushing aside fleeces and sweatshirts to reveal the little orange proxes- each so shiny and still like a newt whose sheltering log has been upturned. Sometimes, the proxes are set at an angle against the back left edge of the cubby. Alphonso points to these. “See, see?” he says, before replacing whatever had covered it. We reach a low stand of empty cubbies. Into one of these, Alphonso places his prox in a manner similar to the others that had perked his attention- angled into the back-left corner of the cubby. I throw my prox haphazardly into the neighboring bin.
We begin our workout. Observational demands limit our circuit to the upstairs machines. This is okay, because I went psycho on the free weights the day before. Today’s exercises are a blind, a decoy, just for show. Our eyes are always on Alphonso’s cubby. Halfway through my second set of standing tricep pulldowns, Alphonso taps me lightly on the shoulder. “Look now. Real careful like.” Continuing my reps, I glance sideways with a slight shrug. iPod in hand, a leggy girl in a little running outfit seems to wander absentmindedly along the grid of cubbies, as if recovering from a strenuous session on the elliptical machine. I turn away from a moment, and shoot back another quick look. She stands on one leg, stretching. It is clear that she is staring down at Alphonso’s prox. Alphonso heads downstairs and gestures for me to keep looking. I sit down on a bench against the wall, directly in line with the cubbies across the room. The girl is zipping up a North Face jacket. She draws her prox out of a jacket pocket. Leaning down to re-tie her shoes, she throws her prox alongside Alphonso’s in the back-left corner of the cubby. As she swings back upright, she grabs Alphonso’s prox and quickly places it into her jacket. With a nonchalance so complete that my heart starts beating in rapid thuds of spite, the girl walks out the door.
I go downstairs to signal Alphonso and together we hurry back up to his cubby. Alphonso palms the prox coolly, as if it were his own – that nonchalance again – and again I am gripped by equal measures of bile and awe. We leave the gym. It is only when we are back safe in my room that I pore over the prox that Alphonso has thrown with an arrogant smirk onto the coffee table. A very cute girl. I don’t know her, really, but something moves me to feign familiarity in front of Alphonso, whom I increasingly regard with a kind of covetous rage.
It was a month previous when, drunk late one night up in some room long after the clubs had closed, Alphonso confided to those assembled – a handful of half-conked wasteoids clinging to the last fiber of a passing good time – that since the beginning of his sophomore year he had been doing this thing called “proxing.” Proxing, he explained, is when someone goes to the gym and replaces another person’s prox with his or her own. Upon finding this new prox, the solicited party looks up the dorm address of whoever’s prox this is, and heads over there to “exchange proxes”. There, in the room, the person who switched proxes is waiting. Then they have sex. Then they have sex!? Then they have sex. Proxing is about casual sex.
Alphonso explained to me how proxing works. If someone wants to make him or herself available for proxing, he or she will place the prox in the back-left corner of the cubby, at an angle. When a prox is switched, the new prox is placed upside down, in order to prevent a chain reaction of proxing switches. Proxers stick with fair regularity to a code of contractual ethics. If a guy throws down his prox for some action, and it gets picked up by a girl he might not fancy too keenly, well, he’s gotta try to find some fun in it. And vice-versa. How do proxers keep their clandestine free-love network from degenerating into an all out drooling meat-market? Utter secrecy. It’s like the shadow world of vampires that has always existed just outside the detection of mortal daywalkers. Invitation into the circle is extended to the few, by the few, through channels I have not yet been able to determine. Whatever these may be, their agency has succeeded in limiting the field of proxers to perhaps one hundred relatively attractive students. A trim athlete of mixed Teutonic and Latin stock, Alphonso seems a clear candidate for this program of hook-up eugenics, this game of facebook-meets-the-bathhouse.
Some days after his plastered revelation, Alphonso finally agreed to give me a look at the cat he’d just narrowly let out of the bag, but only on the condition that I keep whatever I might witness within the strictest confidence. What appears here in writing, then, is a kind of moral breach, a betrayal. Yet I feel barely the slightest remorse. Ressentiment pervades every corpuscle of my thought. The deepest tribes of the Amazon jungle fall prey to their earnest friend, the anthropologist, because he cannot stand to exist outside of their primitive grace. And so he turns them into knowledge, into words for his own. The world rushes in, and they are gobbled up. But our friend the anthropologist can always leer at his book, where he has bound them up in his phrases and photographs, through every long and troubled night. So here I am writing, to leer at my precious, and damned be all else.
As per our agreement, I will accompany Alphonso almost to the very threshold of his proxing’s consummation, lurking around the corner of whatever hall might present itself while he makes his entrance, and thence to wait outside the building until he emerges with his own prox in hand. I arranged the terms of all this perhaps a week prior to these events. Back then, a mix of fascination and incredulity led me to believe that haunting around the transaction would somehow be thrilling, like a stakeout or a spy’s mission. Going through the motions now, all too convinced, I am hardly thrilled. I get it, I get it. The sense of astonishment dried up soon after I realized that these kids were having fun and I was only acting the creep. Fuck it, I decide, I’m outta here.
Busta Rhymes has a lyric in one of his songs: “Don’t talk about it, be about it (shut up!)”. But proxing would not leave me alone. As if while wringing my hands in some Blofeldian lair, I decided that yes, yessss, this would be a well-documented phenomenon. The confirmation that pornography was indeed real – a confirmation I received in elementary school when Josh Berlin handed me an envelope filled with clippings from his father’s smutty magazines – of course did nothing to dissuade me from seeking out more. That was just one envelope, but there had to be others. More images, more- arrangements. What were the dimensions of this thing? Where did it go? That night shadowing Alphonso, I had been afforded a glimpse into yet another intriguing little envelope – a guy, a girl, their proxes. But if I was to believe the implications of what I had witnessed, then this hum of lusty activity should be going on and on, available for my detection. Now it made sense to me why in the movies the private eye is always something of a shifty drunk, a loner with an uncomfortably vague lifestyle. It is because that man’s professional life is fueled by a seedy voyeurism, because he gets off on stroking the social underbelly, because he tells himself, “I know I’m a little bit of a sicko, but I have seen what goes on, and this shit makes me feel too cool. I will keep looking. I need it.”
Following that night, I spent every day upstairs at the gym. Upon entering, I would scan the cubbyholes for angled, back-left proxes. Sometimes there weren’t any, but at peak hours I could always find more than a few. Over the course of ten days, I saw over a dozen proxing exchanges. More than a few times, I trailed the solicited proxer to the rendezvous. Sometimes the proxers would stop in one building- apparently their own- and emerge some minutes later, showered and well dressed, only then heading over to the date. Sometimes the proxers, sweaty and full of endorphins, would go directly to their host after looking up the address at a computer in the Dillon lobby. I would wait outside the building the student went to, until the kid emerged again some time later and returned home, or went to late meal.
Thoroughly sure that this was for serious, disgusted at my sneakings and contemptuous of this whole Byzantine loin-circus, I decided to do it myself. I proxed. She came over. Afterwards, I lay in bed smoking as she refastened the snaps of her polyvinyl gartered lingerie and pulled on a pair of sweatpants. We got to talking. “I think proxing is really cool,” she told me. “Me too,” I said.