The Friends You Don’t Actually Know

Today’s rare guest entry is brought to you by long-time reader and oft-honored Comment of the Month recipient Brad. He taps into the world that we all float through every day, the world of people we see day after day–maybe at work, maybe in the park, maybe in your apartment building–and yet never really know them beyond their nicknames.

Ever since Ted Danson gathered a lovable group of misfits at his tavern, every successful (and unsuccessful) sitcom has featured The Hangout.  Be it Monk’s, Central Perk, McLaren’s – wherever.  Every modern sitcom has a place where everybody know’s your name, where the protagonists can meet at 2 PM on a weekday, air their thoughts on the problems of the day and chat with the strangely eloquent staff.

My life is no different.  Instead of a bar, however, I have the gym.  And instead of friends, I have Gym People.

Now, anyone who goes to the gym with any regularity knows what I’m talking about.  I don’t know these people.  I don’t lift with these people.  I don’t even talk to them.  For all I know, they are there all day, just waiting for my arrival.  But they are my friends.  In an uncertain world, I know I can count on the Bicep Men to seek attention by grunting loudly.

I know the Really Strong Guys (who are never cut) will be in the corner, standing beside – but never lifting  – a bar they have filled to the edges with 45-pound plates.  I know the Tan Girl will be on the treadmill right beside the door, and I know the Dumpy Guy (who stays dumpy despite working out every day) will do sit ups until he sees the treadmill beside her open up.  But he won’t say anything, despite me sending him happy thoughts.  No one will be happier than me when the Dumpy Guy makes his move.

I enjoy seeing The Guy with the Magnets on his Neck and The Girl in Black.  Popeye and The Professor are always a welcome sight.  The Stretching Girls seem so nice.  I love my Gym Friends.   Except one…


Better Brad is, without a doubt, my greatest nemesis in life.  No matter when I show up, he’s there, with color coordinated clothes and a full head of hair.  He looks like me, but tanner, more muscular and without an oddly flat right side of his face.  He does my workout, but with more weight.  He gets on the bike beside me and pedals faster.  He does leg lifts while I do sit ups.  He claps in between his pushups.  He never sweats.  He is Better Brad.

Around 6 months ago, I went to get a smoothie after working out.  Who pulls up beside my minivan?  Better Brad, in a sports car.  We walk in.  I ordered a medium Angel Food.  Better Brad ordered a large.  It was on that day I decided some way, somehow, I was going to defeat Better Brad.

My first attempt to do so began with me lifting 135 pounds over my head and ended in the hospital.  The second ended with me lying in bed, unable to move after losing a stationary bike race.  So my quest to become Best Brad is on hold.  I need some help.  Maybe the Really Strong Guys can help me.

So, am I crazy?  Does anyone else have friends like these that you don’t actually know?

30 thoughts on “The Friends You Don’t Actually Know”

    • Same here! I have Bus Crush, to be certain. Though he’s been MIA for a bit…gotta girlfriend and now he must take HER line to work. Pshaw. Though I saw him recently, so I think they may have broken up. He changed glasses, a good move. He always reads. I want to quietly slip him a bookmark with the link to my online serial novel, but I know his genre preference isn’t suited to my work. Then there is Twilight in Spanish reader who I always want to secretly whisper to in Spanish about how she’s liking the series. Because nothing says, “We’re Twihard friends together” like Spanish whispering. And there’s my Aisle Pal. She’s the best. She always sits on the aisle seat with no one in the window seat. This is annoying in every occasion, to be certain, but at some point in time (last month) it became an unspoken agreement that I was the person she would allow to squeeze past her and sit in the window seat. It was known between us that this in fact was not rude on my end, and perfectly applauded on her end. That our stops coincided well enough we could manage to always have this arrangement. Then there is Over-friendly Married Guy who talks to EVERYONE. The weird smelly person who grunts and you try to ignore? Over-friendly Married Guy is asking him how his day is going, with genuine interest. They will chat for 20 blocks about the sad state of (insert topic here).

      My favorite moment of non-action happened one very crowded 5:20pm ride home while I was stood in the very back of the bus aisle. A pleasant seeming elderly man was sat in the chair I was directly looming over reading a book. The Doctor Who theme song came on my ipod and I started reading the page he was on… “Tegan” was the female protagonist, and I thought, “That’s funny, Tegan is classic Who, and actually it’s rather uncommon to use as a protagonist name… and wait, is that character called Doctor?” I quickly scanned to the title bits in the header. Sure enough, it was a classic Doctor Who book! I wanted, more than anything except for weird ear disease, to put my earbud into his ear and restart the theme song. The sudden and immediate pleasure of having theme music to the very book you’re reading seemed like the absolute best thing that could randomly happen on a bus. Alas, the creepiness of privacy invasion led me to inaction.

      • The bus seems rife with possibilities for Friends You Don’t Actually Know. My favorite was the idea of you one day whispering Spanish Twilight quotes in the ear of that passenger.

        Ha ha…actually, no, I take that back (I hadn’t gotten to the Doctor Who part yet)…that last one is WAY better! Especially if you had inserted the headphone into his ear without asking. That would have been amazing.

  1. I’ve always wondered if I was the only one that did this! My favorites at the gym are The Gorilla, who, despite the carpet of hair running down his back and over his shoulders, always wears sleeveless shirts that are cut very immodestly. The worst part is when he gets really hot and I have to see the rivulets of sweat making paths through his body hair (Or is that the best part? I’m not really sure.) Then there is the Mirror Flexer who thinks he’s impressing all of us between sets by giving us a show of the goods. He hasn’t figured out yet that he looks absolutely ridiculous.

    And I can’t forget the Mouse Girl. Although the nickname might seem pejorative, I’m actually quite fond of her. She’s so cute and kind of reminds me of Fievel from An American Tale. We have exchanged a few words here and there, but mostly look at each other and try to suppress our laughter when the Mirror Flexer gets really into himself.

    I love that you secretly root for Dumpy Guy.

    I also have names for people who work at the grocery store, like “I-Hate-That-You-Call-Me-Ma’am-But-I-Love-That-You-Actually-Have-Manners kid.” Or Hot Produce Guy. He’s probably jailbait, but the way he handles those melons catches my eye every time.

    Do you wonder if they have names for us? Like “That Lady Who Always Buys Edamame”? Or “That Girl Who Always Tortures Herself By Watching Food Network As She Works Out”? Or maybe Better Brad thinks of you as Inferior Brad?

    However, in my mind, this guest entry is so awesome that Better Brad just got surpassed by you, even if he’ll never know it. He may have a fully-fleshed out face. He may do one-armed push ups while actually *decreasing* his body temperature, but he’ll never live up to the hilarity of this post. Well done, Brad. Well done.

    • Katie,

      You are too kind. I’m quite sure Better Brad will post a full length expose in the New York Times today. That’s just how he rolls.

      Also, one of the guys who works there (Inappropriate Jerrold) told me the other day that I never smile, which means that there is a possibility I have a nickname, as IJ is the trainer who talks to everyone. The reason I never smile, of course, is that when I see Better Brad, it’s go time. No room for weakness.

      Lastly, sweaty back hair is never the best part of anything. Let’s just clear that up.

      • Also, Elvis, who manages the self checkout at Kroger (of which I am the MASTER) once called me “The Guy Who Comes Here Everyday”. To my face. I was confused. Should businesses heckle their customers?

      • Brad–I’m actually in talks with Better Brad to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece on Saved by the Bell (I’m sure you’re aware that Mr. Pulitzer gives out his prize in advance; you only don’t get it if you really screw it up. There’s no way Better Brad will screw it up.)

    • Katie–How often is Hot Produce Guy handling the melons when you go to the grocery store? It would seem that he must have other tasks to do. Maybe he doesn’t actually work there, and he just has a melon fetish?

      • Or maybe that I just imagine him handling the melons whenever I go there, whether he is or not. Who is going to get worked up watching him stock bagged salad mixes? Not me! Off to the melon section it is, at least in my mind.

        • I’m trying to think if I have a female equivalent to the Hot Produce Guy. There is a Hot Pharmacist Lady at my Schnucks that I occasionally make eyes at when I buy my allergy medicine.

          • Funny you should mention that. I recently tweeted (@bradbaker7, for those who are interested) that the hardest person to ask out would be your pharmacist. Are you having any luck?

  2. I definitely have friends like this. Mine are at the gym too. My favorite is Inappropriately Dressed girl. She is always wearing something that no normal person would ever wear to the gym. This week it was spandex leggings with a baby pink midriff bearing cable knit sweater. She never spends more than 10 minutes on a machine and always dramatically bounces while she workouts, to make it look like she’s working harder than she is.

    Do you ever see this “friends” outside their normal environment? Like at the grocery store? It always takes me a few seconds to realize how I know them. Then I never know what to do. Sometimes I can tell they recognize me too. Do I say hi? Smile? Or just pretend like I’m really interested in this jar of mayonnaise so I don’t accidentally make eye contact?

    • Emily,

      NOOOO!!!!!! You can never speak to them or acknowledge you know them. I once saw a Gym Person at a friend’s house. We spent the entire night in uncomfortable silence, pretending we did not spend an hour a day watching each other. It was like the scene in Ransom where Mel Gibson knows Gary Sinise is the kidnapper, and Gary knows Mel knows, but they just stand there making idle chitchat until Gary pulls out a gun and forces Mel to take him to the bank. I really thought that’s how my night was going to end, and that would have been preferable to admitting how much I knew about this stranger.

      • Have you ever accidentally found one of these people on facebook? For instance, you have a mutual friend and you notice their profile under the friends list? (This happened to me more often in college, when everyone had a million facebook friends and there were less degrees of separation). This is the WORST. I could never resist clicking on their profile and, depending on their privacy settings, see where they’re from, where they work, etc. I always kick myself for being such a creeper! Then if I do happen to actually talk to them I have to fake it like I don’t already know everything about them.

        • I’m sure this will disappoint so many people, but I do not have a facebook page. My twitter account and postings comprise my entire world wide web presence.

          I can see how this would be a problem, though, especially when you have to act like you don’t know them. Ever let something slip?

        • Emily–That’s definitely happened to me, especially with Match (and on occasion with random strangers to whom I’ve given nicknames). Ha ha…I wouldn’t describe it as the worst though! I like the sneak peak into who they are. Maybe that’s creepy. For me, the most common occurrence is noticing the occasional woman who has winked at me on Match in a photo of a friend on Facebook (or even a person on Facebook who I’m dating). That’s happened several times, and the converse as well, when a woman who winked at me sees that I’m now friends with a friend of hers on Facebook.

    • Emily–A person wore a sweater to the gym? That’s ridiculous. I do love it when people make it look like they’re working out harder than they actually are. I see this a lot while driving along Forest Park.

      Brad, I must admit that I kind of like when I see these people outside of their normal environment. It’s a chance to actually meet them. Obviously we’d never talk in our natural environment–that would disrupt the balance of nature and immediately end the world–but in any other location, you have a built-in conversation topic: “Hey, don’t you live in my building?” You say this as if you’re not really sure, even though you’re positive they live in their building and you know about their relationships and their favorite outfits and the weird angle at which they park their car.

      When I was on Match, I recognized a lot of people from real life. Also, before I worked at my church, I had a LOT of nicknames for the other people in the pews.

      • I do the same thing at church. I’m horrible when it comes to remembering names so even though I see them on a regular basis I still refer to the them by their nicknames. What I find funny is if I’m talking to someone else at church and I use the person’s nickname they know exactly who I’m talking about. 🙂

  3. I love that I’m not the only person out there who assigns random names to the people I see regularly, but never speak to! Most of my encounters also happen at the gym, which I think is the trend here. I guess it’s just one of those unspoken rules at the gym that you must not converse with fellow gym-goers.
    One of my favorite people is Strange Old Lady, who never seems to workout, but is always hanging out in the locker room or sauna, and is inappropriately walking around in just her granny panties. Another person I see there, no matter what time of day is Muscle Mike. He’s always putting on some kind of show while lifting, and I’ll usually try to walk where I can see him, but he not see me. Outside of the gym, the only person I have a secret nickname for is Pirate Paul, a night stock person at my local Wal-Mart, who has more tattoos and piercings than any tattoo artist I’ve ever seen. Also, Pirate Paul is about 75 and always sporting a set of silver hoops and a bandana.
    Hopefully these people aren’t giving me nicknames, although I’m sure it happens. Thanks for sharing a great post today Brad!

    • After posting, I immediately realized there were several other people worth mentioning, mostly people I see while at work.
      I refer to the entire Subway staff near my work as the Judgmental Sandwich Makers, as they question every topping/combination you ask for, as if they are all-knowing on what makes a good sandwich. At first I thought they were just being jerks to me, but after taking a poll at work, they question everyone who comes in.
      We also have Stripper Sally, she comes in every now and then, always with an obnoxious “whale tail” (thong) sticking out of the back of her jeans. I’m sure the guys love seeing her make an appearance, but really is 30 degree weather appropriate for bare midriffs?
      One last addition is a general name I’ve assigned to several of the men on Match, Shirtless Joe- which can be applied in general to any guy who posts countless shirtless pictures of their abs on their profile. I’m not complaining about this activity, as I appreciate the aesthetics, but if nice abs are the best thing they have to offer, maybe they should try a little harder on the profile.

      • Strange Old Lady sounds amazing, and the Judgmental Sandwich Makers made me laugh out loud.

        I had never heard the term “whale tale” until today. It’s a great term.

  4. I have coffee shop friends. Occasionally, on my way to work, I stop for coffee that is exponentially better than my sucky work coffee. Naturally, I visit the best coffee shop in the world–the Kaldi’s in Carondelet Plaza. (I figured I’d throw that in there for any St. Louisans who weren’t aware that [A] this is the best coffee shop in the world and [B] that they live in the place with the best coffee shop in the world.) Each time I visit, I one or more of the regulars–there’s Rich George Costanza, who always orders a bagel, Quintuple Espresso Construction Guy, and The Bastard Who Always Parks His BMW in the Road (thereby making it more challenging to get out of the parking lot…I’ll come back to this). We overhear each other’s conversations with the baristas and occasionally throw in an additional comment, but we rarely acknowledge one another.

    Oddly enough, just last week I told the lead barista that he was the Sam Malone of Kaldi’s. He got a big kick out of that.

    • I figured I’d dedicate a separate comment to The Bastard Who Always Parks His BMW in the Road. On a few occasions I’ve snapped a photo of his car with my phone and thought about calling the police, but I’ve never followed through with it. As fate would have it, I locked my keys in my car a few weeks ago while I was parked in the Kaldi’s lot (which is actually a public city lot). I 411ed the non-emergency police, and they came to let me into my car. As they were working, The Bastard pulls up and parks right in the road (it’s not a wide road, there are clearly delineated areas for parking, and this guy does not use them). Thinking this is my chance, I casually mention to the cop who is working on my door (and not looking at the BMW), “Wow. That guy just parks in the road right in front of a cop.” My heart races as I visualize the cop chasing The Bastard through the street, pulling him down from the large fence that always seems to be present at the end of alleys when police chase people on foot, and pinning him to the ground as The Bastard yells obscenities and threats. I envision the cop, who innately realizes that I deserve retribution for a backlog of crimes, asking me if I’d like to get a shot or two in before he books The Bastard and impounds his car, to which I’d reply, “Hell yes. I didn’t watch all those Billy Blanks Tae-Bo videos for my health.” I’d have my revenge and The Bastard would never consider himself above the law again. Sadly, I’m snapped back to reality as the cop just sighs and turns back to unlocking my car, allowing the parallel parking perpetrator to perpetuate his transgressions.

      • Trev–This was amazing. I was rooting for the fantasy to come true and for the cops to take it to the BMW guy (and let you get a few shots in). But all they did was sign and move along? Terrible! Perhaps you should have asked if you could make a citizen’s arrest?

        Well done casually mentioning that car as if you’d never noticed it before. I’m sure your nonchalance was palpable.

  5. When I started working out, I noticed The Hoff, a guy I’ve played football with on several occasions, and his wife on side-by-side Ellipticals. It took a few times, but we now acknowledge each other with a nod while working out, and a few casual words if we are in the lobby together. Now that I’m no longer the new guy at the gym, I notice new people all the time, but when someone I know starts coming, I think the appropriate response is casual 2 minute conversation at first noticing them, and then acknowledging nods for future encounters. Is this correct etiquette?

  6. Brad –
    I’ve encountered a man who fits all of the characteristics of Better Brad and I didn’t think he was that great. His face was too serious, his eyes too close together, and he makes weird noises when he does his clap push-ups. It has to be the same guy you were describing.

    While at the gym or other, I often wonder what names other people would give me. I could be The One with Too Many Bags since I always have my purse, school bag and lunch box in tow. Or perhaps I’m The Busy Bee since I never slow down and buzz memos to myself when I walk. I could be the Yoga-Pants Girl That Never Buys Anything at the Old Navy I frequent. (I actually hate Yoga because I will never be good at it.) Seriously, who shops in yoga pants… and on a regular basis? It’s not like I’m about to break out into downward dog in the middle of the new spring collection. I’m not even flexible enough to perform the downward dog in a way that people would recognize it. (They would probably just think that I lost something important on the floor that I was looking for.) What they DON’T know is that yoga pants are my way of saving money. You can’t try on clothing if you come in yoga pants and so you can’t spend your hard earned bucks! (Everyone should adopt this strategy for money management.)

    Last year, my students spread a rumor that I was pregnant. Granted, they were happy for me, except when I told them that it was FALSE. Perhaps I am The Possibly Pregnant One at school. To this day, they ask me if I have kids. No… I do not.

    One time, a good friend told me that I have pretty hair. If I at least have that going for me, I hope that’s what my name would be.

    Brad, thank you for this stimulating post. I enjoyed it tremendously. You are A Good One.


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