Tattooed and Pierced Fellows in an Upscale London Hotel Gym
The year was 1995. My then-husband and I were on a business trip in London, staying in a spiffy, elegant hotel in Marylebone.
Make no mistake: the business was his, as always. I was the spouse, along for the ride, nothing to do but enjoy myself. Which was great — and I’ve written about this whole life elsewhere, if you want to know more.
Oh, sure, I made some gestures toward bringing along writing or something to work on in my ‘free time’ on our many trips; but I was really there for the adventure, the fine meals and finer wines, the shopping, the good life.
The nature of my husband’s business necessitated fancy banquets, late evenings in rich settings with far too much food and drink. Loads of fun; but I felt kind of sorry for my husband, who always had to get up early the next morning to put on his suit and participate in actual meetings about actual work-stuff. I tended to sleep off my hangover (as best I could) and then toddle out to the pool (if we were somewhere tropical) or to the hotel gym (if not), to sweat out the rest of the previous night’s excesses, and prepare myself for the excessive evening to come.
And so it was that I found myself entering this entirely empty hotel gym, in this spiffy hotel in Marylebone, at about ten thirty in the morning. Well, empty except for the earnest young attendant around the corner and down the hall, in the gym’s lobby. He had a posh British accent, naturally; he checked me in, issued me a fluffy sweat towel, led me into the workout room, and asked if I needed any instructions on the fine glossy machinery.
No, I did not, thank you so much; I knew my way around a gym, hotel or otherwise. He gave me a bottle of water and left me to my own devices.
The first thing I did was weigh myself. Or, at least, I tried to; the scale was in stones, not pounds. Not having any clue what nine-something-something meant, I shrugged and approached the exercise equipment.
The treadmill was easier to suss out; even though the numbers were different, I understood the basics, and I was soon marching along, working up a good sweat and wishing my dull headache would finish going away.
Then a completely incongruous dude strode into the workout room. He was about my age, which was weird enough already; I was younger by decades than any other guest I’d seen since we’d arrived here (including my husband). It was a stuffy upscale business hotel, and this guy…he had long dark hair, and tattoos, and wore a loose-fitting muscle T-shirt that showed…could that be pierced nipples??
“Hey,” he said, nodding at me as he went to check out the free weights.
“Hey,” I said, noticing his American accent, wondering what in the world?
A few minutes later, another young dude strolled in, even more tattooed and pierced than the first guy (which I could plainly see, through his scanty garb). He had dark hair and bold eyebrows, and a well-trimmed goatee/sculpted mustache scenario. He greeted the first dude; they were friends, clearly. (Which was actually kind of a relief. The only way this could have been any more bizarre would be if unrelated tattooed, pierced, youngish American dudes all wandered in at the same time.)
Because you guessed it: a minute later, a third such fellow arrived, wearing a bandanna and equally revealing workout gear. He joined the second fellow at the scale, and they had much fun trying to figure out how stones translated to pounds. I marched on, on my treadmill, pretending I wasn’t there, trying not to feel self-conscious about the fact that their stones were fewer than my stones.
They were fit dudes, is what I’m saying.
Soon they’d all settled into their workouts. Bandanna Guy was doing a StairMaster-like thing in the row behind my machine; the dark-haired goateed fellow took the treadmill next to me and started it up. He caught my eye in the mirrors in front of us and nodded at me. “Hey.”
Then they started talking to each other, around and behind me and over my head, clearly aware of me, maybe even almost playing to me, while ostensibly pretending I wasn’t there.
Fine with me. I’d pretend they weren’t there. Weirdos.
Healthy, fit weirdos.
Apparently there should have been a fourth one, but he was still asleep up in his room, and Bandanna Guy hadn’t wanted to wake him.
I wasn’t really listening to them — well, I was trying not to — but I couldn’t exactly ignore them either. And then something caught my attention. I started to get interested.
“We were really good last night,” one of them said.
“Yeah,” the others agreed. And then something about an audience, how great they were, something like that. Maybe something that sounded like a song title?
That’s when it finally started to dawn on me. “Are you guys…like…some kind of a band or something?” I asked.
All three dudes laughed. “Yeah,” said Goatee Guy.
“The Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, pleased with myself. “I’ve heard of you!”
Fortunately, they thought that was quite amusing. Adorable, even. We were all roughly the same age, but I’d been living the life of someone twenty years older — attending fine foreign art films in vintage movie houses, and symphony concerts at the big hall downtown; listening to jazz and NPR while reading my New Yorkers and my literary novels. I’d heard of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, of course; but I couldn’t have named a single one of their songs. (And, clearly, wouldn’t have recognized any of the band members if they were half-naked and sweaty in front of me.)
(Or…more than half-naked. They weren’t showing me anything more than they’d revealed on stage many times, as I learned later. I’ve been forever grateful that I had no idea about the sock thing when I met those nice young men.)
Because they were totally nice young men. We all got to talking then, as we worked out, discovering that we were all not only Americans, but Californians. I told them I was from San Francisco. “Ah, we have to live in LA,” said Goatee Guy (Dave Navarro, in his brief time with the band, I later pieced together), somewhat sadly. “We love San Francisco though.”
We talked about food, specifically the awful food you found in English restaurants at the time. In 1995, your best bets for a decent meal in London were Indian food, or pubs. I told them about pub food, how nothing beats a good Stilton ploughman’s plate.
“We’re staying out of drinking establishments at the moment,” the long-haired one (Anthony Kiedis) said. “Putting our partying days behind us.”
I could certainly believe that, as fit and healthy as they looked. (Alas, sobriety was apparently a brief moment for them as well, at that point.)
Eventually, I finished my workout, said it was nice meeting them, and headed out. The earnest young gym attendant at the front desk asked me, worriedly, “Were those blokes bothering you?”
I laughed. “No, they were fine.”
I went out later that day and passed a record store. I didn’t think those pierced, tattooed guys had been having me on. Even so, I was relieved to see a huge poster in the store window. Yep: that was them. Flea was the one who’d stayed in the room, sleeping.
I think about fame, and what it does to people, how it distorts them, and the world around them. I’ve never wanted to be famous — which is a strange thing for an author to say, but there you go. I want writing success, while somehow still staying anonymous. (Impossible, I know.)
These successful, hugely famous dudes clearly wanted me to know who they were, or expected that I already did; yet when they understood that not only had I not recognized them but I had only the vaguest impression of their band, they opened up, becoming relaxed and friendly. Only then did we have an actual conversation, as if we were all just people. People who came from the same part of the world, meeting up in a hotel gym in a foreign city, talking about the local food.
It must be so strange to be famous. I attended a sci fi/fantasy convention once that had the author Neil Gaiman as a guest of honor. He wasn’t as widely known then as he is now, but he was already a huge celebrity in our field. A number of us had gathered in the bar the first evening (as one does) when Neil walked in…and you could feel the magnetic force as everyone in the room simultaneously noted his arrival, pretended to keep on with their conversations, watched him out of the corners of their eyes, almost held their breaths… Everyone trying to be cool, to act like he was just another author, just one of us…while almost imperceptibly straining toward him. He could not possibly have been unaware of his effect, but what was he to do? He talked with the people he’d come to meet up with, as if nothing was weird. As if he hadn’t just changed the very atmosphere of a big, noisy bar with his mere presence.
Neil seems to handle it well; but, I think it’s no wonder that so many celebrities have so many divorces and drug problems and generalized life chaos. How can anyone live a “normal life” with the world staring at them, breathlessly? I would fall apart under that kind of scrutiny.
I just want to hide here on my island. I want to be a successful, famously reclusive writer. “Oh, Shannon Page? Yes, she grants one interview a decade, in writing only…here’s a photo of her from the 1980s, that’s all we could find…I hear she has another book coming out soon, I can hardly wait to buy a couple dozen copies of it for myself and all my friends!”
They say it takes a vivid imagination to make it as a writer…