There are two Englishmen staying at the gym with me, Dave and Ethan. Dave arrived a few days before I did, and Ethan a few days after. They’re both likable, though you have to make a few more compromises if you’re set on liking Ethan.
Dave is thirty, the oldest fighter at the gym and the only one older than me. I’m an inch or two taller than him, though I feel as though I shouldn’t be: he has the presence of a large man, but without any jittery Napoleonic strain to be larger than he is. He’s built stouter than the other fighters here, with thickly muscled arms and legs, and serious, venerable-looking abdominals evident beneath a thin skein of beer fat. And he’s very handsome. I really like Dave. I like his hearty Midlands accent, whose long vowels render nearly everything either funny or compelling. I also like the magnanimous way he’ll repeat the key clause of other people’s remarks, as if savoring it, even when it’s nothing special.
During my first two days at the gym, Dave is either absent or in bed, asleep or half-asleep and surly. He’d apparently injured himself soon after he’d arrived, overexerting on the pads after too much time off. It’s not clear when he will be training again. When you show up somewhere new, it’s easy to mistake that moment for a permanent state of affairs; by the second night I’ve more or less written him off as debauched and invalid, but I’m wrong about that.
He’s back training on the third day, and it’s something of a revelation to see. His movements have a fearsome economy to them, and a speed that’s impressive in whippet-builds like Farmer or the Thai boys but is frankly disconcerting in a larger body. I learn that Dave has been training for about 14 years, off and on, and at one point was considered to have real promise. He had a high-profile televised fight about seven years ago, in which he acquitted himself well despite being entirely unprepared. Back injuries have since made it almost impossible for him to train seriously, however; he won’t compete again. He explains all this to me with equanimity.
A few days later he tells me a story in a similiar tone of voice, about a night when he and Dylan had gotten a couple of prostitutes—recommended to them by the trainers—and were fucking them in adjacent beds. I’m not sure where this was taking place; it may have happened at the gym, though I sort of doubt it did, and I really hope it didn’t. Dave describes how his girl was lying beneath him, still and silent, while Dylan’s had her legs up in the air—and here he gets on his back and demonstrates with his own legs—and screaming. “I figured he must have a monster of a knob,” he tells me, “but I looked over to see, and it’s about the same as mine.” He sounds pleased as he says it, as if describing something interesting he’d found on the street.
Next up: Ethan: Gentleman and Scholar.