I am standing next to another man at the deadlift station. Between any two given stations is a rack of weights for the deadlift bar. I usually take two weights out of one side and two out of the other; usually I am alone here at this hour in the weight room, or any other users are on the other side. Now I am ready to put back my weights. But when I look over at the rack between us I see there aren’t enough empty spaces both for the weights I’ve taken and those he’s taken to go back. Or has he taken not from the one on his left (my right) but on his right? I look over to see if all his weights will fit there. I don’t want to fill up all the spaces that—who knows?—perhaps I’ve been using against some protocol. If those are his spaces to fill, I don’t want to horn in on his territory.

What do I say? Do I say, “Hey, are you going to put your weights back there?”? He probably wouldn’t know why I’m asking. Unless he’s using the other rack, in which case he might just be puzzled, and say: “Nah, I’m using the rack on the other side.” What if he says, “Yeah,” but says so in such a puzzled tone it’s clear he has no idea why I’m asking? Then I’ll have to say: “Is that my rack?” He might not understand why I’m asking, and we’d both stand there while I lay out the issues and my thinking on them—too much talk while we’re supposed to be working out. The talk itself would fail to work in the situation.

Better would be to articulate the problem rather than asking a question to solve it: “I’m trying to figure out where I should put these weights back.” That’s friendly, brings him on to my side with the problem he can help solve rather than being confrontational. But it does require some time away from lifting, and it breaks the cool-air zen of the place.

And what about my tone of voice? My body language? I need to have an even, non-confrontational tone of voice. Not a sharp “Is that rack the one for your weights?” with an edge. That’s almost certain to get his back up, or have him reply in a weary “Hey buddy why are you being such a jerk?” tone of voice. I need a tone of voice that says, “Hey, no problem here, trying to do the right thing, don’t want to take your space.” And the body language can’t be that of the puffed-up gorilla chest, rather the “at ease” of arms pushed out by lats.

But this is all far too complex for the problem. Another option is simply, have no communication at all. And in the end, that’s what happens. I notice that he’s doubled up the thinner weights in one of the divisions of the rack, like a toast rack, and I do the same on my side. I end up not having to interact verbally with him at all: talk takes time, isn’t what guys working out do with each other, and just makes things complicated.  So the path I chose was ultimately that of no interaction of any sort.  Words were considered, and rejected.

All of these options are the cards I hold in my hand, or perhaps each card the placeholder for another fan of cards on its own, and each of these for yet another fan, and so on. Or at least those are some of the cards I can enumerate after the fact: how many did I actually have at that moment? I’ll never be able to say. I can only be conscious of a few cards at once, but that doesn’t mean the others couldn’t have been played—usually we don’t know we have a card until we play it.