The Newton Wellness Center has a squeak. It comes from the elliptical nearest the stretching mats and yoga balls in the "cardio room" and happens during the down-stroke of the left footrest. It's the kind of squeak that makes your teeth itch—something between a dog whistle, a rusty swing set, fingernails on a chalk-board and the sound of taxi breaks in New York City. We've all heard of the seven year itch, but it can't be half so annoying as seven minutes of listening to that confounded squeak. There's only one trouble: Most people in the Wellness Center can't hear it. Maybe they rocked out at a few too many Grateful Dead concerts in their teens or are the victims of simple ear entropy. Who knows! All I know is that as a twenty-something man with good hearing, I'm in the ear-splitting minority. Technicians have looked into the squeak, but I'm afraid they can't hear it either. I mean, It must be difficult to silence a sound you can't hear—kind of like treating an invisible stain or tidying a room in the dark.

     In my experience, the Newton Wellness Center is a well-run, ship-shape, clean, orderly place with machines and equipment in good working order and cheerful, kind employees who are ready and willing to help however they can. I have always been impressed by its management, but this squeak is a new kind of problem—one that isn't so easy to fix, because it just isn't a problem to the vast majority of people in the building.

    So I've been learning understanding. It is completely normal and expected that a squeak unheard by ninety percent (no real stats to back that up) of exercisers and employees should go unaddressed. In fact, if I extrapolate a bit, I have no room to talk. Just like the squeaky elliptical, many of my faults are inaudible to me, but painfully loud to those around me. For instance, it's easy for me to criticize the guy or gal in the car ahead who is, as my father-in-law would say, "Low on blinker fluid," while I graciously write off one of my own missed blinkers as a one-time honest mistake that isn't normal for me. In a certain way, when I'm working out at the Wellness Center, hearing to that incessant squeak while others in the room are blissfully unaware, I get a small taste of what it's like to be around me—a man full of bad attitudes and inconsistencies and totally oblivious to most of them.

    I wear larger headphones to work out now and slightly increase the decibel level on my iPod. In the short term this drowns out the squeaking when someone has chosen the elliptical closest to the yoga balls, and in the long term it might just damage my hearing enough to make that squeak and any other squeak no problem. If the headphones won't do the job, time will. Hopefully my faults will die out with the squeak; we'll see.

R. Eric Tippin
In The Study on 8th Street