I was running late, as usual. It was a frigid Friday morning, and the streets were coated with ice. My exercise class began at 10:20 a.m. on the button. At the gym I frequent, there are very strict rules in place: In order to snag a spot in the class, not only do you have to be on time, but you actually have to be ten minutes early. Since my version of punctuality would be showing up at 10:10 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. doctor’s appointment, this posed quite a challenge. Yet I was determined to stick to my exercise routine. I wouldn’t be one of those quitters who splurged on a membership and then found excuses to stay home. Speaking of excuses, there were plenty: a houseful of kids, a demanding job and a bitterly cold winter. Having said all that, the need to work out was still greater than my sloth. You see, ever since my last baby, there have been a stubborn ten pounds of blubber stuck beneath my skin, bulging out of my sweaters. Aside from weight loss surgery, there were only two ways to zap it—zip my mouth shut, or sweat the pounds off. So I doggedly went to the classes, morning after frigid morning, making it by the skin of my teeth before the doors closed. Before you start admiring my perseverance, I have a confession: I actually love exercise. Yes, you heard that correctly; I relish it. And no, not only for its weight loss and health benefits.
To be honest, exercising gives me a high. I crave that high the way a druggie needs his fix. When I jump and kickbox my way through a cardio step class, or force my aching biceps to balance sixteen pounds of weights while balancing on one leg, my entire body rebels. Yet I force myself to breathe through the ache, sweating profusely. Before long I’m flying high. A sense of happiness and peace envelops me as the endorphins flood my system, lifting me out of my doldrums. When I come home after a good workout, somehow the sun shines a bit brighter, obscuring the gray clouds, and all is well in my world. On that particular Friday morning, I was desperate to get to class on time. We had just crawled our way out of a three-day blizzard, during which the kids had eaten me out of house and home. I don’t know about other families, but at our place, board games and arts-and-crafts hold their attention span for a generous five minutes. After making the obligatory snowmen, my offspring tend to follow me around the house, cranky and bored, demanding, like the ancient Romans, “Bread and Circuses.” By the time that endless snow day was over, the house was a wreck and my hands were shaking from stress. “There had better be exercise tomorrow,” I told my sister on the phone. “Otherwise I’m running to Timbuktu.” “Have fun!” she merrily chirped.
Lucky her, she has a houseful of boys. They’d been in yeshivah and she’d been cleaning for Pesach. I opened one lazy eye the next morning, washed my hands, jumped out of bed and grabbed my cell. Snowstorm or sunshine, I needed to call the gym. Were they open? Yes, they were. Hooray! There was only one small issue; my hubby’s car was completely snowed in. As in, completely. On all sides. It would take about an hour of shoveling to get it out of its rut. And oh, what’s that? Another snow day in effect? Yay. That meant no more school until Monday morning. “Whoever wants breakfast has to get it now,” I called, toasting slices of bread and opening a can of tuna. By the time the early risers had eaten I was already out the door, shoveling armloads of snow. An hour later, when my husband came home from Shacharis (looking like Frosty the Snowman), the car was ready to go. “Okay, I can take you now,” he said after he’d checked the mail and grabbed a quick bite. I glanced at my watch. It was eight minutes after ten, and the gym was about eleven minutes away—or more if the roads were bad. It would be a tight squeeze, but I hoped we’d make it. I grabbed my gym bag, water bottle and handbag, shouted instructions to the kids (in various stages of dress) and hurried to the car. We slid through the slick streets, blinkers on, and I held on tight for dear life. As we neared the gym, I called to doublecheck that they would give me some leeway, due to the inclement weather. “We’re allowing an extra ten minutes grace period, due to the weather,” said Jean, the receptionist. “But hurry. Your time is almost up.” Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief.We finally pulled up to the gym. I jumped out of the car, thanked my hubby, and raced into the studio before the doors closed. A great step class was already in progress.
Marcia, the instructor; tall, and muscular, smiled at me, and my return smile was genuine. It may have been the third snow day in a row, but for me, life was looking upward. I was safely at the gym, far from the mess, the noise and the bored, cranky kids. I grabbed a step, two risers, a pair of seven-pound weights and a bar, and swiftly swapped my sheitel for a snood. Then I reached into my bag to pull out my sneakers and stopped short. No sneakers. I groaned. I’d prepared the sneakers next to my gym bag, but in my haste, I must have left them behind. Now I was stuck.Hopelessly hoping that Marcia wouldn’t notice, I unzipped my boots, converted them into booties, and tried to follow the step routine, nearly tumbling over my own two feet. Within seconds Marcia was at my side, firmly but politely informing me that I’d have to don sneakers or step out. “We can’t allow you to injure yourself, hon,” she said. “It’s gym rules.” “Please can I stay? I’ll be very careful,” I begged. “I drove here in terrible weather, and left my sneakers at home by accident.” Marcia was unmoved. The gym had a very firm policy: no sneakers, no class. She wasn’t about to risk her job for me. I gathered my stuff and shuffled out, furious at my oversight. Why weren’t you more organized? I berated myself. Now you came for nothing, you fool! You could have stayed in bed!Come to think of it, why hadn’t I stayed in bed? Oh, well. Around me, everyone was working up a sweat. I eyed them enviously. Only I was left out in the cold.
Suddenly Debbie, one of the gym regulars, whispered into my ear, “I have an extra pair of sneakers, just around your size. They’re in my red minivan, parked right in the front of the gym. I think I left my door unlocked.” “Wow, thanks!” I whispered back. The gym has a strict no-talking rule, but clearly, this was an emergency. I was out the door and in the front of the building in a flash. In a daze, I sloshed to the snowcovered parking lot and scanned it quickly for a red minivan. No luck. I was about to head back in, defeated, when suddenly I spotted it: a reddish, maroon-ish van, parked a bit to the right. Was this Debbie’s set of wheels? There was only one way to find out. I opened the passenger door and reached inside. There they were: A pair of New Balance sneakers just waiting for me! I grabbed them, closed the door and ran back inside, shivering from cold. The sneakers were huge and floppy, and looked well worn, too, but at least my feet were safer according to official gym standards. I entered the classroom with a silly grin on my face, adjusted my step, and soon was happily doing squats, endless repeaters, turn steps, hams and rocking horses. As I jumped, hopped and perspired, I felt my mind clearing, my tension dissipating, and the stress slowly rolling off my back. This was where I needed to be right now. As the class wore on though, I began to get annoyed.
To be honest, Debbie’s foot didn’t look all that big, but her sneakers were huge. And I mean huge. What made her think these were my size? I kept stumbling over my feet and Marcia, our instructor, gave me several strange looks. Could she see how big and ill-fitting they were? I felt a twinge of irritation. If she wouldn’t have made a fuss, I wouldn’t need to be wearing someone else’s sweaty sneaks. Finally after 40 minutes, we finished our cardio routine, and started with the floor exercises. At last I could take off the ugly sneakers and give my feet a break. I did my share of stomach crunches, and looked up in time to see Marcia glaring at me again.Honestly, what did she have against me? I was really bothered until I realized that she wasn’t looking at me, but at the sneakers. As soon as the class was over, I zipped up my boots and turned to Debbie to return her sneakers, but she’d already left the room. I finally caught her at the door. “Thanks a bil, Debbie. I owe you one.” She gave me a funny look. “Those? They’re not my sneakers. Where’d you find them?” Omigosh.
A strange feeling settled into the pit of my stomach. If these weren’t her sneakers, then whose were they? This couldn’t be good. “W…what do you mean?” I stammered. “I…I took them out of your maroon minivan.” “I don’t have a maroon mini-van. I told you it was red. Bright red. See? ” She pointed to her fiery red van, sitting exactly where she said it would be, at the front of the parking lot. “Don’t you know your colors?” “Red, maroon, I didn’t have time to notice the difference!” I spat out, feeling an unidentifiable color blush spread over my cheeks. “I was in a huge rush, grabbed the sneakers and figured, ‘Whom else’s could they be?’“I can’t believe this. You went to someone else’s car and took their sneakers?!” Debbie was incredulous. “I had no idea! It was an honest mistake. What am I supposed to do now?” Was this really happening? “Dunno.” She shrugged. “See if the maroon van is still there, I guess.” I glanced toward the other side of the parking lot, from where I’d grabbed the sneakers, and my blood ran cold.
There was Marcia, our instructor, getting into her minivan. Yup, they were her sneakers. Bingo! No wonder she was giving me strange looks throughout the class! There was no alternative. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and headed toward Marcia’s van. She just sat there, staring at me with the oddest look on her face. “I’m…so..so…sorry,” I stuttered, as soon as she rolled down her window. “Please don’t have me arrested for petty larceny. Here. Take them back. It was really an honest mistake.” “A mistake?” She found that hard to believe. “Where did you find them?” “Er, in your van. On the passenger seat. I…uh, I thought it was Debbie’s van. She offered me her spare sneakers, and, eh, I’m afraid I confused your van with hers because they’re both so alike and…” I stopped blubbering mid-sentence and took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, Marcia,” I continued. “I feel terrible about what happened.” “That’s okay,” she sighed, reaching for her now even sweatier sneakers. “As long as you remember to bring your own exercise gear next time.” Cutting the tension, my cell phone rang. It was my daughter. “Ma, you’re still at the gym? You left your sneakers at home. How’d you manage?” “Long story,” I said. “See you soon.”