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Channel Esther: Going to the Gym

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January 15, 2014
by Esther Cohen kvetch_gym_bagI’m not gymish. The gym in all its forms is not one of my skills. It does not make me feel better or happier, the way hearing a good story does, or eating pistachio nuts, or watching any Fellini movie. But when the Jewish Community Center opened its doors in spitting distance from my apartment, I joined. I was already starting to Get Older, and every single article talked about age and exercise. (Two non-gym factors were the clinchers: many questions about the library from others on the tour — a gym with a library! And the idea that there was going to be a suggestion box in the women’s locker room. An appealing and misguided notion because so many of the gym goers spent as much time on their suggestions as on the treadmill. The box was removed.) Although I never liked it much, I went on the assumption that the GYM IS GOOD, the way vegetables are. I went, in spurts, with great reluctance and a certain amount of OH Noness, for five years. What I most disliked was the crowd: difficult, aggressive, self-satisfied neighbors, Mostly Jewish, nearly all white, a few Asians here and there, successful professionals (they touted their degrees their jobs their measures of success, even discussing their gym apparel, always unattractive no matter how costly) and this year I decided to go instead to the Y. The Y is ten blocks farther from my apartment, and it’s more the reason I moved so many years ago to New York City. Everyone’s there, not just one group or two. My tour guide was from Ecuador, and the exercise rooms were full of people of every age and many races. Wherever we went, strangers said hello. I don’t want to paint a Disney world. It was still the gym. But a nicer gym, closer to the world I’ve tried so hard to inhabit for as long as I can remember. But the day I went for my tour was one of those freezing mornings that have occurred this winter in between global warming perfect days, and the walk, only fourteen blocks, seemed interminable both ways. Walking home, I tried hard to be honest with myself. Although I do not have a strong practical side, on occasion my values conflict with some practicality or other. Knowing that I don’t like to go to the gym, would I actually go if it were fourteen blocks away, no matter how appealing the other gym goes might be? My internal dialogue was an endless loup of If Onlys. If Only I liked the gym in the first place. Then, If Only I Could Go to the JCC and ignore what was being said all around me. In the end I rejoined the JCC, and bought ear plugs. Esther Cohen is a contributing writer for Jewish Currents. She co-edited the Jewish Currents Arts Calendar (our Winter issue) and our summer supplement about marriage, “2,” and is working with us on art and cultural events. Her books include Book Doctor, a novel, Don't Mind Me and Other Jewish Lies (with Roz Chast), God Is a Tree (poetry), and Unseen America: Photos and Stories by Workers.