I work out at the Woodfin YMCA because it sits adjacent to the Thirsty Monk, which motivates me in a “pint for a pound” kind of way. I’ve watched plenty of pints being consumed from my side of the windowed wall which all of the machines face. The “Y” folks have lined up their rows of machines like desks in a schoolhouse.
Long rows of treadmills taunt the back of the class with stationary bikes in the middle row. In the front left corner of the class sits the valedictorian: a mini-escalator with four steps called a StairMaster. It’s the master of the gym all right, as it is informally reserved for the elite echelon of those who rock in exercise clothes. In other words, only the truly fit and feminine dare to master its stairs.
The first couple of times I worked out there, I hardly noticed it. This was likely due to my concentration being diverted to my alarmingly low oxygen intake. I use those stationary bikes because I (mistakenly) thought I could read a good book while I pedaled. It seemed like a solid plan until I actually began pedaling and quickly became flushed as my lungs, unaccustomed to any sort of prolonged pulmonary action, attempted a coup.
I gasped and wheezed hoping someone nearby was dialing 911. I worked myself up into a proper lather before I glanced around the gym and received a few scolding looks. Apparently loud panting and dramatic clutching of one’s labored heart is discouraged in the gym. I noticed that the others pedaling or running on their machines did so with a level of dignity I felt I could never achieve. Take away their gym clothes and the machines and I might have been watching faces of those sitting in an opera house or waiting for the butler to pour them a sherry.
I accepted my social sanctioning and reproached my heart and lungs to behave themselves. Unfortunately, my sweat glands, notoriously naughty, could not be subdued.
Because those first few trips to the gym were myopic, I was unable to examine the landscape and so did not notice the StairMaster in its elevated position there in the front corner. But all that changed the day after Halloween. I settled into my favorite machine, had my Spotify set to the Dixie Chicks and was “ready, ready ready, to run” when I felt a change in the air.
The Y keeps its air conditioning set to a crisp and comfortable cool and its ceiling fans keep things from becoming stale. But this was something different altogether. A kind of spicy ocean breeze blew gently past me, and it was so unexpected that I followed the scent with my eyes to determine its source. I didn’t see her as much as I sensed her.
I glanced around the gym to see the whole class intoxicated by this presence. We were all looking to front row, into that left corner and that’s when I saw her, the class queen, the girl that I would never be. The whole gym, men and women alike, watched her perfect glutes and her tight calves wrestle those stairs down only to step back up to repeat the motion. Every other step or so she treated us to an elegant back kick before placing her arched and no doubt perfectly pedicured foot back down on the step. We watched in a collective trance. We couldn’t help ourselves.
My own husband, busy on the machine next to mine, managed to assemble a small amount of decorum and motioned to the TV screen hanging just above the Mistress of the Machines. He attempted to cover his overt ogling by pretending he was watching something on that screen. But I knew that dog had no bite. “Simeon, please,” I accused, “She’s perfect. We are all watching.”
A few of the others nodded in agreement but none of us took our eyes off the enchantress as she climbed her way to her imaginary cloud where she ruled over our universe. And, for a short time, this assembly of mismatched individuals became one in purpose as our gym star sang solo to our persistent percussion pushing her and ourselves into a symphonic cardiac cacophony.
I urged my husband to take her picture for the paper but he dismissed this as “excessively creepy” so I approached her myself. She warmly accommodated me without question causing me to suspect that I was not the first sycophant to follow her around the gym. I would not be surprised to learn that she carried a pen folded into her lyrca to bestow autographs upon request.
I have not seen her since that day but her presence there has opened my eyes to the wonders of the local Y. I have begun to notice my fellow travelers and while none have sprinkled fairy dust like the Stair Mistress, I enjoy hanging about with the other Lost Boys, feeling a sense of community in our collective beating hearts.