Reality Check

Reality Check

O.K.  So I went. Just because lately my clothes have been fitting a little too snugly and I can’t afford to buy new outfits.

That afternoon the idea seemed harmless enough—I mean I’m not a virgin.  I’ve been through step classes before, and after about ten minutes I always manage to successfully get the routine down…even clap to the beat once in a while.

But that was the Sticks.  Now I’m in New York. The stakes are higher.

I’m confident. Studied the gym pamphlet, whose description read, “This is a low impact, high intensity aerobic workout suited for all levels.” Right up my alley.

The last class ends. The door flies open and in a fury, forty people dash into the studio grabbing the first step-bench they can get their hands on.  Self-consciously, I bee-line it towards the back of a well-mirrored room and grab four steps in order to construct two levels.  Build myself a challenge.  Everyone else grabs two.  Wimps. Not me. I’ve been working out.  I live in a five-floor walk-up.  A bi-level bench? No problem.

A sweaty guy from the last class wanders around whimpering for his towel.

Now for the upper body.  I go for the weights.  Two pounds.  We’ll start off easy.

“Are there any first timers to this class?” Instructor-With-A-Mike asks from behind her stereo.

Towel-dry, whimpering guy two rows up from me and I raise our hands.

“I’ve done step classes before,” I volunteer, the dumbbells weighing down my arms like an orangutan.

“I don’t allow weights in my class. Too dangerous,” Instructor-With-A-Mike snaps, her voice booming through a 100 watt speaker. A flood of spandex turns to look in my direction.

Chagrined, I put down my weights, recalling my wonderfully successful treadmill workout earlier this week and wish I was there.

The music blasts. My heart skips a beat. New Order meets a drill machine.  Catching the rhythm, I march like a madman.  We move into a quick dance portion.  I sashay coolly though a couple of grapevines impatiently waiting for the warm-up to be over so I can get to the real reason I’ve come.  Steppin’.

We’re loose. We’re ready. That moment has arrived. Instructor-With-A-Mike starts us off slow.  Foot meets plastic.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes I join along, ponytail surging towards the sky. Feeling good.  Feeling healthy,

Count 8. Count 16.

“Knees up!”

Count 8. Count 16.

“One more time!”

Count 8. Count 16.

“Move those arms!”

Count 8. Count 16.

“Bring it to the end of the bench. Extend your legs!”

Count 8. Count 16.

I discover I have sweat glands on my knees. My lungs are heaving. I can’t do this. The bench is too high.  What was I thinking?  I’m faced with a crisis. Desperately I plot to shorten my bench in such a way that the rest of the class won’t notice.

“Left. Right. Right. Left. Knees up, three times, quick!”

I lose count in the midst of my planning.

“Right? Left? Left? Right? Three knees, alternating?

My mirrored reflection soars above the rest of the class as they finish their last squat.

“Okay back there?” Instructor-With-A-Mike glibly asks.

Back off!

“Step across. Knees up—one, two—turn. Clap. Now right side.”

In synchronized motion, the class steps high and low, finishing with a quick pirouette when they land—“only for the professionals out there”—cautions Instructor-With-A-Mike. I seize the opportunity and dive, sweeping the excess bench out from under me and rejoin the class at the end of the turn.  My adrenaline surges.  The pace quickens, blood rushing through the veins.  In the distance, a “professional” utters a whoo.

The rapture is contagious.  The rest of the class joins in.  We sound like a bunch of owls.

Whimpering guy who thinks he can handle two classes in a row slips and falls.

“Heads up!” Instructor-With-A-Mike chides.

He nods, shaking it off.

I plot to rejoin the pack

“Step across. Knees up—one, two—turn. Clap. Now left side.”

Miscalculating the distance, I step too far.  My left foot senses only air.  I land on the wood floor with a thud, straddling my bench like I’m mounting a horse.  My calf has hyper-extended to 86th street.

Water break.

Chin high, I march over to the industrial size water fountain in the corner of the room and guzzle.  It tastes like honey on my lips.  All I want to do for the rest of my natural born life is drink water from that water fountain.

I lean back on the wall and study the movements. The “professionals” are synchronized. I’m feeling rested. I’m ready. I’m tested. Back into the fray.

I defiantly march back to my step and jump back into the beat again.

“Step one. Step two. Now kick!”

Forty bodies step high and flail their legs sideways. Anyone to the right dives to avoid the pending foot assault from the left.

“Watch out,” advises Instructor-With-A-Mike.

“Step one. Step two. Now kick right!”

Vengeance is sown.

“Now step up right. Across left. Down left. Down riiii*#%(*….”. Instructor-With-A-Mike has become breathless and the last portion of the instructions are somewhat garbled.

Fine, I think. If I can’t do these routines, I’ll just make up my own.

Up. Down.

Up. Down.

The music begins to slow. Oh thank god!  The cool down!  My heart is pounding in my chest, its thuds echoing in my ears.

“Arms up. Stretch. Relax. Breath,” coos Instructor-With-A-Mike.

I blow so hard that spit lands on the woman in front of me.

Instructor-With-A-Mike spins to face her prey. “Nice job. Don’t you feel great!”

The “professionals” begin to clap.  I begin to weep and wander out of the room.


Serengeti Elephants

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