Depending on what time we wake up, my day proceeds – somehow it does so at a similar time.
The walk to 23rd Street takes about 15 minutes, and along the way I encounter a parade of New Yorkers doing exactly what I am doing, following their morning ritual.
A young teacher enters the Asser Levy High School on 11th Street, she is an hour ahead of the children, the upstairs classrooms are still dark. She appears to be from the Mid West, or somewhere level-headed like that, perhaps because of her clothes: the plain belted raincoat and low-heeled shoes. Is this her calling I wonder? With high rent and low teachers’ pay, she’s certainly not doing it for the money.
Scrubbed-clean workers scoot along, carrying their morning ignition of steaming coffee and nicotine. Elders shove their carts to the supermarket fraternity, hanging on as best they can to their place in the morning world. The pretty young Mexican sells hot pretzels in the cold with her baby sleeping in a weather proofed TanSad.
An old Chinese lady does Tai Chi by the bus stop. The sleep deprived, and sleep revived, all dart across at the flashing light, the halted melange of drivers huff impatiently.
School kids tip forward from the weight of their sagging back packs and dogs sniff the corners, searching for inspiration, while their owners prepare to scoop the results.
The public gym on 23rd is also called Asser-Levy, must’ve been a very socially conscious family, the Asser-Levys.
Inside, it has all the hallmarks of a public building; tall ceilings, durable surfaces of man-made wood, a palette of brown and grey, the scent of sweat and mopped bleach.
After changing upstairs, next to a communal shower room, and toilets that smell sour like the ones at school, I skip down to the gym.
A tolerable hint of sweat permeates the air, I look for an available running machine. Only half of the six are working, so I begin doing the chest press. I am sitting next to the amusing ‘Office Guy’ – so I don’t mind.
As usual, he’s reading the paper while cycling. Spotting me, he waves a limp-handed hello. “No running machines for us today. I Hyed they’re runnin outta ‘Out Of Order’ signs. There used to be a numbah that I could cawel to complain, but not lateleeee.”
“Yeah, we seemed to lose a manager during the pandemic”
He waved his hand backward. “I tawked to the young lady at the desk, but she was busy texting. I usedta run an office beefoe I retired ye know. They wouldn’t get away with it under meeee ! No siree!”
I had heard this rap before, and encouraged its re-telling. “I have one four letta woid to describe it, it spells – Ell. A. Zee. Y. Four letta’s ! Ell. A. Zee. Y”
Rick the Puerto Rican has taken command of the three running machines that work, he yells like a Sergeant Major in Spanish to his cohorts Lulu and Mimi. They meet each morning to follow his regime. Warming up by jumping from running machine to push-ups.
Lulu is sweet, she kindly implies I have lost weight, and while pulling her belly in, she says that exercise allows us to have as much wine and pasta as we like. The gym merely solidifies her intake.
The elderly Jewish lady on the bike supports Trump, and feels like she needs to remind me that she’s a professional artist, because of that. Our ‘Office Guy’ intervenes.
“I was juss tellin him. Why do you dink de machines are all broken?” He puts up four fingers.
“Ell. A. Zee. Y”