Since the last day of Pesach I have developed an uncanny compassion for the overweight. During that seminal spring week in our national history, I witnessed firsthand how daily doses of matzah brei can stick to the skeleton, stubborn as Moses and Pharaoh together. Whereas spinach, cukes and oatmeal, for instance, slide through the system as if on a well-oiled conveyor belt, matzah brei hangs on for dear life, usually around the midriff. With each morning’s delicious breakfast, seasoned with Pure Maple Syrup (How else?), home-made jams, cinnamon and an array of white cheeses all below 5%, my waistline grew by one-quarter inch, the exact height of each serving. By the end of the holiday of freedom, I, in fact, had no waistline.
Unfortunately, the exodus from Egypt was followed by the declaration of statehood and the receiving of the Torah, all events that demand celebration in the oral tradition. As fate would have it, these events were followed by end-of-year academic celebrations, weddings and family birthday parties at which it would have been impolite to refuse second helpings of the homemade cakes.
I joined the fancy new gym in the Har-El Mall.
Though it took me five years to get used to going to a mall after roaming the charming streets of Bak’a and the German Colony for all my needs, it took only five seconds to master the Start button on the treadmill. This is no small feat, as there are many buttons and arrows and numbers on the treadmill, three being for the video theater attached to each machine. Once the tread started milling, it felt great to walk again, having spent most of my time in the past five years sitting in a car, a bus, at the computer or the dining room table. The walking felt so good and I was so good at it, having mastered the art more than sixty years ago, that I walked seven kilometers on my first day at the gym.
The next morning I could barely get out of bed, but I told myself it was just my silly old body taking its time getting used to the new routine of aerobic exercise. Of course I wasn’t going to spoil myself and let my body rest so I dragged it out again to the gym. I had my pick of about twenty-two treadmills, all lined up like Roman chariots waiting for me to hit the Start button and gallop in place.
By the end of that first week I had pains in my left hip, inner thigh, lower back and upper neck. But my heart rate could stay steady for twenty minutes at 112. This is what I was there for, according to my “free” personal training session. My goal was to keep the heart rate at 112 for thirty minutes. I guess I had a goal too, if I must use that “g’ word, but I defined it in terms of matzah brei. To deal with my pain, the trainer suggested I use the low stationary bike.
Like the treadmills, the bikes invite you to plug in your own earplugs and pick a station, any station at the video theater. I imagined I was on a Continental night flight to New York and could watch whatever I wanted, albeit for no more than an hour because I might collapse. My favorite station became MTV, either with or without sound. The young women with long legs, shaved crotches, perfect skin, synthetic hair, scary tattoos, eye shadow thick as mashed potatoes, killer fingernails and bosoms like watermelons are nothing if not inspirational to keep pushing the pedals.
From the beginning of my time at the techno-gym, what the management calls “the music” made a hole in my head. This rhythmic pounding is blasted throughout the gym and the lockers. Even if you wear earplugs, you hear it. I didn’t complain until the third day. I didn’t want to sound ungrateful. After all there were wide toilets (two for 300 potential female exercising bodies), a view of Jerusalem, mats galore, video theaters, trainers, an array of classes, the most sophisticated equipment between Jerusalem and Modi’in, snazzy sport clothing for sale, energy bars, huge plastic jugs of high-protein goop to be mixed with water for sale, smiles from the staff, cleaners who dust the holy dust from the handle bars you held to measure your heart beat, lines of lockers, showers and water fountains. Still, the music made a hole in my head whether I was standing at the reception desk or pedaling on the bike. The pounding rhythm—lyrics are irrelevant at the techno gym—made my heart beat faster, which screwed up my gradual climb to 112. The pounding catapulted me to 118. Could my heart take it? Did the gym have insurance?
After one explanation, I forgot how each machine works, where I sit, and how to reduce the weights from 20 to 1.5 kilogram. I was afraid the machines would punch me before I knew how to punch them or some metal body would bounce back, hit me in the knees and cause irreparable damage.
Thus, my favorite machine became the elegant slim silver weights (1 klg.) that I held in my hand and lifted with the use of my remarkable muscles and skeleton, a veritable mechanical wonder called my body.
I shall be telling this with a sigh. I can hardly move, so have stayed home today to sit in front of the computer. Though I may look great in my size ten slacks, I cannot stand straight enough to walk out the door. It could be this is what they mean when the young trainers say, Don’t overdo it. But what do they know with all that dumb music pounding their brains into syrup all day and those singers on MTV acting like Martians?
It’s enough to make me yearn for the holiday of freedom.