Jack went to the gym almost every day for the last 30 years of his life.
He wasn’t particularly athletic when we first met, sometimes joking that the most exercise he got was lifting his glass-holding hand to his lips. But a few years after we moved to New York, we decided to learn to ride bikes. Mostly we biked around Central Park or Riverside Park; this was long before bike lanes, and biking on city streets faced hazards from both moving and stationary vehicles.
We always walked a lot, well, at least Jack walked a lot. He sometimes told the story about walking to school as a teenager. Because he didn’t have a car, he was embarrassed about walking, and later found out that students admired him for walking. We walked around the neighborhood, but also in Riverside Park, down along the river and back.
Especially in the summertime, with a cool breeze off the water, this was fun. A few times we walked across the George Washington Bridge and into Palisades Park, once climbing down giant rocks to near the river. Another time we took the ferry to Staten Island and walked eight miles to Richmondtown.
In the ’70s, Jack took up running. At first he ran along the outside of Riverside Park. Then he discovered the track down in the park near 72nd Street. That was his favorite. I tried running, too, but soon I had to tape my ankles, and after another year or so, I was taping my knees. And since I could never make myself run farther than a mile and a quarter, I went back to the long exercise walk.
When I started teaching at NYU and got a family membership to the gym, Jack took to it immediately. No longer did the weather stand in the way of getting his endorphin hit. When it looked like I wouldn’t get tenure, he searched around and found the West Side YMCA. He’d taken Christie there for swimming lessons years earlier, and the gym and locker rooms had been considerably refurbished since.
He loved the Y. He rode the stationary bike long before there were TV screens for distraction, for an hour at least. He had friends there, both men and women. He’d bring home stories, most of which I’ve forgotten. Sometimes he tried the weight machines, but mostly he just wanted to bike. Even after his blood-clotting disorder, he missed a few months, but was back as soon as he could.
His fall, however, stopped him. He never went back to the gym, and it was never clear whether he was embarrassed about how feeble he had become or simply didn’t want to talk about what happened. He went to physical therapy and kept up his exercises at home. I bought him weights to help. I also kept renewing our family membership, even though I wasn’t going as regularly as I should have. I did tell Zaida, who worked at the “towel-desk” and always asked after him when he died.
Ever since, I’ve had mixed feelings about the Y. I keep going back, much more regularly now, but there’s hardly anyone left who knew Jack and knew that he and I were together. The Y is one of the most diverse places I spend time, which is important to me. But will I continue to go there, or find another gym or health club? I don’t know.
April’s writing challenge is to blog every day, with each post beginning with a letter of the alphabet from beginning to end. We skip Sundays, except for April 1, so as to have 26 days in the month.