I won’t pretend that I don’t miss Chelsea Piers. The Sports Center offered a plethora of classes in yoga, dance… you name it. Three basketball courts in top condition. A great hot tub. Every kind of weight machine imagineable. The place was antiseptically clean.
That was another life, back when I was in the money and Myrna was still alive.
The YMCA offers funky charm. Upstairs, the basketball court reminds me of some of the old, well-worn gyms I played in when I was a kid in Illinois. Everything is perfectly functional. Just be careful when you fall out of bounds, because the wall is only a foot from the court. And you can smell the sweat of generations of players wafting from the walls.
The biggest difference, however, is that people talk to one another at the Y. The Sports Center featured that total self-involvement so characteristic of the spoiled kids of Manhattan. And, they were kids… few of them over 35… with sculpted bodies and snot nosed attitudes. I never talked to another person at the Sports Center.
Not so at the Y. In the locker room, the old men trade insults.
“You working out tonight or you just come here to BS?” is a standard line.
When the Karaoke Queen and I practice Yoga, a group of old guys stands around and comments on the proceedings.
“What are youse guys doing?”
“Are you meditating?”
“I’m meditating on boobs,” I wisecrack in response.
There are few chiseled bodies at the Y. Gary, the lawyer, is 40 pounds overweight. He sits in the locker room and gossips more than he pumps at the bike. He’s at the gym to relieve the stress of all the divorce cases he represents.
The Karaoke Queen knows just about everybody at the gym. Of course, she’s up at 5 a.m. for the morning swim. She sings for the ladies in the locker room.
On a recent night, I walked into the gym, and the young black men began yelling at me.
“Come over here,” they called. “Come on over here.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked them.
“How much did you pay for those shoes?” one of the smallest boys asked me.
“Oh, hell, I don’t know,” I replied. “I think they cost a hundred sixty bucks three years ago.”
“What are they?” the kid asked.
“They’re Air Jordans.”
A couple of the kids got down on their hands and knees to take a good look. And, in some way, that interchange illustrates the difference between the Sports Center and the YMCA. Expensive shoes and stylish outfits were common at the Sports Center. Thrown together outfits and Wal-Mart style are common at the YMCA. The boys wear knockoff tennis shoes.
The kids are very friendly, always inviting me to play in their basketball games. I make the mistake of joining them from time to time, and I always pay for it with injuries or aches and pains that last for months. They are just too damned fast for me.
So, now, when they ask me to play, I abandon all pride, and answer:
“I’m an old guy. I can’t run and I can’t jump any more. If you want to play, then we’ll have to play horse.”
They leave me alone to work on my practice routine. I look pretty good when I shoot alone. I’m just about ambidextrous, and I’ve got a stylish jump shot. My vertical leap, unfortunately, is about the width of a quarter, and my knees are shot.
After the workout, I repair to an ancient sauna. Like the rest of the YMCA, the sauna bears the marks of generations of use. I feel at home.