I have a new heart-throb. I was on the verge of wrapping up my workout when he hobbled back to the free-weight room, small, slight and wiry, face nearly invisible behind the bill of a baseball cap and black-framed birth-control glasses. I’d put him in his fifties or sixties. Bent a little at the hips, he shuffled in and out of my field of vision as I finished with the glute-ham bench and advanced on the row of Smith racks, which allow you to do squats, benches and so forth without a spotter. I use them for my inverted Batwoman blow-off — a delicious succession of upside-down crunches, handstand push-ups and the circusy dangle from the insteps that stretches my hip flexors like nothing else.
He approached the rack I was about to adjust for myself, and I realized he had been loading the bar, with a couple of ten-pounders. He had the second clamped precariously between the heels of his hands, the hands further braced against his thighs, and was doing his best to get the plate onto the bar. It was not working for him very well, and he glanced over at me and said something. I have no fucking idea what. The voice came out in the bubbling caw of, I think, cerebral palsy. (I suppose it could have been one of the progressive dystrophies like ALS; his impairment was too bilateral for a stroke.) There are people who can understand the speech of someone palsied to that degree. I’m not one of them, but I got it that the plate was giving him trouble. I took it, zinged it onto the bar and bopped over to the next rack with an after-you-Alphonse gesture.
He settled on the bench. I did things in mid-air, pushing the floor away, locking my shins on the top of the rack.
He’d finished his set by the time I skinned the cat down to my feet again. I catch people watching these aerial contortions out of the corner of my eye, occasionally, but no one else has ever said anything until now. Damn if I know what it was; I just smiled and picked up my gear. He was already rolling back down for a second set, clamping the bar with hands that were barely more than claws.
I had to stop myself from flinging him up on my shoulder and eloping with him.