“Joe Pilates would be proud of you,” my instructor said following yet another midweek class at the Y in which, were I to be frank — which I can’t because I’m Jack — I flailed about trying to work in sync with a group of women whose cores are iron and who bend like reeds in the wind at Carolyn Giacalone’s cues as I strain in the general direction of my toes wherever they may be.
They’ve come a long way, baby. And, in part because they have, I have too.
I wasn’t always so humble: When Zach Grossman, our champion young golfer, said before the high school’s athletic awards ceremony that he had earlier that day lost a tennis match to a female classmate, I told him that “eons ago,” when it became apparent I was about to lose to Joan Foedisch at the Edgeworth Club in Sewickley, Pa., I had walked off the court rather than be beaten by a girl. But that was then. Nowadays, when any of our club’s hotshot women — and they are legion — deign to have me as a doubles partner I hum this ditty (substituting myself for the old maid who sings it):
“Come a landsman, a kinsman, a soldier, or a sailor / doctor, a lawyer, a tinker, or a tailor / a rich man, a poor man, a fool, or a witty / Don’t let me die an old fud, but take me out of pity. . . .”
I told Zach that the equanimity of his generation — his equanimity at least, for he has already learned to treat victory and defeat as the imposters they are — when contrasted with the chauvinism of mine “must mean there is such a thing as evolution.”
It is a happy thought then, that at three score and 10 I can participate in a coed effort at self-improvement, rid to some extent of the self-consciousness that might keep a man from trying something new. (Lest I get too big a head, I suppose, a woman in my class told me I wasn’t the only one, that she knew of a number of other men who were doing Pilates elsewhere.) Of course, if I were really free I wouldn’t be writing this column about how acutely aware I am of women’s superiority. Though fairly flexible for a man, I’ll never bend like them, elbows on the floor, heads on their knees, nor do I yet have — maybe never will have — the stomach for what they do.
It is pleasing, though, to sense that I’m participating in the dance of life, however ungainfully. That’s my core value, I would say.