Plenty Of Excuses

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By Mordechai Schmutter

A few months ago, my wife sent me to a one-time-free exercise class on the other side of town, across from Home Depot.

The class was in an exercise studio that is run by a guy named Marcelo, who is about 90% muscle and 10% body hair. And 10% heavy accent that is either Italian or Argentinean. And 10% encouraging-yelling that I cannot always understand. And yes, that’s more than 100%, but he wants us to give more than 100%, so there you go.

The class was arranged by a former English-writing student of mine named Shlomo, who, despite my best efforts, turned into a responsible adult who communicates primarily through text-messaging. For a while, Marcelo was wondering, “How do I get the Jewish population of this town to try my classes?” And Shlomo said, “Number one, you arrange some single-gender classes. And number two, you make some of them free.”

So he decided to hold one free session, which my wife found out about. I was reluctant to go, because there was no way I was going to sign up on a regular basis, and I didn’t want to lead anyone on. But then Shlomo told me that I could come in and they wouldn’t try to sell me anything.

So I went in, and sure enough, they didn’t try to sell me anything. They just worked me really hard. And then I came home and crawled up the stairs and collapsed, face down. And while I was lying there trying to will myself to take a shower, Shlomo called. And he’s like, “So, do you want to sign up for the class?” And I’m like, “No.” But he kept pushing, and it turns out that after this exercise class, I didn’t have the strength to argue with him.

That’s how they get you.

Marcelo gives different types of classes, but the one most requested by the single-gender crowd of “Totties Whose Wives Had Them Try the Free Class” is the weight-loss one.

The class is actually called the 90-Day Challenge, and the first session was on motzaei Rosh Hashanah. Whoever loses the most weight in 90 days gets $3,000, in the form of a ginormous photo-friendly check that you have to figure out how to cash, if you can manage to get to the bank without getting mugged. And in case you’re wondering how Marcelo’s turning a profit, we’re not just talking about the winner from our class. You’re competing with everyone in the entire system, most of whom didn’t have an entire month of yom tov at the beginning of those 90 days featuring a not-incredibly-encouraging yom-tov-to-fast-day ratio.

And we don’t just weigh in at the end of the 90 days. Marcelo makes us weigh in once a week, to measure our progress. Every motzaei Shabbos.

“Um, we’re gonna lose. Nobody weighs their least on a motzaei Shabbos.”

As a bonus for signing up, we each got a free T-shirt with a neck that is slightly too small. My goal, in exercise class, is to eventually fit into my workout shirt. The front of the shirt says “90-Day Challenge,” so no one would freak out if they saw us running at them, and the back says, “No Excuses,” which is strange, because I had plenty of excuses. My first excuse was that the neck was too small. Also, who was supposed to read my back? The guy behind me?

The workout itself is intense, but Marcelo does what he can to prevent it from getting boring. For example, he uses his sense of humor. He says, “OK, hold this position for a minute,” and then, 45 seconds later, when we’re all screaming in pain, he’s like, “Oh, I forgot to start the timer. OK . . . go!”

He also has us do different exercises every time. For the most part, we work out in an open room—there are no huge machines. There’s just a soft, slip-free mat. But Marcelo has props that he keeps in the corner. For example, he has punching bags, but we don’t use them for punching. We have to do things like drag them across the floor. Which, as I’ve pointed out, is slip-free. We’ve also had to push a truck tire across this floor by hitting it from the side with a mallet. Then we had to do pushups on folding chairs while wearing heavy chains over our shoulders. I’m pretty sure he’s buying most of his exercise equipment from Home Depot.

He also has this thing called an “ab wheel,” which is basically a rolling pin that you roll across the floor as far as you can, and it strengthens your stomach muscles. Or at least that’s what hurts. If I ever quit this class, I’m going to have to start helping my wife make challah. She’s going to be like, “How come you’re flouring the floor?” And I’m going to be like, “Stand back! This is how I work off the carbs.”

What complicated things was that my back hurt. I have a herniated disc, and part of the reason I signed up is that I was hoping I would lose weight and take some of the stress off my back. But the issue was that, because of my back, I couldn’t do some of the exercises properly. For example, during a sit-up exercise, I’m pretty sure I was hurting more than I was helping. Also, for a while there, I had an ingrown toenail on one foot and a sprained toe on the other. And if you don’t think those affect exercising, try doing push-ups without your toes.

And then there was the day I threw my back out again. Doing burpees. A burpee, which is not as cute as it sounds, is a cross between a pushup, a squat, and a jumping jack. And if this doesn’t sound physically possible, it’s because it’s not.

But the good news is that when I threw my back out, thanks to these classes, I was able to drag myself around the house way more efficiently than I could before I started working out. So I don’t know if the exercises are helping my back, or they’re just teaching me to ignore pain.

But the thing I learned about exercise class was that everyone has their injury. No one just decided to start going to exercise class because they thought it would be fun to torture themselves three nights a week. There’s the guy with the bad back, the guy with the bum knee, the guy with the broken wrist, the guy with the hernia, and so on. Everyone had some event in their life that made them say, “You know, I should start taking care of my body, as long as the first time is free.”

So on the whole, it’s going well. It’s taking Marcelo a while to get used to having Jewish students, though. For example, when I signed up, he asked for my name, and I didn’t want to say Mordechai, so I told him “Mike.” Anyway, it turns out that when I’m breathing heavily and trying not to die, I don’t always respond to “Mike.” Also, about halfway through the 90 days, I realized he’d been calling me “Mark.”

He said, “How come when I say ‘Mark,’ you don’t respond?”

And I said, “Because my name isn’t Mark. It’s Mike.”

And he said, “No one else calls you Mike.”

Then another Mordechai joined the class and said that his name was Mark.

In the meantime, we’ve also been playing Jewish music on the loudspeakers, such as Lipa’s “Diet” song, which is about how Lipa doesn’t diet on Shabbos. Probably Lipa doesn’t have to weigh in on motzaei Shabbos. But we keep playing this song, because the only word that Marcelo understands is “Diet,” so he thinks it’s about losing weight.

“Diet! Diet!” he yells enthusiastically.

Then one week he actually caught some more words, and he said, “Hey! Are they singing, ‘baloney pastrami macaroni’?”

And we’re like, “Yeah, but it means something totally different in Yiddish.”

In the end, the winner was the guy with the hernia. Yes, in my class. I hope he can carry that giant check. He lost 75 pounds, whereas I lost—well, I don’t want to tell you what I lost. I lost enough that I want to continue doing this, but not enough that I can stop. It also didn’t help that at some point, in the middle of the 90 days, I went to Kosherfest. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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