“What do you call a pig that does karate?”

On the treadmill, incline at 10, speed at 5, and some guy’s in my face talking about a pork chop. Does he not see me sweating? The Tribune people had left, probably home eating sloppy Joe’s by now. I was stuck.

“What’s your name?” the guy asks.

“Beth,” I huff.

“Bet I can spell it backwards.”

He turns around and spells it forwards.

That’s when I laugh.

Dogs pick their owners, Steve picked me. Made him my friend and called it a day. The Bad Joke Teller. He owned that shit.

There won’t be another Lakeshore. Not like that, not like then. Sue said, “It’s your Cheers,” and she was right. Like Norm looking for a barstool, I walked in. Took 20 minutes to pass the front desk. Brian had a crush on me. Used to watch the joy spill from his eyes. He had this bubbly laugh, a sort of champagne. It erupted in sound then escalated in silence.

Brian came from Faulkner Country, the Southern drawl smooth as butter. He had the kind of sweetness you find in movies. One part Southern gent, the other part me, that was Brian. Sue said, “He’s Beth in guy form,” and he was. I know how she meant it. She may as well have said, “Don’t know how you make it from A to B every day.” With him, things could go south in the most charming of ways. An air of folly followed us whether together or apart. When the key didn’t work on Brian’s car, he called Triple A for help. Turns out it wasn’t his car. With us, no one wanted to watch, but they had to. The shit show was too compelling. Nobody knew where it would go. That was the fun of it, that was the horror of it, too.

Brian laughed until he cried, the warmth in him cooled by a tinge of frustration. Would have given more of myself, there wasn’t enough to go around. Parts of me were going missing. Lakeshore’s where I went to feel whole. Past the front desk, headed straight for the sauna. I hoped “The Sauna Lady” would be there.” Tall, thin, with the grace of a stallion, she’d retired from the Chicago Tribune. Forget what she did there. Could have been a fashion editor, maybe she was. Wrapped in a towel, the gray hair perfectly coiffed, she espoused old-world elegance. Woolen suits, high heels, a crush of red lipstick. That’s how I imagined her. With the pearls of wisdom she dished out, life was gonna be OK.

“You know what you should do? Skip from one end of Michigan Avenue to the other. Then you’ll see how magnificent that mile can be.” Why don’t more people skip, she wanted to know. “Show me a skipper who’s not smiling,” she said. She had a point.

Don’t know which was more therapeutic, the dry heat or her wisdom. I’d sit there until beads of sweat trickled down my chest or until stress trickled out of me. Walking to Lakeshore Athletic Club made for a little pilgrimage. Socializing, steaming, working out. Had to make time for it all. So much more than a gym, Lakeshore’s where I belonged. Forgot my shorts, worked out in jeans. No one said a lick about it. I love that.

There was the woman who lost 70 pounds walking. She did no other exercise and lost 70 pounds. Arrived at New Year’s with fire in her eyes and a laser focus. One day, in August, saw her packing up.

“You inspire me.”

Moisture dusted her eyes. Tears or sweat, hard to tell.

That’s when she mentioned the 70 pounds. “Put your mind to something, it’s yours forever.”

Lakeshore, the perfect gym for people who were losing themselves. Some were shedding a person in body weight, I was losing myself in other ways.

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