Me First!

This morning I arrived at the gym at 5:35, five minutes after it opens, and three other people (two women and one man) were already there going through the motions of whatever it is that constitutes their workouts. Two of them are among the perhaps six people at that place that I ever talk to, so I smiled at one and waved to the other. At 5:35, that’s about all I want to give. And even that’s pushing it.
I wonder if any of those three people, upon encountering the other two lined up outside the doors pre-opening, was disappointed to see that he or she wasn’t the first one to arrive and thus wouldn’t be the first one to get through the doors. I wonder if this ruined any of their mornings. I wonder if the one woman (the one I’ve never talked to) looked at me derisively and sniffed to herself, “Lazy latecomer!”
They reminded me of the early morning crowd at The Sporting Club at the Bellevue, a Philadelphia gym that, at least for the two years I was a member, opened at 5:00. These people would line up in the dark, in the parking lot under the Bellevue Hotel (I think the hotel may have been renamed since I left), waiting for the elevators to be turned on and their doors to open, all the while positively salivating and pawing the ground in anticipation of jamming themselves into the first one available.
There was one guy (I’ll just call him “S”) — probably about 40 years old, slender (not “built” though), shaved head and underarms! — who was always first in line, no matter what. Somehow this guy managed to position himself so that he would be the first person out of the elevator when it reached its destination on the eighth floor of the building. He would have to be, literally, front and center, so that when the doors opened, his body would be the first one out of the elevator, and he could make the mad dash down the narrow hallway in order to be the first one to show his card to the attendant and then victoriously push himself through the turnstile. I don’t know if he dropped anything off in the locker room, or used the elevator or stairs to get to the “fitness floor” that was three floors above, but I do know that he always, without fail, beat everyone else at least through the turnstile. I’m not sure if he was always first on the fitness floor, but I’m willing to bet he beat everyone there too, and already manned HIS Stairmaster by the time anyone else entered the room.
I say “beat”, because that’s what it was to this guy. Some sort of demented competition. He had to be first. First first first first first! The First! Number one! The winner! No matter what, he would succeed! Success would be his!!! No matter what it took!!!!!
Well, one day I managed to get HIS spot on the elevator. I don’t know how it happened. I do know that I did it on purpose, and I do know that the entire ride up, with my friend Judy by my side, and the DOG in the back of the elevator, I was positively giddy with excitement and anticipation. NOT at being the first one at the desk and thus through the turnstile, of course, but at beating S and sensing his defeat.
My heart beat like crazy with anticipation. A vein I never knew I had bulged in my forehead. My carotid artery pounded visibly. Would I manage to pull it off? Would S, when the elevator doors opened, somehow manage to push himself ahead of me and Judy (Judy’s about 5’10” and not exactly the weakest girl in the world, or the meekest) and emerge victorious once again? Would he foil my plan? Would he beat me at beating him at his own game? I would not hear of it!
At long last, the elevator doors opened. Without a nanosecond of hesitation, I dashed out and off. I bolted as fast as I could, with Judy just behind me. But it wasn’t enough that we ran and that we were actually ahead of S. No. In order to thwart S from possibly whizzing by me on either side, I spread out my arms, parallel to the floor, a la Jesus or a pterodatcyl, thus prohibiting anyone from progressing beyond me. And I laughed like a drunken lunatic, which wasn’t difficult to do with Judy’s hyena laughter spurring me forward and carrying me …
… all the way …
… to the front desk …
… where I handed the attendant my card …
… pushed my way through the turnstile …
… and emerged … VICTORIOUS!!!
And oh, as fast as we moved, and as much as we laughed, it seemed like we were in silent slow motion. Only once I was on The Other Side, did the speed and sound turn themselves back on.
“I’m number one! I’m number one!” I chanted to an overjoyed Judy, raising my arms to the heavens and a God that, all of a sudden, I believed in, if only for that day. If I’d had one of those oversized foam fingers people use at football games, I would have waved it proudly over my head.
I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet that S foamed at the mouth and waved me one of his own on his way through the turnstile. But I wouldn’t know, because I was too busy popping open the bottle of champagne and sharing it with Judy to notice.
Ahhh. Looking out for Number One is fantastic, especially when it makes someone else feel like number two!