During the most recent “Wednesday Walk”, I expressed a bewilderment about why people run. I didn’t entirely like how that sounded. I admit that on the continuum of “Run – Jog – Walk – Sit In One Place With a Bag of Doritos”, my predilection leans closer to “Doritos” than “Run.” Giving my “Running? – Why?” perspective a self-justifying ring. At least, to my ear.
In my defense – though I’m not certain I need a defense, since nobody’s attacking me, except possibly, in their heads, my readers who run, and how many of them can there be, they’re too busy running – in my defense, I can only confess that, “I used to be worse.”
Up to the age of 44, I engaged in virtually no exercise whatsoever, other than, when I had the choice between being transported in a golf cart or walking from my office to a studio soundstage, I almost always preferred walking, though that may have been less an exercise issue than that I was in no hurry to get to the soundstage. Things could get really hairy down there.
Most of my life, I sat and I wrote. That’s not exactly right. Most of my life, I reclined and I wrote, my “Position of Choice” being lying on my side, my head propped up comfortably on my elbow. The only less active position than that would be writing while asleep.
My aversion to physical exercise began when I looked in the mirror and became uncomfortably aware of my long, spindly arms and no noticeable musculature on any part of me. What I had was a “Writer’s Body.” (I realize there are athletic-looking writers, but, Darwinially, there is no reason for it. Maybe it attracts women. “Hi. I’m a writer and I’m strong.” “Gosh, I’ve never met anybody like tha-at!”)
My physical…what’s the opposite of “attributes”?…whatever that is, served me in terrible stead during gym class. They wanted me to pull myself up – on bars, on rings, climbing ropes to the ceiling. My response to their instructions was, “Look at me!” I had nothing to pull myself up with!
Running, especially long distances which meant anything over fifty feet, gave me an excruciating stab in my right hip that the gym teachers thought I was faking but I wasn’t. Tumbling made me nauseous. I was anomalously adept at the “backwards somersault”, but it is hardly the most graceful move in the “Tumbler’s Lexicon”, and it rarely garnered me a “Good job!” Or a passing grade in gym.
With that kind of a start – which was not really a start, it is more of a “Holding Pattern” at “Zero” – I was not encouraged to pursue any form of athletic activity, either professionally – I just chuckled when I wrote that – or recreationally. I loved watching sports, but I was never tempted to emulate what I saw. In fact, observing magnificent athletes deterred me from even trying, like dieters are deterred by pictures of swimsuit models. They were spectacular, and I was hopeless. That’s a long distance to cover in one lifetime. It’s a lifetime to improve just a little. So I forgo the opportunity and I watch.
Through my adult life advancing into middle age, I was involved in no exercise whatsoever, if you exclude yoga, which I practiced fitfully over the years, but usually wound up snoring in class. I was a Thinker. I had a highly developed “Think Muscle.” And nothing else.
And then, something happened.
Oh, good. It’s turning around.
When I was forty-four, I got a detached retina.
That’s not the upbeat transition I was counting on!
Be patient, Italics Man. It’s coming.
Good, because “I had no muscles and then my retina fell off” really sucks as a story.
Recovery from retina surgery required me to lie as still as I could for six weeks. I do not recall any bedpans during that period, so I suppose I was allowed up a little. But then, it was back on my back. For six full weeks. Which, for me, was not that big a change from lying on my side. My left elbow (that I propped myself up with) actually liked it better.
“We needed a break.”
When I finally recovered, I was extremely wobbly. My legs did not exactly forget how to walk, but they did forget how to walk normally, struggling with the previously unchallenging responsibility of holding me up. It was only then that the concept of “basket case” was truly driven home to me. I could easily see myself having to be carried around in a basket.
At that point, the wiser heads in the family prevailed, and despite my protestations, I was directed to join a gym.
And I’ve been going to one, Tuesdays and Fridays, for the past twenty-three years.
My current location, after attending four others all of which closed, is Gold’s Gym. Gold’s Gym is famous. Ahnolt did his bodybuilding there. Hockey players train there in the off-season. I once spotted Lou Ferigno (TV’s Incredible Hulk) doing bench presses. Lou Ferrigno nothing! I saw Magic Johnson, walking out! I almost followed him to his car!
Am I stronger because of my training? A little. But my wonderful and extremely knowledgeable trainer, Eve, focuses more on “infrastructure” – the smaller muscles underneath that support the muscles you see, which, in my case, are still – as they say of a script with a scene missing – “To Come.”
In regards to my progress, I recently received an encouraging compliment from my daughter Anna. I had my picture taken to accompany an article for the Writers’ Guild magazine. I was posed seated sitting on a staircase leading down to our backyard. Anna studied the picture and said, “Dad, you’re sitting really straight!”
That alone is worth twenty-three years of training.
I have never hungered for big muscles. But I dreaded turning into that stooped-over old guy whose Scoliotically-curved back looks like the left end of a parentheses. (Or the right end, if they're going the other way.) Now it appears that that won’t happen.
Eve, and the “Horse Doctor” who helps me when my mid-back gets crampy (he works three days a week on people, and three days on horses) share a compatible philosophy. In their view, nothing in your body “wears out.” The problems arise when, through longstanding habits, you deleteriously diverge from the “User’s Manual.”
Your parts will last, if not forever then considerably longer, if you keep them in proper alignment and move them only in ways they were intended to move. Right now, I’m working on walking with my feet pointing more forward, rather than angling East and West, so as to relieve the pressure on the insides of my knees.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? And if I would never have known about it if I hadn’t gone to the gym.
Gee, Earlo. That detached retina was the best thing that ever happened to you.
No. You’re the best thing that even happened to me.