One evening not long ago I was digging into my second helping of dessert and worrying about the fuel crisis when my wife dropped one of those offhand remarks that do a lot to explain the high divorce rate.

"You should take up jogging," she said.

I could guess what was coming, but I went along with her charade. "Why?" I mumbled.

"Because you've become one vast waistland -- and don't talk with your mouth full."

Now, as all husbands know (or soon learn) a wife's offhand remark is about as spontaneous as a Communist confession. I knew she had been rehearsing that waistland crack for days. But her next offhand remark caught me completely off balance. "Haven't you heard about the President's Council on Physical Fitness?"

"What's politics got to do with my waistline?"

"It's not politics -- it's non-partisan. Here -- read this," and she tucked a little folder under my dessert plate. "It ought to go great with brown betty and ice cream."

Until that moment I had no idea there was such a thing as a President's Physical Fitness Council and if anybody had bothered to ask my opinion I would have said that, with all the problems he faces, he should be putting his time to better use than hiring people to sit around and make trouble for me and the rest of the silent majority.

Anyway, in glancing through the folder I learned the disquieting news that the human body has 603 muscles. And, inasmuch as all 603 of mine had developed a tendency to ache if I did anything more strenuous than mix a batch of martinis, I decided I better read the rest.

A mistake. I qualified as a walking disaster.

I decided to do something about it. Jogging was out. There's such a thing as getting healthy too fast.

There had to be an easier way, and I was determined to find it. During my search, I stumbled upon a system which -- so I am told -- helped turn the Royal Canadian Air Force into a mass of musclemen. It's called isometrics, and the thing that tickled me about it is that you can do it without moving a muscle, as it were. You don't have to get up early and put on one of those soggy sweat suits and go baggy-panting through the neighborhood.

It has something to do with opposing one group of muscles against another in a kind of symphony of sinew.

I began my program the very next day. I started with one of the simpler exercises, one you can do sitting down.

After my coffee-and-Danish I sat at my desk, stretching and squeezing my jaw muscles, to bring back that red-blooded look, scowling, as the book recommended, eyes bugged out, my face turning purple, all workaday cares cast aside. Man, was it invigorating! My blood raced through my veins, my scalp tingled. I could almost feel the cholesterol dissolving.

A few minutes later I tried another exercise. This one helps strengthen the grip. (There were times during the first exercise when I thought I was losing mine.) Filling my lungs with fresh office air, I thrust both arms out in front of me, spreading my fingers and grasping at what the instructions called "an imaginary foe."

Unfortunately, at the moment the boss -- who is anything but imaginary -- looked into my cubicle. This made my scalp tingle even more. He stared, then exploded, "What the hell's wrong with you?"

I explained what I was doing for the good of the company, and the country.

"I'm not interested in the good of the country," he snarled. "I want those reports you were supposed to have and I want them today."

He turned on his heel and strode out of the room. I should point out that he's a jogger. He has a tendency, from all that jogging and those baggy pants, to be short-tempered.

So it wasn't until I got on my homeward-bound bus that I had a chance to continue my program. Standing in the aisle, I tried another set of exercises; these, say the isometrics manual, are just the thing for tightening face muscles and getting rid of that tired-businessman look. I squinted my eyes, twisted my nose muscles, stretched my mouth, drawing down my upper lip (easier if you're a clarinet-player, which I'm not), meanwhile pressing my elbows tight against my side. The experts say this is the most effective -- the elbows bit -- to tone up the waistline.

It's also effective for attracting attention: like that of the whole bus. People began edging away from me. One man, a neighbor, got off half a mile from his house. An elderly man finally nudged me and whispered, "I know how those office parties are, son, better sit down." He got up and winked, motioning to his seat.

Rather than go through a lengthy explanation, I took the seat and buried myself in the evening paper. I could see that this business of whipping myself back into fighting trim wasn't going to be simple.

That night after dinner (I limited myself to one helping of dessert), I went to work on my leg muscles. I grasped both knees and pressed down hard as I sat in my easy chair, simultaneously trying to raise my legs in the classic isometric (force vs. force) manner. My body ached, but I know what's good for me.

Looking up from her knitting, my wife asked, "You sick?"

"No," I puffed. "I'm strengthening my legs so my country can be proud of me."

"Why not take a walk," she suggested. "That will strengthen your legs. And, try strengthening your arms by putting out the trash barrels for a change. Then I can be proud of you, too."

Wives are always jealous, especially of strong-willed husbands. It was even worse a few nights later when she found me lying on my back with my arms and legs spread out. She accused me of having a fourth martini. The fact is I was simply working on my spinal column and had had only three martinis -- and without those fattening olives.

It got so the only place I felt safe doing my exercises was at the corner tavern, but the manager finally asked me not to. Said it was hurting business when I came in to work on my face or neck muscles.

Things began to get a bit strained at home, too, particularly when I would tell my wife that I was going down to the tavern for a workout. I finally gave up the whole program.

However, my wife no longer makes cracks about my waistland. She has agreed to stop reading (aloud) reports about cholesterol diets.

I hate letting our president down this way, but I like to think I've given him a helping hand by bringing together at least one part of the country -- our household.