I can look out the window and see the ocean, a calm one, and a shimmering red Bahamian sun breaking through scarlet clouds scattered low along the horizon, like in the movies. A very nice day to start, I think.
I am a 45-year-old man without muscles, bald, 27 pounds overweight, no longer involved in much physical activity, somewhat self-conscious about my looks and even more self-conscious about the thought of trying to improve them within smirking range of those god-types who were born fit, don't sweat and seem to be everywhere I am when vanity prods me to the thought of exercise.
In June of last year I decided it would be nice to chuck it all and spend a year devoted solely to making myself handsome. By November even my publisher seemed to be intrigued with the idea. What could you do to a middle-aged body in a year? By December, Viking Penguin and I had come to terms -- a milestone, I might add.
It takes a lot of money and discipline to chuck it all, hire a full-time trainer, move to an island, recruit a fancy committee of medical, strength and fitness experts, build lots of muscles, turn a watermelon belly into a sexy, flat stomach, perhaps add some hair, maybe even have a face lift, and in the process report on the good and bad things out there in the fitness and male hunkiness world. But I was game.
I planned a partial nod to health during the year, but the plans that really interested me centered around looks. I wanted to see some muscles on my body and some lust in the eyes of a tropical beauty or two much more than I wanted to feel healthier. I felt fine, anyway. Most people are a little overweight and get a little tired and a lot of people used to smoke and still drink regularly. Besides, I used to jog 40 miles a week until 1981.
About the time I was packing my full-length mirror for the trip to the islands, some of my doctors started calling with results from my physical exams. The first doctor to call was a friend, and I knew him well enough to know that a cough and slight stutter before he speaks mean that bad news is coming. It did. The thallium stress test and first-pass radionuclide angiogram showed that I have mild coronary heart disease, probably the result of too little exercise, too many cigarettes and those extra pounds.
Another test showed that I have a small pulmonary dysfunction. The cigarettes I enjoyed for so long, of course. A final test showed that one of my liver functions is abnormal.
None of these unpleasant bits of information, incidentally, would show up during the normal yearly physical you may undergo, even if you have a stress EKG and standard bloodwork. I had three stress EKG's, and they were all normal. I hope that's an unnerving thought for you, but I am not complaining here. At least I know what is wrong with me. According to my good adviser Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the man who started America jogging, 50 percent of people with coronary heart disease have only one symptom of that disease: death from a heart attack.
Well, if all of this wasn't enough to temporarily still my yearnings for a high lust factor, two other members of my medical team rated me in the high-risk category for heart attack, even though I don't have high blood pressure, exercise more than most people and haven't been a smoker in over a year. The extra pounds and lack of meaningful exercise and my diet, too, are the culprits in their minds.
I dream a lot when things bother me, and my dream that night was of a very hunky Remar Sutton, dressed to show my muscles, laid out in a coffin.
I still want beauties to swoon when they glimpse the new me. But my year is going to be a more balanced one now. I have to make my insides as healthy as my outside will be hunky, a thought with some urgency in it. I want to understand more about my decline in health, too. In 1983, my doctor rated me as a nearly "ideal" health profile. What happened? Can you lose your health in two years? If you can, that's a damn scary thought.
* It's 7:30 a.m. now. Before noon I'll have stretched for 30 minutes, walked for a good distance along a palm-fringed beach lined with half-naked people (most of them overweight), biked and lifted weights for the first time in my life. By sunset I will have talked to a few of the doctors who are worrying over me, eaten fresh conch salad, drunk papaya juice and probably flipped through a copy of a muscle magazine. I'm clipping pictures of sample muscles, sort of a hit list for the new surface me.
My blood pressure will be taken in the mornings and at times during exercise. My blood itself will be sent to the States every two months so the inward changes diet, and perhaps more importantly, exercise, may bring can be followed. "Doc" Clement, my island doctor, lives across the back yard, even closer to the ocean. He checks on me nearly every day, more out of curiosity, I believe, than concern.
I am not at all sure what is going to happen to me this year. My nightmare has me looking and feeling the same, or worse. I am not at all sure about the legitimacy of some of the things that attract me, either. I fantasize about the joys of hair, for instance, but may not be brave enough for the total scalp transplant a friend tells me would allow me to comb to my vanity's content. I want my newly muscled flesh to appear virginal in its usefulness, but don't particularly want to be injected with goat embryos, a fashionable treatment, I hear, in some very exotic circles.
*I want to develop the best eating habits, too, but can't even get my own very distinguished advisers to agree on the bad foods, much less the good ones, and no one agrees on what exercise program will make me the person I so richly think I deserve to be.
But that's okay. The temple of hunkiness and health is crowded with high priests and priestesses, some right, some rascally. I'm sure none of them will mind a question or two from a hopeful skeptic.
Muscles and health, Remar Sutton. NEXT: 365,000 pounds of weights.