George Plimpton called today, elated and relieved at the rapidly declining state of my stomach. "Why," he proclaimed, "you're a virtual wisp these days!"
George was elated because he's a good friend who cares for my health; relieved because, almost single-handedly, he was responsible for creating the last four inches of my former belly.
As I tried to sell my idea for a book on redoing my body, George encouraged further deterioration for the sake of the book. "How's the belly today, Bub?" he'd say. "Are we gaining some more weight?" He was concerned about my drinking habits. "Drink cheap scotch, doubles, lots of them," he advised on one call. He took an interest in my exercise program (don't have one) and my sleeping habits (late to bed was recommended).
Plimpton is a participatory journalist of some note, so I, of course, wanted to trust his judgment in these matters as a true chocolate lover wants to trust a chocolate diet plan.
We both laughed even when it appeared my publisher was having second thoughts. ("You mean we're belly up, great Bub?") But the next week, when we met in Florida for a strategy session, when George saw my 43 inches of freshly wrought flesh, he did not laugh. "Good Lord," he said, "poor Bubba, what have I done?" Earned an unusual title as the first member of my Body Worry committee, that's what.
Normally, I don't think much of committees. They seem to either be for things we already agree on ("Keep America Beautiful"), or things we'll never agree on anyway (tax reform), or things we need to meet on to see if we agree or disagree. On the surface, my committee is no different. Let's face it, my body is a mess -- it doesn't take a committee to decide that -- and none of my members will ever agree entirely on what it takes to make me whole. All, nevertheless, are convinced that two, maybe three, tax-deductible visits here to my tropical island will make everything right.
Similarities to other bodies aside, my group has a real purpose: I want my health back, I want muscles. I want to be able to touch my toes again and know that whatever exercise I do is the right exercise. I want someone to tell me I'm looking more handsome these days. And more than anything, I want answers to questions. There the committee excels. Though my experts may not all agree, their opinions in their particular fields are as good as you can get.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, for instance, doesn't really care about any of my muscles except for my heart. A quiet, slender man with a Texas-dry sense of humor and a great sense of mission when it comes to God, aerobics and preventive medicine, Dr. Cooper does two things that especially impress me. Though he has sold more books than there are committees and is an international celebrity in the sports and medicine fields, he still practices medicine regularly. Would you be giving proctoscopic exams to middle-aged men when you could be giving autographs and interviews?
Dr. Cooper also admits when he's wrong. Years ago, Cooper believed that exercise alone could overcome poor diet and bad habits such as smoking. He was wrong: Runners and sports addicts who ate fatty foods and smoked developed heart disease and died just like the rest of us who do those things. Cooper tells the story often, and I think of it when temptation lures me to the fried food portion of menus.
Cooper is balding, a sign of great intelligence. Some say he is too evangelical when it come to aerobic fitness. But that's okay. Since I first wrote you six weeks ago, 100,000 people have died from some disease of the heart and blood vessels, much of it preventable. That's more than twice the population of Grand Bahama Island. I think of that number during the hard part of my jogs, the first part.
Remember how far I could jog when I first wrote? Less than 30 seconds the first day, about five minutes on the 15th day. Four days ago, the 20th jogging day, I jogged down Royal Palm past the sea streets -- Sea Fan, Sea Horse, Sea Shell, etc. -- to the ocean at Silver Point Jetty and then back to my street, Sea Grape, 20 minutes without stopping. I was very smug after that, even called Dr. Cooper to casually drop the news, for 20 minutes of jogging three times a week is all the aerobic exercise most people need to remain healthy.
The smugness stuck to me as tightly as the barbed spines of a sea urchin until about 11:30 the next morning, when I watched Ruth Goldfarb cross the finish line at the Bahamas Princess 10K Race (6.2 miles). Ruth isn't 5 feet tall, isn't fast, either, but she still finished in good time. She is 83.
I told Gideon Ariel, another member of my committee, about Ruth, and he immediately asked me if she also did strength training, an expected question from him. Many believe Gideon is the authority on strength in America. Gideon jogs, swims and works out every day. He doesn't lift weights in the normal sense, but uses instead his own innovative set-up, a computer-driven, piston-powered, four-color gizmo, which beeps at you, makes you stronger, burps when you try to cheat and makes weight-training infinitely more interesting. The machines are called Ariels and are considered the most advanced things around.
Aside from being a strength expert and equipment designing whiz, Gideon is known as the Godfather of Biomechanics, the science that combines the study of physics with the study of human anatomy and movement. Boxers (Muhammad Ali), horses (Spectacular Bid), the U.S. Olympic Committee and just about everything in between -- including bald and plump writers -- have been to Gideon's Coto Research Institute to profit from his understanding of the things the eye can't comprehend.
Rosy-cheeked, Gideon looks like a grown-up, but well-developed, cherub; his smile is mischievous in a comfortable way, and his thoughts move about as fast as the spin of the discus thrower he used to be. He likes to invent things, tinker with things. He is trying hard to make me an athlete and to make me constantly stronger.
Though I test on his machines in Miami, Gideon's strength-training routine for me essentially involves free weights, since my gym on the island doesn't have an Ariel machine. While there are only two Ariel machines to remember -- they do just about everything -- free weights are like an iron jigsaw puzzle. Our gym set has hundreds of pieces.
At first, I didn't even try to keep things straight or understand the importance of the clipped phrases that make up gym dialect. I used instead a drawn-out but logical-sounding approach when I needed something: "Pardon me, but could you hand me that short, crooked bar over there and two of those medium-sized weights?" People looked at me as if I were from the moon.
As I calmed, the sentences shortened. Today I worked out by Henry Charlton, the World Games posing champion, and I said it like this: "Hey, man, hand me that Z bar and some quarters, will ya?" Henry didn't blink an eye as he reached for the bar, but before handing me the weights, he looked me up and down, then picked up some 35s. "You look," he said, "like you're ready to pump some heavy iron now."
I'm thinking about adding Henry to my committee.
Muscles and health, Remar M. Sutton
NEXT: Trouble in paradise.