We have been continually reminded for years that exercise is "in." Expensive and time-consuming exercise, that is. Exercise obtained by working hard for a useful purpose is farther out than Pluto.

Furthermore, no exercise is "in" without the proper price tag: some very expensive and hideous trendy clothing is de rigueur. For the best image-building, one must stretch the muscle with expensive equipment, preferably in one of the "clubs" such as are touted in the weekend advertisements by impossibly sexy-looking models.

Forget hiking with the Cub Scouts, raking the leaves, painting the house, scrubbing the floors. People gotta exercise, man! Let somebody else do the work. We're the "me" generation, and life's gotta be one long, expensive vacation for us, and to hell with anybody else.

I confess: I am an "exercise" trend- bucker because I lack money, excessive energy, and gullibility. Sure, after I've cleaned a nine-room house and raked an acre of leaves, I should dash over to the gym for two hours of useless sweat, and if I ran the 10 miles back home, I could make it in time to give the baby its 11 o'clock feeding, to fix grandfather's midnight snack and to pack the twins' school lunch for tomorrow. Just what I need. Especially when I have three hours' worth of music to practice and two articles to edit.

Recently I saw two women (one of whom was still weak from a bout with flu) working to the point of exhaustion all morning on their day off to "help" their (male) supervisor move some office files. After lunch, when they had completed the job, the supervisor sauntered in, hours late because he just had to go by the gym for a two-hour workout. He never felt the slightest guilt in cheating his employers or abusing his colleagues; they, at least, will never give him any more volunteer help.

Let's grant that it is sensible to pay reasonable attention to one's health and appearance, and that it is a character defect to abuse, neglect, or overindulge one's body. But let's also grant that sufficient care can be taken of normal people without fanfares, expenditures or wasting time. Knowledge of the basic principles of nutrition and caloric intake makes fad diets unnecessary except as attention-getters.

In like manner, exercise can be obtained while doing useful things. A little imagination can utilize waiting times with special exercises, and a psychological as well as physical lift can come from doing aerobic leaf-raking and aerobic floor-scrubbing!

Those exercise-seekers who still have excess energy left after doing their own chores can establish a financially secure exercise program thus:

1) Go weed a garden, mow a lawn, paint a house, even "do windows" for some senior citizens unable to do these things for themselves.

2) If you must have a "club," organize a group of friends or neighbors to clean up and beautify your neighborhood, or some other section of town, or some charitable institution.

3) Paint, plant, mow, scrub, etc. as needed in your church, etc.

4) Volunteer to go camping with some organization such as the Boy Scouts.

5) Teach tennis or some violent game of your choice, free of charge, to underprivileged children.

In such manner one can stay in about as good physical shape as one's trendy friends; one wastes no money, and best of all, one has time to develop his mind instead of his muscles. Why should one spend all his time and money to look like a movie star? Who's looking?

Be honest, you exercise freaks-- what you're after most of all is status. If one of our television hunks were to endorse this suggestion, some work might get done! But even if you never get written up in Time for your honest exercise, you'll really be a lot more interesting and less superficial. Call me when you finish reading your first book.