Thursday, July 7, 2005

Curse of the physically fit

While at the mall the other day, I noticed a T-shirt that had, “Eat Right and Exercise…Die Anyway,” printed across the front of it. I was tempted to buy it.

The shirt was a painful reminder that this is the time of year when winter flab no longer can be hidden beneath a bulky sweater or a down parka. For this reason, it’s also is the time of year when most people rush to get into shape.

But this year I’m not going to be one of those rushers.

When it comes to trying to get a shapely well-toned body for summer, past experience has taught me that no matter how noble my intentions are, I’m cursed.

Take, for example, back in the 1960s, when I joined Lillian Powell’s Figure Salon, the first salon of its kind in the Manchester area.

My one-year membership fee entitled me to unlimited use of the salon’s state-of-the-art equipment, which featured such torture devices as vibrating-belt machines and mechanized wooden rollers that acted like giant rolling pins to flatten flab.

On my first visit to the salon, an overly enthusiastic, leotard-clad employee who looked as if she hadn’t eaten a solid meal in about four months, took my measurements. She held the measuring tape so loosely, the numbers she jotted down easily could have been mistaken for Moby Dick’s. She then put me through my paces.

I learned an important lesson on that first night: never gulp down a burger, fries and a big glass of milk just prior to getting strapped into a vibrating machine. The employee hitched the belt around my hips, turned on the machine and walked off. For 20 minutes, I stood there, shaking worse than someone standing near the epicenter of an earthquake, until she finally remembered me. By then, I felt as if the milk in my stomach had turned into a giant clump of butter.

The wooden rollers also were less than comfortable. The machine was about hip-high with horizontal rows of rollers going up the front and down the back of it. I was instructed to drape my body over the top and then let the rollers roll away my midriff bulge.

The entire time I was bent over the machine, I was acutely aware that my least flattering and most jiggly side was sticking up in the air and greeting everyone who entered the salon.

When my measurements were taken a week later, the employee pulled the tape so tightly, she nearly cut off my circulation. Naturally, my measurements came out much smaller than the ones she’d taken the week before.

“Oooh!” she practically squealed. “You’ve lost a total of 10 inches! Keep up the good work!”

I had every intention of keeping it up, but two nights later, Lillian Powell’s Figure Salon skipped town with all of the members’ money. I was so distraught, I turned to a hot-fudge sundae for comfort.

Not long after that, I decided to enroll in a modern-dance class. I figured that not only would I learn how to do some fancy footwork, I’d get a good workout at the same time.

Once again, I was wrong.

The dance instructor, a barefooted young woman with straight black hair that nearly was as long as her long black skirt, was more into “interpretive” dance. In fact, I spent more time sitting cross-legged on the floor and “meditating” about dancing than actually dancing.

Finally, during the third lesson she said, “I want all of you to stand up now and pirouette around the entire perimeter of the room.” She demonstrated several concise turns.

Eager to finally be moving and burning a few calories, I began to rapidly pirouette around the room. Within seconds, I felt so lightheaded, I had to lean against the wall before I keeled over.

“You’re not spotting!” the instructor shouted at me.

I cast her a blank look. I definitely was seeing spots, if that was what she meant.

“Spotting!” she repeated. “You have to pick a spot on the wall and then focus on it every time you turn. That way, you won’t get dizzy.”

“Now you tell me,” I muttered to all three of her.

Finally, a fitness center opened that seemed tailor-made for me. It featured something new called passive exercise machines. The brochure said that all you had to do was lie on them and they would do all of your exercising for you. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

My first day there, I stretched out on one of the machines and to my delight, it methodically began to lift my legs, up and down, up and down. Soon, I was so relaxed, I fell asleep.

I actually looked forward to working out on those machines every week, even though I never lost a single pound. But even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the place went out of business a couple months later.

So when a friend of mine called me the other day to tell me she’d just joined a women’s fitness center called Curves and wanted to know if I’d like to join, too, I said, “Unless you want Curves to immediately go out of business, you won’t let me set foot near the place!”

The poor woman had no idea what I was talking about.