Friday, January 29, 2016


Every January, a lot of people I know – many of whom still barely can move after eating their way through the Christmas season – become really enthusiastic about joining a gym or some form of workout club.

“By spring, I’m going to look like one of those Victoria’s Secret models, mark my words!” one particular friend tells me every year. She usually lasts only until about mid-February, then begs the gym for a refund and uses the money to buy a month’s supply of frozen pizza and anything covered in chocolate.

I, like zillions of other people, also once was gung-ho about trying to shape up. In fact, over the years, I’ve joined several exercise clubs (not gyms)…and never succeeded in losing as much as a pound. But I swear it wasn’t my fault.

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 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 glass of milk just prior to getting strapped into a vibrating workout 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 if I’d been 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 again a week later, the employee pulled the tape much tighter, nearly cutting off my circulation. Naturally, my measurements came out significantly 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 a few days later, Lillian Powell’s Figure Salon closed without warning, and never was heard from again.  I was devastated…and angry. I had no idea who or where Lillian Powell was, but I secretly hoped she’d get stuck on one of her crummy vibrator-belt machines and jiggle herself to death.

Not long after that, I decided to enroll in a modern-dance class. I figured I could have fun learning some fancy footwork while getting a decent workout at the same time.

Once again, I was wrong.

The dance instructor, a barefooted young woman with straight black hair in a ponytail that nearly was as long as her calf-length 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. I could feel the girth of my hips increasing by the minute.

I wasn’t until the third class that she finally 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.

I managed to make it through the entire eight-week dance course, but I didn’t learn much about dancing and didn’t lose any weight. I did, however, learn how to pretend to be grabbing stars in my outstretched arms, and how to lie on my stomach on the floor for 20 minutes and envision myself as a fish, floating in the ocean.

Finally, a fitness center opened that seemed tailor-made for me. It featured something new called passive exercise machines. The brochure said all you had to do was lie on them and they would do all of your exercising for you. I was excited. I mean, getting a well-toned body while lying around doing nothing? What could be easier than that?

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 (a.k.a. doing absolutely nothing) on those machines every week. I never lost even a single pound, but I convinced myself my body felt tighter and firmer.

A few weeks later, the place went out of business. I seriously began to believe I was cursed.

One day, one of my friends called, excited to tell me all about a new women’s fitness center she’d recently joined.

“It’s fantastic!” she gushed. “It’s all women, so you don’t have to worry about men staring at your cellulite or bat wings while you work out. And you go from machine to machine on a schedule – kind of like playing musical chairs. They even give out prizes and free samples and stuff!  You should join! You’ll love it!”

“I probably would,” I said, sighing. “But there’s no point in it. A week after I join, the place will go out of business. I guarantee it.”

My poor friend had no idea what I was talking about.

So my favorite form of exercise nowadays is walking both of my dogs at the same time. Not only do they weigh a combined total of 175 pounds, they walk as if there’s someone wearing a suit made of raw meat just up ahead of us. As a result, I practically have to gallop to keep up with them. So the daily walks are an excellent workout for me.

And if a squirrel happens to run in front of us during our walk, it’s also a great way to remove wrinkles from my face…when I fall flat on it while being dragged along the asphalt.

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