Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A return of sorts

I've been struggling with a guilty conscience about something for the past year. It started off as a vague yet bothersome niggling and then became a great wailing siren that I couldn't expunge. No, it's not to do with my malaise about getting back to work on my first American novel. It's something more fundamental.

Twelve years ago I was a 'gym bunny'. I lusted and chased after the obtaining of the body magnifique...and I achieved that status to a large degree. You see, I am very driven and there was simply no alternative but success. A passable or mediocre body was unacceptable because that was tantamount to failure. As a result, I became one of the 'gym bunny' pack at Flames (the gym in West London I went to) and also purchased all the latest gym apparel to accentuate what had to be accentuated and hide what needed to be hidden. I endured pain willingly and cheerfully to maintain my body magnifique, and given my addiction, frequently signed up for back-to-back aerobics classes of an evening. And, like the other Princes of the Dumbells, I was intolerant of people who did not look after their bodies or exercise. I was also scornful of those who tucked into pounds of cheese and fatty dips at parties, diluted my wine with soda water, and nibbled on fields of carrots, celery and broccoli.

Having more or less eschewed organized religion by this time, the gym became my new church, the aerobics instructress my new pope. Why, I even had my first panic attack while working on my lats at the gym I attended. I had no idea at the time it was a panic attack, though the owner--a very nice chap and his girlfriend--recognized it for what it was (I thought I was dying), were very solicitous of my needs, and even drove me to the local hospital in Hammersmith where I was given a brown paper bag by a nasty, indifferent nurse, told to breathe into it, and had to wait...and wait...and wait.

Moving to the states provided the necessary excuse to leave this church without feeling any guilt whatsoever. And then my life became busy as I studied for the NY State bar, found a new job, moved from NYC to PA, wrote a couple of novels. Over the course of a decade, a few honest looks in the mirror, in conjunction with a certain unwelcome pressure around the waist when I could not get the metal catches of my belt buckles to assume their assigned holes and a tedious softening around my pecs, always resulted in the purchase of the latest fad pieces of exercise equipment. A promise of the body magnifique's certain return came first in the form of an 'as seen on TV' red and gray plastic ab thing that looked uncomfortably promising. When that failed to deliver by the end of the first month, more expenditure was required and a sleek rowing machine was purchased, only to be sold covered in Siamese cat hair a few years later for a pittance at a yard sale.

Next came a full gym, installed on the third floor, which fell into disuse six months later when a cable wore out and we never got around to ordering a new one. With unspeakable generosity coupled with our singular loathing about moving the contraption, its fate was sealed and we gave it to the new purchasers of the house as a house warming when they commented they'd love a gym too--though now they've asked us if we'd like it back because they just don't use it. Ski machine No. 1 came next, which proved unwieldy and highly unsatisfactory on account of its plastic cheapness. A step machine then arrived which didn't calculate the calorie burn accurately enough, despite my sessions of profuse sweating, and thus became so demoralizing, it was dispatched to the basement. Finally, Ski Machine number 2, a fully loaded, gleaming, oak trimmed Alpine Trails, arrived six years ago as the solitary Christmas gift for Larry. I read the voluminous literature and then attempted to instill enthusiasm in him by explaining the thing was so fully loaded it came with its own video that included panoramic views of the Swiss Alps so he could forget he was exercising. This apparatus lasted the longest, not because of the alpine video, but rather because the writing was on the wall and our burdgeoning tummies demanded attentive and relentless action and commitment.

And all was well until its death eighteen months ago. During a very rigorous month of exercises on it--very rigorous because we'd been on an unconscionably long hiatus and I'd put on weight and my jeans were tight and would not allow me to deny their complaints--the wheels cracked and literally came off and jettisoned around the floor. In a crazed panic, I called the manufacturer, only to be rerouted to a company who'd bought Alpine Skier's assets during their bankruptcy, and was then informed the machine was obsolete and there were no stocks of wheels left.

For over one year, we have not exercised and I have been guilt-ridden and kept promising myself to sign us up at our local YMCA. I have also zealously kept putting the event off, telling myself we have no time because of my novel's imminent hard cover publication, the arrival of visitors, the advent of winter, Larry's house-building project, the advent of spring, the novel's imminent paperback publication, the advent of summer's humidity, the book tour, the coming Thanksgiving holiday. Last month, my guilt would no longer be brooked and I was compelled to action. I visited the local YMCA, spoke to the people, and left very, very impressed. The gym is ultra modern, has all the latest equipment, offers lots of different classes including yoga, kick-boxing, pilates, and aerobics, has a basketball and badminton area, and an olympic sized swimming pool replete with sauna.

Another three weeks went by and I knew I was again procrastinating by using our dog's failing health as another excuse. So at the end of last week, feeling a strong need to take control, I drove to the Y, paid up for a year, and made an appointment for Larry and I to have our physicals. We are having them tomorrow, during which their high-tech equipment will calculate our actual body ages as opposed to our actual age, and what we can expect to achieve. Later in the week, we shall meet with an instructor who'll have devised a course for us and will show us how to use the equipment, which I'll report upon in another post.

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Daphnewood said...

I am so glad I do not feel guilty about that because my guilt would be large. Emphasis on LARGE. I find examining other people's motivations fascinating. What drives you definitely is different than what drives me. Don't you think that is wonderful? I love diversity.

good luck on your exam. I bet you will find yourself getting rated as a man half your age ;)

Patry Francis said...

Once a Catholic, the guilt never leaves you. It just finds another outlet. I'm also a lapsed gym rat, but I swear I'm planning to return any day now. Thanks for the inspiration!

Damian McNicholl said...

Hahahaha, Daphne. and yes, diversity is great.

You're right about Catholic guilt, Patry. It's like an ache we learn to live with.

Blog World said...

A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
Stewart Alsop- Posters.