There are all sorts of side effects to getting older. Like getting older, for one, and also getting fat. I took my health for granted for many years, eating frozen White Castle burgers I’d heat for just 60 seconds in my microwave or if I wanted to dine out, hitting up the free hot dogs at Rudy’s, a filthy old bar in Hell’s Kitchen that doles them out gratis with a pitcher of house swill. I couldn’t believe they were just giving this stuff away.
I lived like that through most of college. As an athlete all through childhood I seemed naturally thin, and took for granted that would always be the case. For years, I scoffed at those who’d actually mention their gym memberships in conversation. Why would anyone want to run or bike in place? It struck me as a sign of derangement that people would choose to spend their leisure hours this way. Why weren’t they more ashamed?
Walking by the window of fitness centers during my college years in Manhattan, my roommate and I would jeer at all the health-conscious poor sorries we saw running in place on treadmills. On our way to our morning’s first class, smoking a blunt and swigging Colt 45s (which we surmised, as we lifted it to our mouths in reps of sixteen, was just as good as a free weight), I’d ask her to “spot me,” as I downed any malt liquor remaining before entering the building where classes were held on Broadway.
“I will never be that!” I vowed, as I handed her my forty for a moment, so that I might take a last puff on the blunt and light a quick cigarette to wake me up. “The futility!” I mused, bemoaning their tragedies, “Young Upwardly Mobile Sisyphuses on treadmills!” I’d say commiserating with Camus stuffed unassumingly in my bag.
For a while, you might say, I wasn't the typical picture of health. Still, to the consternation of my more health conscious friends, I was as sinewy as a racehorse! It seems that quite by accident, despite my passionate aversion to the “healthy” style of life, for a number of years, through the various activities of my leisure, I was able to maintain a fine physique. I went out a lot, you see, and carousing done right, I found, can really be a workout. The following is a brief overview of my unplanned but, nonetheless, rigorous regimen of exercise:
Running blithely through a dance club downtown and thus exerting myself cardiovascularly, I’d use my biceps and deltoids to push past the girls in line for the bathroom in a blind race against my ever-formidable opponent vomit (up-chucking happens to be good for the Abs. The general heave amounts to something of a stand-up crunch, I’ve discovered, noting the sexy six-pack I’d wake up to whenever I found, upon coming to under the sink, my face crusted with puke).
Or on those nights spent studiously at home, after I’d finished some homework for Physics and Quantum Philosophy and my roommate would complete her reading of another Russian novel, we’d reward our toil by absorbing some cheap champagne and rolling a blunt of shwag laced with god-knows-what kind of poison. With the color and texture of tree bark, it seemed an unlikely source, yet it was cheap and offered in plenty compared to the tiny parcels of designer pot brokered our more upscale bicycle messengers—handsome hip-hop boys who’d arrive with backpacks. Along our kitchen table they’d assemble an array of tiny plastic cubes within which tiny green bud-covered branches with glittering leaves seemed to float magically. It was like buying jewelry, dazzled as we were, asking to see and smell each option before agreeing on our purchase. Hours later, we’d find ourselves physically exhausted from such a hard day of it, having designed and built a gigantic fort in our apartment, a feat accomplished through a carefully planned bit of engineering—by piling all of our furniture into a single tower in the corner of the living room (working the backs, arms, and chest).
Days later, as we’d “squat” to search the rug for dropped leaves (which often turned out to be lint), we agreed, my roommate and I, having shaken out the bottom of the cube that the fancy display case had been an imprudent allocation of funds. How we grew to love “Junior,” as he called himself, the faceless man we paged regularly, who’d pull up along the curb and tell us to “get in,” and then our hearts beating in adrenaline fueled rhythm, he’d drive us around the block before leaving us on the corner with a large Ziploc bag of garden mulch. “The side-effects of whatever turpentine he laces this shit with are awesome!” I’d say, bouncing up and down wild eyed, on a small trampoline we’d acquired from someone’s dumpster (cardio, glutes).
Or on those evenings given to lounging in the suite I rented in a midtown hotel for nearly a year, there were a number of activities to excite the heart rate, such as entertaining guests. Some nights my old college roommate might drop by for a drink or five before we’d put on our tap shoes. The kitchenette had little counter space to effectively make a grand dinner, but boasted enough floor tile for more than a couple running flaps and traveling time steps in alternating directions (glutes, calves).
Or yelling through the windows of health food restaurants I used to pass near the Soho loft I shared for six months with 12 other girls when I was but a broad of 21, “You’re getting ripped off,” I’d shake my fist (triceps), “Those are not real hotdogs. There is no such thing as boneless buffalo wings!”
Or climbing schoolyard fences late at night to play basketball and share some drinks with friends and my all-too-sudden boyfriend, who stole my heart one enchanted evening by remembering to bring ice and limes to the court, when I had forgotten. Or if a pick-up game was not feasible at that hour, just chasing my tail in circles (cardiovascular) till I ran out of booze or passed out at the foul line.
Or refusing to leave certain strip clubs, like Runway 69 on 7th Ave. circa 1999 after the manager caught me drinking from my flask in the bathroom while chatting up “the girls.” The bouncers were much larger than me so resisting their movements as they ushered me toward the door was a kind of isometric resistance training, a modified Pilates (total body).
Or the high kicks performed during dates at the Russian Samovar where there was no dance floor, but a grand piano and enough vodka to make it seem like a good idea. When Nicolas tired, I’d try to lift him like he was “Baby” in Dirty Dancing, a martini-fueled idea which landed us both on the floor laughing and finally on the curb outside (arms, lower and upper back, core, and hamstrings).
Or when laboring under that cruel morning light, I’d manage to catch myself just in time before spinning centrifugally to the ground as I stumbled along the sidewalk just returned from Atlantic City at the end of any number of marathon Wednesdays. (Abs, lower back, and legs all at once.)
Fit as an off-key fiddle, the real damage to my figure came after I earned my college degree, when I was so cruelly, so unjustly, forced to get what you people call a "job," and just like that my exercise regimen abruptly concluded.
Many "jobs" require employees to sit for long hours, and this can really put a crimp or rather a bulge in one's waistline. As the working year progressed, my body doubled with the application of morning donuts to relieve the grayness of my commute, and then, well, they were two for a dollar so I would be losing money if I didn't buy both; bacon, egg, and cheese on my lunch break at that little Spanish deli near where I was giving troubled adolescents a chance at life by berating them for coming to class high, in a South Bronx classroom at the edge of Crotona Park; and the evening consolation of dinners out with my boyfriend, 80 pounds heavier than me and six inches taller, yet nevertheless, always insisted that we share all our courses, which were many, that I “beat the food,” that I don’t “let our dinner win!” He was very competitive, also having grown up an athlete.
We'd gorge ourselves on appetizers, second and third courses, and desserts before swaying home, depressed about our lives, our masquerading as lawyer and teacher by day, drunk on food by night, in pain really, before falling into bed by nine, too tired to even drink or blunt anymore. I needed to sleep before it all began again at five the next morning, a lifelong commute from room to room—bedroom, subway compartment, classroom, restaurant, repeat.
As a teacher in a “failing” school (highlighted three years in a row by the New York Post as one of the top five worst performing schools in the state, so my competitive streak prompted me to brag) the only exercise I got in those days was from breaking up spontaneous yet frequent fights in the hallway and classrooms. Wrestling a hurtling chair away from an overgrown 16-year-old and pinning him to the wall with one arm while the other girl or boy now free from his/her respective hold came toward us with gritted teeth, requires quite a bit of physical exertion. Often in the morning I'd find my muscles sore as if I had been working out the previous day, as if I had been to a party, but had had the fun erased from memory.
Even still, those sporadic exertions were not enough to counter the growing malaise into which my body was fast slipping. Between work and school I had little time to carry on the activities that formerly had kept me so fit. Soon enough, I would take a job at a fancy private school on the Upper West Side shaping the minds of little brats growing plump on designer Dingdongs, losing my very last excuse for physical exertion, and furthermore being bribed during every manner of holiday by concerned parents bearing baked goods, a manner of Trojan Horse come report card season—
“Banana bread’s son is struggling in English. But, judging by the moist core of this cupcake, he is well on his way and should be given a pass just now…”
Finally after a few years of total physical lassitude, my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend convinced me to join a gym, remarking how much better he’d feel about me, I mean I’d feel about myself, if I got some exercise. And, so, I folded up my soul and rented a locker at the nearest sports club.
Like most people I struggled to keep my gym visits regular, which is how I developed a quasi-romance with my gym instructor. I first noticed him eyeing me as I squatted to his count of 10 during his Total Body Conditioning class. I thought nothing of it, assuming he was just concerned for my form. Later though, I noticed him blush when it was time to count for inner thigh exercises.
As my visits to his class never formed a pattern, I’d find him giddy upon my return. I’d disappear for a month and return flabbier than ever, while in my absence his heart had only grown fonder. “You fat little minx,” I could see him thinking lustily, sweating mightily and staring at me through the mirrors that surrounded us, “Where have you been all these weeks?” To my delight, I was playing hard to get without having to work at it at all. It was the only time in my love life where inaction came easy to me. The flabbier I got, the more his heart burned.
After I stopped working in order to go back to school full-time (or let me put it another way: sanctioned a life for myself as an adult-child through decision to enter into “graduate study”), I cut my gym membership and our romance was summarily severed.
Still, it was at this point that I felt determined more than ever to refine my physique. You can really abuse your body a lot more severely, I’d discovered, noticing that fewer crippling hangovers trailed my gym visits, if you exercise with some regularity. And so, always one for excess, I developed a new exercise regimen wholly my own.
I began my new lifestyle by using my freed up funds to purchase a pair of free weights and a cheap jug of Chablis. Thus every night, when I'd begin my ritual of drinking copious amounts of cheap wine alone in my cramped apartment, rather than just drink and read or watch reality TV, I'd get drunk and do some calisthenics and/or lift weights. I was so disciplined, working out every time I'd drink, pound Theraflu or other intoxicating varieties of cold medication, that I actually got in excellent shape; indeed I’m in the best shape of my life!
Of course, like anyone at all knowledgeable of fitness strategy, I know that weight training must be supplemented with an aerobic regimen. So every other night, after partaking of a few chilled Pinot Grigios or whatever’s on sale at the liquor store, and doing some sit-ups; for an aerobic turn, I arrange to meet some friends at a bar across town. Running there in my high-heels, my "pumps" as I’ve come to call them, I kill two birds with one stone—I get my due exercise and don’t have to bother with a taxi. Given, I often show up sweaty and somewhat smelly, but one has to make sacrifices, I say to my concerned affiliates upon arrival, if one’s health is a priority. Dabbing the hard earned sweat from my face with a bar napkin, and taking my tired place on a vacant stool, I like to order the first round. "To our health!" I say, toasting each successive drink.