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At The Peak Of His Powers

At the Peak of His Powers

Left, right, left, right – okay, now I’m in the groove. Just keep the stride going for ten more minutes, and the treadmill odometer will hit that magic three-mile mark. Then tomorrow I’ll see if I can push it a little farther. Hey, no comments, please. I know this body could use a good workout.

My kids agree, and are only too happy to tell me so. “You need that, Dad!” The children yell when the infomercial for the latest Become-Adonis-In-Just-90-Days exercise program comes on TV. Whoa, wait, what’s that you say? Am I not already a vintage specimen of late-twentieth century American manhood? “Yes, Daddy, you look handsome,” says my 11- year-old daughter, then lifts her shirt to slap her tummy. “But you need to be better down here.”

Fair enough. And you won’t get any argument from my wife, either. According to her, the only time I’m likely to be found panting, sweating, or kicking is in the middle of the night when I’m dead asleep and also making alarming glottal sounds. Besides, she reminds me that when you look in the mirror and stare at your legs and see faces in your kneecaps, you know it’s time to proceed directly to the nearest athletic club.

There was a time when I observed a strict regimen of swimming and weightlifting and had the taut, lean results to show for it. Granted, that was back in 1984, when my hair was not yet a winsome mix of salt and pepper (all right, mainly salt) and my “core,” whatever that is, hadn’t gone completely molten. It took everything the prehistoric YMCA could muster, but back then I stood at the peak of my powers. I’ve been skidding back down the mountain ever since.

So here I am at a new gym – a far cry from the old Y – and much has changed since I last darkened a locker room door. An elevated running track circles the basketball courts. There’s a yoga class going on down the hall. Here in front of the treadmills, the wall is filled with enormous flat-screen Tvs, each one numbered and tuned to a different cable channel. Screen 6 is broadcasting ESPN Classic right now, and I’m watching Magic Johnson play college basketball at Michigan State. There are carts piled with towels, racks with the daily paper, and computers to surf the Internet. Put a cot and smoothie bar in the corner, and I’d never have to leave.

I wish I could say that on my first day as a member I came, I saw, and I conquered. But the truth is, I came, I saw – and left before the desk staff could ask for my card. Actually, I came, saw, took a hot shower, and left. Sympathy, please. It’s hard to feel part of the gym-rat brotherhood when the young guys in the showers address you as “sir.” Plus I made the mistake of wearing a college t-shirt that proudly noted the year I graduated. It may as well have read “DO THE MATH.”

My gym shorts probably didn’t help, either. Well, they were fashionable when Jimmy Carter was president. So I switched to a pair of grey sweatpants. Now I looked like I’d just stepped out of one of those World War II newsreels of fresh recruits doing calisthenics before getting shipped out to Guadalcanal. At least I knew not to warm up by doing jumping jacks, diving forward to touch my toes, or flipping some buck private onto his back.

My self-styled stretching routine is left over from college days that predate the young folks around me. Still, I casually take to the mat and assume positions I trust will evoke the portraiture of various Greek gods. Later, I climb onto the step machine. Is this thing on? I’m frozen like someone taking the stairway to heaven. Oh, it’s already on. You have to pedal it to make it work. Soon I’m pumping along at about the rate a kid rides a tricycle. Later I work my way up to an old lady driving a Buick.

Over at the barbells, I’m happy enough to lift just the bar – forget about adding any actual pounds. The weightlifting machines are also easy as long as I pull out the pins that hold the weights and only lift the hardware. Then there’s the “Abcor” station where you do sit-ups while throwing a heavy ball through a hoop. It’s like playing a carnival game from hell – and I’m the carnival.

I’ve gotten the hang of things now, and I’ve improved my wardrobe, too. It took a shopping trip or two to get the proper look, but once I bought a new pair of shorts I noticed some of the club’s female members checking me out with coy smiles and grins. Hey now, I thought. I’ve got it going on. Until I realized I was wearing my shorts inside out – stitches, seams, and factory specifications of the Nike Pro Combat training shorts on display for all to see. Well, at least I’m way cooler than Retired Guy over by the dumbbells. Even I know better than to tuck my workout shirt into my pants. Or practice my jujitsu moves where the ladies can see.

Anyway, here on the treadmill flanked by fellow runners, at least I can take comfort in ESPN Classic. And what’s on now? It’s an episode of Celebrity Bowling from the mid-seventies, and Leslie Nielsen and Ernest Borgnine have just bowled three strikes apiece. But here’s the kicker: ESPN is running all the old commercials, too – ads I remember for Farah men’s leisurewear, Harmon Kardon stereos, the Holiday Inn in Cabo San Lucas, and the original Chevy Vega, with its tinted glass, whitewall tires and full interior options.

Now this is entertainment! I look left, then right. Why am I the only one laughing?

Tony Farrell
Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.
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