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The healthy life requires a measure of pain

Karl looked me over as we stood in the weight room together. Decked out in black Nike sweat pants, a De La Hoya/Mayweather T-shirt and silver Reeboks, I thought I looked rather stylish and not at all out of place standing among the exercise machines.

“Mmm-hmmm,” Karl hummed, obviously disagreeing with my self-assessment. “I wish I had the camera, now.”

Perhaps I did fit in the weight room about as well as Kanye West at a cowboy poetry festival. After all, I hadn’t stepped into a gym since the days of the Walkman and my overall appearance indicated that the years since had not been all that kind to me. Although I’ve been blessed with genes that guarantee I’ll never be pear-shaped, the rest of me looks withered and shabby, sagging in places that had long been taut with gravity taking its toll on any part of me that had the slightest inclination of the floor looking like the destination of choice.

Two days later, muscles that had been blissfully headed southbound are screaming, “Why?!? For all that’s good and holy, we were happy as clams oozing into the creases of the couch! And now, you sadist, you’ve turned us into burning masses of worthless tissue!”

Not normally attuned to screaming muscles, I nonetheless respond to the threats of a general strike with concessions of Motrin and beer. It’s a Band-Aid that quiets things down for a bit, allowing me to snag some sleep before they start conspiring and getting full blown Occupy on me.

Having dedicated myself (and considerable funds) on a rec center membership, I haven’t filled them in on my intention to crack the whip on myself as I make a Spartan attempt to defy age and gravity.

In the midst of raising kids and assuming my posture as a hard-as-nails reporter on the City Desk, I allowed myself to become a slave to all the habits my doctor claimed would trot me to an early grave.

What did she know? While lifting a pen in the service of the First Amendment and then finishing with a set of 12-ounce curls was the extent of my circuit training, it was, as best as I could surmise, a decent workout.

It had been exhausting, that dissolute regimen of pure transfat goop (I’d just buy it by the gallon and wash it down with PBR), video games (got to keep those thumbs buff, y’know) and loud music. By the end of the day I was barely able to crawl to bed, beaten as I was by my determination to dispel the silly notions of those holding perspiration as some kind of sacrament.

That all changed after Loml moved in with us.

A vegetarian, Loml immediately began scrutinizing the waiting-for-the-Apocalypse stash in my food pantry, filling several garbage bags full of minute-meals, cans of mysterious meatlike products and Vietnam War-era C-Rations (love me some those graham crackers and sugar pellets).

She claimed that processed food would kill us, while I argued that, well, they’d kept us alive so far, so why mess with success?

Out of the freezer came stacks of Hungry Man dinners (over a pound, each!) and frosted sacks of stuff that appeared to put me sitting pretty with the black market organ donor market. In their place went bags of green things that she claimed would be better for all of us, citing mumbo jumbo from so-called medical journals, NPR reports and articles from various magazines she’d obviously perused while sitting in the waiting room of the Make-em’-suffer clinic.

I reminded her that eating was good for us and that we were more inclined to chew on empty Hungry Man cartons than any of the green things she’d foisted on us. Furthermore, I pointed out that, aside from a few snails and frogs, most poisons were made from green things that grow in the ground and that it would not be unreasonable for the rest of us to suspect that we’d soon be rolling on the floor while grasping our throats, gagging and drooling, gnarled fingers making a final grasp for life-sustaining composite meat placed alluringly in a plastic tray adjacent to corn niblets, crinkle french fries and something resembling a brownie.

Calling my objections “specious,” “paranoid,” and “the ravings of a mind diseased by plastic food,” she set about creating a healthy diet for us all. I told her she might succeed with the kids if she served it up in a small, white paper bag adorned with cartoon characters but I, for one, needed a shiny pool of petroleum to make my green things look less sinister.

“If God wanted rice to be brown,” I said, “He wouldn’t have made us throw it at weddings.”

Calling God “He” got me a fork in the elbow, if I recall.

Not satisfied with turning dinner time into a nightly botanical guess fest, Loml raided the cupboard wherein breakfast foods were kept. I call them “breakfast foods” because the boxes that contain them specify that they’re supposed to be for “breakfast” but I am here to attest that they suit any meal of the day. No need to confine a bowl or two of milk-soaked starch to just the hideous hours.

Out went the Chocolate Coated Sugar Bombs and the Gummy Bear Bits (“Packed with Corn-Syrup-y goodness!”), replaced by several sacks of items that looked suspiciously like insect pupae. Not only that (you’d have thought my excruciating screams of horror would have been enough to stop her in relentless pursuit of “nutrition”), she also tossed the boxes of instant oatmeal, insisting that “real” oats were the healthy alternative.

“There’s a reason why they call it ‘refined’ and your stuff ‘raw’,” I said. “It’s ‘refined’ because, not only is it what the upper crust are eating, but they’ve refined all nasty junk out of it. When it’s ‘raw,’ they’re feeding it to livestock, which, I remind you, I turn around and eat so it’s not like I’m not getting any of the junk they’ve refined out of it to begin with.”

Again, Loml asserted that my reasoning had been perverted by an addiction to sugar, processed foods and an inhuman ability to digest petroleum-based products.

For my part, I pointed out the fact that the places where she purchased her bags of grubs, gravel and ground-up bits of bark employed a veritable showcase of vertical corpses.

If you’re ever looking to cast extras for a film about Sudanese refugees, corral the staff from a Whole Foods and you’re set. I’ve never seen a more sallow, wan and stick-like staff than in any given “Health Food” store.

At least the workers at Wal-Mart look like they’re well fed (better for enduring the daily beatings, I assume).

Having rearranged our diet into something that would be looked down on by the denizens of the bad neighborhood in hunter-gatherer societies, it was only a matter of time before a gym membership would make it into the conversation.

I think it was the night I stepped barefooted on a stray Lego when the topic came up. The moment my weight went full force down on the small, plastic block, my body reacted with me sucking in my stomach and air filling my chest.

“Do that again,” Loml said.

“What? Grab my foot, hop around on one leg and scream obscenities?” I answered.

“No, the sucking in your stomach and puffing out your chest part. You looked pretty good, really.”

Obviously, crippling pain becomes me.

So, here I am, my muscles in riotous revolt, screaming in high dudgeon at my new-found attempt to get healthy. Honestly, I hear what they’re saying — this burning and aching doesn’t feel at all healthy, I feel like I’ve aged 40 years after 30 minutes in the weight room.

Those muscles will have to shut up. I’m returning to the gym tonight for another excursion into excruciating pain.

If they think they have it bad with me putting undue expectations on them, they’re sadly mistaken. Life with Loml (rhymes with Rommel) is one hell of a lot healthier — and we see where that gets us.

jim@pagosasun.com

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