I've heard the aphorism "if you fail to plan you plan to fail" numerous times in my life, most often followed by the words, "so fill out this goal sheet, already" or "that's why you should buy this Franklin Planner." While I hate to count out any possibility, up to this point in my life I've never bought a planner-especially not a hideously expensive Franklin one-and as I recall, my goal sheets were filled out by advisors with quotas to meet who scraped the barrel of my meager accomplishments. And yes, I'm a failure. Yet in between episodes of failing to plan, I do occasionally make note of life-paths I do not want to follow and have had some success dodging them. Like not shacking up in the back of a pick-up with a filthy man and three or four even filthier dogs (check!). A more recent fate I've chosen to avoid, one which I was hurtling toward, is standing with knees together but feet splayed at least twelve inches apart and profuse sweating merely due to eating tacos. And I want a marked reduction in involuntary sighs.
Before I go on I want to be perfectly clear: this will not be one of those nasty "Americans are so fat" diatribes that seem to be everywhere these days. Especially not one that includes the words "we as a nation" before it goes on to insult the national physique. As far as I'm concerned, the words "we as a nation" should always be followed by something complimentary, at least if the nation referred to is the United States. Nor will I rail against "the beauty myth," at least not right now. Yes, there are cultural prejudices, but the last assault on them I saw was so boneheaded I'm still reeling from it. It was a dirge about fashion victims on the Discovery Health channel that showed crowds of anonymous city people going about their business, unmindful that the show's producers were filming them for the purpose of exposing them as typically homely to all the world. Then they hired Peri Gilpin--who has played always-gets-her-man sexpot Roz on Frasier for the past eight years--as narrator to solemnly decry beauty standards that demean and stereotype women. What, was Kathy Bates busy? For me, that went over about as well as a Clinton claim that he "feels my pain." On top of that, I was watching this program with Partick, who possesses certain credentials as a beautiful person. He could not stop snickering. To be fair, he said it was mostly because of the producers' ambush of innocent citizens, and how they might feel if they saw themselves tarred as the unfortunate ugly mass on cable television, and I believe him. (Less excusable was his exclamation during a dieting infomercial, "I've got one thing to say-I just finished eating two cake donuts and now I'm sitting on my ass drinking a beer!") Anyway, the whole program struck me as a surreal and pandering effort supposedly on the behalf of women.
So, no, this article won't be anything like that. Nor will it end with some sort of "and you should, too!" exhortation because I'll tell you right now that this whole "working out" business stinks, and is confusing besides. Sure, many of the devices are intuitive, at least on the surface (they often have a deeper, near-baffling logic all their own), others require a formal introduction which Partick was willing to make on my behalf. Unfortunately, and like most introductions made on my behalf, the names of all those menacing, black and silver, S&M looking devises blurred in my memory. There are the ones that make my arms hurt, the ones that make my legs hurt, the ones that make my, ahem, bottom hurt, and the ones that make by abdomen hurt. Partick tried different weights on each of them before finally muttering, "This is the weight Sophia uses." Sophia is my seven year old niece.
You may well ask why I was consorting with these engines of the devil, and I'd have to admit that while my idle hands weren't exactly doing the devil's work, I couldn't keep them off his stuff. Months and months ago, My Boss told me the 4th of July fell on a Wednesday. As with most of what she tells me, I responded by pursing my lips, widening my eyes, and nodding my head. As we were on the phone at the time, she said, "Hello?"

"A Wednesday," I replied. That should break up the week."

"If you took either Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday off, you'd have five days off in a row."

Five days is a long time, and I had plenty of time to think of something to do with them, so I asked which days more people were taking off (Thursday and Friday), and chose Monday and Tuesday, figuring I'd minimize the amount of actual Cosmodemonic work I'd have to do that way. Doing almost nothing at work isn't as good as doing absolutely nothing at home, but it's still good.
About a month later, there was a crisis in my department over the week of July 4th. One of my co-serfs had scheduled an out-of-state family trip to last the entire week, and two had major out of town parties penciled in for the fourth, and one just thought it would be cool to take advantage of the five days off thing. We gathered in the Presentation Room.
I hadn't come up with any plans and four days of doing almost nothing was still pretty tempting, so I offered to give up my days off, but My Boss kept insisting they were sacrosanct. I think that's because she's too polite to just say I'm so superfluous to the day to day business of Cosmodemonic that my gesture was meaningless. We all wheeled and dealed and finally by my agreeing, nay, insisting, that I would do a little more than almost nothing, everybody got their days off, and I still had about a month to decide what to do with mine.
Then June struck, hard. It was pretty bloody hot for one thing. Also, unexpected trips to New Mexico and Utah were cropped up, which while they had their moments (see "The Upside of Down") were also exhausting. I've never been much of an adventuress, which is why economical excursions to the likes of Fresno and , oh my! Toronto are such a big deal to me. A single vacation is refreshing and sustenance for The Cobra's Nose. Two-especially family intensive ones-leave me exhausted and cranky. So by the time July rolled around I had failed to plan, and…you know.
The first two days of doing nothing were great. I went to bed early and napped on the couch. I wore pajamas the majority of the day and watched cable for hours on end. Partick cruised around the house dusting, vacuuming, watering plants, and frowning at me with Momish disapproval. I'm proud to say I withstood it pretty well. By Monday, however, I thought a little activity might be in order, especially since it would be hours before Partick finally went to work and let me lounge in peace. So when he announced he was off to our apartment's workout facilities I calculated the number of inches apart my feet were when I stood with my knees together, and asked if I could tag along. Partick, apparently making the same calculation, said sure.
The workout room is far enough away from our apartment to count as exercise in my book, as I learned from several aerobic jaunts to the Jacuzzi which sits just outside of it. The Jacuzzi is an swell place from which to placidly observe the goings on in the workout room, ideally with a big glass of something cold in hand. From the other side of the glass, the Jacuzzi seems populated with drunken, lazy swine, most of whom should be forbidden to wear those swim togs ever again.
I miss being a swine. Whatever lashing myself to the engines of the devil might have done for my thighs, it's been murder on my disposition. Upon reaching the awful workout chamber (and it's got to be a block away if it's an inch) I'm already pretty hot and tired, and if other people are there already, watch out. They are invariably younger, thinner, prettier, and more fit than I am, but have the worst taste in television viewing. Baseball. Judging Amy. Sheesh. And if you don't get there before nine a.m. on Saturday, you can forget about watching Loony Tunes. Often, the only entertainment is watching young, thin, pretty, fit people try to figure out how to operate this stretch thing (not the contraption pictured above, but a direct descendant I bet). I'm also disappointed in my torture of choice. Having met all the cardio-vascular devices (did you know that a treadmill can be instructed to simulate an incline but not a decline? or that people choose to pretend they are walking up stairs?), I selected one that because it compelled rather than resisted motion, seemed most like a ride-a stand up bicycle sort of thing. For one thing, it asks a lot of questions--age, weight (I put down what I told the DMV and snicker), that sort of thing. For another thing, I'm having a hard time believing burning off an Almond Joy could be that much work.
That could be the worst part of my voluntary ordeal-the calorie counting, a practice that had never interested me in the past, except to discourage it. Like on this trip I took with my mother where she insisted on comparing the relative merits of our cranberry juice, mine being the less nutritious but more delicious. I feigned (badly) polite disinterest but in my head I was quoting Apu--"I cannot believe you do not shut up!" Now I never thought of an Almond Joy as health food, per se, though they are loaded with fiber. Used to be, they were a snack, a little indulgence. Now they are the enemy; but I crave them more fiercely than ever. They're the Mata Hari of food.
I've also been setting little goals, like keeping my pace above such and such per minute, or getting to a certain pretend distance by a certain time. It's horrible. Don't let it happen to you.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Vol. 31
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