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Jack Smith

Row Over, Beethoven : 'He Noticed My Envy and Put the Headphones on My Head'

October 20, 1985|Jack Smith

I've finally got in on a fad.

I'm into aerobics.

At least, I think it's aerobics.

Three mornings a week, at 8 o'clock, I pump a stationary bicycle 20 minutes, work with light arm and leg weights, and row a rowing machine for 20 minutes at the Pasadena Athletic Club.

Health clubs are a vogue in Southern California. Some of them are built in the style of ancient Roman baths, with opulent pools and steam rooms and marble statues of the gods; others appear overnight in storefronts, so that anyone passing by can see dozens of beautiful young people inside, working out with what has always seemed to me a ludicrous waste of energy. Of course, I suppose one sex meets another at these clubs, and their energies are soon enough put to more pleasantly sensuous occupations.

It wasn't pleasantly sensuous occupations I had in mind when I joined the Pasadena Athletic Club. I merely hoped to get my pump, pipes and valves into reasonably good condition so that I could go on pursuing the purpose of life, which is to keep on living and see what happens next.

But I expected exercising at the club to be a bore, even though the exercise room has a great window overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains, which are often quite beautiful in the morning.

The club is not a typical youth health club, with muscular young men and supple young women sweating foolishly to improve perfection. Most of us are older; some are even older than I am, but there are enough youngsters to remind us of our youth.

Thanks to modern technology, the bicycles are equipped with tiny television screens between the handlebars. I immediately acquired a set of headphones, and I now watch NBC's Today show, keeping up with every day's fresh disasters.

But the rowing machine was sheer boredom. I tried to imagine that I was rowing the Hellespont or some such challenge. Nothing worked. It was a long 20 minutes.

Then one day, a young man took the machine beside mine. He was wearing a headset that was attached to some kind of player in a bag. He looked exalted.

He noticed my envy and put the headphones on my head. I was at once drowned in sound--enveloping, flawless, magnificent sound. It was Beethoven's Seventh. It couldn't have sounded any better to the conductor himself.

"It's a laser disk," the young man told me. He opened the player and showed me a silver disk four or five inches in diameter. "No scratches," he said. "Lasts forever."

The next day he let me listen again. "This is great rowing music," he said.

It was Vivaldi. "The Four Seasons."

That night I told my wife about the wonderful machine that took the boredom out of rowing. A week later she came home with one--everything except the batteries.

I bought six rechargeable batteries and put them in and tried to play Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Nothing. No spin. No sound.

Finally I called my older son, who was a radio repairman in the Air Force and knows electronics. He suggested that I first try charging the batteries.

I hooked up the charging unit to the wall plug in our living room and an hour later went to bed. In the morning I tried the player. I was rewarded by the mellow notes of the famous sonata. Jubilantly, I set out for the club. When it came time to row, I put the earphones on and turned on the player. It was magnificent. For three minutes. And then it stopped.

I was crushed. I went on rowing the Hellespont without music.

When I got home, I automatically flipped on the switch that controls all the power outlets in the living room. Suddenly, I knew what was wrong. The night before, after I had gone to bed, my wife had flipped the switch off, cutting off the power to my battery pack. It had charged for less than an hour.

I now have it charging for 15 hours, and I look forward to the bliss of rowing to the "Moonlight Sonata."

I plan to get Beethoven's Ninth, so I can hear that glorious "Ode to Joy" while I row.

I expect it will be almost as good as being young.

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