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THREE ON THE TOWN

FIT BUT NOT FANATIC : Pump Iron? Run a Marathon? Over Her Dead (but Not Necessarily Forgotten) Body

March 13, 1994|Patt Morrison

Next week, the Oscars will elbow onto the world's television screens with images of spangled movie stars buffed and be-muscled from hours spent bench-pressing the flesh.

Last week, it was the Los Angeles Marathon, with thousands of thundering mesomorphs flexing their beef-jerky limbs along the Thomas Brothers' thoroughfares. The race began and ended at the Coliseum, whose chief ornament is two bronze sculptures, one female, one male, with superb musculature and no heads. Does the obvious elude you?

These festivals of lats and pecs, these bookend hosannas for calves bulging like oak boles and collarbones protruding like ox yokes, make a depressing and exasperating fortnight for anyone who finds exercise to be an exercise in boredom. It's tedious, dull, as well-intentioned as the Heimlich maneuver and about as attractive, either watching it or doing it.

Bodybuilding is what people do in prison, where they have too much time on their hands. If that passes as California heresy, sue me; indulge in the second most obsessively popular local pastime.

Leonard Cohen pumps iron, shooting all to pieces my idea of the pale, neurasthenic poet. Pat Robertson pumps iron--there's muscular Christianity for you. I believe that had God meant for me to pump iron, he'd have sent me here from Krypton instead of the Midwest.

I calculate my exercise as part of my chores, not my leisure. I'm not among the acolytes who pay people to clean their houses or mow their lawns so that they have the time to go to a gym and pay someone else to help them work up a sweat. I take walks. And I have a time share in an exercise machine that is not so expensive that I feel guilty when I neglect it, nor so noisy that I can't hear "Nightline" when I get around to using it.

A marathon? If I'm going to struggle to go 26 miles, I'd rather end up on Catalina Island, sipping pinot grigio, not sucking away at a glucose supplement under the Coliseum's decapitated bronzes.

Fitness is perfectly laudable. It's the mania that's so repellent--the impossible goals, the fancy equipment, the performing in front of picture windows, the one-upmanship, the braggadocio. You'd think it was sex.

Slack time makes the exercise rites more annoying. Forty-five minutes, even an hour a day sounds acceptable, but with all the undressing, showering, re-dressing and hair-drying, one session of aerobics turns into something like the last two minutes of an NBA game: It goes on forever.

Some stars, I hear, put in three or four hours a day on equipment that could power up the entire Rust Belt. That's time I'd rather spend reading, but then, they don't have to make a living knowing the demographics of primary-election voters, and I don't have to make a living wearing Sharon Stone's skirts.

We don't need shortcuts for things we like to do. We need them for what we hate to do. What else are dishwashers and player pianos and faked orgasms except ways to avoid whose-turn-is-it-to-wash-and-dry fights and piano lessons and prolonged bad sex? Who hasn't considered the alleged Bill Clinton dodge--splashing yourself with water to look sweaty from a jog you never took? Whose eye hasn't slewed skeptically but longingly toward those recent ads that ask archly, "Can you do 900 sit-ups in an hour?" and hold out the hope of such results through electronic stimulus, delivered by means of wicked-looking wired paddles?

This may be one occasion when the man from the government is here to help: If Clinton is half the man I think he is--or twice the man, depending on the jog-to-French-fry ratio--he should skip the deficit, skip welfare reform. Just get that experimental thigh-shrinking cream through the FDA and onto the market, and it's another four years of free jet rides for you, big guy.

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