WASHINGTON — Do yourself a favor: Put aside your politics, please, long enough to take a nonpartisan stroll with Newt Gingrich. No need to tax yourselves, regardless of whether you're on the right or left. I did enough sweating for all of us. For one thing, I kept veering to my right (don't read anything into that), thereby bumping into the House speaker while we were walking and talking. Plus, I was already drenched halfway through our interview. At 8 a.m. Capitol Hill was already an unpleasant 78 degrees of heat gummed up with 79% of humidity. That's swampy. The 55-year-old Republican from Georgia, you should know, did not perspire.
One item before we got going: What kind of shoes is he wearing?
Question: Let's check 'em out, Mr. Gingrich.
The speaker lifted the cuff of his pant leg.
Answer: Call me Newt. Tennis. I have three pairs, and I don't have a clue what they are. They were all three bought . . . on sale.
Q: What would you normally be doing right about now?
A: If I wasn't walking with you, I'd normally go to the House gym and put in probably 2 1/2 miles. Oops. I almost lost you.
Q: Sorry, I keep bumping into you. Anything else besides the treadmill at the House gym?
A: It depends on what cycle I'm in. If I'm in a cycle where we're going to be in town a lot and I can get to the gym regularly, I'll use free weights and a variety of exercise machines for muscles. But I don't do as much of that as I should, partly because it's episodic and I can't quite get into the rhythm of it.
Q: What about when you're home, in Marietta?
A: One of the things that has helped me is that for my birthday two years ago, Marianne [his wife] bought me a treadmill so when I'm home, I can get up in the morning and put in about an hour or an hour and a half on the treadmill. We like to go out along the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta or we go up to the mountains. All my life I've liked to walk. Besides, it's a great way to sort things out.
Q: Do you find that exercising gives you more energy or relieves stress?
A: I'm so excited most days by what I'm doing that the natural excitement gives me an awful lot of energy. When people say--"Oh, gee, you can't imagine how much energy you have when you work out"--I don't find that to be particularly true because of the adrenaline flow I've had all my life. I mean, I'm fascinated by life. I get up in the morning, I'm amazed. My wife says I'm basically a 4-year-old who knows that the cookies were baked during the night.
Q: What's one of the things about life that amazes you?
A: I like collecting dinosaurs.
Q: You collect dinosaurs?
A: Well, I go out with people who collect 'em. We have a dinosaur skull in the office. It's on loan to us. This is funny. I also go to zoos, and one of the things my staff has learned to do--you think of fitness as mental and physical--is I don't play golf, but I love to learn. So, they've built in learning experiences about every second or third day of my trips. So part of what I try to do is probably 80% psychological and 20% physical. I try to keep a balance in my head.
Q: Do you do anything else for relaxation?
A: Oh, sure. I relax by reading. I relax by going to movies. I like to go out with friends at a bar and sit and talk--shoot the breeze.
Q: Do you have wine or anything hard to drink on those occasions?
A: Yes, wine and anything hard to drink.
Q: All the above, huh?
A: Yeah. Probably my two biggest weaknesses food-wise are that I really do like ice cream and then the other is, I really like beer much more than wine. That to me is just a psychic satisfaction that is incompatible with being as thin as I'd like to be.
Q: On the other hand, hangin' out with the guys, that's all part of the ritual to relax.
A: Yeah, but I think if you're going to do that, you've got to get up the next morning and go walk extra long or exercise. I weigh myself every week and try to keep the pressure on myself psychologically. And then I say, "OK. This means I better do an hour and a half, not 45 minutes."
Q: How much do you weigh right now?
A: 230. But I should weigh 205. That's my goal.
Q: How tall are you?
A: About 5-11. I've lost about 20 pounds. Well, I've lost 30, but I, frankly, have drifted up over the course of a year. So I'm now back to trying to get back down. I'll tell you another thing I learned that's sort of sobering as a college teacher is that looks really matter.
Q: It's a nuisance too.
A: I know. And it's a discouraging fact, you know. I'd rather have people say, "Oh, gee, I saw you on TV last night. What a really intellectually stimulating speech."
Q: So how are you watching your weight?
A: Well, let me start and say normally what we try to do is stay on a high-protein, low-sodium, low-fat diet. So, there are variations within that. My ideal breakfast is a pancake or French toast with a low-sodium, artificial sweetener syrup. My wife bought a bread maker and developed a low-sodium recipe.
Q: A bread maker. For the aroma alone.