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Essay

The Marvel of Malaisercise

A Late-Night Fitness Program for the Modern World

June 01, 2003|Paul Gordon | Paul Gordon last wrote for the magazine about buying a motorcycle in middle age.

When I turned 50, I decided I needed an exercise program that would help me realize my goals of staying fit, keeping the weight off and maintaining my sanity in a world that increasingly makes no sense.

I toured the health clubs and dipped a toe in that strange, engorged cosmos of yoga and "core strength" enhancers. But the garish outfits, constant eye-coupling and endless repetition--not to mention those excruciating orientation tours--left me bored, listless and reeling with the ironies of modern exercise. Here were scores of men and women squandering their youthful juices during hours on the weight bench, trying to stay young. They marched about, hulking like muscled dockworkers for hard labor that no longer exists. I even had one strapping young club "associate" advance the theory that my classic 98-pound physique is today considered provocative, bringing violence upon itself through vulnerability--a sort of Bush Doctrine of personal fitness.

Not for me, this brave new twitch-muscle world. As an alternative, I have perfected an exercise regime that fits my schedule and temperament. It's a system you, too, can do in the privacy of your home or garret, 24/7, as they say, alone or with a friend. Plus, you don't have to move a muscle.

I call it "Malaisercise: The Next Extreme." Let me take you through a typical wee-hour workout that I might perform while lying awake in bed.

I know most trainers advise that you start out slowly, but I prefer to jump right in with a few quick tugs on the heartstrings over the fate of my aging parents. They didn't look so good during this summer's visit: There's a dullness creeping into my mother's eyes. That fall in the shower didn't help, and yet there they are, all alone in that big, drafty house. Someone's got to do something before things get out of hand.

Thinking about the folks always makes for a good warmup. In five minutes I've got a light sweat going, my fists are clenching nicely and my bowels are just starting to churn. You don't want to start in with the heavy lifting quite yet, so at this point I like to stretch out with a little rumination on the state of the planet--a plague of SARS, a plague of marauding SUVs, bunker-busters and baby nukes. The polar caps are melting, the ozone hole is growing, and all my friends in "old Europe" have stopped speaking to me. Eons from now, history will record that human life somehow became unsustainable just before the clones took over.

It's hard to tell time in the dark, of course, but after 15 minutes or so my vital organs are up to full running temperature, and I'm ready to tackle the burning issues of the day. That golf-ball-sized lump of plaque that showed up in my heart on the last MRI--that can't be good, no matter what the doctor said about it being "not unusual for a man your age." And how about the stock market; up and down, up and down? It's a crapshoot, anyone can plainly see. And the housing prices in L.A.--will they ever come down to earth? Clearly it's going to take more money than I'll ever see to buy one. Thank God I've got my Malaisercise program. Maybe I could write it up and sell it to the mattress industry.

Mass obesity, the Dixie Chicks, anthrax--and that strange, discolored lump that just appeared on my back. Hello, hello? Is anybody in control? There's that weird deposit in Donald Rumsfeld's teeth and the way the brakes are getting all spongy on the car, and that long-haired guy I mistook for a woman at the party. I wonder: Could I be gay? My wife says it's possible, but, frankly, she'd say anything to keep my late-night pleading down to a dull roar.

And don't get me started on those orange alerts and the buzzards on the evening news. A man has to know his limitations: Take on too much and you could wind up on Prozac or "America's Most Unwanted."

By now there's a glint of light behind the curtain and I feel pumped and fully tuned up, like a runner in the starting blocks. Sometimes the best thing about a good workout is you always feel so great when it's over. I spring from my bed like a lion, poised and ready to greet another bright and blessed day.

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