MY body fat has reached critical mass, and unless I do something about it soon, I'm not sure what's going to happen. I have to eat more carrots and peas and fewer pork chops and mashed potatoes, and I have to eat them while working out on a treadmill or running down Ventura Boulevard.
This is my understanding of a fitness report out of Gaithersburg, Md., that I received during a break in my cardiac rehab regimen at the little hospital on the corner.
The percentage of fat in my body is at 31.8, whereas it should be at about 20 if I anticipate living a full and enjoyable life. Well, it may be too late for the full and enjoyable part, but if I am expected to last beyond next Groundhog Day, I'd better start eating less and exercising more.
How my vital statistics, such as height, weight, age and caloric intake ended up in Maryland, I have no idea. The center of my local health world is just down the block from the Tarzana Medical Center, where three times a week I am expected to walk a treadmill, ride a stationary bike and otherwise burn off a lifetime of accumulated fat.
The report of my decaying condition -- more formally, my body composition analysis -- was handed to me by a nurse reminiscent of a fifth-grade teacher who once threatened to drown me if I didn't start behaving in class. They could do that in those days. Several of my friends disappeared one year, and I'm sure they were drowned by old lady what's-her-name.
"I've told you and told you to eat better and knock off the martinis," Cinelli said when I showed her the report, "but do you ever listen to anyone but the strange voice in your head? I fix you vegetables and you eat around them. What's the matter with you? I should drown you myself."
She wore the same menacing expression as the nurse at the gym and the teacher at Lockwood Grammar School who threatened to immerse those of us who disrupted the class. So I decided right then and there to really work at reducing my body fat.
My idea of exercising is to walk into a gym, hop on a treadmill, speed it up until it threatens to hurl me against a back wall, work until I drop and lie on the floor until the paramedics arrive. At the gym where I am presently enrolled, they have a routine that must be strictly followed. I hook up to a portable monitor carried in a little cloth bag around my neck, connect it to places on my chest, do stretching exercises, have my blood pressure taken and board a treadmill at the speed and for the time allocated by a nurse.
I think it annoys them because I can't remember precisely where the monitor hooks up. The ends are colored, red, white and black. "White is right," one of the teachers, I mean nurses, said, "and black is the smoke over the fire." It is doggerel intended to remind the dumbest of us how to apply them, but I can't remember what it means, so I rely on a nurse to connect me. I think they're afraid that if I hook it up wrong, I'll be electrocuted.
On a particular day, my pre-designated treadmill speed was 1.7 miles an hour for 12 minutes, which seemed far less than I was capable of doing. Midway during the treading we are supposed to honk a small air horn attached to the equipment, which is the signal for a nurse to come over and take our blood pressure.
I honked at six minutes, my b.p., as they say, was registered and I continued on like a chipmunk on a wheel. But I didn't stop at 12 minutes. I stayed on for 20 and cranked up the speed to 2 mph. That was nothing. When I was doing time at Pritikin after a heart bypass 18 years ago, I was on the treadmill for what seemed like two weeks at a time doing 32 miles an hour.
The Pritikin people were young and their bodies contained no fat whatsoever. They worked you with the notion that anyone under their care was to emerge looking like them, just muscle and bone with faces so thin that their eyes seemed to pop from their sockets like certain types of Central American frogs. If you made it through Pritikin, God granted you another 20 years of life to hop around the lily pads, or whatever.
I have 36 sessions at the little hospital on the corner to lose weight and lower my fat content. I'll keep going to the gym because I'm afraid if I don't they'll send dogs after me or drown me; I'll also try cutting down on my portions of food. Instead of martinis, steak, wine, mashed potatoes and dessert, I will add okra and give up the dessert and the steak. No, wait, I'll keep the steak, give up the mashed potatoes, add sliced carrots and halve the okra. Or give up the wine, double the martinis, dump the vegetables and to hell with another 20 years. Let the good times roll.
Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com.