Monday, October 29, 2007

Jack L

I don't do much websurfing at all. Far too narcissistic for that. Hardly any of the web is about me, you see. Such a bore. But I got to thinking about Jack LaLanne. He invented the leg extension machine, and the smith machine, and the weight stack, and cable pulls, and jumping jacks. He invented the idea of the fitness health club. He has a right to be self-assured. He doesn't tow submarines across the Straits of Hormuz for his birthday anymore, but at 93 he's still looking pretty good. A bit shaky, advertising his juicers, but looking good.

I grew up with Jack LaLanne. Not in the house -- in the air. My father worked with him, and that's how good old dad started to work out, in the late fifties. I might have been named after him. The family dog was the scion of Jack L's dog, Happy. White german shepherd. Tor the Wonderdog. So now that I've cruised through a few web articles on LaLanne, meeting his philosophy again, his bon mots -- well, that's what I grew up with. Simple unto simplistic, and not entirely up-to-date -- but still right.

Old Jack doesn't eat meat. No dairy. No white bread. No sugar. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Works out for two hours daily. Sound familiar? Maybe yours truly? The diet stuff I came to on my own. All that's left from when I was a kid is that I've never eaten white bread -- not "never", but never bought it, and never used it when there was a choice. Now I don't eat bread at all, hardly. And I've never used coffee, and even as a kid, very little soda. We were a meat and potatoes family though. I did the vegetarian thing starting as a teen. Not rebellion. Education. Try it.

I was thinking about this because the other day a young fella suggested that I might be even more breathtakingly phenomenal than I already am, if I ate some hamburger. Something like that. I imagine he'd like to test his hypothesis, using me as his nearly-superhuman subject. I detect some design flaws in the methodology, but we must smile at such incidentals -- his enthusiasm blinds him. Maybe he's a little in love with me. Who could blame him. Not that there's anything wrong with it. In any case, he admires me no end, and must be wondering if it could be possible for me to be even more powerful and beautiful. I don't think it's possible, frankly. I'm awfully powerful and beautiful. Then he said that when he gets to be my age, he wishes he could beat me. I'm sure that's how I remember it. I condescendingly agreed. We must encourage our young people.

But when he's my age, I'll be closing in on 80. So I did a search to see what Jack LaLanne could do when he was 80. Y'see?

There's talk in certain circles about the genetic lifespan of humanity being 120 years. I think the evidence for this conclusion is exceedingly poor. I don't think there's any honest record of such a thing, from the past few millennia. All those ancient Russians and Turks and Nepalese are just lying about their age to gullible anthropologists. Hey, it happened to Margaret Mead, so why not? Theoretical expectations don't seem to meet real world demands.

Old age is unavoidable, if you live that long. Jack L looks really good for mid-90s, but he doesn't look 60. He looks like a pretty good mid-70s. That's two decades he's shaved off his apparent age. Pretty good. But when I accost strangers and demand that they tell me how old they think I look, the answers cluster around early 30s. I'd put it at mid-30s, but even so, that's about 15 years that my lifestyle credits to my account. Alas, these past few years have been hard on me, and time's ragged hand has marred the lotus ever so slightly. I cannot expect 80 to find me entirely unbowed.

Another young fella fights MMA once in a while. Last weekend he had a match with what he consistently describes as "an old guy." Estimates vary, but they range from 40s to 60s -- I think the "40s" was a jab at me ... old guy indeed. There's something just wrong in that picture, 20s fighting 50s. I would not pay to see it. It's like those commercials with the talking baby. Worse than talking animals. Unnatural doesn't quite hit it. Perverse. And in such a fight, there must be some part of our soul that wants the old guy to win. It's not about teams, or the underdog. It just seems like that's what should happen.

It doesn't. We get wiser, some of us, but we will never be the men we were, or might have been had we tended after ourselves properly. How can we regret sunsets, though? As much as to mourn our disbelief in Santa Claus. We pass through stages, and regret for this fact must itself be a stage through which we pass. My beauty will crumble, even such great beauty as mine, and my power will fail, unshaken though it now is. There never has been an empire that has lasted. All that remains is the land, and even land succumbs to tide. The other day I realized that all my school teachers who were in their 40s or over are dead now, or very very old.

The care we take of ourselves -- diet, exercise, morals, morale -- that's part of our character. Stewardship. Integrity isn't just about business transactions. Eat a burger? Sure. The once-in-a-while things aren't likely to do much harm, just like the passing of a moment doesn't make you that much older. But they do add up, these burgers, these moments. And you find yourself old, if not sick. Jack L says, "There are two things that people have in their lives that will never fail: pride and discipline." Well, he's a man who constructed himself out of pride. And I'm sure he doesn't mean "never". But he's a motivational speaker, and short declarative sentences motivate.

Almost everything fails. Our bodies will fail. Our intellect will fail. But we don't fail until our character fails.


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