I have a new man in my life. His name is Igor. We meet once or twice a week, and he always leaves me breathless.
"Can you count up to 10?" he asked me last time, when we had almost finished.
"Aaargh," I gasped.
"How about five?"
"Ga-a-a-ah," I groaned.
"Good," he said. "Now do 10 more push-ups."
Igor is my personal trainer. I am embarrassed to admit this because it sounds so elitist. Come the revolution, if the tumbrels come for me, I will understand why. But the truth is, half my friends have personal trainers, too. It's no big deal any more. Personal trainers are the service providers of choice for women who are transitioning from babedom to decrepitude, and hope to fend off decrepitude for just a little longer. Vanity is not our only motive. Function matters, too. At a certain point, you start caring less about how it looks than whether it still works.
I found Igor through my friend Cathy, who swears by him. Cathy is muscular and thin, as well as unnaturally energetic. She says that after a session with Igor, she can run up six flights of stairs. I'll be happy if I can just sprint for the bus. But that wasn't really why I decided to call him. I called him because one day, I looked in the mirror and saw my Grandma – a jolly, pleasant woman who was a bit stout.
"You're getting stout," I said, and picked up the phone.
Needless to say, Grandma never worried about being stout (or, for that matter, about wrinkles and grey hair). Women of a certain age were supposed to look that way. They were not supposed to dress in Spandex and fling themselves around a gym. That doesn't mean she wasn't fit. She was active all her life. She ran a house when housework required hard physical labour. In the summer, she would take her grandchildren to the lake and demonstrate her stately breast stroke. The idea that ordinary people might one day need extra exercise in order to stay healthy would have astonished her.
But that was then and this is now, and so, at Grandma's age, I'm in Spandex doing burpees. To do a burpee, you fling yourself down on a mat and then get back up. You do this over and over until you feel dizzy, and then you do some more. The only good thing about burpees is that so long as you can still get up off the floor, you know you're probably not dead.
I've been planning to get fit for 40 years. I even was fit from time to time, although it never lasted. I bought Jane Fonda tapes and watched the morning exercise lady on TV. I had a closet full of stretchy coloured straps, dumbbells and Pilates balls. I even invested in a treadmill, which wound up in the dining room, where it gathered dust and found use as a hat rack. I joined health clubs, which loved me because I was the ideal member. After plunking down a hefty nonrefundable membership fee, I would show up once or twice and never darken their door again. I thought that once I'd forked over all that money, I would have a really big incentive to get fit for life. But it didn't work out that way. I just wound up guiltier, flabbier and poorer.
When my husband and I bought a condo, I was excited because our building had a gym. It was only 20 seconds away! What could possibly be more convenient? Eventually, a year or two after we moved in, I got around to checking it out. It was fabulous. It had all the latest machines. To motivate myself even more, I bought a book called Younger Next Year and read it on my Kindle while I pedalled the stationary bike. It was riveting. It explained why I had to exercise hard and get my heart rate up – every day! – or else I'd wind up like some dead thing washed up on a beach, with crabs nibbling at my eye sockets.
I did not want to be that dead thing. I finished the book and diligently got on the bike almost every day (okay, three times a week). I felt fantastic! Then I went on vacation. I planned to start again when we came back, but somehow I never did.
Now Igor makes me ride the bike. It's not as restful as before. "Put it up to 9," he says. (I'm used to riding it on 5.) "You must be kidding," I say. He makes me pedal so hard I'm sure my thighs will self-combust. Then he makes me do more burpees. Luckily, he can't hear me swear at him because I'm out of breath.
You can see why I think Igor is a bargain. When he shows up, I have to show up, too. And I actually have to sweat. His real name isn't Igor, but I call him that because he reminds me of some sinister character in a James Bond movie who has ways of making you obey. For example, he'll find some ridiculously heavy weights and order you to do 15 biceps curls, and you'll tell him you can't, and then he makes you do them anyway, and then he makes you do 15 more. I can't decide whether it's sadistic or empowering.
Sometimes, when I'm doing curls and grunting like a wounded pig, I wonder whether Grandma is looking down at me and clucking in dismay. This is not a dignified way for an elderly woman to behave, she would be thinking. On the other hand, it's good to know I'm fending off decrepitude a bit longer. No crabs will nibble at my eye sockets. At least not yet.