I had energy and discipline, and I could eat a gallon of ice cream a week and make regular visits to various all-you-can eat establishments and still fit comfortably into my 34-inch waist jeans, regardless of how many days and nights I filled my plate chin-high with shrimp lo mein, sesame chicken, and moo goo gai pan. I could eat a family style pizza by myself, and still have room for breadsticks.
Once, I was in a restaurant in Georgia that is locally famous for a dessert that they challenged people to eat. I cannot recall the name they gave it, but imagine a combination of a banana split, hot fudge brownie, and a wedding cake and you’ll have the idea. It ran about eight dollars or so, but if you could eat the entire thing with no help, you got the dessert for free, along with a T-shirt proclaiming the achievement. Then they took your picture and put it on the wall with the others who had conquered Mount Calorie.
I was on a first date, and she took me to the restaurant after learning that I enjoyed ice cream.
“Do you think you could eat one of those?” she asked, nodding at a picture of the dessert on the menu. I literally laughed out loud.
“I tell you what,” I said. “Let’s both order one. I’ll eat mine and whatever is left over of yours.”
I got the T-shirt. For some reason, the relationship didn’t work out.
In those days, I could get away with such gluttonous displays only because I did run five or six days a week, burning most of the calories off. These days, when I dare try running even a mile or two, my knees scream like two 12-year-old girls on their first rollercoaster ride. Even if I can manage to grit my teeth and get through a short run, the next day I can barely walk up a flight of stairs without gripping the handrail in agony. I used to get a strangely euphoric feeling from running. Now, top to bottom, inside and out, the entire experience can only be described as torturous. Naturally, I do not try it very often anymore, only when I am feeling especially disgusted after establishing a new land speed record for eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, or after making my third trip in a week to one of the Chinese Buffets.
How much Kung Pao chicken can one man eat? There must be some limit, and I think I may have finally reached it. I am tired, you see. I am tired of my ever-expanding waistline. Tired of eating more than a family of four every time I have dinner. Tired of my screeching knees preventing me from getting exercise. But mostly I am just tired of being tired. Tired when I get up in the morning. Tired when I go to bed. Tired when I pick up my kids and hold them. Tired when I write a column.
For a long time, I have been thinking I would get back into jogging, but I have come to realize that it is time to give up my romanticized dreams of jogging six miles. I am opting, instead, for the tedium of the stationary bicycle. One reason I have always preferred jogging to stationary bicycles, treadmills, even swimming, is that jogging permits a change of scenery to break up the boredom. You can choose different routes to run. The weather may be different. The things you see will be different.
On the other hand — and I have recently discovered that this is a crucial factor — the stationary bike does not hurt my knees very much, if at all. Furthermore, I have discovered that if I can force myself to ride at a steady, heart-rate inducing pace, I can plug in my iPod and listen to a Beatles album and by the time it is over, I’ve had myself a pretty decent workout. I try to measure my work in terms of songs played: “Drive My Car” is a small pack of M&Ms. By the time I reach “Nowhere Man,” I’ve burned off two ice cream sandwiches. Finally, when the oh so apropos “Run For Your Life” rolls around and the album concludes, I’ve taken off a small banana split.
Rubber Soul? Maybe they should have named the album “Rubber Legs: Ballad of a Washed-Up Jogger.”