My suspicion that the national obsession with physical fitness has gone too far was confirmed the other evening when I saw a middle-aged man disengage himself from his Perrier water and start doing push-ups on the floor of a barroom. At first I thought he had merely toppled off his stool, an exercise that, while scarcely to be condoned, is at least familiar in such surroundings. But, no, this gentleman, without a trace of embarrassment, assumed the posture of the fitness freak and began propelling himself up and down, his reddening countenance aflame with superiority. I recognized the pusher-upper as the same iron-man who had boasted earlier in the day of running eight miles before breakfast, a feat accomplished, he was pleased to relate, while the rest of us layabouts were still sleeping—or sawing logs, as he deftly put it.
My gathering hostility toward him and his ilk was fed again when I read a newspaper story about a man and wife who not only jog a deux every dawn but also have found on the footpaths a religion of sorts. The man, who wears a T shirt emblazoned with the entreaty START RUNNING AROUND WITH YOUR WIFE, said, "Running has changed my life. I don't drink hard stuff anymore. I've kicked the cigarette habit. I've lost 30 pounds and joined my wife's church just because I feel so good all the time."
Bully for him. I'm happy he has found salvation in picking 'em up and laying 'em down. At the same time I wish these people would stop preaching the active life to those of us who pursue, with equal passion, more sedentary existences. Whenever someone tells me how great he feels because he starts his day with a brisk 10-kilometer run, I don't tell him about all the unhealthy people who have contributed more to civilization than a lowered pulse rate. Did Proust jog? Why, the man could hardly get out of bed. And Poe? A true valetudinarian. Or Mrs. Browning? Would we have had War and Peace if Tolstoy had wasted valuable working hours traversing the steppes in his Nikes? Michelangelo spent a significant part of his life flat on his back. The list is endless. There is substantial evidence that there have been more clear thinkers among semi-invalids than among people who do push-ups in bars.
Far be it from me to enforce vice and corruption. All things, excess included, should be taken in moderation. But the blessings of life on the run are lost on me. So, run for your life, if you want, but don't tell me about it. There are holdouts among us who prefer to spend our mornings in bed, dreaming of things we will never do.
October 7, 1979
In fact, I fear that I have reached that morbid state of mind in which I take encouragement in the infirmities of health addicts. When an acquaintance complains of a twisted knee, I find it difficult to suppress a smile. Perhaps the ultimate was reached a couple of weeks ago, when I espied photographs of our President looking near desperation shortly before giving up the ghost, as it were, in a 10-kilometer run. The man, I said to myself, has unnecessarily endangered his health trying to prove to the rest of us that he is healthy. Would Truman, a walker, have placed himself and the state of the nation in such jeopardy? I am not certain now whom I will vote for next year, but it might interest Mr. Carter to know it will not be for a jogger, because I want my President at his best, not out trotting on the grass roots.