This week I started a new exercise program based on a book called 'Age-Defying Fitness." My program has nothing to do with the first of the year or any kind of resolution; it doesn’t. You either believe me or don’t; I’m not dwelling on it. And you should know that I exercised before buying this book, that I have walked for years but did so without monitoring my heart rate, and that with this new program I’m monitoring my heart rate; and I’m also lifting weights. Small weights but still they’re weights. I’m starting with ten pounds and doing things like chin lifts I think they’re called and flexion somethings. And abductions. Some of the time I lean on a chair; some of the time I sit in a chair while I lift. I’m overweight, little paunch, need to lose some weight. I read about this book in the "New York Times" late last year and decided that I needed to lose some weight.
This morning went fine even though I did scare a cat with my breathing. Breathe out when you lift, the book said. I alternate this weight thing with time on a treadmill—that huge Vision Fitness thing sitting in our living room—which is where I monitor my heart rate. On the treadmill, in the living room, alternate days. I think I’m already in decent shape except for my weight, because yesterday, Thursday, on the first day on the treadmill, I never reached my target heart rate even though I was walking at three miles per hour for thirty minutes. I never got my heart rate above 105. I’ll probably have to boost the speed and the time. But I don’t want to go much faster than three miles an hour because I don’t want to fall. That's right; I'm not athletic.
None of this has anything to do with Ted Turner; it doesn't. Ted Turner stood up at our class reunion and said that he liked being with his old McCallie friends and that we all need to stay alive so that we can do a reunion again in five years, our fifty-fifth McCallie reunion. Ted mentioned that weight-lifting thing specifically. Work your upper body, Ted said to all of us at the dinner. And I’m sure that Ted did not mean to imply that any working of the lower body was pretty much out of the question, absent a little blue pill, given the grayness and stooped pallor in the room. No, I think he meant simply that we should all exercise, come back in five years, look prosperous, shake his hand.
Okay Ted I’ll exercise. Ted, if I exercise will I ever have any money at all? Will exercising energize that part of me that has never understood how to make money? The way that you and many of my classmates have made money?
I don’t mean to be rude. I’m out of sorts. I didn’t sleep well last night; it could have been the exercise.
Here’s the truth: I think that Ted knows that it’s all bullshit. Middle of the night on his Montana…on one of his Montana ranches, the whole state could be his ranch…but in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep and his mate won’t join him downstairs, and he’s in the grand hall of his lodge or whatever, and he’s just sitting alone, looking up at the buffalo heads on his wall, or the deer heads, or fish heads, or maybe corporate heads, models, you know, models of the heads of fellow moguls he has taken down in his business dealings; and I don’t know who they are. Steve Case? Levin? Somebody Lewin? Bring me the head of Sumner Redstone, of Rupert Murdoch. I don’t know. But in the middle of the night Ted knows that it’s all bullshit. Money. Bullshit when you’re alone in the middle of the night and your mate won’t come downstairs.
That’s just a guess. Oh, of course it is. I’ve never spoken with the man. I didn’t speak with him when I was at McCallie in a class of one-hundred or so in the 1950s, and I didn't’ speak with him at the reunion last year. What the hell could I say?
And there, just that. You see what I just said? "What the hell could I say?" What could I say to Ted Turner? What could I mean by that? As if my life meant nothing. No, I don’t have much pride about my acting; but, look, I drove a cab; I managed an apartment building; I was in the army. I was a book buyer in a store in Evanston, Illinois when I was nineteen. I was a publisher and editor of a magazine. I worked on the labor gang at Republic Steel. I have two great children, three grandchildren; I married two great women.
But in the face of all that goddamn money at the reunion, and not just Ted’s—there was a man who owns all the convenience stores in east Tennessee, another guy owns a New York brokerage firm—I’m nothing because I have no money. Why would I say that? What is that?
I’m not proud of what happened to me at the reunion, not proud at all. What could I have said to Ted Turner? Is that the question? I could have said that I have had a life, and I could have said that it takes something to make it as an actor. You know? It’s tough. Hey, Ted, you know about tough, and the middle of the night? Well, so do I.
Even after people came up to me and told me that they had seen me in this or that on TV or in movies I still felt out of place. And I had written a piece that had been sent to all of my classmates, a piece about why I was going to the reunion despite my fears, and was complimented on it. "I laughed; I cried," they said. Still, at McCallie, at the reunion, and this is what I mean, at this prep school reunion in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I was in this world of a certain kind of accomplishment; I was in this world of what was expected of McCallie boys. And I wasn't it.
The jacket I wore was too heavy for the climate of Tennessee in September. I drank the wrong water at the luncheon, water belonging to the wife of a board member. “Honey," she said to her husband, "Somebody drank my water.” “Oh, sorry. That was me. Here, let me get you some more,” I said.
And I carried this bag, this shoulder bag to the luncheon, big old khaki thing, and couldn’t find a place to put it near the chair at my table, so I leaned it against a platform, little stage, about ten feet away from my chair, without noticing that there was a lectern on the little platform and without realizing that at this lectern all the awards would be given and people would speak, the headmaster. All the people in this big room looking at the little stage. And that a screen would descend and this evocative—I guess would be the word—film would be shown of McCallie’s history, sound track of Irish whistle, a guitar, drum. People in the room are crying. There’s my khaki bag leaning against the platform under the screen. Jesus, like a steamer trunk.
Jesus. Him, too. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The school motto. No, not really; not for me. Such elaborate and practiced prayers. "Father God…." Where do I look while they're praying? Is it too late for some kind of megawatt epiphany? I’d like to belong.
There was an opportunity, I guess. At the dinner I was asked to read my piece, the reunion piece that I published here before going. I wouldn’t. Because I thought it was like acting, and I didn't want to act anymore. But, God, if I had read the thing and thrown in some of my acting moves I would have gotten some laughs and my ego might have gotten some strokes as we used to say. But, no, I’m a writer, I said, not a public speaker.
I think that I wanted to go my reunion as an observer, a writer, stay objective the whole time; but that didn’t happen. The film and the Irish whistle, that music, the guitar, the drum, images in the film from McCallie history, the campus itself, the buildings that I remembered. That goddamn film with its voice-over, McCallie boys and men talking about the school and singing the un-singable school song. The film, the music, the Irish whistle, the drum and just like that I was a McCallie Boy again, one who hadn’t made it because I’m not a rich, conservative Christian or simply rich. That would work, too.
I told you that I wasn't proud of what happened to me at the reunion.
After the dinner, I rode back to the hotel with a cardiologist and an orthopedic surgeon, McCallie boys. Both of these men were retiring they said. And I thought, Why are you retiring? It’s not time to retire yet. Aren’t we still young? Shouldn’t we be heading to the dorms? How soon is lights-out? How are your grades? Well I know you’re doing fine. You’re both very bright. Regimental commander for God’s sake and a lieutenant. Why are you retiring? We’re just boys. I don’ t know what I want to do yet. I might try acting. But I've been told that it's such a goddamn silly thing. Writing is more of a test, rewarding, I think. But I need to be in shape for writing. Don’t you think? Oh, my heart is fine, I think. Sure, it’s fine. But I broke my tibial plateau, right leg, twice. Bad bones. Doc put me on Fosamax, but that stuff will rot your head. No, really, I was talking to an oral surgeon; it’s called, some kind of necrosis, osteonecrosis, I think…. I live in an apartment, my wife and I and our cats. In Sherman Oaks, California. In the San Fernando Valley. Why are you retiring? I’ve just started to learn; I’ve just discovered what I want to do in life. I want some time. I need a few more years. Got to get in shape, lose some weight, exercise…Oh, yes, here…Thanks for the ride. Lights out in fifteen minutes. Don’t forget. Be in your rooms. Don’t forget. In your beds. Don’t get caught in the hall; don’t get caught. Good night. Take care. ###
5 January 2007