Danger is Where You Find It, So Just Look Around

I should have known I was lying when I loudly announced, years ago, that I would never, ever be caught quick or dead on a stairmaster. (This fervor had been aroused by one of the most depressing sights I’ve ever witnessed: a young woman grimly pumping away on the stairmaster while reading The Bell Jar.)

No, not me. I was going to embrace life and nature by being outside and by doing exercise I actually enjoyed like yoga and walking. No more soulless, joy-killing, sweat-soaked exercise regimens on draconian machines. No mas!

But then, things happened, such as moving to a building with an incredible gym that overlooks the river and hike and bike trail. Being a total hypocrite, I took up with the elliptical machine, the new, improved version of the stairmaster. I can read on it — and divert myself from my own suffering and everybody else’s, as long as I stay away from the Sylvia Plath.

Let’s face it, though: You can’t read anything deep while you’re on the elliptical. There are certain genres that lend themselves to pumping iron or titanium or whatever the hell it is, and certain genres that do not. So I’ve found myself madly in love with Elmore Leonard and his Raylan Givens stories recently. Then I moved on to John Burdett, whose most recent thriller set in Thailand is Vulture Peak.

Vulture Peak is the kind of novel that makes you despair about the human race, what with its human organ-trafficking and gore and betrayals. But, given the current political bloodletting and ideological savagery in this country and abroad, despair is beginning to feel like a perfectly natural reaction to just about everything.

I digress, of course. I’m always digressing, but now I’m getting worse. Anyway, the point I was planning to make — much earlier than this, but don’t quibble — was that reading this book, I stumbled across something else very disquieting. A personal soupcon of danger and intrigue.

Heaving and sweating on the elliptical machine, I was very taken with the narrator’s description of opium. Here’s this terrible, dangerous, cutthroat world — but opium softens the edges, blunts the depression, makes it all go away into a soft and dreamy haze.

The chances of my trying opium are nil, but reading about it, I could understand its appeal. It was that same dangerous glimmer of recognition I got years ago, when my family and I went on our one and only skiing trip to a resort outside Montreal. The skiing — well, you can forget that. I spent the whole day on my backside, like an ice turtle. (My husband, always the optimist, announced that he’d done quite well on the slopes. He got quieter when our daughter reminded him he’d ploughed into a fence.)

Again, who cares about the skiing? I want to talk about the danger of French-Canadian food. It was high-fat, high-carb — my own little idea of culinary heaven. I sopped up the thick gravies and sauces and breads, then moved on to the dessert line, with its rich cakes and buttery toppings. It was, maybe, my third time in line when it occurred to me that if I lived in Quebec, with its brutal winters and heavy foods, I’d be a total goner. I’d be fulfilling my ancient Indian lineage, just sitting on an ice floe, eating blubber, waiting for the sun to come up.

At this juncture, I need to say I understand the related, inherent dangers in both opium and gluttony. But why did the same mental alarm bells start going off when I recently watched an episode on HGTV, the channel that specializes in real estate buying, selling and renovation? (Admittedly, I already knew I had a bit of an obsession about real estate, but felt I was handling my little problem pretty well.)

So I sat and watched the program Curb Appeal, where people who live in pretty crappy-looking houses are saved by designers and decorators and architects who swoop in and change everything. I sat on the couch watching it, thoroughly immersed, enthralled, limp with delight. I realized I lacked the will to ever get up from the couch or change the channel. I mean, real estate pornography is my life, almost as much as carbohydrates.

Eventually, I got hungry or something and gathered the moral strength to stand up and turn off the TV, and for the past three days have gone cold turkey on HGTV. At least I know some of my weaknesses, I think: reading about opium, living in Canada, and watching HGTV.

I would say I’ll never, ever be indulging myself again — but look at the elliptical. I think I’ll keep my lip zipped this time.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)

For loosely related posts on What Women Want, please read about real estate ownership and cereal.


19 comments… add one
  • Joyce Saenz Harris Link

    The good thing is that, since you no longer have a house with curbs in front, you’ll never feel compelled to do anything to improve its curb appeal. The bad thing is that HGTV’s “House Hunters” is even more addictive and, in the long term,will undoubtedly make you extremely picky and judgmental about the nursing home that your children may attempt to move you into, someday. (“Neighbors way too close! No crown molding! Gak — would you look at those bathroom faucets? And what do you mean, I can’t repaint the walls?”)

  • Sheryl Link

    How nice that you discovered the joys (?) of the gym (this, from a fanatical gym-goer).!

  • Lovely how you tied all those subjects together. You always make me laugh.

  • Rebecca Ford Link

    If I’m sick in bed, it’s HGTV all the way for me. I just give in. (House Hunters International! Can not turn it off!!) I think there’s something about the immediate gratification so seldom found in real life of seeing some major change occur in 30 minutes start to finish.

  • It is cold and has been raining for days here in New Zealand. Now I desperately want French-Canadian food. Curses!

  • HGTV has that effect on me too. I try not to turn it on because I just lose a couple of hours otherwise. French Canadian food – I say oui to that, but only when there on vacation!

  • My husband is like a zombie (or maybe someone on opium?) when he sits in front of HGTV. I don’t understand the appeal, particularly now that we live in a tiny house in the woods with limited interior decorating possibilities and a red clay “yard” dotted with rocks that grow from the ground.

  • “Real estate pornography” — only you could put these two words together and make them work. This made me laugh. I was like you with regard to those exercise machines, until my best friend in Boston moved into a condo in a fully-equiped building and I got green with envy, having realized at 64 and 11 months that soon I will be needing one of these.

  • I do think ellipticals are probably the best of the indoor exercise equipment. It’s really not the same sensation as any of the others. Not at all.

  • Steve Link

    Would you be willing to participate in an HGTV intervention with my spouse?

  • merr Link

    I’ve only seen HGTV a couple of times, but can see the addiction factor, at least for certain shows.

  • Craig Link

    I’ll leave you the thrillers, the gym, and above all, the HGTV. I’ll take the food and the opium. To paraphrase Nancy Reagan’s pet project- Just say When.

  • I used to chide my hubby for watching Swamp People–no idea what channel it’s on but I suspect it’s somehow qualifies as ‘educational’ programming on TLC or such. Told him how silly the show was, now I’m hooked.

  • I’m a stroke survivor with left-side mobility issues. Reading your posts can be dangerous. Especially posts like this one where laughter had me nearly falling out of my chair. In the first few weeks post-stroke, just sitting had me falling out of my chair. I’m better now, and your humor is well worth the risk. It’s better than Curb Appeal and Property Virgins.

  • hilarious. I just joined a new gym last week and find myself on the elliptical watching Food Network shows about cupcake contests and greasy dive bar food

  • I never turn ON the TV to watch HGTV, but invariably land there while surfing for something to watch, and then opium-like hours pass by before I realize I’ve been watching shows about real estate.

    Re exercise, I do a mix of indoor and outdoor. This winter, I paid for 3 months at the gym and used it somewhat regularly. Now the weather’s better so I’m back outside. Well, except for this morning when it snowed here in the North Woods. Never say never.

  • At least you own and embrace your hypocrisy, Ruth. I’ve learned never to say never for the very reasons you note. But the stairmaster and The Bell Jar: Sounds like something out of an ironic indie film.

  • Jill Rivers Link

    Love your blog! I never comment, only lurk, but just have to recommend a book A Round-Healed Woman by Jane Juska. Your style of writing and sense of humor remind me of hers.
    I also like Elmore Leonard’s Raylen series almost as much as Justified. Now there’s a tv program worthy of addiction!

  • Wait. Raylin is a book series? How did I not know that? I adore justified!

    Speaking as French Canadian descendent, all of my family are quite thin and live to 100 with all their marbles. My mom says its because they are so active. I did notice how they ride bikes all the time and the hills….my god the hills.

    Quick, who wants poutine?

Leave a Comment