Victorian Chick’s Reflections on Fitness Past and Present with Prelude about LA Private Schools

After Monday night 6:30 jazz class with Risa Asidue at HDC in Studio City. Sweaty! (And ankle tweaked plus cut from new jazz shoes so in comfort wedges for picture, Thierry Rabotin, pricey but worth it for ankle/foot issues.)

I. Fitness Autobiography from 8th Grade through Graduate School

Though I couldn’t blog Friday and will be writing a piece for the various LA branches of the Patch about Gina Gionfriddo’s phenomenally funny “Rapture, Blister, Burn” after a second viewing, I will forego preliminary remarks about her improbably great play about feminism and discuss my re-commitment to regular swimming at my SB club, along with light weight training.

Let me just note that as a former English grad student forced to endure that godawful feminist theory–the cyborg manifesto by UCSC’s tyrannical, ungenerous Donna Haraway should be force fed to prisoners, though it’s impenetrable even for a Yale English major, so the full effect of the punishment might not be felt–I have miserable memories of most that strident, one-dimensional, convoluted drivel.

Certainly, when I think academic feminism, I don’t think funny and of course feminism of a certain strain has traditionally been associated with humorlessness. (“Great rack!” may be inappropriate in some contexts but it’s not a heinous civil rights violation and might be handled like this: “I know, isn’t it fabulous!”) 

When I returned on August 3rd from three weeks in Manhattan, where I live in a 500-foot walkup on the Upper East Side and try to take as many subways as I can since cabs went up 15% not long ago, I vowed to stay in NYC shape when in LA and SB. It’s easy to be skinny and hard in the city if you can’t afford an elevator/doorman building. I dance a lot and even with higher than average booze and food consumption than in CA, I come back more svelte than when I left.

As readers of Victorian Chick know, I’ve been athletic all my life. I started studying jazz dance out of school the summer after 8th grade (1986). I was taking three to four hours of class a day at Santa Monica Dance Center on Lincoln that summer and this schedule continued until 11th grade, during which time I also studied with Hama in Venice.

Thereafter, I took “stretch and tone,” a forerunner to body sculpting, at Main Street Dance and Exercise Studio, now the second branch of Yogaworks on Montana. By 12th grade, I was teaching my own class and subbing for another teacher. I also became friendly with my one steady personal training client, a female pilot with a great Rhodesian ridgeback and a charming house on the border of Venice and Marina Del Rey.

May 1990. Tail end of aerobics craze (leg warmers)! Beth is the woman on the left, for whom I taught when she was on the road with national Rollerblade tour.

Main Street was a high point of my teen years, teaching alongside teachers 10-20 years my senior and meeting people like Michael Crichton, whose (fourth) wife, Anne-Marie Martin (Gwen Davies on Days of our Lives) brought her newborn to class in one of those baby things you sit on the floor. I want to say bassinet but what do I know? It’s like a car seat but sits on a flat surface.

Before I quit dancing in 11th grade partly because of hip pain but also because the politics at the dance studio became too stressful on top of APs and debate, I remember becoming slightly depressed in late August, knowing my glorious summer dance days were numbered. School interfered with my dance schedule and because I was compulsively studious, school was intense.

It was like a Biglaw person returning after 10 days in Europe to the grind of 70 or 75 hour weeks. I didn’t study as much as those people work, but I worked hard and was set on going to Yale pretty early on due to its legendary English department. (As college application season approaches, let me give a quick plug to early action/decision: I applied early, got in, and didn’t apply anywhere else. If your child knows where s/he wants to be, that’s the way to go.)

Some years ago, I found a daybook of mine from high school: “September 6th: Prison Begins.” Don’t misunderstand: I loved Westlake as much as anyone can love anything as a teenager. The teen years are vexed and Dad was difficult, but that wasn’t the fault of Westlake and it was a far more socially mellow and less cliquey place than Crossroads.

I had a few weeks of cold feet before 7th grade after Mom drove me to Inglewood for uniforms on Saturday from the Marina, where we lived on the CT 54 ketch Dad bought when I was a baby and named (of course) after his savior bride. For non-LA people, by WLA standards this is the hood, where Kevin Kline gets lost in Grand Canyon and then nearly robbed or worse when he takes a wrong turn in his Lexus 300 after a Lakers game with Steve Martin and his darling young girlfriend. A Biglaw immigration attorney married to the bored Claire, beautifully played by Mary McDonnell, Kline’s character lives in Brentwood and is a less noble version of the hippie turned successful family man he plays in The Big Chill. He’s singing along to Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, guns and money” and finishes the line: “The shit has hit the fan.”

Bad enough we were in Inglewood, though it was an industrial park and not at all ominous. Far worse were the Amish polyester gray skirts and potato sack light blue dresses with the overpriced, scratchy sweaters and the tacky, flimsy polyester/cotton blend button down shirts I was to wear for the next six years. (I ended up loving uniforms and it was a grave error to dispense with them in a school populated largely by kids from the 1% with a smattering of families from the 2% and then the kids on aid).

In 1984, when I began 7th grade, Westlake did not allow running shoes as an alternative to penny loafers or the hideous, rigid saddle shoes, so that was another hit. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and I heard the immortal line in “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads: “My God, what have I done?”

Half my friends were going on to the industry high school after St. Augustine (now Crossroads Elementary) attended by children of Hollywood luminaries like Steven Bochco, Bob Schiller, Gary Goldberg, not to mention Gwyneth Paltrow and Maya Rudolph (my classmates).

O is obviously next to P, prompting a friend of mine in the wake of Gwyneth's poor behavior plugging the cookbook at the Hamptons and the Twitter firestorm, "If you find yourself at a book party someday, perhaps you should change your name." This is what Catherine Oxenberg tweeted to Candace Bushnell, proposing Bushenberg as a possible alternative. Mom and I still think the "small" family bit is hilarious: as in so small you'd miss it if you blinked. The doctor thing went away by 7th grade: I hated math and science was a dull and hard with no return on investment.

Also in my class was the daughter of Lionel Stander, an actor born in the Bronx in 1908, with a legendary and tumultuous career (he was Blacklisted) from A Star is Born to Hart to Hart, in which he played the chauffeur Max in a show which had a life beyond network and syndication in TV movies (Lionel Stander on IMDB).

And because I was in production camp the summer between schools—an original musical called Babygirl Blues, written and directed by then-dance teacher and now Crossroads drama goddess, Davida Wills-Hurwin, also a successful and prolific children’s book author who wrote a film about dancers–Westlake suddenly sounded like a terrible idea no matter how breathtaking it was in its former, pre-merger incarnation.

The school I attended is gone, both physically and spiritually: the powers that be have razed most of the old buildings and poured tens of millions into an impressive campus nicer than some colleges. The performing arts center is, however, grand: off-Broadway producers and directors would kill to mount a play there if they could overcome moral compunctions and not not get caught. Sadly, due to the neighbors, it is often fallow according to teachers I spoke with at the annual lunch for alumni each May.

The first time I saw the sterile but expensive new campus, it struck me as a 2000/day loony bin, a la McClean, the celebrity mental institution in Massachusetts made famous outside New England both by Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted and its famous patients, including James Taylor and Ray Charles.

I bought a hardback the first day it became available, having read the review in the New York Times and for obvious reasons (1991 I started analysis), my memories of the book are still vivid. More people know the book because of the quite good film directed by James Mangold starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie (who won the best supporting actress Oscar). Carl Kaysen, Susanna’s father, was a tenured professor at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, though he finished out his career at MIT and the hospital catered to that sort of clientele. But the new campus grows on you; the trick is avoiding comparison to the charming old campus with Spanish architecture.

Westlake School for Girls, now Harvard-Westlake, sits on 40 acres in Holmby Hills in the Bel Air zip code 90077, some of the priciest real estate in Los Angeles. Crossroads, at 20th and Olympic right off the 10 freeway, is the most unattractive, undesirable and industrial of Santa Monica (one does not aspire to live in the 90015).

No matter how much money they dump into the facilities, it will always be unsightly by comparison to Harvard-Westlake. The new campus for my elementary school, just a few blocks away on 18th and Colorado in a lovely, large new building built to accommodate the larger student body is vastly nicer. Crossroads is a special place, though I think it’s still socially tough with more attitude than the old Westlake but not more than Harvard-Westlake.

Counterintuitively perhaps, Westlake tuition has for years–due to assiduous fundraising for financial aid–been about 20% less than Crossroads or the school Diana Meehan, my childhood best friend’s mother and wife of the wonderful and recently deceased Gary Goldberg, founded in the wake of Westlake’s closure: Archer School of Girls. I’m not sure why, though in the case of Archer, I’m sure it’s a matter of age and lack of endowment. Also, they had to buy or rent that Brentwood property which used to be a convalescent home at today’s market value, which alone would account for the higher tuition.

Harvard-Westlake has now become something of a household name: see the simply moronic Huffington Post piece about LA private schools by Sophie Kissinger, a Crossroads senior who was born and raised in the extremely expensive Rustic Canyon area of Pacific Palisades and bless her heart, runs some meditation group: Hatchet Job on LA Private Schools.

But H-W is still at 31.5K according to the recent piece in the Daily News touting it as not simply the best work environment among other educational institutions but any business in LA.  The new Showtime drama, Ray Donovan, mentions Harvard-Westlake and even the quite good American Airlines free rag did a story this summer about Phil Collins’ young daughter, Lily, a recent grad of H-W, calling it “uber-private.”

This made me laugh. To my knowledge there is no middle ground between private and public and thus no spectrum of comparison to justify the use of “uber.” It’s not “uber-private”; it’s just private. But if a writer for an airline magazine, an increasingly irrelevant journalistic forum in the age of laptops and plane WiFi, mentions it, I guess the school has accomplished its mission and achieved a name recognition comparable to Dalton in the city. I remember hearing that the merger hoped to make Harvard-Westlake the “Andover of the West.”

This is of course impossible as Andover is one of the five most prestigious boarding schools in America and H-W is what East Coasters refer to as a “country day” school. Still, it’s a deal and Facebook friends write me, “Did you know so-and-so?” I’m usually flattered as the person in question is often ten years my junior, like Jake Gyllenhall. But beyond pop culture, H-W made national headlines when football player Jason Collins, class of 1997, became the first in the NFL to come out as gay. It’s a unique and wonderful school; it just isn’t the school I attended and this goes beyond the presence of boys, the absence of uniforms and the generation gap between current kids and me, a 1990 Westlake grad.

A Brooklyn friend of mine with two kids now in college moved to Santa Monica from Miami. They looked into Crossroads but after the “mandatory donation” of 2K (which if you don’t kick in, people treat you like a pariah or miser unless you’re on financial aid) and other hidden fees, it was closer to 40K than 30K. That’s Manhattan pricing: Horace Mann, one of the “hill schools” along with Riverdale Prep, is 39K. Dalton, Brearly, Nightingale-Bamford, Fieldston are the same. And even the second tier–Dwight (which is sort of between first and second tier now) or Browning–is just as expensive. I haven’t checked Lycee recently but I have no doubt it’s comparable.

To afford 39K comfortably for two kids (78K post-taxes) in LA, you really have to be at 450K before taxes and Santa Monica High School is outstanding with great college admissions, so he and his wife sent the children there. If you try to save 10-15% of year after taxes, which fewer and fewer Americans do, you need to be making more than that. This is a common plight in WLA: a family with two children can swing one private school tuition but not two, so unless the children are not equally gifted, the family chooses to buy in a good area with a great public schools. I see this in Manhattan as well; you’re happy to pay even 20% more in rent or mortgage if it saves you a private school tuition or two.

(A widely quoted, matter-of-fact piece in the NYT from 2009, in the wake of President Obama’s proposed salary cap for executives in companies receiving federal bailout money, recently came to my attention due to a typically slanted Daily Kos piece about what 500K a year buys you in Manhattan: 500K a year in Manhattan NYT piece.

The left-wing blog either misrepresented the piece deliberately or blinded by populism, missed the point altogether. The Times is hardly a bastion of conservatism and the article merely provides a straightforward list of expenses for a particular sort of family on the Upper East Side.  As a former university-level English teacher, I feel compelled to note that this is what comes of breeding children who cannot read critically, changing “English” to “Language Arts,” and devaluing close reading. Anyone with an iota of sense would have read the line in the Daily Kos and thought, “Hmm…. that sounds a bit farfetched.”)

Still, though I could not help loving Westlake’s look, wearing these overpriced polyester outfits which might almost have double as burkas pre-alteration, with a then-pathetic drama department and not very exciting (modern) dance program, struck me as dismal. Dad of course would hear none of this talk about Crossroads, and he later told me, “My God, I was terrified you were going to become an actress.”

To Dad, being an actress is not a good thing post-Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Maureen O’Hara, Vivien Leigh and Julie Andrews among others, though he has a thing for Juliette Ormond in Sabrina, Anne Heche in Six Days, Seven Nights (beyond bizarre given she has “no knockers,” an extremely important criterion of sex appeal for my WWII father), Rachel Griffiths in the Rookie, and the blonde model in his favorite film of the 2000s, Simone.

Certainly, he did not wish for his scholarly, Yeshiva-type daughter to become an actress or performer and likely end up broke. I may have had modest talent in acting or dance but people far better than I was, or would have been had I kept both up, are in plentiful supply in Manhattan and they have day jobs at 50. The money wasn’t the point—as he ended up for a variety of reasons supporting his adult daughter whose first public school was UCSB for an M.A./Ph.D.–but for my Jewish father passionate about learning and ideas, it’s admirable to be a comparatively broke (or even failed) scholar permanently ABD; there’s nothing admirable about being a broke actress waiting on tables and “wasting one’s mental gifts” as he conceived it.

Skipping ahead to Yale, I was a gym rat, well, at least when in LA. Payne Whitney today bears no relation to that dumpy behemoth circa 1990-1995. The second largest gym in the Free World, we were told on the tour, no fastidious private school girl from LA accustomed to good clubs or gyms could enter without cringing. I didn’t row crew or play a sport, so there was no earthly reason to endure that dilapidated, 8 or 9-story structure with what appeared to be no more than two janitors for the entire facility. The cardio room, which I visited twice, was like a homeless person version of the Sports Connection, portrayed in Perfect, the fun, so-bad-it’s-good film about the LA aerobics craze in the 1980s with John Travolta as Rolling Stone reporter in hot water and Jamie Lee Curtis as Olympic swimmer cheated by the 1980 boycott.

In 1990, the summer before Yale, I became a member at the Sports Connection (jokingly referred to as the “Sports Erection” due to the meat market qualities detailed in the film) both to take yoga and use the steam room, which by then my chronic pain from intense dance, exercise and the Santa Monica stairs as well as emotional pain, demanded.

After my breakdown following an academically smashing first term, I upgraded to the Santa Monica Athletic Club, a notch down from the original SCLA on Sepulveda but preferred by many Hollywood people and Biglaw or business folks in WLA as less of a scene. It was also the site of racquetball tournaments and while less lavish, everyone loved that gym on Centinela off Olympic which eventually closed. Some members went on to the Water Garden in Santa Monica and I’m sure others built home gyms or joined SCLA.

But from 1990 to 2013, I have never not been a member of a club or gym. I joined the dreadful La Cumbre Gold’s Gym in SB (now the dreadful Spectrum!) after leaving the only good club at the time in New Haven—the plain but endearing Downtown Health and Racquet with a large Yale grad and faculty contingent.

Two years at Gold’s, even with my LA Spectrum membership during my M.A years, was more than enough and I bit the bullet of initiation (higher than it is now) at SBAC. The rest is history. I took up swimming as the cardio room was claustrophobic and dark, particularly compared to the bright, all-glass Water garden weight room with ellipticals and treadmills.

And I never much liked yoga in Santa Barbara (are we seeing a pattern here?). The SBYC just depressed me for no reason I can explain except that it’s in Santa Barbara rather than Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and populated by too many Woo Woo New Age vegan-types. I actually liked a few teachers at Gold’s as subpar as the facilities were (they didn’t even have a steam room, which reinforced my sense that I had moved to a cowtown on the beach with rich old retirees and nothing else).

I studied yoga on Montana with Chris Stein, Brigitte Kramer, Brigitte Nelson, and Rian Schumacher (who taught at the Water Garden) but only found two teachers doing Iyengar up here and when they moved away, I quit taking yoga in class and adopted a personal home practice. Swimming became my salvation from 1998 to 2007 and then after my evil landlord forbade showering at 10PM, resulting in a serious eviction threat (on the grounds that my late night showers were causing tenants to leave the beautiful postwar building with poor insulation), I took a break from swimming and the club in general.

In 2008, things shifted and by 2010 I was active, functional and moderately content for the first time since Yale (where I was never exactly chipper). Happiness is good, as Marsha Mason told James Caan in a movie I have mentioned repeated on my blog, Chapter Two. But depression is good for your ass. At least it was great for mine: no restaurants, no alcohol, no smoking, and no sun. I saved my skin a decade of aging by refusing to leave my apartment before sundown except for a one-hour Lazy Acres market run on Sunday mornings and all I drank was water and tea.

Finding a best friend in SB and eventually a social life in LA and NYC as well as the first serious local boyfriend of my life entailed a return to my lifelong love of food and restaurants, along with a consumption of wine vastly in excess of my college and graduate school years. I stayed a size 2 until the escalator accident in Easter of 2011 and while I dialed back the walking and yoga, I still fit in all of my clothes and remained at 5/8 in the 120-4 range. I have always had a flat stomach and often washboard abs as I was rigorous about sit-ups from age 14 to 36 and I think it was insurance in the bank, both metabolically and muscularly.

When, in 2011, I began to dance at Luigi in Manhattan, I started to swim again but it was sporadic. I went up to a size 4/6 and now have lost a little and certainly toned up, but I’m no longer a size 2 stick, which brings me to the practical part of the blog.

With Francis Roach, co-artistic director and teacher at Luigi Jazz Centre

II. Post-Depression Exercise and Summer 2013 Commitment to Stay in NYC Shape Year-Round.

Not Gumby like I used to be but getting more flexible, arabesques getting higher too.

As I noted above, I always return from NYC in great shape. Even days I don’t dance or snag a pass at the Equinox or more recently, New York Health and Racquet, I’m on the subway and scaling the stairs to the 4th floor studio in an 1897 brownstone.

But it’s easy to be a slug in Southern California. Missing Persons famously sang, “Nobody walks in LA” and Dale Bozio and company were right. Until discovering JillyJazz in Venice, two months ago, and returning to Hama’s studio now in Studio City a year ago and commencing private lessons a few times a month with Risa Asidue, the manager at Hama Dance Center, I only danced once a week in LA. SB has no jazz dance unless you count hip hop, which you shouldn’t as it’s not jazz. (Along the same lines, study minority poetry post-WWII all you like: just don’t call that English and get a B.A. after four years which leads people to believe you’ve read Chaucer and Milton. I have no problem with hip hop but don’t appreciate a hip hop class billed as jazz on a schedule.)

I’m not an Afro-Brazilian kinda gal so the Goleta guy everyone loves isn’t going to work for me. And I don’t have a partner so I can’t go to our outstanding Leslie Sack for ballroom. Leslie is a Berkeley English grad who left to dance in Australia, the international hub of ballroom (think Strictly Ballroom) and while I would like to study ballroom, it’s still not Luigi or Fosse or Jack Cole jazz. Maddeningly, Santa Barbara is a great town for ballet, both as a spectator and a student, but if you do jazz, you’re screwed.

So six or seven months a year, my only option is the club or walks on the beach, which is lovely but inefficient and without weights, not enough. I don’t hike: it’s dirty and dusty and hot. I don’t bike, as I grew up on a  hill off Sunset and even my anti-helicopter mom would not have me bicycling near Dead Man’s Curve (Evans Road and Sunset, a private road in Pacific Palisades where Sam Wanamaker and at one time Arnold Schwarzzeneger, lived). Only a parent without regard for his or her child’s safety would permit her to ride from our hill into the Palisades village. I therefore never owned a bike after toddlerhood (a training wheels baby bike) and while Dad did teach me at 12 in an hour how to ride, I’ve never been on a bike since and have no desire to do so.

For years, I did cardio machines about at least 45 minutes five or more times a week. And my one year living in Berkeley College in the worst winter of the 1990s—1992-3–my parents bought me a Nordictrack. The only thing I could bear at Payne Whitney was the indoor running track but sometimes even that, in the snow, was too much trouble.

I left LA after 18 months in analysis in August of 1992 about 125 and 5/8 and returned for Thanksgiving ten pounds lighter. Mom was fairly shocked when she picked me up from LAX but living on the fourth floor, eating three rather than two meals a day, and hopping on that machine which made me sweat profusely within five minutes, shaved off ten pounds without even trying.

August 1991 but it looks more like my 1992 post-return to Yale incarnation.

I loved being skinny! I was always slender but being runway thin without looking emaciated was a rush I still remember quite viscerally. I remained 118 until 2008, only getting to 122 in 2010 and the best account I can find of how empowering it is to be really thin and tight is Purdue English professor Kathleen Rooney’s exemplary memoir published by a university press, Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object.

The book draws on literature, art, criticism and some theory in chronicling Ms. Rooney’s job through graduate school posing nude for artists and their students. Rooney wasn’t in Playboy or Penthouse so she didn’t make a lot of money compared to commercial nude models at the top level.  Art model was her only option, frankly. At my height with no tits, neither would have considered her and her hair wasn’t thick enough for nude modeling which has the same hair standards as porn. The (to me) depressingly young Rooney is highly accomplished, author of several books and founder of Rose Metal Press. [Ed. note: She just published a debut novel after a flurry of nonfiction and poetry, along with the memoir, about which you can read here: O, Democracy! on Rooney website.]

The provocative subtitle fairly jumped off the shelf at Chaucer’s Books. One of my enduring gripes with Second Wave feminism, a la Camille Paglia, is the idiocy of the anti-porn movement and more generally the feminist tendency to devalue the power of beauty. I don’t watch porn and some of the violent stuff is admittedly distressing.

But Catherine MacKinnon and her ilk find even the soft-core stuff is destructive and I can’t help feeling that the women who object most to objectification are those least likely to be objectified. I realize there is more to it but the most tiresome writers are clearly unhappy (think Andrea Dworkin) and seem to write from that place of personal discontent, as though their misery is generalizable (and normative). Only a stupid and likely unpleasant woman fails to understand that male attention centered on her body and face is very pleasant. A smart woman understands how to mobilize or harness her looks, maximizing the mileage this fleeting but perhaps decades-long gift provides.

Now, legitimate sexual harassment and intimidation—not locker room talk in the office kitchen or innuendo about your great rack or ass—is wrong. But as one who only got tits at 39 with a 13-14 pound weight gain after an accident, which accounts for their perpetual perkiness, and regularly receives good-hearted jokes and compliments on this natural and thus free new rack, I can say I’m thrilled and that I love my augmented chest, even if it came with some undesirable curves in the lower body.

The bad or at least annoying kind of feminist seemingly has no sense of humor and just as bad, no playfulness about her sexuality. If one has to bear agonizing pain at the monthly shedding of blood, along with hormone headaches and occasional puking, muscle spasms and exhaustion (apart from the inconvenience of bleeding and the inevitable dry cleaning bills from leaks) when one has no interest in motherhood (which is totally unfair), at least one should enjoy the upside side of being a girl. And what could be nicer than perky tits without the stretch marks that come from age and/or children?

I adore Rooney’s allusive and heavily annotated memoir. Unfortunately, some people know her only because Senator Durbin (D, IL) fired her both for not devoting sufficient time to her duties as aide—a minor offense as she has more brains in one limb than most of the other interns likely working with her—and writing autobiographical essays or thinly veiled fiction about goings on in the office, in my view a more serious offense.

At one point, Rooney writes, “My skinny is me,” a line I made a blog title some two years ago. Any woman who has been a size 2 understands the sheer power one feels achieving or maintaining something which some women—no matter how hard they work—simply can’t swing due to bone structure and genetics. But I am happy with my body as it is. Yes, I would still like to be 5-7 pounds lower than I am and I think by Christmas I will be as I’m working hard in the pool and in class and also doing light weight training a few times a week at SBAC. I used to walk at Montecito beach regularly and it’s so lovely there year round, there is no reason I can’t swim in the morning and stroll along San Ysidro Lane at twilight.

The Saturday morning crowd is different from the weekday afternoon crowd and still again from the after 8PM group. I met several interesting women my age I hope to see again. A serious swimmer who is a dead ringer for the bald surgeon who played Laura Innes’ nemesis on ER generously explained a new machine which is like a bike for the upper body, on which you can either sit or stand. A man in a MIT sweatshirt in his mid-60s asked me if I liked the club and I said I’d been a member since 1998.

He took that as an endorsement and I reiterated that there is only one acceptable club in SB, all the more if you live in Manhattan and work out at the Equinox. He lives in the upper teens and Broadway and he and his wife are building a second home here in SB. I saw his Mercedes key and great old Cartier or Rolex and assured him, without being too obvious about it, that he would hate every other club in SB.

Saturday mornings around 10 is clearly where some of the hardcore weight trainers come. The 40-year-old mother of two in elementary school was hauling a 70 pound bar up and down the stairs from the lower to upper weight rooms. This was a “light day,” she explained, as she did fewer lunges than usual. She’s more muscular than I am but still feminine and beautiful. She’s hardcore, the way I used to be but not about weights.

But you don’t need to torture yourself with Crossfit, boot camp, or spinning (a cult workout reincarnated as Soul Cycle in LA and NYC, at which teachers yell at you, which just doesn’t work for me as the daughter of a man prone to yell until his last decade of life). Ideally, you just need to find two workouts you love and do some combination of the two four to five times a week.

Yesterday after swim and weights.

I could be more ripped and slightly thinner in the lower body but I’m happy with my body now and don’t intend to reduce my intake of wine, learn to cook or stop enjoying restaurants. But the club has healthy salads and sandwiches and I’m happy to eat those more often than I have been.

It doesn’t take a lot to walk gently for 20 or 25 minutes on your off days and it really does make a difference to keep active. You burn more when you’re exercising and if you’re overweight, you need to kick start your lagging metabolism. I didn’t much cross-train at my swimming peak, except yoga and some twilight beach walks in Montecito, but some people find that doing only one form of cardio results in a plateau. And leaving aside the colonics, which I was disturbed to learn bear little relation to an enema (they’re far worse), there is no need to get crazy like Gwyneth Paltrow, alas, has since her beloved father Bruce’s death.

I haven’t seen Gwyneth since 1984 and we were not, other than my 2nd grade birthday party, friends out of school. I don’t think she was truly cuckoo until relatively recently. I remember reading an interview in 2011 about her workouts and diet and it wasn’t that extreme for a woman who makes her living in part off her looks. It was more Cooking Light than some wacko 1% vegan diet and she claimed to be working out 90 minutes a day five days a week (45 minutes cardio, 45 minutes sculpting).

But after reading up on colonics, along with her latest stunt at the Hamptons, I find her conduct and lifestyle deeply sad, even with all that money. I get that celebrities give their children bizarre names but Apple and Moses? Really? Nothing I could say would be worse than the terrible press she seems almost to relish and provoke deliberately, but I think part of the problem is that she’s simply not very bright. Our class was particularly gifted, but she’s just not very interesting apart from her talent, which I think is considerable. And clearly Bruce’s death left her bereft.

So without getting Gwyneth Paltrow about fitness, to stay or get in good shape, you need to be doing four or five days of cardio a minimum of 30 minutes with two of those days in the 45-50 minute range. Three times a week or so you need to be doing 20 minutes of rigorous muscle work (body sculpting, weight training, Pilates etc). As long as you don’t eat like a horse and remember that as you age, your metabolism goes down the tubes and you must eat smaller and more frequent meals (no fewer than three), that should do it. Of course if you’re very heavy and/or a slow metabolism, you have to take extreme measures, whether it’s Shakeology or some version of the Johns Hopkins Medifast liquid diet. That food is putrid and a last resort in my view. If you’re Chris Christie fat, then surgery might be in order but that will be useless unless you change your lifestyle.

Once you’re at or near your goal weight, a reasonable and regular mix of cardio and muscle work should be enough. People make excuses about exercise, time and money among the most common. If you live in a place with good weather, you don’t need a club, but it’s nicer to be a member of a place with granite counters, immaculate steam rooms or saunas, a healthy cafe with wine and beer, and a good pool. My SBAC dues seem to have gone down: I pay only 122/month for the non-primetime membership, which allows me to work out anytime except Monday through Friday from 4PM to 8PM.

Among the many reasons my St. Augustine classmate incurs such wrath is her Romney-like tone deafness with respect to money. I’m aware that I grew up amidst great wealth, though my parents were government lawyers who were lucky to buy in the Palisades in 1974.  I personally would not dream of having a child in my financial situation (a renter at 41 with no career), but of course families of four live on my income: I simply choose not to live a life of financial struggle. Without children, I can budget and live a nice life on my fixed income. My assumptions about money, lifestyle, and private schools are not consistent with middle class Americans, but unlike Gwyneth, I try to acknowledge that this is where I’m coming from: I can’t very well pretend to be a suburban Nebraskan who attended public school and never knew an actress, hedge funder, or Biglaw partner of note.

And re Gwyneth’s cooking, I always thought part of the point of having money was not having to cook (eating out or hiring someone for that), but I know some people with lots of money who enjoy cooking. They do not, however, cook daily. More to the point, eating as she suggests in this farkakte new cookbook of hers, which she plugged at that party in the Hamptons in such a way that Twitter exploded with bilious anti-Gwyneth sentiment, would cost 300 dollars a day for a family of four. This isn’t feasible even for the 2%.

Gwyneth continues to deny that her books are ghost-written. I’ve not read them and maybe she’s capable of writing a cookbook, but again, Gwyneth doesn’t–then or now–exactly floor you with her acute perceptions or piercing insight.  Unlike so many in our class and school went on to do, she doesn’t write anything except cookbooks, so I’m inclined to believe the New York Times on this one. I think if Bruce had lived to a normal age, say 70 or 75, she’d be less cuckoo. And perhaps if she were a bit brighter or deeper, she’d handle megastardom and the wealth that comes with it more gracefully than she has.

I drive past the Tracy Anderson gym on Ventura every Monday on the way to dance class. Apparently the base membership is 500/month. Now that is a lot of money, but I feel fairly confident in asserting that most people using money as an excuse for not getting fit can find 122 dollars a month for a gym. I will also wager that many of these people drop 100 a month on Starbucks lattes and other fancy coffee drinks and think little of multiple meals a month as 30 a head. But even the Equinox is 180 in Manhattan (240, I think, to use any Equinox) and the full membership at SBAC is around 150 a month.

Time is a better excuse and unfortunately, the most efficient workouts—Pilates on the machine—are expensive. But they still make NordicTracks and anyone who wants to lose a truckload of weight would do well to find a basic, old model on eBay. The pounds will fly off, though you have to be careful not to strain your hip flexors and shoulders. But someone who wants to get fit can buy an affordable piece of cardio equipment and watch TV or a movie while walking or stepping or cycling at home.

If you can hack it, aerobics is an option and most gyms, including ones I wouldn’t consider entering, have low impact or step options. As a last resort, which could actually be kind of fun and retro, you could find Jane Fonda tapes. And there are all kinds of home videos for purchase, from that Brazilian Butt whatever (which a friend of mine wants to order in lieu of porn) to the various Stop the Insanity and Beach Body tapes.

Finally, if time is an issue, a busy person who manages to find time for FaceBook or Twitter, can dial it back on social media. The Stanford student in her underwear at the beginning of Social Network was right: FaceBook is a time-gobbler. It’s integral to my life, blogging and attempts at making a living so for me it’s a combination of personal and professional. But staying off Facebook a few days a week or limiting usage to a quick check-in gets you back hours which can be spent getting in shape.

When I floated the time/money theory by FB friends, a good friend said that really, it’s about discipline. Well, I’ve never been short on discipline, whether mental or physical. My father is the embodiment of willpower, so I can’t much speak to that. I don’t like errands and logistical stuff and I don’t clean (I think people who grew up with help tend not to be fabulous at things others did for then but one can dispute this). But when it came to school, through the writing of my dissertation, or my body, whether dancing, teaching, swimming, practicing yoga or doing cardio machines and weights, I have been naturally disciplined.

If discipline is a problem, the obvious solution is–if you can’t transform exercise from a chore or punishment to a reward or pleasure–to spend a little extra money on a beautiful club which makes it feel post-workout like a mini-vacation with a nice spa area and juice bar. I don’t cook but if I had to choose between eating out daily at least once and a club, I’d just buy Lean Cuisine and go to the Whole Foods salad/hot/cold bar at 7.99 an ounce and reduce my restaurant bills. It’s all a matter of priorities. Saturday I enjoyed my quinoa and veggie salad with cilantro dressing very much and while I wouldn’t want my entire diet to consist of this, a few lunches a week it’s fine.

8.50, SB Unified School District caterer. SB health department, a bunch of communists, shut the club cafe down on the grounds of insufficient sink space, then bullied management with threats of closure if it did not comply.

Chances are, you’ll feel so much better and happier, not least because you look so much better, that you will at some point begin to love being fit. I don’t care about the number on the scale but I am very happy that a dress which didn’t quite fit 5 weeks ago now fits fine and will fit better in a month when I shave a bit more off my ass. A great terror of mine is waking up with Kim Kardashian’s ass in some evil terrorist attack which somehow zaps your backside. Equally horrific would be an invasion of the brain snatchers.

Below is a dress on clearance at the Cottage in Pacific Palisades by Fluet (they start at 250), which I wore to Circle Bar B for a farce about golf, very light and silly but fun: Fox on the Fairway. Of course I nailed myself with the tri-tip dinner and will spend that much dry cleaning, but as J put it, I’m “spill-y.” My father said the same thing, routinely inquiring how long it would take me to spill “pizza juice” on a new garment. I’m better than I used to be and this is not Circle Bar B attire, but I still haven’t taken the clothes from the trip to the cleaners, so I tried it on and it fit! 

I was going to give it to my ballerina niece in 8th grade if I couldn’t make it fit but I’m so happy as I love the color, lining, fabric and cut. It’s short, in fact, shorter than anything I wear at this stage of life.

But I think the elegance of the fabric and cut keeps it from being, in the words of my boyfriend’s 4th grade son after seeing me try a belly dancing top for dance class made by his great-grandmother just 4 foot 8 inches, “skanky.”

I love it with these shoes, also from the Cottage, and the bag I bought in the city at the going out of business sale on 56th and 6th. Total tab for the outfit: 25 (dress), 95 (shoes), 65 (bag), 58 (glasses, Vintage Persol from Wendy Plumb’s store). I never knew how versatile a charcoal or battleship gray purse could be, particularly when there is a brown instead of black strap.

I have a few dresses and slacks I will never get into–true 2s–and that’s okay but if you love clothes and you have stuff you couldn’t re-buy even with unlimited funds, it’s very nice to get into your old clothes!


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