Ever since we had to put down our beloved dog last February, I have lost the will to exercise. Floyd, our yellow lab, was my physical fitness program as well as my religion. Rain or shine, cold or hot, snow or pestilence, I walked him seven days a week, twice a day — one hour in the early morning, a half hour in late afternoon.
Actually, he walked me for the first eight years and for the next three and a half, the roles were reversed. Toward the end, the little alarm in my head would wake me around 6 a.m. As I swung out of bed and planted my feet on the carpet, he would stay on his bed in his comfortable croissant position and open one eye. The cartoon balloon imagined above his unmovable head simply said: “You must be kidding.”
So while we contemplate the future acquisition of another dog (probably not until next spring, after some winter travel plans), I find these days that my primary exercise is grasping at straws. Hey, I can exercise whenever I want to. I don’t have to get up and out at dawn. I’ll just wait until after I have my breakfast, check a few emails and read a few newspapers. Then maybe I’ll take at least a stroll, if I have to.
A stroll is not cardiovascular exercise. But what I was doing with Floyd really wasn’t exactly cardiovascular either. It was more like stop-and-go traffic — a sniff here, a piddle there, all at the end of a leash. However, I managed to stay relatively trim. Must have been the regularity and frequency of my walks rather than their intensity.
In the first year of Floyd’s life with us, I lost 22 pounds. My doctor initially insisted this change couldn’t have had anything to do with dog walks. In his humble estimation, I must be dying. A complete physical was called for. Was the source of this weight loss a parasite? Lupus? Cancer? Tests proved negative. My outlook was positive.
My doctor eyed me suspiciously. “Well then, before you got a dog, what did you do for exercise?” Not much, I replied. Paced during phone calls. “Was that all?” Well, there certainly wasn’t any regimen. “I should tell all my sedentary patients to get a dog,” the doctor said.
Since Floyd’s death, I have gained eight pounds. I’m not proud of this. There are some eating habits I could change. For example, to me, bread and all its cousins are not the staff of life — they’re the stuff of life. I don’t like this about myself. I need a regimen. I need motivation. I need to lose something other than my will to exercise.
My wife works out at the Mansion House health club. She even has a personal trainer. But that’s just not me. Maybe I have issues with authority or equipment. Do I really need an expert to tell me what I’m doing or not doing is wrong?
Then it dawned on me. Vineyard Haven can be my dog. Where I now live gives me purpose. I can walk just about everywhere — with a to-do list instead of a leash. And the list can include: post office, bank, pharmacy, grocery stores, clothing stores, shops of all kinds, ferry, library, coffee, town hall, the Katharine Cornell, Vineyard Playhouse, the film center — not to mention assorted places to eat and meet, because obviously along the way I will serendipitously run into neighbors and friends.
All on foot. At a good clip, this should lead to weight loss, or at least some toning. I’ve discovered that I hardly use my car, which is good considering the price of gas. I just have to tell myself to run these errands every day, maybe twice a day. Until the new dog arrives.
Thirty months of being a year-rounder has instilled in me the virtues of living in Vineyard Haven. I have never lived in such an oasis of convenience. I feel like we have been picked up and placed like players in a Hollywood set, where just about every part of life is juxtaposed with just about every other. Are we in The Truman Show?
Life here can feel like a sweet blend of small town America and a European village. We are looking forward to more days of walking here.
I am in the retirement phase of my life. My goals are modest. Frankly, I am no longer trying to be the man I used to be, maybe just the weight I used to be. In fact, I am no longer searching for an honest man. But I would love to meet the lunatic who thought cinnamon breadsticks went with pizza.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.