"The morning walk"

Can’t believe I’ve let myself get beyond the point I can’t do a day of hard labor. Hard to understand, it is. At 83, I’m just not the man I used to be, yet it simply cannot be the tides of time, rather, the lack of exercise and the pounds I’ve added the last couple of years.

Katy bar the door, from 125 on my 19th birthday 64 years ago and a frame like the proverbial brick outhouse, to who knows how much, and the plumpness of a corn-fed, award-winning blue ribbon show hog down at the county fair. Yep, each morning I arises goes through my personal checklist and gives a stern scolding to my mirrored image: “lose the gut or lose the strut.” (Sure, I know, but aging never diminishes the capacity to dream.)

Oh, I’m still capable of doing that little “cock-o-the-walk swagger” most bantam roosters assume when there’s chicks around, but more often I just forget to do it, and “pulling in the gut” becomes so uncomfortable, just not worth the effort; besides the old fellow is recently married and there are certain protocols of behavior that best be honored when you’re contracted out.

Friends, family and even my bride of a few months assure me the old gentleman isn’t “fat” but they don’t see me of the morning before the flab, er, “excess” is all “managed” into my shirt and jeans and a belt firmly binds up an un-firmed up middle. The term, I do believe is “had it” not “got it.” ‘Tis only I that recalls the toned up torso that “way back when: reminded of a Greek god. The comparison of yesterday with today is discouraging to say the least.

Seventeen years ago after two bouts of coronary artery blockage and a stent implant, a cardiologist in Chico, Calif., advised walking three miles a day, which I did even after moving to Arkansas nine years ago. The more one walks the longer he lives we’re advised by the medico’s, so my neighbor up the street, Mr. Bill Becker, recently deceased, and I were on the street each morning walking, often ere dawn tinted the eastern sky. My goal to stay in shape, his to live long enough to see a granddaughter graduate from high school. Sadly Mr. Becker fell just short.

Bill was a Christian man, humble and generous, and in the culmination of an unlikely and sometime fateful series of happenstances over a period of years, I married into his beautiful and generous family.

There was a time my walk took place come hell or high water; or at least, in cold, heat or driving rain as a stubborn determination to stay toned up and in good standing with my cardiologist over at the heart center, Fort Smith became front and center.

I admit to becoming a bit lax in my daily exercises and a little soft of body ere moving here from California. Preoccupied with weeks of preparing to leave a state wherein was a 55-year investment, the walking became sporadic and the goal of 60 pushups per day fell by the wayside.

If I wasn’t “plump” upon my arrival in Crawford County in August of 2006, welst the old body was noticeably out of shape for lack of exercise, a fact that became painfully apparent during the first stress test after arriving at the offices of my new cardiologist. The treadmill stress test, which I had always owned, now was a real challenge.

If anything was needed to goad me back to action, that first stress test at the Heart Center was incentive enough. Incentive is defined as “something that incites, or tends to incite one to action or greater effort,” and there’s nothing like the embarrassment of two rather stout young ladies, one to each side, grabbing ahold of your bottom end and propelling one forward to keep him from slipping off the rear of a conveyer belt whirling along at 90 miles per hour. Swears I, whatever it takes, “ain’t ever a gonna happen again.” Note: Pride will kill a prideful man every time.

Came a time I looked forward to the challenge of the yearly treadmill test, always passing it with flying colors, confidently strutting into the doctor’s office and walking back out proud as a peacock. Regretfully a new insurance affiliation put an end to the treadmill bit, figuring one supposes, that after a certain age, heck what’s the point?

Then one day arriving for a six months check-up, I’m assigned a room, tries finding something to relieve the boredom of waiting, reads all the medical pamphlets laying about and review all the coronary charts hanging on the wall when the door opens and a medical assistant walks in with a tailors tape. Without so much as a “howdy do” she marches over and measures the circumference of my neck. No clue as to why, but the thought crosses my mind, “are these hombres measuring me for a necktie party?”

Why it’s years since I rode the outlaw trail. A relief to learn that measuring neck size is a way to check the respiratory system for sleep apnea, something of which I had never complained or imagined. Symptoms of the malady include an enlarged, or swollen throat. Then puzzles I, without some frame of reference how are these birds to know if one has an enlarged neck? I soon learn that this is simply standard operating procedure of an aggressive health management program, not only of the heart, but for the health of all those brain cells a floating around in one’s noggin, cells that depend mightily upon blood flow and oxygen levels to operate efficiently, especially important for older people like me and Hillary who may be a mite more susceptible to forgetfulness. The upshot was two miserable nights lodging at Berkeley lab over period of a month in which they hook the old guy up to more wires and sensors than one could possible imagine, gave him a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device and put him to bed. Long night. It’s not that I don’t appreciate years of first quality healthcare, but no way Jose.

Then, when it’s all over and just when ya think’s the whole episode has run its course the facility calls and invites me over for a CPAP “fitting.” I say, (rather emphatically) Hey, you people tried your best to kill me when I was your overnight guest, so no way; fact is I sleeps like a baby just the way it is and no cause for more stress on old flesh and bones than age itself has conspired to lay upon them.

Afterward, followed a suggestion of compromise with an in-mouth device fitted by a local dentist, still I decline, opting to better manage my gorgeous outward physique than tinkering with the engine’s intake, its fuel intake system, crankshaft, gears and exhaust (for want of a proper biological term) Keeping the outer side in shape I figures takes care of the inner, so here’s my feet and yonder lies the street.

One-hundred sixty pounds at 83 is a long way from a svelte 125 at 19, but I’m working on it. Trouble is, exercise alone won’t get me back to a natural weight of 152, and life style hinders. Not convenient eating in, and eating out disrupts any diet or reserve a man ever had. Order the smallest portion and it’s twice the calories a body needs, push half of it aside and there goes not only food wasted but enough greenbacks to pay half the meal.

The folks up at Cracker Barrel, and over at Merle’s Steakhouse up here at Alma, send me special events greetings, and me and the gal (the best fixer of vittles ever a man could covet) visit Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant Ozark/Webb City, so often that I’ve learned to speak fluent Spanish. Never bring me a menu or ask what I want’s they just start fetching my meal soon’s I walk in the door.

Lately the gal and I fetched some low cal, high protein, meal substituting drinks for lunchtime and have again taken to the street a “hoofing for health.” Each morning that there’s free time we load into my pickup truck, drive down to Aux Arc River Park, Webb City, and hoof it one end to the other.

Course she’s much trimmer than I, and a mite younger. Ya might say that gives incentive enough to walk myself always to 90. You bet. So, stop and chat if you happens to drive by and sees some old guy twirling a gnarled and twisted cane like a high stepping majorette twirling a baton. Always a chance he might need a lift; least, far as that little shack down t’other end of the park.