I am fond of my father for so many reasons. One of which is the stories he tells of his youth. Oftentimes they are informative and serve as vehicles with which to convey a message or moral, like the numerous stories of the “rodbuster” Lance Alley, who defended the honor of his wife at all costs and in all circumstances, because… well… she was his wife after all. Often they are merely a glance into his past and what sort of child he was. But some of my favorites are the ones that shed light on a certain period of time from a personal perspective. His stories of being in the seminary in the early 70’s in Berkeley are interesting to say the least. One of my favorite pieces of Americana he conveys is his youthful affinity for Jack Lelane. Now I don’t pretend to be an expert, and many readers may shiver with disgust at my explanation of a man so revered and remembered, so my apologies to those who do have knowledge of the aforementioned. But for my younger readership (or those not in possession of a juicer) he was one of the first, if not “the” first fitness guru in America. Hell, maybe anywhere. My father’s description of the mythical man always involved big baskets of fresh vegetables, lots of push-ups and doses of wheat germ oil in the morning. Apparently he was a “crazy in shape guy” (to use the youthful parlance of today.) I believe his thing was to keep a good diet and good exercise regimen. I couldn’t help but wonder what ole’ jack is doing today as my Armenian host grandfather, holding aloft the 1 kg. weights, completed numerous squats and gyrations in front of me while continually saying, “ice pesce” or in English, “like this.”
I can’t quite be sure what made my host grandfather think that this morning was any more important to my own physical health than any of the other previous 90 I have spent in his house. Maybe he was trying to raise my level of hardiness as the snow creeps down from Mt. Aragats as winter approaches, or perhaps he had noticed that I had begun refusing 4th helpings of dinner. Whatever it was, there he was, completing these strange motions with locked, outstretched arms all holding some absurdly small amount of weight. I’ve read a coupla fitness magazines and tried to mix up my work-out routine from time to time, but have never seen anything even in the universe of what he was doing. One of my favorites was when he would spread his arms straight out to his sides, squat, and complete the motion by bending at the waist, touching his chest to his knees, then returning painfully to a standing position. An impressive move for a man of well over 70 years of age. After completion of each repetition he would always hand me the weights with a look that said, “there you are youngsta, you just try and see if you can do it.” I must admit this hybrid of weight-lifting, yoga, and utterly uniformed fitness foolishness was difficult to complete. My host grandfather looked upon me approvingly, satisfied that his obvious years of perfecting this movement were all paying off now, as they must be instilling a desire in me to learn this strange new art, thus imbuing upon (to?) me the means of achieving a life of health and happiness. His look convinced me that he was certain he was extending my life expectancy by a good piece.
I, ever straining to fulfill Peace Corps’ second goal of exchanging American culture with another country, took this opportunity to show my Grandfather how we exercised in America. Grabbing a heavier weight (by that I mean maybe 5 lbs.) I began with a simple curl. My choice of exercises seemed perfect; classic and hopefully universal. I was wrong. My Grandfather looked down on me like I was a Tango dancer at a disco party. Wagging his finger and clicking his tongue, he told me that I was doing it all wrong. He grasped my elbow pulled it away from my body and upwards and told me to twist my wrist, “ice pesce.” It was definitely a difficult move, in the same way that cracking a walnut with your eyelid would be difficult, and maybe as useless.
I was under the impression that the cardio workout came before the weights, but apparently not here. The Cardio portion was a mix of jazzercise without the music and speed bag boxing without the coordination. I do not have words to explain it, only to say that it lasted a good half hour. I tried to join in but my father kept looking at me disgusted with my possession of basic coordination and motioned for me to sit down, “Ice pesce, ice pesce, spece, spece.” When the display was over my grandfather, sweating profusely through his wife-beater and Adidas workout pants told me to meet him in the living room the next morning at 8:00. I’ve been sleeping in ever since.