But Pilates seemed to be almost exclusively about that midsection-er, core. What about my outlying regions? Amid all this monkeying and towering and seal-like flipper clapping, shouldn’t I do some exercises that just tested and developed my arms and legs? Like squat thrusts or bench presses?
I found Ari, and added a weekly session with him to my weekly session with Cathy. He worked out of a Spartan two-room exercise studio downtown. While Cathy was a font of the chirp and chatter on which dental hygienists once maintained a monopoly, Ari was a wellspring of the imperturbable calm associated with Buddhist monks. When I cursed him the way I had cursed Aaron, he didn’t shout back at me. He just shook his head slowly, radiating regret over the negativity that coursed through me, over how it separated me from the nirvana I might otherwise know.
He talked incessantly about the value of a good deep breath and told me to feel things in the back of my eyes. Sometimes he made me do exercises while keeping a mouthful of water that I was forbidden to swallow. It was a way to prevent me from panting-from wasting all of that precious breath.
But I was there for more than a respiration tutorial, and Ari obliged.
He made me pretend that I was Spider-Man and that the wood floor was the side of a skyscraper. I had to make my way across it on all fours, moving sideways and fleetly, my knees never dropping, my arms and thighs tensed, my butt held high. This supposedly tackled some half dozen major muscle groups at once.
He made me pretend that I was a frog, crouched but not too crouched, leaping in a forward direction for the length of two rooms. This supposedly worked wonders on my “glutes.” I wasn’t entirely sure what or where my glutes were, but I trusted that mine could use significant improvement.
For Ari I jumped rope, about two hundred time per session. At first I could only accomplish this in 50 –jump segments, but I eventually worked my way up to 125 jumps in a row on a good day. I’d be winded at the end, and sometimes even dizzy. I relished dizzy. Dizzy, I figured, was worth three to four more ounces more of lamb shank that I really had to eat. Dizzy was my get-out-of-love-handles-free card.
For Ari I also did push ups: on a big soft ball; on a small hard ball; with each hand wrapped around one of two handles places three feet apart; with my feet elevated on a short stepping stool; with my feet elevated on a taller stool.
Sometimes I even smiled when I did them, or laughed.
“That’s not the usual reaction,” Ari said to me once.
I guessed not. But was the usual person as stunned as I was that I could get through twenty push-ups and be ready for another twenty just a minute and a half later? That I had made it to this point?
A whole wall of one of the rooms in which Ari and I did our workouts was mirrored. I couldn’t avoid myself. But that was okay, because I didn’t really recognize myself, either. The man staring back at me wore a light gray tank top, which left his shoulders and upper arms exposed, and it didn’t look ridiculous or pointless on him, because his triceps and biceps had some minor definition. The tank top was perhaps clingier than wisdom would dictate. It had nothing to hide the way his midsection quivered when he jumped rope. But his cheeks and his chin- they didn’t quiver, not even when he whipped the rope around and pushed off the floor as fast as he could.
I put Ari in charge of the Men’s Vogue shoot. I knew a few of the top editors at the now-defunct magazine, and top my amusement they had asked me to write about staying fit while eating for a living. They had also asked if, to illustrate the article, they could photograph me while I exercised. They promised to obscure my face or crop it out of the picture, so that I wasn’t giving chefs and restaurateurs an easily accessed up-to-date picture of me.
Ari and I prepped for the shoot, devoting a half hour of one of our weekly sessions to figuring out which of the many exercises we routinely did would give me as streamlined a silhouette and as seemingly winnowed a waistline as possible.
“What about the one where I put my feet on the ball, my hands on the bench, and make a bridge of my body?” I asked Ari.
“If you can finally get your body into a straight line, that’d be good,” he said.