ANTS IN THE PANTS

I gave my wife a Fitbit this past Christmas. In her attempt to reach that 10,000-step goal, she is continually checking the wristband and monitoring her progress.  The other day I walked into the living room and she was shaking her arms wildly back and forth while watching TV.  “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Very unfair…bad,” she said, which sounded just like a Trump tweet. “It only registers steps when your arms are moving. When I pushed the cart around Costco for an hour, I didn’t get any credit for my effort.  So now I am trying to fool the Fitbit.”

I was shocked by this. Mary Ellen is the most honest person in America, having nudged an entire convent of nuns out of first place. Trying to put something over on your Fitbit is about as low as a human being can go.

Now, I am one of those lucky people who can pretty much eat what I want, lounge around the house all day and not gain an ounce. How could that be?  Well, some new research in the New England Journal of Medicine may explain it.

Scientists recruited 10 overweight and 10 lean people to wear special underwear incorporating technology originally developed to monitor gyrations in jet control panels. Sensors were embedded in the subjects’ undergarments that recorded their activity 24 hours a day for a month. Apparently it wasn’t hard to get people to volunteer for this.  The very idea of having jet controls in their underwear was one of the attractions.

This apparatus is called a “movement monitor,” which intrigued members of AARP until they found out what it was really measuring. The study found that people who are thin spend a lot of time puttering around.  Apparently, we can be divided into two groups: those who love to sit and those who are constantly moving, although not necessarily doing anything constructive or aerobic—just, well…puttering around. That’s me.

My life has always been a moving experience. I eat standing up; I shake my leg up and down while waiting for appointments or having a conversation with my wife; I check my e-mail 20 times a day, going up and down the basement steps each time. I check the regular mailbox five times a day, even on Sunday.

When I watch TV, I never lounge on the couch. I use that time to look for my glasses, my keys, or my iPhone. Also, during most shows, I get up and check the fridge about a dozen times, just in case any new deli meats have magically appeared. I am the poster child for hyperactivity. In the summer, hummingbirds gather at my living room window for inspiration.

When I was growing up, my mother used say:  “If you don’t relax and calm down you won’t live as long.”

That advice gave me the jitters.

 

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MY FRIEND RICHARD SIMMONS

Richard Simmons has not been seen in public in a long time. Here is my memory of our friendship with the hope he is doing well.

It was the fall of 1983 in Indianapolis, and I remember doing the classic comedy double-take, snapping my head to the side as I looked incredulously at the cover of The Globe newspaper, one of several trashy tabloids at supermarket check-outs.

In the top left corner of the publication was a photo of exercise guru Richard Simmons, donning a sporty jogging outfit while running in Central Park. Next to him was me, at the time the new host of a morning talk show in New York, but not well-known enough to merit being identified. The caption read: “Jog with a Lover.” This was pre-Seinfeld’s “…not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but there was something inaccurate about it. Yes, we were friends, which is why reports of his absence from the public have been so troubling to me.

At the time, Richard was a cultural icon, dedicated to helping people battle obesity as he once had.  I first met him in the ’70s in Columbus, Ohio, early in his career. On my evening talk show, he chose people from the audience and counseled them on stage.  My wife, Mary Ellen, admitted later that at first she was a bit skeptical of his sincerity (was it all show biz?), but at the end of the evening she witnessed Richard, off camera, consoling an overweight teen. Both Richard and the young lady were in tears.

Two years later in the Big Apple, where I hosted an evening show called New York People, I was walking with Richard to one of his favorite eateries to tape an interview.  As we strode along Fifth Avenue, a woman stopped us and told Richard that her mother had a terminal illness and that Richard had always been an inspiration to her.  With that, he hailed a cab and sped off to the hospital to pay his fan a visit, leaving me alone on the sidewalk with an entire production crew.

In 1991 I began my 27-year stretch at WISH-TV as a morning feature reporter. That gig included what I consider to be my funniest three minutes of unscripted live TV.  Richard was making an appearance at a local mall, his plane set to land very early in the morning.  Because my segment was live, I had no way to ensure his on-time arrival during the broadcast. In my greatest stroke of luck, his limo pulled up while I sat on my front step interviewing a professional clown and a very overweight chef, both of whom had wanted to meet Richard.

When Simmons exited the car, we all broke into an exercise routine at 5:30 in the morning. Anchor David Barras completely lost his composure back in the studio, despite having several serious news stories still to report. Weeks later, I received a note from Richard: “And there we were in front of your house at 6:00 a.m. A clown, a chef and a baby beagle.  Nobody would believe this.” (Believe it. You can find it on Youtube at: WISHTV Daybreak-Laughing)

A few years back Richard agreed to write a blurb for my book of humor columns. “You’ll laugh your buns off,” he characteristically wrote. That’s the last I’ve heard from him.

I hope Richard is safe and happy.  Will all the people whose lives he has touched ever forget him?  I’d say the chances are slim.

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