Pumping up for health, not sex appeal -- no, really, just ask the pickle jar

Family Matters

September 26, 2004|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

I STARTED LIFTING weights. But not for the reason you think. You think I want to look "cut" and "ripped" and have bulging muscles like the ones on male underwear models who, for some reason, are always shown posing outdoors, looking sullen, as if a group of even more-muscular models stole their pants.

You think I want to have muscles like that so women will look at me and think: "Wow! I would like to see his syndicated column!"

But you are wrong. I'm lifting weights for sensible medical reasons, which I learned about from the highest possible medical authority: the Internet. If you ever experience a medical symptom, such as itching, you don't need to waste time sitting in a doctor's waiting room reading 1997 issues of Redbook. Instead, you can go to the Internet, and with just a few mouse clicks, you'll discover the reassuring truth: There might be a worm in your brain.

Really. According to a medical site called Medline Plus ("Trusted Health Information for You") sponsored by The National Medical Library and The National Institutes of Health, itching can be a symptom of a condition called "visceral larva migrans" (literally, "a worm in your brain"). And before I get a bunch of nasty letters from irate physicians attacking me for unnecessarily scaring people, let me note that another symptom of brain worm is -- and this is a direct quote from Medline Plus -- "irritability."

But getting back to weightlifting: I found out from the Internet that when you get to be my age (old), you lose bone density and muscle mass. This alarmed me, because I never had any muscle mass to begin with.

Men: You know how, when your wife can't open a pickle jar, she gives it to you, and you're supposed to smile in a manly patronizing way as you effortlessly twist it open? That's not what happens in our house. What happens is, after a grim struggle lasting several minutes, I wind up lying on the kitchen floor, exhausted and whimpering, while the pickle jar, unopened, laughs and flirts boldly with my wife. Sometimes it gives me a wedgie.

I've always been puny. As a youth, I totally missed the boat to Puberty Island. It sailed away with all my classmates, leaving me standing on the dock. When it returned, down the gangplank came tromping all these young adults between 6 and 8 feet tall, sporting muscles and beards and bosoms (sometimes all three). Whereas I was still this little hairless dweeb with a voice in the Pinocchio range.

It was a difficult time for me, but one day my mom, bless her heart, had a talk with me. She told me that girls were not interested only in looks -- that the qualities that really mattered were brains and a sense of humor. That little talk was long ago, but it taught me an invaluable life lesson I have never forgotten: Moms lie when they have to. The truth is that -- and I speak here as a trained humor professional -- women are definitely more interested in muscles than a sense of humor. You will never hear a woman say: "I wish Brad Pitt would put his shirt back on and tell some jokes!"

But let me repeat in a nondefensive manner that this has nothing to do with why I'm lifting weights. I'm doing it for mass and density.

Is my weight training working? Consider this: After just one week of lifting, I can no longer move my arms. I feel as though oxen have been clog-dancing on my upper body. I have to brush my teeth by holding the toothbrush still and moving my head up and down.

The problem is that weights -- follow me closely -- are heavy. When you lift them, your muscles hurt, which is your body's way of telling you: "Stop lifting weights, moron!" (Or, in some cases: "There's a worm in your brain!")

But I'm making progress: This very morning I "bench-pressed" a total weight of -- and here, to make it look more impressive, I will use the metric system -- 4,082,331.33 centigrams. Lying on my back, I was able to lift this weight into the air, then bring it back down onto my chest, thus completing a "bench press."

Unfortunately, I couldn't get the weight back off my chest. Seriously: I was trapped. My wife had to come rescue me. She thought it was very funny; I heard her laughing all the way back to the kitchen. I bet the pickle jar was laughing, too. I will kill it with a hammer, if I can ever lift my arms again.

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