"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Old Age And The Law of Diminishing Returns

I have what is known as ‘Frozen Shoulder’, a painful ailment of unknown or undisclosed origin which limits range of motion.  One day you are free and easy with the box of Cheerios on the top shelf and the bottle of milk in back of the refrigerator, and the next a Sicilian is jabbing a stiletto deep, hard, and down into your shoulder. The good news is that this condition is temporary and completely reversible.  The bad news is that the only way for this restoration to take place is three months on the rack – a stretching of the shoulder capsule and the ligaments that support it to the limits of pain tolerance and endurance.  Twice a week every week, I am strapped to the most famous device of the Inquisition:

Tears come to my eyes and I holler “No mas!”, but my sweet young Torquemada pays no attention and keeps pulling.

I know it could be worse….far worse, so I put up with it.

To this torture is added the tedium of at-home exercises, designed to hold the progress made each week on the rack.  I have been spending over 10 hours a week on my Frozen Shoulder and I am sick of it.

Added to this is my gym routine - four times a week to pump iron, work the stationary bikes and the treadmill, and to lift and shift on the Stairmaster.  My routine includes exercises for the abs, lats, tri’s, bi’s, and quads. I  have never really looked forward to the workout, only to the shvitz and whirlpool at the end; and have become progressively unenthusiastic about spending any more time in the airless, colorless, mechanical Purgatory.  

Why, I ask myself, should I at my advancing age, still be so slavishly and obsessively concerned about keeping in shape?

I look around the gym and see the results of banging away at the machines,stretching, and doing reps and cardio.  All around me are the men who I have seen beavering away on the bikes and ellipticals for ten years; and there is no ignoring the first signs of spindly legs and chicken wings. 

No matter how much effort they have put into adding muscle mass, increasing strength and stamina, and ensuring body tone, they look worse than before.  Some have gained weight despite it all, but fat seems to sink to the middle, giving a grotesque rotundity and overhang to an otherwise bony frame.

Which brings me to economics and the Law of Diminishing Returns.  Returns on the investment made by the alter kockers at the gym are diminishing fast. Maybe a few years ago a buff body added a few peacock feathers in the pussy hunt; but those days are long gone. The hours of pumping iron are not paying off in romantic returns.  Neither is it adding to better health or longevity. Most of these men will definitely not keel over from a heart attack after decades of daily, vigorous exercise.  Only an occasional workout is enough to keep joints limber and muscles loose; and since these retired power lawyers and K Street lobbyists don’t intend on a second career as a dock worker or hod carrier, they don’t need big arms.

So why do they continue the routine? For vanity, pure and simple. There is no question of improving their marginal utility or reversing diminishing returns.  There are no sunken costs to be recovered; no issues of comprehensive efficiency.  In most of these guys their current account balance is already overspent.  Their covariance stationarity is zero; and their elasticity is losing its bounce. There are no economic terms to describe one’s irrational investment in vanity.

On the other hand, what’s left? Although the common wisdom is that reality is the currency of the aging, it is really fantasy and illusion that count.  Without them, facing a limited and painfully finite future would be very depressing indeed.

Jack LaLanne at 96

So, I think it is time to slack off.  Fuck the gym and the calories in a bottle of wine. I plan to dig in to thirds of schmaltzy chicken and creamy carbonara, and plan to drench everything with olive oil.  Screw the salads and obligatory walks; ditch good posture and positive sleep habits.  I plan to brush after every other meal; add salt to everything and never, ever hold the sugar.

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