That was Jack LaLanne's self-description, when he looked back on a childhood of eating bad food and getting fat. He might as well have said "I once was blind," or "unworthy to be called an apostle." His story was one of those Damascus Road jobs. (According to Jack, at least; GR's Brad Greenberg knows better.)
When Jack LaLanne died, a couple of days ago, it struck a strange chord for us. We wouldn't have thought we cared all that much, but we sorta did.
In 1967, Father A.'s parents won a television in a church raffle. Or some kind of raffle; anyway, they didn't pay for it, because they had no money. But there it was, sitting in Mom & Dad's room: a big, white television set. The kind that also had a built-in radio, just in case the whole TV thing didn't take off.
Living in a remote area, reception was iffy. So while the little Father no doubt wanted to watch Archbishop Sheen -- Uncle Fultie, as he's called around the rectory -- he actually wound up with a more eclectic viewing schedule. If memory serves, The Cisco Kid was rerun Sunday mornings, a guy named Mr. Goober showed cartoons on weekday afternoons, if the wind was blowing west from Hartford. During the day, we hung with Barnabas and Quentin Collins, and on weeknights, we fell in love -- permanently and to this very day -- with Samantha Stevens
But weekdays mornings belonged to Romper Room, which so far as we can recall was a cinema verite drama about life in a nursery school. And right after Miss Lisa came some old guy in a jumpsuit, telling ladies to lift their legs.
"Old," mind you, meant anybody over ten, and we figured this guy was about the same age as our parents. In fact, he was more twice their age. And he cold have bench-pressed both of them. For that matter, we expect Jack LaLanne could have bench pressed a couple of adults well into his eighties or nineties -- and he would have, given half a chance. The man loved a good stunt.
LaLanne was one of the great bodybuilder/entrepreneurs, with a place in the pantheon somewhere between Charles Atlas and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Actually, probably ahead of either one. For the generations who have grown up thinking of him as the guy selling his juice machine on an informercial, it is easy to forget what he was really about. (Gizmodo has a good retrospective here). During his entire 96-year-long life, he was a vocal champion of rigorous exercise and good nutrition.
It is also easy to forget just how buff LaLanne was in his prime:
(For those who think this blog doesn't have enough about sex, click here for some nude poses, including full frontal. Apparently, LaLanne was later embarrassed, and tried to have these taken out of circulation. Harumph. If we had ever for one day of our life looked like that, the picture would be on the masthead of this blog.)
Now, on one hand, our aged Grandmother is also 96, and she has never lifted a dumbbell in her life, much less towed boats full of wood pulp or done 1000 pushups. (Well, never to our knowledge -- Gammer is a Presbyterian, and she doesn't like to brag.) So it is possible that bodybuilding per se has less to do with longevity than regular clean living.
Still. We're staring 50 in its ugly face. Our belt is a little tight these days, our joints ache more than they should. We wonder what it would take to celebrate the half-century mark swimming through to Alcatraz, pulling an oil tanker with our teeth? Probably not going to happen for us, but ... it did for Jack LaLanne.