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“Get a Setter Today”

SetterI had just finished my workout at the Y the other day. I was quite sweaty, and was heading for the disinfectant spray and a paper towel to wipe down the machine — so the next person to use it could suffer in safety — when I noticed a copy of Allure lying on top of a pile of magazines. This in itself was unusual — at my Y, in the heart of Berkeley, you’re more likely to find The Nation or Macrobiotics Today than Allure or its like. But what really struck me was the cover headline: Next to a photo of a glamorous young woman, it said: “GET A SETTER TODAY.”

What a wonderful message!, I thought to myself as I attempted to remove my middle-aged perspiration from the machine. Usually these sorts of publications seem to focus on superficial beauty — but here, we had a noble call to bond with our fellow creatures. Perhaps this was a sign of a paradigm shift in how our consumer-citizens were looking at the world. Could connectedness now be “in”? Having finished my little task, I went on to clean off my sweat-covered glasses as well. And that’s when I happened to glance at that copy of Allure again — and, with a new clarity of vision, realized what the headline really said: “GET A BETTER BODY.”

Bummer. But maybe, I thought hopefully, the inside feature on cover girl Hillary Duff would at least touch on participatory democracy and its central tenet: We’re all in this together.

It happens a lot that I get things slightly wrong. Several years ago I was at a benefit luncheon for a local branch of the National Lawyers Guild, waiting to perform, and watched them honor two legal activists. The first was being celebrated posthumously, as he had passed away that year from a heart attack; his wife and children were there, to accept in his stead. I looked in the program: The honoree was stocky and bearded, as my father had been, and as I was (minus the beard). Next they presented an award to another guy, about the same age as first one, and it was obvious as he strode to the podium — wiry, vital — that he was in the pink of health.

VikingThe first thing he said was, “I’d like to thank all my friends in the Viking community.” I thought, Wow — that’s cool: I’ve never heard anyone thank Vikings before. Maybe there’s a whole progressive Viking-American subculture that’s been under my radar to this point. The man went on to talk about how regular exercise had changed his life, giving him the spirit and energy to face the deep needs of an ailing society. And so on. It wasn’t till later — when he was going into deeper legal matters — that I realized what he actually must have said: “I’d like to thank all my friends in the biking community”!

Ah, yes — that would certainly explain the lithe physique, and the references to exercise.

Later on, after I did my shtick for the progressive lawyers, I reflected on the contrast between the two honorees. I was on the path to continuing, and probably increasing, out-of-shapeness. My dad, who battled weight problems all his adult life, died at only 59. I wanted to see my son grow up. I wanted him to see me grow up. So I began the weird, modified-low-carb diet that I’ve been on pretty consistently for a couple of years, and also began going to the Y — sweating to the oldies (in my case, ’80s Boston punk) and quixotically (and pelvically) tilting at strengthening what is now known as my “core.”

Fear of getting things wrong hampered my academic years and hobbled my youthful attempts at journalism. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I don’t have to worry about messing up — because I’m a blogger! This is the first entry in my new blog. Please visit often and comment profusely — I’m looking forward to conversing with you in this space, about strengthening our core values, and other stuff. Maybe, all in this together, we’ll even get some things right!