Wait, one thing did happen: My parents came to visit. Which was nice. Stressful, but nice. As usual, my mom arrived armed with a Ford Expedition payload's worth of food and Christmas presents, and a proportionate number of questions about my life, my job, and San Francisco itself. (My favorite: "So if you want to politely imply that someone is gay, do you just say he's from the Castro?") In the wake of time served with the family, the city's holiday snail's pace, and a calorie intake that rivals last year's GDP, I'm feeling kind of winded, a wee bit depressed, and not a little overweight.
Which is why I thought it odd when, last week, an unmarked envelope arrived in my office with no return address and nothing in it save for a single cellophane-wrapped CD: Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Body Workout. Who had sent me this rerelease of the obscure, vinyl-only recording originally put out in 1982? Usually when a company wants me to review something the package comes complete with a press release (and a couple hundred dollars cash, but we won't get into that). Did someone out there anticipate my need for exercise? And did he also know about my affection for bands like Journey, Tommy Tutone, Eddie Money, Blue Öyster Cult, and the rest of the groups whose glorious music soundtracks Arnold's workout instructions? I mean, shit, I knew Arnold had friends in high places, but this synchronicity was uncanny. Indeed, there was only one way to proceed.
"Hi, this is Arnold, your training partner. It's important to begin each exercise session with a few minutes of warm-ups."
On this post-holiday morning, Arnold's voice is smooth and enthusiastic as it spills out of my stereo; Gladys Knight & the Pips' "Save the Overtime for Me" grooves redundantly in the background, like a factory preset on a Casio. As I'm listening to my Austrian homeboy, I'm dressed in a pair of short-shorts, a sleeveless Pretenders concert tee, and a blue stretchy headband (I'm going for a drummer-from-Queen look). I am ready for my pump.
"Dooown, up. Dooown, up -- and make your thighs burn!" Arnold exclaims during squat stretches. "Dooown, up. Dooown, up -- and squeeze your buttocks!"
At this point, having realized that I've got neighbors -- who have ears and eyes and telephones with which to call friends -- I close the blinds to the large windows in my living room. "Keep jumping, come on! More energy!" Arnold commands. So I rush back to finish a rep of jumping jacks before we segue into the "major pump" segment of the program, heralded by the bursting bouquet of guitar notes from the opening of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," that part where Neal Schon's lick short-circuits into a crescendo of sound, punctuated by the NAH-NAH! And Steve Perry sings, "A singer in a smoky room/ Smell of wine and cheap perfuuuume." This, while Arnold explains how to do push-ups between two chairs (feet on a bed or table, hands planted on two chairs, body hovering 4 feet off the ground, waiting for the chairs to slip on the hardwood floors -- which mine do -- hands going in opposite directions, face headed toward the ground, etc. Yes, this happened).
After push-ups come calf raises, which burn like hell, although the dual motivational fervency of Arnold ("Keep going! Make your calves burn! Remember, you can't grow without burning!" Huh?) and Perry ("Don't stop, believin'/ Hold on to that feeling") is enough to invigorate even the most hung-over lump. I make it through, just in time for the Zen rub of Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny."
"Next are the doorknob pull-ups. ... Stand with your feet on either side of an open door and grasp the doorknobs with both hands. Slowly sink away from the doo -- "
Huh. Well, would you look at that: The screws ripped right out of the wood. I'm so full of holiday cheer I yanked the closet door off. Rather than eat away at the rest of my security deposit, I decide to skip this one.
Next, lunges -- a true quadriceps buster, set to the tune of Champaign's pop/R&B-flavored "Let Your Body Rock." Not that the previous exercises were a breeze, but these are actually tough, and by now I've got a bit of a sweat going. I'm also starting to get hungry; perhaps I could use a beer. But then Arnold says, "Think about the wonderful, firm thighs you're gonna get. Concentrate on those thighs." Maybe he's right. I'm being selfish. This is not a time to think of myself; it's a time to think of my thighs. So I do the "advanced" set of reps (as opposed to the "beginner" or "intermediate" options), all 50 of them. It's rewarding. I'm tired. Maybe I deserve that beer --
"You think you're finished, but noooo, not at all. We're doing five more repetitions! Arnold calls them the Fooorrrced Reeeps -- ha, ha, ha! Let's go." Dude, fuck you. Fuck off, Arnold. Dick.
At this point, because I am lazy and out of shape, and because Arnold, with all his patronizing, is starting to bug me, I'm feeling unmotivated as we move into the sit-up portion of the workout. But, like all good Kennedys, Arnold has some tricks up his sleeve, and I'm not just talking about Total Workout producer Michael Case Kissel's "Love Not War," an Afrobeat-inspired '80s stinker that I've never heard of. "Concentrate on all those calories you're burning off," Arnold pleads. "Concentrate on how slim your waste is getting, how sexy you're gonna look!" And to hear Arnold say "sexy" -- pronounced with his slight lisp, like a TV announcer saying "zesty" -- makes me want to push through these last exercises. I'm gonna look so zesty! And so I gnash my teeth though the sit-ups, and then some crunches, as Eddie Money's "Think I'm in Love" nudges me along and strange visions of Michael J. Fox and Van Halen, Transformers and Ronald Reagan, dance through my head. When it's all over, when my abs are burning, Arnold tells me, oh so sincerely, "You did really well. You should be proud of yourself. I'm looking forward to training with you again at our next session."
Just to drive the point home, the music switches to Deniece Williams' "I'm So Proud," a droll torch song about, um, being proud. And Arnold's telling me, "Always remember: The importance of my program is not just exercise, but also always visualize yourself in the perfect form. This will motivate you to exercise until your visions become reality."
Now that's why I love Arnold. He's one of the most full of shit guys ever, and he's always been that way (he "guarantees the results" of working out to this record). But there's no denying the simple fact of his life. He visualized himself in the perfect form, and his visions became reality. Does that make this CD worth buying? No, of course not. Sure, it's kind of funny to hear Arnold say, "Squeeze your buttocks," against the backdrop of a Journey song, but the novelty begins and ends there. If anything, the album screams out for a DJ or producer to sample this and other quotes to humorous ends. Aside from that, about all it's left me with is some sore abs and quads, a broken closet door, and the desperate hope that next week -- as 2004 picks up its slow chug toward better shows and new releases -- there will be something slightly less stupid to write about.