"We don't know all the answers. If we knew all the answers
we'd be bored, wouldn't we? We keep looking, searching, trying to
get more knowledge." — Jack LaLanne
Let's face it, the classic hardboiled private-eye isn't really a good
role model. Drinking too much is bad for you. So is smoking like a
Pittsburgh steel mill. So is getting involved in situations (unless it's
your job) where you get your head rapped repeatedly with a .45.
Some of the hard-boiled stuff like this has been called "cliche." But if
you've ever seen "Good Night and Good Luck" about Edward R. Murrow
you know that the bottle in the desk and the pack of smokes wasn't
limited to private-eye novels. It was a part of the culture back then
in the early 1950s. And for a good while after as well.
Today's culture frowns on the bottle in the desk as being indicative of
a real drinking problem. And we ban smoking in most public spaces, trying
to discourage people. But that doesn't mean that our contemporary culture
is as pure as the azure blue sky. There's nothing said about keeping a box
of Twinkies in your desk, or consuming ten cups of coffee before noon, or
going out after work and getting "your choice of appetizer" along with that
big double cheesburger and a huge order of french fries. As Umberto Eco
once commented, the key word of American culture seems to be "there's more
of it." Bigger is always better. More is better than less. In that sense, not
one thing has changed since the vices of the 1950s — it's simply operating
in a different danger zone.
My own P.I.'s secretary, Carmen, is described as being into the new "health
and fitness" movement. In that sense at least she isn't falling into my
detective's bad habits with regard to drinking and smoking — and she eats
far better, too. I thought it might be an interesting idea to have at
lest one person in my stories that isn't pushing themselves into an early
Now I can't very well posit myself as a model for young people. If I
did, the best I could come up with is some sort of hypocritical "do as I
say, not as I do" philosophy, which I refuse to do. So in the hope of
putting someone out there who is REALLY a model, I thought I would post
something on Jack La Lanne.
Jack La Lanne turned 92 on September 26. Young people may not remember,
but he had an exercise show on television years ago. I remember when I
was a kid my mom used to turn it on, and occasionally would do some of
the exercises. I had a heart condition back then, and wasn't able to do
a lot of stuff until I was 11 and had surgery, but I remember watching
the show along with my mom.
A publicity still for Jack La Lanne's television show.
Jack La Lanne was the pioneer of Carmen's "health and fitness movement,"
as it used to be called back in the 1950s. He has been called the "Godfather
of Fitness," and rightly so. Among his firsts are:
— Opened the first modern health club (in 1936!)
— The first to have a nationally syndicated exercise show on television
— The first to have athletes working out with weights
— The first to have women working out with weights
— The first to have the elderly working out with weights
— The first to have a combination Health Food Bar and Gym
— The first to have a Coed health club
— The first to combine weight training with nutrition
— The first to sell vitamins and exercise equipment on television
— The first to teach scientific body building by changing the program
every 2 to 3 weeks
— The first to encourage the physically challenged to exercise and to
work around their disabilities
— The first to do feats of strength and endurance to emphasize what
exercise and nutrition can do for you
Besides all that, he also developed new weight training equipment that
today is considered standard in any health club.
The phrase "no pain, no gain" is Jack's also.
Don't let the black and white "bodybuilder" photo of Jack fool you. Jack
wasn't a bodybuilder in today's sense of the word. His goal was always
to educate and inform, and his message all along has been clear and
straight forward: Take care of your body, primarily by A) getting
exercise on a daily basis; and B) eating the right foods and shunning
Sounds simple. But just look at the OTHER television ads you see
alongside ads for Jack's Power Juicer: Ads encouraging people to pop
pills to make up for unhealthy lifestyles, as well as constant "weight-
loss" programs that are bound not to work because they don't involve a
truly healthy diet combinded with exercise. Everything you read in the
newspapers is true: Americans (including children) are overweight, don't
eat right and don't get enough exercise. And this almost inevitably leads
to health problems somewhere down the line.
And it probably goes without saying at this point, thought I'm going to
say it anyway just to reinforce the idea, that you (me too) should really
moderate your alcohol intake and not smoke cigarettes — or anything
else that burns and that you inhale into your lungs. And by the way,
drinking eight or nine Starbucks isn't exactly good for you, either.
Caffeine is a drug — it's just today's commonly acceptable drug.
Now I would also like to emphasize here that I'm not talking about what
you might call the "aesthetics of beauty." I'm not saying that men and
women need to be hard-bodied individuals with .1 percent total body fat
in order to be "attractive." In fact if there's one element of our
culture these days that I find interesting is that we seem to be slowly
getting away from the idea (or ideal) of an anorexic Laura Flynn Boyle or
Kate Moss as the archetype of desirability. You don't have to be a total
stick to be attractive, and you don't have to be that way to be healthy
and fit, either. I just wanted to mention that in case anybody out there
would confuse the two issues. Not to mention the fact that there's more
to desirability than the physical anyway.
For most of my life with regard to my lifestyle and my habits I've
always thought that it came down to a Quality of Life versus Quantity of
Life issue. Having had several members in my family die very young and
having had other members die just as they were about to retire and go
into their "golden years," I always came down decidedly in favor of
Quality of Life. Do what you want to do, "for tomorrow ye may die." What
I didn't really understand for a long time, until recently, is how the
two interact. While it may be true that all men are mortal and that we
all have to die of something eventually, it is also true that we can
benefit by not being just out-and-out stupid.
Running across Jack after all these years was a true inspiration. Jack's
attitude reminded me of how much of life is simply the attitude you put
I wasn't able to do the exercises when I was young — or so I thought —
just as I am not able to do them now — or so I told myself. But that
doesn't mean that I can't benefit by trying to curb my vices, eat
better, and maybe even get some very low-impact exercise on a regular
basis. Is it going to keep me alive longer at this point? Probably not.
But that's not to say that taking inspiration from Jack and trying to
change my habits even at this stage won't have some benefit — the
benefit is in the attitude, a more optimistic and less self-mutilating
attitude toward life.
So Happy birthday, Jack. Stop in and see me — I'll buy ya' a carrot juice.
And to any young readers I may have out there, I can only say — don't
do as my private-eye does, do as Jack La Lanne does. 'Cause when it comes
right down to it, Jack is a really hardboiled guy himself. And, it seems,
a very happy one.
Jack at age 92. Still going strong — literally.