“Let’s Get Physical”— A Mort Laitner Short Story

Let’s Get Physical!

By Mort Laitner

I climb on the machine’s deck, mounting it with all the determination of an Olympian, knowing for the next forty minutes the two of us will be one. Craning my neck downward, my index finger presses the large red square reading: “START.” My fingers grasp the rails feeling the cold steel bars.

The machine’s motor and belts groan and my legs commence walking. We merge at this leisurely pace while I ponder—quick weight loss program—four months—TWENTY POUNDS. Twenty pounds divided into $600 equals $30 dollars per pound. Well worth the money. I’d pay another $600 in a second to lose another twenty.

I wear my new forest green “Life is good” T-shirt, the one with Jake’s picture on it. He’s the stick figure with the infectious smile, now pedaling on a stationary bike on my shirt. I inhale the sent of the clean cotton. The shirt smells as fresh as if it were hung on an outdoor clothesline. The dry cotton cloth clings to my smaller body. I think, “life is good but it could be better. I’ve got to get off of this plateau.”

Pushing the up arrow I increase the speed to two and a half miles per hour. My steps quicken as my body sends a message to my brain, “Great job, Mr. Fitness. In a few months you dropped more pounds than a bowling ball. Your heart loves it. Now it is time to hear some music.”

My Blackberry rests on the treadmill console. I tap on it and Pandora appears. Beatles music fills my ears, replacing the monotonous hum of the treadmill. As I focus on the picture of the runner on the wall, memories of recent compliments bombard my brain.


“Wow! You look great!”

“How much weight have you lost?”

“What diet are you on?”

“Your face looks so much thinner.”

“Your clothes are looking baggy.”

“Better buy some new ones or go to the tailor.”

“Now you are wearing a belt instead of those suspenders.”


I start my reply with a simple, “Thanks, I’m trying to drop another twenty and it’s tough right now because I’ve reached a plateau.”

My finger presses the up arrow again and increases the machine’s speed to 3.2 miles per hour. My legs quicken their pace as my heart starts rapid palpitations. My hungry lungs suck in deep breaths of fan generated air.

After twenty minutes, my body heats up, my muscles tense, and my feet and knees begin to ache.

The Blackberry belts out:


“Let’s get physical, physical.

I wanna get into physical.

Let me hear your body talk, body talk.”


Droplets of perspiration bead on my forehead. They head toward my eyes as I picture Olivia Newton-John on MTV sweating in the gym surrounded by fat men. She wears a cute smile, a jogging suit and her signature headband. I recall her humorous aerobic anthem. The song won her a Grammy.

I remember dancing to Physical and seeing women wearing terry cloth headbands, trying to emulate Olivia through their fashion statement. Hard to believe that was 1981.

I am not wearing a headband and sweat rolls into my eyes causing painful stings. My hand brushes against my eyes, throwing the sweat to the ground. Even Jake is soaked.

My thoughts turn to the cost of my treadmill, I realize what I had read is true; “[A]ging boomers . . . are willing to spend their resources to prevent the onset of chronic disease or lessen its severity if it already exists.”[i]

I glance down at the display, the digits blink—30 minutes—one point two miles—50 calories. I think to myself, “Only another ten minutes to go on this maddening contraption.” I remember reading about the history of treadmills, which were invented in the early 1800’s to reform prisoners. I wonder about their success rate and laugh thinking about my attempts at physical reformation.

I continue jogging, pretending to be an astronaut living in the space station. NASA requires the astronauts to run on the treadmill as a counter measure against weightlessness. NASA even named their machine the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT). Should I follow NASA’s lead and name my machine? I immediately think of calling her Olivia.

Droplets of human dew fall from my face and land on my gut. My body reeks of BO but I, like the Energizer Bunny, just keep on going.

The odor triggers a synapse— my dilemma. I’m stuck on a plateau called the 19, 20, 19, 20 plateau. My body weight is running in place. How do I climb to the 21 pound level?

The display blinks 40 minutes—100 calories—one point five miles, my time is up. I commence tapping on the down arrow until the motor yawns. I hit stop and head for the pool. After swimming a few laps, my body cools. I dry off and head to the couch where I sit feeling the exhilaration of good health. No longer contemplating my dilemma, I realize I have not felt this good in decades.

My body has spoken.




[i] Morrison, Eileen E., Ethics in Health Administration, a Practical Approach for Decision Makers, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Boston, 2006.


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