Clarence McGill, Janet’s friend, who works out at L.A. Fitnerss in the Andorra Shopping Center, is Mr. Universe. (That’s the entire universe, not just our puny solar system.)

by Janet Gilmore

Not long ago, I heard myself say at dinnertime, “Instead of using a colander, let’s take the ravioli out of the pot with a spotted sloon.”

“Spotted sloon?”

What the heck is a “spotted sloon?”

I decided that if I want to walk (which I do) or think (ditto) when I’m really old, I’d better high-tail it to the gym, L.A. Fitness in Andorra, and get some more oxygen to my brain, pronto.

My workout gets harder to do as time goes by. Everything hurts. I have to stretch thoroughly at the end, or else. But I keep going.

The minute I get to the gym, I can’t wait to get out of there. Can’t wait! If staring at the clock could make time go faster, I’d do it. I do it anyway.

My husband has gray hair, too. He is deadly afraid to speak to anyone at the gym for fear of being taken for a weirdo. After six years, he has a begrudging nodding acquaintance with six other older men, he says.

I feel a bit luckier. I hide behind my gray hair and use it to my advantage.

Gray hair is automatically considered the sign of a kindly, harmless old lady doing her “little” exercise routine because her doctor told her it’s good for her. I can get away with just about anything.

More importantly, no one — absolutely no one — is afraid of me or feels threatened in any way. Everyone feels superior to me. They’re not necessarily, but they feel that way. That’s fine. I have carte blanche to talk to anyone at all about almost anything.

I can stare at guys to read their remarkable tee shirts — “Party with Sluts,” “Orgasm Donor,” “Free Breast Exams.” Such outspoken and gross little scamps nowadays; aren’t they?

Best of all, along with Social Security comes an automatic “speak up” privilege.

I was sitting on the outer thigh machine, next to a guy in a plain tee shirt who lifted the entire stack of weights (305 pounds) with his inner thighs! When he finished his third set, even though I hadn’t been spoken to, I spoke.

“Wow! Where do you go from here? I mean, where is a heavier machine for you?”

We switched machines so that he could do outers and I could do inners.

Now this doesn’t always happen, but he turned out to be a very nice guy, who explained to me that he’s not a weight lifter; he’s a competitive body builder, so it doesn’t matter how strong he is; it only matters how he looks. He competes for the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation, which is steroid-free. Then he showed me pictures of himself because he had a competition coming up in a few months for which he was going to start dieting on Monday. He always keeps a photographic record of himself to check for muscle growth and symmetry.

We introduced ourselves. His name is Clarence McGill, and his Federation does not allow him to be interviewed by anyone other than itself — so note carefully: this is “not” an interview.

When I next saw Clarence at the gym, I asked him what he had for his diet dinner.

“My wife made spare ribs with macaroni and cheese.”

I raised eyebrows.

“That’s okay; I always build a few cheat days into my schedule,” he said.

Our workout schedules coincided, so I saw Clarence every other day over the next few months. He showed me his new sets of pictures.

As the weeks went by, I invoked the Crone-Speak-Up privilege:

“Do you have your itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie bikini picked out for the contest yet?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“What color?”


“What did you have for dinner last night?”

“Chicken. I eat lots of chicken.”

Over time, I could see what little body fat he had melt from Clarence’s body. He looked like a gaunt, extremely strong person, so thin that his veins looked like worms crawling over his muscles, barely contained by his skin.

“How do you feel?” I asked a few days before his competition.

“I’m dizzy, I have a headache, and I feel like I’m going to throw up. In other words, right on schedule. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Champ.”

I didn’t believe he could possibly lose.

The Monday after the competition, when Clarence walked into the gym, the stale inside air seemed to blow fresh before him.

“What’s that in your hand?” I asked.

He didn’t say a word, simply showed me his trophy and grinned. He won. First Prize. The Natural Bodybuilding Federation’s new Mr. Universe.


People came from all corners of the gym to see what was going on and to congratulate him. Everybody grinned. Clarence is an awesome guy.

It was an honor to see a real champion working toward a goal and reaching it.

I loved my backstage glimpse of a champion, especially a champ as pleasant, fierce and inspiring as Clarence.

Eventually, I met Clarence’s wife, Njeri, at the gym. She’s a bodybuilder, too. I’d rather have an anvil fall on me and then be swallowed by a giant squid rather than have to show up on the beach in a bathing suit in front of either of those two.

But plodding along my own imperfect path, spotted sloons be damned, I added some extra pounds to my own workout.

Then I wondered how to go home and carelessly drop into our dinnertime conversation that I met Mr. Universe.