Joco Diversions

Better and longer, our generation is surviving

Lisa Butler can't help grinning through the exercise class she leads.
Lisa Butler can't help grinning through the exercise class she leads. Special to The Star

My only previous exercise class was in 1956 at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where Army basic trainers ran us through push-ups, side straddle hops and, most inspiring, bayonet drills with an M-1 Garand rifle.

“Wh-a-a-a-a-t is the spirit of the bayonet?” yelled our buck sergeant from his elevated perch, answering his question with just one word.


My new class is much kinder, lots of, “Pardon me,” “Sorry,” or at least, “Oops!” when you bump into someone on the crowded floor. It’s called Silver Sneakers because up top most of us have that hair color, our average age being about 65. This summer I will top 85, while my best pal there hit 90 last month.

With Medicare Advantage plans, many of us pay not an extra dime for several such classes a week.

My wife, Lenore, and I joined Element gym seven years ago. Because of her declining health, we dropped out two years later.

She died in 2017, leaving me with a family dog, many friends and a house full of empty hours. On a bitter January morning, too cold to be outside, I happened by Element and stopped just to walk on their inside track. That same studio class was underway with most of the same people. So I’m back.

Our leader orders up cardio, starting with a side-to-side move called step-touch, and double step-touch, then maybe mambo, meaning dance forward, dance back. Me at my age doing mambo? Hard to believe. Then comes a command I remember from Army basic:

“March it out!” Which is more fun here than it was at Fort Chaffee.

All done to jazzy rhythm, often to tunes I scorned as a lower-class teen striving to lift myself above the jukebox that blared from a Highway 66 beer joint in my old West Tulsa neighborhood. But here, for the first time, I find myself enjoying Elvis.

“Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true...”

Our leader pushes us onward to weight lifting, counting down 10, nine, eight, seven, six

I would give up now except for the disgrace of stopping before she hits zero. Grabbing a heavy rubber exercise band, we step on it with both feet and rock back and forth like marching penguins to strengthen our legs. No muscle escapes this detailed attention. Often I get vexed by a woman who constantly struggles to suppress a smile, she’s so much enjoying this torture.

I once told her that no one else is this smug. Her smile just grew broader.

You want conversation? Within 10 yards in our corner we have a geologist, a lawyer, a retired printer, a canny stock investor and three schoolteachers, two for history, the other for science, my favorites. During intervals, talk revolves around World War II. We were too young then to fight but admired those who did.

You didn’t know the U.S. Army M-1 Garand I mentioned above was the best infantry rifle of that war? Or that our Thunderbolt fighter wasn’t much till engineers installed a four-bladed propeller?

But it’s back to work now as today’s coach, Lisa Butler, orders up a side-stepping cardio exercise while telling one of her awful jokes.

“So a duck walks into a pharmacy and gets some lip balm. The pharmacist asks, ‘Will that be cash or charge?’ and the duck says, ‘Put it on my bill.’”

Gets a good laugh from oldsters hard up even for bad jokes. Winding down toward the end, we hear a song with various meanings for class members of different ages.

“I’ve got all my life to live/ I will survive/ I will survive…”

Yeah, and a bit longer because of this class.

Contact Charles Hammer at