one with nature. sort of.

John is my personal trainer. He’s been my trainer ever since I arrived in LA — so about five years now — and somewhere along the line he morphed into my confidante/shrink, the way a good trainer tends to. He also makes an excellent emergency handyman.

I was debating the merits of personal trainers with history-professor-turned-real-estate-agent Margaret, who experimented with one of her own. “He showed me the routine with the weights and all that and I learned to do everything exactly the way I was supposed to. I would look at him and say, ‘God, aren’t you bored?’ I would feel bad for him. And then I wondered, why the hell do I need him here anyway, to show me the stuff I’ve learned how to do? What am I paying him for, to just stand around and watch me? So I fired him.”

“You fired him because you didn’t need him anymore,” I said.

“After they show you how to do a few things, the proper techniques and everything, aren’t they just kind of useless?”

“How long ago did you fire him?”

“Three months.”

“And how many times have you worked out since?”

“Zero times.”

“And you fail to find a connection between these two pieces of information?”

She didn’t answer.

John will bribe me with coffee when necessary, showing up at the house with a Starbucks or Coffee Bean. He suspects — quite rightly — that there are mornings when I would call and cancel….except I really want that damn Starbucks. Once in a while there’s a pastry involved. He is not above handing me pieces of apple fritter while I warm up on the treadmill. One might consider this a rather mixed message. But when you live in a ruthless kind of town, you’re forced to develop ruthless tactics.

The other morning we were hiking along a trail off Mulholland when I asked him, “So how fit are you, anyway?”

“Ah…” He looked sheepish. “I’ve been slacking off. The baby and all. Makes it hard to get to the gym.”

“So on a scale of one to ten, ten being you at your fittest, what are you right now?”

“Maybe a six.”

“This is you at a six?” The man just passed 40 and maintains such a lean, compact, broad-shouldered build that on meeting him you immediately assume: a) he is a personal trainer, or b) he is an actor/model, or c) he is gay. For a while, John was b), which allowed him to quit the Wall Street job he hated and head west and find himself. To my knowledge he has never been c).

We walked along the trail and through the woods and down the hill and through a residential neighborhood and up another hill and into the woods.

Our conversation reflected an impressive knowledge of nature.

“I’m seeing lots of little lizards,” John told me.

“Really? ‘Cause I’m not seeing any.”

“But I’m walking in front of you, so I’m scaring them away.”

“That’s probably true.”

“I’m not seeing any snakes, however.”

“I was actually thinking about mountain lions.”

“I don’t think we have to worry about mountain lions, Justine.”

“I didn’t say I was worried about them. I said I was thinking about them.”

Every once in a while he would ask me, “See that flower? What’s it called again?”

And I would say, “I don’t know.”

Or sometimes I would point and ask, “What’s the name of that tree?”

And he would say, “No idea.”

Then he drew my attention to some tall dry grass beneath a few of the trees we did not know the names of. “Those are deerbeds,” he said. “See how those depressions in the grass are in the shapes of their bodies? Deer slept there.”

I was impressed.

I was so impressed I asked, “What’s the difference between a glade and a glen?”

“A what and what?”

“A glade and a glen. I’ve always wondered.”

He pondered this for several moments. He looked so much in his element — tanned (albeit a fake tan), lean and easy and rugged, a bottle of water in his hand — he could have just stepped out of a jeep commercial. (He actually did star in a jeep commercial once. He called me up and said, “I can’t make it today. I have to go shoot this jeep commercial.”)

“Glade…” he said, moving his hand through the air, and despite myself I felt a surge of optimism that I was about to have my answer. “….is an air freshener.”

“Ah,” I said.

We walked on.

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