I am with Madonna's personal trainer! I am with Eloise's personal trainer! I am at the epicenter of a trend that grows bigger by the day: people hiring other people to help them exercise, sweat, diet, rebuild themselves into whatever they want to be. I am at Ground Zero. The rich and famous sneeze, and the rest of us say "Gesundheit" and blow our own noses. That is how trends develop.
Twenty years ago virtually no one had a personal trainer. Ten years ago there wasn't even a name for the profession. Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda were the closest personal trainers we could find, bouncing to the oldies across our television screens and asking us to dance aerobically around the living room and smile instead of grunt. Five and six and seven years ago we began to notice that Hollywood stars and rock stars and wealthy businessmen and a few athletes were adding trainers to their payrolls, looking for a more direct, personalized approach to exercise, listing payments to these new employees on their expense sheets among outlays to tax lawyers and psychiatrists and nip-and-tuck plastic surgeons. Now the woman downstairs from my apartment has a personal trainer. I have a personal trainer. Oprah and her personal trainer, Bob Greene, sell their book, Make the Connection, across the landscape as if it were the foundation of a new religion. Half the country seems to have a personal trainer.
Who are these people? What do they do? What's the deal? Where is all this heading?
"Can I ask a question?" I ask.
"I'm not the father of Madonna's baby," Ray answers in the middle of the buzz in the middle of the largest kitchen I have ever seen in the middle of the largest house I have ever seen. "That's a thing that everyone was getting wrong for a while. The father of Madonna's baby is Carlos Leon, who is a personal trainer but not Madonna's personal trainer. I introduced them, in fact. I'm married, with two kids. Quiet. I'm asleep by nine most nights."
Three stories about personal trainers: Madonna's, Michael Jordan's, mine. The epicenter seems to be a fine place to start.
"I was working at Gold's Gym," Ray says. "This was the original Gold's Gym, in Santa Monica, before all the other ones were built. I was a manager there and a weightlifter. This was November 1981. One of Johnny Carson's lawyers came to me. He had broken up with his girlfriend and was depressed. He wanted to get back into shape. He offered me $25 an hour to help him. It sounded like a good deal.
"He turned out to be the perfect client, because he was so depressed that he had nothing to do except work out. Within about six weeks he was going to business meetings and pulling up his shirt to show off his washboard stomach. He was asking other lawyers to feel his muscles. Pretty soon I was working with about half the entertainment lawyers in Hollywood."