The brochure included detailed medical drawings of muscle structures, the muscles shown in frog green; testimonials by British and German physicians about strength, health and diet; and, of course, an overkill of oil, muscle and exertion. "For only 70 seconds a day" I did the first seven of 24 illustrated Bullworker exercises, pushing in, holding my breath and counting to seven slowly. A wall chart was included, showing a genial giant pushing and pulling at Bullworker as if it were a minibike shock absorber. On a wall chart I was to mark down the improvement in the size of my muscles, the slimness of my waist and the increasing powermeter recordings.
I became hopelessly depressed while taking the starting measurements, however, and soon Bullworker did not get used for even the minimal 70 seconds daily. I also began to feel sheepish with 24 pictures of this greased man on my wall. My wife kept saying, "I hope you won't look like that next month."
There are seemingly endless items and methods for improving not only waistlines and muscles but golf, tennis, skeet, swimming, almost any sport. Some are "cheaters" like golf distance estimators, which are adapted from nautical triangulation devices and when used properly will give you the distance from ball to pin within a few inches. Others, such as those mechanical cannons that shoot tennis balls at you for practice, are too expensive to be considered by any but the wildly rich and fanatical amateur sportsman. But I desperately needed to improve my golf game, for my handicap was threatening to approach my cholesterol level.
In the back pages there are ads for putting devices for the office, backyard greens, electronic beepers for checking a rampant hook. One of the most intriguing was a device called Auto Shag. The Auto Shag ad promised that this simple aid, a portable driving range costing just $10, could be used in the privacy of the backyard. It was supposed to be an improvement over the old-fashioned driving net, which catches the ball. It would, I was assured, correct a slice or hook and would allow me to stand at the tee and practice for hours without moving because the golf ball would "walk" back to me.
Auto Shag turned out to be a golf ball attached to a piece of elastic. The other end of the elastic was fastened to a long spike. The idea was to plant the spike in the ground some 10 feet ahead of the tee, thus putting the end of the elastic midway between you and the end of the tether. When you hit the ball, it flies out to the end of the elastic, the ball supposedly returning to "within easy reach of your club" by bouncing along the ground. But a well-hit golf ball on an elastic shock cord could easily return into your teeth, I reasoned. So I invited my dentist, a furious duffer and inveterate back-pager, to try it with me. He arrived wearing wristbands with heavy steel balls dangling from them. "For extra wrist strength," he explained; he had ordered them from the back pages of a prominent golf magazine.
Auto Shag worked. Just as the instructions suggested, the ball did indeed bounce back to you. But the problem was in the imagination, not the mechanism. What Auto Shag couldn't deliver was the psychological release of seeing a golf ball fly to its target. There was no release of aggression with Auto Shag. The ball came bouncing back as if it were a friendly sheepdog instead of an element of a serious sport.
A few hours with Auto Shag made me feel like Sisyphus, rolling the rock to the top of the hill only to have it roll back down again. And then a certain crazed paranoia set in: How would I ever get rid of Auto Shag? Maybe it would follow me inside for dinner, bounce after my car in the morning, and at work I'd find myself telling the secretaries, "Oh, that's just my golf ball."
With my golf game somewhat in hand, I next tried tennis. There, too, my game needed vast improvement, and I suspected that there must be a device to do the job. It wasn't long before I found Swinger. Like Auto Shag, Swinger promised to improve my tennis game in secret.
Swinger cost $22.95, and its ad, like others, proclaimed, "This is not a toy." Actually, it was a tennis racket handle that clicked. Where the head of the racket would normally begin there was a large rubber plug. Inside was a mechanism that made Swinger emit a click when swung at hitting speed and another click at the end of the swing. Swinger was adjustable. The idea, according to the directions, was to thread an old tennis ball on a long string and attach the ends to the ceiling and floor, with the ball at waist level. Then you were to stand there, pretending that the clothesline was a net, that Swinger was a real racket and the old ball a real ball, and pretend that a pretend opponent had just hit the ball to you. Then you cut in with your pretend swing—and CLICK!
The basic problem with Swinger was that the pretending was in every case more interesting and fun than improving one's game. I rarely missed an afternoon with Swinger, although my interest in real tennis waned considerably. I would dress up in court clothes and huff down to the basement, a towel around my neck for the imaginary sweat I'd work up. Then I'd lash away with Swinger, clicking against great opponents like Laver (whom I beat once on a lucky lob shot), Ashe and Connors. I played a lot of mixed celebrity doubles there in the basement, which became a damp and dark Las Vegas for an inveterate dreamer.