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My Jaw Is the Six Pack Abs of Facial Anatomy

February 15, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Jaw.

The length of time you’re a member at a health club is inversely proportional to the amount of exercise you’ll get there on any given day. Newcomers exercise the most. Sheltered by their anonymity, they’re free to lift and crunch and squat and grunt without the disruption of idle chatter.

We veterans of the gym, survivors of the fitness fads of the last decade – kettlebells and cardio striptease, Pilates and Zumba, Shake Weights and Thighmaster – we barely exercise at all anymore, at least not in the traditional, holistic sense. Who can find time, what with all the talking?

The regulars do a lot of talking. It’s tough to avoid. When you see each other three or four mornings a week, every week for years, you naturally find yourself getting a little chummy with the naked guy standing next to you in the shower. Not like mind if I share your soap chummy – just friendly and sociable. Although I have once or twice unwittingly transgressed an invisible boundary by complimenting a fellow gym member on the invigoratingly spicy scent of his peppermint body wash. That’ll get you a few weird stares.

Over time, talking has replaced my old workout routine. It’s a good thing too since weight lifting made my muscles sore and cardio made my heart beat really fast, like any second I might keel over from a massive myocardial infarction. I pay too much money in monthly membership fees to die in this gym.

Let’s just say that all the chit chat hasn’t amounted to wasted time. When performed correctly – not idly, but with intent and purpose and plyometric intensity – talk can be an excellent form of exercise. Though my calves and quads and traps and delts are verging on total atrophic collapse, my jaw is in tremendous shape.

Not to brag, but I’ve got a jaw that would make Jay Leno and Maria Shriver clench with envy. The muscles of my jaw are seriously ripped.

Training an iron jaw requires an almost single-minded devotion to chatter. The repartee out here on the gym floor is voluble, fast paced and prone to change direction without notice. If you’re not in top verbal form you risk giving yourself a temporomandibular hernia.

My warm-up involves five minutes on the recumbent bike, brushing up on the latest celebrity gossip with a tattered, community copy of US or In Touch; five minutes on the mat doing some ergonomically dubious abdominal crunches and other humiliating genuflections (got to keep that diaphragm toned for optimal projection); and 10 minutes of vigorous gum chewing. Two pieces of thick, rubbery grape-flavored Bubble Yum can really help to loosen up the old pie hole.

The guys I work out with have been doing this for a long time. At forty-something, I’m the youngest by about a generation. They’ve really taken me under their flaccid wings. We’re kind of like The Klatsch – not the rebellious, politically active English punk rock group of the late 70’s, but a bunch of old men clad in breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics, sitting around a coffee shop, chomping on Swisher Sweets and trading war stories about prostate exams of yore.

To the unschooled eye it might appear that we’re just loitering around the Thigh Abductor machine, shooting the shit, critiquing the anatomies of other gym members outside our exclusive coterie. They’re right on that last count, but there’s so much more to our fitness program than that.

Mike H. has been teaching his kids the value of a dollar. Ronny D. is a master on the subject of motor oil viscosity. Jimmy P. is a walking, talking, local police blotter. Todd R. is well respected for his dialectical exegesis of the day’s horoscope. And me? I have an uncanny ability to presage the tribulations of Charlie Sheen on any given day. Frankly, my contribution is little more than a parlor trick: hookers, coke, cutlery, Two and a Half Men. I’ll never be too far from the mark, though those gold teeth really caught me off guard. Nonetheless, Jimmy P. is awestruck by my special skill. “It’s like you got unfettered, real-time access to the GPS coordinates of his Hollywood Sock,” he marvels.

Our routine is designed to hit the whole jaw; the large and small muscles, the fast-twitching and the slow-twitching muscles, for balanced strength and tone. Exercises include the Witty Repartee, the Derisive Jesting, the Insulting Retort and the Backhanded Compliment. There’s also the Stage Whisper, the Hearty Guffaw and the Gratuitous F-Bomb. We try to do about three sets, twenty reps of each. Mike H. is a hell of a guy to have around during these workouts. He’s an excellent spotter.

I know I’ve really put my jaw through its paces when I’m out of breath and my coffee cup is empty. Next comes the cooling off period. For me that involves 5 or 10 minutes watching the Today show in the member lounge. I don’t know if it’s the real deal, or just an illusion caused by the 55” large screen television, but Matt Lauer has an outstanding jowl.

Then it’s back to the locker room, where the cronies and I unfetter ourselves of those confining gym clothes and strut around like paunchy Roman statesmen at the public bath. We shave, we stand on scales or lounge in the sauna, our towels strategically draped to avoid getting staphylococcus on our dangly bits. If you think about it, it’s really a continuation of our workout since we’re talking all the while. I guess you could say we’re “peacocking,” showing off our handiwork, mandibular and otherwise.

They say that a strong jaw line indicates strength and fertility. Judging by the stares I get out in public, the way people shrink from my presence, it clearly makes me more intimidating. And why wouldn’t it?  My masseter is so chiseled it makes granite weep. My temporalis bulges with predatory crushing power. My pterygoids are absolutely popping. I mean literally, when I chew, it sounds like someone is twisting a sheet of bubble wrap.

For illustrative purposes, if a tight, toned abdomen is said to resemble a “Six Pack,” then my jaw compares favorably to a “Day Laborer’s Lunch Box”; squarish, sturdy, roomy, capable of safely keeping a sandwich, thermos of soup, apple, chips, cookies and a six pack. Actually, I’m a little concerned that my jaw is getting too big. It’s throwing off the symmetry of my face, causing the shape of my head to resemble a grotesque pear.

Maybe it’s time I start looking for a new gym.

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