"Place your hands on the wall at breast level," she instructed.
I placed my hands on the wall at breast level. I saw that my hands were headed for the Gulf of Mexico.
"How did this happen?" I asked, sorrow catching in my throat.
"You know what they say," said my neighbor. "After 40, it's all maintenance."
I gritted my teeth and performed three grueling sets of push-ups, determined to show that my strength and agility were not sliding nearly as fast as some of the rest of me. I did not cheat, exactly. I leveled the playing field, so to speak, by sliding my hands north on the wall closer to California, where the rest of my body lives. This made the push-ups much easier to complete. Besides, the true pain of the exercise was realizing that my 40th birthday had passed a few years ago, which meant I was overdue for some desperately needed deferred maintenance.
Back home, my first corrective measure was fishing out a catalog of women's sports clothing. This catalog sold bras for every possible shape and fitness need. Sure enough, I found a model designed by a researcher in New Zealand who had a doctorate in Newtonian physics.
This great humanitarian had created a bra for women just like me: past our "best by" date for the cheerleading squad, but far too early for the shuffleboard squad. The researcher had actually attached sensors and electrodes to women as they jogged to determine how much retro-fitting they'd need to stay in their cups.
The bra was called "Stand and Deliver," and I paid extra to have it shipped to me overnight.
When I heard the telltale diesel-chugging of the UPS truck on my block the following day, I ran to the door.
"Must be something special in there," our friendly UPS man said, observing my rapid-response signature.
"Uh, yeah, the rat glue traps finally arrived," I said. "No matter what we do, we just can't seem to get rid of those rodents. I know this will do the trick." "Totally understandable. Well, I hope it works!"
"You and me both!" I waved goodbye.
When I looked at myself in the mirror wearing my new suspension rigging, I was amazed at what a little retrofitting could do for me. And I felt ashamed at my utter disdain for science classes back in high school. Had I only known how much I would benefit from a close study of Newtonian physics and its application to my ability to perform wall push-ups, I would have paid more attention in class.
My new bra was not the sexiest-looking underwire garment to have ever left the shores of Macau. It had an uncanny resemblance to building scaffolding, but I didn't care. I had found it easily enough, which meant I was not a "problem fit" who would require the services of one of the nation's leading bra-sizing consultants. (This was not the case for my friend Gerry, who one evening admitted to me, after a few glasses of wine, that she had been measured for a new bra with a carpenter's level.)
I feel vindicated that Stage 1 of my deferred maintenance program has had such striking results. A neighbor stopped me the other day, looked at me quizzically and said, "Something's different about you, I can tell. Wait, don't tell me: I bet you finally got rid of those rodents!"
I admit that my success has had its limitations. Walking past Victoria's Secret, that bastion of female object glorification, remains a painful experience, but at least now I do so holding my head (and my mammaries) a little higher and feeling younger. I have no doubt that Victoria's skinny models may look better in a push-up bra than I do, but those scrawny arms of theirs will be their undoing in a contest with me for wall push-ups. With my greater musculature, I will leave them in the dust, and enjoy every thrilling minute of it.
There is more program work to be done, and my next target will be a re-evaluation of my skin care routine. Doing research online, I found a "face bra" that promises anti-aging miracles. However, this requires that I first soak the device in various solutions and pastes and be willing to wear it wrapped around my face like an Egyptian mummy for four hours a day, thereby feeling like an idiot. Fortunately, I am neither so old that I require such desperate measures, nor so young that I will fall for this kind of consumer sucker-punch.
For now, I'm happy to resume my wall push-ups, placing my hands right where they ought to be.
Judy Gruen writes the popular "Off My Noodle" column at judygruen.com. Her next book, "The Women's Daily Irony Supplement," will be published in May.