Tucked away in an inconspicuous shelf, I found a shiny grey plastic case with blue lettering on it: ‘Abtronic: The Future of Fitness’.
How did I come to own this miracle device? Or even bring it with me from various places that I’ve lived over the years. It might be fifteen years old!
A little history then. My father was not an active man. He tried, over the years, to exercise, but I have a photo of him as a baby where he has the chubbiest cheeks and is really a little heavy already. It seemed written into this genes.
He played badminton at one time, and after that, what I remember most is that he would buy a different exercise machine every few years, depending on what was popular. There was the exercise bike, then the mini-trampoline (which I loved) and then a rowing machine. In the last decade of his life, there was even Wii Fit. He would step on and off the Balance Board. Its its perky cartoon voice would even say how heavy he was.
What he liked to do most, really, was lie back in his Lazy-Boy chair (a series of one or two of them over the years; these lasted a long time), read the newspaper and watch TV. With particular ingenuity, late in life he managed to combine watching TV with occasional exercise. The exercise bike was the one machine that did not come and go. After many years when Mom got sick of the shouting dramatics of professional wrestling which Dad had watched since childhood (and had changed much over time), he would be banished to the basement to the second TV where he would watch it at the same time as exercise.
I can’t quite figure out the exact dated but what I remember was a fairly long Christmas holiday in Hawaii. Hawaii is where my mom was born and where my brother Tom and his family live, having moved into Grandma’s old beachside house after she’d died.
It was a long enough holiday that I kept seeing ads on TV for the Abtronic: a belt that would send electrical pulses to your stomach, making it contract as if you were doing an exercise. The pitch was that it was easy, compact and you could do it anytime, for example, while watching TV. It was not expensive, perhaps $50.
This, I thought, was perfect for Dad.
I asked him if he’d seen the ads and then tried to gauge his opinion, if he thought it would be a good idea, if he might use it.
On Christmas morning, I opened up a gift addressed to me from Dad. Inside was the Abtronic.
I had talked about it so much that he had thought I was hinting for him to buy one for me.
He opened up a gift from me: another Abtronic.
Did it work? No.
Did we try it? Yes.
It required that you’d smear a water-based gel on the back of it so that the electrical pulses would go from the little mechanism to your stomach. It felt uncomfortable and strange, these tiny shocks and contractions. I justified it to myself saying that it could supplement my doing other abdominal exercises, and exercising in general.
But really, it was ridiculous. Why would I as a young, fit person try some silly unproven technology rather than do a few sit-ups? I’d have to chalk it up to family loyalty: our love of gadgets, our search for a quick fix, and the hope that we could get exercise without actually doing it! Also, a bit of folkloric belief in magic, not so different from grandma’s prayer beads that were in a wooden bowl, not far from us at any time that Christmas.
So, goodbye Abtronic. In the garbage you go. If I’d tried to use it in the last decade it would most likely have given me a hernia, an electric shock or both. I salute your preposterous sales pitch, bow down to how you convinced us to buy not one, but two of you at the same time, and I allow us our trespasses, nonsensical and embarrassing family particularities that make us who we are.
P.S. Does anyone want my Wii and Wii Fit?