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Picture of health may be a bit fuzzy

The sign sneered at all comers: "AT LAST _ AN EASIER WAY TO A FLAT STOMACH." It was a contraption for doing sit-ups. I studied it distrustfully.

"Sit down and try it out," said a cheery young gent with a flat stomach.

I sat on the little piece of carpet, stuck my legs into the contraption. It was wooden and didn't hurt. It was like someone holding your ankles while you did sit-ups.

"Up and down," the cheery guy said. "Faster, faster, faster."

I gave him a look.

He absorbed it and chirped right back: "Aren't those the easiest sit-ups you ever did?"


Another guy with a flat stomach came up. It was Bill Roy, inventor of the Roy Sit-Up Partner, $19.95. Seems kind of expensive for two pieces of wood and a bolt, I said, not winning a new friend.

Roy and his wife used to do sit-ups together, he recalled fondly, holding each other's ankles, creating no doubt a lovely sense of closeness. Later Roy developed the Sit-Up Partner. I trust it did not come between them.

All this about sit-ups took place on opening day at one of the better kept secrets of the local entertainment season: the Florida Sports and Recreation Show at the Florida Suncoast Dome.

For some reason, maybe misguided economy, there is no sign, not even a little one, outside the Dome, so you drive past without knowing what, if anything, is playing. If you haven't seen or heard the ads, you may never find out.

The show is open today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. It costs $2 to park and $5 for admission. Seems as if they ought to let you park free and pay you $5 to go inside, because it is basically a bunch of exhibitors trying to sell you something: recreational vehicles, sports clothing and equipment, health improvement plots and devices.

Some pretty young women were examining spines at an exhibit operated by Nelson Chiropractic Center of Largo. I volunteered. Stood straight and leery, staring ahead as the chiropractor's helper ran a softly pointed instrument up and down my back. Meanwhile, by the magic of science, a pattern of my spine registered on graph paper.

I looked and was not unpleased. "Nice and straight," I said.

The technician reigned in her enthusiasm. "Looks like something's a little out of place here," she said, pointing down.

This called for a professional opinion. Dr. Shawn Stephens studied the spinal drawing, nodded sagely, and spoke. "There's a small degree of pelvic tilting."

Sounds a little naughty, I said.

But Stephens had the last word, dismissing my so-called straight spine, with a deprecating smile. "Significantly less than normal curvature," he said.

There were only a few exhibits that I found unpleasant. One was bow and arrow hunting, with the public shooting arrows with a fearsome whoosh and a sickening thump into blocks of hay. No doubt I am wrong in guessing that a bullet is less painful than an arrow tearing into an animal's flesh.

The diet booths were more pleasant, especially one called Lifestyles presided over by Angie Canney who says she has lost 60 pounds. There is a picture of her in the old days about to launch into a pizza.

You look happy in the picture, I said.

"Not like I am now." She grinned hugely.

She thrust part of a chocolate "energy cookie" into my hand. I tasted it and waited for "a rush of energy to course through my body."

No rush.

"Maybe you should try peanut butter," she said.