Too Much Hot Air in the Senate Chamber? “Add Oxygen!” said our Co-Founder, Deborah Szekely.
By Peter Jensen
In 1968 Rancho La Puerta co-founder Deborah Szekely sat in the U.S. Senate gallery with veteran Washington reporter Vera Glaser (1916-2008).
(A year later Ms. Glaser would cement her reputation as an “asker of tough questions” when she confronted President Nixon in 1969 about the role of women in his administration. “Can we expect some more equitable recognition of women’s abilities, or are we going to remain the lost sex?” she asked, upon noting that of his 200 presidential nominations since taking office in ’69, only three had gone to women.)
Picture Ms. Glaser and Deborah in ’68 looking down on the Senators during a Friday afternoon session.
Although it would be over another decade before Deborah herself burst upon the Washington scene as the director of The Inter-American Foundation (a grassroots development agency created in 1969 by the U.S. Congress to fund the self-help initiatives of the organized poor in Latin America and the Caribbean), she was already coming up to speed about the workings of Washington, and her sharp observations led to this following bit of wordplay and story-telling by Ms. Glaser. The piece, written for Women’s News Service, was picked up by a number of newspapers.
Recently we found it in the Rancho La Puerta archives: another chapter in the fascinating life of Deborah. It’s a good time to enjoy this little bit of levity during this month when the Iowa Caucus is heating up. But sometimes humor strikes awfully close to the truth: every country needs lawmakers who are fit and, perhaps most importantly, alert.
FITNESS EXPERT SPIES ON SENATORS
By Vera Glaser
Women’s News Service
A United States Senator may be a political pinup boy to his wife or mother, but he’s likely to be just another under-exercised body to Deborah Szekely, well-known health and beauty expert.
What’s more, the taxpayers would get a bigger bang for their buck if the senators recessed hourly for a whiff of oxygen and a few twirls with a jump rope.
Perched in the Senate gallery during a recent debate, the owner of the famous Golden Door at Escondido, California, which specializes in retreading the beautiful people, made some off-the-cuff analyses of individual senators without knowing their identities. Mrs. Szekely is also co-founder of Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico—the forerunner to the Golden Door and all modern-day fitness and wellness resorts.
“He has no business yawning in mid-afternoon,” she said of a paunchy figure sprawled behind his desk. “He needs a glass of vegetable juice.” It turned out to be West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
“That one looks alert,” she noted, sizing up Wisconsin’s William Proxmire. She was right. Proxmire jogs three miles a day.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, scion of a family noted for touch football prowess, was dismissed with “overweight for a young man. He ought to take off 10 or 15 pounds.”
The most athletic debater was Mississippi’s John Stennis, who was managing the pending measure. “Plenty of bounce! He’s really burning up the calories,” she said approvingly as Stennis waved his arms and shouted Claghorn-style.
Egg-shaped Jennings Randolph of West Virginia drew a two-word thumbs-down verdict, “Very bad.”
Four senators, Mrs. Szekely noted, sat “like bumps on a log” for two hours, not speaking and barely moving as debate droned on around them. They were Kentucky’s Thruston Morton, Idaho’s Len Jordan, Hawaii’s Hiram Fong and Mississippi’s James Eastland.
Others repeatedly complained that it was Friday afternoon, they were tired, and they wanted to go home.
Mrs. Szekely was in Washington to give members of the American Newspaper Women’s Club some advice on how to keep fit and beautiful despite the crazy hours, crazy food and tension of the campaign trail.
By concentrating intensely, she found several senators who drew high marks.
“THAT one has vitality in his walk,” she commented on New Jersey’s Clifford Case as he strode from the cloakroom.
“And so does he!” It was New York’s Jacob Javits.
Both men are past 60 but Case works out in the Capitol gym and Javits is an ardent tennis player.
Majority Leader Mike Mansfield was complimented for his spare, agile frame. Rhode Island’s Clairborne Pell, likewise.
After casting a knowing eye over the trim figure of Maine’s Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, the sole lady senator, Mrs. Szekely opined she could pass for a girl of 50. “If there were more women senators, the competition might keep these boys on their toes.”
Unlike some visitors who seem to detect the presence of hot air in the Senator chamber, Mrs. Szekely kept saying, “There’s just not enough oxygen in here.”
Every senator, she said, needs a place where he can go and breathe deeply, out of doors perhaps.
“You can figure it out yourself. If 100 senators and 435 representatives took a five-minute oxygen break every hour, then a dozen quick rope skips unto they huffed and puffed, it would increase their efficiency tremendously. They’d do at least one-fourth more work. It would save the country millions,” she said.