I’ve started working out. This is because I am out of shape. Well, that’s not to say I don’t HAVE a shape, which of course I do. I’m sort of amoeba-shaped, with odds and ends floating around in random directions. But it’s not the sort of shape a person deliberately tries to get himself into. It’s the kind of shape you see in an inkblot test, or at the scene of an accident.
The reason I’m trying to get in shape is that I’ve realized how important physical appearance is. If you examine most of your top Hollywood stars with high-powered binoculars, you’ll find that they are in excellent physical condition, and that they don’t appreciate being stared at so closely. Oh sure, there are exceptions. Some celebrities are ugly. For example, Tommy Lee Jones possesses, at last count, only one eyebrow, which extends all the way across his forehead, and in fact circumnavigates his entire skull. And yet this man has been the star of several very popular movies, including “Men in Black,” in which he was less attractive than many of the aliens.
But for the rest of us, we need to look good, not just if we want to be motion picture stars, but also if we want the opposite sex to find us attractive. Of course, women have a bigger issue with this than men do. Women will go on crash diets and lapse into deep depression if they so much as SEE another woman who weighs less than they do, whereas a man can be the fattest, awfullest thing in the world and yet still wear tiny bathing suits at the beach and prance around like Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance.
Anyway, looks are very important, particularly in college. Having a pleasant personality and a nice sense of humor does not count for squat, as you know if you have ever been young. And so I’m working out in the weight room. I don’t want to get huge — just a little muscle tone, flatten the ol’ stomach a bit, get me one of those cute rear ends you hear so much about. (Heaven help the man who doesn’t have a cute rear end.)
This is not my first foray into the world of weight-lifting. I took a weight-lifting class a couple years ago, back when you actually had to do some kind of physical activity to meet your P.E. requirements for graduation, unlike now, where you just have to sign up for HePe 129 and then come back at the end of the semester to collect your A.
No, back then you had to take a class or two, and so I took weight-lifting. The problem was, I got stuck with a personal trainer named “Biff” (real name: I don’t remember), who would show up every day with a new way of killing me. I grew to dread the class, and I quit going (my standard method of dealing with unpleasant college classes), and I wound up with virtually no physical improvement whatsoever, although if there were a muscle representing my ability to postpone the inevitable, it would be huge.
This time, it’s different. Biff is gone, having been sent back to his home planet. So it’s just me and a bunch of sweaty guys in a weight room. I am intimidated by the sweaty guys. This is because I have almost no idea what I am doing. I know some basic weight-lifting maneuvers, but there are some pieces of equipment in that weight room that could not be more foreign to me if they came directly from Neptune. They’re all variations on the same motifs: a bench, a bar, some weights. They just rearrange them and change their shapes, leaving me to figure out what you’re supposed to do with them. I have a fear of sitting on a little bench with the bar in one hand, only to learn that you’re supposed to STAND UP on the bench and lift the bar with your ankle. The sweaty guys would laugh at me, and it would become apparent that I was a novice. Then they would beat me up.
I try to reassure myself with the self-deception that nobody else knows what they’re doing either, but that doesn’t work because it is obvious that they DO know what they’re doing. I can tell by how much weight they can lift. This is another source of intimidation for me. Currently, three weeks into my program, these guys could lift more weight with their eyelashes than I could with a forklift. These are guys who played sports in high school while I was writing irresponsible editorials for the school newspaper (“Why I Think the Principal Once Killed a Guy”). They have a huge head-start on me.
Anyway, I try to ignore my fear, and I go about my routine. This is my system: I stand in a neutral position in the middle of the weight room and identify a part of my body that does not hurt. Then I hurt it. When it is good and hurt, I pick another body part and move on. Eventually, my entire body, including my elbows and my hair, is in deep pain, and I know that I am finished for the day. I limp back to the locker room and try not to convey in my body language the fact that I feel as though I have just been hit by a train, because I know the sweaty guys would pounce on me if they knew. They can smell weakness.
I never discuss my specific regimen with people because I don’t know enough about the subject. My observation has been that most other people don’t know much about it either, but that doesn’t stop them from talking about it. (This is true of many subjects.) If I mention to another guy that I am doing squats in my program, he will tell me that squats are bad for your back or your knees or something, and that if you squat too much your kidneys will pop out. I will take his word for it and follow his recommendation, which is to do leg extensions and toe presses instead, only when I mention that to someone else, he will tell me what a moron the first guy was, and how if I want strong legs, I should do leg curls, or leg benches, or pressed leg bench curls, or whatever. Again, since I know virtually nothing about the human body except how to make my ears wiggle, I cannot respond to these conflicting reports. All I can do is smile and grunt and say “dude” and try to maintain good rapport with the sweaty guys.
And so it goes. I continue, three days a week, making my body hurt in the weight room and then making it hurt even more by walking up the 12,829 steps from the Smith Fieldhouse to the main part of campus. But it will all pay off. Soon I’ll be in shape. I’ll be buff. I’ll be one of the sweaty guys. Young punks will be intimidated by me, and I’ll frighten them to the point of tears with my manliness.
Now if only my hair weren’t so dorky looking….
John Gholdston, who was the faculty adviser to The Daily Universe and one heck of a great guy, did not like the word "butt." So I refrained from using it when discussing how I wanted to get a "cute [rear end]." Had I not known, or cared, what he thought, I would have used "butt," but I decided to compromise a little on this one, just 'cause Gholdston's so swell.
Sharp-eyed readers may recall much of this column as being very similar to an article I wrote for Muscle & Fitness magazine a while back. I make no apologies for plagiarizing from myself.
The very day this column was published in The Daily Universe, people in the weight room began to comment on it. Many of them were the very sweaty guys I had been talking about. They all seemed to like it, fortunately. And a few days later, the column was even posted on the weight room door for all to see.
In a staff meeting, a certain high-ranking Communications Department official asked me to stand up and turn around. She then said, "I just wanted to see if the weight-lifting was working."
This column prompted an angry letter, which I am always fond of receiving, from a fellow named Erik (no relation). It came in the form of an e-mail, reprinted here exactly as I got it:
ha, ha. i'm still busting a gut from your last "snide remarks" column. did you pick up on that sport, that was sarcasm? i found your article to lack humor and your focus on looks tends to be a bit high schoolish. am i wrong in voicing my opinion? the last time i wrote to a columnist he wrote back with disgust, and had some of his friends write me also. i love mail so feel free to send me some good columns. your sexist comments about women were very insulting, but i'm sure plenty of the "men" at this institution would applaud you on your comments.
have a cheery day, erik
p.s. it's nothing personal, but i just want a reason to pick up a copy of the daily universe, and your article didn't motivate me.
You can imagine how bad I felt at failing to motivate someone to pick up a copy of a free newspaper.