Catlin Gabel: what education can be
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It’s the late ’70s. I’ve had two adorable girls within 20 months of each other and it’s time to get back to the sweatbox. I mean the gym.
The booming beat of “Y-M-C-A” blasts through the door from the aerobics class and hangs in the air; exit three slim beauties in trendy workout attire.
“I hate loud music. And I hate skinny girls. I could exercise at home,” Slothful Self suggests.
“Get in there,” Inner Self commands.
I spread my towel in the back of the already crowded room, like I’m staking out a spot at the beach. This is L.A., and one always has to stake out one’s turf—in traffic, in the grocery store, in Baskin-Robbins. Yum.
I lie down for a few deep breaths.
The instructor strides to the front of the room like a runty canine drill sergeant and barks, “C’mon, now, everybody PUSH, PUSH, PUSH!” She shoves her arms up over her bony shoulders in time to the music. Then she adds alternately thrusting legs. “KICK, KICK, KICK!” she hollers.
As I’m kicking legs and thrusting arms, I glance around and notice I’m the only one who’s not already trim. I ask the universe, “Why?” No, not “Why aren’t there more people my size here?” (although that thought does cross my mind), but “Why would anyone come here to be tortured if they already look great?” The idea that maybe this class is what allows them the leeway to reward themselves later, say with chocolate (can you say Van Duyn’s?), hasn’t yet surfaced in my consciousness.
Five minutes in I start giggling. “I’m the only hippo in a room full of gazelles,” I realize. “I’m living a sitcom!” No one else is laughing.
The more I laugh because no one else is laughing, the more I notice the seriousness in their slimness, which makes me giggle. Wait, wait, who’s that I see in the corner of my eye? Another person has slipped into the back of the class. I nod my head in recognition, as if to say, “Howdy! So glad to see another person who looks like me!”
She smiles a little and looks around. Again, this is L.A., and folks just don’t smile if they don’t know each other. I can see it in her eyes—she’s wracking her brain to recall: Do I know her? Or is she trying to flirt?
Hilarious! I start again with the laughing, waggling my head and looking down, and my nose starts to drip. I wipe it with my sleeve, noting that when my toddler does this, I lecture her.
I glance at the clock. Only 30 minutes gone, and I’m ready to collapse. My legs are like cannons attached at the hips, like they’ve been amputated and I’m feeling that phantom pain that makes grown men cry. I sneak a peek.
The PA system blasts out a page: “Wanda Powell, telephone call at the front desk.” (This is the pre-cell phone era.) Suddenly, I’m begging God for an urgent call. Surely my husband cannot console one of the kids and he desperately needs me home! The fantasy dissolves and I’m back to reality, as we change positions.
I’m dyin’ here.
I catch a glimpse of the instructor, who looks bored, nonchalantly scanning the room as her legs continue pumping up-and-out and up-and-out.
Think of something else.
I notice there are actually two men here. One is desperately cachectic and wears ballet shoes. In case of fire, I’ll have to carry him out. The other is a muscle man. You know, the type that oils up before he exercises. He’s all shiny, like fruit at the supermarket, waiting to be pinched. Ewww. Let him worry about the ballet guy.
I laugh out loud and steal another glimpse at the clock. Fifteen minutes left. Panting and drenched in sweat, I’m all laughed out.
Why is my head about to drop off my neck when I’m working my thighs? Wait a second. Oh no. Wardrobe malfunction! One of my nursing pads has popped out and I’m bobbing. I can feel the pad slip up under my armpit. Dang. That tickles.
I’m in serious pain as the sweat trickles off my nose. I give another swipe with the sleeve and chuckle at my sorry self again. Nobody notices. They’re all into their own agony.
Oh, praise God. The class has finally ended. I flop to the floor, like a beached whale. I’m frozen, incapable of lifting a fingernail. I get dizzy as I struggle to sit upright for the finishing stretch, flapping arms and thrashing around, like a gull caught in an oil spill.
“Now give yourselves a big hand!” chirps the drill instructor in her magpie voice. Everyone applauds; it’s L.A., after all. But my right hand can’t find my left hand—they’re both noodles.
“And if you have any questions, be sure to ask!” she squawks.
Just one: “Where can I order a new body?”
Portland native Candy Campbell is a writer/actress and nurse/educator in the San Francisco area. For more info, visit http://candycampbell.com