You’d Better Get Physical, or Else

My doctor, a Justin Bieber look-alike, recited the words that anyone of a certain age, condition, and poundage dreads hearing: “You need to exercise and lose weight.”

“Give me a break, doc. I’m fine,” I replied while trying to sit up on the exam table. I couldn’t move; I was stuck like a tipped cow.

Doctor Biebs offered his hand and yanked me up. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one-third of all American adults are obese,” he said with a pointed look.

“I’m not obese,” I replied. “I have underactive glands.”

Doctor Biebs rolled his eyes. “I don’t know about your glands but you certainly are underactive. I suggest that you get off the sofa and go for a walk, or join a gym. Get physical!”

While I dressed behind the privacy curtain, Biebs rattled off the benefits of exercise: cholesterol, weight and diabetes management. And potentially a longer life. I tuned him out because I was lost in the memory of an exercise class I had joined several years earlier. It didn’t go well.

Exercising Girl in Pink Tights

Back then I rooted around in my closet for something to wear during exercise. I found a terry cloth headband, a ratty sweatshirt and pale pink tights that were old when Olivia Newton-John released her hit song, “Let’s Get Physical.” Using a crowbar for leverage and a can of Crisco for lubricant, I wedged myself into the tights, pulled the sweatshirt down to cover my 30-year-old post-pregnancy bulge, and snapped on the headband.

I met a perky thing named Amber at the gym for a guided tour. Amber had thighs thin enough to floss with. I’m truly not fat-shaming myself when I say my thighs resembled twin MetLife air ships. Amber led me past treadmills, stationary bikes, and mats for floor exercise. Neckless men and women with tree-trunk arms and legs grunted at a bank of weight machines. One of them, a female who could bench-press an SUV, smirked at my pink tights as I jiggled by.

My tour concluded at a large studio. “Because you’re dressed for dancing, you might like this,” Amber chirped. “It’s an aerobics class with Latin-style music.” She stared at my tights. “Um, what was that sound?”

“I’m fasting and my stomach’s growling,” I lied. In truth, my tights were emitting a noise like the grinding of tectonic plates. Something was about to erupt.

I eased into the studio and moved to center front row, sliding in next to a man wearing—I kid you not—red Speedo swim trunks and a sleeveless T-shirt.

The dance instructor took her place in front of Speedo Boy and me. I recognized her as the neckless woman at the exercise machines who’d smirked at my tights. She introduced herself as Petal. According to her tattoos, she owned a Harley and no one had better tread on her country.

Latin music suddenly erupted with a shriek. “Get ready to sal-sahhh,” Petal screamed, scaring Speedo Boy. He took a couple paces backward. I held my ground though not from courage; I was afraid to move because the waistband of my pink tights was starting to separate from everything else.

Petal and the other exercisers moved to the music with the precision of goose-stepping parade marchers. Meanwhile, Speedo Boy and I lurched like zombies. After a few years, the song finally ended. I tiptoed to the door, which caused my tights to creak and moan like rusted iron girders on an old suspension bridge. I heard a grunt behind me and felt something snag the end of my sweatshirt. With a jerk, Petal pulled me back into the room.

“You ain’t exercised until you’ve sweated blood,” Petal snarled. “Now that’s getting physical!”

I didn’t know what else to do so I saluted her.

Another song blasted with a tempo twice as fast as the first one. With Petal watching me like a prison guard, I tried to keep up with everyone else. So did Speedo Boy, whose face turned as red as his swim trunks. Petal was watching him too.

“Move, you sissies,” she yelled. “Tuck those butts! Swivel those hips. Kick, kick, kick! Now bend over and slap your knees!”

Say what??? I hadn’t seen my knees in years but was aware they existed because they made me scream with pain when I walked more than a city block. I punched at the air instead, jarring my Olivia Newton-John headband. It fell over my eyes. I slapped again and, unfortunately, connected with Petal’s jaw. I knew it was her jaw because my palm was vibrating like a tuning fork.

Petal cursed and growled.

Exercising Girl in Pink Tights

I high-tailed it to the exit and tripped over something squishy that smelled like a moldy mattress and stale beer. I’d trampolined Speedo Boy who had fainted from exertion.

I yanked off the headband and flung it. It landed on Petal’s extended hand, the one reaching to crush my face. As I made my escape, my tights unraveled with a hiss and a violent snap, leaving only the waistband and the feet in place.  A 30-foot vestigial tail of pink nylon thread trailed behind me as I ran for my life.

The other exercisers jeered as if I were the losing player in the Hunger Games. “Kill her! Kill her!” they yelled. Petal snorted and bore down on me. Her hand reached for my shoulder and I felt my bones splinter as I…

…woke up to hear Doctor Biebs babbling from the other side of the privacy curtain in the exam room. I had fallen asleep while tying my sneakers.

“The days of waiting to treat people only after they get sick are over,” Biebs continued. “It’s your responsibility to take your health into your own hands.” He paused. “You need to get physical!”

My sigh of exasperation billowed the privacy curtain. “I hear you, doc. I’ll start an exercise program, I promise.”

“Great,” he said. “There’s an aerobics dance class with Latin music at the YMCA. You might want to give it a try. My wife Petal is the instructor.”


Epilogue: After the appointment with my doctor I scheduled a daily noon-time walk on my office calendar. I exercise at a fitness center, although not as often as I should. I started an eating plan, too. Moving more and consuming less has resulted in a weight loss of 30 pounds. My thighs don’t go scootch-scootch anymore.

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