The America of Strong, Beautiful Men
Everyone in my town is a man, and every one of them has those gorgeous muscles you see on television. They are sometimes on television themselves, the men of my town. Our town is not known for much beyond its strong, beautiful men. If you visit the public spaces of my town, you will find men flexing for one another. You will find men checking out one another’s biceps and triceps and quadriceps for tone and mass. It is lonely, being a weak and ugly man in my town.
You walk past the gym on a January evening, you walk through the snow and as you pass one of the many gymnasiums in this town, you see a man standing in the large window, arms akimbo giving all of his hormonal intensity to the people passing on the street.
You ride your bicycle on a summer day and two men come up behind you, flanking you on their bicycles. You pick up the pace. They pick up their pace. Eventually they crawl past you, slowly, lazily, with real grace and skill, like sailboats. Your pedaling is nothing. Your pedaling is an empty vessel. Your pedaling is an embodiment of your regret.
As the years crawled on, I sensed I was being put upon by the inhabitants of my town. And so, after much debate and self-doubt I visited one of my town’s many gymnasiums. When I walked in with my sweatbands and my backpack, everyone stopped to look. I told the guy who appeared to be in charge “I’m finally here, you see? I’m ready to get strong like everyone else in this town.” The guy reached for my money and everyone else resumed their arm curls and jumping jacks and various other exercises.
The man took my money and put it in his pocket. “This will go a long way,” said the man. He took me to the locker room first. “This is where the fun begins,” he said. I put down my bag in an empty locker bay. “Good,” he told me, “You’re already getting the hang of it.” He was careful to validate everything I did, which made me feel good about my decision to finally come here.
Once we’d seen all there was in the locker room, we left by a back door, and entered a small, dimly lit kitchen. I asked my guide when the working out and getting strong part began. “It started when you walked in the door, brother,” he said. And without another word, he began furiously slicing a mango and a pear and a banana. He put them into a huge blender with a healthy wunk of red powder and several squirts from various bottles all sitting near the blender. The blender blended and the mixture was given to me in a cup. I drank it because that seemed to be the expectation. How was it? It hurt my entire body. I coughed. The man laughed. “You will get used to it,” he said.
Several enormous men filtered past me as we moved toward the exercise area. “It is arm day today,” the man said. We walked through the exercise room and out through the front door. He took me to the parking lot. This is my truck, he said. Eventually you will lift it, but today you will unload these bags of sand and place them behind the gymnasium just there. When I balked, he asked me if I would rather begin with leg day. “Maybe,” I said. He told me that someday I would know everything, and when I did, I would know to savor arm day. “I’m doing you a solid, brother,” he said.
Walking home from the gym after arm day, all the hulking men I passed in the parking lot seemed to be looking at me. Finally, I turned and asked a guy getting out of his car what was the deal with everyone in this town. The guy seemed kind of surprised. Eventually he said, “what’s your deal?”
On the subway, I sat down next to a muscle bound man reading a newspaper that was filled with images of other muscle bound men. It was a sickness with the world, I thought. And then I thought: maybe I am the sickness with the world.
When everything is one way and you are another way, you are a disease, you are a disorder.
“It’s okay,” said the man reading the newspaper. “You never asked to be a little shrimp.” I told him I was very tired, and furthermore, I wasn’t crazy about his familiar tone. Can a guy get a little privacy? I didn’t even want to have muscles, I said. I tried it out today, and I didn’t like it very much. The newspaper guy put one of his huge, muscled hands on my shoulder. I shrugged his hand away and said I didn’t want to look like him. “like it or not,” the man said gently, looking into my eyes, “you are already becoming like us.”
Your sign: Gemini
Any place in the world: Dinosaur Park, Rapid City, SD
Best breakfast: yesterday’s pumpkin pie w/ some kind of coffee
Sweetest thing: people sitting quietly together
Best book nobody talks about: Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim