Mums the Word

The Devil I Know, The Demon I'll Become

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Like one of those Gone Wild Girls, I took my shirt off in the bar to a cacophony of popping flashbulbs. “Okay James, suck in your gut and make a six pack.” I clenched my abdomen to no effect. Sal might as well have asked me to bank a chicken wing off the international space station and land it in Africa. “Now blast your stomach out as far as it can go.” I did as instructed, taking care not to knock over anyone’s cocktail. Sal strung a tape measure around the mass grave of deli sandwiches, domestic beer and Chips Ahoy that comprise my midsection and recorded his findings.

Memorial Day, my last 24 hours of willfully negligent consumption. I spent it bloating up as much as possible. Breakfast was a bacon-egg-and-cheese and a carton of orange juice. A turkey club and a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips for lunch. Dinner: a slice of buffalo-chicken pizza smothered in bleu cheese. Sodium, carbohydrates, dairy; the more the better. I had to get weighed in, and turning my liver into foie gras ensured I’d look as awful as possible. Swallowing six or seven Pabsts completed the final push.

Sal is the brainpower behind the Second Annual Great Astoria Gut-Off. Twenty dudes, $100 buy-in, six pack of abs by Labor Day. Winner take all, because there can be only One out of this slovenly pack of fat Highlanders. Sal is enigmatic, a double agent of wellness and self-destruction. He’s a regular drinking buddy, a close friend to saturated fat and fermented malt, and an enthusiastic proponent of metabolic exercise. Now he’s the founder and moderator of a summer-long fitness competition.

I don’t plan to win. There’s no way to game the system; it’s not a measurement of weight loss, BMI, waist size or anything else quantifiable. On the national Day of Labor we’ll simply bare our chests, flex and subject ourselves to the judgement of the masses. Our fate lies in the hands of The People. This is the male equivalent of a wet t-shirt contest, minus any element of actual attractiveness. I didn’t join for the money, but for the motivation. I crave the carrot dangling from the end of the stick. The only way out of the swamp I’m in is to start moving, and I desperately need an inspirational spectre to give myself a jump.

The job hunt has gone a bit cold. I’m starting to suspect foul play, that some names on my reference list have gone sour and turned their backs on me. I had three promising interviews last week, dolling myself up for the occasion in name-brand male elegance. Dark olive Banana Republic chinos, Ben Sherman Albini button-down, sharp Steve Madden Brakker sneaks: chic, form-fitting, hard-hitting. I’d hire me. Yet every time I check my phone, Andy the Android has nothing to report other than the latest desperate email from Nancy Pelosi panhandling for money.

The hottest lead I received was for a room-service phone job at the Trump International Hotel. More eggs. It’s a “The devil you know...” kind of situation. Yes, I hate schlepping breakfast, but at least I know I can do it with confidence. My dossier of resumes and references tucked under my arm, I marched into the lobby. Working the dais were three Charlie’s Angels, perfect 10’s with high dagger heels, snake-like pantyhose and viciously sleek albeit conservative dresses. “I’m here for the opening in room service,” I barked at all three of them. The tremor in my voice betrayed my anxiety, but even I didn’t know the source. Either I was nervous about the interview, intimidated by the radiant sexuality of these Amazons, or maybe the tsunami warning in my colon was wailing in advance of imminent trouble. “Find a deep toilet, Parky; something with plenty of flow. We’ve got meat to move down here!”

One of the sex lizards led me outside to the patio to wait for the manager on duty. It was an odd place for an interview considering the weather, nearly 100 degrees with a blanket of humidity. No shade, either, so the sweat beaded up instantly upon my traitorous scalp. She poured me a glass of ice water, which served more for damage control than refreshment. The manager took a life age to materialize, leaving me plenty of time to think.

The weigh-in behind me, it would soon be time to reverse direction. I had the plan sketched. Step one was to clean out the engine. From mouth to anus, I had considerable traffic to alleviate. A caustic bottle of cleansing agents comprised of fresh ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper chilled pensively in my refrigerator. It was designed to liquify the bowels, irritate the colon walls and squeeze out the contents like toothpaste from a tube.

As my mind finished dwelling on future shits, the manager appeared in a pantsuit and sat down across from me. “So James, tell me, why did you leave your previous job?” I swallowed hard. This woman had piercing eyes, shark-like posture, an extremely sharp pen and plenty of interrogation experience. I squared my shoulders and assailed her with a fusilade of lies and half-truths. I wanted the job, but how badly?

Apparently pummeling her with charm worked: on the way out she asked me how tall I was. Translation: “I like how tall you are.” Unfortunately her final question filled the sky with dark, ominous clouds. “So James, would you object to me asking you to shave every day for this job?” Lightning struck behind my eyes, thunder rumbling deep within. If there’s one thing I hate in this world, it’s when women ask me to shave. I’m all for gender equality, and I earnestly believe we need to do a better job as a nation of acknowledging the strength, professionalism and courage of women in the workplace. That said, the beard is off limits. I can’t grow hair on my head, so I grow it on my face. It’s really that simple. It frames the jaw, lends color and definition to my pale complexion, and, oh: It’s my goddamn face. I can only imagine the chain reaction of vitriol unleashed were I to suggest her hairstyle was ugly and inappropriate. “Sure, no problem!” I chirped. Yo me llamo “Doormat.” Ay, dios mio!

Another interview behind me, another manager snooping around my reference list, scanning my past for sources of concern. The urgency compounded every day. There’s nothing to be done about it; no way to skip steps. A six pack of abs can’t be cultivated overnight, either. It takes a coordinated effort. Crunches alone won’t do it. Neither will weight loss. I need to cut carbs, build muscle, sculpt my abdominals and burn much as possible. Fill the fridge with good, clean fuel: Greek yogurt, almonds, fresh eggs, tomatoes, kale, spinach, chicken breasts, salmon, no sugar at all, no white flour anywhere, plenty of fish oil, multi-vitamins and water. Endless water, at least a tubful, every hour. Each drop swallowed makes its way out somehow, either through my skin or my urine, spiriting toxins and salt away with it. Then comes the exercise.

Something has to happen here. I’m taking too many steps in that direction - self-transmogrifying with vigor - to not. By training like a demon, I’ll become one. Horns and scales, a forked tongue and a wicked physique. A salvo of resumes every day, callbacks after promising interviews, air squats, pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, incline push-ups, crunches, planking, four-hour bike rides, interval training on the track, running up stairs, jumping rope, eschewing beer for grain alcohol. This is the hardest part, a full month of gritting through pain and soreness, enduring humiliation at the hands of picky and condescending hiring managers. I’m tearing tissue fiber, ignoring discomfort, investing faith in the hope that under these stubborn layers of tummy and mental fat there is a wall of muscle beginning to form, hardening into a sheer face of solid rock.


Danielle Etter said...

So when you get your first book published, can you send me an autographed copy?? Your blog is seriously a guilty pleasure of mine!

James Parkinson said...

Ixnay on the ookbay, but of course I can.

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