Are You There Richard Simmons? It’s Me, Erin.

I walked in on my husband changing the baby’s diaper on my yoga mat. As my eyes adjusted to the sight of my sage-colored rubber mat supporting a pile of feces-coated wipes and our daughter in a child’s pose that was never intended by any yogi, I gasped and asked, “How am I supposed to downward dog on that now?” G rolled his eyes, “Would that be a hypothetical downward dog?” He was pointing out a truth. I hadn’t been using that mat for anything more athletic than some combination stretching-snacking in front of the television. It hadn’t felt the press of my palms or been unfurled within the quiet sanctum of a yoga studio in years.

Raised in a house filled with athletes that was helmed by a father who was once a professional baseball player, I grew up exercising. I was placed on tennis courts, installed on basketball teams, and sent careening around tracks. Once I shipped out for college I continued to work out despite no longer having a maniacal coach or a bench full of teenagers experimenting with lesbianism to soldier me on. When I moved from my university town to New York City, I learned that most city dwellers don’t work out in any disciplined way. Calories are burned by foregoing the subway in favor of walking to get to where you need to go. If you did belong to a gym, it was just a place you went to escape the confines of your office or because you’d already slept with everyone at the bars near your apartment.

I stopped exercising once I became pregnant with my first child. Because two more pregnancies followed in such rapid succession, my break with cardio has become more like early retirement. I think about it warmly and relay fond stories to my children of the time I could run the length of the yard without needing those cardiac paddles applied to my chest. I marvel at photos of myself participating in 5Ks and intramural sports teams while I peruse catalogues for my very own golf cart and consider the sodium content of various soups.

Because I have one of those thin frames that deceives people to believe that my heap of gristle and bone powder is contained by some musculature, they assume I dabble in some kind of aerobic activity. The people who have seen me naked, a list speedily dwindling to my Ob Gyn and my unlucky neighbor across the street, know otherwise. I take pains to prevent my own eyes from seeing myself naked, too, a plan that was working well enough until the other day. I had one of those unintended encounters with a floor length mirror that took my breath away and made me question why I ever thought my heart valves were more precious than the benefits of Fen-Phen. What I saw made me realize that I wasn’t satisfied with my physique anymore. Not that I ever was, truly, since even at my body’s most enviable teenage state, I skipped right over that phase of dressing it up in promiscuous ensembles and found myself graduating from the fashion school of Diane Keaton with honors in Chinos and unflattering eyewear.

As I grimaced at the constellation of dimples floating across my pale skin, all I could think was, If I were holding a carrot, I’d look exactly like a tub of hummus.

So it wasn’t a vivid epiphany, but it was the catalyst I needed to set my alarm clock to an unholy hour and retire to bed donning clothes appropriate for the gym. A friend had been trying in vain to compel me to join her at a 5:45am class at the YMCA, a lethal routine of weights and cardio led by an instructor named Theo. I had never seen Theo, but judging by his passion to lead the unfit in curling dumbbells, I imagined him the creator of a pushup apparatus available only by infomercial, with biceps ready to burst forth from his Humerus bone.  As my body moved toward sleep, the elastic squeeze of my sports bra – an early prototype – summoned misgivings. I reminded myself of G’s frenetic travel schedule, which would leave me unable to leave the house for another week, ample time for a new herd of cellulite to begin stampeding across the plains of my ass.

I fished blindly in the dark for my shoes, noting just how sour my mouth tasted and how leaden my legs felt this early in the morning. I crept silently down the stairs, partly hoping to startle the dog so that a spasm of barking would awaken the kids and make it impossible for me to leave. I looked at myself in the light of the kitchen and cringed at the realization my layered workout apparel had left me resembling Virginia Woolf with a Bally’s membership. The doubting voice hissed, “Don’t go. Only people who wear coordinating spandex suits actually burn calories.” I searched the usual places for my car keys as the voice growled louder, “Staring at your computer screen is the same as Isometric exercise.” I couldn’t find my keys and my commitment was fading faster than an all-natural spray tan. Just as one leg dangled precipitously over the ledge to weeping over breakfast croissants, I forced the other one out the door.

I was walking to the gym. In the dark. Like an addict who has just awoken naked at a place of worship, with no memory of how they got there and no car to take them home, jolted to make a lifestyle change.

I trotted slowly as the cold, damp air settled around me.

I can’t believe I am walking to the gym at 5:30 in the morning. This is when murderers strike. This is when shark attacks happen. This is when movies like How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days play on loop. I don’t even have my car keys to use as a self defense weapon. I’m going to have to use the hostile finger jab, but I sincerely doubt the lethal capabilities of my fingers since I don’t even possess any muscle tone in my legs, which is why I’m going to the gym in the first place. If there was ever an occasion for Richard Simmons to smack a person on the rump and gallop beside them in a tank top, this is it…

The events that followed my harrowing walk are hazy in my mind’s eye suffice it to say that I did engage in 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity and not because I was escaping a morning rapist. I remember very little from the class itself as the burn from my thighs overtook both hemispheres of my brain shortly after the warm-up. I do recall that the instructor, though named Theo, was not a hyper-muscular Black man. Theo turned out to be a female, thus also not of Cosby Show fame.  She was the exact sort you’d want to survive a plane crash with because she’d extract your unconscious body from the smoking fuselage and run with you hoisted upon her shoulders until she had to put you down so she could erect a triage unit from seat cushions and palm fronds. She is also the dark figure of my night terrors, alternating between shouting “Work through the pain,” and stubbing out a cigarette on my scalp.

I have clear recollection of the conclusion of class and of crawling into the passenger seat of my friend’s car and feeling as though I may live out the rest of my days from that minivan when she said, “Hard work, huh?”

“I didn’t see that coming,” I panted. “Half of those bitches had osteoporosis, too.”



If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed.

37 thoughts on “Are You There Richard Simmons? It’s Me, Erin.

  1. I feel your pain. Literally, I took up my old yoga regime today and am really wondering how on earth I was ever able to bend like that.

  2. I really, really want to know how the fuck people who teach those early morning classes do it. Because I’m insane, my workouts are done ungodly in the morning (I have the metabolism and discipline of an elephant in heat . . . if I so much as look at a bucket of chicken the wrong way, I wonder where it went while eating a cheesesteak). I want to punch myself when I think about the fact that I got out of bed to run around my block . . . the thought of getting other people to move about is really, really bothersome to me.

    Still, the benefits of working out are numerous – I promise, if you can make it a habit, you’ll love it.

    And your dad was a pro ballplayer?!

  3. The hummus comment had me roaring – and then hungry. You know what else goes good with hummus? Chips. I’m eating chips and thinking about somebody else’s traumatic cardio experience. Because that’s how it should be.

  4. LOL!! I CAN”T get up early to workout. I’ve tried several times…the call of my pillow always brings me back to bed. So I applaud you!!! Seriously! If I didn’t have workout dvd’s and a treadmill my body would never get a workout. And I am DREADING trying to get back into shape post baby #5!!! I actually have nightmares about trying to get back into my coveted skinny jeans!

  5. You’ve just descibed why I own a Wii Fit and why it has a layer of dust on it! I am so lazy right now that I have been working on smoke and mirrors instead. Example? Did you know that wearing heels is slimming,jeans with a slightly higher rise can avoid muffin top ( mostly!). This is where I need to seriously get a grip and Just DO IT!! What?! Abs waaaahhhhhhhh!!!! hurts just thinking about it!

  6. LOL! I don’t want to have to brag … but I was captain of the Quiz Team in high school, and have maintained that level of athleticism even in my forties.

  7. Choked on the fistful of Skittles I shoved in my mouth while reading. I think it’s a sign.–I’ll now eat a different candy while reading your material.

    Oh, and maybe I’ll work harder at the gym. :)


  8. Haha! Way to go! I’ve been meaning to get up early too…it’s so hard. Like getting up at 6:15 with my kids isn’t early enough. But about the cellulite? I am sure there are ways to reduce it, but I don’t think it will ever leave us! :( After my two babies born within two years, I got geared up to get back in shape and just ran a half marathon last month. Which, was great, a feat I never thought possible. But…there is still cellulite. Sure, it’s better, but oh man. Welcome to the new body. It’s just not like it was 15 years ago :(

  9. My husband travels a lot too so I use it as my excuse to not get too mentally and emotionally invested in a workout plan. This means it’s his fault I don’t work out. It’s a win-win really. Until I look in the mirror.

  10. Remember when you could get up the stairs without feeling slightly winded? Even in my most cardio-fit days, i would gasp at the top of the stairs and wonder if it was all worth it! I took a 6 month hiatus from running when I twisted my ankle and had to do other cardio instead. But nothing really does what running will. and now my other ankle is misbehaving. Tub-o-hummus, here I come!

  11. I’m sorry, but those “people” that work out in the wee hours of the morn and actually enjoy it; well…they have a chemical imbalance. Plain and simple…

    I’ve started running and doing yoga in last several months, but never, not once have I done it at 5:30am. So GO YOU! You win…

  12. You are way ahead of the game. Last winter my chest muscles were sore for two days after

    throwing a snowball.

    My children are 4 and 7.

  13. So I guess it’s up to me to tell you.

    Richard Simmons, Virginia Woolf and I?
    We don’t go to Bally’s.

    We hang out in New York bars near our apartments, then sleep with each other after eating hummus and watching “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”


    Okay. Not really. But can you imagine how hot that sex would be?

    (See. I just made you lose your appetite. And…’re welcome.)

  14. This kept getting funnier and funnier. Loved it!

    But please, tell me you bleached the yoga mat. My OCD is freaking out over here.

  15. Good for you!

    I got up for an 8am Saturday morning water workout with the mean teacher [who was, true to form, mean] and felt extremely virtuous while eating bar after bar of our Halloween candy stash [yes, we kept the ones we liked and gave the others out to random children. There is a limit to my generosity.].

    PS Come live next to me. I promise not to wake you at 5:30. Unless a really good episode of Bonanza is playing.

  16. Oh, Erin, I’m so impressed that you got up that early and WALKED to the gym. Because that is some crazy shit. You’re totally becoming Theo’s new disciple, aren’t you? I eagerly await that post.

    ps – the carrot / hummus line? Brilliant.

  17. HA HA HA !!! I AM FAMOUS! well, sorta. btw, you do NOT resemble hummus is anyway.
    a pretzel rod, maybe.

  18. This>

    THIS is the crowing glory. Hummus. Carrots. Oh my god.

    And your dad played pro baseball? That is trivia worth keeping in my brain.

    This was wonderful, Erin..but, please, don’t engage in it again. You’re right about the CV work out being one from outrunning a rapist. Just put on cable and work out from home.

    You know, like me. Just having youtube’s “How to hit the clubs and move it like Jlo” tutorial works just like actually doing it.

    I mean, come on…you’ve seen me, haven’t you? Not bad, fully clothed, right?

    Hey,,,your feed has stopped working for me.

    So, I went through your twitter stream to catch up. Thanks for tweeting it out.

    I’m going to resubscribe. But wanted to tell you.

    Sorry for the serious biz…but, you know, IMPORTANT STUFF!!

  19. I actually went to the gym last night FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SIX MONTHS. Maybe that’s not that long after hearing your story, but it’s a long time. It was a little depressing when the personal trainers met me at the door with WD-40.

  20. My sparkplug of a sister in law conducted a boot camp when we were at a weekend family reunion. I seriously couldn’t move for days. And i cursed her name with every painful step i took. I used to be an athlete!

  21. Oh my! Oh my. Oh my!
    Good for you.
    I need a gym so stinking badly.
    I am afraid though. : (

    On another note though, I saw on Jill’s post that you are going to give to a family in need and I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love people that make a difference : )

  22. I’m with Erin (the one with the W name i can’t pronounce) on the university town thing. But my favorite part is the waking up naked in house of worship. Oh, sorority sister legends. Never gets old.

    Hilarious again, Erin!

  23. This is what Patanjali is referring to in the famous first sutra of his Yoga Sutras when he observes “yogash chitta virtti nirodhah” or “We become whole by stopping how the mind works.” In your hilariously scatalogical case, yoga stops how the baby bowels work!

  24. I totally needed this today…need to get mt ass out of bed and to the gym before it gets wider than a doorway!

  25. For the last four years, I consider doing laundry and vacuuming a work out. I mean, those rich bitches who have live-in maids HAVE to go to the gym because they never need to clean. I, conversely, only have time to clean and NO time to workout. But I make sure I burn a lot of calories by jogging with the laundry baskets from the bedrooms to the laundry room, then aerobically throwing the wet, heavy clothes into the dryer. I also simultaneously fold shirts and do calf lifts. And I sweat like a pig when I vacuum. I’m pretty.