Once, as a child, I found an old book hidden behind the shelf in the living room. It was a weirdly-shaped soft-cover book called “Beginners Kung Fu,” and someone in the family had clearly been embarrassed about having purchased, or received it as a gift, at some strange point in his/her life. Inside was a “brief” history of Kung Fu, spread over the first twenty pages and printed in the smallest font known to humanity. Lucky I had such fresh young eyes to waste on such useful educational literature. I read it, devoured it really, and proceeded to flip through the rest of the book, spellbound by the story of the early Fu masters, who were nothing short of miracle workers, right in line with Jesus Christ and Steve Jobs. These guys were amazing. I’m being serious, this is no joking matter. They not only walked on water and were capable of surviving for days on nothing but a sip of water and a single olive (with which they often fed an entire village; after satiating themselves first, of course), but they had that supercool ability to appear out of nowhere right when they were needed to defeat a bunch of villains attempting to rape an old woman carrying a bundle of wood. Yeah, these later became known as Ninjas, and some of them mutated into Hollywood action stars beloved in all corners of the world. One thing the Ninjas never learned to do is speak proper English, of course, but they made much moola, and as everyone knows, moola make the world go ‘round and ‘round.
The rest of the book contained hundreds of black-and-white photographs of various Fu poses and moves, which the Beginner was asked to please master slowly and with great caution lest the furniture should suffer irreparable damage. I believe there was a pose called “crouching tiger,” or “crouching cat”…all I know is that there was some sort of crouching animal pose all Fu Beginners had to master before moving on to page 37, where the really serious stuff began.
I spent weeks training to become a Ninja. I realize now that failure was inevitable, as I only had that book to rely upon and a very small space in my bedroom in which to exercise the demanding moves. In those days I shared a room with my younger brother, who, despite being very small, took up a surprisingly large space in my life. I had to practice my “crouching kitten” pose in an area about the size of a large welcome mat. No wonder I never learned to appear out of nowhere like a genuine Ninja. Though, I must admit, later in life I regretfully appeared out of nowhere several times to catch co-workers, relatives, and friends in compromising “crouching” poses of their own invention.
These days I’m not mastering the art of Fu; or Kung, whatever. I’m merely trying to master my body. I’m not old or fat, but lately I’ve surely started feeling that way. There’s something about those birthday cards that say jokingly “It’s all downhill from here!”…yeah, that’s not a laughing matter, it’s the truth. After thirty it really is all downhill from here; or there, wherever you are.
A a cunning friend, probably hoping to get rid of me without getting his hands dirty and/or his prints on the weapon, presented me with a series of exercise videos a few weeks ago. These, he said, will make you fit as a fiddle in no time. Rest assured, it will push you to the limits. It may even hurt you once, twice, or three…hundred times. But you can do it, buddy, I just know you can.
I’m a sucker for compliments. Like a thirty-four-year-old fool that I am, I went into a 60-day exercise program screaming rah rah rah at the top of my lungs.
I don’t know why my body is trying to kill me. I have never treated it with anything but kindness. You want beer, have some. Popcorn, why not. Chocolate is good for you. Wanna sleep in late on Saturday rather than take a walk in the rain? But of course, stretch out, make yourself comfortable. Sit on the couch all day, feeling your ass grow into the very fabric beneath you. You, dear body, don’t have to do a thing. Hey, you don’t even have to bend down to tie your shoelaces…that’s what slip-ons are for!
And yet, after all these years of peaceful co-existence, my body and I are parting ways. Evidently, despite my belief that I am a Ninja capable of doing twenty jumping jacks without keeling over and dying in a pool of my own spit, my body thinks otherwise. I look at those people in the video, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-sexual, multi-everything…fit, smiling, doing push-ups like they’re actually having fun, showing off their picture-perfect abs. Here’s my general wonderment: what the hell are they made of?! I’m pretty sure my bones are made of silly putty, my joints out of spoiled soup, and my muscles…well, I’ll tell you what material was used to make those, as soon as I can locate at least one of them. I thought I spotted one the other day, but it ran away from me the moment I asked it to perform the extremely difficult task of lunging to the left.
They keep telling us we’re always in danger of becoming extinct through some kind of quick-spreading epidemic of flu…bird, swine, you name it. I don’t think so. I know a push-up’s gonna kill me. And if you’re anything like me, that’s the way you’re going too.