See, my father is one half of a pair of twins and his twin brother Pancho was and is a very heavyset man. Big individual. Ok. No other way to say it. Fat. He's a fat man. And so obviously my father made it his mission in life to be a fit, muscular man. That is (prrrrobably) why my father became a semi-professional tri-athlete, bicyclist, and marathon man. He worked out. A lot! And, while this is all purely assumption, he was more than likely working out five to seven days a week and doing races on the weekends just to avoid the heavyset ghost of Christmas future that he feared lay in waiting for him.
So this is why my dad spent a lot of time at the small gym that opened up in a strip mall by our house.
And my mother always went along with him because, well, as long as she wasn't drinking them she was always playing the role of obedient housewife. She was a very old school Latina wife. She always cooked, always cleaned, always made sure that the beer was chilled to the temperature that my father liked when he gt home from work at night. She was always at my father's side. I both admired and pitied that.
And please don't think that she drank a lot. My parents would have a beer or two most nights, nothing big. No. It was when the weekend rolled around was when the beer would REEEALLY flow. But the weekend drinking wasn't all bad, though. This isn't some anti-parents post. It was an amazing family moment. We'd stay up late watching a mixture of Saturday Night Live and mexican television. The steaks my father would make would melt in your mouth. There would be music and conversations and stories chronicling the hazy family history I know so little about and real good food. These were amazing times. And there was only a 40% chance during these late steak nights that there would be an argument and I'd have to tuck my crying mom in bed.
I digress. This isn't about drinking. It's about my health conscious family and the small gym that opened up in a strip mall by our house. And it's also about Madonna, old people, and the reason why certain songs freak me the hell out. But that's just a teaser. We're not there yet.
Growing up, I always felt that my parents were a bit ashamed of me and my delicate frame. My brother was taller and bigger and stronger. He didn't cry all the time. He didn't have a hard time making friends. He didn't have a blanket and a Cabbage Patch Doll when he was twelve. My brother was rough and strong and played sports. I, however, was still shopping in the little kiddie section of J.C. Penny's when I was a senior in high school. Even now, as I near the big Four-Oh, my parents have a hard time comprehending the fact that I can fit into my father's clothes.
The shame was definitely there. I remember being forced to work out to try and gain muscle mass. I remember being forced to eat a baked potato before most meals so I can gain weight. I remember once being taught by my parents how to walk properly because the way I was walking was too feminine. It wasn't manly enough. I remember my mother buying me the book “The Get Along Gang and the Cry Baby” which must have been a not too subtle hint. I remember being forced to eat this hideous tasting weight gaining shake. It was revolting. It “supposedly” tasted like chocolate but what it REALLY tasted like was chocolate flavored dog food. In fact, to this day I have a hard time feeding my dog because the smell of her food will remind me of those horrible shakes.
These reminders, these reminisces, didn't hurt to much individually. But when you put them all together then you have a painting of a pair of parents that didn't like their sissy son and wanted him to toughen up. And this is how I was forced to accompany my mom and dad almost every weekday to the small gym that opened up in a strip mall by our house.
I'm not good at dates, obviously, so I'm going to have to say that this story took place somewhere between the years 1987 and 1993 in Glendale, Arizona. The gym was small in retrospect but as a child it seemed huge. There was a wide area for stationary bikes and machines and beyond that was a wall of free weights places strategically against a giant mirrored wall so that the conceited guys could ogle themselves. There was a snack bar near the front where you could get smoothies, milkshakes, and ice cream, apparently all healthy, but wouldn't it be just like a company to sell the unhealthy stuff to healthy people to secure customer loyalty to their gym? I know that's just an old memory that's being darkened by my cynical older self. But, dammit, it's probably true.
The rest of the gym was hellish to me.
First, there was the locker room.
I hated hated hated hated HAAAATED that locker room.
Now, when I started going to the gym I was about nine or ten years old. That's a pretty awkward age to be introduced to the world of full frontal male nudity. Nude men. Nude men all over the place. A massive gaggle of old men standing in a locker room completely nude but still having fun and frendly conversations like they're fully clothed and waiting in a line at the early bird senior buffet at Golden Coral. It was horrific. Flaccid wangs everywhere! Middle aged men and old grandfathers smiling and shaking your hand and talking to you WHILE BUCK NAKED! And here's the shy ten year old boy who's just learning what puberty is and now he's supposed to get naked in front of a room full of strangers.
And, I'd like to add with a modern mind, that this story happened waaaay before pedobear and the rise of internet chatrooms. This is me being old. You would keep your front door unlocked back then. Kids would be allowed to go outside and just explore, completely unsupervised. It was a different time, is what I'm saying. So no one thought it was odd that there seemed to be a lot of men who would spend a wee bit tooooooo much time in the locker room, a bit toooooooo much time naked, and a bit too friendly to the young kids getting changed.
No one thought anything of it.
A different time.
The shower area was another major slice of hell as well. Shit. The shower area was a massive community shower. It didn't have walls separating it. It was one big room with twelve showers running, the water all draining into a single drain in the middle of the room. Everyone showered together. And my father was adamant that if I swam in the pool then I absolutely HAD TO take a shower. And just like the locker room, there was ALWAYS a few men in the shower. And boy were they friendly to the nude ten year old boy showering without adult supervision.
Again, it was a different time.
But the crazy thing? See, the crazy thing is that the nudity and the creepy guys weren't the thing that haunted me.
So lets talk about the pool.
Yeeeaaah, the pool was prrrrrretty awesome.
It was a big Olympic sized pool. It was heated, so it was always the perfect temperature. It was the best. And next to that was a huge jacuzzi and behind that was a massive sauna that I would hang out in so that the pool would feel colder. It was great. And I had full run of the place, the pool and the jacuzzi and the sauna. I think that now there would be strict rules against a ten year old boy being left alone to play with either one of those, either the pool or the jacuzzi or the sauna. But back then I had it all. This was my home base for a few years. Besides, I figured out even at that young age that my parents were forcing me to accompany them to the gym in order for me to toughen up and fatten up and gain weight so that I wouldn't be such a delicate crybaby. So I figured that the pool was my loophole, a way to swim and have fun and stick a finger up my parents and their secret plan.
There was one problem.
Elderly water aerobics.
A bizarre random happenstance occurred in the scheduling department of my life in that five days a week there would be an elderly water aerobics class in the pool that would start at the exact moment that I would arrive at the pool. Here I am excited to go swimming and what do I see? I see a pool full of old, fat women in bikinis dancing around in the water. I technically COULD go swimming in the pool still, but there wasn't a lot of room that wasn't filled with withered cellulite and then I'd risk bumping into them or having them hit me or, once or twice, be in the front row for a very unfortunate "wardrobe malfunction" that would haunt my dreams and sour me on the opposite sex for years to come.
The coach was a very eighties seeming woman, think dusty Olivia Newton John, who would bring a massive, cumbersome boom box to the edge of the pool and she would play the same mix cassette for every class. Each and every class, different old people, but the same music. Over and over again, the same music.
THOSE FUCKING SONGS! OVER AND OVER AGAIN FOR YEARS! IT DROVE ME CRAZY!
I got sick of hearing those same damn cheesy songs over and over again. In fact, I got so sick of it that I quickly related each and every song I heard as being "elderly water aerobics" songs in my head and that connection stuck with me.
I had such a hatred for the fat old people and the bad songs and the locker room and the nudity that TO THIS DAY whenever one of the songs from that horrible mix cassette comes on the radio or it plays at a store, my eyes will go wide and I'll freak out a little. One of the "elderly water aerobics" songs comes on in a supermarket or, recently, a Halloween store by my work, and I'll smell the scent of the chlorine in the pool and I'll feel the wet cold tile underneath my feet and I'll feel DEEEEEEPLY uncomfortable, almost as if I'm a nine or ten year old boy and I'm surrounded my fat old women in bikinis dancing in the water to cheesy eighties music.
The thing is, I have a hard time remembering exactly which songs were on that mix cassette. That is because once I hear the song I remember that period in my life, I have a mini panic attack, and once the song is done my mind just WIPES THE SLATE CLEAN and I try my best to forget that memory and I try to forget what that songs was, what it means to me, and everything else associated with it.
But, in the interest of science, I have spent the last few weeks writing down a few of the "trigger songs" that I've heard so that I can share them with you.
And you'd better fucking appreciate this shit, Because this is hard for me.
Here are a few, in no particular order ...
Like I said, cheesy eighties crap, right?
I also remember a Janet Jackson song being played, however I do not remember which song it is and I don't care to find out, so there.
If I hear any one of these songs, even now as I near forty, I will be a frightened boy in a locker room in Glendale, Arizona. It'd odd and weird and I don't like it.
Now, this strange little tale isn't something I ever tell anybody. I think before now that maybe three or four people know about my "elderly water aerobics" songs. But I just felt like sharing because this is an odd little story, plus there's more to my hatred of Madonna besides the fat that she's a withered, conceited old bitch who has lost her talent but still thinks that she's a million times better than God, plus she's fighting aging with plastic surgery and that's a despicable act to me. Grow old gracefully. Don't fight it with money, you bitch.
After a few years of old people dancing in a pool, I gave up on my parents dreams of a bulky, manly son. I made them give me five dollars and while they worked out I would walk to the Burger King in the parking lot. My five dollars was just enough to buy a burger and fries with enough change left to walk to the mexican restaurant when I was done and buy me an ice cream. I'd bring a stack of comic books with me and eat and read. It was really one of the first times that I truly felt independent. It felt good.
And that feeling still hits me whenever I eat at Burger King. Their food is like an anti-water aerobics food for me. Just like I'm filled with dread from those songs, I am filled with happiness whenever I eat their food. I mean, sure, their food is just okay, but what I love about the food is that almost tactile sense memory that I feel whenever I eat there. I bite into a flame grilled burger and I am filled with memories of happiness and first time freedoms and escaping the sadder, creepier parts of my lonely childhood and finally feeling the slightest bit free.
Also, and I can't stress this enough, fuck Madonna.