This past Easter at my Aunt Mary's house, we played this game called something like Table Talk. Table Talk is made up of a bunch of cards, all of which have open-ended questions on it that are meant to provoke deep discussion. Stuff like, “If you could travel anywhere in the world...” or “If you could have anyone living or dead over to your house for dinner, what restaurant would you order from?” I'm not sure why a holiday dinner for sixteen comprised of three generations of a family needed a board game to get us talking, but I think it was because half of the guests drove themselves to the dinner so it wasn't like we could get drunk and leg-wrestle like we do every Christmas. Anyway, one of the questions was, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” or something like that, and my answer was that I would drive around Florida in a speedboat with Xander solving mysteries. Xander is four years old now and he's my... what's the relation? He's my first-cousin Joanna's son, so that makes him my... uncle, I think. So in ten years, Uncle Xander will be fourteen, which is a great age to both man a speedboat and run after criminals. In ten years I will be thirty-eight and closer to death than ever before. I would love to live in Florida and ride around on a boat and solve mysteries like a Carl Hiaasen protagonist, but I would need a lot of snack and bathroom breaks, plus a Wi-Fi enabled dock so I could play online Scrabble. Xander will possess the strength and manpower needed to make us a great crime-fighting team, but there's a slight chance he won't want to drop out of high-school to move to Florida with his schlubby nephew James who he only sees on major holidays and who insists on playing “Got Your Nose” even though he's totally over it. That's a shame because I need a teenager for this all to work out.
What I'm trying to get at, but am having trouble articulating because there's no way it won't sound weird and pervy is that young people have the most perfect physicality we, as humans, can ever hope to achieve. You see? I sound like single lady-schoolteacher from the southern U.S. or an oft-transferred priest, but that's not what I mean at all. There's nothing attractive about the body of a teenager, but it is the ideal physical specimen simply because everything is in good working order. When you're young, your body develops at a consistent rate provided you are somewhat active and reasonably nourished. Your bones and muscles grow in tandem and your balance and coordination is, for an all-too-brief moment, perfect. Look at those gymnasts, for example, or swimmers. The best ones tend to be around twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old because they are in complete control of their bodies and too much muscle, fat, and back hair is not an issue yet. Eventually puberty hits us full force and our limbs get gangly, our muscles and fat arbitrarily shrink or grow out of proportion to our frames, and, if my high-school experience was accurate, we fall down stairs all the time. We spend our late teens combating this physical upheaval and then, in our twenties, we spend time and money on gyms and diets trying to get things back in that good working order we had ten years ago. Eventually we add the creams, the supplements, the boot-camps and the retreats, and soon after that, we all just try to stave off death for another few weeks.
I know that I am not old and that I could have a much easier time getting into shape now then I will be able to in ten, twenty, or thirty years (I don't plan to live past sixty unless they do another incarnation of $20,000 Pyramid). I have friends that I hate and envy for their commitment to health and well-being, and they have the taut bodies and smug attitudes to prove it. But beyond dropping twenty pounds and being able to jog somewhere without passing out, there are other things I wish I could change about my body. Things that won't change, I suspect, even if I cut out processed foods or do that smell-my-butt yoga pose everybody does (you know the one, where you lunge onto the floor and then hoist your ass into the air like it's the Heisman Trophy). I'm not a teenage anymore and, like The Paul Reiser Show, I didn't appreciate what I had when I had it.
Dream: Take inventory of my weird bodily quirks and learn to live with them.
Goal: Achievable. There was this guy I remember from college; he was there when I was there, though we weren't in any of the same classes. I privately nicknamed him Red Face, which was a charmingly spot-on nickname due to the redness of his face. At first I thought it was just coincidence; that maybe every time I saw him he was blushing over a raunchy joke, or he had just run up a flight of stairs and was panting and red in the face. Not so, I came to learn and feel extremely guilty about. This guy, who was seemingly in a constant scarlet blush, owed his colouring to the fact that he was allergic to the sun! I'm not kidding, allergic to the sun! As in, “Hey, Chet, wanna hit the beach this weekend?” “Aw, wish I could bro, but no dice as I'm allergic to the fucking sun!” I felt like an asshole, and deservedly so. No amount of diet and exercise could ever change such a thing, which of course is true of people with cleft palettes, weird birthmarks, physical handicaps, deep widow's peaks, dwarfism and vestigial tails. And I don't mean to minimize those things either, or compare myself to people with such afflictions in any way, but if someone out there can live day to day through an allergy TO THE GODDAMN SUN, I can put up with my unibrow.
Plan: Identify and celebrate my physical abnormalities in the hopes of no longer being haunted by them. Fair warning, Friends, while I won't be discussing anything in my bikini zone (thankfully, the plumbing in this old house works fine), things might get a little ickypants.
For instance, the inside of my ears is a nightmare neighbourhood years away from gentrification. Despite constant cleaning, Q-tipping, medicine buying, and ear drop-dropping, I have to go to a guy every year or so to get my ears flushed out. A doctor, I should say, there's not a guy you can find in the phone book who will come over and do this for you. This problem is personally really embarrassing. Though doctors have told me my ear and ear-canal are shaped in such a way that build-up is inevitable, I can't help but feel like a filthy child who wears kleenex boxes instead of shoes and has flies buzzing around him at all times. And the worst part of this whole ordeal is that when the doctor flushes the gunk out of my ears, he shows it to me. Don't show it to me! What am I supposed to do, applaud? “Look at what I made, all by myself!” And the doctor's all proud of it, too: “See that there?” Unless you can read my future out of it or something, just throw it out or add it to the ball in your basement, but don't fucking show it to me! God! My hearing has been getting worse lately, which probably means it's time for another earbortion (copyright Big City James, 2011), but having to go through the whole embarrassing saga of my ear grossness with another GP makes me wonder if hearing loss would be so bad.
A full head of hair is a privilege for which I am extremely grateful for (if not a little arrogant about, as if I somehow willed it to be so), and it's proven extra handy at deftly covering up my glorious hairline dry skin debacle. My hairline and scalp are as dry as a Mormon wedding reception. This is another case, though, where the antidote is worse than the poison. Whenever I use the amount of conditioner recommended by my hairdresser to moisten my scalp, my hair is as dull and limp as a Mormon groom. The last gal who cut my hair told me to rub half a cup of olive oil into my scalp and leave it there for four hours! First of all, I could make a couple stir fry's with that, and what the hell am I supposed to do for those surely agonizing four hours? I can't rest my head on anything (unless it's a dish of vinegar with some bread) so I envision just sitting on a hard kitchen chair, naked so as to avoid soiling my clothes, and watching hours of A Baby Story or reading the Shopaholic series and getting frustrated over it (“Come on, Becky, just stop buying all this stuff, Luke's been so patient with you and THERE'S OIL IN MY HAIR!”).
My ability to bounce back from any kind of injury is gone. I suppose the more accurate topic sentence here would be that I over-dramatize any slight discomfort to the point where I am incapacitated. I slammed my hand in drawer at work the other day and I thought that was it for my hand. Like I would just have to retire it; keep it in a silk glove and only reveal it to lovers or someone I was placing a curse on. It hurt so much I thought I would never be able to use that hand again. I eventually rebounded, but not after bitching about it for hours. Or I ran across the street and kind of tripped onto the curb so that the ball of my foot hit the curb at a strange angle and a great deal of my weight shifted onto this weird foot spot. I'm not explaining it well because nothing injurious really happened but again it hurt so bad that I sort of yelped and had to stumble to a bench and sit for a minute. A passer-by saw my yelp-and-limp and said, “Are you okay?” to which I replied, “Oh yeah, no, I just stepped onto the curb.”
My voice is not the honey-coated golden throat of yesteryear either. If I haven't spoken for more than ten minutes and then I try to say something without a throat clear, I sound like Joan Rivers in a stalled car. “Ahemhemhemhemunnnnggghhh.” Also, proof that I must have some weird degenerative disease that will kill me is the fact that I sometimes feel this tickle in my throat and I will cough and throat clear until I feel the obstruction rise and then I pick it off my tongue and it's... a tiny hair. Like an eyelash. What in God's name is that doing in my throat?! Am I sucking Jon's eyelashes off while we're asleep? Am I eating food covered in tiny hairs? What's going on here?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is to say nothing of my summer back rashes, thigh-cne, eyeball pain and heels so goddamn dry that I have visions of the entire thing just dropping off. Like I will somehow shed this extra layer of flakey, cracked, skin that will loosen and eventually be pried off with this satisfying, suction-cuppy sounding shklonk revealing a shiny, untouched heel. But I reveal some of these humiliating, shameful body things in the hopes that one, I'm not alone, and two, I will look back on these things one day and miss them. Because though our bodies carry us through many years, the destruction of that vessel will be the finish line for all of us. Whether it's cancer, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Bloomingdale's, heart disease or cancer (it deserves a second mention because odds are...), our bodies will kill us. And the alternative is worse! If a degenerative disease doesn't take us down, our death will be sudden, and that's no picnic either (unless you die at a shootout during a picnic). Makes my ear wax seem trivial. Ideally, we'd all live long, happy, healthy lives punctuated by a quick but painless death. But how to accomplish this? Quite a mystery. To the speedboat!