* For those who pose as gods *
(Continued from #13.)
At long last, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the second half of what we started in #13: my account of meeting Dr. Why for the first time. What follows is the “clear memory” Why shared when I asked him how “it” started. Enjoy! –Dr. X
“I was about five, maybe six years old? Certainly no more than eight. I was at church with my parents like any other Sunday. And it must have been the morning service, because I was fighting to stay awake. In fact, it was probably during the sermon, because I wouldn’t have had any trouble if we hadn’t passed the part when we stood up and sat back down constantly—which was basically every part besides the sermon—as if we came to church to do aerobics. And I remember my father pinched me—which either meant the adults were trying to listen or that I should have been—so it was definitely during the sermon.
“So anyway, I was struggling to keep from sleeping because I didn’t want to get pinched, you know? Or worse, get taken out back like some other kids. They usually returned with puffy eyes if they returned at all, those kids. You just knew they were really getting it.
“But it’s really hard to stay quiet without sleeping—and awake without moving around—when you’re not-listening to a sermon, because sermons are boring. This one was, anyway. And you know, I was like six or seven, so of course I thought it was boring. And to make matters worse, I was almost certainly coming down from a cinnamon-roll-breakfast high, because Mom always made cinnamon rolls special for us on Sunday mornings, and I always ate as many as I could.
“But I could never get enough cinnamon rolls! So I fed my hungry imagination another roll and let him out to play.
“I told him to stay out past the sermon, but not even two minutes later he was doing the jailhouse rock where he wasn’t supposed to: sashaying across the bench, swaggering in the stained-glass light. He even started humming just a little before singing,
“‘Now’s our chance to make a break—’
“And that’s when I got pinched!
“I was angry about that, of course; but I couldn’t do much about it either. So I clenched two more rolls into imagination’s fists and sent him back to the playground—with even stricter instructions.
“But stricter didn’t help. Soon enough he was shuffling and bobbing around, floating my feet like butterflies and buzzing my hands like bees—
“And then my almighty father bent way down and showed us his giant spanking hand and asked if I’d like to step outside. Ali tried to answer that he would! But I bit his tongue. So now I was scared and racking my brain for a way to entertain myself without moving; and Ali clenched my fists in frustration.
“And then I remembered someone I’d seen on TV while flipping through channels for a cartoon. I’d laughed at first, because he looked comically deformed to my untrained eyes—like a Michelin Man with a pin head and a tan—but the hostess in the yellow polka-dot bikini caught my attention when she called him an Olympic god.
“‘He’s an Olympic god!’ she squealed. “‘Sooo hefty!’ And she arched her back and patted his radial-treaded belly.
“‘But he’s also quick! And capable of great feats of strength!’
“And then she pranced aside gingerly as he showed some feats to prove it. His face got really red, and a vein as thick as a finger pointed out of his neck as he flexed. And the audience applauded—everyone was sooo impressed—and the girl in the polka-dots stuck them out again and asked how he got so fit.
“And the tire-man-god said, ‘Basically, you just flex your muscles over and over again. And stretch.’
“And then he did more flexing, and the audience applauded again, and the hostess turned her back to the camera and smiled over her shoulder. It was all very entertaining.
“But when he started to go back over the central importance of flexing (‘over and over again,’ he said), my siblings and I got bored—we were watching it together—so I made a muscle and grimaced for them and flipped the channel while they laughed.
“I regretted that as I remembered it—flipping the channel, I mean—because I was afraid I’d missed the most important part. And my fists clenched again in frustration, and I felt my arms tie up in knots.
“‘But then again,’ I thought, ‘didn’t I get the whole secret already? Just flex over and over, and stretch?’ And right then, as I was fighting to stay awake—right there in church—a revelation came to me: You don’t have to pose to flex. No need to take my shirt off and fold my arms up: I could flex wherever I liked! I could even make a habit of it! And then I’d do it everywhere and all the time—without a second thought. And of course I’d stretch. And soon enough I’d be hefty and quick with muscles like car tires, veiny fingers, and giant hands—just like the tire-god said. And then I’d show them.
“The revelation continued: You should start right now. And I got a little excited as I cautiously gripped my little right hand into a really tight fist and felt my little right bicep harden. I tried my left bicep and forearm, but Mom was being too pious to notice. I flexed the right side again, and Dad gave a look, like I shouldn’t have a grip in church. But that didn’t stop me; I just tried again without the fist. My fingers twitched like I was nervous, and my hand cupped receptively and flip-flopped diplomatically. My arm even looked unnaturally stiff as if I was working extra hard to keep it still. In fact, I’ll bet my whole body looked stiff. All of which worked in my favor, I suppose, because I couldn’t get pinched for looking receptive and uneasily diplomatic and sitting like a stiff—not in church!
“But you know, I thought my muscles grew a little with every flex—because of course a kid would think that—so I worried that I’d end up lopsided, or all arms like Popeye, or topple over on twiggy legs when I had to stand to leave. So I flexed my shoulders and neck and legs too; and I made a pattern and repeated it over and over.
“As for stretching, I stretched my neck like this.
“And I stuck my legs out straight and arched my toes, like this.
“And I wanted to stretch my arms out at my sides—like this—but there was no room for that in church. So I settled on straitening them against my thighs one at a time instead. Like this. And this.
“And so it went. And in just a few Sundays I had made a habit of it like I thought I would; and soon I was flexing and stretching everywhere, all the time, without giving it a second thought. In fact, I sometimes still flex!
“But I guess you know that.
“I sometimes almost pee my pants when I look back on it now! I imagine myself in church, not-listening to a sermon, staring stiffly straight ahead, rocking slightly back and forth as an old woman a few pews behind me smiles broadly and thinks,
“‘What a good little boy he is! Look how well he heeds his father! Look how intently he listens to the preacher! He tries so hard! And what a little athlete! What a nice husband he might make for my granddaughter one day!’
“And then I wonder what she’d think if she could somehow see through the wooden pew to watch me clench and release my right butt cheek, clench and release my left butt cheek, clench and release my right butt cheek….”