CSI – Christmas Season Investigation

Saturday, December 13

Attacks against obnoxious but nevertheless defenseless inflatables occur daily in the streets of our great city. These are the stories of the dedicated men and women of the Christmas Season Crime Squad who investigate these hideous crimes against these helpless…whatever you wanna call them. This is what they do.

When investigator Bob Sawyer arrived at the crime scene, he found his partner Judy Brown already there.
“What do we have here, Judy?” he asked, surveying the area as he spoke.
“It looks like a massacre, if you ask me,” she responded.
“How many vics do we have?”
“Three. They’re all in a pile over here.”
She led Sawyer to a pile of what appeared to be stack of official NFPA/CSFM Fire Retardant, weather resistant PVC coated rip stop nylon crap of all different colors but mostly blood red.
“Can we I.D. any of them?”
“I won’t know for sure until we get them back to the lab and I’m able to pump some air into them. But I’m guessing that this one is Santa and this one’s probably some kind of a snowman.”
“How many kinds of snowman are there?” he asked, trying to relieve the tension.
She ignored him so he got back to business.
“Do we know what took the wind out of their sails?”
She wanted to ignore him again but this was a fairly legitimate question, given the circumstances.
“Someone pulled the plug would be my guess. But who would do this? And why?”
“Who called it in?”
“A mailman. Said he was driving through the neighborhood and something just didn’t seem right. And then he saw them…just lying there…slumped over in a heap.
“I take it we don’t have any witnesses.”
“No one’s talking but we’ve got some uniforms canvassing the neighborhood. The family wasn’t much help. They said that the last time they saw them, around three hours ago, everything looked fine. They were bouncing around, had big smiles on their faces, looked real cheery, you know…all Christmassy.”
“You believe them?”
“I don’t know. You know as well as I that it’s usually someone close to the victim. But why would they do it? This neighborhood is pretty heavily decorated. Why would anyone take out their own Santa?”
“That’s our job to find out.”
“I know one thing for sure.”
“What’s that?”
“They’ll be no rockin’ round the Christmas tree, tonight.” ”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get the scrooges who did this.”
Sawyer directed the uniforms to put plastic caution tape around the plastic crime scene and went into the house to talk to the family. Judy Brown loaded the victims into her trunk and proceeded downtown to continue her investigation.
Several hours later Sawyer returned to headquarters. He entered the room where Lab Tech Brown was poised over one of the victims.
“It’s funny,” she said, “but I couldn’t help thinking…” her voice trailed off as if unable to organize her thoughts.
“What is it, Judy?”
“Well, I was just thinking how when I work on a human I put plastic gloves on to protect me…and I guess to protect the evidence and here I am working on a piece of plastic and I’m still putting on plastic gloves for whatever reason…I don’t know…you know.”
She looked quizzedly at Sawyer who looked just as confused as she did.
“I got a feeling that this is just the beginning of many strange things we are going to encounter with this case,” Sawyer said, sensing that she might be letting the case get the better of her. “It’s not going to be easy on any of us but our job is to speak for the victims. These guys will tell us what we need to know. We’ve just got to go where the evidence takes us. So what have we got so far?”
“I was right about Santa and the snowman. The other one appears to be a reindeer.”
“Rudolph?”
“I don’t think so. Look here,” she said holding up the limp, lifeless plastic remains of what was once a charming fantasy deer.
Sawyer tightened his lips and nodded, obviously impressed with his partner.
“No red nose. Good work.”
Suddenly the phone rang. Sawyer picked it up and Judy watched him grimace and shake his head as he listened. He put the phone down and just stared at the floor.
“What is it?”
“I think—” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Sometimes, even for a seasoned Christmas Season veteran, it all gets to be too much.
“Come on, tell me. We’re a team aren’t we? So let me help.”
“I think…I think we have a serial killer on our hands. We won’t know for sure until we get all the facts but it looks like two more Santa’s, another reindeer, some elves and an Easter bunny.”
“An Easter bunny!”
“Yeah, go figure. All I know is we got to stop this insanity before no inflatable individual feels safe in suburbia.”
“I don’t know? An Easter bunny at Christmas time. We may already be at that point.”
“Is there anything else we know, anything at all that can help us get to the bottom of this massacre?”
“Well there doesn’t appear to be any cuts or tears. They don’t appear to be shot and I’m ruling out poison—just because. I think my first hunch may have been right. Someone pulled the plug on these guys—but who—and why?”
“If ever there was a case for a case going cold it would be this one. There just doesn’t seem to be much to go on.”
Just then, a patrolman burst in, ran over to a television set and turned it on.
“Sawyer, you gotta see this.”
Fox News was highlighting a rally just a few blocks from the crime scene. An evangelical minister, standing in front of a manger scene and holding up a Bible was protesting what he called the ongoing war on Christmas. He was calling for Christians to unite and fight back.
“Stand up for what you believe in,” he urged the crowd of spectators. “We have to take Christmas back and put it where it belongs—in the churches. We have to put Jesus back into Christmas and take Santa Claus and Rudolph and those lazy freeloading elves out. We have to rid our department stores of the false gods of Christmas.
“Once we succeed in saving Christmas we have to take back Easter…and All Saint’s Day too.”
“Did you hear that, Judy? I understand where he’s coming from but honestly no one else is even thinking about taking Easter back—not with twelve more shopping days to go in the Christmas season.”
“You might have something there, Bob. No one would even be talking about saving Easter in December unless they’d just recently had an encounter with an Easter bunny. I think we’re going to have to pay a visit to this community terrorist…ask him a few questions.”
“Well, if we’re right about the guy, I know one thing for sure. We won’t have to trick a confession out of him. My guess is he’ll be squealing like a pig about to become an Easter ham just to claim credit for this crime.”
“The stupid ones always do,” Judy agreed, shaking her head in disbelief.

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OUR DOMESTIC SITUATION

If I am at the edge of the human mind,

then stop pushing me from behind

is all I ask.

 

And when I’m driving the family car

don’t be down beneath the seat

on the passenger side looking for

the ring you tossed at me twenty years ago.

 

I don’t want to hear how your best friend.,

Joanne has the finer bone structure,

that I couldn’t possibly love you

when your cheeks puff up like Japanese fish.

 

If I am walking the straight line

in the middle of the road,

don’t come at me with your headlamps,

your ghastly honking horn.

 

Or mention the disastrous meal you cooked

that I slowly nudged toward the center of the table.

 

There are times when you tried

and when I tried,

and all that energy was as wasted

as an oil-spill.

But don’t bring it up.

Don’t bring anything up.

Seethe, if you will, but in another direction.

 

I have a high wire to walk.

I go under the knife this afternoon.

There’s a pain in my chest

which I believe is indigestion.

Now’s not a time to set a mousetrap

for those same beliefs.

 

If I’m on fire, yes you can douse me with water.

Or, if I’m down in the sink-hole,

you can pull me clear.

But if my veins are open,

don’t piss in them.

If I make a case for staying together,

don’t proclaim, “Guilty as charged!”

 

© 2015 John Grey

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How to Unlearn the Words

you have to check their pockets, their shoes
make sure there are no scraps of paper
with reminders of what they need to forget
scratched on with broken pencil leads
held tight between dirty fingertips. you must also

 

check under the beds, be diligent
in searching dusty corners and windowsills
for lingering signs of words of protest
wiped quickly away.
even single, isolated letters
are dangerous and to be forgotten.

 

you have to check the dusty paths
leading past the buildings, make sure
the children are not writing in the dirt
with pointed sticks, that their parents
aren’t teaching them to write
the old words in the mud.

 

finally, check their bodies, their skin
for scraped etchings of phrases, the alphabet
any attempts to keep the letters alive.
these efforts
are not to be tolerated
and can and should be completely removed.

 

© 2014 Holly Day

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She Drives Me Crazy

Her big bright eyes catch my attention from across the street. She’s beautiful. Rays of the hot sun stream across her tan body. Every curve is formed with such sleek and sexy definition. I hurry inside and plant myself on my knees at the living room window. While I struggle to free my dick from my pants, I stare at her and imagine all the things I’d do to her. My eyes are fixated on her smooth body and I’m dreaming of how it would feel against me. Tugging on myself vigorously I think of having her from behind. As I orgasm, I form a seal around the tip of my cock with my free hand to catch the come.

I wash my hands in the bathroom sink pressing the lemon scented soap into them deep, as if I am able to wash the shame of what I’ve just done down the drain along with my ejaculate. Not my shame, but societies’ shame. The shame that has been forced into my brain through years of being told by the media, and government what is “normal”. I don’t care about being normal. I care about being me and doing what makes sense to myself, not others. Which is just too hard in such a judging world so I keep my thoughts and fantasies to myself. As I finish up drying off my hands, there is a knock at the door. I walk out of the bathroom and through the living room, fixing the curtain on my way. Opening the door I see my neighbor from across the street.

*Hey, how’s it going neighbor? He asks as he prepares his hand for a shake.

*Not too bad. What can I do for you? I grasp his hand and wonder if antibacterial hand soap works well enough that I haven’t just given him a handful of DNA.

*Well, I kind of have a favor to ask. The wife and I are heading out of town for the night, and I completely forgot about it being my night to do rounds for the neighborhood watch. I was wondering if you could cover for me tonight and I’ll do yours tomorrow.

*Of course. Will the dogs be okay or do you need someone to check on them? I ask.

*My daughter will be home. She just got her license. I figure if she’s old enough to drive then she can probably handle a night of dog sitting, he says.

*I thought I saw a new car in the drive.

*Yes, sir. We just picked it up today. He turns in the direction of his house to look at the new car.

I look across the street. There she is again. Just in front of my neighbors’ house. She’s beautiful.

*Nice car.

*Got it for a steal really. The mileage is relatively low and the interior is in great condition.

I can’t keep my eyes off of her.

*It definitely looks in good shape.

*Yeah, it’s only had one owner and it was an older lady that pretty much just used it to get to the market and back.

I’d like to take her to the market and back.

I break my gaze as he turns back around.

*Well, I’m glad to hear you got a good deal. Have a nice night out with the wife.

I have to have her. The thought is becoming obsessive; it refuses to leave my head. I could have her. Tonight is perfect, she is unprotected. My biggest hurdle would be the dogs, but they know me well enough not to make too much ruckus.

It’s 11 o’clock, time to go out for the neighborhood watch. I grab my flashlight and head out the front door. I’m not doing my rounds tonight. I am doing what I need to do to get rid of this feeling. I will have her tonight. The anxiety hits as I step onto the neighbors porch. My heart is racing and I’m starting to sweat, but I am not turning back. I root around the plant where I know the spare key is hidden and use the key to enter the front door. Being as quiet as possible I make my way through the living room, sneaking past the sleeping dogs undetected, and to the door at the end of a small hallway.

Behind this door is the one I wake up and think about every morning and fall asleep fantasizing about every night. Now all there is between us is a piece of wood. I grab the handle and pull up on it and towards me so the door won’t creak as it swings open. A concentrated ray of light from the hallway cuts her in half as it enters the room through the open door. I stand and stare at her a moment. She is so still, so peaceful. I love everything about her. And now it’s just the two of us, alone. Alone to share a night that I have been waiting so long for.

I shut the garage door behind me and turn the light on. Then I walk over to her and run my fingertips lightly across her cold steel frame. While gently kissing her, my lips make their way across her hood and back to the driver’s side mirror. When I am close enough, I reach to test the door handle. She is unlocked. I climb inside of her gliding across the smooth leather and see the key in the ignition. Could this get any better? The girls’ room is across the house. She’ll never hear the purr of the engine from that distance. Turning the key I feel her start to vibrate underneath me. I slide my zipper down and pull myself out. Staring at her beautiful interior I spit in my hand and stroke my dick making it erect. I lean the driver seat all the way back until it is lying flat and roll over so I am belly down on the seat. Then, I use my spit to wet the space between the bottom of the seat and the back before I slide my cock between the two parts. She is so tight. Thrusting myself deep into her gives me goose bumps. Climbing back out of her I make my way towards the trunk feeling her perfect body along the way. I spit on her back bumper and start rubbing myself against the beautiful glossy paint. Grasping the rear end tight on both sides I rock her so that she will slide back and forth against me. I can feel myself nearing orgasm. I start rocking her harder and harder to bring myself closer to climax. As I start to exert more force I realize that I should have cracked the garage door before starting her up, but I am so close. I go harder so that I can finish because I am becoming dizzy. The lack of oxygen is scary and enjoyable at the same time. Everything looks brighter. I wouldn’t change a thing about this moment… besides the pain in my chest. I go harder still pushing myself into her as firmly as I can. I blow my load and vomit synchronically as a calming darkness takes over me.

© 2014 Phil Thomas Killman

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About the Same

She asks me for a light. I say I don’t have one, but I know I have a lighter between my sock and my Vans slip-on. I think she knows too. A radio blares somewhere nearby but I don’t see anyone around. She puts her hand in her back pocket and pulls out a box of cigarettes. Pulls one out. Asks if I want one. She removes a Zippo from somewhere, lights mine, lights hers. I take a drag and exhale the smoke.

“What the hell are we doing here?” she asks, and it takes me a moment to register the question.

“You said you wanted to come here.” I know that’s not the case, but we’re here. A breeze is coming in from the ocean, and the sun is rippling, glinting on the surface of the greyish horizon.

“You got a light?” She asks again.

“It’s already lit.”

She considers this and puts out her cigarette in the sand without as much as one inhale. And I realize I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here. I hate the beach. I’m in a pair of black jeans and a red tee, sand in all my pockets. My hair is a mess. The sun is at its peak, and I left my Wayfarers in the car. Can’t see a thing clearly. The most I can make out of Haylee’s form is the fact that she’s wearing jeans and some top. Her auburn hair brushes lightly against her face in the breeze. Though I spent most of the day with her, I didn’t pay that much attention to it. It’s the details I should remember, but I just don’t.

“Let’s go,” I say.

“‘Kay.”

Neither of us moves for a moment. We simply sit there looking out at the waves breaking in the onset of another summer twilight. The sand is warm from the summer sun, and I feel it scratch lightly on my palms as push myself up finally and help Haylee to her feet. We walk back to my Civic. I unlock the doors with a remote, and we enter on either side. I put the key in the ignition, turn the headlights on, and drive.

 

I make a left onto PCH, heading towards the 5 as the sun sinks below the burning horizon. Haylee isn’t responding to anything I say, so I turn on the radio. A mariachi band is bleeding through KIIS, so I shift stations to Star 98. Some band is singing about that movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’m driving 30 in a 45, and cars continue to pass me on the left. I don’t see any of them, but I’m pretty sure at least one driver flips me the bird. Haylee finally speaks.

“Delia asked me about you the other day.” I say nothing, and the silence persists for another three or four exits. I’m not sure how to respond to this, but Haylee continues through my silence.

“She said she saw you at the El Rey last week. Who was playing?”

“I haven’t been to LA for a month.” I say this realizing that I may have been recent after all. At the El Rey, some amateur band ripping off the Strokes was there, and I have a ticket stub in my wallet.

“She says you were drunk out of your mind.” Though this may or may not be true, neither of us speaks for a while. But then I realize I’m confused, and it takes me a moment to ask.

“Which one is Delia?”

We exit somewhere in Irvine. Static on the radio, so I switch stations again. I don’t really care what plays. Just as long as there’s something to listen to. This new station is no better. I leave it anyway.

Almost every other light we hit is red. We sit in the car, not saying a word. Haylee reaches for the dial to change the station, and I look at the corner at the glowing light of a Blockbuster, nearly missing the change from red to green. As we drive by, I notice how empty it is. No one but the clerk. I don’t even remember the last time I rented a movie from there.

We finally turn into a housing tract somewhere off of Alton. I pull into the driveway and idle for a minute. Haylee exits and walks around the front of the car as I roll my window down. We kiss. A simple kiss. Her lips taste sweet of raspberry lip balm. Though I wish it was more, it feels right. Like this is us. Like it used to be.

“See you later tonight?” she asks.

“Mhm, tonight.”

We kiss again. I watch her make her way up the walkway to the front door, fumbling with her keys. I wait until she gets inside and pull out of the driveway. The radio has finally cleared up, and something by the Smiths comes on. I turn it down. Turn it off.

A few hours later, I’m heading north. After driving up the 5, I merge in Tustin onto the 55 towards the 405. It’s supposed to be the quickest way to get there. My car idles because traffic isn’t moving. A horn blares somewhere. The cars move forward a couple of spaces.

I’m stuck here for a while. I keep looking up at the billboards on the sides of the backed-up freeway. Mostly travel and Disney. There’s this one that says something in bold print:

ALMOST LIKE NOTHING IS THERE

I’m pretty sure it’s an advertisement for condoms or something. All I focus on is the print.

ALMOST LIKE NOTHING IS THERE

It bothers me. It shouldn’t, but I shiver a little. I reach for the power to turn the radio on. Try to drone it out. But I keep looking at it. Because it’s hard to tone out sight this way, to make yourself forget. I turn up the volume. Every part of the car seems to vibrate with the music. Other drivers are giving me dirty looks and signaling for me to turn it down. But I can’t. I can’t stop seeing it.

ALMOST LIKE NOTHING IS THERE

I finally pass the sign. I turn the music down a couple of notches. Traffic is easing up. After another ten or fifteen minutes, I make it to the 405 North. I drive for a while, but the thought is still with me. I keep thinking about how I’m meeting Haylee. I think about how I’m driving to somewhere in Huntington Beach. I keep thinking about that billboard and how it’s almost like nothing is there. And that is exactly what I’m afraid of.

“Hey, Hal. Good to see you. Where’s Hay?” I’m greeted by Brett, who’s wearing an obnoxiously neon yellow tee with the word Gentry written in a dripping spray paint style pink. I wonder if that’s the brand or if he actually knows what it means. His blonde hair is cut short for the summer, and I’m starting to think I may need a haircut. Dark hair and summer add up to miserably warm.

Any case, Brett answers the door. Which is strange. I don’t know whose place this is, but it definitely isn’t his. He lives in Newport.

“She should be on her way.” He accepts this, and we walk in and he introduces me to some people I think I’ve already met. One is this girl who goes to Cal State Long Beach. I don’t know why I know this. We start talking. The doorbell rings, and Brett heads across the room to greet the newcomers, but I still don’t get why. This isn’t his house.

“So where do you go to school?” she asks me, and I know I’m talking, I can feel my mouth move, I can hear myself laughing and smiling. But I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t feel anything. She continues asking me questions, and I answer. But I still don’t know what I’m saying. Like I’m not really the one talking. Like I just don’t care about who this is or what she says or why I’m supposed to care. I’m bored, maybe about to panic, but my face doesn’t show it. I am probably smiling like an idiot.

My phone vibrates. I pull it out of my pocket and skim over the texts from earlier, the newest text is from Haylee. She isn’t coming tonight. I’m supposed to have fun without her.

The living room is filled with people, and the girl has gone off to talk to someone else. I head into the kitchen where there’s a keg and a chrome fridge filled with beer. I open a bottle and drink. A guy comes up to me and shakes my hand. He seems to know me.

“Hey, Hal. How’ve you been?” It’s always the same questions with these people. I try to act somewhat polite. “Well. How about you?”

“About the same.” He asks how Haylee and I are and where she is, and I almost feel like I can’t give him a decent answer. She’s on her way. We’re fine. Whatever I say, he seems satisfied, and I’m somewhat relieved that I don’t have to explain. He says see you later and asks if I’m free for lunch or something sometime this week. He joins the crowd back in the living room. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Hey, Hal.” It’s some girl I think I actually know, except for her name. I keep talking to her, this girl I guess I’m supposed to know. She tells me something about school. She’s in Art or Dance or Ceramics or some other nonsense like that. I try to pay attention, but I can’t. My mind continues wandering off.

I wonder if she would be jealous. If I did this, would she know? Would she do anything about it?

The girl in front of me doesn’t notice. She keeps talking, and I catch one sentence:

“So, what do you do now?” She asks, interested.

“I’m in school. I’m…” I can’t remember what we were talking about just a moment ago, and I lose my place in our conversation because I wasn’t really paying attention anyway.

“I’m…” I stutter. Then I feel bored. Like this conversation is meaningless. “I’m…”

I’m over it. I walk away without finishing. I’m sure she’s upset or sad or dejected. Some adjective should suffice. I’m sure whatever I was going to say or was supposed to say doesn’t matter. And I’m sure whatever she feels or says is just as unimportant.

Brett comes up to me and asks about Haylee again. I start to wonder why he keeps asking.

“She’s not coming.”

“Why not?” He seems utterly disappointed.

“Didn’t say.” And that’s the best I can do. Brett keeps trying to make conversation, but I’m not very responsive. I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t even like these people.

I stay for another hour. It’s not late. I’ve had two or three more beers, maybe four. A girl and I are talking again, another one, and she’s flirting with me. I think I’m flirting with her. We step outside on the patio and continue talking. I’m not paying attention to too much of what she’s saying. So I nod. Just nod.

She kisses me. I don’t even look at her when I kiss her back. We start drunkenly making out. There’s no one around. Her lips taste sweet of raspberry lip balm and guilt. We keep at this for about five minutes, and I try to act interested, but my mind wanders back to the billboard and to Haylee and to how it’s almost like nothing is there. I thought there was something but I guess the billboard knows better. Maybe Haylee knows better.

I don’t even know her name. She doesn’t know Haylee’s. She asks me if I want to go to her place. I say no. She laughs nervously. Asks again. I say no. She walks back to the party; I walk to my car.

My phone vibrates a third time as I’m exiting the freeway. A couple of unread texts, a few voicemails. I open the first text:

YOU BASTARD!

The number isn’t in my phonebook, so I don’t know who this is. Or what this person is talking about for that matter. I wonder if someone told Haylee about the girl. Shit. I just turn the radio up and drive.

© 2014 Michael Frazer

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The Art of Vibration

I am burnt sand,

unformed and

dropped

on your bed. You amplify

me like a speaker. I shiver

into

almost disastrous

forms

and

angles. Pushed to the e

d

g

e,

I am sure I will break

at first touch. Preparing myself

for the punctuation

of f

a

l
l
i
n
g, I find I have

a better grip, a stronger foundation

than either of us imagined.
© 2014 A.J. Huffman

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OVERCOMING INERTIA

It occurred to me, as I gasped for breath, that there were worse places to die than on a cliff in Acadia National Park (Detroit, for example). I staggered up the steep, rock-strewn path, grabbing every possible branch for support and, just when I thought I could not go on, the sky opened up like a giant blue parachute. With one last heave, I stumbled forward and collapsed. I lay splayed on my back, staring into the wild blue yonder, certain my husband would find me dead. Yet in my stupor, I heard birds twitter in the lofty trees and waves batter Maine’s rocky shoreline. I tasted the salty breeze that teased my curly, sweaty and tangled hair. I heard a tour bus grind its way up the winding mountain road, and smelled the toxic fumes spewed in its wake.

It was surreal.

As it turned out, that June day in 2013 was not my day to die—although, as far as near-death experiences go, I’d give it a solid nine. I’ve read about people who had near-death experiences, and some of them said, “My life flashed before my eyes.” I get that, because as I lay sprawled in the dirt, inhaling the lingering bus exhaust, a slide show of my own life flickered through my head. Regrets rose up like spirits from ancient graves. I should never have married that chef in Minneapolis. I should have finished college or joined the Peace Corps. I should have square-danced more, protested more, risked more. Biggest regret—I should have exercised more. Uncle Joe—God rest his soul—had been right. It’s hell to get old.

I’ve never been fond of exercise, although I love to be outdoors. My life-long theory has been that if I wasn’t overweight, I didn’t need to exercise. My rationale was based on the Federal Government’s height/weight ratio charts, like the ones taped to the wall in the nurse’s office of my junior high school. Accordingly, I’ve never been overweight. The day I confronted Uncle Joe’s truth on that cliff in Maine, however, I was so far removed from my junior high school days that I was staring down eligibility for Social Security benefits. It occurred to me that perhaps my theory was outdated.

As I struggled to breathe, chastising myself for years of inertia, I heard plodding footsteps on the path. I sat up and saw my husband, Michael, trudge into view. He was hunched beneath the burden of a 30-pound camera bag strapped to his back and another one of similar weight slung over his left shoulder. He balanced his tripod, with a camera mount the size of a bowling ball, on his right shoulder. In the tradition of “old masters” of landscape photography, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Michael shoots film with old-school cameras most people have never heard of. I marveled at his ability to tote that load up such a steep incline (he and I are the same age), as well as his dedication to such an archaic art form.

Earlier that morning, I had set up the tripod for him and then hiked on to the summit, leaving him to assemble his equipment and shoot a photo of the coastline. Now I watched him struggle up the path, bent like a boomerang beneath the weight of his gear, and even in my misery, I felt a twinge of guilt—I usually schlepped the tripod. But perhaps it’s just as well I had been unencumbered by the top-heavy tripod on such a steep ascent. Things could have turned out worse. I could be dead.

When at last he reached the summit, Michael eased the tripod and his camera bags to the ground. He sat down beside me, expelled a deep sigh, and pushed his black, George Burns-style glasses back up on his nose. His breathing was labored but steady. He, unlike me, works out at the gym. I, of course, was still gasping.

Observing my distress, he put an arm around my shoulder and said, “Are you okay honey?”

“I…might…need…resuscitation,” I managed to say.

I tried to breathe deeply while Michael looked at me with pity. He knelt behind me and massaged my shoulders.

“You’re trying too hard,” he said. “Relax.”

I leaned into him and closed my eyes. “O…kay. But I don’t…know if…I can…go on.”

“Sure you can,” he said. He gave me a fond little pat on my shoulder and planted a kiss on the top of my head. “We’ll sit here until you’ve recuperated. You’re just a little out of shape. A few more days of this and you’ll be ready to climb Mt. Everest.”

He was so wrong. By the end of our vacation, my body felt like it had been run through the wringer of the old washing machine that used to sit, hobgoblin-like, in a corner of Granny’s back porch. I popped Advil like M&M’s and drank a copious amount of beer, having discovered in the course of our evening pub crawls that beer is an excellent muscle relaxer.

As we sat in a Bar Harbor tavern one night, Michael said, “Promise me you’ll lay off the drugs and alcohol when we get back home.”

“I promise. I’m also going to start an exercise program.”

We clinked our beer bottles together.

When we returned to Savannah, the reality of keeping my promise set in, and I recalled why I had avoided regular exercise in the past—I hate to exercise. Nonetheless, I moved forward with my plan. I joined Curves. The Curves program is an exercise circuit on which the exerciser alternates the use of hydraulic strength training machines with in-place low-impact aerobics. It is not all that strenuous. Curves should have been perfect for me. But after a few weeks I got bored and dropped out.

I contemplated other types of exercise. I confess, my heart was not in it. I still wanted an easy route to better health. I realize there is no such thing, but I had not yet come to terms with that reality. It was not helpful that I have a long history of avoiding physical activity. In fact, my aversion for breaking a sweat goes all the way back to my senior year in high school.

The gym teacher, Mrs. Bute (pronounced “booty,” appropriately, as I recall), caught Betsy Butler and me hiding out in the girls’ locker room during gym class. We were supposed to be outside playing field hockey. I’ll never forget the smirk on her face as she marched us back out to the field where she made us play midfielder positions—the ones that do the most running. Of course all that running ruined our Nancy Sinatra hairdos and, as if that was not punishment enough, she gave us an F on the last report card of our senior year.

I was in dire need of some guidance, so I asked a friend if she could recommend a good form of moderate exercise.

“Try Pilates,” she said. “It doesn’t involve a lot of vigorous movement.” She had heard my field hockey story.

Taking her advice, I found a Pilates studio in my neighborhood and stopped by one day to check it out. I opened the door and found two young women stretched out on mats in impossible positions. Contraptions along one wall resembled guillotines. The women seemed startled by my appearance, as if I had just landed a flying saucer in the parking lot. They gathered their wits, however, and came over to greet me. I told them about my disastrous experience in Maine, and asked them if they could help me get in shape so I could go hiking without the need for a portable oxygen canister. The young women assured me that Pilates would be my salvation.

Everything sounded good until we discussed class times. Classes were either early in the morning (I’m retired, I don’t get up early) or right after work (I don’t go to work, I go to happy hour). I said I would get back to them.

How was a person like me, whose last regular exercise had been in high school gym class, supposed to overcome inertia? I came of age during the Vietnam War, women’s lib, and Woodstock. Exercise was just not part of the ‘60s and ‘70s culture. If I wasn’t protesting something, I was getting high on something. I didn’t know one person in those days who exercised for fun, much less for health benefits. Besides, gym memberships weren’t even invented yet, unless you were into boxing.

By the 1980s, however, a physical fitness craze swept through America, thanks in part to Jane Fonda’s exercise videos. Women were buying leg warmers and exercise outfits and mimicking Jane in front of their TVs every night. I, however, had not forgiven her for her traitorous support of the North Vietnamese at the height of the war, and refused to buy into her reincarnation as a self-proclaimed exercise guru. I continued my indolent ways.

Now, at long last, I’m ready to get healthy so I can go hiking with my husband. I’m not talking about hiking the Appalachian Trail—which is 2,100 miles long—but I am inspired by that notion. I recently read A Walk in the Woods, Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. I think Bill and I have a lot in common concerning our attitude about exercise, except that he reformed and actually did hike the AT. When giving serious consideration to such an arduous undertaking, he concluded that, “It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth.” I knew just how he felt.

Motivated by Bill’s trek through the wilderness, I began walking the 1.5 mile trail around the lake near our house. The trick was to time my walk before the blistering Georgia sun rose too high, and before the odious gnats that plague us here on the coast began to swarm. Walking the lake’s shoreline was tolerable, even enjoyable, but I knew I needed something more—something that would engage more body parts than just my legs—but what?

A true southern gentleman, Michael tried to help. He convinced me to go to the gym with him three mornings a week. Because Michael’s intentions were good, I rose zombie-like at 6 AM, swilled down a cup of coffee, and arrived at the gym by 7 AM, three days a week. It was grueling. I thought perhaps Pilates would have been a better choice. But I love my well-meaning husband, so I persevered—until I injured my shoulder on the weight-lifting equipment.

I won’t lie. It was a relief to have an excuse to quit. I hated the gym, and not just because the workout made me break a sweat, although there was that. My main aversion to the gym was psychological. Savannah is a military town, and the gym was patronized by men and women in the armed forces—and let me just interject—for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect. However, not only were they all military-fit, almost all of them were at least two generations younger than me. I felt like Grandma Moses. I had to start seeing a shrink.

My quest for the perfect exercise continued. In the garage, Michael resurrected the bicycle pump from beneath an avalanche of old garden hoses and fluffy pink insulation and inflated my bicycle tires. I like riding my bike—in cool weather. By this time it was August. In Savannah the heat is as thick as jelly. Michael hoisted my bike back up to its hook on the garage ceiling.

Against my better judgment, I tried Zumba. I didn’t last long. Halfway through the first class, hot stabbing needles of pain shot through my knees and I was sent hobbling to the sidelines—yet another discouraging reminder of Uncle Joe’s proclamation.

Then one day during happy hour, one of our friends, we’ll call him Georgio, said he had recently taken up yoga and had been encouraged to stand on his head in the first class. I was speechless. I had not realized that Georgio was a stand-on-your-head kind of guy. Besides, he isn’t much younger than I am. His wife, we’ll call her Claudia, said she also did yoga and that it had done wonders for her flexibility and strength. I was intrigued, but I was not about to be pressured to stand on my head.

I found a power yoga studio online that advertised “silver” yoga classes which, to me, translated to “senior,” which equated to “easy.” The word “power” puzzled me, but I thought it was a reference to yoga making one feel powerful. Also, the website specified that they did not turn on the heat during silver yoga. It was still August. In hindsight, I should have asked some questions. Instead, I bought myself some yoga pants and headed over for the next silver yoga class.

Indeed, the heat was not on, but neither was the air conditioning, although ceiling fans whirred at top speed. Several young women strolled in, as well as a few “silvers,” and even a couple of men, one of whom, to my amazement, proceeded to stand on his head. I was stoked, but I did say a prayer that a headstand would not be required. I rolled out my mat and psyched myself up for an hour of revitalizing stretching.

I thought I was going to die. Who knew yoga could be so strenuous?

I don’t remember much about that class. It’s all a blur. I do know that it was hard. I had not expected yoga to be hard. Just as I was about to faint, we went into cool-down mode. By then, I felt like I was on life-support. As we lay on our backs breathing deeply, the instructor handed each of us a cold, damp cloth. I could have put an oxygen mask to better use. I lay on my mat, catatonic. Time passed—I might have passed out. At some point I realized that everyone was putting their gear away. I staggered to my feet, rolled up my mat, shoved it onto the shelf, and stumbled outside into the sweltering heat.

In the car I collapsed and turned the air conditioning to the arctic setting. The cold air revived me and, to my surprise, a feeling of triumph crept over me. I had pushed myself through to the end of the class (no headstand), and no one had to call the EMTs. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to give up on yoga. One thing was certain, however—I had to find a yoga studio with air conditioning.

This time I did my research. I found a studio that advertised the “mind, body, and spirit” benefits of yoga. I liked the holistic sound of that. I called the instructor, I’ll call her Jen, and had an informative conversation with her. It went something like this:

“Is your studio air-conditioned?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you turn it on?”

“Of course.”

“What’s the temperature?”

“Whatever temperature is comfortable for you.”

“Is it power yoga?”

“No, I teach Eastern yoga.”

“How is that different from power yoga?”

“Let me put it this way, the word ‘power’ has no business being placed next to the word ‘yoga.’ Yoga is not boot camp.”

“So I don’t have to stand on my head?”

“Absolutely not.”

“How large are your classes?”

“I teach private instruction.”

“Sign me up,” I said. If I passed out, she would be the only witness.

Eastern yoga turned out to be just what I needed to complement my nature walks, but it’s not easy. Even so (and I cannot believe I’m saying this), I enjoy pushing myself a little farther each day. I feel stronger and my joints are more limber. I even have more confidence. It also beats playing field hockey.

The other day at the studio I picked up a copy of Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. It was like looking at a copy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The man demonstrating yoga positions in the photographs was a veritable contortionist.

“There is no way I will ever be able to twist my body into one of those positions,” I said to Jen.

“No, probably not,” she said, “but it’s enough to aspire to that. Yoga is a process.

Indeed. Kind of like writing.

So, with Bill Bryson and the India Rubber Man for inspiration, I’m walking 1.5 miles around the lake several times a week (good for the heart) and practicing yoga (good for everything else). I can now work through a simple yoga routine without collapsing. I am hopeful that my next hiking experience will prove less difficult than the last one. At the very least, I’ll know what my limitations are.

I still work to overcome my aversion for sweating (and gnats). But, who knows? People change—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes change is “a process,” like yoga—and writing. So while this is not a Hollywood story of an underdog’s heroic transformation into a crowd-pleasing winner, like in the movies Rocky and Seabiscuit and Breaking Away, one thing is for sure—my years of waddlesome sloth are behind me.

© 2014 Sharyn Ellison

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