COLUMN: Body of work best displayed with shirt

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Body of work best displayed with shirt
By Aaron J. Brown

After a long, hot summer I might be tan but I’m not taut. I read somewhere not to fret about your appearance in a mirror because of the bad lighting, unfortunate angles and your own hypercritical eye. Then my wife took a picture of me in the lake with my kids and I realized that the compact fluorescents in the bathroom had been doing yeoman’s work.

This issue is on my mind because in just one week I will be taking my family to a water park. This is the kind of water park where they also allow other people to enter the water park. These people will not know how clever or likeable I am. They will only see that my upper body resembles a terribly-designed, half-melted candle made by apathetic summer campers.

I’m in my 30s now and people talk about the aging process robbing us of our youthful build. I can claim no such theft. I’ve had the upper body of a 50-year-old Russian playwright since I was about 13 years old. I grew up the fat kid ordering slacks out of the husky catalogue. Then I lost a bunch of weight after college before getting fat, thin and then fat again over a 10 year period that included the birth of my three sons. I lost 20 pounds last spring and it’s a summer solstice miracle I haven’t gained it back what with all this ice cream and grilled meat around here.

Without getting into too much detail, my upper body resembles some sort of impressionist portrait of an elderly immigrant woman walking home from the market. I don’t mean that my chest resembles that of an old woman; I mean that my chest resembles the entire body of such a woman head to foot, rumpled and sun-starved, rolling shapes of uncertain origin. A stern expression with chin stubble stares out from the top, years of neglect and hard living cascade below, something only her dead husband has ever seen.

As you can see from the picture my face is OK, sort of like a mid-market weatherman’s face. I have decent legs from walking and a previous stint as a runner. When I was down at my ideal weight a few years ago my upper body was somewhat less appalling, but only slightly so. My ability to stay under “the deuce” is the only thing keeping this problem from spreading up to my jowls and down to my otherwise serviceable caboose. This is a constant struggle.

I can’t absolve myself of responsibility here. I eats some. I tried lifting weights back in college but overdid it and lost arm function for several days. This is just an excuse, but one that has carried the day. I could take a class, find a trainer, work my way up in repetitions and resistance, but here’s this. Am I going to put “lift weights” on my day planner to-do list? Am I a guy that’s going to do that, and talk about it with other people, like it was something I enjoy? I am not.

But this water park situation is real. It is happening and now I wish I weren’t some overfed malcontent who took to books before puberty. I wish I had learned engines with my dad, lifting heavy blocks up and down into big trucks and cranking big things – What ARE those things?! – up and down with beefy arms that appeared when I was 15 instead of self-doubt. Then, even if I ate all the food, my fat would be in a big masculine drum around my middle so that people could see that I merely let myself go.

Instead I must don my swim trunks and deal with reality. I will pay admission to the water park with dollars earned through sedentary scholarship and wade in with a body built on the same. Behold, people of the nation, the true price of life in low light behind a blinking cursor!

Now, excuse me while I do sit ups until I black out.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor who lives north of Nashwauk. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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