Out.com is proud to present the wacky and wild (and absolutely truealthough some names have been changed to protect the guilty) adventures of a 30-year-old guy in Hollywood who just wants to lose a few (dozen) pounds. And find eternal happiness and fulfillment. Is that too much to ask?
Part Four: Sweatin with an OldieBut Goodie
In the fall of 1999, I spent the most miserable six months of my life in a town called Casa Grande, Arizona, working as a producers assistant on the movie Three Kings. One of my responsibilities was securing a gym for George Clooney and his friends to play basketball every evening at wrap. I was able to get a local school to give me a key to one of their gyms, but they made me sign off as responsible, meaning I had to go every day to let them in and lock up when they left.
One night, they all began begging me to play. This was a group of pranksters and it was obvious they wanted me to join in because they knew it would make great fodder on set to talk about the silly girl-like way I would play. What they didnt count on was how all of those years of dancing to Madonna videos had made me gracefulnot to mention my ability to form a wall like Shaquille ONeal. Not only did I play that night, but also every night for the rest of the shoot with George insisting I always be on his team. It felt good to not only surprise them, but to also surprise myself, because even I predicted I would be giving them the silly girl-like fodder.
Recently, when my friend Amy, an associate producer over at HBO, called and asked me to take an exercise class with her, I quickly found out just how Clooney and the boys felt. Bob, I know you are experimenting with new exercises and I have the perfect one I have been wanting to take forever. I wasnt used to Amy getting so excited as she is generally reserved and level-headed. Richard Simmons teaches an aerobics class called Sweat! at his studio in Beverly Hills and he is teaching this Saturday!
As visions of short shorts and sequined tank tops danced through my mind, all I could think was, He has his own studio? I was certain I was about to embark on a sidesplitting experience that would give me fodder for months.
A few short days later, we arrived outside Slimmons. Sure enough, pulling up next to us in an extremely butch truck, hopped out the irrepressible Richard Simmons in his trademark red-and-whitestriped shorts and a red tank top that had been bejeweled with hearts. I hadnt been this excited to sweat since the night I had lost my virginity to another man.
Everything in the studio was decorated with pink and red hearts for Valentines Day, and I do mean everything. It was Shelbys palette of blush and bashful from Steel Magnolias. The friendliest women I have ever met instantly engulfed useach singing the praises of this establishment of physical fitness. The thing I found jarring was that these women, who were so enthused by the exercise, werent as fit or in shape as one might expect, and I couldnt help but wonder if they werent just there to see Richard. It was like trying to trust a hairdresser sporting an ugly haircut. At least it kept me from feeling self-conscious.
Amy and I kept stealing glances at one another as we were fawned over like Dorothy landing in Oz. The munchkins parted and Glinda came in to make her move. Richard began rapid-fire conversation, wanting to know where we worked, our dating status, and then deciding, Your hair is too fabulous. You cant be here if your hair is better than mine. Already I was a thorn in his side. Then, while he was going over his favorite Oscar picks, he bit off half of a baby carrot and stuck the rest in my mouth. I wish I werent as inhibited by my personal space issues. His boundless energy reminded me of an excited kitten, ready to pounce and then curl up in my lap at any second.
Because Amy and I werent sure what we were getting into, we signed up for two classes. For the first one called Live It! we sat in a circle with a very compassionate (and, unlike his public persona, calm) Richard and the eight women who had greeted us. It was like an AA meeting for ones emotional relationship with food. Finally, my people! It felt good to say that for the first time, in a long time, I was taming my relationship with food. A month and a half in and, aside from my debauchery in Vegas (see my last entry), I have been able to maintain discipline and actually feel good about my choices.
It wasnt until one of the women, whom I had previously judged, announced that she had lost 120 pounds that the seriousness of the situation began to sink in. Each woman around the circle was waging her own war on food and body issues and slowly winning. Suddenly the love for all things Dickie, as Richards friends call him, became clear. And for the first (and not the last) time that day, I felt bad for having cast pre-judgment on someone elses journey.
After we wrote Valentines to ourselves, where I promised to love myself as I deserve to be loved by someone else, it was time for the Sweat! class to begin. Unlike Krav Maga, where I was terrified of zombies and on the verge of tears within the first three minutes, I couldnt wait to see what Richard had up his tank top (he never wears sleeves and told me he only owns one pair of pants that he wears to funerals). The studio began to fill up and the music began to pump. It was a disco remix of Diana Rosss Im Coming Out. Oh, yes, I was!
And before my eyes, Richards energy exploded and he was the overenthusiastic exercise guru that we have spent the last 25 years laughing withand sometimes at. He didnt use a microphonehe screamed. And when he wanted to get his point across, he would lift the needle off the record, yes, actual vinyl, and make sure that we were smiling as hard as we were sweating. We grapevined, we jazzercised, and more than once, he had us prancing around like ballerinas. It didnt matter because we were having so much funand sweating. He accused Amy of having gills since she was used to doing yoga and couldnt stop breathing through her nose.
When we finally stopped to pick up our mats and free weights, I felt like I had just come out of the spin cycle of a washing machine. For our cool down, he had all 40 of us sing along with and act out Better Midlers The Rose. Was it possible that this man I had spent so many years being offended by when people said I reminded them of him, could be my father?
How much is your belly worth? he howled, while we laid on our backs with our legs in the air, a position I enjoyed until I learned it can also be used for abdominal exercise. How much was my belly worth? How many expensive meals, excess groceries, and thousands of dollars of cocktails had I consumed to make my belly so large? Surely there are more productive ways to waste my money.
When we were finished, I looked over at Amys bright red face, which was punctuated with a giant grin. We were sullied and foul and couldnt have been happier. We definitely didnt look like people coming out of a class at Crunch. I dont want to sound too much like Oprah, but I am excited that the key to my current success has been my friends support and ability to find obscure and fun ways to sweat without a treadmill.
Richard hugged us goodbye making us feel like the most important people and that we were fools if we didnt recognize it in ourselves. He surprised me that day by being magnificent when I was prepared to write him off as a joke. The shoe was on the other foot and I was suddenly back in Arizona ready to play basketball as the straight guys prepared to make fun of the silly girl-like boy.
I am proud that I have lost my first 20 pounds and am down to 275 pounds, still an intimidating number, but a nice milestone on my path. To celebrate, I am going to treat myself to another Sweat! class this weekend, since I cant think of a more fun reward. Well, at least not one that doesnt involve fried food, champagne, or sex!
To read part three click here.
To read part two click here.
To read part one click here.