Seeing Bellybutton To Bellybutton
“Are you still exercising?” she asked, wiping the cheesecake from her chin. She nitpicked some crumbs from her blouse, which covered a flat tummy. The muscles in her arms were slightly chiseled, yet still feminine. She was in great shape.
I thought about what she said, and then thought some more.
“Well? Are you still exercising or not?” she asked.
“No,” I said. I took another bite of my pentuple fudge German chocolate cake; a cocoa-induced rush of dopamine released into my brain. Mmmmmmm...
“Then how do you do it? You’re so skinny,” she said, giving me the up and down scan with her eyes. I looked down at my waist and thought that fat is indeed relative in America. I saw a slightly overweight runner, and she saw a thin man.
“I run about thirty miles per week these days,” I said, inserting another piece of cake into my gaping oral cavity.
Damn, no coffee. Who the heck serves cake and doesn’t put out any coffee?
She ate the last piece of her cheesecake and started in on the three brownies on her other plate. “You just said you didn’t exercise. Are you putting me on? Look at you.”
“I don’t exercise.” “Running is exercise.” “Not to me.”
“Well what is it?” She was annoyed. Her well-defined biceps seemed to be tensing up, hinting that they might go Schwarzenegger at any moment.
“I train and I race. That’s all I do.” I took the last bite of my cake. Oh, man, the yum, the yum!
“It’s still exercise,” she said. She nibbled her brownies, like a gerbil buzz sawing a carrot.
“Not to me. If I thought what I was doing was exercise, I’d quit. I hate exercising. I would rather stick needles in my eyes while attempting to read a computer software user’s manual, while watching a discussion of the pros and cons of different lures on a fishing show, while listening to The Brady Bunch sing When It’s Time To Change* over and over,” I said.
Coffee, coffee, coffee! Now, now, now!
“But you are exercising!”
“I’m trying to realize potential— break through to new levels. That’s all I’m doing. Well, to be honest, I’m trying to beat other runners as well. I like winning when I can. I never do, but it’s about the reaching.”
“You don’t care about looking good?”
“Sure I care, that’s why I use hair mousse when my hair gets longer than three quarters of an inch, and that’s why I wear Crocs in the summer. I have masculine—yet delicate—ankles, and the little holes on the top of the shoes are a teasing look at the extreme beauty of the exquisite veins on the top of my feet. Drives my wife quite wild. But that’s not why I run,” I said. I polished off the rest of my cake and drank a sip of water, yearning for the comfort of the motherly java bean.
“I don’t mean to be harsh, but I think you’re lying,” she said, gulping her third brownie, like a shark swallowing a tuna.
“I’m not. If I ran to exercise, I would quit after a week. I train, I race. Exercise has no meaning. Running has no meaning. It is only realizing my potential and breaking through my limits that has any beef.”
“You don’t run to live longer? To avoid heart attacks?”
“No. I’m going to die no matter what I do.”
“You don’t run to impress people?”
“I like that a few people here and there have been impressed with my marathon finishes. I’m not ego-free. Still, it’s not what motivates me.”
“I think you’re putting down what I do,” she said, slamming her empty brownie plate down on the table. “You’re taking away the meaning. What I do—keeping thin and chiseled—is an accomplishment. Most people in this country are fat.”
“I prefer to call them stored energy carriers,” I said.
“They’re fat!” she said, not appreciating my meager stab at PC humor. ”Look at me. I’m hot! Why? Because I’m not fat!”
Heads around the room turned to look at us. Many of the heads were on bodies with lots of stored energy around waists and hips. All I could focus on were the brownie crumbs stuck between her teeth.
“What I do is as important as what you do. It is an equal accomplishment, Mr. Training,” she said.
Her eyes bulged and the tendons in her neck looked like they were about to snap. So, I took a pen from my pocket, lifted my shirt, and drew two eyes and a nose a few inches above my belly button. I squeezed my fat, turning my belly button into a puppet mouth, and said with it, “Cool. If being hot is your goal, then you’ve ac- complished it. You’re sizzling. So, what’s next?”
She relaxed for the first time and laughed. She lifted her blouse a few inches and tried to talk with her bellybutton, but couldn’t...not enough stored energy. When I left her, she was still trying to pinch an inch.
I left the gathering and went straight to Dunkin’ Donuts for a medium coffee.
(*I like the song When It’s Time To Change, but hearing it once every decade is enough. Actually, I like all the songs from The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. I grew up on those shows. Kick-ass TV power pop)
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Crusted Salt comics by Jimmy Brunelle