Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

Can you believe material can stretch that far?

I know men and women who "dress for success" every day.  Tailored suits that taper and flare where they're supposed to taper and flare.  Designer ties that match the hues of shirts.  Scarves that pick up subtle colors of a dress.  Shirts made of such soft material that they pamper the skin, and don’t wrinkle.

I'm not saying my friends look perfect or are gorgeous. The men I know don't buy their clothes from Hunk's Unlimited.  And, the women aren't Miss America's with twelve-inch waists.  Think about it.  They're my age. (I'm 61, if it's any concern of yours.)  Many of my friends at my "maturity level" are a bit lumpy and soft in places.  But, we're not frumpy.  Lumpy is a state of physical being.  Frumpy is an attitude.

We try to look good as we can.  We men keep our shirts starched and tucked into our belts, if possible.  In public, we button our coats, which are not tapered so much as to show our love handles.  Women wear skirt lengths becoming to their size and height.  Not too long, not too short.  And, in most cases we try to follow what my mother seriously referred to as the "Parsley Rule."

When I was seven years old, I asked my mother, "Mom why do you serve parsley with so many dishes?  We never eat it, and you throw it away." Her soft Southern drawl is as clear to me today as it was then. "Honey, parsley is pretty.  And, you must never forget, Presentation Is Everything."

Many people I know abide by this. We are proud of the way we look.  We have a confidence in our stature that comes from being around long enough to have been humiliated by virtually every situation.  Now, we just don't care.

What we wear isn't necessarily expensive.  But it's in good taste and is reasonably conservative.  Before leaving for work, we take a final check in the mirror to make sure the coat isn't too tight when buttoned or that the panty lines can't be seen through the skirt.  I, myself, am not too concerned with panty lines.  Yet, many people are.

We don't think we're looking so good that people turn and stare.  Just the opposite.  We look good enough so that they don't.

That is our public side. There is a more private side.  If you stop by the house unexpectedly, you might catch us with our parsley down.  But, out in public, we're giving it our best shot.

Then something happened a few years ago.  The same people so fashionable in one instance became so insane and wild in another.

I'm talking health clubs here.  People have become obsessed with exercise and trimming down and firming up our middle-aged lumps.  I like that.  I support it.  I exercise regularly several days a week. I walk.  I do sit ups to minimize belly flab.  I sometimes join in aerobics classes.   

But, there are things I just will not do.  I will not wear spandex.  Spandex ain't parsley.  A person with my body is not going to be looking good in spandex.

The same lady who pays hundreds of dollars for a tailored suit that will knock you socks off in the courtroom will throw her little designer gym bag over her shoulder and come out of the locker room wearing bright yellow spandex shorts with navy blue suns and moons on them large enough to eclipse Mount Rushmore.  The man wearing an Armani suit in his sales presentation is the same one you see in front of the aerobics class wearing black spandex with fire-engine red horizontal stripes.  Stretched beyond recognition over a wide rear end.

Don't get me wrong. I understand wide rear ends.  I am one.  All the walking and aerobics in the world will not cancel the fact that I can no longer wear a size 30 pair of slacks.

But, you won't find me wearing yellow Mount Rushmore or looking like a red bumble bee with a thyroid problem.  I am not the type to suggest that someone try to hide his light under a bushel.  Yet, when your "light" is big enough to fill the entire world, you may not want to drape it with stripes.

The blame must be shared here.  It is obvious that manufacturers of spandex clothes have a very binding contract with exercise facilities. I'll explain.  There are always mirrors mounted on the wall facing the aerobics exercisers.  For good reason.  The participants can look in the mirror, watch the tricky steps and better be able to follow the instructor.

But, spandex manufacturers pay owners of these facilities big bucks to not put mirrors on the back walls.  The worst thing that could possibly happen is for an upper middle aged man to bend over to touch his toes and get a glimpse in a "rear view" mirror.  I don't know the number one reason for heart attacks in America, but I think seeing a triple-wide bumblebee backing up would rank high.

And another thing is amazing.  Someone wearing Mount Rushmore sized yellow spandex is going through aerobics exercises stretching and pulling and stepping high right behind her friend who is wearing a lime green and navy blue checked outfit stretched to the breaking point over the Grand Canyon, and she says later to her husband, "I couldn't believe Sue would be seen outside her home in that outfit."

This is the same lady who, after class, goes up to Carolyn, who weighs 95 pounds and is wearing petite small black exercise tights with a pink halter top that bares her tiny waist.  The entire ensemble makes her look 14 years old when she's 33.  Yellow spandex says to petite pink, "Where did you get that halter top?  I looked everywhere for one just like that."  Dear, one just like that would not fit on your wrist.

In case I sound condescending, let me explain.  I have never been tempted by spandex.  But, my gym attire still has gone through a metamorphosis.  It wasn't too long ago when I thought  I looked OK in regular gym clothes, which means in a T-shirt I could hold in my stomach in a crowd without fainting.  But, as with many things in life, I experienced a revelation — his name was Rick.

It was one evening after work, and I was in the locker room having just put on my gym shorts and a T.  In walked Rick.  Average height, and, according to his business attire, slightly built.  I thought it was wonderful he was starting an exercise program to get in better shape.  He opened his gym bag and took out bright red spandex shorts and a shirt that consisted of  two very thin straps.  I walked out quickly before I laughed in his face.  "The boy comes out to exercise for the first time in his life and will look like an idiot," I thought to myself.

You guessed it.  I finished my treadmill routine and headed back to the locker room.  I noticed a group of ladies all exercising in one area.  All in clear sight of Mr. Slight In His Suit, who was transformed into Mr. Hunk In Very Few Clothes.  One of the ladies watching the jerk recognized me.  "Is this your first day to exercise," she asked, giving me a very quick head-to-toe glance.  "I'm sure Rick can help you develop a program if you ask him."

I marched home, threw my gym shorts and T in the fireplace and drenched both with lighter fluid.  I now wear only one color gym clothes — black.  I wear one size — Omar the Tent Marker Extra-Large.  With baggy clothes, there may be some doubt that I'm not as out of shape as I look.

Date of Blog Story: 
September 5, 2007 Late

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