This is Part II of my two-part post, Yoga Is Not A Character In Star Wars. If you haven’t read Part I of this series, click here now. Or what? I’ll kick you, that’s what!
When I saw my reflection in the plate glass window of the lawyer’s office, I immediately knew that I should have stuck with the Ikea pajama bottoms. Or perhaps starved myself for no less than 7 weeks before deciding to take a yoga class that required me to parade my ass around downtown in a clingy tee and a faded pair of black workout pants. One glimpse out the corner of my eye confirmed what I had suspected back at home: my camel toe was no regular camel toe. It was a camel toe of Sally O’Malley proportions. My only hope was that my muffin top would shade my crotch area sufficiently to hide this fact from bystanders.
Note to self: Must stop writing about my vagina. Damn you, David Sedaris!
If only I’d run out and purchased a yoga mat. It is true what they say: No adolescent boy should be without a notebook and no 43 year old woman wearing the equivalent of black Spanx with a racing stripe should be without a yoga mat. Preferably a yoga mat that is unrolled. And wrapped around her body.
But there I was, sweat waterfalling down my neck and off my shoulders, sauntering down the historic streets of Wouldn’t-You-Camel-Toe-Fetish-Pervs-Like-To-Know on my way to my very first Flying Asana Anti-Gravity Swing Yoga class. I know…what yoga newbie wouldn’t sign up for a class with a name like that. As soon as I had read the class description, memories of Disney World’s Flying Dumbo ride merged with images of Brian Setzer jamming on a vintage Gretsch surrounded by people doing the jitterbug – in space.
Make that people with camel toe doing the jitterbug in space.
The accompanying photo had looked so nurturing. Alluring. Supple bodies cradled in mid-air by a swath of white silk dangling like cocoons from the ceiling. They had looked so relaxed just hanging there. Perhaps I could crawl into one of those magical exercise hammocks as a vodka-swilling, Splenda-sprinkling, callus-shaving, head-sweating, stanky feet-stinking, cynical caterpillar and emerge as an decaf tea-sipping, corporate coffee-banning, organic granola-munching CYC (Cool Yoga Chick) with perennially-tanned feet, a green thumb, lush sun-streaked locks knotted on top of my head and feet always smelling of freshly-mown grass, rosemary and sunshine. How could I resist desiring the pedal appendages of the only people who can provide restorative powers to Chuck Norris?
And yet, these people were essentially lying on their backs. Perhaps my secret hope that I could sleep whilst doing yoga wasn’t just a pipe dream. I mean, I’m exceptionally good at lying on my back. Hell, you should see me on my side in a fetal position – and these swings were certainly womb-like. Maybe I would be one of those savants who strolls into a yoga studio for the first time and leaves an hour later as a Jedi Master? I’d carry a lightsaber to class instead of a yoga mat because I wouldn’t need a mat. Yoda never sat on a mat. Perhaps the Yoda of yoga I was. See! I was already doing it.
I clutched my no-name denim bag nervously as I rounded the corner and the studio came into view – with an image of Buddha on its sign. Though Buddha wasn’t lying on his back in a swing, I had to admit he looked extremely peaceful with his eyes closed and his hands resting gently in his generous lap. Then it hit me. Buddha was fat! Yet there he was – maybe not as chubby or undressed as I’d seen him previously – sitting in a lotus position exerting no effort at all. Hell, I could practically hear him snoring. This was definitely the place for me. Squaring my shoulders, I strode like a rooster down the sidewalk, owning it. Soon I would be enveloped in a cool, dark space hung with silken cradles. Wisps of patchouli smoke, and the sound of crashing waves mingled with the haunting, hollow clickety clack of bamboo wind chimes would sooth me into a meditative state of REM sleep, and when I awoke, I’d have biceps and killer abs.
As I entered the building, I immediately removed my shoes and stashed my belongings in one of the cubbies provided. Closing my eyes, I breathed in deeply. Hmmm. No patchouli. They probably wait until class starts so that the students don’t zone out before they even sign in. I craned my ears, listening for sounds of ocean waves lapping on a tropical sand beach. Nope.
But I did hear something.
“Could you help? Get the door! Get the door! We’ve got a bug,” screeched a woman, poured into a pair of tie-dyed leggings. After stamping an industrial-sized dust mop down on top of a frenzied cockroach, she pushed it towards me. There was fear in her eyes. I opened the door and stepped onto the sidewalk on my toes – not because I was concerned about coming into contact with the roach, but because I was afraid that I would dirty the soles of my carefully grated, cleaned and moisturized feet. As the poor critter was swept over the threshold and out into the cruel world, it staggered and squinted in the sunlight, one antenna bent at a precarious angle. Clearly, there were no Jedi Masters inside this establishment. I would be the first.
Once the danger had been allayed, Fern, the instructor and studio owner, asked me to sign two waivers absolving the studio of any and all liability should I be injured, be maimed or die during the Flying Asana Anti-Gravity Swing Yoga class or any of the other classes. Die? Did people die doing this? Funny, but the glossy website didn’t mention anything about death. “Excuse me,” I said. “These, uh, waivers mentions the word death – more than once. Is there something I should know?”
Fern smiled and rolled her eyes in a way that said, “Pshaw!” Leaning towards me as if she was about to share a deep, personal secret, she asked in a breathy whisper, “There’s nothing wrong with your ticker, is there?”
“Erm, no. No, my ticker is, uh, ticking along just fine, thank you.”
Throwing her hands up in the air, she released a laugh that seemed to have crawled from somewhere deep in her gut. Must be that yoga breathing technique I’d heard so much about. “Then you’ll be fine.” She nodded her head knowingly. “Sometimes, we get an old fogey in here who just wants to check out the girls. And sometimes, their hearts ain’t so good, if you know what I mean.” She winked. Somehow, my imagined yoga experience never included winking.
The former contract attorney in me cautioned, “She’s just covering herself. Then again, maybe this is danger –“ But she was quickly interrupted by the soon-to-be-Jedi-Master in me who snapped, “Don’t be such a fucking pussy! It’s a piece of paper. What’s a piece of paper to one who carries a lightsaber? What’s a piece of paper to one who has harnessed the powers of The Force?” Yes, my Jedi Master sometimes cusses like a sailor and, I suspect, smokes a cigar. I scribbled my signature on both forms, then followed Fern into the studio.
One student had already nestled herself into a silk sack that was swinging slightly, as though she was rocking herself to sleep. Oh, why hadn’t I worn those pajama bottoms? And maybe some fuzzy socks? But all the CYCs had also chosen tight fitting yoga pants and tanks. Didn’t these people like to be comfortable when they rested? Obviously, none of these women were the type who immediately removed her bra the second she got home, unhooking it under her shirt and pulling it out through an armhole. Perhaps wearing a bra all the time was the reason for their exceptional posture? Other CYCs were attaching their swings to chains dangling from the ceiling, adjusting for their height, while two other students lay on their mats and used the low hanging fabric as a mechanism for stretching out their impossibly lean and toned bodies.
Come to think of it, everyone in the room was thin. The kind of people who sink right to the bottom of the pool if they try to free float because there’s just nothing to keep them aloft. The kind with BMIs lower than their ring size. Not one of them remotely resembled the double-chinned Buddha on the sign outside. Perhaps that was my power. Maybe it was my muffin top that would guarantee my position as the first Jedi Master this studio had fostered? But a nagging little voice in the back of my head whined, I don’t want to be a fat Jedi Master. Obi-Wan wasn’t plump. Yoda may have been short and his prominent ears might have prevented him from becoming an official CYC, but he certainly wasn’t portly.
After Fern introduced me as a newbie and provided me with a complimentary “first visit” mat – which she placed directly next to hers – I plopped down. And waited. But Fern had wandered off to help other students. All around me, my peers were stretching muscles that, not only could I not name, but I doubted I’d ever actually utilized in my two score and three years. To my left, a petite brunette CYC, whose upper arms were browned and ropey like strands of hemp twine, bent herself in half, the tips of her fingers cradling her unpolished toes, her chin resting on her knees. Not knowing what to do, I followed suit and also touched my toes – an act made simpler by the fact that I was sitting cross-legged.
Feeling adventurous, I uncrossed my legs and stretched them straight out in front of me. Certainly, I could touch my nose to my knees. I mean, it’s not like it’s an act that involves lifting barbells the size of my Camry’s tires. Really, you just have to let the upper half of your body fall. Presumably, my knees would catch my head before it hit the ground. It’s just gravity, if you think about it.
Except nothing in my body agreed with the principles of physics. In fact, I’m fairly certain that as I leaned forward at the waist, I heard my hamstrings hiss, “Fuck off, Sir Isaac Newton!” Nope, about 16 degrees into the stretch, my body came to a jarring halt. Sorry, but this is as far as you go, my tendons and muscles said, kicking my goal of uniting my nose and knees for the first time in history to the curb like a creepy hitchhiker. Perhaps, I thought, my hamstrings just needed a little bribing. Reaching down, I gently massaged the undersides of my thighs, but they were rigid, taut as guitar strings just on the verge of snapping. As a general rule, I like to avoid the snapping of body parts.
To placate my angry muscles, I pulled my feet towards me, allowed my soles to touch and my knees to drop, forming an attractive diamond shape in front of me. I like diamonds. As I blissfully permitted my thoughts to meander into the realm of gems and how lovely they are in general, the CYC to my left suddenly said, “Look at you. You’re like an old pro.”
What? I knew it. Even when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, my future as a Jedi Yoga Master was apparent. “Thank you,” I responded with a brilliant smile, “but I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
Reassuringly, the CYC said, “Well, you sure look like you do.”
Ha! This class was going to be a breeze. For a moment, I considered leaving. I mean, why embarrass all the other students who’ve probably been studying for months, maybe years? Then again, I couldn’t help it if I was a prodigy. And my place was there. In the studio. I had to be an example for others. The lightsaber that would brighten their path to enlightenment.
“Okay, class. Let’s get started with a few simple stretches.” Fern walked us through moves I’d seen before and could easily emulate. I started to wonder why I was paying for this class. I could do this at home. For free. While watching reruns of Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis on Bravo! Stifling a yawn, I glanced around the room, expecting to see multiple pairs of eyes staring at me in awe. But there were none. Dear, lord…I had already attained super star status. Everyone knows that you don’t look directly at the talent. It’s in every entertainment rider in the universe. It makes them – erm, I mean us – feel uncomfortable. You don’t speak to Angelina Jolie. You don’t make eye contact with P. Diddy. You don’t even glance at Mariah Carey. I knew it must be hard for my classmates to stretch whilst trying to catch a glimpse of me in their peripheral vision, but what could I do? It would be rude to ask Fern if I could relocate my swing to the front of the class where everyone could ogle me freely. Not during my first class, anyway.
Once we were warmed up, Fern instructed us to place our stomachs on the swing and lift our appendages as though we were flying. As I complied, I began to wonder when she was going to take this class out of the playground and into gravity-defying space. C’mon. We were playing airplanes, for chrissake. Next she’d be telling us to sit down criss-cross applesauce and would hand out store brand, vanilla oreos and Dixie cups filled with apple juice. “Now, I want you to place your palms on your mat and wriggle forward until the swing fabric has moved from your abdomen down to your ankles.”
Wriggle? That didn’t sound very yoga-like to me. Not wanting to be accused of being a diva, however, I began to wriggle. As the fabric slid away from my mid-section and down my legs – which had suddenly become a good three miles long – I began to feel a burn in my shoulders and arms. My lower back started to ache as my belly sagged towards the mat.
“Cristy, tighten those abs. Hold your body erect while wriggling,” Fern directed me. Easy for her to say. Her stems were only a block in length while mine ran all the way out to the freeway. And she had a six-pack under her tank top, while I was storing blubber in preparation for a long, cold winter. The more I wiggled, the more my upper arm muscles began to shudder. “C’mon, Cristy. You can do it,” Fern urged.
“But I think my arms are having an epileptic seizure,” I whined. “Someone must have turned on a strobe light when I wasn’t looking.” However, just at that moment, I felt the cool silk envelop my ankle bones. I had done it.
“Great job, Cristy!” Fern cried. I could feel every set of eyes turn to appraise my achievement. Except by then, my entire body weight had been redistributed to my spaghetti arms – and when I fell, my knees weren’t there to catch my nose. As I tried to roll to break my fall, my feet became hopelessly twisted in the fabric. I half expected a giant spider to crawl out of the ceiling, encase me in silken threads as strong as steel, then drain the blood from my body.
But something worse happened.
As I struggled to disentangle my feet, I farted.
By most standards, it was a small, harmless passing of gas. It didn’t smell. It didn’t last long enough for a child to recite the alphabet in sing-song manner. No one screamed, “Gas leak!” But it was there. Loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. How do I know this? Because as quickly as my classmates had craned their necks to check out my accomplishment, they’d turned away. Embarrassed. And rightly so. Yoda never farted. Considering Jedi Masters could harness The Force to prolong life and prevent decay, I’m pretty certain that Yoda was able to avoid floating an air biscuit in front of Luke Skywalker. I didn’t know what to do. Acknowledge it with a laugh? Shout Excuuuuuuuuuuuse me, thereby confusing the class with my Steve Martin impression and causing them to forget the fart? Perhaps I could use a Jedi mind trick: This isn’t the flatulist you’re looking for.
Before I could do or say anything, Fern had instructed us to rise and stand in our swings. “Wrap the silk around your wrists once before grasping the fabric above.” Following directions, I clenched my ass cheeks together tightly to ensure that I wouldn’t accidentally blow another butt bugle. “Okay, now lift your legs straight out in front of you, allowing your abs and upper body to support the weight.”
Huh? Erm, I wanted to point out to Fern that after the debacle only moments earlier, my upper body had accepted a position working as one of those wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men, and my abs had abdicated any and all responsibility towards supporting my body, financially or otherwise, and were resting comfortably against my intestines.
Not to mention that I’m familiar with this particular exercise. It’s called a hanging leg lift. Typically, you hold on to an easy-to-grasp metal bar above you or your upper arms are bolstered by some kind of support system. People who can perform this exercise properly look like this:
Not like this:
The second I removed my feet from the swing, I could feel my palms begin to burn as the silk fabric slid painfully through my hands. Quickly, I lowered my feet. “Fern, I don’t think I can do this one.”
“Sure you can,” she chimed. “You just need to modify the pose. Instead of lifting your feet straight out in front of you, just try lifting your knees up towards your chest.”
I wanted to tell her that I’d failed just trying to lift my feet – period. But there was Yoda, warbling in that annoying voice of his in the back of my head. No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try. Motherfucker. His legs only make up about a quarter of his body, whereas I’m built like a Japanese spider crab. I’ve got a hell of a lot more to lift. But then the fighter in me reared her stubborn head. I’ll show that bat-eared Jedi that I can do anything. And then I’m gonna rip his little gremlin ears off.
With that, I mustered up every bit of strength that remained in my body and lifted my knees. As my feet cleared the fabric, I felt that familiar sliding sensation – the one that made my hands sting as though they were being sliced open with red hot knives. I clenched my fingers around the silk more tightly as my toes quickly inched up and away from the swing – only to plummet back down again just as rapidly. Essentially, I’d performed a mini-jump. As I relaxed my grip on the fabric, a strange tingling traveled up the middle and index fingers on my left hand. Then the sensation disappeared.
Along with all feeling in tip of my middle finger.
Holy shit! I couldn’t feel the top half of that finger at all. It must have gone to sleep. It was a rather boring class, after all. Hugging the upper portion of the swing with my underarms, I lowered my hands and began to massage the numb finger like a veterinarian briskly rubbing the life back into a still-born pup. And nothing happened. I continued rubbing. Then progressed to shaking my left hand back and forth as if that still-born pup had gotten some water in its ears. Still nothing. I could feel the panic rising in my throat. Fuck being a Jedi Master! I’m a writer, for chrissakes. I need that finger.
“Cristy, are you going to give it another shot?” Fern inquired, as I frantically smacked at my lifeless finger.
“Umm. I can’t feel my finger.”
“Did you try modifying the pose like I suggested?” She said the word “modifying” slowly, exaggerating each syllable as though I was both deaf and frantic.
“Yes, I modified the pose,” I spit through gritted teeth, “and now my middle finger is completely numb.” Then I showed her my middle finger. Really showed it to her.
“Okay, then. We all progress at different speeds,” she replied in that nobody-rattles-me-because-I’m-a-CYC-and-my-feet-smell-like-rosemary voice of hers. “After class, I can help you schedule some classes that might be more appropriate for your fitness level.
My fitness level! Was she insinuating that I wasn’t fit? Okay, maybe I’m not Jillian Michaels, but I’m no schlub either. After all, I did walk to the studio. Two and a half blocks. After jogging down a flight of stairs. And I spent a whole ten whole minutes on my recumbent bike last night – on level 2! I burned an entire 47 calories. Not to mention that this was supposed to be a swinging class. Their website mentioned nothing about clinging desperately to slippery fabric with your bare hands while performing acrobatics. Talk about misrepresentation. And now I was maimed. I was fairly certain that this was permanent nerve damage. My writing career was over. I couldn’t pen a blog without using the letters d, e and x. Dammit! I would sue.
But I couldn’t sue. I’d signed two bloody waivers. Damn the soon-to-be-Jedi-Master-voice-in-my-head! It was all his cussing and cigar-smoking encouragement that got me into this mess. As far as Yoda went, I was ready to show him where he could put his damn lightsaber. And Obi-Wan – he could just suck it!
It’s been a week and a half now and I’ve yet to return to the yoga studio. Though the feeling in my fingertip gradually returned after a week, my bruised ego remains the color of a sky that brings with it hail and tornadoes. The disappointment that came with discovering that I would not be the first Jedi Master to grace my studio was difficult to overcome, but throwing darts at my Lego Yoda was surprisingly cathartic. Okay, I don’t actually own a Lego Yoda, but I desperately want one. And if I did own one, I’m sure it would have made me feel a lot better about things. Particularly if I owned this one:
On Saturday, I finally broke down and bought a yoga mat, and last night, I painted my toe nails again in anticipation of Monday’s class. A more traditional class called Vinyasa Flow. The word flow sounds pretty benign. I mean, I go with the flow all the time. Rivers flow and they don’t even try. It’s all downhill, right? I bet I’ll kick ass at it. It’ll probably be easy-peasy. Chuck Norris will be sniffing my shoes any day now. Hell, he’ll be polishing my lightsaber for me after this class.
As I open the condo door, I immediately notice that the space is flooded in darkness. One arm outstretched to prevent my clients from entering the unit and breaking something that would best remain unbroken, I feel around blindly with my left hand, my fingers searching the wall for the light switch. Click. A vintage fixture with warty bumps spread across the surface of its milky glass – likely original to the Kennedy era with its our-President’s-so hot-we- should-buy-a-place-at-the-beach attitude – flickers brightly for a moment overhead, then dims slightly, casting the foyer in a jaundiced glow.
My clients’ eyes travel the arc from hall closet to ceiling lamp to light switch, unimpressed. “Did you see that flicker, Josh? We should have the home inspector take a look at the wiring, don’t you think?” Marlene blinks at me several times, apparently waiting for me to agree.
“Absolutely,” I say. “That’s, uh, what a home inspector does. If he thinks there’s a problem with the electricity, he’ll definitely recommend that we bring in an expert.”
“Expert?” Marlene echoes, frowning. Now Josh is staring at me, his head cocked like a supermodel who just heard another two syllable word she couldn’t comprehend.
“Yeah, an electrician.” I nod. No response from the Peanut Gallery. “You know, an expert. On electricity. An electrician.”
Josh’s neck remains bent at a perfect 30 degree angle. Pursing her lips, Marlene finally asks, “Well, then why are we paying for a home inspector? I mean, if he can’t fix it…” She turns to Josh. “Am I right? For three hundred bucks, he should be able to fix a stupid wire.” Returning her gaze to my face, she blinks again. And again. And again. How can one person blink that often? You’d think her eyelids would tire and close from fatigue. “So why can’t he fix it, Cristy?”
“Because he’s a home inspector, not a home fixer. He’s going to check out everything: the A/C, all the appliances, the plumbing, the windows, the roof, the electricity. Everything,” I reply, resisting the urge to say: Because he’d have to be a goddamned genius to be able to repair all the things he inspects, and geniuses cost a hell of a lot more than three hundred bucks an hour. I find myself blinking in time with Marlene’s eyes. It’s contagious. Like yawning. I hope our periods aren’t also synching as we stand here in the friggin’ doorway. “Why don’t we head inside? I’m sure you can’t wait to see the place again.”
Leading the way, I begin the ceremony of turning on the air, clicking on lights, and opening curtains and blinds. Sunshine streams through the windows, illuminating the fact that the faux-bamboo dining room set that was long ago painted yellow and speckled with brown paint to give it that chic Seventies antique finish is hopelessly ugly. And not the least bit antique-looking. More like freckled. Why would anyone want a freckled set of furniture? Just looking at it reminds me that I need to make an appointment with my dermatologist. “Like I mentioned before, if you want to get top dollar as far as rentals go, you’ll want to go ahead and update the decor.” And the flooring. And the cabinetry. And the appliances. And the – oh, just gut the damn thing and start from scratch.
Crossing her arms against her chest, Marlene shakes her head of bouncy dark curls. “Oh, I don’t think it’s so bad. And the rental figures looked pretty good to me. Am I right, Josh?” Her husband nods. Clients never listen. Yeah, the numbers aren’t bad, but they could be fantastic. But these people are cheap. And stupid.
For what it would cost to buy some new furniture, they’ll hire a photographer to bring in professional lighting and snap fish-eyed pictures of the rooms so that they appear wider and brighter. He’ll avoid close-ups of the artificially pigmented chairs. With Photoshop, he’ll texturize the matted, rust-colored shag so that it looks like a high-end, stained concrete floor or, maybe, custom terra cotta tiles. His kitchen shot will be taken from a boat floating in the middle of the bay, so that he can get far enough away to disguise the fact that the cabinets are made of cheap, peeling formica, and that their brass handles are rusted and have taken on the patina one usually only finds on Greek coins discovered in shipwrecks. Oh, and the dishwasher is avocado, but the refrigerator is not. Think Harvest Gold. Think disco.
Of course, my clients will get suckered into paying for a Virtual Tour, a travesty of the technological age designed to make one both dizzy (from the circular spinning motion originally intended for rides involving flying elephants) and thirsty (from the tropical, steel drum beat that accompanies the tour and subliminally instructs the viewer to make themselves a frozen drink doused with half a bottle of rum). Apparently, head spinning and drunk, the viewer will inadvertently hit the “Rent” button on the Virtual Tour and won’t sober up in time to take advantage of the 12-hour cancellation policy. The problem with this scheme is that my clients won’t garner many repeat customers. Once a tenant discovers that the full bay view can only be seen by leaning over the balcony railing and craning one’s neck while holding a mirror, he or she is unlikely to return, especially when the décor screams Three’s Company.
I wave my hand, signaling my clients to follow me. With the hard heels of Marlene’s designer sandals already clicking and clacking on my last nerve, I head towards the smaller of the two bedrooms – the one I call The Green Room. Interestingly enough, the only things in the room that color are the sheer drapes. If it’s possible for something to be both translucent, yet saturated with a color so intense, it’s hypnotic, then such greatness was achieved in the manufacturing of these curtains. Looking at them is much like staring directly into the bottom third of a traffic light – that’s as bright as the sun and only five inches away from your nose. Even though you feel your corneas melting, you can’t peel your eyes away. Shielding my own peepers with my hand, I quickly whip the sheers apart and yank the blinds upwards. As the light hits the curtains, the room bursts into color, the walls, the bedding, the lamp shades, the dresser all drenched in an electric lime shade that won’t be quelled by anything but the blackest of nights – or a blow torch.
“I really think the curtains should go,” I suggest firmly. Hearing no response, I spin around to discover the Manescos transfixed, irises aflame. At least Marlene has stopped blinking. Physically, I turn them around and steer them towards the closest bathroom for cold compresses and a few out-of-date Tylenol I discover in the mirrored medicine cabinet.
I leave them admiring the Land Rover-sized walk-in closet (the one thing a vacation rental doesn’t need) in the master bedroom with its I Love Lucy double beds, as I return their water glasses to the kitchen. It’s then that I realize I’m in trouble. Earlier that morning, my rather sensitive stomach had thrown a tantrum, as troubled, misunderstood organs often do. Having calmed it with Rolaids and positive affirmations (“What a good tummy! No one digests better than you. You have the strongest enzymes I’ve ever seen.”), it was now acting up again, except this time it recruited my intestinal tract in some sort of digestive system mutiny.
Some people cry prettily. Some people look fabulous the moment they wake. Some people can experience abdominal distress with no apparent outward symptoms. I can’t do any of the aforementioned. If even one miniscule tear dares drip its way down my cheek, my face reddens, puffing up as though I’d eaten a bucket of peanuts while subjecting myself to a thousand bee stings simultaneously. Moreover, my eyes swell shut, so not only am I temporarily blinded, but I resemble Sylvester Stallone after he’s had the shit kicked out of him – or so I’ve been told. I couldn’t see myself in the mirror to confirm this fact. It’s dangerous for me to watch a film as benign as The Notebook since strangers in the theater have been known to rush me to the emergency room against my will, claiming I’m suffering from anaphylactic shock and or that I’ve just lost a prize fight.
So as I stand here in the kitchen, rinsing the glasses in the chipped enamel sink, I know I will not be able to hide this problem for long. Much like Jim Carrey’s seemingly-elastic face, my abdomen has the ability to stretch at will, distending itself to the point that I am, once again, often rushed to the emergency room by complete strangers who insist that I’m either about to give birth to sextuplets, or I’m the whitest and most malnourished African person they’ve ever seen. Either way, they’re certain I need a doctor. The strain of my rapidly bloating tummy against the unyielding waistband of my skirt is becoming painful. I can feel the fabric cutting into my flesh and hear my abdominal muscles snickering in front of my back: Wish you’d done a few crunches now, dontcha Flabby?
There is only one way to prevent my clients from demanding to know how I became impregnated with multiples in the short time it took to walk to the kitchen and rinse their glasses. No, I can’t stand behind the sofa or carry a large briefcase in front of my belly for the rest of the season. I don’t own a briefcase, my purse is the size of a Hershey’s Miniature, and the sofa’s one of those nubby vintage numbers that only comes up to my knees. One solution exists. What is that? As my Aunt Kay likes to say, “Better out than in.” I have to release the pressure. Yes, I’m going to fart.
No biggie, Cristy, I tell myself. Just let one rip right here in the kitchen and no one will ever have to know. The Manescos are way on the other side of the condo, holding cold washcloths over their eyes while oohing and ahhing about all the bathing suits their guests will be able to hang in the walk-in closet they can only see with the tips of their fingers. I know I’m right. Pavarotti could come back from the dead right this moment and belt out “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot in front of the Harvest Gold refrigerator, and Marlene and Josh wouldn’t hear a thing. But then I remember The Morning Incident.
Earlier in the day, when only my most pwecious tum-tum was rebelling, I had also passed a little gas from my ass in order to zip up my plaid skirt, so I could jump in the car to head off to meet my clients. To say that the impact of my decision to float that air biscuit was devastating to not only my olfactory nerves and the glaze on the bathroom tiles, but fatal to my window herb garden, would be an understatement. I say this because I sprinted from the house as though it was ablaze and I haven’t been able to fully assess the damage yet. I can’t even let myself think about Fluffy. Stop it! Don’t think about her sweet, formerly-whiskered face singed beyond recognition. Seriously, cut it out! They’ll grow back.
Needless to say, the stench from The Morning Incident had been incredible – a combination of rotting eggs, Limburger cheese, skunk spray, wet dog, sulfur and Egyptian-era toe jam, tinged with a straight shot of shit and Cool Ranch Doritos. As my husband likes to say, “What crawled up your ass and died?” Don’t think about Matt! I’m sure he made it out in time. He can hold his breath for several minutes. There is no way I can be flatulent in this kitchen without my clients being exposed to the toxic odor and, possibly, suffering irreparable neurological damage – if not worse. And I’m pretty sure my Errors and Omissions insurance doesn’t cover death by butt burp.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that a solution exists. I need merely to make it outside. Though the fetid fumes will likely linger even in the open air, they can easily be blamed on car exhaust, nuclear disaster or a recently discovered open grave filled with thousands of rotting corpses just down the street. Waddling past the pantry and down the hall as fast as my bulging belly will allow, I realize this may be a mistake. Though hot air typically rises, in this case, my tightening waistband is acting as an intestinal tourniquet. That, combined with my rapid side-to-side movement, has made farting no longer a kind choice on my part, but an immediate order issued by a not-so-benevolent dictator, a.k.a. My Digestive Tract. And at this particular second, My Digestive Tract is making Hussein, Mussolini, Stalin, and Gaddafi look like a bunch of little girls with blond ringlets whose worst offense is burning ants with a magnifying glass.
Tightening my sphincter and squeezing my butt cheeks together as tightly as possible, I hurry my steps, the front door finally in sight. As my fingers brush the rounded knob, I feel a sense of relief pass over me. I made it. I can relax now. Oops. No, I can’t. Not just yet. But it’s too late. Out it comes. There’s no need to describe the birth of this particular fluffer doodle. One need only know that it was born with cloven hooves, fangs, talon-tipped wings and horns that could gore the fastest and strongest of matadors. Silent, but deadly, it clawed its way from its anal womb and immediately soared around the foyer, spreading its evil scent throughout the room in the same way a tomcat marks its territory. Don’t think about Fluffy!
Before I can open the door, wave my arms and scream, “Napalm attack. Everybody run for cover!” I hear the sound of footsteps. In particular, the distinctive click of Marlene’s Jimmy Choos on the tiled hall floor. There’s nothing I can do.
“I don’t know what Cristy is talking about,” comes Marlene’s distinctive whine. “Green is perfect for the bedroom. Such a soothing color. Conducive to sleeping. Am I right?” Though I can’t see him yet, I imagine Josh nodding – then gasping for breath and scratching at his throat with his fingernails as the gas burns through his esophagus, slowly suffocating him. The only reason I’m still alive is that I’m somewhat immune, having been exposed on many previous occasions.
A moment later, Marlene and Josh round the corner, the first, blinking once again, and the latter, nodding wearily. I can’t believe it. No reaction whatsoever to the fog of Agent Orange hanging in the air like a veil of pungent death. Perhaps I’m oversensitive. Perhaps Marlene has her own digestive disorder and has developed a similar immunity. But wait. No. There it is. The wrinkling of Marlene’s prominent nose. The grimacing of her glossed lips. “What’s that odor?” she shrieks. “Omigod! It’s awful. Am I right, Josh?” This time, Josh doesn’t nod. Instead, his head rears back like a panicked horse who’s just encountered an angry diamondback rattling its tail less than a foot away. Except the rattlesnake is my barking spider.
Go ahead. Say it. It smells like a goddamned fart. Say it, Marlene. Ask the question you’re dying to ask.
She sniffs the air. I must admit that she’s braver than I thought. Taking a few short steps toward the closet, she inhales another whiff. Thrusting out her hand, she yanks the louvered door open and sniffs again. The woman deserves a medal. And then she asks the question. “Is there something wrong with the A/C? It smells bad. Like sulfur. Am I right?”
Okay, that wasn’t the question I was expecting. I was thinking more along the lines of: “Did you break wind, Cristy?” Yeah. I may have also broken a few light fixtures in the process. And your lungs. “Umm, I don’t know, Marlene,” I respond hesitantly.
“Oh, God. You don’t think there’s mildew or something in the HVAC system, do you? I’ve got really bad allergies, you know.” Her forehead creases and the blinking commences. “You’ll have the home inspector look at it, won’t you?” she asks, her eyelids suddenly fluttering so fast they’ve turned invisible like a hummingbird’s wings. There’s now an oddness to her face, but I can’t quite place what it is.
“Of course.” Is this woman serious? The tragic photo of the young, naked Vietnamese girl running, arms outstretched, after being severely burned in a napalm attack is more along the lines of what I was anticipating, but Marlene’s only concern is whether or not there could be mold in the air conditioning system. “I don’t think it’s mold, though. It doesn’t smell like mold,” I say. “Mold smells – you know – moldy.”
Then it occurs to me that, perhaps, Marlene has never farted. Apparently, there are people who simply have never experienced anal acoustics. Considering that Josh is the most passive-aggressive, hang-dog man I’ve ever met on this planet, I doubt he’s ever served Marlene up with a Dutch Oven while in a playful mood. If he had, she’d have ripped his eyes out with her sharpened, two-toned, acrylic nails, then shrieked, “How dare you? I’m not some common trollop who’s interested in your sexually deviant behavior! What are you gonna do next? Pee on me?” But there is a real beauty to her ignorance.
“Well, something is definitely wrong. I don’t know, Josh. First, the wiring. Now the A/C. Maybe this is a sign. A sign from God.” Yeah, I sign that I shouldn’t eat Cool Ranch Doritos and bean dip before bed. Hands on her hips, Marlene shakes her head as though she just can’t decide what to do. Josh, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants to do. Run.
Pushing past Marlene in perhaps the boldest move he’s ever made, Josh elbows me out of the way, jerks the door open and dashes into the open air, breathing deeply. You’d have thought he just finished the Boston Marathon by the way he’s leaning over – hands clenching the skin just above his bent knees – and sucking in oxygen like we’re scheduled to run out of it by tomorrow afternoon (actually, we’ve got at least another week).
Marlene doesn’t budge an inch. “Josh!” she calls after him, a note of irritation creeping into her voice. “I was talking to you. Do you think it’s a sign? Do you think we should back out of the deal? There’s somethin’ funky with the A/C, I’m telling you. It didn’t smell like this when we first walked in. Am I right?” Josh merely waves a hand in her direction – a signal that could mean anything, but I suspect it means, Fuck off, Marlene!
I have to do something quick. I can’t allow these people to lose their opportunity at second home ownership because I blew the butt bugle. “Umm, I just remembered that I turned the air on when we came in. It’s been off for awhile, so that’s probably why it smelled just a little. Happens all the time. Trust me, it’s no biggie.” I smile brightly, confidently. All the while, I’m jealous as hell of Josh – who’s outside, inhaling fresh air.
“Really?” she asks. “But you’ll still make sure the inspector checks it out?”
“And he’ll bring in an expert if there’s anything wrong with it?”
“Yep.” And that expert is known as a gastroenterologist.
“Alright.” Seemingly satisfied, Marlene strolls out the front door and waits with Josh while I lock the place up.
On the elevator ride down, Marlene turns to me and, making a strange twitch with skin above her right eye, says, “I still think it smelled like mold.” That’s when I realize what seemed odd about her face earlier. Her eyebrows are gone. Completely singed off. Makes her look like Eugenia, my neighbor, before she draws hers on in the morning with a brown pencil. “Am I right, Josh?” she asks.
Her husband leans back against the wall of the elevator, arms folded against his chest. His eyes travel the length of her face, taking in the absentee eyebrows. Calmly, he says, “No, you’re not, Marlene. You’re not right.” Then he closes his eyes, inhales the clean air deeply and smiles to himself.