I I I I I I I  

Bad Mom:
Curves of Hell

by Amy Silverman

The doctor said no exercise after the C-section, but that was only for the first six weeks. My youngest is almost three-years-old, so I figure the statute of limitations for using childbirth as the explanation for the size of one’s thighs has got to have run out by now. And the Atkins diet was a bust.

So here I am, in hell.

I always knew the afterlife would involve some sort of physical activity performed at an obscenely early hour of the day. But I expected flames – intense heat, reds and oranges. Instead, there are fans blowing. And the entire place is decorated in shades of pink and purple. Pink and purple. Two colors I love, separately, but together pink and purple make me sick. And the way the shades are “marbled” together on the walls -- like some bad imitation of the paper tourists buy in Florence, Italy -- looks exactly like my stomach, post-kids: Swirls of purple veins and white stretch marks, against pink skin.

My personal hell is Curves -- the “McDonald’s of gyms,” according to a newspaper clipping taped to the lavender wall -- where, pushing 40, I bring the average age down dramatically.

I figure this is my penance for never wanting to exercise. Oh, I’ll do it, as long as I can pretend I’m someplace else, but that becomes impossible when someone is talking to the side of your head the entire time you’re trying to work out. 

I realized, once I’d signed up, that Curves is designed for chatting. Machines are arranged in a circle – facing in – alternating with small platforms. You work out on a machine for 30 seconds, then a pre-recorded woman’s voice tells you to switch machines, then run or march -- or disco dance, I was horrified to witness, my first time -- on the platform for 30 seconds, until she tells you to switch again, and so on. Every several minutes, the disembodied voice asks you to stop and check your heart rate.

I’m cool with the nameless, faceless voice -- at 7 a.m., that’s about all the human interaction I can handle. The problem is that often, after you’ve checked your heart rate, the real-live woman who works at Curves will call out, “Hey, how’s your heart rate?” as if to imply that because you’ve got a fat ass you’re too stupid to take your heart rate correctly, let alone get it in the recommended range for the optimal workout, all explained in a poster on the wall (although I have to admit that I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a correct reading, because I tend to accidentally count along to the music, which means that my heart rate is always 140 beats a minute). Not only does this woman want to know how my heart rate is, she wants to know how I feel about the weather, and don’t I think it’s remarkable that the Starbucks across the parking lot is always so busy.

No, I don’t think it’s remarkable. I think it’s remarkable that I am here in a room with smiling women (fake ones on the wall and real ones disco dancing on the platforms), at 6 a.m., instead of at Starbucks, trying one of their new cupcakes with a quadruple shot of espresso.

Really, I can put up with a lot -- the color scheme, the overstuffed armchairs and fake flowers, the Eagles at 140 beats a minute -- but do not talk to me when I’m exercising. Don’t look at me. Don’t think about me. In fact, how about this? Just pretend I don’t exist, because that’s what I’m doing.

That said, I am not proud of what happened.

It started the very first day. I was focused on the hip abductor when a woman who appeared to be in her 50s leapt onto the platform next to me and began running with a peculiar high step that made a lot of noise, even though she couldn’t have weighed more than 115 pounds (which, I’m sad to report, is very unusual here at Curves).

“You new?” she asked, over the sound of her pounding feet.

(continued at right)



I tried to be nice, really I did. I smiled and nodded while she told me about her sons, 25 and 31, who have not been willing, as yet, to marry and give her grandchildren. She told me she’d moved here from the Midwest because she hates the cold. You know, the usual stuff. You could write it yourself.

The next day, she was there again. I said good morning then turned to the business at hand, which for me is trying to run on the platform without falling off, or without one of my boobs popping out of my sports bra. She struck up another conversation. Still trying to be gracious, I nodded and smiled. Till she began to tell me all about her sons, 25 and 31, who had not been willing, as yet, to marry and give her grandchildren.

“Oh no,” I thought. “I’m in the movie Groundhog Day.”

That day forward, I secretly dubbed this woman The Mayor and tried my best to avoid her, which was completely impossible. She didn’t notice, she talked on and on, never about anything interesting, mostly about Curves. She’d broken the franchise’s record with more than 400 workouts.

But the worst was that The Mayor didn’t just want to chat. She wanted to help. One day when I raced out of there (probably the only time during the workout that my heart rate approached the correct stage), she called after me, asking why I wasn’t staying to stretch.

“Too busy, gotta get home,” I muttered, as the door slammed behind me. I heard her call out, “Don’t worry! I’ll show you how tomorrow!”

After several weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t losing inches (in fact, I’d gained) and I’d figured out that not only was the Curves music rife with bad hits from past decades, it was collected into themes. For example, the Woman Empowerment collection, which includes remixes of “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” “American Woman,” “I Feel Like a Woman” and Billy Joel’s homage to Christy Brinkley, “Uptown Girl.”

I wanted to cry. Or hit someone, preferably a small someone with loud feet and a jabberjaw. At the very least, I just wanted her to leave me alone, but no amount of staring straight ahead was getting the point across. So one morning, when The Mayor sat down on the bicep machine right next to the platform I was faux-running on and exclaimed, “Oh, look how close we are! That doesn’t bother you, does it?” I just looked at her, and something inside me quietly snapped.

“Gee,” I said, stopping my little jog and facing her, motioning toward my ears. “I’m so sorry. I’ve got to tell you, I’m a little hard of hearing, and I don’t have my hearing aids in this morning. I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” I flashed a big, fake smile, then turned back to the platform till the disembodied voice announced it was time to switch stations. From the corner of my eye, I noticed her watching me, for a while. Then she got up and walked across the room to another machine, next to another woman, and resumed her chatter.

For a while, no one at Curves talked to me. Either they felt sorry for the deaf girl, or they were onto me. It could have been the fact that, as it turned out, Elaine once pulled exactly the same stunt on Seinfeld, or maybe it had something to do with the day I bumped into an acquaintance.

“Amy!” my friend called out, waving madly, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. “How are you? What’s new?” I walked up to her, real close, and mouthed, “I’m supposed to be deaf.” Of course she had no idea what I was saying. “You’re supposed to be WHAT?” Everyone stared.

After that, no one talked to me. Ever.

You’d think I’d have quit Curves, but I’ve gotten to where I actually sort of enjoy it. I think they say that if you do something 22 times, it becomes a habit. Last week I passed the 100 workout mark.

Really, I’d like to believe that I’ve chosen an exercise regime that doesn’t attract middle-aged bus drivers who work out in their uniforms, or disco dancing Auntie Em look-alikes. I’d like a workout that actually requires a shower afterward. But I have lost a few inches, finally, and the other day I noticed I could heave a bag of dog food with less effort.

Truth is, as the recent Curves outcast, I’m getting a little lonely. And that’s just scary.
 About the Author:
Amy Silverman
lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband Ray Stern and daughters Annabelle and Sophie. When she's not wiping noses and butts at home, she's associate editor of New Times, the alt weekly in Phoenix, where she also spends a lot of time wiping noses and butts -- and editing. She's a contributor to KJZZ, the Phoenix NPR affiliate, and although having kids has pretty much limited her traveling to San Diego and Disneyland, she's been writing quite a bit lately for The New York Times travel section. Amy's proud to say she's been published by both Playboy and Fit Pregnancy, and that John McCain once yelled, "Can't you shut your daughter up?" at her father in the Senate dining room, to which her father responded that that was impossible. Amy likes to balance her motherfucker persona at the alt weekly by co-teaching the Mothers Who Write workshop, which focuses on memoir/fiction and poetry for mothers of all ages and writing experiences.




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