The award-winning writer’s monthly anatomical check-up considers muscles
“What body part would you like me to cover this month?” I asked the editor of Esquire, with not a trace of innuendo, as we sat eating the leanest of cuisine in a midrange Japanese restaurant called Taro, in London’s Soho. And having painfully torn those of his shoulder and pectoral region only recently, Alex wincingly replied, “Muscles.”
Just then, Mr Taro himself arrived at our table — I often eat there, but I’d never met him before. “The cartoon smiley Japanese face-caricature on the menu, that’s you?” Mr Taro smiled and bobbed his smiley head-caricature.
“And so, you’re Mr… Taro?” Mr Taro bobbed some more, and began telling us about a new branch he’d opened in Balham but I was already bobbing away, tensing and relaxing along a long trapezius of a memory, back to that Golden Age, when I would stand in front of the mirrored bathroom cabinet, contorting my right arm into all sorts of unnatural positions so as to raise up the meagre quail’s-egg-sized bulges of my bicep and triceps.
In truth, I’m doing it still — having long since realised that the pursuit of a muscular body is a fool’s errand to rival Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War: no, all you require is one, hefty, tattooed arm — that you can casually introduce on to bar top, or into the boudoir. “A pint of Davy’s Old Wallop over here,” you cry, and the horny-faced sons and daughters of toil stop their rural burring to regard the stranger in their midst; but, sighting The Arm, they’re assuaged; the Davy’s Old Wallop arrives post-haste. It’s the same in the favelas of Rio, the banlieues of Paris and the
shanty towns of Dhaka: all you need to ward off potential blows is The Arm. As for the boudoir, women of discretion — in my not inconsiderable experience — view excessive muscle as a positive turn-off; nevertheless, The Arm establishes that you aren’t a complete milquetoast, which is an even more decided one.
Besides, given soundish health, a decent diet, not too much chemically induced intoxication, and a reasonable amount of exercise, the average male body is a perfectly well-sculpted chunk of muscle. We have about twice the muscle-to-fat ratio of our gentle sisters and it must be this that we find quite so cuddly about them. In my occasional bi-curious forays, what appears to me most different about male bodies is this full-body-sinew-suit, not the obviously dangling… modifier. Anyhoo, by not bothering to pursue muscle, I’ve been freed up to enjoy my body as a non-commoditised phenomenon — a creation of my engagement with the world, rather than by my regimentation in that monstrous treadmill of late capitalism: the gym.
I’ve only ever visited a gym with the intention of using its equipment one time in my life. (I discount the bizarre night when, checking late into the Hotel du Vin & Bistro in Birmingham, the aged night man fawningly informed me I’d been, “Upgraded to the Westmoreland Suite, sir.” And when I taxed him as to its advantages, he fawned on: “It’s got a gym, sir.” Indeed, it did, one equipped with all the Tunturi bulge-inducers you could wish for, disported on the gleaming tiles of a giant wet room, which was connected to an equally hangar-sized bedroom by a wind tunnel of a corridor. The bed was vast and frigid — I found a single, tightly coiled pubic hair trapped between the tarpaulin-sized covers; it had the gauge and tensility of 12 amp fuse wire.) And, after completing the grim induction, and watching a few men grunt and groan as if they were shitting out globalisation itself, resolved never to go again.
Consider the predicament of the modern office-bound worker? Febrility is no preserve of the poor — it can strike even in the most exalted positions, say that of the esteemed editor of a men’s style magazine: consider his emasculating go-round — the commuter crush, the queuing, the sitting, the dyspepsia, the cramped transit to the Milan menswear shows, more sitting, more cramped transit. It’s a perpetual go-round in which the only muscles that are stretched are the ones holding his rictus of a smile in place. No wonder such an individual has recourse to a gym, to a personal trainer even. Never mind that he delivers himself up to the torments of yet further constraint! Never mind that he is, to all intents and purposes, just another pink-cheeked, Fulham Road wanker-banker, submitting to the rigours of British Military Fitness (an oxymoron if ever there was one).
He craves a pantherish body to sheathe with his bespoke suits — he believes strict discipline will save him from the apocalypse. He cycles — along with millions of others — on a road to nowhere that doesn’t exist, and all the while only reconfirming the inexorable metric of time equals money, that makes of his pink and vulnerable body a short-lived luxury brand: Bilmes®, more akin to the pigskin wallets of yesteryear than any more human meat puppet.
I placed The Arm on the varnished, blondwood surface of the table and muscled my way back into the conversation, noting as I did that Alex flinched painfully as he handed Mr Taro the menu. “Well, I can tell you one thing for nothing, Mr Taro,” I said.
“Oh,” he bobbed. “What is that one thing?” “There isn’t a sorbet’s chance in Hades you’ll get me down to your Balham branch.”
Mr Taro bobbed off pettishly, and I turned to face the poor fellow, prepared for his own good to speak my mind, and give him the sort of psychic discipline he was so clearly lacking. But something in his hangdog expression stayed my tongue: what good would it do to adjure him? The poor fellow was as sunk deep in his delusion as the human batteries piled up into towers are in the… matrix. No, better encourage him to abandon these self-defeating nostrums in some other, less egregious way.
I’ve only ever visited a gym with the intention of using its equipment once in my life. And, after completing the grim induction, and watching a few men grunt and groan as if they were shitting out globalisation itself, resolved never to go again