Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Hot and Hazy: I Sing the Body Elastic and other Rambles, The Series Continues
Spellcheck is saying that word "engirth" is incorrect and it is difficult finding a definition of it. You have to get back to Shakespearian times to find out it means "surround". Whitman, being a poet, couldn't make reading easy and just say, "The armies of those I love surround me."
Despite whatever archaic vocabulary Whitman choose to employ, some people understood certain lines of his poem well enough to feel uncomfortable, thus Leaves of Grass, the collection of poems that engirthed it, was often banned.
I hope my Blog doesn't suffer a similar state as I Sing the Body Elastic.
My piece isn't a poem. It is a paean and diatribe about this soma that has carried me about for more than seventy years. Yes, I know paean and diatribe are quite opposite things; this is a little bit of both, a tiny bit of bitter with the sweet.
I feel my body was created by a government committee, you know a bunch of rascals who make a compromise and come up with a convolution rather than a solution. You give a group of monkeys enough time and they will recreate the works of Shakespeare; you give a government committee any time and they'll screw it up. My own twisted up body may have thus resulted because my father was a Democrat and my mother was a Republican, proof positive that love conquers all.
I may actually be taller than my height. It sounds a ridiculous statement, but is probably true nonetheless. That government committee that designed my carcass packaged me with scoliosis and if you straightened out my spine I might be a couple inches higher.
You can see this curvature very clearly in the photo on the right as I bend to stroke a cat. This certainly resemble illustrations I have seen of people with Scheuermann's and a hump does pop up upon me, although perhaps not as severe as the photo of the disease's victim on the left.
According to what I read neither of these conditions is easily changed, especially once past childhood. There isn't a lot that can be done, really, although surgery might be used on those with extreme cases. Surgery on the spine is always a delicate operation, and like my psoriasis, the risks aren't necessarily worth the cure. (Yes, that was another nice add-on provided by the government committee on body implantation, psoriasis, which also came equipped with a side dish of psoriatic arthritis.)
Coming head-on, this little hiccup in design isn't very apparent, except my neck kind of disappears. In this photo, taken in days when I still had hair, and dark hair at that, you can just see the slight curve of my spine. You can also see how it has given me that barrel chest spoken of. (You can also see I really do have a neck.) Although I would hardly call my distortions extreme, it was enough for other kids to taunt me as a humpback, and worse, as Quasimodo.
Adding to my ridicule at the hands of some of my peers, my eyesight was deteriorating. I did not know this for who knows how long. I knew I couldn't see a lot of writing on the blackboard, but just attributed this to being seated too far back. You see, it was common practice then to seat pupils by height. I was among the tallest so usually I was sitting in or near the rear row. When I went to Junior High my nearsightedness was uncovered because they gave us eye exams in school.
Now I had to wear glasses; now I was "four-eyes".
Worst yet, I got glasses as I entered puberty. My body now became very elastic, very thin, very gangly. I was like some large insect, a Praying Mantis perhaps, long, thin, with too many appendages, but with a pumpkin for a head.
Note in this picture my long arms. I have unusually long arms for my height. Or maybe my arms are perfectly matched to my "real" height, but appear too long because my twisted spine has lowered me by a couple inches. I do not know, but I know it is very hard to find shirt sleeves to fit. Generally if a shirt fits my chest and my neck, several inches of wrist still hang bare.
Overall, my body is very difficult to tailor. I have broad shoulders, a barrel chest, a curved spine, thinner hips, a narrower waist-to-chest ratio and these over-extended arms. Once when I had to have some new suits altered, the tailor, with his tape measure about his neck, pins in his mouth and chalk in his hand stopped in mid-mark to call to an associate.
"Hey, Matty, come over here and look at there arms!"
Oh, I was thin. That is a picture of me in my junior year of high school on the left. Strip off my shirt and you could use me in biology to explain the human skelton. Every bone was prominent. My ribs stood out making me a human Glockenspiel. I didn't want anyone seeing that chest. I feared gym because teams were usually divided into shirts and skins. When we counted off, I always seemed to end up on the skins.
I followed the usual route of the skinny guy getting sand kicked in his face, I turned to exercise. I had a course, ordered from a magazine ad, called The Manly Art of Self-Defense or some such title. It was mostly devoted to boxing lessons, which I wasn't all that interested in, but it also came with various calisthenics and charts where you could record you progress, both in reps and in muscle gain. There was a little wheel you turned and it would tell you the best exercises for baseball or football or wrestling and so forth.
Despite this I stayed skinny, so I got my mom to buy me a barbell set. I still have that set and I have used it over and over in the years between then and now. It came with little booklets on developing various body parts, all written by Bob Hoffman (remember him of the barrel chest), who was a bodybuilder and head of York Barbell Company.
I suppose my lifting helped build my muscle tone, but nature took care of my thinness automatically. Halfway through my senior year I suddenly, like over night, filled out somewhat. I jumped from 155 pounds to 180 pounds.
Okay, I may not resemble Hulk Hogan, except around the hairline, but my arms get the job done.
When I was a teenager heros and tough guys in novels were always described as being six foot tall and weighing 200 pounds. That was what I thought was ideal during those skinny years. I was six foot tall, just nowhere near 200 pounds.
About a year before the picture on the right was taken, I had reached my dream and it was a nightmare. I not only achieved 200 pounds, I went up to 215 (my best bowling score incidentally). It was uncomfortable and this picture was after I shed all that excess baggage and got back well below 200 to the 180 I weighted at graduation from high school.
My weight has fluctuated up and down over the last few years. At the beginning of summer I was at 180 again, but I seem to always bloat up during the hot months and when i weighted myself yesterday I was at 190.
It is amazing how much difference ten pounds and the pull of gravity over seventy years can make, and that is why I never, well hardly ever, take my shirt off in public these days. And my paunch and drooping chest should make Ron feel a whole lot better about his own slight slippage.
Gee, do you think my white beard will get as long as Walt Whitman's?
Photo at top of post: Walt Whitman in Camden, New Jersey, 1887 by Thomas Eakins
Photo of Scheuermann's Disease victim from Wikipedia.
All other photos taken by or owned by the author.