When I was 9, I was obsessed with spaceships, light-up sneakers, and Cheetos. Like many children, anything shiny, flashy, or cheesy could keep my attention for hours. Yet there was something else that trumped all of these fascinations, something else that captured my wonderment with such a fierce intensity that it challenged every bit of understanding in my nine-year old brain. This strange, bizarre, curious obsession was, of all things, jiggly underarms.
It all started in the fourth grade. Everyone in my elementary school was required to take “Band” as a class, which meant that for two days a week, we would gather in the auditorium and blow into rented instruments for an hour. The band director, Mrs. E, was a very nice, regal woman with ’80s hair and a penchant for wearing short-sleeved tops. She was also a fantastic conductor who would vigorously direct our rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as if she were Leonard Bernstein.
But those arms. Every time Mrs. E raised her conductor’s baton, her underarms would sway from side to side, like the pirate ship ride at the amusement park. It was mesmerizing to watch. If she were to jump off a cliff, she could soar like a condor with her beautiful, gelatinous wings gliding in the air. Sometimes it even seemed like the sound of the jiggling reverberated in the auditorium as we practiced. Brub-brub-brub. She was a one-woman orchestra.
Jiggly underarms on their own were not that uncommon in my town. But this case was different. What made it all so fascinating to me was that Mrs. E was not a large woman. In fact, she was rather petite. And so her fleshy flappers became an invitation into scientific inquiry, into exploring the unknown. How did they come to be this way? Was it just an anomaly? Or was it some kind of physical manifestation of irony, or a big F-you to biology, or an acknowledgment of an extraterrestrial presence? Seriously, what the hell happened here?
I was reminded of all this a few weeks ago when I was shopping for a friend’s birthday in Target. There, I came upon the Shake Weight, the arm-toning barbell which has been oft-spoofed for making people look like they are… plunging a toilet repeatedly and rapidly. I thought back to the days of fourth grade, when, influenced by Mrs. E’s sagging triceps, I first learned to think critically about our relationship with the inexplicable secrets of humankind. The drive to understand ultimately led me to do well in school and to pursue a career in writing. Would I be here today if it weren’t for those jiggly underarms?
I don’t know, but that day I bought the Shake Weight for myself… I liked that it was shiny.