When I do my sit-ups, the results are so good that Miss Black America sends me hate mail. After a week of jogging, the anonymous calls--that I've traced to Hollywood--begin. In fact, when I make even the tiniest effort in the way of regular exercise, health clubs send me royalty checks and strange men offer to pay my tab at Scott's Barbeque.
So how come the only time I touch the floor is to pick up money?
I have to be inspired to get out and sweat and strain. Exercise has to touch a raw nerve to convince me to come back for more than the first free week at the fitness center. Ride a bike? Why? Is there a cab strike? Tennis, anyone? Right away; soon as I comb out my dreadlocks.
Jogging, walking, aerobics, slimnastics, none of it makes my heart skip a beat. My P.E. teacher in high school--God bless her little muscle-bound heart--now there was a woman who knew how to motivate. She used to tower above me with her little black book.
"Moore, think you can manage one sit-up? That's it. Just high enough to watch me put this F next to your name. Oh, you can do two?"
Francine, my only fitness-fanatic friend, is always up in my face: "Isn't there any physical exercise that you enjoy?"
There is one kind of movement that excites me as in ready, set, go; one muscle-pushing game that will always flood me with the thrill of victory and the ya-manny of defeat. Jumping rope. Not one. Two. Double Dutch. Takes me waaaaay back.
Ahhhhhhh. Sweet childhood escape. Buddies calling. Backdoor slamming. Plasticized clothesline in my hands, shout pitched 'cross my shoulder, "Gone to jump rope."
On the back street, two girls faced each other. Between them stretched two ropes. Turning their hands inward, rolling the ropes around and around, they sent the clothesline under jumping feet and over bouncing braids. It wasn't like turning two single ropes separately. That was double-handed, bad, unjumpable turning, tacky enough to send a little girl to the curb till she got her act together. Double Dutchers could be cold. ("I ain't jumpin' offa that mess.")
In the center of the two cavorting ropes, North Philly's Nadias would compete for score and showwomanship. "Ten, 20, 30, 40, 50 . . ." It wasn't about some tired, straight up and down action. Nooo-ooo chile. You had to jump up and down, turn around, touch the ground, move up, move back, let somebody else jump in and do all of the aforementioned in duet coordination.
The legs got the mammy-jammy workout, but the rest of the body moved, too. Arms. Shoulders. Even jaws. While we turned we blew bubbles so big and strong that we could have taken off for Oz, but then, who'd want to hang out with a bunch of double-handed munchkins?
Jumpers stood in line, practicing dance steps while they waited for their turns. The slop. Cha cha. Philly bop. "Ladies and Gentlemen the Uptown Theater is pleased to present Jaaaaa-aames Brown and the Faaay-mous Flames."
They say double Dutch came from Holland. That may be, but I remember it as a game played by northern black girls, and sometimes boys. The closest thing to Dutch in my neighborhood were the few Irish families that couldn't afford to leave. Those little freckle-faced girls would look over their single ropes at us in pure amazement before venturing shyly over. "Will you guys teach us how to play?"
After the double Dutchers went through radar eye contact and almost ventriloquist-like head shakes, the most charitable of us would roll her eyes heavenward, pointing to the curb. "Y'all sit over there and watch for awhile."
We rhymed to spur each other on.
Mabel, Mabel, set the table. Don't forget the RED . . . HOT . . . PEPPER!
Pepper meant ropes turning in the hands of two speed freaks, burning up pavement and maybe two unlucky legs. Losers got the ends (of the ropes).
We jumped til the sweat turned our little prepubescent bodies into teeny-bopper waterfalls. We jumped till we thought our legs were bigger. We jumped til dusk descended and then we jumped on instinct, sniffing chicken, rice and cabbage, maybe biscuits, in the wind we kicked up. We routinely ignored the mothers until the callers got emphatic. "Girllll! You better bring your narrow hips in this house!"
Narrow hips. Sigh. Memories won't keep them that way. Francine eyes my fanny and warns me. "You need to do something now, while you're still in your thirties." She's referring to inches.
At the fitness center, there is Nautilus equipment, a sauna, continuous classes and a big, ugly scale; looks like E.T.'s mama. The place is air-conditioned. The lady told me that a masseur will come in by August. Whoopty-do. I'm not impressed.
The fitness center has no wind, no thrills, no spirit of competition. It does not delight me, even though the lady promises amazing results.
I don't know why in the world there aren't clumps of old-head sisters in the park, playing double Dutch; brothers play basketball till they die. I've seen dudes older than petrified redwoods shooting hoops in the school yard. Screaming and carrying on. Having big fun. Why do women shed their good times so carelessly?
I've been cruising around strange neighborhoods recently, looking for little girls at play. If I luck up and hear that slap, slap, slap, see those braids rollicking in the breeze, the Chevy will get parked. I will stand still and let their rhymes fill me.
Meet me at the airport, be on time, because the plane leaves at a quarter to nine.
The young bloods will hafta give old henna-head some play.
I'm gonna jump till my deodorant faints; till funk is on me like grease on greens; till the cellulite flees in terror. I want a holistic workout now, while I'm still in my thirties.
And in return for not sending me to the curb, I'll leave those young tender things with a message I hope they will grow on: Sisters, don't ever stop jumping.