IF THERE'S ONE IDEAL that unites all Americans, it's the belief that every single one of us, regardless of ethnic background, is fat.
It was not always this way. There was a time, not so long ago, when Americans did not obsess about fat. In those days, a man could be portly and still be considered attractive. The standards were also more lenient for women: Marilyn Monroe, whom nobody ever called skinny, was a major sex goddess.
By today's beauty standards, of course, Marilyn Monroe was an oil tanker. Today's beauty ideal, strictly enforced by the media, is a person with the same level of body fat as a paper clip. Turn on your TV and all you see are men and women who would rather have both eyeballs removed via corkscrew than eat a slice of pizza. These are genetic mutants: You can see their muscles, veins and neck bones almost bursting through their fat-free skin. I don't know who decided that the see-through look was attractive; I, personally, have never heard anybody express lust for anybody else's internal organs. But we normal humans are constantly exposed to the zero-fat mutants in the media, and we naturally assume that we're supposed to look like them. This is of course impossible, but we try. We diet constantly, especially young women, many of whom now start dieting while still in the womb.
And of course we spend millions of dollars on "exercise," defined as "activity designed to be strenuous without accomplishing anything useful." For example, we drive our cars to health clubs so we can run on treadmills. But we do not run to the health club, because then we would be accomplishing something useful. We pedal furiously on exercise bicycles that do not go anywhere. We take elevators every chance we get, but we buy expensive machines that enable us to pretend we're climbing stairs. It would not surprise me if yuppies started paying potato farmers for the opportunity to go into the fields and burn fat by pretending to conduct a harvest, taking great care not to dig up any actual potatoes.
If you think that's ridiculous, then you haven't seen "Tae-Bo." This is the current hot fad, advertised extensively on TV by perspiring mutants. As I understand it, Tae-Bo is based on martial arts; the difference is that martial artists actually learn to defend themselves, whereas Tae-Bo people throw pretend punches and kicks strictly for fitness purposes. While they're busy kicking air and checking their abdominals, an actual mugger could walk right up and whack them with a crowbar.
But never mind practicality. The point is that right now Tae-Bo is very, very hot, which means that soon everybody will get bored with it. That's what always happens with exercise trends: People realize that, after countless hours of pretending to climb stairs or punching the air, they still bear a stronger resemblance to the Michelin Tire Man than to the TV mutants. So they give up on that particular trend and look for a new one.
Will this craziness ever end? Will Americans ever come to their senses and stop wasting millions and millions of dollars on hopeless efforts to look like people who don't really look like people? I hope not, because I'm planning to cash in on this. I got my idea from a wonderful newspaper article, sent in by alert veterinarian Steven Berry, from the April 7 edition of the Leader-News of Central City, Ky. The article, written by Paul Camplin, is headlined "Cobbs Invented Odd Sport of Bee Fighting as Family Entertainment." It concerns the descendants of Bunn and Betty Cobb of Calhoun, Ky., who have gotten together annually for about 70 years to fight wild bees for fun. The article states:
"Without use of protective gear, one of the group approaches the bumblebee hive and whacks it with a stick. When all of the now angry bees come flying out, the group of bee fighters simply fight off the bees as best they can with large clumps of maple leaves."
The article, which I am not making up, is illustrated by photos of members of the extended Bunn family, including grandparents, wildly waving branches at bees.
When I saw those photos, I knew I was looking at a gold mine. I'm talking about the Next Big Fitness Trend: "Tae-Bee." I'm going to make a 30-minute TV infomercial wherein enthusiastic hired mutants stress the benefits of bee-fighting (". . . and while you're ouch burning fat, your arm motion is also ouch building those ouch . . .").
In no time millions of Americans will be ordering the Tae-Bee workout videotape, along with the Official (Accept No Substitutes!) Tae-Bee Maple Leaf Clump, and of course the Official Tae-Bee Box o' Really Mad Bees. And if you don't think Americans will pay good money to get stung, I have one word for you: ThighMaster.
So laugh if you want: I'm going to get rich on this thing. And then I'm going to hire a personal trainer. His sole job will be to order my pizza.