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27: June 24, 2009


Dead Man Crunching




Nearly every morning since the summer of 1998—rain, shine, or hangover—I have slotted a hoary old video cassette into my hoary old video cassette player so that a six-inch-high redneck can whip me into shape.

On the box for the video Scott Helvenston’s Navy Seal Total Body Workout, starring Scott Helvenston, former Navy Seal trainer, is a picture of (well, duh) Scott Helvenston: shirtless and in workout shorts, his lats and abs and slats and knobs and hinges and whatnot obnoxiously ripped, a parade rifle slung on his shoulder, looking like the Moses of the Lost Tribe of the Village People. Knowing Scott as I have come to know him over the years, I’m sure he resisted striking that pose with considerable vehemence, only to be overruled by some foofy marketing maven. Well, more power to that nameless foof because it was that very picture that closed the sale for me, just as it has been Scott’s encouraging tone on said video that has made me feel manly enough for the first time in my life to denounce some other hypothetical man as a foof.

Cover copy aside, the video is not an authentic Navy Seal workout, as the fact that I routinely survive it attests. Thus, I can’t say whether or not Scott was a good trainer for Navy Seals, but I can assure you that he is the best of all possible trainers for middle-aged wussies. I obtained the workout tape as a bloated forty-two-year-old prone to colds and muscle strains. Today, as I noted in the immediately previous post, I yearn for the development of feasible time travel so that I can visit any number of temporizing past selves, including that miserable Millennium-renting, Clinton-believing forty-two-year-old wuss, and humiliate him with a butt-kicking at the hands of his much more venerable self.

“We’re gonna start the workout out with a warmup and a stretch!” Scott bellers at a microphone situated precisely 3.5 meters away—the distance certified by North Korean newscasters as ideal for people who like to beller needlessly at distant microphones. With a warmup and a stretch! That Scott, what a kidder. He knows as well as I do that there will be five stretches, not counting the jumping jacks, before we really get started, and numerous other stretches along the way. “First exercise will be trunk side-stretch! Ready? Begin! A-one, two, thuh-ree! A-one, two, thuh-ree!...”

Scott and crew are arrayed on blue mats spread on white sand with the ocean in the background, somewhere outside San Diego. Not that I recognize the beach, or have ever been to San Diego. I just figure that’s where Navy Seals go to work out and beller toward cameras. His supporting cast consists of “Dr. Mike” and Tricia, performing, respectively, the Intermediate and Beginner versions of the routine. I will contemptuously ignore them, except when they try to follow Scott’s lead on the Swimmers’ Stretch, a rotator-cuff-loosening activity that involves throwing one arm in a series of forward circles while simultaneously throwing the other in a series of backward circles. Dr. Mike’s rendition of the Swimmers’ Stretch, alas, overtaxes my descriptive powers. You have to see it to believe it.

One of the great unresolved mysteries of Total Body Workout is Dr. Mike’s claim to the title of “doctor.” He synthesizes the warmth of Dr. Dre, the gravitas of Dr. Seuss, the haircut of Dr. Octopus, the nutritional value of Dr. Pepper, and the observational prowess of Dr. Watson. In his execution of the Swimmers’ Stretch, he comes off like a doomed, minor character in a horror movie frantically waving Get back! Get back! to friends coming to extract him from a cabin full of zombies.

But back to the video: It’s a beautiful day getting on toward late morning, and for some reason the director has decided to shoot these scenes in such a way that the sun is shining directly into the faces of Scott and his underlings. Tricia occasionally raises a hand to shield her eyes while Dr. Mike tilts his head downward, thus concealing his eyes in the shadow of his brow and compounding the Neanderthalian vibe he already has going with his hulking frame. Scott himself, in typical Scott fashion, toughs out the glare with a constant pained squint on his handsome, bronzed face. He is in his early thirties with his sandy, slightly receding hair grown out just far enough to curl. I think I’m in love with him on some level. At the very least, when he orders me to lay down on my stomach for the Prone Flutter-kicks, I know that I’d let him have me.

I’m not really sure what possessed me at age forty-two to start getting myself into better shape. I think it was some unarticulated notion to the effect that, since Japanese college chicks and porn actresses obviously worked so hard to stay trim enough to inspire me to masturbate over them, the least I could do was feel their pain. It was something akin to the philosophy of Free Jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor, who once said that since he had to prepare for his concerts, his audience ought to prepare for them, too. But that’s neither here nor there.

“This is a good exercise for loosening and stretching the upper body, primarily the trunk at the obliques and the lats and the back of the shoulders!” Scott barks, still in warmup mode. It occurs to me from time to time that I have only the vaguest of notions as to what the obliques and lats are; I just know I want to have great ones, like Scott has. Anyway, I assume he has great ones judging from his picture on the box.

“All right,” says Scott, post-stretching and warming up, “getting into the meat of the workout! Time to get a pump! Let’s get some pushups! Down on the mat, here we go!”

Yeah! I’m thinking, suddenly fully awake. The meat of the workout! Get a pump! God, I get all tingly when Scott talks to me that way!

“A-ready? Begin! A-down…a-down…a-down! Now these are Seal Team pushups! Nice and controlled! Go all the way down, all the way up! Good flexion! And good extension!”

Yeah! Good flexion! Whatever that is! And good extension! I’m feeling it, Scott! I’m feeling it!

“A-down…a-down…a-down! Pushups isolate the chest, the shoulders, and the triceps!… A-down…a-down…a-down!… Okay, that’s it for the Intermediates!”

Scott Helvenston joined the Navy at sixteen, and at seventeen became the youngest person ever to pass Navy Seal training. During his twelve years with the Seals, he was deployed with special forces on four occasions and served as a trainer/instructor for new Seals. He was recruited to harangue Demi Moore into shape for the movie G.I. Jane, which led to further film work and appearances on reality TV shows, which in turn provided a nifty marketing hook for a series of workout videos, one of which I happened to buy.

When the U.S. invasion of Iraq began in 2003 Scott, now in his late thirties, signed on with one of the military contractors that, among other things, escorted supply convoys along remote and dangerous Iraqi roads.

Those contractors first came to the attention of the American public when four of them were ambushed outside Fallujah in late March 2004. The attack drew attention for its ferocity, and for the unspeakable atrocities committed by the perpetrators upon the bodies of the dead Americans.

“A-down…a-down…a-down!… Stay with me, Advanced!”

I’m with ya, Scott!

“A-down…a-down!… Two more! …And halt! All right! Good job!

In Japan, too, we saw the coverage of the attack, but it wasn’t until the middle of that summer that I discovered that Scott was among those killed and violated. His family released this statement after learning of Scott’s murder:

“He prided himself on strength, agility, speed, flexibility, balance, determination and toughness. Scott never quit anything in his life. After he broke his legs in a parachute jump, he tried to walk away from the scene."

There’s no joke coming here, nor any feeble attempt at one. Those of you fearing that Muggins will once again go too far in pursuit of the cheap guffaw can stand down. The news sickened me. I was unable to watch the video for some days, what with its incongruous images of Scott out there on the shore in the sunshine barking three-counts at us with Tricia (aka Mrs. Scott) behind him, by turns beaming at him and giggling at his awkward commentary.

Eventually I did take up the routine again, though not without some trepidation at first; I almost expected to find Scott magically deleted from the video and Dr. Mike mournfully taking the Oath of Office with a meaty pink hand on a Bible. When the video proved too painful to readjust to, I dubbed an audio version that I use to this day.

Using the audio version means that I miss out on Dr. Mike’s flamboyant Swimmers’ Stretch, but we all have to make sacrifices. I couldn’t not do the workout; it seemed like a betrayal somehow, not to mention that fact that doing it made me feel better. And so every morning, rain, shine, or hangover, I slot a hoary old audio tape into my hoary old cassette player so that a dead man can whip me into shape. “Your head weighs approximately thirty-five pounds!” Audio Scott informs me as he leads me through yet another round of Neck Rotations.