Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Problem with Big Balls

In my recent efforts to become a healthier version of myself, I’ve begun looking at various exercise programs to strengthen my core, if I still have one. Several fitness books and websites suggested a body ball. However, I’m not sure a body ball is the way to go just yet. I have serious trust issues when it comes to sitting on things that I’m not entirely certain will support me. This is not an irrational fear, but rather the result of experience.

When I was about eight, the Bishops, one of the families we went to church with, invited us over to their house one Sunday night after services. The adults sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee, eating pound cake, and talking about boring adult subjects. Things adults always talked about that bored us kids to tears; things like sales tax or property easements. The kids, Carrie, Leigh Ann, and I, played in the garage, which, except for a few toys, garden tools, and the girls' bicycles, was empty and made a fine playroom. The toy we all ran to first was something called a Hippity Hop, which was fiercely popular at the time. If you don’t remember, it's a large colored ball with a handle that the kiddos straddle and hang onto while they bounce around. It looks like a lot of fun, but in reality? It's a tool of the devil.

Even at eight I was a gentleman, so the girls went first, each taking their turn on it, bouncing around the garage and giggling hysterically. I could hardly wait for my turn. When it finally came, I was beside myself. I swung a chubby leg over one side, gripped the handle, and settled down onto the huge ball. It took more than a little effort to generate enough energy for me to actually bounce, but once I got started there was no stopping me. I bounced as high as I could, reveling in the momentary feeling of weightlessness between bounces. Upon contact with the garage floor at the bottom of my trajectory, I noticed that I was putting a bit more of a strain on the ball than the girls. I didn't really give it much thought until, on my third or fourth trip around the perimeter of the garage, I passed by the girls and noticed that their smiles had melted into pained expressions of profound concern.

As I rounded the corner on my next trip, the ball exploded with a loud BANG that sounded very much like a gunshot, sending bits and pieces of red rubber shrapnel rocketing in every direction. The girls screamed and ran into the house, only to be met by our parents, who had heard the noise and were coming to see what we had destroyed. I sat motionless on the garage floor, scraps of red rubber dangling from my head and shoulders. I still maintained my grip on the handle, from which the remains of the ball now hung lifelessly. A white powder, industrial talc from inside the ball, covered my face and clothes as if I had been sandblasted, and the acrid smell of warm rubber hung heavily in the air. My parents scooped me up off the floor, dusting me off and brushing flecks of rubber from my hair. Apologies were made, along with a promise to replace the ball. The adults exchanged the obligatory pleasantries and goodbyes while I stared at the powdery starburst on the garage floor, not realizing that some thirty-odd years later it would serve as the deciding factor to not purchase a body ball.