Sixpack Rules

“As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.” – Denis Diderot, “Encyclopédie” (1755)

Richard’s face was numb from slamming into his laptop.  He could taste blood.  He wondered, dreamily, if his nose was broken.

He had been told to expect some discomfort when he turned on the electric ab belt.  He had not expected intense, burning pain.  He had not expected his abdominal muscles to contract so forcefully it doubled him over, face first into the coffee table.  It had never occurred to him he had such strength.

He could hear an internal buzzing, blending eerily with the talking heads on TV.  He was just beginning to gather his wits when the second jolt hit, shrieking into his gut and mashing his face into the keyboard.  The contraction drove all the air out of his lungs.  For ten long seconds he could not breathe.

There are certain things required for continuation of life.  One can live for days without water, weeks without food, months or even years without companionship.  That’s not to say it’s any fun or doesn’t do some damage, but a person who was healthy to start with will likely survive it.

The need for air is constant and immediate.  There’s nothing quite like its absence to bring things into tight focus.

Ten seconds on, fifty seconds off, was how the belt was programmed.  He had set it to manual, which meant this cycle would repeat until he turned it off, or the battery was dead, or the wiring melted.  Richard imagined himself dead, twitching like Galvani’s frog (1791).

Somewhere, in his panting numbness, Richard knew he still had arms.  He would find one.  The right one.  He would find the controller.  He would find the big red button.  In the upper right corner.  Opposite the end where the wire comes out.  He would press the button.  He would live.

Richard was not athletic.  He did not enjoy or practice exercise or sport.  However unfairly, for some years he had enjoyed a well proportioned and trim body, with little effort on his part.  Similarly, he had enjoyed an irregular series of temporarily fun, sometimes even enchanting, at least in the beginning, but chronically brief affairs, all natural encounters becoming flirtations, becoming sexual, eventually becoming sated enough to come to an end, with little effort on his part.

But he was forty-two now… growing a pot belly, getting scrawny in the limbs… losing it.  He saw the belt on TV and desired it.  He desired it romantically and sexually (just try and get him to believe that).  It turned out Richard knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew how to hotrod these belts, get some real results.  He sent the guy a check and got the belt in the mail.

He could not find his arm.  The third jolt hit him, emptying him of everything but pain, and the question… why did I do this?  When it was over, when he was gasping air again, the answer came to him starkly… because I was lonely.

He could not find his arm.  He could not catch his breath.  He was dizzy and nauseous and the buzzing in his head was louder.  He decided the next jolt, or the one after… he would be lost.

Richard made a concerted effort to get in touch with his body.  Gradually his arm, his hand, his fingers obeyed him.  He found the wire, the controller, the button, and pushed it.



After a bit, his breath went from stuttering gasps to a deep, steady bellows, to a huge, grateful sighing.  After a bit more, the next burst of fire in the belly, and even the one after, never came.

Richard came back to life through a rising arc of emotional states… resentment at the humiliation… but I brought it on myself… all the more reason to be pissed…. as his breathing eased he became calmer and more curious… how could I not know I was that lonely… pragmatically realistic… well, you know it now… even cheerfully philosophic (glad to be alive as he was)… I’m guessing this means I have to put my own will into it… into not being lonely, not being alone… I think I’ll do that… after my face heals up… and my pride… maybe a broken nose will make me more appealing to women… no pain, no gain.


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