Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Life of Stanley Vacant (continued)

The story so far: Stanley Vacant, a middle aged voice artist by profession, has joined the local gym after having endured some stinging remarks about his appearance from his girlfriend Tricia.

The girl on the reception desk had a sweet smile and a good pair of knockers. That is what she is being paid for, I mean the smile. She asked me to fill out a form with some personal details while she called my personal trainer Ricky.

Ricky, sounded like a hoodlum who had spent his late teenage years in prison, where unquestionably he had felt the need to bulk up. I could easily picture a guy six feet four inches tall, weighing 205 pounds with a motor bike tattooed on his left shoulder. The description turned out to be quite accurate except for the tattoo. It had ‘I love my mom’ engraved on a valentine heart. I did not trouble myself in trying to understand the underlying currents of the statement. So he loved his mom. Good for him. We need more people who care about their parents.

Ricky stepped forward and shook my hand. “You got a firm hand shake there Stanley. I can see you going all the way. Just work with me on this regularly and within 12 weeks you’ll be giving Brad Pitt a run for his money.” I smiled weakly back at him and proceeded to finish the form which then I handed over to the girl with the great knockers. Sorry, I mean the girl with the sweet smile.

Ricky explained how on this first day he would take me around the gym and give me a thorough tour of all their facilities. “I am going to check your endurance and strength today, Stanley.” I nodded my approval and entered the inner sanctum of this commercial temple of physical beauty. Like Aphrodite’s oracle, Ricky proceeded to tell me what the function of each machine was and how this enterprise was totally dedicated towards combining cutting-edge-state-of-the-art technology with good training practices.

Now around me I could see a lot of people sweating profusely and working out real hard. Young and old, fat and thin men and women were trying to improve their health and their looks by working out to some fast paced rhythmic music. The only good looking people with perfect bodies were the trainers who were moving around the whole place, smiling a broad smile and giving little nuggets of advice to anyone who would listen.

Ricky asked me to try out a machine which had a lot of complicated gears and weights. I had to sit on a seat and pull a bar of steel with both my hands towards the back of my head. This bar was connected to different weights. There I was sitting on this complicated looking machine trying to do an exercise I had never done before and also trying not to hurt myself in any irreparable way, when my eyes landed on the most beautiful, the most exquisite women I had ever seen in walking daylight.

She was exercising on a similar machine directly opposite and was facing me. A small bead of perspiration rolled down her forehead, onto the side of her cheek, down her neck and disappeared into the valley of her round and firm breasts. She looked so athletic, so angel like that I could not hear what Ricky the oracle was saying. In this temple of beauty, I had found Aphrodite.

I had seen her somewhere before but I could not place her. Then I realized that she was the model in the Estee Lauder perfume ad for which I had provided the background voice. She looked far more beautiful now. And what was this. She was staring right back at me, without batting her eyelids. Come on Stanley this is the time when you take destiny by the forelock.

“Yes Stanley you are doing it perfectly. Just bring the bar down a little slower to feel the tension in your muscles.” The oaf was telling me how to use this damn machine correctly while this most beautiful sweating creature was staring right at me. Wait a minute. She was watching me exercise. Come on Stanley be cool now. You are the voice of Baritone Bunny, the most suave and dashing rabbit in the world of animation. Do this exercise properly. Pretend you have been doing it for ages. Listen to the oaf.

“Yes Stanley you are doing great”. I am doing great. Is that a look of admiration I see in the eyes of the Estee Lauder model? Yes it is. I am admiring her and she is admiring me back. He hits, he runs, he scores. Stanley scores? This is a new feeling.

“I’ll increase the weight a bit Stanley to check your endurance.” Go ahead oracle Ricky. Increase any weight you want. Stanley is on a roll here.

But what was this? The bar was stuck in the air and I couldn’t bring it down. Be cool Stanley; bring it down slow and easy. She is watching you man. For the first time since I had started exercising I could feel my forehead perspiring. It took all the strength I had to bring the bar down. “Very good, Stanley. Just nine more times and you are down.” Nine more times. Is the oaf trying to kill me or something? Aha! Jealous is he, Aphrodite’s oracle jealous of her lover Hermes. I wouldn’t give you the pleasure of seeing me lose. Stanley Vacant’s ego had just been challenged and he was ready for it.

With great effort I brought the bar down again. She was still watching me. Oh! How gracefully she was doing her exercise - power hidden below the veil of beauty.

By the sixth repetition I was thoroughly drenched and didn’t have an ounce of strength left. Did I just catch a look of dejection on her face? Her hero had turned out to be a loser. She finished her exercise, stood up and walked away, without looking back. I could take this exercise no longer and let the bar go. It went and hit the pivot with a bang and a few faces turned around to see the culprit. I could see looks of been-there-before-buddy on some of the faces.

“Don’t be disappointed Stanley. It’s just your first day. Within a few weeks this would be a cake walk.” The oaf was gloating over his victory and applying salt to the wounds. “Yeah, I suppose so”, I replied and stood up.

It has been more than an hour now and we have finished the tour of the entire place. I am sitting inside the steam bath. Each and every muscle in my body is screaming out right now. Ricky says the pains would go away in a few days. The muscles are just getting used to the exercising. I got up and took a shower, got dressed and all the while I was thinking about how very different I was from Baritone Bunny. Except for the voice (which is mine anyway, or is it?) we have nothing in common. He is cool. The chicks dig him. He could have done all those exercises single-handedly. He could have won the heart of the Estee Lauder model in a snap. Well at least he can’t speak without me.

I stepped out of the gym with my gym kit (a gift from Tricia) and made my way towards the car. Suddenly I heard a voice from behind “Mr Vacant”. I turned around to see the Estee Lauder model running towards me. “I have been waiting for you outside, for some time now”, she said in that sweet nectar like voice of hers. “You probably don’t know me. I worked in a commercial for which you provided the voice. I am a big fan of yours. I watch Baritone Bunny every week and absolutely love it.” I could not believe my ears. Here I was, fantasizing about this goddess and she turns out to be a fan. “Would you like to come to the recording of next week’s episode of Baritone?” I spoke in the most sophisticated voice I could conjure up. With that I gave her my studio card after having scribbled my home number at its back. She seemed very excited by the prospect and thanked me. “I’ll see you in the gym tomorrow then. And thanks for inviting me to the recording.” I said sure and with that I entered my car.

She was still standing some distance away and talking very excitedly on her mobile. She was telling someone, apparently another girl, about how she had met the voice of Baritone Bunny and how she was going to the studio for the voice recording session. She was as excited as little kids are when they are promised a tour of Disney world. Seeing her in this new light I realized that she was hardly a day over sixteen. Oh my God! What was I doing? I had been fantasizing about a young girl, a girl who was still excited about cartoons, a girl who was young enough to be my daughter. I hung my head in shame. Sophia would be as old as this girl now. I hadn’t seen her for ten years. Her mother had got her custody when we got a divorce and then had moved to Paris. All I had were a few photographs and letters from her. She was going to college this spring. Maybe it was time I met her.

With these thoughts I decided to drive back home to Tricia and tell her that the gym was a bad idea. She wouldn’t be happy. But I can’t take this pain in my muscles. For now Aphrodite and her temple are not meant for me.

Stanley Vacant © Anshumani Ruddra 2004

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