There were two reoccurring nightmares I had as a child. One where I would be leaning over a tall cement bridge when suddenly I slip and plummet into the murky green water below infested with alligators. After a long struggle of trying to get away, one of the alligators would finally capture and wolf me down for dinner. Oddly enough, I would continue to dream about those around me dealing with the aftermath of my demise. The other night scare was a sweaty wild-eyed Richard Simmons chasing me from a crowded area (sometimes a carnival and sometimes a mall) all the way to my home in Palo Alto in an attempt to kidnap me. Unlike the alligator, however, I would always succeed in escaping Mr. Simmons by finding an abandoned bicycle and pedaling as far from him as I possibly could.
These frights never left my memory, so when my friend Sarah decided that for her birthday she wanted her friends to join her for a workout at Richard Simmon’s studio Slimmons in Beverly Hills, anxiety took hold. Being trapped in a small room with this crazed fitness tormentor that often caused me to wake up in a sweat did not exactly sound like a birthday party to me, but my inability to say “no” triumphed over my juvenile fears.
Dressed like a Jane Fonda workout video, I stood in the Richard Simmons photo decorated waiting room with an intense need to pee. The ladies room was in the back of the studio, making it so I had to walk in on an inspirational speech he was making to the class before. I tried to be as discreet as possible but my electric blue spandex made that impossible. “YOU!!!” he cried. I froze in absolute horror. Could he still kidnap me at 32? My Nikes seemed to be glued to the waxed hardwood floor. I scanned the room for a bike I could pedal to safety on. There was no bike!
“YOU ARE SO CUTE! YOU LOOK LIKE A FLOWER! NO, no, no, no, no. You don’t belong here. This place is for ugly people.”
It took a second for me to register what he had just said. I smiled, took a deep breath, and picked up my formerly glued sneakers and briskly walked to the bathroom. My mind was at ease. He wasn’t a scary man that was going to get me. He was a short slight man with a thinning afro who thought I looked like a flower. He was a man wearing a cop uniform that he eventually would strip off to reveal a tank top with two stars on his nipples. He was a man that spent the class screeching insults to those that weren’t lifting their legs high enough only to end his faux abuse with a mischievous giggle. He was a man that separately dragged each newbie (including me) into the middle so he could dance with them, and if they were a guy take their shirts off and lick them. He was a man that screamed out wildly inappropriate orders such as, “IF YOU DON’T WORK HARDER THAN I’M GOING TO LOCK YOU UP LIKE ANNE FRANK!!!!!!” He was a high spirited fun-loving man that remembered everyone’s name.
The shocking, campy, and unexpectedly witty in a way that I shouldn’t be laughing but I am sort of way he has of insulting his class, gave me a clearer understanding of why I had been so scared of this outrageous TV personality. By attending his aerobics class as an adult, however, I got to see his flamboyant shrieks and silly humor as his way of making exercise fun. He’s a bomb of energetic glee who makes one forget they’re actually breaking a sweat. By the end of class, we all got a great workout, Sarah was sung “Happy Birthday” and given a figurine necklace of Richard jumping out of a cake, and I received a kiss from the man that once haunted my dreams but that I now actually like.
*1980's Richard Simmons in the red and white striped short shorts and red tank he made famous.
*About to workout with the man himself at his studio Slimmons in Beverly Hills, CA.
*I'm wearing a 1980's dark gray leotard (it was my Mom's); electric blue spandex leggings from American Apparel; Nike sneakers; blue wrist band from American Apparel.
*The birthday girl Sarah on the left, Richard, myself, and Sarah's cousin below.
*Sarah's birthday gift from Richard: a figurine necklace of himself jumping out of a cake.
*Richard decided to be a cop today.
*Getting a big wet one from Richard. When he wants something from you...he'll get it!