Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Susan Sontag Goes to the Gym

This occurs to me as I glance up over the Vanity Fair on the handles of the stationary bike and glimpse my reflection in the mirror. The gray streak is new, and not as cool as hers was. With my hair in a ponytail, my face looks square, my ears tacked on as an afterthought, much too large for my head. Susan Sontag's ponytail would have looked marvelous, her white stripe a badge of courage, linking her mind to her body.

She wouldn't read, I decide, and let the fat magazine fall to the floor. She would work her mind as well, stimulated by the whirr of pedals and the wail of Deborah Harry. Sontag studies human nature from the seat of her bike, smirking at who wipes down the equipment and who does not.

When she squeezes her legs together in the thigh press, she does not distract herself from the unfortuante stirrup image. She stares herself down in the mirror and tries out turns of phrase.

She would make much of the men who straddle the bench of the shoulder press and pump up a red-faced grunting lather, then hurl themselves from their machines between reps, leaving them stagnant, sweat-stained in the wet spot. They strut a few feet away, snapping their necks from side to side, always keeping a watchful eye on the apparatus -- still, for the time being, their territory.

I like to think of a feminist coffeehouse in heaven, where Sontag was pouring 2 glasses of wine when Betty Friedan walked in. Betty flops into a chair and says, "Oh, things just got crazier after you left." And Sontag says, "It expands... it fill the space available." They touch glasses and stay there all night, and nobody misses the gym.

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