The year: 1980
The place: Jr. High Gym Class
Your mission: Survive
I stand in the center of the gym, the air thick with the scent of dusty basketballs and sweaty tube socks. Strains of the chicken fat song fade, but a few girls defiantly sing-whisper the chorus:
Give that chicken fat back to the chicken and go, you chicken fat, go!
I am trapped in a great mass of girls, all in identical powder blue, one-piece gym suits. The elastic pinches my waist. The polyester shorts scratch and come with an automatic wedgie. No one dares tug. That would only bring on another chorus, one of:
Gro-oss, she’s digging in her buh-utt.
Some crimes require extra syllables.
But really, this class is the crime. Slimnastics. It’s not a real word. It’s not a real sport. There’s no such thing as an Olympic slimnast. In the past three weeks, we have learned all the steps, sung all the words.
None of us are slimmer for our efforts. Ms. Binkly, the gym teacher, is talking now, not that anyone is listening. The faintest lilt of the chorus sounds behind me, but I resist the urge to turn, to look, to act too interested.
Ms. Binkly’s most striking feature is a Marine Corps style haircut. Maybe we don’t always listen, it’s true. Here’s the thing:
No one ever talks back.
I stare at the ceiling, an ear toward the front. Something about her tone bothers me. It’s not the sound of a unit wrap up with warnings about the upcoming quiz. And really, how would you test a knowledge of slimnastics?
In the Chicken Fat song, where does the chicken fat go?
a) To KFC.
b) The principal’s thighs.
c) Back to the chicken.
d) All of the above.
No, what she’s saying now strikes us all breathless. If we’d actually exerted ourselves during the chicken fat dance, we’d all be doubled over. Instead, we stand absolutely still in cold horror. How do you test slimnastics? By making your twenty-five apathetic students choreograph and then perform their own routine.
In front of everyone.
Ms. Binkly places a stack of records on the floor. She claps her hands together. “All right, ladies! Break into groups, grab a record, and star in your own routine!”
She leaves us with that and retreats to her office. In a few minutes, the odor of sulfur will seep from beneath the door, followed by smoke.
Girls flock forward, pounce on the stack of records. I know enough about the pecking order not to get pecked. I step back and wait for the leavings.
I am left with a girl named Brianna and a single, dog-eared album on the gymnasium floor. We’re not friends, Brianna and I. Allies might be a better word, like the US and Russia during World War Two. We definitely have a common enemy, and we both need to maintain our GPA. We inch forward, shoes squeaking on the floor.
We stare at the woman on the album cover. She’s naked–or would be, if not for the mound of whipped cream she sits in. The album is called Whipped Cream and Other Delights. Brianna and I are young enough not to truly understand what these other delights might be, but old enough to know they don’t always involve food.
“This is hideous,” Brianna says.
She means everything. From the social doom of the album cover to the fact the only empty record player is the one next to Ms. Binkly’s office, where we end up ten minutes later, sucking in secondhand smoke while tripping through the opening steps to our routine. Our song of choice?
Brianna and I are both smart enough to relish this bit of irony.
On performance day, Brianna skyrockets her hand into the air, and Ms. Binkly calls us to the front.
“Going first means a better grade,” Brianna says to my frown on our way to the center of the gym.
She’s right, of course. It’s this sort of cold logic that will make her class valedictorian in five years’ time. But now, as we churn our arms like egg beaters, I realize that slimnastics really does have a test.
What is Whipped Cream?
a) A garnish for desserts.
b) A song by Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass.
c) A form of public humiliation.
d) All of the above.
Chicken Fat and Whipped Cream was first published in Easy Street Magazine. It may, or may not, be based on actual events.