BY MASON A. HAMBERLIN
Desire is an oiled Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became Palmer, the governor of half-cal lemonade sweet tea, the California of golf, pectorals two buttery buns in a bakery window, or at least that’s the gibberish tweenage twink you thinks while watching Terminator 2, because to get clever on a sound is easier than writing out a coherent thought, later late-night thumbing through the issue of Men’s Health you stole from your father and pointing to the models and trying to answer the unrelated questions: which of them do you want to be, son? >which is a man? which means taking up space without taking up space, means shedding a younger, heavier self, thin-wristed and apple-barrel-bodied, googling the word >gynecomastia and knowing it better than any other eighth grader—imagine desirability: your fatty breasts to pecks, the etchings of new stomach muscle laid flat, as someone might to bones of the Mesozoic, the valued bits buried under ruin and dust and years of carbs saturated in fat—oh, dough boy, #mealprep to measure your intake, balance micro- and macro- nutrients and don’t go overboard on cheat day, no carbs after 8 p.m., 1.5 times your body weight in protein for >gainz, 1:1 to maintain, focus on eggs, chicken, spinach, broccoli, black coffee, and water, water, water, whey, weight is just a number but numbers mean results and results mean products and products, as you think you know them, beg of a joyous consumption but more importantly an excess available for consumption, take it from your high school gym coach, advice finely tuned through that Hulk Hogan moustache: >Three hundred pushups a day for three months and you’ll get the tits you want: each time you walk through a door, hell, each time you walk to school, in the dew grass between classes, in a bagel shop bathroom where you work, before Mormon mass with family and after, amen, in-between the layers you’re too young and dumb to make sense of, and of course, before botched dates at Noodles & Company where you’ll have not told friends and parents, or will have told friends and parents about how you’re giddy to see >her when you fully know you mean >him, a man, sweaty and nervous and hardly forking his Cesar salad in the pleather booth, and years later, a >him you’ll ghost at Home Depot, and years after that, a >him you’ll bench outside his own damn bar, but the future is ahead of the point because you’re not >queer, you’re just, what is it, >progressive, right?—lost on a lil car ride, a lil literal precursory cruising round town in your parent’s Ford exposition, daydreaming about what it means to find the inner home of sexual, you know, nothing committal—or, in a temple interview, your bishop tells you you look fit in your white shirt and tie, and father is out helping the Mormon missionaries only a few years older than you, and you’re stuck in this man-child crux of arguing him on NC Amendment 1 and asking for weights for Christmas (ik smdh), I mean, how else will you display that vascularity, that >pump?, how else will you not appear twelve years old, even though you are legally a man—a man?—a man who has voted and yet defaults to Justin Bieber hair, but dough boy, there are >corrective measures, i.e. denial, or an aspiration to A) a body fat ≤ 10% and B) a thirty-inch waist to fifty-six-inch chest, to become a wall of a man, which is to say something tangible where the language doesn’t readily exist, something unbreakable, discerning, and cold and no wall at all—what bounty is that?—yours—you’ve been told you’re worth something and you could earn anything if you just worked for it, be more man, man, not less, which is more than some people can ask, so work for it, make something of yourself, dough boy, be the man you want to see or at least police him into existence, you’re the friend that friends ask to move curbside furniture but not process feelings—not the beautiful boy who drove you to rugby practice every other day, who kissed and held and touched you only to stop talking, who took his own life years later in a scratchy dorm bunk, who all you had to remember by were old texts and Facebook posts—so much so you exclusively seek out therapists who are women because you believe men can’t process that kind of emotion, or maybe you’re too afraid to trust them, too afraid to trust anyone—and isn’t that all fucked? the title of my Tumblr-trash confessional, because who else could’ve taught you the language to speak, boy, it’s a church built out of its own tongue and maybe you’re a missionary after all: fitspo, gymflow, swole is the goal, every day is arm day, baby, because #isymfs, pray to the preachers curls, blast the bi-s and tri-s, squat ass to grass, ham hock your gams, go from twink to twunk, the secret to huge arms are compound lifts: squat, bench, deadlifts, 5×5-s at eighty percent of your 1RM, 4×6-s of seventy when you’re in a rut, overload yourself both concentrically and eccentrically, forget ellipticals and that smith machine shit, stick to HIIT and anaerobic glycogen burning ish, burpees ish, maybe CrossFit ish, (excuse my knowledge of cardio, I’m still jargon my memory), and mind you, it’s a marathon not a sprint, routine is better than experimentation, nothing ventured nothing gained, Law of Nature says: use it or lose it, juice if you have to, just use and use and use so you may be used, too, and I think I read about this in a blog on >hypertrophy, framed by an example men would understand—boxes—where if you progressively overloaded yourself—speed, frequency, weight—you’d develop a tolerance, or rather, strength, >hypertrophy: >hyper– & >-trophia, meaning >exceeding & >nourishment—and isn’t that desire?—zero fat, a map of striating marks, the grooves and ridges seen under the skin, the ultimate degree of muscle definition, you’re not a body, you’re a physique, it’s not exercise but body composition, it’s not a lift, it’s a deadlift, it’s a row, it’s a clean and snatch, it’s a press and fly and extension, essentialismly: build a body so biologically muscled no one could ever confuse you for anything other than a >man, this definition, this desirable, lean, and absurdly efficient inverted flesh triangle, they don’t call it T for nothing, dough boy, just avoid oil and grease and chocolate and wine, and honestly, cigarettes, too, a fag through a fag, fag through and through, so thorough though those measures are rooted in a >you and a >him, a cute stranger on the streets of Wilmington, when a >he bums you a cigarette outside a poetry reading (fag) and says you look >soft, as in highlight, bicep, bisect, or bisexual(?) and you definitely did wear Glossier, but you say, >Just sweatin, become chitinous in response, >chitinous pronounced like it’s >cheatin’ us, because your reflex is to harden, call him a dick, ah, the dick question or the dick joke or the need to draw attention to having a dick in any/every way, to be a man means to have the biggest and dickiest of dicks, a noble burden of a dick, a dick that incapacitates in some way—a, quote, >baby arm dick—so should the moment arrive, with you standing in line at a 7-Eleven on Wrightsville Ave. around 11 p.m. and a Mr. Ski Mask in July arrives, parts the black, sliding glass doors, pulls a gun, trip, boom, dick, the day is saved all because nobody can challenge you at belt-level, forget where this all started in the name of beauty, but not like, but like, instead, you know, handsome, to become handsome—hide that double chin or grow out those cheek bones and flair that jaw, and if you can’t, beard theory can take care of that, >awesomeness (A) does not grow linearly with time (t) as beard length does…the relationship is exponential (A+1.25^t), tell them >it’s naturally like that because when your best friend is a search engine, it’s all about >biology and >nature, it’s buzz cut, undercut, high and tight, top-down processing, something-something Nazis wore their hair long on top with short sides to fit their helmets, and yikes, there it is, always one click away from an actual neo-Nazis—in the forums of the manosphere, at least—all from searching waxed moustache, ash-free knees, shaved forearms, pebble-short nails, nail clippers to moles and skin tags and razored-away neck freckles—you know as Jordan Peterson puts it >making order of chaos—any growth that isn’t under control isn’t control, dough boy, cauterize the mess, over-the-counter liquid nitrogen is fine, and as you press a bandage to the open skin, blood running, alive and horse-like in the pain, you’ll think of the one time at the dentist, when the woman cleaning your teeth asked what you enjoyed and you said books and she responded, >Yeah, you don’t look like the type to serve in the military and you thought, >fuck you, why don’t I then, you thought, >what else do I do but shoulder a self-inflicted pain, watch me give it purpose—but instead, you giggled—not laughed—giggled and never once understood why you reacted that way, nor her assumption, her mutually exclusive bullshit about books and military, pain and manhood, nor the fact that you’re still in a bathroom, still have all your limbs, still don’t know shit about pain—recall a childhood photo of yourself at your father’s MBA graduation, of you kicking out a skinny leg, shorts bunched mid-thigh, as if serving a >lewk, which some adults must’ve found funny, which you find funny now, too, but when you study it, the boy’s face is empty in a way that cries for help, because maybe something has bit him and maybe the adults are laughing instead of listening—and maybe you’re still that >boy, even if twenty years later you can’t bear to call yourself that word—it’s surprising how quick the body peels back—a name is to escape itself—the image imagined—gender engendered—all its parts there to begin with—all its parts re-membered in the end—if that—does that—make sense—hon?