Yesterday, after she let me in and took my temperature, Belen (she’s the maid in the black uniform) told me that Dr. Peterson wanted to see me upstairs.
I know the way up to the boys’ rooms, and Dr. Peterson’s school room is right next door to Jacob’s. He has it all tricked out like a regular classroom, with big desk for himself, two smaller desks for the boys, a whiteboard, an overhead projector, and even a big table at the back covered with art supplies.
“Mr. Block,” he said as I came in. “Glad you could make it.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have a whole lot of time…I think Jacob is already waiting for me downstairs.”
“Here you go, then” he said, handing me a folder from his desk. “For the whole faculty at Bedrossian Prep. Sandy would have given it to you but she’s off with Maya today shooting a shoe-buying segment.” He rolled his eyes. “She said she might be back by the time you’re done with the boys and you should go look to see if she’s there.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking the folder.
“Aren’t you going to open it?”
I was more concerned with getting downstairs to Jacob, but I opened the folder to please Dr. Peterson.
“Exercise and Diet Plan for Matteo Sharpman,” the title page said. “Compiled by the Beverly Hills Institute of Advanced Kinesiology and Weight Reduction.”
It took me a couple seconds to remember that Sharpman is Maya’s married name, and so that Matteo Sharpman is my pupil who’s kinda heavy, yeah, but who doesn’t need some Beverly Hills place putting him on a diet.
“You’re not going to like it,” Dr. Peterson said. “I don’t like it, and it barely affects me. Except that I was told that I’d get fired if I gave Matteo any extra food. Look at the diet part: they’re putting him on 850 calories a day. The exercise part looks pretty grueling too…but that’s your department. That’s probably why they have you working 4 days a week now…although I understand Maya’s personal trainer is going to work with Matteo on the days you’re not here.”
Sure enough, it was a 6 day a week exercise program. It looked like over 30 minutes of weight work 3 times a week. That seemed to me like way too much for a kid’s body. At Matteo’s age, I was just playing sports and got plenty strong from just that. I didn’t see the inside of a weight room until I was in high school. On top of that he was expected to do cardio 6 days a week. Matteo, the kid who was only just starting to run properly. Someone was set to come in in to give him a tennis lesson every Wednesday, and, almost as an afterthought, I was given 30 minutes once a week to work on baseball skills with him.
I started getting pissed off because I felt that I was just starting to build a relationship with Matteo. It’s taken a while, but I think he starting to stop thinking of me as the enemy. We’re still working on basics, and we’re making progress, but now is not the time to push him to run marathons or any of the other shit the exercise program wanted.
I was looking at the folder again while Jacob ran upstairs to get his swimsuit after we’d worked together on baseball. Of course he was back down and in the pool before Matteo slowly followed him out of the house.
“Hey, Mr. Block,” he said. “Oh…I see you got it.” His face totally fell.
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t know what to tell him, although my first instinct was to say ‘this is total bullshit’…but I know which words I shouldn’t use around a kid that age.
“I know you’re probably looking at the exercise part…but did you look at the diet?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It looks a little…”
“…deprivational?,” said Matteo. I always get surprised when Matteo pulls out big words like that.
“That’s one word for it,” I said.
“Can you think of a better one?,” he asked. “My carb intake for a whole day is two slices of dry whole wheat toast and two pieces of fruit.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I said that.
“Well…at least now you know that you’re here to torture me.”
“I’m not gonna torture you,” I said.
“What about the plan? You’re gonna be expected to put me through it. And make sure I don’t sneak candy bars when no one’s looking. They already told Dr. Peterson that he’d get fired if he gave me any extra food. You know what this is all about, right?,” he asked me.
“You mean there’s more to it than getting you to lose some weight?”
“There’s going to be a new segment on the show,” Matteo explained. “’Matteo’s Weight Loss’. They’re gonna follow me as I lose 15 pounds. Weigh me in on TV and everything.” He took a second and looked like he was fixin to cry and added, “it’s gonna suck.” Then he wasn’t just fixin to cry anymore.
I quickly decided that it was ok for a boy Matteo’s age to cry, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. You gotta remember that we were both wearing masks and social distancing.
Turns out he came over and put his arms around me. I guess I was pretty lameass when all I could think to do was pat him on the back…but I wasn’t prepared for a crying 9 year old hugging me. Luckily Matteo pulled himself together on his own, and used his mask to dry his face.
“Well,” he then said, “we might as well get started. The sooner I lose 15 pounds, the sooner it’ll be over. Tuesdays are gym days. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The tennis teacher comes Wednesday and Mom’s trainer is gonna take Saturdays, probably to make sure you’re not slacking off.”
I totally didn’t know what to say to that, so I let Matteo lead me back towards the house. Then I realized I couldn’t leave Jacob in the pool, so I doubled back to get him.
“Out of the water, cowboy,” I said. I could see the look on his face. “I gotta work with your brother in the gym and I can’t keep an eye on you from there.”
“This is so retarded,” he muttered as he pulled himself out of the water and grabbed a towel. “So what do I do instead, Hunter?”
“I…” I really didn’t’ know what to say. This was fucking up all my plans for keeping both boys active at the same time. “Do you want to just… How about getting out the tball tee and practicing your swing?”
I asked Sandy to order some tball equipment so I could start working on batting with Matteo. Or course Jacob was too advanced for it, but I was punting here.
“Tball is for little kids,” Jacob whined. I told him he was whining and that ball players don’t whine.
“Give it a try, then run around the yard a few times.” We had a course marked out that began and ended at the fountain.
“The alternative is going upstairs and having afternoon tea with Dr. Peterson,” I said.
I started walking away before I could hear how retarded the situation was again. I mean, it was totally retarded and not fair to Jacob, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Then Matteo led me inside and down some hallways. That’s when I got my first look at the home gym. I’ve seen lavish home gyms before – think of the one Luke has to work on his 6-pack in up in Santa Barbara – but this place looked like a palace. It was the kind of gym that made you think that there was someone whose only job it was to polish the equipment.
“Ok, dude…sit on one of the mats and we’ll stretch you out.” I know how to stretch my own body, mostly because I’ve been doing what the other guys around me were doing for the past 20 years. Scientific stretching like the Beverly Hills Institute of Advanced Kinesiology and Weight Reduction wanted is another story. The exercise plan listed a whole bunch of stretches I never heard of before. I think some of them were yoga…and every coach I’ve ever worked with has said that yoga was way too gayass for any self-respecting ball player
“Wait a second,” Matteo said. “Did you just call me ‘dude’?”
“Yeah,” I said. I was wondering if I did something wrong.
“’No one’s ever called me ‘dude’ before.”
He looked real pleased that someone finally had. I made a note to call Matteo ‘dude’ more…just like I was calling Jacob ‘cowboy’. Like I said, I got that from Keaton, but it seemed to be working.
So, following the instructions in the folder very closely, I put Matteo through his routine. The only good part is that it didn’t take as long as I was afraid it would. And at least he didn’t cry again. He went easy on the sarcasm too, although maybe that would have been better than the depressed submissiveness I was getting from him. He even got a little sweaty, but he approached that like a martyr too, refusing to use one of the big fluffy towels from the pile in the corner of the gym.
I reckon there was another bright side: working out in the gym made Matteo glad to get outside. I got him running, and, although he’s still slow, he’s putting his heel down first and showing some clue about proper running form. Now I need to figure out how to fix his flapping ‘Mario arms’. That’s gonna take some creativity – and I’m open to suggestions. Y’all know where the contact page is lol.
After getting Matteo to run for 10 minutes, I decided we’d just play catch for the rest of the time we had together, never mind what the program said. He’s gotten way better at both throwing and catching, and I think he’s kinda starting to enjoy it.
Playing catch is also a chance to talk, although talking to Matteo that afternoon was a little like trying to talk to Eeyore. I didn’t want to get his hopes up, but I decided that I was at least going to talk to Sandy and tell her how I felt about the Beverly Hills Institute of Advanced Kinesiology and Weight Reduction. It probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, though: I’m still only the gym teacher, and gym teachers probably don’t count for much in the greater scheme of reality TV operations.
So after I sent Matteo upstairs to the showers, I went to the gym to put away the equipment we used…and tried to leave it as gleaming as it was when we started. Then I got lost in the house trying to find my way from the gym to Sandy’s office. Belen found me wandering and took me the rest of the way.
Sandy’s door was open and she didn’t look busy, so I knocked on the door frame.
“Hunter!,” she said, looking up. “What can I do for you?” Then she saw the folder I was holding, and, I reckon, the look on my face. “Oh, you’ve seen it.”
The way she said ‘it’ made me think it would be ok for me to answer what I answered:
“No disrespect intended, ma’am…but this is fuckin bullshit.”
I think she was a little taken aback by my language, and I got scared I got myself in trouble, but then she said:
“Don’t quote me on this, but you’re absolutely right.”
“How can anyone do this to their own child??”
“Hold on,” she said, “it’s not Maya’s doing. Well…not entirely. I mean, she knows those people in Beverly Hills, and they’re responsible for her workout and diet program, but the idea of taking Matteo there was Ethan’s and Jean-François’. Ethan thought a kids’ weight loss segment would be a good idea, he pitched it to Jean-François, and Jean-François gave it the go ahead.”
“It’s…it’s…”I was lost for a word because I didn’t want to say “child abuse.’
“If you ask me, it’s almost child abuse,” Sandy said, maybe reading my thoughts like she usually does, “but nobody’s asked me. They’re probably not going to ask you, either.”
“Is there any way you can pass along my concerns…to Maya or maybe Robert? He’s Matteo’s dad, after all.” I realized that, although I’ve gotten to know the boys, I still didn’t know their parents. “Matteo was doing ok with the activities we were doing, and all a kid that age needs to is to run around and learn a sport or two. I’m not sure weight training is a good idea for a little boy…but maybe those Beverly Hills people have all kinds of degrees and shit and know better than me. I’m just an illiterate redneck who’s been playin ball all my life.”
“Do you always advocate for your pupils like this?,” Sandy asked.
“I…” I didn’t know. “I reckon I haven’t needed to. The other parents of the kids I work with have let me set the program.”
“Well…we knew Matteo would be different as far as far as your being a baseball tutor…”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I wasn’t expecting this.” I wasn’t expecting that my job would involve counting out reps for a 9 year old either, but a job’s still a job…and, besides, if I quit they’d just get someone else to put Matteo through his lameass paces.
“For the time being there’s no talking Ethan and Jean-Francois out of this. As for Maya and Robert, they obviously like the idea, or it wouldn’t have gone this far. Matteo’s lucky to have you, though. He likes you…”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see how much he likes me now that I’m responsible for putting him through this…bullshit.”
“Better you than Maya’s regular trainer,” Sandy said. “She’s not exactly sympathetic to human failings.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but it’s one thing to put an adult’s body through a shit ton of weight training…it’s another to do it with a 9 year old. No kids that age lifted weights when I was young.”
“Don’t tell me you got those legs without hitting the weight room.”
“Of course not,” I said. “But that came starting when I was a teenager. A 9 year old shouldn’t be doing heavy squats. Or even light squats. Like I said…”
“You’re going to have to accept it if you expect to keep your job. I’d love to say that I’ll pass your concerns to Maya and Robert, but I want to keep my job too. Maybe the audience won’t go for the segment and they’ll drop it. In the meantime, why not be Matteo’s ally? He could use a friend. And the world could do with watching a gym teacher who doesn’t blow off the less athletic kids in his class. Nobody asked you about if you wanted the responsibility, but you’re a key player in Matteo’s weight loss segment. You’re actually the only person around here who can keep it from getting hateful.
“Just bear that in mind,” she said with one of her 10 smiles.
I gotta admit: the smile did make me feel better. Even if what they were trying to do to Matteo was still total bullshit.