Coach Stubbs looks at his tax return again. How could he owe so much? He only makes…that can't be right, he doesn't have that kind of money—but then suddenly he can't breathe…the pain shoots up his arm, his neck, into his chest. His vision grows dim, then he sees a tunnel of light, and then…nothing.
Opening his eyes, he finds himself on a Barcalounger in a sunny room. French doors reveal green lawns, flowers, and he hears songbirds singing in perfect harmony. The coach remembers the taxes, the auditor that had gone through all of his receipts, the tunnel…the tunnel…
"Hello, how are we doing?" A man in blue and white robes breezes into the room with a smile and an iPad. "Coach Stubbs? So glad to meet you."
"Uh…" the coach looks around, alarm gracing his expression.
"Look, you missed orientation, so let's cut to the chase, m'kay? You're dead. I brought you here because I have a job for you, and yes, this is heaven, or whatever."
"Are-are you an angel or-or—"
"Yeah, something like that. So, here's the deal—"
"Wait, are you Michael or Gabriel or—"
"Kevin, okay? My name's Kevin. Now we've gotta move on this thing kind of quick, if you know what I mean."
"Look, Coach. We have an issue. The Big Guy's tried everything. Diets, pills, cleanses, fasts, hell, he's tried Sweatin' to the Oldies. Nothing works, see. He needs…personal guidance."
"'The Big Guy?'"
"Yeah. I'm afraid I'm speaking literally, too. He's a chunk. How God could get that fat is beyond me," he says in a stage whisper, "but it's causing some real problems."
Coach Stubbs stares with wide eyes. "Oh my God. I'm dead, aren't I?"
Kevin pinches the bridge of his nose and clenches his eyes. "Okay, we went over that. Let's keep up, shall we? We need you to get God in shape, okay? Starting about fifty years ago. So come with me."
Kevin starts for the door and Coach Stubbs jumps up, ambling after him on unsteady legs. They walk down a corridor and the coach hears the thump of heavy bass coming from behind a door down the hall. Kevin opens the door and the music blares from the room.
Coach Stubbs steps tentatively into the doorway and sees a portly being in colored spandex dancing in front of a flat screen T.V. The person on the T.V. looks familiar.
"And do the pony, the pony, and breathe! Ssshhhhew! Out the mouth, and pony, breathe! Ssshhhew--!"
"Is that Richard Simmons?" The coach stares in disbelief.
The portly man in the blue and yellow leotard ignores them and bounces to the beat, in fact, doing "the pony." Sweat saturates his flushed face.
"Um, Lord? Uh, can we pause for a sec?" Kevin chews his lip.
The music stops abruptly and the heavy man turns toward them, breathing with great effort. "Kevin, (gasp) this better be important. I'm taking (gasp) a steam in twenty (gasp)."
"Oh, it is. This is Coach Stubbs. He's going to be your personal trainer."
The coach's head snaps to the side. "I am?"
"Oh yah. Coach, God, God, Coach."
God walks over to Stubbs and holds out a thick, sweaty palm. "I hope you can help me. The world's a mess."
Stubbs looks at Kevin, who nods. "See, Coach, being omniscient and omnipotent has its drawbacks. He's unhappy at his, uh, current, uh, weight," Kevin says delicately, "and so…the world…well—"
"When Papa ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," God thunders.
"I see." Coach Stubbs stares at God's face, his red cheeks, and jowls like heavy clumps of bread dough. "And so you need to feel better…so the world will sort of, uh, right itself again, is that it?"
"Eh, he's no meathead," God says, smiling, pounding the coach's back with his palm. "You got it. So let's get to it. We runnin' laps?"
"Oh, well no, first, we'll need to get a starting weight—"
Kevin flinches and God's face crumples into rage as the room shakes. "No scales!" he bellows.
Stubbs cowers a little and steps back.
God calms himself and sighs, "Sorry. Kevin, damage report?"
Kevin uses a stylus and checks the iPad. "Uh, sixteen-car pileup in Philly, eight plumbers dead, and some toads."
"Oops." God looks down at the floor.
"It's okay, we're okay. Let's just start. It'll be fine. Coach Stubbs, what do you need to train Him?"
"Well, uh, let me think," the coach says, still shaking from the wrath vibe. "Okay, I'll need a full gym, you know, with weights…that would be a good start."
"Yeah, that's in Annex 'C.'" God twiddles his fingers in the air and suddenly Stubbs stands in the center of a large gym, furnished with every type of exercise equipment known to him, and some he had never seen before. God smiles and looks around.
"See this one?" God plods over to a bench. "This one vibrates. You sit on it and the pounds just melt off—"
"Uh, we've established that doesn't work, Sir…" Kevin says, eyes on the floor.
"Oh, we have, have we?" God thunders. The room shakes.
"Ooh, ouch," Kevin says, wincing as he scrolls on the iPad.
"Ugh. Dammit. Damage?" God looks irritated.
"Influenza epidemic. Northern Italy, and three herds of wild goats and…uh, a couple scuba divers."
"Crap. See, Stubbs? I'm outta control here. Help me out. Hell, help the world out."
"Yeah, you can see how bad it is," Kevin says.
God shoots Kevin a warning glance. When Kevin checks the iPad, he clucks his tongue. "Boat capsized in the Indian Ocean," he sings.
"Hey, that one's not on me. That was on the schedule."
"Fine." Kevin puts his hand on his hip. "Anyway."
God walks over to a machine with a giant rubber band. "This one goes around the waist here, shakes the pounds right off, according to the infomercial—"
"Ohhhkay, how about we let Coach Stubbs do his thing, Sir. I'll stick around for moral support."
"Yeah, yeah. Okay, Coach, so what's first?" God scratches his ample belly. Coach Stubbs stares at God's fingers. They remind him of Kielbasa sausages.
"Well, first we need to warm you up a bit on the treadmill—"
"Did that. Didn't you see me doing 'the pony?' Before that I did 'walk the dog' and 'the typewriter…'" God proceeds to Jazzercise the moves as he explains them. Stubbs holds up his hand.
"Okay, okay, so that's good. We're good there. Okay, let's start with some free weights. Here's two thirties." The coach hands God the dumbbells. "Now, lunge with your right leg, and then come up to a bicep curl. Then lunge with the left leg, curl. Twelve reps. Got it? Go."
God looks at Kevin, who nods encouragingly. He steps with his right leg, comes back up and curls. At rep five, God is shaking, sweating, and his face is bright red.
"Remember to breathe," Stubbs says. "C'mon, seven more, you can do it."
"Screw seven more, I'm only going to eight! Gah! Shit!" The room shakes. God drops the weights to the floor and bends at the waist, hands on his meaty thighs, to catch his breath.
"Oh, dear." Kevin scans the iPad screen.
Between gasps, God says, "Dah-dah-dahmage."
Kevin smiles brightly. "We're good, Sir!"
God glares up at him. "Damage."
Kevin's shoulders slump. "Flash floods in Colorado and India, and…oh, dear. Baby seal massacre, Antarctica."
"Shit. I like those little fuckers," God says, still gasping.
"Sorry, Sir." Kevin really does look sorry.
Stubbs is worried. "Are we, uh, good to go here, or—"
"Oh, you're doing great, Coach. He's got time. It's fine." Kevin's expression is a little too cheery.
The coach chews on his thumbnail in consternation. "Okay, we're gonna do some squats to shoulder presses. Eight reps, okay? We can work up to twelve, no prob." The coach's stomach is in knots. He is also very fond of baby seals.
"Okay, okay…good to go, good to go." God is breathing a little more normally now, so Coach hands him the twenties.
"Now, do a chair squat, weight back in your heels, then pop up with your shoulder press. Go."
God squats, then pops. His arms shake as he reaches the seventh rep. He contorts his face and sweats, then a string of obscenities flow from him as he finishes the eighth rep. He drops the weights and walks in circles, hands on his portly hips, panting.
"Good job!" Coach Stubbs nods in approval. Then he glances at Kevin. "Uh oh."
Kevin's teeth are bared in a grimace. "Yeeah…uh that was a tornado in Kansas and we lost a few trombone players."
God gasps for air, "Not-not(gasp) sch-scheduled(gasp)?"
"Umm, no, sir, but there were some thunderstorms earlier in the day, so, you know. Oh, look, one of the trombone players was scheduled. So there's that."
"'Kay." God nods, toweling off his neck.
Stubbs looks back and forth between God and Kevin. His shoulders and neck ache from tension, as if he's carrying the weight of the world on his back. Baby seals? Tornadoes? He wonders if they should call it a day.
"You know, it's been a big day, for all of us, really, I mean…maybe we should—"
"Hey," God points his towel at Stubbs, "I'm committed, okay? I'm not some pansy, here. I want the full routine. Don't let up on me, Coach. Gimme what you got."
Kevin continues to bite his lip. Stubbs gets an idea. "Hey, how about we do some floor exercises? Let's come over to the mat here."
God lumbers over to the mat and begins to kneel.
"That's right, lie on your back. We'll do some glute raises."
With great effort God reclines, chest and gut rising and falling deeply as he lies flat on the little blue mat.
Stubbs squats beside him. "Okay, feet out from your butt more, that's good, now using your glutes, lift up off of the floor to a bridge and squeeze your glutes. Twelve reps. You can do it."
Kevin uses the iPad to hide his snickering. Stubbs gives Kevin a reproachful look as God grunts and groans, humping the air with his ample pelvis.
"Come on, four more," Stubbs urges.
God's legs quake and he starts cursing. "Motherfu-ugh-oof-gah--me dammit—"
He falls heavily on the mat.
"Yikes," Kevin grimaces with one eye squinted shut. The iPad's backlight flashes on Kevin's face.
God heaves on the mat. "What'd I do now?"
"Ferrets. And an earthquake. Venezuela."
"Uh, six. Maybe seven."
"Damn. Every time. You notice that? Every time I work my butt, Venezuela gets it."
"Uh," Stubbs hold up a finger, "I only counted ten reps. You have two more."
"Aw, fuck. Fine. Aftershocks are expected anyway, arrrumph!" God pelvic-thrusts the air two more times.
"Good job!" Stubbs is worried about pushing it any more today. "I think we shouldn't overdo it. You know? Give the world—I mean, your body, a chance to acclimate to the new routine."
"Yeah, yeah, okay." God struggles to sit up. He rests on his elbows. "Oh, Coach, we gotta do abs. I mean, I always try to do abs."
The coach glances at Kevin, who's chewing on the stylus nervously. Kevin shrugs, as if to say, you're the boss.
Stubbs sighs. "Okay, abs. Any, uh, particular region or thing your abs seem to, uh…aggravate?"
God twists his mouth a little. "The Balkans, I think. Maybe one of the Koreas. Snakes. Oh, and IRS workers."
"Perfect. Twenty, no, thirty crunches," Stubbs says, crossing his arms.
God begins to crunch, counting out loud, "One, ugghhnnngg, two…"
Kevin leans over to the coach. "You're a tricky son of a gun, aren't you? Not a snake lover, eh?"
Stubbs keeps his eyes on God and smiles. "Nah, I like snakes just fine."
As I said on the Buzz page, this story won "Honorable Mention." I knew I was taking a risk, writing a story about God. Religious people are notoriously UNamused when it comes to humor/satire involving anything religious.
As expected, I got feedback. The way you receive feedback with these contests is a few judges anonymously give you one or two lines of what they liked about your story, and then other judges, apparently different ones, give you what they felt "needs work." There's no way to respond to any sort of feedback, which is probably smart on their (the contest people's) part. So I'm going to comment here because I can. The negative feedback is my favorite, and in this particular piece, the judges did not disappoint!
First, the nice stuff:
"Intriguing start to this story drawing me straight into it. The tale is very amusing. The narrative is descriptive making it easy to visualize the scenes. Interesting dialogue carries the story along. ...This was a very original idea. You incorporated all of the three contest elements very well. The story made me laugh. ............Bravo. this is hilarious. I particularly love that the taxes are what makes Coach die and that it comes full circle in the end. God is a wonderful, believable obese, midwest American, which I think is a perfect description of him. I really loved it."
Now for the "things that need work" aka negative feedback/criticism:
One of the judges wrote that the "rules" of the afterlife were not clear, and needed to be explained to him/her. He/she thought that when God had a "tantrum," bad things happened in the world, not God exercising. The "rules" are explained pretty clearly in the line "thundered by God" "When Papa ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Clearly, when God is in pain and working out, "Papa ain't happy." Have I missed something?
Oh, but this was my favorite. Another naysaying judge had a problem with the whole premise--he/she wanted an explanation as to how "the Lord" got fat. Yes, "the Lord." Now, I could be wrong, but anyone who refers to God as "the Lord" would clearly have a problem with ANY premise involving "the Lord" unless it was scripture. But it could be a fair question, so I'll try to explain here, if I can. Okay. Ahem. "The Lord" is a fatty because in this piece of satire, "the Lord" obviously eats the heavenly creation, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, day and night, because that's the way my fictional, satirical God chooses to eat. I realize I can't back this up with any scripture, and I supposed that's my bad. Sorry about that.
Ahhhh! I loves me some good old fashioned religious folk!