My life coach was reminding me of the importance of self care. “This is your chance to curate a new you,” she said, though her optimism was tempered by the edge in her voice that had grown more insistent over the last two weeks. I nodded into my laptop camera and smiled at the pixelated image of my coach, sitting in pajamas in a dimly lit room, smiling back at me. I could see her teeth.
The old me was missing my exercise routine, and that longing paired with my new habit of watching YouTube videos at three in the morning led to my purchase of an Exercist. The pre-roll video showed a sleek cube, which could have been black or blue or even slightly orange, rotating in a way that made it seem sharp-edged and formless all at the same time. The models who followed its direction moved happily from sit-ups to crunches to squats. They breathed easily; they didn’t sweat. Their smiles glowed. I envied them. I whipped out my credit card and selected express shipping.
Two days later it arrived. I planned to make an unboxing video for my six YouTube subscribers but impatience got the better of me and I ripped open the package and lifted the gleaming cube and placed it on my kitchen table. The energy in the room shifted ever so slightly.
I looked for a manual, a power cord, something that would signal I wasn’t at a dead end. I looked online. Nothing.
I called Heidi. “Hey, have you ever used an Exercist?”
Silence. Then, “Uh…no, I’ve never needed an exorcist.”
“Not ex-OR-cist. Ex-ER-cist. It’s an exercise machine. I can’t figure out how it works.”
“Did you read the manual?”
“There isn’t one.”
“There isn’t one.”
“Have you considered taking up knitting?”
She had a point, and this is how most of our conversations ended and yes I did consider taking up knitting but not until this mystery was solved.
I hung up and stared at the cube.
It spoke to me.
“What’s your name?” The voice sounded like Oprah Winfrey’s, and seemed to be coming from inside my head.
“C’mon Ian, let’s exercise!” the cube/Oprah said cheerfully.
My annoyance with the device quickly changed to delight. In fifteen minutes Oprah’s calm, confident voice led me through a workout that was thorough and refreshing. If this was what curating a new me was all about, I was all in.
For the next week I would rise from a sound sleep to be greeted with, “C’mon Ian, let’s exercise!” The workouts gradually grew in duration, though I never felt the least bit tired. I felt energized and healthy. I was ecstatic.
Time passed and my relationship with the Exercist grew. I was working out an average of six hours a day and was getting really fit. Maybe even a little swole.
I ordered groceries online so I could minimize exposure to others and be available to exercise. One Exercist feature was the randomization of exercise timing. For example, I might be watching television, on a conference call or taking a shower, and I would hear Oprah sing, “C’mon Ian, let’s exercise!”
There was that day my grocery order was missing kale, which now comprised 75% of my diet. I decided to run to the store and grabbed my car keys. I’ll only be gone for 20 minutes, I thought.
Nineteen minutes, it turned out. I unlocked my door, entered my home and was greeted in a way I could have never expected.
The Exercist, which I could have sworn was sitting on my bedroom dresser, was now squarely in the middle of a living room end table. It spoke.
And it wasn’t Oprah speaking. It was Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket, speaking from the grave, hopped up on amphetamines and rage.
He mentioned that I had missed an exercise session. He was disappointed and expressed this in many words, most of which had four letters. He questioned my commitment, my masculinity, and my parentage. He was very upset.
He commanded that I “drop and give him a thousand.” I complied.
If there was a time that I wished for an app that would allow me to fine tune the exercise randomization, this was it! At some point during each of the next three nights I was awakened by an almost physical presence in the bedroom and a split second later this ghostly drill sergeant screamed at me to leave my bed and engage in hours of push-ups, with an occasional break to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush.
The fourth night, spent in sleepless anticipation, was broken by a sing-song voice that emanated from the kitchen. I slipped out of bed and quickly padded downstairs. The demon box sat on the kitchen counter, having displaced my espresso maker, which was now in pieces on the floor. Is…that…? I thought. Yes, the Exercist was quietly chanting “Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker. Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker. Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker. Das, was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.”
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
I was beginning to question my purchase and would have scheduled a session with my life coach to talk it over but she had blocked my number after I accused her of trying to come between me and my workout buddy. I didn’t think I would miss her, particularly since she had begun wearing a T-Rex costume to all our Zoom calls and would only answer my questions with questions.
I considered returning the Exercist then remembered Dyson has a strict no-refunds policy.
I collapsed on my couch and listened to the Exercist’s chant grow louder and it suddenly made sense. I now understood why everyone who bought exercise equipment eventually sold it on Craigslist.
“Time to get your workout on, babe,” said the cube. “We’re gonna crush this like Napoleon annihilated the Ruskies at the Battle of Friedland.” I tried to place the voice then realized I had reached the edge of the abyss. I had one toehold, albeit a really pumped toe, on reality. The voice was Dennis Miller’s.