Commusings: The Pull-Up

Mar 28, 2024

Dear Commune Community,

For the last couple of years, I have been deeply committed to the pull-up. There was a period when I regularly challenged myself to do 100 per day.

I am the embarrassing dad scanning the city streets for scaffolding, as its crossbars provide a wonderful opportunity for impromptu chin-ups (and for mortifying your daughters). There’s something quasi-spiritual about lifting your own weight and, of course, I can prattle on about the metabolic benefits of muscle hypertrophy ad nauseam.

But it wasn’t always this way. Today’s occasionally irreverent musing provides the origin story of my love-hate affair with this bodyweight exercise.

Here at [email protected] and lifting myself up on IG @jeffkrasno.

In love, include me,

• • •

The Pull-Up

Mrs. Brody put the fear of God in me. Given my devout atheism, that’s a high bar to clear.

Mrs. Brody was the head of physical education at South School in New Canaan, Connecticut, where I matriculated in the 3rd grade.

One dare not call her a gym teacher for the risk of being dispatched to run punitive laps around the schoolyard.

However, given that she’s likely dead now, I can be honest about it. She was a cruel and callous gym teacher. There … I finally said it.

Mrs. Brody wore the same uniform every day: high-waisted black slacks and a tight-fitting referee jersey that accentuated her enormous, preternaturally high breasts. Affixed to her wrist was a whistle that she never hesitated to fill with hot air.

Her gray bob, doused in hair spray, remained motionless as she vaulted over pommel horses and swung from the rings. I suppose, in retrospect, she was impressive for a 60-year-old dame, perhaps even a portrait of ‘80s feminism. But … she was still a mean gym teacher.

Anyhow, Mrs. Brody supervised the ghastly annual Presidential Fitness Test. Some of you of a certain age may remember it. Now disbanded, a good forty years too late, this national program consisted of a variety of physical tests including sit-ups, sprints, a mile-run, touching your toes and, the worst, the dreaded pull-up.

Our motley class congregated on the playground one spring afternoon for the test. Each student was distributed a paper leaflet upon which to register his or her performance in each category. Based upon his or her score, each student was then classified in one of four groups – the names of which I have mostly blocked out as I was teetering between the lowest two classifications – standard and sub-standard. It all came down to the pull-up.

If you qualified for the top tranche, Mrs. Brody would publicly recognize you in school assembly. This fleeting fame was generally reserved for the broad-shouldered, crew-cut lacrosse boys and a few bendy gymnasts.

My eyes were not focused anywhere near the top category, nor was municipal recognition a reward I sought. My sole concern was simply to avoid being categorized as “sub-standard.” My flaccid ego had suffered enough. I was more than willing to accept “standard” and move the fuck on. In order to do so, however, I needed to perform one solitary pull-up. Unfortunately, the pitiful truth was that I couldn’t do it. Well, unless, I jumped up from the ground as I attempted to heave my jowls above the bar – which I more or less did.

Given that I had a double-chin, I thought there was a good argument that I had performed two. But to remain credible, I indicated “one” pull-up on my scorecard. This accomplishment was just barely enough to achieve my life goal – to be “standard.”

At the end of the test, Mrs. Brody blew her bloody whistle with the zeal of Dizzy Gillespie, collected everyone’s leaflets and gathered the class back in the gymnasium. She paged through the scorecards, perusing them, occasionally raising an eyebrow. And, then she paused and fixed her wicked gaze on me.

“Jeff … Kras-no,” she uttered slowly, enunciating each syllable like Annie Cresta from the Hunger Games.

“No fucking way!” I thought to myself, much like Katniss.

“You have indicated on your scorecard that you can perform one pull-up.”

“Yes, Mrs. Brody,” I replied faint-heartedly.

“Well, let’s see it.” She pointed to some uneven bars.

This dare elicited a number of snickers from the class. No, unfortunately, not the candy bar.

Timidly, I lumbered over to the daunting apparatus, assumed a crouch and then hurled myself toward the wooden crossbar. I clutched it as if were the world’s last hot dog, miraculously hoisted my chin to its level and plunged quickly back to the floor.

This feat of triumphant ineptitude extracted more snorts and whinnies from the barnyard of mocking kids.

I stared at Mrs. Brody, severe and tight-lipped.

“Ok.” She barked officiously, “Standard.”

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