The jingle played again on the radio, the third time I’d heard it this morning, to and from shopping at the Lady Plus outlet:
The fatter you are, the better you fly!
Successful dieters need not apply.
For some reason, I actually listened to the man in the ad this time, instead of dismissing the announcement as a particularly insensitive commercial for a diet club.
Are you overweight? Have you tried everything and been unsuccessful? Sky-High Support is now taking applications for its new training program. Some risk is involved, so applicants without dependents are preferred.
He gave the time and location — now and nearby.
I was the perfect applicant: In my mid-twenties, I’d started picking up weight. I’d cut back on calories, stepped up exercise, and still gained weight. When I reached — years old and pounds over my optimal size — my husband filed for divorce. We had no children. My parents were financially solid. So, no dependents. And risk sounded good this morning.
I walked into the lobby of the hotel hosting the application fair I saw I wasn’t the only one attracted by the offer. Unwanted fat men and women piled up about the conference room door like teens at a rock concert, but with fewer of us per square inch.
The door opened and we filed in. A man who could have been a poster boy for the organization handed us each a clipboard equipped with a stack of papers and a tethered pen.
“Take a seat and fill these out. Take a seat and fill these out.” His voice never lost its animation, no matter how often he said it. His eyes sparkled as brightly as the buckle on his triple-X belt.
They ran out of applicants before they ran out of chairs. Not all unwanted fat men and women are willing to admit to either state.
I looked over the papers while I waited for the doors to close and for somebody to tell me what this was all about. The papers gave nothing away. They were health histories, HIPA forms, employment histories, interest evaluations, and personality tests. Nothing about them.
After about fifteen minutes, the man at the door closed it and said, “Anybody finished filling out the papers?” Some hands went up. “Anybody started?” A few more hands. “Okay, if you’ve started or finished, please move to the next room.”
When they were gone and the door had shut behind them, he said, “Those are the first wash-outs. We’re not looking for the kind of people who would fill out papers without knowing what the papers were for. As for the rest of you, welcome to the first cut for the Support Program. Here’s what we do: We train you to go into dangerous situations and retrieve people. Might be hostage situations, might be a fall in hard-to-reach terrain, might be the debris of a wreck or a collapsed building.”
More than one voice couldn’t help saying, “Fat people?”
“Fat people.” He patted his chest. “I’ve logged over a thousand hours in field rescue. The Sky-High Support Program tests you to make sure you can’t lose weight under any normal circumstances, does blood work to make sure you’re healthy, then, if you get through those cuts, we train you for rescues.”
We all cut looks at each other. I couldn’t picture myself climbing up and down mountains or working my way through train wrecks. And it seemed like, if somebody was trapped under ten tons of rubble, the last thing they’d want is another two hundred or so on top of that. Still, the opportunity was too good to pass up. The worst that could happen would be that we’d fail the second cut by losing weight — not a failure any of us would regret.
* * * * *
That happened to most of us, during the months of healthy diet and strength training. Most of the rest quit when the diet got too healthy and the training got too rigorous. Finally, out of the original 150, ten of us were left.
The program’s doctor drew blood and sent us home.
I hadn’t lost an ounce. If anything, I’d gained a pound or two, although my weight might vary by as much as five pounds from one day to another, so it was hard to tell. I felt good, though. The wholesome food and exercise invigorated me. I could walk without puffing and could get in and out of the car without three practice oofs. Whatever happened, going through the program had been worth it.
The call came the next day. My blood work was good. I was part of Sky-High Support! The investiture was scheduled for the following Monday.
* * * * *
“Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen!”
The investiture took place in the gym where we’d suffered through so much of our physical training. We had done no climbing practice, which seemed odd, but I reasoned that they were saving that for the finalists. No sense training the people who weren’t going to make the final cut, though all of the ten who finished the program were here.
“Repeat after me.”
I solemnly swear to answer the call to rescue those in peril, to reserve my power for the exercise of my duty, never to abuse my abilities, and always to behave in a way that reflects honor on Sky-High Support.
“Welcome to the most elite volunteer rescue brigade in the world. Your real training is about to begin.”
I had a feeling we were about to get some more drop-outs. I was sweating already.
Freddy smoothed the front of his polo shirt and said, “How many of you are sick of people telling you how light on your feet you are?”
All our hands came up.
“Well, guess what? They’re right.”
A couple of our trainers, almost as hefty as Freddy, the man who’d given us the clipboards and sworn us in, pulled back the accordion wall that had always blocked the far end of the gym.
Ah! A climbing wall, with a dummy dangling by ropes from the top.
Freddy pointed at it. “There’s your rescue target. Here’s the protocol: First, let him know he’s been spotted. Second, tell him you’re coming to help him. Third, go get him. One, two, three, just that simple. Okay. Somebody called us out to find a lost hiker. I’m up on the roster, so I go out. I spot him.”
Freddy cupped his hands and shouted, “You’re going to be all right. Hang on. I’m coming up for you.” And he raised his arms above his head and lifted off the ground and, as God is my witness, he flew up to the dummy. He took some kind of harness from his belt and fastened it around the “rescue target”, turned in the air to slip his arms through a pair of straps, lifted far enough to disengage the ropes holding the dummy in place, and gently descended to the floor.
“And that, boys and girls, is how it’s done.”
He explained that, just as it had been discovered there was a gene for a tendency to put on weight and keep it on, there was another component to that gene. What we had and couldn’t shed wasn’t fat, it was another substance that was fat-like but had anti-gravitational properties, which could be activated by mental control and manipulated by physical control.
My fellow inductees and I swapped stunned glances. I saw disbelief dawning into delighted realization as dreams and urges I would bet we’d all had suddenly made sense.
So that’s my story. And I’ve finished it just in time: Here comes your Medi-Copter. Wave down at the reporters again, and try not to be mad at them. A ten-car pile-up is news, and you’re the only one who couldn’t at least crawl away. Man trapped in car, flames closing in, daring aerial rescue…. You’ll be all over the news for a couple of days. Me? No, not me. I’m just doing my job. Nothing news-worthy about that.