I have big calves. Really big, like Popeye-doing-a-handstand big. I’m a slim guy, average height, but oddly heavy, and like a quarter of it is calf meat. They’re the only part of my slight frame that looks like a bodybuilder, so I love them. I sit around flexing and un-flexing them, watching the little cannonball form under my skin. I’m not sure where they come from, but my family is Sicilian, so I like to imagine my ancestors gamboling about on rocky, seaside cliffs like happy goats. God knows my legs are hairy enough.
My calves saved me a lot of grief as a kid. We moved to a new town right before I started high school, and the “making new friends in the neighborhood” process was tough for the bowl-cut-sporting, wire-frames-wearing, Science-Olympiad-competing me of yesteryear. Pickup sports were the usual venue, but I suck hopelessly at anything with throwing, catching, or hitting in it. But my calves won me accolades in neighborhood football, where I could run with the ball and, if tackled, simply carry my new friends across the goal line.
They got me respect from my peers. Once in physics class, we had a competition to see who could generate the most power, based on body weight and the speed with which one could scale the science hall stairway. My nerdy self came in second, after a hulking linebacker type whose ability to move his sheer mass up the steps at any speed at all guaranteed his victory.
I used to do a lot of musicals. I can sing a bit, but I don’t dance, beyond a year of ballet I had to take as a little kid in order to be allowed in the tap dance class (both of which I promptly dropped out of). But I always got parts in the dancing shows – I did A Chorus Line twice! – for which I thank my calves. Slap a pair of tights over their fibrous bulk, and people can’t imagine I’m *not* a dancer.
Now that I’m older, and I’ve gotten into the habit of working out, they keep my self-esteem up at the gym. I’ve always had trouble keeping muscle on my flat chest and noodly arms. When I feel myself straining feebly against the bench bar and staring with open envy at the bulging juicehead gorillas, I can always pop over to the calf raise machine, grind out a few sets, and remind myself that there’s not enough weight on the device to keep my calves down. If I use heavy enough free weights to give them a workout, the bar leaves ugly purple bruises on my shoulders. My body simply can’t handle the kind of punishment my calves can take.
My calves don’t do everything. They don’t wear cowboy boots – the top part won’t go all the way on. They don’t jump; they have too much trouble pushing their own massive weight off the ground. They don’t like to jog, even though I do. If I up my weekly mileage, I can feel them groan with the effort. They get sorer and sorer for longer and longer, until the breaking point comes and they grudgingly slough off a half-inch or so. As soon as I take, say, a week off, it’s BLOOP! Back out to their normal expansive girth.
I can’t stay mad at my calves, though. They let me lift things and push things that should be way too heavy. They remind me what my muscles look like, even when I feel like the rest of me is getting flabby and soft. They’re the opposite of my Achilles heel.