To hear Bubba Smith tell it, a beautiful woman was snuggled so close to him they looked like Siamese twins. Her head was on his bare chest, the perfume in her hair adding fire to a moment dreams are made of. The night was exquisite, the mood divine.
Then she touched his chest with fingertips as light as a summer breeze and said, "Ummm, soft."
For most of us in a similar situation, it wouldn't have mattered what she said. She could have whispered, "Ummm, energy equals mass times the speed of light squared," and what the French call le humeur de amour would have remained intact . As long as the lady was willing to stay where she was, the devil take her observations.
Not Bubba Smith. Here is a man who used to toss quarterbacks around as though they were macadamia nuts. Six-feet-eight, 285 pounds of muscle and iron coming at them down the track, throttle wide open.
Fans used to scream "Kill, Bubba, kill!" as he sliced past the center like an armor-piercing shell with football teams in Michigan, Baltimore and Oakland. Some say they could hear a scream in the microseconds before impact.
And now a woman was tapping his chest and whispering "Ummm, soft."
"I didn't say anything at the time," Bubba recalled with a frown as we sat in the lobby of a West Los Angeles exercise studio, "but, man, that blew me away. I mean, I ain't never been soft."
To make matters worse, it was the lady's habit to walk five miles every morning in long, energetic strides. On this particular morning after, Bubba joined her. Later, she went off to work. Bubba sat down to rest for a few moments and woke up seven hours later.
"I suddenly realized," he says, "I was out of shape."
That was several years after his retirement from professional football. Bubba had become a successful actor tooling around town in a silver Rolls-Royce Corniche. Meanwhile, his weight had crept upward from 285 pounds of muscle to 305 pounds of what he calls fat and what you and I would regard as enough muscle to satisfy 30% of America's women.
He went on a diet of tuna and hard-boiled eggs and became a familiar figure around the gym. Very soon, he was 247 pounds of muscle and iron again. At 40, he looks like an I-beam with broad shoulders. Now he wants to help all the rest of us.
I met with Bubba so that he might lobby me on his new exercise videotape, "Bubba Until It Hurts." He compares it to the Jane Fonda tape of a similar nature by pointing out that on his tape, the five women and four men sweat. Jane Fonda, it appears to Bubba, never sweats.
Accompanying him was his press agent, Bob Abrams, who is 5 feet 11 and weighs 302 pounds, most of it situated in the immediate area of his belt. They were a strange pair. If it were a costume party, Bubba would come as a basketball player and Abrams as the ball.
"Where I come from," Bubba was saying, "women sweat. There is a certain sexuality about sweating women. Maybe they don't sweat in Hollywood, but they sweat in Beaumont, Tex."
His tape is oriented toward weathered grown-ups, not 19-year-olds with perfect bodies. All of the women on his tape are over 30. One of the men is 48. They puff when they're tired. They groan when it hurts.
I asked Abrams if he had ever exercised along with Bubba & the Gang. He looked at me as though I were mad. I asked him if he exercised at all. "Sure," he said. "I get up in the morning."
Bubba observed him skeptically. "You sure?" he asked.
I am less than a perfect physical specimen. I am small and afraid. Pain shoots through my back when I lift anything heavier than a dry martini. I had to give up olives years ago because of the strain.
You could tap almost anywhere on my body and murmur "Ummm, soft," though possibly without the murmur and certainly without the ummm. So I bounced along with Bubba for about 30 minutes in the privacy of my own home to see if it made a difference.
I strained, I reached, I dropped into positions no decent man ought to attempt. I heard Bubba say to me from my television screen, "In order to get through it, you gotta get to it!"
It occurred to me as I lay on my back with my feet in the air and a cigar in my mouth watching Bubba between my knees that I had no further desire to get to it. Bubba and Bill and Gloria and Kim and Al and Lisa and Renee and Vince and Gail would have to get to it without me.
I lay on the living room floor, afraid that if I moved something would break. Neighbors, concerned about my absence, would call the police. Paramedics would find me rotting in front of the television set. After an hour, I struggled to my feet. Nothing would break. I couldn't move fast enough for breakage.
That evening, my loved one lay her head on my chest. Her perfumed hair set the night on fire. Music played. Her breath was hot against my body. She tapped my chest gently. "You asleep already?" she asked.
"Blame it on Bubba," I said, rolling over.
I snored. She did a crossword puzzle. The end.