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How sweasel posts are born

So Uncle B says, “what’s the temperature?” stabbing at the coal fire with a long poker.
“Seventy six,” I say, consulting my therm-O-meter.
UB: hums a few bars of “Seventy-Six Trombones.”
Me: he sure was gay, that guy. The Music Man guy.
UB: was he?
Me: I don’t know.
UB: what’s his name? I can’t picture him.
Me: <heading to Wikipedia>
Me: Robert Preston. And — ZOMG! — he’s the Go You Chicken Fat guy!!!

Go You Chicken Fat. If you’re American and something between, oh, forty and sixty, you’ll know what that means. If you’re not…

In 1956, responding to a report that European children were fitter than American Children, President Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Which is still going, as the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. God knows what they do.

Anyhow, the main deal was, they established a physical fitness test comprised of five activities. The current ones are: curl-ups or partial curl-ups, shuttle run, endurance run/walk, pull-ups or right angle push-ups, and V-sit or sit and reach. I don’t know how they compare to the test when I was a lass — I’m not even sure what some of those things are — but I remember the mile walk/run, push ups, sit ups and chinning on the bar.

I mean, I remember that a chin-up was part of the test. I don’t actually remember doing one. I do not believe I have successfully lifted my chin above anything by the strength of my arms ever, in my whole life.

My school made us take the damn thing every year. If you made above the 85 percentile on all five tasks compared to the other kids in the country, you were eligible for the President’s Physical Fitness Award. If you made above the 50 percentile on all five, you were eligible for The National Physical Fitness Award. And if you made it through the test at all, you were eligible for The Participant Physical Fitness Award.

I really think there should have been an additional “Shoot the Moon Award” for mongs like me, who failed all five components. Year after year. I was a tall, wormy, bookish, proto-Goth kid and I had smoked since I was, like, a fetus. You couldn’t make me run a mile if you roped me to a trailer hitch.

In 1961, Robert Preston and Meredith Willson (who wrote The Music Man) were asked to write and record a song to help children prepare for the test. The result was the intensely trippy Go You Chicken Fat, Go!. The most complete YouTube version I can find is here (notice what skinny little weeds all the 1960s kids in the pictures are).

The lyrics are like,

Push up
Every morning
Ten times.
Push up
Starting low.
Once more on the rise.
Nuts to the flabby guys!
Go, you chicken fat, go away!
Go, you chicken fat, go!

It became a surprise novelty hit. They were still using it for Phys Ed a decade and more later, when I was in school.

My PE teacher in Middle School was a little four-foot nothing red-headed fireplug of a woman with (thank christ for my sake) a kindly heart. After she watched me huffing and grunting and pulling on the chinning bar for a while, she leaned in and whispered, “you’re going to be a lovely tall woman when you grow up.”

Sweet. Wrong, but sweet.

As far as I’m aware, Robert Preston was not gay.


Comment from apotheosis
Time: February 17, 2010, 7:21 pm

Oh my lord, they played that song EVERY DAY for a solid year when I was in gym in elementary. I’d completely forgotten about it.

Comment from TexMex
Time: February 17, 2010, 7:23 pm

Well, I’m not in the 40-60 yr old range, but during the early ’90s schools had a program Jump for Heart. Something to do with cancer awareness. Whatever. They handed out plastic jumpropes for us to use but they ended up taking them away because the older kids used them to whip the younger, dorkier kiddos.
Hmm…who would’ve thought giving kids thick plastic ropes would lead to red marks on the backs of little rugrats?
School. It’s a goddamned jungle, isn’t it? Only the fittest or smartest survive. Sometimes the dumb, pretty ones make it out but they’re pretty useless as adults.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: February 17, 2010, 7:45 pm

I always thought the dumb pretty ones made millions in Hollywood?

Ah, I missed the word ‘useless’!


Comment from weirdsister
Time: February 17, 2010, 7:46 pm

Although I am old enough to qualify, I do not (thank you, God) recall being subjected to the Go You Chicken Fat song, ever, in my childhood.

While watching the video you linked here on Youtube, I came across this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRm7yoZTT90 and was appalled to discover that this poor ginormous kid has been exploited in a whole bunch of dancing fat kid videos there. Her parents ought to be bitch slapped for allowing her to get this huge, and whomever took those videos…well, that piece of dog squeeze needs to be lined up against a wall and shot. Or at the very least, have the living shit kicked out of them. 🙁 Right now, I’m in the mood to do the deed myself.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: February 17, 2010, 7:46 pm

I’m between those ages and remember the Presidental Fitness Award (I could only qualify in situps) but the song doesn’t ring any bells at all.

I’m sure it means something sad that I don’t and I hope y’all’ll forgve me.

Comment from BuckNutty
Time: February 17, 2010, 7:49 pm

“As far as I’m aware, Robert Preston was not gay”

Well, there’s gay as in man on man, or gay as in capable of writing the Music Man and that Chicken Fat thing… Dude was totally gay.

Comment from Gromulin
Time: February 17, 2010, 8:05 pm

Aww, Geez. I remember waiting for that damned packet in the mail. FROM THE PRESIDENT !!!111!!

I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I remember the patch, and some other stuff they sent you. They must have loosened up the standards by the early 70’s. I know for sure (being of squat Danish / English heritage) that my chin never saw the top of the bar until high school.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: February 17, 2010, 8:19 pm

I was superfit in a high-stamina rather than pure aerobic fitness sense in my late teens/early twenties. I could do a hundred press-ups (what you Yanks call push-ups) without breaking a sweat. School made us play rugby, hockey (field), cricket, and do cross-country running. At university I was running ten km a day and doing an hour of weights. I had a 29″ waist and a 44″ chest (now it’s 32″/40″).

As a consequence, I have permanent ligament damage in my ankle, the meniscuses in my knees are shot, I have an arthritic hip, isthmic spondylolisthesis, sciatica, mild scoliosis, permanent back pain and a rotator cuff injury in my right shoulder so severe that it hurts to raise my arm over my head. Being that fit has damn near crippled me.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: February 17, 2010, 8:31 pm

Well, there’s certainly nothing in his Wikipedia profile to suggest Preston was gay–but he did play one of the great “gay guy” roles on film: Carroll “Toddy” Todd in Victor/Victoria. Funny, really–gay actors had been playing straight roles probably ever since movies began (well, and before that too, of course); but it seems to me it took some personal courage for a straight guy to play a gay guy. (Hm. “. . .a straight man to play a gay man”? Well, anyway. . .)

Um, I’m definitely in the age-zone, but I have no memory whatsoever of either the physical fitness test or the Chicken Fat song. Think maybe the various elementary schools I went to opted out. . .I thank whatever Gods might be!

However, the “left, left, left, left. . .right” portion of the lyrics does remind me of a Henry Kuttner short story, “Nothing But Gingerbread Left” which posits that the downfall of Nazi Germany was a lyric written by Americans in German, and transmitted by radio into Germany, which translates into American as

LEFT a wife and SEVenteen children in
STARVing condition with NOTHing but gingerbread LEFT
LEFT! a wife. . .
[and so on, da capo“]

Um, see, the German version was an inexorable earworm which distracted all them Germans from the important tasks of war. OK, yeah, I know it sounds lame. But, actually, it’s a pretty potent earworm. And not a bad story for its genre. But then, I’ve a soft spot for Kuttner. . .

Comment from Pavel
Time: February 17, 2010, 10:24 pm

I’m squarely in the 40-60 range, but, like Nina, have no memory of this song. I do remember the Presidential physical fitness thing in junior high school. It was yet another thing to hate about junior high school.

Maybe this was just my school, but there was some kind of colored t-shirt award based on how non-spazzy you were in the Presidential testing. I got the consolation prize color, beige or something. Our PE teacher, Mr. Greathouse, just shook his head when I tried to do pushups.

Beige was the t-shirt equivalent of the green “Participant” ribbon for track-and-field day. Yeah, like I’m going to wear a t-shirt that says, “Don’t Be Attracted to Me, Girls, As My Genetic Material Will Produce Additional Spazzes.”

The jocks got the gold t-shirts, or maybe blue. We beigies were all like go screw yourself, muscle brain. Yeah, right, you go climb that rope right up to the fucking ceiling, you fucking fuck. Fall on your head, maybe knock some brains into you. Who’s got the weed?

I REALLY hated junior high school. Even the weed sucked in those days.

Comment from steve
Time: February 17, 2010, 10:30 pm


Robert Preston?


Totally gay!

Comment from Mrs. Peel
Time: February 17, 2010, 10:49 pm

I vaguely remember the Presidential Fitness thing in elementary school (though I am in the 20-40 range, so no chicken fat song for me). I was fine at running the mile, but couldn’t do pushups or situps to save my life. No upper body strength whatsoever. Still haven’t got any, although I can dance Fast Lindy for quite some time.

Comment from Joan of Argghh!
Time: February 17, 2010, 11:07 pm

It was the 10-second overhand hang with the chin above the bar that replaced the chin-ups. I got the patches, but never heard the song. It was bad enough that we had to learn square dancing and reels to the tune of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Dancing was considered to be an athletic activity. No pole-dancers, however. . .

Robert Preston in The Last Starfighter. Forever cool.


Comment from surly ermine
Time: February 18, 2010, 1:59 am

Had a co-worker who used to sing that, well the last line anyway. Now I know…

Comment from Blast Hardcheese
Time: February 18, 2010, 7:44 am

Oh, Joan, you just -had- to bring up square dancing, didn’t you? I didn’t get subjected to La Graisse De Poulet during my gym years, but I still get a facial tic when I hear a fiddle. And if someone says anything that sounds like ‘honor your corner’, I have to go down to the IHOP and start punching people in the head for taking the last booster seat.

Comment from wendyworn
Time: February 18, 2010, 9:59 am

Once when I was in High School, me and another guy actually got stoned WHILE running the mile test for the Presidental Fitness award. I didnt make the time, but felt extraordinarilly good when I was finished. I cannot believe that I was that reckless when I was younger.

oh wait, maybe I can…

Comment from Clifford Skridlow
Time: February 18, 2010, 10:44 am

Square dancing in sock feet on the polished wood gym floor in junior high. If you wore white socks, you got a pounding from the football players, which, in turn, earned them a whole squeeze bottle of “ground up skunk genitalia” scent block shot through the vents on their locker door. We were mildly creative, if nothing else. . .

Comment from jwpaine
Time: February 18, 2010, 11:53 am

I’m at the high end of that 40-60 demo; I attended 28 different schools in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah during my grade/high-school “career”; and I don’t recall the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports or any physical fitness test at all. Ditto the Chicken Fat song. Maybe the western states didn’t think much of Kennedy. Or government-mandated physical fitness. Or both. The special class I do recall was one the NRA gave on gun safety (at the high school in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, the absolute asshole of the universe, for those of you making vacation plans). Memorable, useful, and, as far as I know, unique to western states.

Comment from Mrs. Compton
Time: February 18, 2010, 12:25 pm

I was there and I don’t remember that song.

Comment from Nicole
Time: February 18, 2010, 12:53 pm

Never heard the song – I’m just a couple years outside that range – but I do remember the test. Oh, how I hated the mile run. For a long time, there was no walk option with our phy-ed folks. You ran, even if you were shuffling and panting like a chihuahua that had just eaten a basketball. You got to mall walk for like 30 seconds max to catch your breath, then the whip cracked again. The worst was that you had to finish. Not like in miniature golf where they just say “Eh, no sense in making everyone else wait just because you suck so bad, just chalk it up at maximum and go on.” Oh, no. You had to finish running the track with everyone who was more athletic-ey watching, pointing and laughing. If I had given a damn about peer pressure it might have had an effect. 🙂

Comment from jwpaine
Time: February 18, 2010, 1:47 pm

Ah, high school peer pressure… that most exquisite Hammer of Heretics.

Comment from Formerly known as Skeptic
Time: February 18, 2010, 3:38 pm

Certainly not definitive, but according to his IMDB bio (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0696481/bio) he was married for 37 years (until his death).

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: February 18, 2010, 4:34 pm

Robert Preston was cool as all get out. I loved him in everything I saw him in – including the underrated movie SOB.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: February 18, 2010, 5:05 pm

By the way, never heard that song either.

Comment from Allen
Time: February 18, 2010, 5:34 pm

I don’t remember that bit. But, then I spent a good portion of my youth in English schools. “Hey, let’s go beat the crap out of the Yank,” I turned into a great cross country runner.

Later back in the states, by that time no one cared about that stuff. Our schools were finally getting integrated in NC and that took up everyone’s time. It took us kids about a week to deal with it, the parents, sheesh.

Comment from jwm
Time: February 18, 2010, 8:45 pm

I remember the song, but not the patch. We had stripes in P.E. though: strips of cloth that you had your mom sew on the side seam of your gym shorts. You got a white stripe for a minimum number of push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, a yellow stripe if you did better, and a black stripe if you were really good at ups. I never got a goddamn stripe. Still, I was in better shape at the twenty year high school reunion than any of the guys who had stripes. eh.


Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: February 19, 2010, 12:48 am

1) 55 years old, and never heard the Chicken Fat song. Ever.

2) Several people jumped on this already, but Robert Preston played Julie Andrews’ ultra-gay friend in Victor/Victoria.

3) Joan of Argghh!: “Robert Preston [as Centauri] in The Last Starfighter. Forever cool.” Did you know the producers (screenwriters?) envisioned Centauri as Professor Harold Hill? So of course they got Preston to play him.

Comment from Hotrodelectric
Time: February 19, 2010, 4:55 am

Smack dead in the middle of that 40-60 range, and i don’t think I ever heard that song, either. I clearly remember the patches,and vaguely remember something about earning them. It’s OK though- I did 2 years of JROTC at Leavenworth.
I had signed up for a 3rd year, but Dad decided 20 in the Marines (you read that right) was enough.

Comment from TwoDogs
Time: February 23, 2010, 3:06 pm

Oh, man. Third grade, 1962, Eielson AFB AK. That damned song haunts me still. And square dancing, too. “Allamande left with the corner girl, do-si-do your own.” You had to _touch_ girls ! Eeeeeew.

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