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Free for All
August 4, 2003

It’s summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime.

I just found my Bermuda shorts and half the season is gone. The only thing wrong with the summer is it comes to an end. I’m an anticipator, that is, I live in expectation of times and events to come. They come and go while I’m looking toward the next set of happenings, usually with eyes askance. I reach out to grasp the days ahead and drop the one I have in my hand, all the time trying to retrieve the ones I fumbled yesterday, the day before and last week. Oops, there goes another day, and another.

What about you; how are you doing? Laree’s eyes roll when I ask that question. It’s dumb, she says, cliché and redundant.

Though the question requires no reply (and it’s dumb), I hope it causes you to pause and consider the answer. No deep introspection, EKG or blood tests, just a quick review to check your training stats. Are you bombing, blasting, fat, skinny, cruising, crashing or crashed. Our gym is holding up and that’s a good sign. The gang’s all here mixed with fresh faces attending their exercise needs and unexpectedly discovering themselves in the process. An especially hot or grand day or a coveted vacation snatches them away for a moment, but the iron pond is generally full of life. I see some guys and gals making strides as they bomb it, inspired by the season and by each other. Who needs air-conditioning? This is very cool.

So what, July is gone. The best half is yet to come. We have all of August and much of September to bask in the sun and the spirit-of-liberty we call summer. I must remember that though it is summer in Santa Cruz, it is not summer everywhere. Likewise, liberty; though it is free here, it is not free everywhere.

Freedom, in fact, like the air we breathe and water we drink, is rare and endangered. Let’s keep our eyes wide open, brothers and sisters, lest our true joy be snatched away one innocent day. Train hard, eat right, be free.

Who out there feels free -- I mean, really free; peaceful, easy, loose, unencumbered, independent, self-reliant? That one is not behind bars doesn’t necessarily make one free. I dare say there are some imprisoned people who enjoy more freedom than many of us walking about this side of barbed wire, concrete walls, dictatorship and the watch of armed guards. We all have our chains.

I have chains, ropes, locks with no keys, a millstone or two, one straight jacket and a pair of handcuffs. Sold the padded cell; rent and upkeep will drive a person nuts. And I’m thinking of holding a yard sale to unload the remaining items of confinement and make some money while I’m at it. You know how it is.

Some folks say money brings freedom. Makes sense; you can go here and there anytime you want, buy this and that, no work, no bills. I’d be willing to give it a try. I’ll bet it helps, though I don’t think it’s the answer. I heard somewhere the love of money can ruin a person.

Success is freedom. Who’s to say? Actors, rock stars, CEOs, champion athletes, political giants, mothers of fine families, priests in high places, JFK, John Lennon, OJ Simpson, Martha? Might success, like money, destroy?

The right partner with whom to share your life, therein lies true freedom. The love and communication between two who become one dissolve the issues that deny mankind of liberty. The irony. Separated they bear confinement; united they are dependent, yet released, unfettered and free to be free with one another. They are all they need.

One less sensitive than I might say to the loving couple, “Yeah, well, be careful you don’t become cellmates.” Harsh.

A man’s home is his castle. The old adage suggests that freedom is found in one’s home. Step in the door, close it behind you, and, ah, the freedom of privacy -- the undiluted liberty that is enjoyed when you are in control, making up the rules and calling the shots. You do what you want to do, anyway you want to do it, anytime and anywhere. Like, when the plumbing backs up, you get to fix it anytime you want. The turret leaks when it rains, you fix it when you get the urge. Fire breaks out in the dungeon, the moat freezes over or the dragon is running loose, guess whose freedom is on display? Right. The freedom of Your Highness.

“Give me a job I love and I’m an emancipated man,” I said 15 years ago to my loving wife, Laree, “Let’s open a gym.” She said, “Go for it, Bomber.” Now, listen to me closely. In a penitentiary you might have to mop floors, polish rails, paint walls, pick weeds, clean toilets, make food for fellow inmates or serve in the metal shop working on iron and steel. As the owner of a gym you are at liberty to do it all, plus pay the bills without restraint. Sweet. I’m innocent, Your Honor, she made me do it, that cute young lady sitting at the computer.

The truth will set you free. When I was a kid not that long ago, I made another profound statement: “When I have big arms I’ll be free.”

I lied when I said not that long ago, it’s been 50 years. I’ve been enslaved ever since.

Caged, subjected to, mastered and bound by? Now, that’s no way to regard your passion, your purpose, your very breath -- the sun in your sky: workout after workout, set after set, rep after rep, tuna and water, vitamins and minerals, iron and steel, maximum intensity, pump, burn, focus and pace. Skip a workout and you feel guilty, push too much, too hard, too long and you wreck your shoulders, back and biceps; take a layoff and your muscles turn to fat -- I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes.

Steady, Bomber Dave… don’t know what came over me… I lost it there for a sec. Must be the breathless hot weather day after day, and there’s at least another month of this relentless summer heat to go. Give me cool misty autumn days and I’m one free dude. Pass me a Camel.

Back in the ‘60s, someone -- a Mr. California winner and a beautiful specimen -- told me training and the pursuit of a muscular physique was a monkey on one’s back, an ego trip that would stifle one’s growth, a disguise to one’s hang-ups that needed confrontation and a worthy pastime for the young, but a childish waste of time for the mature. Several years ago he was found in his apartment, out of shape, obese, dead of a heart attack and alone. He had freed the monkey.

It was early in the spring when a young girl -- well, not a young girl anymore, my mind wanders -- came into the gym looking for something she’d lost. The last time I saw her she was a bright and athletic sweetheart off to school and needing to terminate her gym membership.

“First things first. I must establish my career while I’m young, Mr. D. I’ll never get to it later.”

“Do both. Exercise is good for you, a must. Think of your health and strength and energy and figure and expression, stress release, fun, friends, yada, yada…”

“I’m not like that. It’s all or nothing with me, you know how it is.”

A lawyer for 10 years with clients throughout the state, she helps the good and obstructs the bad. “Now it’s time for me. I feel like I climbed the mountain and fell into its crater. What do I do?” Time for you was 15 years ago, Counselor, I thought and said instead, “It’s a perfect time to resume your training and reclaim that old-time feeling. At the courthouse they’ll see you coming, plead guilty, pay their debt to their victims and run like scalded hyenas.” I’m cute and clever when backed into a corner. What would you say, “You gained 30 pounds of offensive weight and should be sued. I know a good lawyer.”?

In the gym and gone by 7 AM like a high schooler earning a sports scholarship, she’s only 10 pounds in the red, quick as ever and as free as a bird, a rare bird. She migrated home in time to save her feathers.

Speaking of freedom, liberty and no restrictions reminds me of why I find my way to the gym five days a week. Because I’m free to.

The wonderful sensation upon which I feast after the completion of a workout is not a command from a storm trooper. The strength I display when moving a heavy load from my shoulders (or the shoulder’s of a friend) is not gained by a threat from a mean-faced guard. Standing upright and walking with determination is not the consequence of pressure from authorities whose purpose is to control the masses. My taskmaster doesn’t force me to lift weights or practice discipline or make compromises or bear pain; I’m the congenial enforcer of the good deeds, thank God, like an elevator operator. Going up.

Are you a casualty of today’s societal trends, a weak and round non-physical creature, eating more and doing less, bound by stress, limited by fatigue and dependent upon others to move the heavy load? Are stairs an unwelcome challenge, not an everyday device engineered to take you upward? Do you consider recreational activities that require physical effort, energy and stamina as extreme sports reserved for daredevils and crazy youth: hiking, sight-seeing, bowling, stationary cycling, traversing the mall?

A free person without decent scores in health, attitude, intelligence, willpower, desire, spirit and character is a prisoner of life. Break the bonds that bind you. Develop the qualities that release you. Get into the gym with renewed purpose, unloose yourself of disorder and misdirection, freely and wisely feed your body -- don’t compulsively stuff it -- stand tall and walk straight, push, pull and stretch your body, engage it vigorously and release its energy to the world around you as you absorb the energy the world offers abundantly, magnificently. Glares and scowls and wrinkled brows are not the expressions of a liberated person. Cut them loose, set them free.

“Give me liberty or give me death,” said an early American statesman, one of the brawny contenders preparing for the original “Mr. Independence” contest, forerunner of the first Mr. USA, sometime around 1776. There is nothing more precious than freedom, it was noted, and strength, courage and all the time you have are the fair price you will pay. Where else and on what would you spend them, your inestimable tender? A squat rack, Bomber blend, a gym membership, vitamins and minerals, vitality, an Olympic bar, dead lifts, long life? Wise investments.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is fly around and look for a place to land. As long as you’re flying, it’s good.

Land smart, land safe.


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