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A Blast of Buckshot

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Laree just descended the bulky wooden staircase from her loft (central control) and announced she has written a lengthy report for the newsletter about the Arnold Expo. Thus, my Big A contribution will be scratched and I shall instead discuss the rise and fall of globe-style barbells and dumbbells during the French Colonial Revolution, and its effect on the religion and economy of the Swaziland.

Where does one begin? The whole affair grows from year to year with the ever-expanding fitness industry and ever-expanding competitor -- several breaking the 300-pound barrier. The Expo alone features professional record-setting powerlifting and strongman championships, major martial arts and gymnastic competition, arm wrestling contests and world-class women’s bodybuilding and woman fitness awards. Demonstrations, comedians and artistic acts of strength and balance fill the front and center stage and giant screen as the variety of competitors rotate positions.

Of course, this is a back-up to, or backed up by, the vendors -- all 600 of them. They dig into tight trenches to greet and meet the enthusiastic visitors, displaying wares that include endless concoctions to build huge muscle and eliminate masses of fat (so, vat else is new?); provide instant tans and remove unwanted hair forever; transform mediocre gym sales to sky-rocketing gym sales and, if you keep your eyes open, there are those who will make you the person you always wanted to be, have the potential to be, are destined to be or who you really are. Others insure you, dress you, photograph you, enlist you -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- or customize your muscle car or power Harley.

Never a dull moment.
Look, there’s Sergio. Holy Cow!
Hey, there’s Louie, the Hulk. Chee Laree!
No way. There's Pearl. Unreal!
Omigosh, that's Bill Grant and Lee Labrada and Danny Padilla. Pinch me.
Gaspari?! Wha?
Is that Zane? Insane!
Gasp! Cory. Gasp!
No, yes, erp. Not Tommy Kono and Isaac Berger. Ike!
Yo. It's Westside Louie Simmons. Gees, Louise!
Get a grip. That's steel hands John Brookfield. Yikes spikes!

Ho hum. There's Dave Draper. Who? Dan Dapner. Who? Dern Dipler. Who? You know, the blonde bopper. The what? Never mind.

Laree and I held down a corner of the Torque Athletic Exhibit, a four-booth display of Odis Meredith’s equipment and his group’s manufacturing skills. Scott Sonnon and his vigorous martial arts team demonstrated their unique clubbell training methods and I squatted periodically to the tune of the Top Squat, in A-major. Both apparatus were received with genuine interest and honor. Scot Mendelson’s teammate, Larry Pollack, picked up a TS for him and his weightlifting buds and James Mendoza, Ed Corney’s partner, grabbed one to erase their squatting limitations and Will, a Louie Simmons recordholder, dragged away one of the units for some mean team handling. More were sold to other avid lifters till there were no more.

Huge bodies and a lot of flesh were on display at the multitude of rockin’ booths, sufficient supplies of deltoids, biceps and triceps roved this year’s double-wide aisles and you didn’t have to wait all day to catch a glimpse of the latest in female cleavage, so I’m told. Yet, overall the crowd was nicer, calmer, less rowdy and, perhaps, more graceful... unless you were handing out free t-shirts. Toss anything free into the crowd and they instantly change... Jekyll and Hyde... voraciously hungry hawk chicks... spawning salmon... a surviving, near-distinct species. Trophy hunters. Do not get in the way if you favor your life or limb. It’s all in good fun and reveals a healthy zeal awaiting its timely direction to the iron and steel.

I don’t know about the people waiting in lines a hundred yards long to get a free cheapo plastic bottle in which to mix their protein. These might be the same folks who sit on the leg extension between sets and read a magazine or fiddle with their cell phone while leaning against the squat rack. Hello. Get a clue. Bomber Blend eaten by the spoonful followed by a gulp of water. Boom-Zoom. Hey, that reminds me. Laree and I are thinking of putting Bomber Blend in serving-size packets and offering it in 30-day and 60-day supplies. Not exactly original, but convenient.

Arnold passed by our site at one point on his way to the Expo stage to greet everyone and announce his editorship of Muscle and Fitness and Flex magazines. His focus was straight forward, his smile fixed in place, his pace quick and the California Highway Patrol on his heels. Where does this guy get his energy, determination, motivation and courage? Arnold gets up every morning, splashes water on his face, walks over to the cliff and jumps.

Laree and I skirted a frenzied mound of savages shredding what looked like a bloodied free MetRX tanktop and headed for the Brookfield Man of Strength. We offer John Brookfield’s grip books on and are among his admirers. His hand strength is phenomenal and only surpassed by his Godly wisdom. He and his wife and 10-year-old daughter were just unwrapping their lunch when we arrived... barged in like over-excited goofs is more like it. Eating and going to the john are the two most difficult challenges the exhibitors face throughout the expo. Bending a 3/4-inch rod into a tight coil or squatting six plates is a medium task by comparison.

There we stood, Laree and Dave Eggonface, as they rewrapped whatever it was that had their rapt attention only seconds ago. Smelled Italian. He and she, 10 years younger than I, were ripe for West Coast Bodybuilding Scene. The five of us mixed like good spices and found we had a lot in common. We shared stories while their dear daughter lifted a 50-pound kettlebell repeatedly for the fun of it. Before leaving John offered us one of his stick figures composed of spikes bent by his mighty hands and uniquely welded together. There was a chromed length of thick steel twisted into concentric circles and 10- and 20-penny nails bent and joined to resemble iron and steel characters lifting weights. Today we have 10- and 20-penny spikes distorted by muscle and might in the posture of man in prayer on our mantle.

There are notables everywhere and the excitement and energy spills into the corridors and walkways of the exhibition hall, on to the hotel lounges and surrounding restaurants. The mingling and networking goes on into the night for days on end. Making plans is important and necessary, but just as important is throwing your time into the air and letting it come down as it will.

Jeff O’Connell, a longtime friend and east coast senior writer for Muscle and Fitness, organized a photo shoot of bodybuilders from golden years with Harry Benson. A stately Englishman some years older than me, Harry has achieved worldwide notoriety for his photography of famous political leaders and activists, sport stars and entertainers. His grand works include such luminaries as Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, the Beatles, JFK, Ford, Clinton, Ali and my buddy, Johnny Carson. Quite naturally, I was chosen to be one of them.

I know, I know. Sometimes life’s a big circus and the clowns get loose. Ya gotta laugh or try to laugh or think about laughter or throw up. About mid-afternoon on Saturday, the day of the Arnold, Jeff joins Laree and me at our WCBS book-signing to escort us to a nearby conference room. Here we find Harry and his assistant ready for action. Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t had laser surgery only days before to remove some mild and innocuous marks on my cheeks and forehead, strictly cosmetic and ego-driven. One day in the middle of the winter one has this done, 10 days go by and who cares or remembers. That dumb blotching goes away and it’s cool.

Not exactly. The dumb blotching was replaced by a face full of black and blue dots the size of BBs. It looks like a blast of buckshot. Harry looks at me and blinks. Amazed. He looks at Jeff and his jaw quivers. Disappointed. He looks around the room and uncharacteristically scratches his head. Discouraged. He looks at his assistant who’s looking out the door. Dismal. He regroups with dignity and we sit at a table full of Cheezits and unfinished cokes from an earlier news conference. “Tell you what,” he says in proper British, “sit with your hands under your chin like this.” He demonstrates the ordinary, relaxed position, and smiles.

I worked tris the day I left town -- real hard -- and carrying luggage and gear through miles of airport didn’t help my elbows one bit either. I try but succeed only in straining my chin forward to barely touch my extended knuckles. I’m about to tear up from the effort and admit I can’t and why. “How about this,” he says as if addressing the keeper of a creature losing its fur in clumps, “lay your hands flat on the table before you.” His camera is at the ready should I accidentally assume a handsome, manly or attractive pose or position. I’m laughing by now in little private fits. I lob my meat hooks on the table and a coke splashes almost without notice. My hands have a few marks -- scabs from minor wounds gained by aggressive lifting -- and he returns the camera with the big lens to the table. Harry’s looking whooped. After 15 minutes of squirming about and clicking infrequently, we discover the photo shoot has become a private seminar on health, fitness and the bodybuilding industry about which Harry knows nothing. His calm manner and harmless questions to put me at ease and cause camera-useful responses -- I’m hip -- provoked in-depth answers and critical comments more engaging than the tiresome act of snapshot collecting. He’s learning, he learned. We made silk from discarded wool.

Still unsure of the purpose of the photo session. Later.

Fifty IronOnliners gathered for dinner on Friday night at a crazy subterranean Italian restaurant to share lasagna, veal and chicken and fine conversation for three hours. Parcels of friends bumped into each other at various eateries for breakfast, lunch or late-night snacks. IOL friends from Florida, a Flex editor from LA and a strength coach from a southern university sit around peacefully, calmly at the day’s end in oversized chairs. We talk above the ding of the hotel’s opening and closing elevator doors and the less-than-hurried footfalls of the evening’s thinning traffic. We’re a tired bunch; standing, hurrying, carrying, standing, smiling, talking, posing and smiling takes the wind from beneath your wings, bombardiers. Your room becomes a refuge.

Funny thing I never get used to: time goes by, there’s no stopping it and there’s no slowing it down. Neither can I make it go faster.

Think of that next time you pull back the throttle and take it to the clouds. Hang on, don’t look back and don’t look down. It’s there as long as you are.

God’s strength... Dave

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