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Beats Working for a Living

David the Gladiator

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There’s a rumor going around that Laree and I have left the building; that we did our last song and dance and exited stage right, no encores, no fanfare, no tearful goodbyes, and no promises of returning to the iron theater for guest appearances or cameo roles or directing future productions. Let the truth be known. The final curtain has fallen. We bow our last bow with aplomb and pass the torch, The World School of Physical Excellence, to Larimore and Eduardo, masters of the art.

Owning a gym is better than a real job. You come and go as you please, no one’s your boss and you count the money at the end of the day. You’re considered an athlete, an asset to the community and an all-round good person. Health and fitness are your banners, muscle and might your badges of courage.

You’re cool, enjoying smiles and high-fives.

15 years in the gym business is like 15 years at sea on a trans-Atlantic steamer or 180 months on an off-shore oil rig or a decade and a half below the earth’s surface mining diamonds, or enduring endless blizzards in a Quonset hut in the Antarctic studying changes in polar warming. Gym ownership is brutally exciting, but time discloses its limitations. Laree and I were not in the background singing Kumbaya while a fast-talking manager held the Good Ship Lollypop steady as she goes. Our thoughts, time, insides and outsides were virtually consumed by the gym’s ravenous appetite. We opened early and closed late, mopped and polished, installed and repaired, hired and fired, welcomed and embraced and policed the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

The gyms, all three, started as vacated warehouses, were totally cleared and constructed from the walls and slab up. There were five of us early on, a small band of bright-eyed entrepreneurs, each with a unique and remarkable contribution; weight lifting, minor-league baseball, sports trivia, interpreting Russian for the NSA and er... um, fraud. As enthusiastic yet unpracticed gym-builders, new experiences flowed our way in a steady stream. More accurately, near-monumental experiences flooded our lives like raging rivers.

Innocence, ignorance and shear stubbornness kept us from submerging completely or crawling breathless to shore. No enemy or disaster is too great for the dumb and numb. We took to the water like a barrel over Niagara.

We stood with 20 animated members in the middle of the freshly painted, mirror-trimmed, rubber-matted space smartly equipped with shining Cybex, humming treadmills and loaded Olympic bars on opening day of our very first gym and watched the towering walls buckle and huge dumbbells bounce across the floor at the mercy of a 7.1 earthquake. The vast roof threatened to crush us like infidels, while two dozen eight-foot florescent lamp fixtures wildly swung like giant swords over the heads of cowering, ungrateful peasants. We survived to work out again and again.

And who’ll forget the day our really cool partner, the attorney, absconded with 140-thousand bucks from our treasury and left us to the creditors, IRS and the dogs? We pulled it together, by God, and he’s currently on the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives list. Good luck. Seen an ex-lawyer with a beard in your neighborhood looking rather suspicious and fraudulent; has family, will travel?*

And then there were four.

We opened a terrific gym in a nice, quiet community that was growing, prospering and truly in need of another fitness facility. Isn’t it a proud contribution to the lovely coastal neighborhood? Aren’t we a peachy team of industrious, respectable and responsible citizens? The Chamber of Commerce invited us to monthly breakfasts. Six months later a small-time thief (where do they come from?) opened a gym a mile away with drug money, lies, trickery and stolen sweat. A black mark on all that is good; the people flocked to his door. Within three months a major chain dedicated to self and money moved in across the street from that sterling citizen and proud competitor. This mob sells gym memberships like used cars; health and fitness like sex n’ rock n’ roll. The bricks are flying through windows as they establish territorial rights. That’s my town.

Wait, there’s more: The original health club and spa in town, God bless them, flexed its muscles and doubled in size. Two decent mid-town physical-therapy facilities morphed overnight into full-scale family exercise centers. Anyone interested in a personal trainer can find private studios coloring the landscape like wildflowers. The local university, a stone’s throw from our front door, constructed their million-dollar hilltop ocean-view exercise building. The police department got with the fitness program, finally, and installed an efficient gym at their headquarters. At last count there were four “Curves” in the area, in 'n’ out muscles for the fitness hungry on the go. Yes, we have Pilates and Yoga. Santa Cruz is a diverse city and delights in free choice... lots of them, ripped, lean n’ mean, huge, healthy, well-balanced, supple, flexible, confused.

Time flies when you’re having fits. 15 years. Wow. You notice the economy goes bonkers -- a lot -- when you count the money and pay the bills. We went through the ‘90s and watched our silicon-neighborhood rise in hot-air balloons. The air grew cold one fair day, the neighborhood lost its wind and the silicon fell to the ground with a crash. What now? You have to put the pieces back together again.

Iraq came and went and came back again like a feral cat sick of stompings, needing food and wanting independence. The frisky critter won’t get away this time without a good scrubbing behind the ears, and some chow. Clean, well fed and free to go, who could ask for anything more? Be sharp.

So the gym remains, like a rock, a refuge, an iron castle when there’s enough heart to go around.

Some moments fade and some endure forever. I’m not a judge, priest or pastor, but I’m witness to 40 members joining hands and marrying over the 15 years gone by; a few still exercise and eat right. Hooray for them. The high school kids I teased and called brats are now doctors and lawyers, cops and carpenters and moms and dads; I see them today behaving on the gym floor in a fashion resembling adulthood. Beware the obstacles of seriousness and aging, young squirts. Push that iron and eat right, hang tight while you stay loose. It’s an art. Many of the original members seen in the 1989 World Gym photo framed in the office are here these days, growing stronger and wiser and, if you look real close, slightly older. Gym members come and go like the seasons, some hang like time in twilight and others grow faint with the night. Won’t you stay, just a little bit longer?

We’re here for good, Laree and I. I’m a fixture on the wall and Laree’s indelible ink on the pages of the company’s books. We cannot be removed. We seek the development, the prevention, the cure, the fun, the challenge and the struggle a good gym provides. Just like you, we sign in, take a deep breath and start our hard and relentless work, our search. Muscle and might, health and all the other stuff that can be found in the various corners of an iron and steel factory are on our list of procurements. I won’t get in your way and please don’t get in mine; don’t make me leave, or let me leave, till I’m done. I want to stay.

I know what I’ll do: three or four sets of Farmer Walks around the gym’s perimeter while I’m still conscious and the front doors are open. I can superset them with stiff-arm dumbbell pullovers, my favorites, for maximum madness, re-ozygenizing and an unbelievable torso pump. Friday night, 10 o’clock, Ed’s glaring at me and jingling his keys. I’ll pretend I’m absorbed and don’t see him. He’ll take out the trash and gather the money from the register, turn off the radio and head for the light switch in the back room. I’ll keep my head down, puffing, straining, panting. That’ll give me another 10 or 12 minutes. Keep stalling. I’ll make some deep-throated dedicated sounds to further convince him of the severity of the matter. Be nice. I’ll offer to help him out with some packages, hold the flashlight while he sets the alarm system or ... Oops, here he comes and I’m grinning... daydreaming... off-guard... too late. I blew it. I gotta go. Nuts. Tomorrow. Nuts.

Sometimes it’s a long, lonely haul to the hangar, bombers. Putting the craft to rest feels like you’re removing her from the mission. Truth is, rest is part of our duty.

Bombs away... DD

Breaking News, Bombers: Bounty Hunter Nabs Fugitive Lawyer, by Cathy Redfern in Tuesday’s Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 13, 2004

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