First Things First

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It’s been suggested I write more about my experiences from the past; that is, memories of occurrences while pursuing early musclehood. I understand the appeal of reminiscences – everyone enjoys a good story -- and gave the idea a shot. I must confess all the exercise succeeded in producing was wrenching cringes, chills of embarrassment and guilt. Does this happen to all of us upon recollection? My past is something best left to the past, undisturbed and unrecalled.

For every right thing I did, ten wrong things popped up or got in the way. Some were intentional, some accidental and others seemed like a clever idea at the time. I unearthed one example when Joe Roark asked on our bulletin board what I recalled of a guest appearance I made at a bodybuilding competition in Michigan in the '70s. I went through a series of contortions as my mind was bombarded by grotesque flashbacks, scenes from a Friday night movie. This was the best I could come up with:

Michigan in 1976 is as clear as the muddy Mississippi after the spring floods. I was merrily wandering in random circles in those days, certain I was traveling in a straight line. Getting your act together sometimes requires it to fall entirely apart first. I was in the process of both when, "Hello, Detroit."

I remember a small motel room on the wrong side of town. It was dark and hot and I was restless; a run in my shorts through the streets seemed like a good idea before tomorrow's promotion of a local physique contest. In those days I diluted my water with anything alcoholic and why, in a mean town where they build trucks and breed gangsters, should I suddenly change my habits? I fully hydrated, or whatever you'd call it, and was off like a dart. Near-naked!

I picked up a tail immediately. Two cops in one car stayed half-a-block behind me as I ran my heart out. Any fear of the neighborhood vanished with the addition of armed bodyguards to my late-night training regimen. I ignored them (ignorance was one of my specialties 25 years ago), and sped around crooked side streets careful not to break any laws. Running under the influence, RUI, I suspected would not hold up in court. Just past the 15-minute mark I made it back to the motel, dashed across an adjacent pitch-black storage lot attached to a foundry, weaved between two dozen cars and hopped into my unlit, ground-floor room through an open window. I felt swell; sneaky but swell.

I watched from the shadows as the patrol car cruised the grounds of the motel, the necks of the officers craning to locate the mysterious bulky, exposed whack who vanished in the night. I felt a kinship to my buddies and decided to say hi when they made their next look-see pass. I guess they found more important things to do... never saw them again.

The show came and went and it would probably have been better if I didn't go at all. There are times when one should not leave his cage.

Now you see what I mean. How do my recollections add to your muscle-building present? They undermine the tottering respect I’ve been able to restore behind the image of a guy gone straight, who continues to train like a fanatic and eats tuna from a can with his bare hands.

Then there was the time in Madrid when traveling with Serge Nubret.

Serge, a vintage European, invited me to visit him and attend a variety of bodybuilding events from Paris to Venice, Italy. He knew I had a pleasing physique in the late '60s, but failed to consider I was an East Coast runaway who hadn’t yet remodeled his less-than-slick New Jersey ways. I arrived on time with my passport in hand, eager to see the sights and train wherever there were weights. I was ready to go, better at resistance exercise than carrying on a conversation.

On a number of occasions I found myself out of my territory, among a chatty set of distinguished friends of the charming and handsome French Islander actor-strongman. Smiling, nodding and a good handshake were my forte, but the small talk needed work... lots of work.

Language barriers -- French, Spanish and Italian -- worked wonders to conceal my clumsy insecurities and failure to communicate. I faked it at private parties and celebrations, winning no prizes for eloquence or personal magnetism. Better than being shown out the back door for vagrancy, party-crashing or failing to clear the dishes promptly from the guest tables to make room for the dessert! You’re fired, insolent American.

Near the end of the two-week tour, we took a jaunt to Madrid to visit Paco, a rich and famous Spanish personality and dear friend of Serge. Paco’s house was elegantly nestled on a hillside overlooking the calm distant spread of the city. There were guards, and a Rolls Royce rested coolly under a flowered lattice archway. Friends, family and acquaintances of all description gathered on an upper terrace, sitting in the shade of grand umbrellas or working their way around tables of delectable food and smoky barbecue pits.

It was hot and the big pool in the center of wet slate looked gloriously attractive.

Sparkling in the water was an assortment of kids and young guys and gals having good old-fashioned fun -- spontaneous laughter, gleeful excitement and splashing-wet frolic.

I sat with some folks who mined diamonds in Africa and loved the French Champaign-punch. “Secaucus, New Jersey? I say, Brenda, where on earth is...”

I was yet unaccustomed to the wild effects of the bubbly stuff, but that didn’t mean I was a stick-in-the-mud clod from the landfill of the Garden State. Not me, especially after four or five or six glasses of the fruity mix that flowed like the rivers in Tanzania. I borrowed a pair of funny oversized shorts from Paco and jumped in the gloriously attractive pool.

The kids scattered like guppies.

Two bodybuilders from Munich joined in the fun. Their version of fun was doing laps like the pool was a training ground and it was time for serious aerobics. I instead stood on the diving board and, encouraged by the generous fruity, bibby wibby wubby bubbly wine consumption, decided to do a forward one-and-a-half somersault. There’s a first time for everything. This is Spain, everyone’s a blurry mass of hilarity, the kids have returned to their aquatic habitat in full force and I am ready to fly.

Up on my toes, arms and hands elegantly extended from my sides, three long strides, one huge bounce and I was airborne -- a 230-pound ball of flesh rotating furiously, gyrating desperately and plummeting uncontrollably. You really don’t have a lot of time in the air to think and do what you need to do. I didn’t go high enough, I never opened up fully or stopped revolving, but I went long. My entry would never be described as graceful, but it was dramatic.

Had I been sober I might have been embarrassed.

It seems the rapid rotation and forward flying motion of the balled up object -- moi -- combined with its volume made an incredible splash upon impact. The water mass went high and long and was accompanied by a magnificent splat. No one was hurt; one barbecue pit was extinguished completely, a bright red king-size umbrella was hit just right and sent sailing toward the tennis court and the occupants seated beneath it were flooded.

“The playful American almost emptied the pool,” said a lady with a peculiar accent while fussing with a dripping, drooping straw hat. Her prim chaperone had removed his tasseled loafers and was emptying them of water, “No harm done, Sally.” He stood in an impressive puddle in stocking feet.

“I saw it coming -- colossal, it was -- but I simply couldn’t move.”

I fell asleep in the afternoon sun and was beet red when I woke up. No one mentioned my giant cannonball or invited me to visit them at their villa next time I was in the neighborhood. What is it about Americans, anyway?

“Draper! You’re back. How was Europe; how was Serge Nubret?”

“Far out. Missed a few workouts, but my bodyweight’s the same. How you doin, man?”

It’s a bomber’s world, bombers. Keep bombing.... The Bomber

Here's a listing of Dave's columns

And here's West Coast memory

How about an excerpt from Brother Iron?

In Golden Impressions, Dick Tyler sets the West Coast Bodybuilding Scene.