First Things First

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Much to Say About Nothing


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It was Monday morning and I was slouched at my desk poking at an open can of sardine filets with my fork. Been a long time since these little guys splashed around in the ocean, I thought. I gave myself a D for posture, sat up and arched my back into a tight contraction. Feels good to straighten, stretch and contract. Sardines are good for you, did you know that? Omega-3 fish oil, high in protein, no carbs, smelly and not too appetizing. I like the crunchy little bones. Oops! Slouching again -- another D. What time is it, anyway?

Time for another cup of coffee. I wonder if coffee and sardines are a bad mix. I know they’re not a good mix, like tuna and water, but are they bad? You know, like, do they produce enzyme malfunctions or corrupt hormonal activity when they’re combined? Is the protein neutralized by the caffeine or do the omega-3s turn rancid and become triglycerides? Coffee and Danish pastry go well together. I love Danish pastry. I haven’t had a piece of Danish since I was a kid living at home... sixteen, maybe. I wonder if it tastes the same. Huh, 45 years and no Danish.

Still raining. Going on three weeks. It’s been raining for so long that I’m getting into it. The world gets small. The darkness and the haze limit the distance you can see and the blue sky is gone, cloaked in grey and brooding clouds. You go out only when you must, to run errands, go to work, the gym, church... wherever... and you mostly look down, or from the underside of an umbrella if you’re with your wife or girlfriend. Guys don’t use umbrellas, unless they’re business guys, which I am not. No wingtips and knee-high socks, though I do have a couple of ties and a jacket somewhere.

The indoors is where it’s at. The crackling, flickering hearth is the center of attraction with Laree and I alternately feeding the fire according to its appetite. It’s warm, comfortable, alluring, hopeful and alive. Homemade soups and stews nourish the body, heal the wounds and soothe the spirit. Shelter takes on new meaning and you’re grateful to be living, breathing, working and protected.

The gym, always a refuge, becomes a special place away from your digs. It’s good to mingle, hear your voice among other voices and bear the struggle of unkind and peculiar weather with like creatures -- friends, indeed. Between sets I go to the gym’s open back door to peer at the rain and inhale the fresh wet air. Very nice. I don’t gaze too long 'cuz I don’t want to lose my rhythm or body warmth or pump or concentration or favorite bench. The rain’s nice, but not that nice.

Fewer people make it to the gym when the wet weather moves in. Traffic slows down, wet clothing, hair and feet are uncomfortable, and, like I said, the world becomes small. And inconvenient. The gym seems far away; into a hooded slicker, out the front door, beyond the gloom, through the downpour, puddles and mud and across the flooded intersections. Cars are slipping and sliding, and who can see out the windshield in weather like this? It’s confusing and messy. Wipers and heaters and defrosters work overtime. The carwash is empty. So are the swings, barbeque pits, street corners, park benches and jogging paths. A little lonely -- you can feel it. Just you and yourself.

Ah! A good group: serious, dedicated, appreciative; industrious, willing and able. They’re getting their money’s worth, investing in their health, wasting no time and increasing their personal wealth. They’re working out. This is entertainment at its best -- beneficial, exclusive and confidential. Nothing like a little active privacy and treasure hunting on a rainy day, that’s what I always say. It may or may not cross their minds, but somewhere in their consciousness they know they are where they belong, safe and sound and dry and pumped, and it’s teeming outside. The black afternoon sky is emptying itself and they’re doing chins and bentover rows. Ha. I mean, the power could go out, lightning could strike or the forceful wind could blow off the roof, yet here we are, the intrepid few. I’d hang onto a 50-pound dumbbell if I were you.

I’m into my workout. How much I lift isn’t as important as the very fact that I’m lifting in the powerful and secure confines of the darn-near-sacred gym. I move the iron with a different effort that arises from a palette of multiple strengths, desires and needs. Desire is the predominant factor affecting the shape and outcome of the action before me.

The music and clang and shuffling bodies don’t compete with the hush that prevails. The symptoms of the weather have become almost endearing and penetrate the edges of our minds and souls. We need the rain, the water that gives life. I hate droughts. You won’t see me moving to the moon any time soon. Moon Gym will have to wait. Later, Mars Health Club and Spa. World Gym is for the stars.

I find a corner of the gym and practice side-arm lateral raises. This once-favorite shoulder movement had been relegated to the exercise junkyard after a dumb accident disconnected my right infraspinatus, an important rotator cuff support mechanism. Since that fateful day 25 years ago, the shoulders, the poor mutts, have had to eat scraps and work hard for their run on the beach. Today, prompted by a calm thoughtfulness and nostalgia resulting from the confinement of inclement weather, I decide to revisit the long-lost friend. I’m in the mood for discovery, or re-discovery, as the case may be.

Just to assume the starting position -- slightly crouched with the dumbbells held fixed and ready before me -- and exert the outward and upward action with that particular shoulder contraction at the peak would be enough, no matter how light the resistance. I start with five pounds and exact the movement. 25 years later and I feel a chill of rebirth. I know that groove, like an old song when I was happy and growing up with my buds. How does it go again? I go to the 10s, brace my body and retrace the groove. At 10 reps I’m burning and pumping and singing in the rain. Draper’s smiling.

I grab the 15-pounders like they were my third and final attempt at setting a new world record: tense, deliberate, prepared for the high risk, yet confident with hope and faith and need. I can do it. With extraordinary focus, rep upon rep I fight my way to another stunning 10 reps. The muscle activity is real, the pump and burn are not imaginary and I devour the encouragement.

The telltale twang on the last reps didn’t scare me, but gave me kind warning. Be smart, bomber known for making crash landings in dangerous territory. Go slowly. Build up and support the area surrounding the absent spinatus muscle to permit further action, heavier weight, tighter contraction, greater overload and enable the delts to assume the proportions and consistency of watermelons... um... make that cantaloupes. Grapefruits? Two more sets with the 15s and we’ll sneak up on the reluctant exercise over the next months. I’ll need to fashion a new groove.

I’m singing and dancing in the rain.

There are four of us standing at the back door, none of us fighting to get out first. The rain is inviting, but wet nonetheless. We agree the miserable weather conditions are good for the dry landscape and our spoiled-rotten nature. We’re done here today, thank God, and better prepared for tomorrow. Not one is taller than the other, race and gender don’t matter and any one of us would carry the other if he or she asked. We’re in this together.

See ya later... Friday... next week for me... stay dry... don’t slip on the stairs. Hey, the days are getting longer, ya know... yeah, right, it doesn’t get dark till 5:00 now... less than three months to spring... spring, what’s that?

I hop in my faithful truck, crank it over, throw it in gear and it’s the castle, James, and don’t spare the horses. Or should I say, raise the spinnaker, mates, and head due south.

In truth, bombers take to the sky despite the season, weather conditions, moods or moon risings.

Fly high with God’s wings... Draper

Perfect timing for a new training log!

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