First Things First

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Honey, I’m Home -- Bombers, I’m Back

Muscle Mag, September 2008,
where you'll find the full Draper interview, plus photos

Download the full Draper here newsletter
in printable, live-link, pdf format, here.

"This one's done," boomed the bloody doctor as he wiped his scalpel on his sleeve. “Next.”

I'm committed to write something about the events of last week, which commenced early Wednesday morning, but my multiple anesthetized minds are still a little foggy, and I have not yet regained my sense of humor. Let's put it this way, a guy could have more fun swimming upstream in the raging River of Hell... without fins.

Best things: Dr. Kohut and his two assisting neurosurgeon co-workers were delighted with the operation's success, and my body's healthy response to his L-2, L-3, L-4 and L-5 artwork. My cardiologist, Dr. Singh, was around for good measure, and he was big-smile pleased to observe the strength of my pump. That doesn't mean any or all of the decompression procedure worked. Will my leg functions resume or my circulation improve to any degree is the 64-dollar question. Give me some time, days, weeks...

The pain hasn't been extraordinary once I passed the first few days of adjusting -- getting up, walking, using the johnny, swallowing, untangling tubes, twisting, getting in bed, finding the one-and-only position that works (still looking).

They inserted a ventilator for the operation only; I didn't have to endure its horrible presence whilst awake. The throat, however, feels like it's been roto-rooted, same with my mangled personal part (pp), where a catheter resided for five sun-shiny days.

Worst things: general discomfort the size of elephant, real antsy, sleepy but sleepless, the can-eat-but-can’t-swallow conundrum, retaining water like a camel and -- the worst of all -- persistent, ongoing, never-ending and relentless hiccups executed with the force of a jackhammer.

Gym's a week away. Docs tell me to “ease into it.” Pshaw.

Enough said, jolly jugglers of iron, silly skippers of steel and motley movers of metal, onto part one of an incomprehensible two-part document recently published in Bob Kennedy’s Muscle Mag.

Interview with Dave from Muscle Mag International, Part 1 of 2
Star Profile: Dave Draper – The Blond Bomber, with interviewer Ron Harris

MMI: I read in a previous interview of yours that you weren’t exposed to muscle magazines as a kid. What was it that inspired you to take up weight training, and was building a great physique a goal of yours in the beginning?

DD: Who remembers? Doesn’t every kid want muscles? Although today most will settle for an iPhone and a Big Gulp. I was barely 10 when muscles and strength caught my eye – the qualities were visible in men on the street in those days – and I thought they looked neat. That’s all it took. I had no desire to be a champion; I just wanted tough shoulders and arms.

MMI: What was it like being married and having a daughter at just nineteen years old? Did it force you to grow up and mature faster than other guys your age?

DD: I don’t think there was anybody dopier or dumber than me at 19. I grew up slow in the ‘50s in the little pig-farming town of Secaucus under the long shadow of the Empire State Building. A family before I was 20 and not yet weaned from my Harley Chopper was a sudden and befuddled acceleration of growing up. The three of us received a lot of support. The Harley ran out of gas. I got a second job.

MMI: I find it fascinating that even though you and your first wife were just 19 and 15 years old when you married, your marriage lasted twenty years. How did you two make it work?

DD: I’ll take no credit for developing a strong marriage. Penny, my first wife, our daughter, Jamie, and I moved from Jersey to California when Jamie was not yet one year old. Hello Santa Monica. The year was 1963. We fought like three bears to survive. There was enough good in Penny and Jamie to exceed the bad in me, a selfish musclehead, and we made it to the safety of 20, 35 and 40 years, respectively. Wins, losses, crowns, bruises. We still love each other.

MMI: Did you find it ironic that the man who represented the ideal California bodybuilder was born and raised in New Jersey?

DD: Who, me?

I mentioned I was dumb and slow to grow. Well, not exactly. Unaware, or “duh,” more accurately defines the first half of my life’s state of mind. I just didn’t get it. I was too busy running, chasing, dodging, scrapping and scraping.

I was both “here and now” and under a rock and a hard place. Dave Draper was always the guy training at 6AM and watching his diet and trying to make a buck without working for The Man. I would work like an animal, but not for The Man. That I was a West Coast beach boy to a world of bodybuilding fans eluded me.

Jersey hung around my neck like a sweaty tank top, and I never mounted a California surfboard. Here’s some possible irony: The only time I went to the beach was in the twilight to remove timber with a saw from beneath an obsolete pier a stone’s throw from Muscle Beach. From those beautifully aged beams I built powerful furniture for the marketplace.

Surf’s up, hang ten, surfin’ safari... What’s that stuff? And, Dave who?

MMI: Once you moved out west, did you ever consider living on the East coast again?

DD: George Eifferman picked me up at LAX in his ’55 Buick Special. They – George and the muscle car -- looked like they came off the same Detroit assembly line. It was the spring of ’63. He dropped me off at Zucky’s Deli on the corner of 5th and Wilshire in Santa Monica where we shared Kosher dill pickles and hot pastrami sandwiches. There were clean streets and palm trees, blue skies and warm breezes, the lush Pacific palisades and a sense of hope. George was an old friend before we finished our first cup of coffee and I remembered New Jersey no more.

Momma bear and baby bear followed me west a month later.

MMI: Your competitive career was relatively brief, lasting just seven years. Why did you stop competing, and do you ever wish you had continued for a few more years?

DD: Did I mention scrapping and scraping and dodging? Training for competition in those days was transitioning from a whim and fancy to a dedicated pursuit. You could participate for fun on lower levels, but it took means and resources when the prize was big and bigger. I endured the first years – Mr. America and Mr. Universe – because I was encouraged by my newly acquired musclehead peers and it seemed like the thing to do. I was this side of 25 and the surf was up, as they say down on the pipeline, and “Why not?” had not entered my mind.

Then the scene changed “like over night, man,” and blue sky turned grey and lost its silver lining. I learned not all that is promised is real and not all that is pursued is worthy. Give me muscles and a heart of gold, not lumps for sale and Man Tan and choreography and glaring and the theme of 2001. Give me muscle, real muscle, and give me a gym at six AM.

A good fit in a tank top and jeans while sitting on a park bench contemplating the sunset beats a Mister Oly crown amid oily bodies on stage in Brooklyn or Ohio anytime, I thought. Maybe I’m lazy or a coward or unaware or negative or a realist or a poor loser or just fund-less and poor.

I wonder sometimes what I could have done had I not tripped over my two left feet: changed the world, become president, built a sky rise out of pier wood, celebrated my 45th wedding anniversary.

Fact is, everything is exactly as it should be, as it is meant to be, thank God.

MMI: If there had been more money in the sport then, with six-figure endorsement contracts for supplements and magazines as well as cash prizes for the big shows, would you have kept competing?

DD: Who knows? Money has a way of screaming in one’s ear. There were allurements and promises dangled before my nose once, but they were extracted quickly when I extended my outstretched hand. I like the solidness of the iron in the hand, not the flimsy promises of rascals promoting it. Reminds me of politics, power and greed, and nothing of broad shoulders, strong backs and well-executed workouts.

MMI: The original Gold’s Gym has taken on a mythical status to those of us that weren’t fortunate enough to be there in the early to mid 1970s. Having been an integral part of that atmosphere, do you ever feel sorry for the rest of us who can only dream of having been there with you?

DD: Forewarning: Draper’s a prejudiced musclehead.

Not really. You care enough to imagine and wonder. You’re tough, you’ll make it. Imagination often can be better than the real thing, though you would not have been disappointed by the atmosphere and the qualities and the learning shared by the bodies in Joe Gold’s Gym, and the Muscle Beach Dungeon, its predecessor. Collectively, the experiences were priceless, real, awesome, inspiring and emotional: the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David, the Holy Writ, the Kilimanjaro. They were the truth.

To those who don’t know the history of the iron, from where and whence muscle was first forged, or who don’t care, I say, it is too bad. It’s like baseball without knowing something about Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio or Willie Mays. They’ll live, but the spirit is missing.

You’ll find shadows and whispers of the old days in the fading light of old neighborhood gyms.

MMI: Do you have any funny stories from training at Gold’s, or from a competition around that time?

DD: Not as many in the gym as there were on the streets. My favorite was walking from a pro competition in Manhattan late at night with Boyer Coe, Ralph Kroger and a NYC cop and gym owner, Tony Schettino. We were comfortably wired on the evening events, amiable and hungry and en route to a favorite restaurant. A man stood with his date, both fashionably dressed, and stared at a small Honda pressed bumper to bumper between parked cars. No small catastrophe at midnight in the city.

We checked out the scene, nodded knowingly and maneuvered about the captured vehicle, each finding purchase at the appropriate fender. In what was akin to three precisely-timed deadlifts, we hoisted and shifted the car to the middle of the street. It all took place in less than a minute.

Hi, goodbye. Like steam rising from subway vents, we were gone.

**This was part one; click here for part two**

Soak yourself in a taste of bodybuilding’s Golden Era with Dick Tyler’s on-the-scene record, written in his easy-going, one-of-a-kind style, West Coast Bodybuilding Scene.

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