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Fight the Good Fight

Bill Smith and Dave Draper

I sit here groping about my memory in search of a past New Year experience worth sharing; a fun and warm and colorful recollection, yet pointed and packed with power. My mind is a pitch black screen capturing no light, covered with little licorice dots. It's getting late, I'm getting weary and I begin to count the dots for no real reason. I trust my imagination like I trust my very cool cat, Mugsy. As I hold him in my arms and run my hands through his thick black fur, I contemplate his creature beauty. Something intense is in there. I continue to stroke and stare — and behold, my faithful imagination stirs. New Year's Eve 1970. Whattaya think, Mugsy? The tuna king bit me on the nose.

A preface. The year I won Mr. Universe (1966) Larry Scott won the newly created Mr. Olympia title. We stood onstage together, dear friends, before the greatest NYC audience ever. I was thrilled. My statement in bodybuilding was serendipitously and solidly made. The desire or need to enter or win Mr. Olympia didn't exist. Never did. I really just like working out for a hundred other reasons. Though it was expected that I continue the competitive climb, I considered it accomplished. The enthusiasm for further title pursuits ceased that night.

From the earliest day to this day I trained to build muscle and might. It was as the crazy 60's lengthened that bodybuilding (not my favorite reference) took on critical mass and an acute change of direction. The control gates failed and the flood was sudden. Bodybuilding was about to be exploited, bigtime. There was money to be made accompanied by greed, power and frenzy. Muscle mags resembling catalogs appeared prodigiously. Merchandise, apparel, miracle supplements for overnight muscle, equipment of every description, gym chains, mondo contests, promoters, AGHHHH, swamped the fields of green.

Posing took on unusual self-centered proportions. A wardrobe of posing trunks, a library of posing music, posing skin creams and coloring lotions, negotiations to endorse products and conversations crowded with pump and flex deflated the muscle building I loved. It became a business. It became a scene; exit the Bomber.

I totally ignored the expanding bodybuilding world, not by rude intention. It simply did not interest me any more. It appeared to grow tentacles and I found it alien to my perception of muscle and might... I dug the metal then and now: the single-mindedness, the struggle, the intense body feelings, the pump and burn and heat and sweat. The battle, defeat and mostly the victory, the wordless communication and knowing amidst a very small tribe and, early on, the muddled or vacant stares you captured from puzzled, stumbling on-lookers — the rest of the world, really. Not so much an ego trip, as being an amused ape, comfortably aware of itself.

I was at Joe Gold's stark silent gym by 6am and out by 8. I picked up on the 60's drift and began building oversized furniture out of pier wood to pay the mortgage. We ate but spent no long weekends in the South of France with the jetset. Hard physical work appealed to me (loved it) and was a habit since my childhood years when delivering heavy boxes of groceries to the tenants of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Muscles for display only was to me irrational, the peak of vanity, a frightening conceit. Use that power and mass to overcome. Apply the strength gained for practical purpose; better yet, to build and create.

It was New Year's Eve 30 years ago and I needed wood. It was a dismal day, almost rainy, perfect for working under the moist and muffled pier. The structure was hundreds of yards by hundreds of yards, a vast aged wood and rusting metal emporium. Once a grand and popular amusement park, Pacific Ocean Park was deserted and scheduled for dismantling in the mid-70s. It housed staggering vagrants sharing wine and mattresses in one or two dark pockets and the remainder was mine as I kept to the shadows.

Equipped with my battered handsaw, I slowly began to wander about the magnificent underside of POP. Everything I needed was there in abundance, including the echoing rhythm of the surf, the salty wet air and a distinct sense of awareness that tingled with fear. It was dark, crisscrossed with timber bracing, illusionary, maze-like and off limits. Once I tripped over a body, another time I was followed to its depths by a pair of hairy muscular legs. Stories for another time. After carefully selecting each piece, I gathered my wood at the pier's edge. No easy task, 5x7's and 3x12's — twelve feet long, wet and slippery — cut, dragged, stacked and guarded. All after a tough early am New Year's Eve workout.

Across the sand 200 yards away sat my beat up station wagon, built for the task. I sat atop the aging Douglas Fir and assessed my treasure. One day soon this stack would become a massive four-poster bed, two tables to match and a chest of drawers. Burned, distressed and finely smoothed. Brass, leather and rusty metal would be affixed for a subtle touch. It would be cut, fitted, carved, drilled, bolted, pushed and pulled and turned over and over again until (with all its mistakes) it was just right.

Hungry, thirsty and getting chilly as the last of the year's sun went down, I prepared for the hardest part of the day, hauling my booty to the wagon. You see, it's all a workout. Reps counted while cutting off the planks. Sets counted as they're lugged, sorted and piled. And now, the intense powerlifting match across the deep sand. Technique... lean planks at 45% against a piling, largest board on the bottom and stacked with sure balance. Now, as if squatting or deadlifting, approach the pulpy weight, tight bodied, with focus, accomplishment and psychological might. By feel and instinct, locate the center of gravity with your strongest shoulder. Three deep breaths... LIFT... Steady... One step at a time, another and another till the feat is done.

I don't know what to do this New Year's Eve. Hide. Nod off or follow the flock. Crossing the beach that evening was rich and exhilarating. I ached and panted and grimaced. I strained until I could go no further... to the backside of my listing workhorse, the battered White Voyager. Like Champagne for the soul and cheer to the spirit.

Thirty indescribable years later 2000 is here exactly on time. Fight the good fight with all your might, Bombers. God Speed.

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