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The Titles Came and Went

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I remember the first day I lifted weights like it was just 60 years ago.

The mad pursuit emerged from an active kid who loved to climb trees and jump from their heights. I had a favorite limb from which I chinned, on a favorite tree I called the Monkey Tree. It was my original and personal gym that served me and me alone for years.

There were two chairs in the cellar by the coal bin that I placed back to back. I performed thousands, maybe millions of dips between those old splintered chairs when I wasn't chinning on the Monkey Tree.

Handstand pushups came later when strength and balance were at my command.

Then the weights rolled onto the scene: the bar, the plates, the collars, the wrench, the clanging, the improvised exercises and the gravity and the pain. I loved the idea of lifting weights--the height of manhood to a 12-year-old--but they weren't as much fun or as free as the Monkey Tree or even the dirty old rickety chairs. I soon hated the dinky wrench and the smashed fingers caught between the cold and noisy plates and the downright uncontrollable heaviness of the muted metal.

Sheesh. I'm still just a little kid.

I pushed and pulled and from the corner of my eye wondered if anyone cared. No one noticed. Not once did a brother or parent say, "How cool" or "Let me try." It was like I was invisible.

I was lucky, really. They didn't laugh, nor did they tell me to stop that banging and clanging and get those miserable things out of the house. The nasty devices, when not in use, were rolled under my bed, which was next to the beds of my two older brothers. Tight quarters and tight muscles for a little squirt.

Nineteen and just married, three nights a week I drove three exits on the N.J. Turnpike to the Elizabeth Y's closet-size weightroom. That went over big. I soon took a second job on weekends (precious daughter on the way) at the Jersey City Vic Tanny's Gym. That went over big.

Before a year was over, I moved to California to train at Muscle Beach. My young family (Penny, 17--Jamie Lee, nine months) soon followed. That went over big.

In each period after the novelty wore off, the work became Work with a capital double-U, "U" for Ugh. Early mornings or after work, long sessions, pain, sweat, compromise, sacrifice and hard work are the components of commitment.

"Why" I know now, but didn't then. The 20-stair descent to the floor of the Muscle Beach gym, the Dungeon, held apprehension every morning for three years. I trained six days a week and never missed a beat. Each workout was to exceed the last. The pressure was self-imposed and mounted day after day.

The titles came and went. The reps, the sets came and went. The days and nights came and went. The '60s came and went.

Between '70 and '80 I hoisted the steel no less than four days a week. Whatever else I neglected during that notorious decade, working out was not one of them. Iron and protein in sufficiency accompanied me wherever I dared to go. Nothing fancy: curls and presses, tuna and water and a hunk of beef. Did I mention the alcohol? No? Good. Then I won't. It's barely a memory nearly 40 years old.

In September of '89, along with the California earthquake, there erupted a World Gym well within the rumbling epicenter. We breathed life into the duel stone and steel enterprises assuring their verve to this day.

Then, all those years later, I became a simple yet loyal member of the shrines, good for two or three staggering workouts a week. Stand back, coming through!

I do what I have to do, must do, need to do, can do, am able to do, want to do and don't want to do, and not what someone tells me to do. Come to think of it, no one tells me what to do. I just do it.

"Take out the garbage!"

"Yes, dear."

I still don't know what to be when I grow up.

Perhaps I'll become a garbage man.

Be all you can be.



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