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My mind faded to black as I stared at the darkened ceiling. It was the middle of the night; I'd been here before. Having exhausted all significant subjects of despair -- soaring milk prices, cat peed on my Reeves' poster, cancellation of Friends, Cubs loss of five straight -- I awaited more constructive thoughts to fill my empty brain. Sleep had left the building.

Finally, Lady Luck cast a charitable nod my way and I found myself reviewing the absurd extents to which I had gone to accomplish my past workouts. I regard such thought-processing as vital and illuminating, worthy of meticulous consideration. Further, that my recollections were clear and detailed substantiated their value and influence. I was onto something big.

I was 18 and by sheer will, not affluence, I owned an adorable Corvette built for two. Sometimes it was a friend and I who shared the limited yet furiously fast space; other times it was me and a rattling heap of plates from 5 pounds to 50 and an assortment of bars and collars -- the tender things of a half-crazed weightlifter.

I lived in a rented room for a couple of years in my hometown where I worked, played and trained. On weekends I'd travel upstate to work part-time to pay for the Corvette and its gas, which made perfect sense at the time. Barbells were nowhere to be found upstate and I had to bring my own, which also would have made perfect sense had I taken the time to think at all.

It was hauling them down two flights of stairs from my rented room to the Vette parked in the street below that seemed stupid to me, even then. But wait, it gets better. Hours later, hauling them from the Vette through an overgrown garden to the rear window of my meager weekend quarters was almost as dumb, but it meant I would at last construct the raw materials into the essential muscle-making tools -- barbells and dumbbells -- and lift them like a maniac.

I endured the dumbness for the greater good.

This went on for a summer until I came to my senses and decided to do weighted chins and dips instead. Eliminating the tedious, time- and energy-consuming hauling process enabled me to eat, go to the john, train with spirit and include crunches and leg raises as well. Great workouts, and my lats and shoulders grew wider as my gut tightened. One must travel the long wearisome road to discover the shortcuts.

I trudged on, up one slope and down the other, weights in tow.

Not a whole lot of time passed before I found myself in California training with the big dawgs. And that I did...grew some more and returned home to compete in the 1965 Mr. America, which I won. I stayed briefly with kindly friends on the far side of middle-aged who knew nothing about iron and steel. I was a big boy from California, very healthy and tanned, too. It was late summer and record heat and humidity consumed the east coast. The home in which I resided was small, and air-conditioning served the tiny master bedroom only, not the basement quarters where I temporarily hung and had stored my weights.

The kindly retired couple was gone for the day -- a drive in the country -- and I had the house to myself. That is, me and my newly resurrected 100-pound dumbbells and a wobbly 3-in-1 Weider bench. Oh, boy! One set of flat presses next to the washer and dryer had me on my knees, panting and sweating. It also had me imagining what a delight it would be breathing cool air as I worked out with energy one flight directly overhead.

You already know I'm compulsive and selfish and single-minded. The staircase was narrow and rickety and I had my doubts as I hauled the hundred-pounders up the steep ascent. I'm bad! We made it, all of us: bench, dumbbells, small transistor radio playing rock n' roll, jug of ice water and me, eyes like quarters.

I'm selfish, as admitted, but of the non-intrusive variety. I'm respectful and careful and considerate and responsible and honest. Honest. I was meticulous in the moving process and made certain there was no damage to the household. I'd ask permission, but the dear hearts are not here. They'll never know. I felt sneaky.

My exercise plan was clear: as many sets of flat presses as I could accomplish, followed by plenty of sets of stiff-arm pullovers and concluding with one-arm dumbbell rows till I dropped. This is paradise, though I'm wedged between the bed's maple footboard and a set of matching dresser drawers. Nice rug. The dumbbells were unwieldy, and being cramped irritated me until a car pulled in the driveway.

It's them and they've got friends with them. I flipped. They'll flip. What do I do now?

I tried desperately to disappear, but failed. The windows were stuck shut with age and paint. Too late to hide, I said, "Frankie, hi... you're home early. I was just..."

Frankie was fast and said, "What the heck are those things? Is that what you had in the basement under the staircase? I tried to move them with my brother last Christmas and we thought they were bolted to the floor. How'd you get them up the stairs? Kitty, Sonny, Millie, come here. Look at this. He carried those things upstairs, those black weight things. Too hot down there for ya? Yeah, too hot in the car, too. Let me see ya move one of those; whatta ya do with 'em, roll 'em? Geez!"

I moved my mouth like I was going to say something intelligent, but rockin' Frankie was on a roll.

"Show Sonny and Millie your trophy... kid won Mr. America over the weekend in New York City. What do ya do with those things, lift em? Let me try and grab one."

"Here," I said, as I reached down, grabbed the rascals, pulled them to my knees and sat down, "you start like this."

They were impressed, eyes bulging.

I rolled back, gave the black clanking beasts a thrust to the overhead starting position and said without a grunt, "And then you press them like this."

The adrenalin from their shocking arrival and my need to amaze them gave me a few extra reps. I got 10 or 12 beauties -- swoosh through the air and the metal was down and on the floor like a pair of swans on a silent and still pond.

Sonny marveled, Millie shook her head and Kitty made iced tea. Frankie hung out and held my knees down while I did stiff-arm pullovers, expecting me to burst or rip my arms from my body. I completed my rows with the door closed to keep the cool air and the huffing and puffing to myself. My spectators and fans, bored with my antics, drank iced tea coolers in the shade on the patio. They took the transistor with them, tuned to Your Hit Parade in low decibels.

The weights were left under the bench at the foot of the bed -- ready to go -- until I left town at the end of the week. I felt sad returning them to their secret place under the old house.

But I got over it. Those rusting beasts of burden lay in the dark gathering dust another year before I returned to test their gravity. A dandy space had been cleared in a cool corner of the cellar and a large fan sat before the same old bench. How thoughtful. I was the resident musclehead.

I shiver to think I was almost the resident musclehead in the Santa Cruz jail not long before my triumphant east coast return.

Beachball Dan's leather hat factory was nestled in one of those metal pre-fabs constructed on a slab in a day and a half. Very cool, but you can access the tin containers with a can opener or a screwdriver. Dan was a lifting buddy and had his Olympic weights, platform and racks conveniently set up and partitioned off in the rear of his shop. It was a Sunday; the shop was closed and the Mr. Universe was only a month away, I wanted to work out and I had a screwdriver. Within 10 minutes I had squeezed my 240-pound body between loosened corrugated steel sheets and was standing before a bar loaded with iron, a very metallic scene. Then the cops arrived. How was I to know the joint was rigged with an alarm system?

"Hold it right there, buster. Don't move a muscle. How far do ya think you're gonna get with the weights?" or something like that, said the man in blue.

"I don't know. It's only my third set and I'm still warming up," I said with no grin.

Dan came within 30 seconds and smoothed things over. Then we worked out for another hour before hitting the smorgasbord downtown. I paid.

Real weightlifters have big hearts.

That's us, bombers: A little nuts, but big hearted, high flying and unstoppable. Soar More.

God's speed... Double D

*****

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