The room pulsated with the noise of clanging plates and gut-wrenching chords from the radio. Deep-throated grunts bounced off the walls and intermixed with the staccato beats of basic
passion emanating from the receiver set at full blast. The station played alternative, rap, hip-hop, reggae and house music considered inappropriate for the mild-mannered mainstream.
Those in attendance had the beat. Basic belly-gurgling, groin-rousing music was their scene. Its strains hammered and hammered. Lyrics (grunted, panted and pleaded) were all but
unintelligible. Bass guitars, drums, skins and synthesizers provided bone-jarring energy. Those in earshot found it difficult to walk when the music hit. They strutted, bounced,
slangued in spite of themselves. It was slammin', hammerin', bangin', humpin', pumpin', thunderin' electric synergy.
"Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Up, you summabitch. Up you go. Yeahhh. Go. Damn, damn, damn. Up, you wimp, you wuss. Yeah, yeah. Gotcha. Yeah, Arnie lives.'"
Sweat ran unseen down his legs on the inside of his track pants. Liquid seeping through the top layers of the cotton sweatshirt formed rings round his pecs. Beads of perspiration stood for a moment then trickled into the face-creasing furrows. Tendons, tangled cords, cracked his neck's parchment surface, a dried-up river bed which against all nature was spewing forth its waters instead of absorbing it. His face and chest were a road map of pain. Surface-breaking veins and deeper arterial bulges threatened to erupt in geysers of blood.
The feeling was unnatural, unbelievable and religious. Pushing up the weight that no man should be able to handle, and doing it repeatedly. Fighting gravity that should crush him, that should break him, that should ravage his heart into a fatal orgy of collapsing electronic chaos and handling it to the point of controlled exhaustion. Beating nature in its most rudimentary threat, beating back death or meeting it on the open field, bearing one's chest against the thunder and lightning of the final scream, the final explosion, the release of life. Exhilaration at being free from the common chains that encircle and fetter ordinary fellow beings.
Eking able to say: "I have suffered this. I have overcome. I did it. I did it on my own. I am an individual who took up the challenge and 1 did this on my own. I do not care if you meet and surpass me. I have done what I have done and it is the best feeling in the world."
He felt good to be under the bar and experience the jarring, dull, heavy thump as the descending steel slammed home into the restraints of the power rack. The clattering smash of the plates themselves as he guided them back into the rows of neatly arranged discs was so definitive of the power of this room. Controlled chaos. There was embodied in these inert still circles of cold metal an electronic life force that waited to work its alchemy on the priests who took the time to nurture it. to work with its power in a disciplined, mystical way to achieve transformations undreamed of by the average man transformations that materialized outwardly in the human body's form. Magically it could replace the flawed indentations with smooth, sleek bulges of muscle and eradicate fleshy folds of skin hiding crescent-shaped curves of virtue. Yeah, this was nice.
This was gratifying. But the man knew that gratification was only a secondary benefit. At a younger age he had been disappointed that the promised change in his physique did not materialize in six weeks - another lie of the hucksters, the promoters, the advertisers, the money men - but he saw that there were changes. The professionals in the sport were real. They had sculpted their flesh. Michelangelo was reincarnate and moved through the pages of bodybuilding magazines. These guys walked, talked, gestured and gesticulated from stages ablaze with glaring spotlights. They were proud, rude, competitive and in some ways corrupt. But what impressed the man was the common bond they shared: they all had desire and discipline ... to be the best they could, and each of them was the best he could be. They came in many shapes and sizes but they were great shapes. So the bodybuilder grew up. There was no fast way and definitely no easy way. He started out on an odyssey that wrought changes he would not appreciate for many many days and life stages to come.
As he went through the stages, the body-builder discovered the most important part of the whole regimen. He was a man. And with the territory of maleness, of humanness. he brought into being his demons. The demons were with him always, as they were with all men. The demons were invisible but very real. They came by such mundane frustrations as empty milk bags and searches for scissors to cut open the new container.
There were other far more serious demons. These were produced by ill children, marital upset, incompetent bosses, newspaper head-lines, political demigods, personal disasters, accidents, and the big one, fear of death. These aspects of life are real and people live them. How well one copes with one's demons is a matter of degree. The bodybuilder found that his demons became less of a problem once he was in training. He had discovered how to get rid of the demons.
The bodybuilder knew demons are part of every man's life. Every person has demons. Women have demons and men have demons but they are different demons. Exceptions aside (and there are many exceptions), women are social animals, and they wrestle their demons by going outside themselves and seeking help from other women. They have a sorority that can never include men as full-fledged members. They conquer demons in a feminine manner. They group together and shake the living daylights out of them. Their demons are social demons. Group demons require group exorcism.
Men must wrestle alone with their demons. Their fight is a lifelong battle. It is a personal struggle that brooks little outside interference. It is a battle that must be fought alone. Oh yeah, men form teams but with men they are always teams of individuals-like a team of huskies. Each animal strains at the bit and together they pull the sled, but only because of the master who controls their destiny, their food supply, their very existence. When the master is gone, individuals try to enforce their dominance. They will fight to the death to better their place in the hierarchy or promote them-selves to pack leader, until the master separates the warring parties with his whip. It is not a common bond based on cooperation that unites a sled team but a realization that to deviate can cause death.
Men's cooperation is based on a desire to be cooperative because cooperation is the just course to follow. Men's cooperation is based on fear of death. If he does not join the gang or team or group, the larger forces out there might destroy him. Cooperation is a matter of survival at times, but when the threat is over or the cops go on strike, watch the cooperation among men. Men need a common enemy to cooperate against. It's a male thing. So the team will bide its time until the master disappears.
The bodybuilder did not say this was right or wrong. He simply recognized this was the way the male species operates. He believed that if the world were run by . women who were true women, the world would probably be a safer, more cooperative place. Unfortunately the women who sought out political power were the exceptions. They were just as individualistic, competitive, angry and demonized as their male counterparts. They had to be to survive in a political world. It is a men's world and this world is okay as long as everyone realizes what men are all about.
The operative word in a man's world is power, or on a more basic level, strength. Strength comes in many forms. Somewhat like Allport's seven basic needs, there are different forms of power and there is a hierarchy. At the most basic level is pure physical body strength. Everybody recognizes this from day one. As soon as he shoots out of the birth canal, the male is judged by size, and this human condition is constant throughout life. Silly, is it not? The bodybuilder did not know. He knew facts. He knew life. He read the front page of the newspapers. Each story was about strength being exerted by one country over another. Pity about the weaker parties and the atrocities they had to endure. He read the business pages, and noted the use of power at the corporate level. He read the sports pages and saw how pure strength was a great equalizer that allowed men with great physical strength and ability to rise from the worst backgrounds to a social and economic plateau which allowed them to consort with heads of state and corporations.
Some intellectual, operating outside the bounds of everyday reality and focusing on a philosophic moral plateau, would come out with a decree saying all are equal and if you aren't we will make you equal. We will make men and women the same despite reality. The activists,God bless 'em, will embrace these ideas as the solution to the world's problems. They'll run the banners up, and run the politicians up the flag poles. They will deny reality and nature and turn the world upside down until reality rears its head and cuts the poor souls off at the knees as they wonder what the devil hit them.
There are other souls in the world, however, who do have a grasp on reality, who understand human nature, accept it and carry on. The one basic truth is that to be successful one must have power. One must have strength. There is no such thing as equality. There is a world out there. It is there for you. There is opportunity and success for those who will work in a disciplined manner and who are not sidetracked by trendy cliches and theories not based on reality. These people are for whom the welfare state has no appeal. These are people who want to make it on their own. These are
people who take responsibility for their actions. These are the people who pay their traffic tickets without complaining even though doing so is not pleasant. Paying for one's mistakes is never pleasant, but one does it and gets on with life, hopefully having a self-gratifying gush of emotion. If they see something wrong, they work to change it or leave it alone and get on with their lives.
Colloquially spoken, "Shit happens." Accept it for what it is - crap. Don't wallow in it. Clean it up as best you can and get on with it. Don't invite the crowds in to see the disgusting mound. If one does, the crap becomes a source of power on its own. To give it attention is to put the contents of the toilet bowl on a pedestal, and there will always be those who worship anything placed on a pedestal. They love to see other people get it where it hurts.
Like the O.J. trial, in the human experience crap happens. Leave it. Everybody knows crap for what it is, crap. Nobody is fooled by it. Even dressed in a nice suit, crap is crap. No one will mistake it for anything else. The bodybuilder could not understand why people carried on so long about such situations. When it happened it was terrible and will always continue to be so, but crap happens. Fortunately, in time, crap tends to find its way into the sewer where it belongs. Let it go. There may be many who become covered in this stuff, but maybe they like crap. It takes all kinds. Don't waste your time playing with crap-worshippers. Never mind what sizes and colors they come in. They share their beliefs with whiners, complainers and banner-wavers. They expect something for nothing, and through insistence tend to get it. By and large they have been trapped by a system created by demented intellectuals and spin doctors whose cotton-candy worlds took the labor of the workers and used it to pay for handouts to the dreamers.
Dreamers are vital. The bodybuilder knew this. In many cases they made the world a better place. Scientists, doctors, parents, children, musicians, architects, artists were all dreamers. The world was better off for their dreams. But there are good dreams and bad dreams, workable dreams and disastrous dreams. Dreams being dreams, one does not know how they will turn out. Men were having trouble knowing how to take the bad out of the good. The automobile is an obvious example. That is the trouble with men. They are not gods, and their dreams are as dangerous as they are exciting.
Too much thinking. Concentrate on the bar. Concentrate on the next set. Set the weights. Slam them onto the bar. Work on the ascending scale. Start with 170. Do the 3 sets. Grab the 70 for the wrist curls between the sets of bench presses. Hands over your head to grab the bar. Lie down. Check your grip. Eyeball the sleeve to make certain your hands are equidistant from the middle. Grip. Grip. Twist your fingers. Flex your wrists. Make certain no folds of fabric from the gloves will cut into the palm once the lift is up.
Talk to the bar. It is going to become part of you. You talk to it. You tell it you don't give a damn that what you are about to do is impossible. You tell it that you are going to beat it. You tell it that it is going to become part of your body and you are going to levitate it. It is going into the air. It is going to be crushed, thrown up into the atmosphere, and there is no damn way it will avoid this fate. Then the feet. You don't need the feet, but you will plant them just the same. They are firm. Rock solid. Strength runs from the arms, down through your stomach and back.
It momentarily joins at the center of the hips, and then tears into two separate limbs joined to the earth at the end of the bench.
The chrome reflection of the sleeve immediately above your eyes distorts the image of the entire room. You pick out the one scratch on its surface, the one marred slit in the steel, to focus upon. This and this alone is what you're lifting. This insignificant speck. Yeah, easy. So easy. So easy you can afford to relax the arms to let each go slack. You swing them nonchalantly. This is really going to be a piece of cake. Your arms, up to the task move relaxed and flexible.
Keeping time to the music, your brain focused on the spot, you count to five. One. The wrists lock. Two. You eyeball the position of the hands and squeeze the fingers. Lookin' good. Three. Forearms take the strain. No upward stuff yet. Just ready for the off. Four. Your bis and tris become engaged. The shock through muscle, bone and sinew, travels through the entire bench. Your feet squirm into the floor searching for a launching pad about one inch below the concrete surface. The shock recoils back up through your stomach and keeps traveling. Five. The power surge comes from the gut and spreads upward through the chest and back, and then into the neck and head. Your afterburners are switched to "go." Every muscle in your body channels its energy upward and in to the bar. The scratch on the bar remains immobile momentarily, and the miracle is about to happen.
Human energy takes on nature's gravity in a microsecond. The bodybuilder's whole world, his entire universe, his total existence is focused on that imperfection etched into the chrome bar directly above his eyes, hovering over his skull and held in place by the steel cradles of the bench. Once broken free from the safeguard of the rack, the bodybuilder literally takes responsibility for his life in his own hands. The bar stays. It does not move. The bar becomes every demon, every obstacle that has ever been placed in his path. It is every unjust, unfair, unwarranted intrusion in his life imposed by the demons. It is every fear, terror, uncertainty he has ever faced. The bar's resistance to his will, to his desire, is a degradation, an insult not to be borne by any man. The bar is every demon he has ever battled.
Then the miracle happens. It moves-just a fraction-but it moves upward. Just a quarter of an inch. And then ... the blast. "Scream, you devil. I've got you." The scratched sleeve erupts upward out of the steel cradles. Into the man's hands. Up over his body. Fully extended at the end of his arms. It is up above him. The demons have been beaten.
To celebrate his victory the lifter lowers the bar. The lockout is broken and the stiffness in his body disassembled. He places himself in further jeopardy. He brings the bar to him, to his chest. He even allows it to brush against his skin. Then he heaves it upward again, and the bar goes at his command. This act consolidates his disdain for the demons. And so it goes. The ritual is repeated 10 times, then 10 times more, then 10 times once again. It is repeated until his body screams for respite. He is deaf to the pleading. He will do it once more just to show his very soul that he and he alone is master of his existence.
When it is all over, he finds he has not beaten nature. He has met it, done battle, done his very best. He has suffered pain, and there is a point where he must back off. His mortality does come into play. It is a major factor. But he took himself to the limit, went a bit beyond, and came back ... and this is good.
The best part is the fact that he did this on his terms, at his bidding, no one else's. Pleasure and pain. Love, hate. Strength, weakness. Triumph. Individuality.
It is a secret room. A retreat. He built it and maintains it. He is not entirely safe entering it, but while there, he feels that affirmation. He leaves with the knowledge that he has won again. He returns to the world a winner.