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Me and The Mob

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I wrote these words and thoughts in 2004, eight years ago. I was child then. Today I’m all grown up. The message is 1,400 words long, too long for the attention-deficient readers of this day and age, what with walkie-talkies, smoke signals, Morse code, grunts and nods, so I’m presenting it in two easily digestible parts.

Yup! You guessed it. This is Part 1.

Seldom do I drag myself to the gym unwillingly. It’s not often I stand before the barbells and dumbbells with drooping shoulders and hesitation. And though I don’t feel like Superman, never do I question why I’m about to fatigue myself and inflict hard work and pain upon my body for several hours. That’s all behind me and has been for a long, long time. Today, I roll out the ole Harley, run a cloth over the chrome, crack the pipes and let ’er rip.

This all began years ago.

I remember when I was a kid; no problem, the weights were playthings. You push, pull, toss, lift and grunt. Great fun. Clank, rattle; where’s my wrench? As a teen, lifting was like a sport you played; you win, you lose, the days came and went and skipping a workout was no big deal. Let’s see, should I lift weights or play stickball at the park?

One day -- who remembers when; it’s all a haze -- I noticed guilt had taken up residence in my ever-present shadow, a nagging, smirking wise guy -- a jerk, really -- that made me irritable when I missed a workout, miserable if I was delinquent a week. Training became important, a thing I had to do, and the fun was leaking away. Most anything became more desirable than the weights; studying Latin, changing the oil or cleaning the garage. Thank heaven there was no TV. I pressed on.

Then some raggedy habit took form and the walk to the weight room became regular, and labored and cheerless. It’s lonely on this bench, under this bar and counting sets and reps. How many do I have to do today? The number was a pain in my head and completing the prescribed task before me was a dull feat. 20 (ugh), 19 more (aay), 18 (oof), 17 (urp). "Will the workout ever end?" was my approach. The color around me was gray. This must be done, press on.

It wasn’t long before anticipation, the kind with a sour puss, started hanging around with guilt. Put these two thugs together and we have tension, nervous tension. Now it’s not only hard work and lonely under the bar, it’s tiresome and exhausting thinking about it, all day, at work, at lunch, on the road and in the sack. By the time I got to the gym, I’d been there, I’d done that. Not another rep! I’m beat. Push that iron.

Swell, but that’s not enough. Besides feeling guilty for missing a workout I haven’t missed and badgered by a workout I haven’t hit, I’m feeling disappointed with the progress I haven’t made. A mob is gathering in my shadow and I’m just a skinny kid. We have Guilty Gus, Big Al Anticipation and the notorious Duke of Disappointment conspiring in the dark. Step aside, mutts, I’m using that squat rack.

Duty calls when you’re still and listen to your soul. Taking the three pot-bellied bums down became my mission and I knew it -- the first sign of instinct, survival of the fittest, which plays no minor role in the muscle-builder’s life. Instinct rules.

In this life you win, you lose or you crawl. It’s not that I wanted to win, but I cannot lose and I will not crawl. Elementary, really, and I worked by elimination. I gathered from their focus on me that what I was focused on was very important and very good ’cuz they’re so bad. Despite, or because of, the combined efforts of the gloomy threesome, I pressed on.

I discovered devotion and intensity.

Strangely, my shadow grew larger with my body and the three wise guys grew smaller. In time I replaced guilt with discipline, a stern but agreeable character. Negative anticipation submitted to positive preparation and psyching up, a pair of confident spirits with lofty goals. And disappointment, sour and ungrateful, left one fine day without a word. Like mistakes, the scoundrels taught tough lessons. Their departure was an unconscious relief, dirty snow and slippery ice slowly melting in the spring.

The walk to the gym became hurried, not soon enough, and excitement accompanied my footsteps. Miles were behind me and miles were ahead and somehow I knew the way. You never know the way unless you walk it and climb it, get lost, lose ground, grow cold, hungry and insist on walking again. Nobody can tell you, exactly, what, how and why; they can only offer their hopeful presence, wise suggestions and solid encouragement -- gold ore and uncut diamonds.

My word, what’s the big deal? It’s only lifting weights; it’s exercise and good food. It’s not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Or is it? Think twice. The train is leaving the station; the bombers are taking to the air.

That’s it for today, you raging maniacs. Next week in the short yet dull closing chapter of our mystery you’ll find out whodunit, why and where. Till then, never let go, sets and reps, sardines and lemon water.

Go… God’speed… DD


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