Friday, January 30, 2015

Steve Works Out (obsolete novel chapter)

This was to have been a chapter in my (as yet unpublished) novel, Love $ick.  But it became evident that the character Steve did not contribute to moving the story forward, so he ended up on the editing room floor.  Since I won't be using the chapter, I thought that I would share it with you all.

Steve Works Out

"TGIF", Steve thought, as he dressed to go to the gym.

Everybody liked Steve.  What was not to like?  He had a good car, a good physique, a good head of hair, a good job, and no major vices to speak of.  And he had the gift of gab.  It was the greatest weapon in his arsenal.  Everybody liked it when Steve talked, everyone!  Other lifters in the gym, colleagues at work, random supermarket shoppers, postal clerks, waitresses, literally everyone.

It was partly his deep, mellifluous voice, of course.  But it was more than that.  It was his easy facility with words, his eagerness, and his general joviality.  He knew how to put his listeners at ease.  He knew how to tell a story, too.  Timing was everything, and he had a great sense of timing.  He could also read a room better than anyone else he'd known.  He could work a crowd.  He'd even considered a career in politics, where he could have put these talents to better use.

Today was chest day for Steve.  He had chest day and arm day.  They were really the only two body parts he cared about.  He cared about arms and chest because he knew that chicks liked pecs and biceps.  There was no need to waste precious physical resources training legs.  How many times did he go into a bar with shorts on?  That's right, never.  Who cared if his legs were a bit spindly.  He could set his jaw, puff out his chest, and the cuties would come running.  It had always been this way, and he planned to keep it this way.

Steve downed a quick protein shake, pulled a sweatshirt over his head, and palmed the keys to the pride of his life:  a dark maroon Chevrolet Trailblazer SS.  His Trailblazer made him feel better than every other man in the gym.  Hell, better than every other man on the planet!  It was going to be a great day.  And, then, tomorrow was Saturday.

"Live for the weekend," was another motto of Steve's.

He would begin his Saturday by detailing the SS.  But now he turned the key, brought it roaring to life, and backed out of his driveway.  Steve lived in a little rental house, split into two units, each with its own driveway.  He didn't have a lot of stuff, so he didn't need much space.

"The girls can't see my place from the bar, anyhow.  But they can see the Trailblazer in the parking lot!", Steve mused, punching the throttle.

The SUV scooted happily down the street toward Steve's gym, the Body Blast.  He parked it in his regular space, all the way in the far corner of the lot, so that it could never have a chance of receiving a ding from the door of the vehicle of some mere mortal.  It was well worth the extra hundred paces to the door of the gym, to keep his baby pristine.

Steve winked to Kristi, the morning desk girl at the Body Blast.  Kristi really liked him, he knew.  They had sometimes talked for more than two hours.  She never got tired of listening to Steve talk and dispense fitness advice.  He would just chat with her a few minutes this morning, to keep her up to date on his life and workout progress.

He headed for the locker room.  His ritual here was very precise, and he allowed himself no deviation, no matter how slight.  He placed his lock in a certain orientation on the bench, set his gym bag down just so.  He unloaded it in a precise order.  He gave himself three generous splashes of Aramis cologne.  It made him feel powerful.  He even imagined that he could get a few extra reps with the cologne.  His next step, after stripping down to his boxers, was to admire his physique in the full length mirror at the end of the row of lockers.  This was an important passage in his liturgy, and it occurred twice: once when changing into his workout gear, and a second time just before showering.

Steve looked himself up and down in the mirror.

"Handsome devil," he thought.

He noticed some belly fat, at the front and sagging around the sides of his abdomen, but he gave it little attention.

"It's not fat," he assured himself.  "I'm just holding a little water, that's all."

He donned his workout gear, laced the left and then the right shoe (it didn't feel right doing it in the opposite order), and fastened his leather lifting belt around his waist.  He tightened it two notches tighter than snug, to hold in his waistline.  He needed to present his best image, especially in the gym.  All the lifters were always jealously checking each other out, even if they would never admit it.  Every male in the gym felt a  rush of exhilaration when he spotted someone punier than himself.  And every man felt a horrible, disabling despair when he spotted a gym member more muscular than himself.

In some men, this despair took on such severe physical manifestations that they felt the blood draining away from their muscles, felt they would faint, and had to cut short their planned workouts.

Others, however, had developed coping mechanisms to deal with the possibility of meeting superior male specimens in the gym.  Steve had this mechanism in place.  It had several layers of programming, and is best illustrated using the following flow chart.

This is, of course, a simplification of the Steve's mental process.  In reality, there are more decision points.  For example, he can declare his rival an inferior specimen if one body part can be seen to be clearly undeveloped.

"That guy has no traps whatsoever!  What a pencilneck!"

As he got ready to step out of the men's locker room, Steve checked his posture, puffed out his chest, and pulled his shoulders back.  He held his clenched fists at his sides, about a foot to either side of his hips, to make himself appear wider.  He was ready.  He pushed the locker room door open with a firm blow to the stainless steel plate on it, and nearly knocked over a scrawny man in his thirties.  The man was startled, and cowered a bit until Steve had marched past him.  He looked back over his shoulder at Steve, as he was entering the locker room.

"Loser!"  Steve muttered to himself.

He proceeded to his home-away-from-home, the flat bench press station.  It was one of two in this gym, not counting the Smith machines, and they were in high demand.  He hated it if he had to wait for someone.  Sometimes, he had even stormed out of the gym and skipped a workout if both benches were taken.  But both were available this morning.

He slipped a 45-pound plate over each cylindrical end of end of the Olympic bar.  Forty-five pounds for the bar, plus ninety pounds for the two plates, made 135 pounds, his warm-up weight.  He positioned himself on the bench and looked up at the weight.  Even with a light weight like this, Steve did a lot of preliminary huffing and puffing before carefully grabbing the bar at the exact place on the knurling.  He pounded out fifteen very rapid repetitions, with nearly full range of motion.  He brought the bar down all the way to touch his chest on each rep, but did not go all the way up at the top.  Close, but not quite full reps.

He let the barbell clang down onto its resting posts, and jumped to his feet victoriously.  It was going to be a good workout, he could tell.  He loaded another 45 on each side of the barbell, and then celebrated the good warmup set by walking to the front desk to chat with Kristi.

"Miss me?" he asked?

Kristi smiled at him with what he took to be a very sweet smile, but said nothing.  Steve knew it was his signal that she was lonely and wanted to talk.

In actuality, Kristi's tortured smile was a prayer for help, for deliverance from this loudmouth and his gift of gab.  He tortured her every day this way, and if she had not feared losing her job, she'd have long ago told him to take all his talk and shove it.  But she couldn't do that.  She had to be polite.  A careful observer of the smile in question would have looked not only at her mouth, but at her eyes, filled with fear, pleading:  "Please, please go away, you wretched old man!"

But this was not a message Steve was inclined to accept.  Besides, he had some really good stories about cars he had raced on the street with his Trailblazer.  After those, he would tell her some more of his old football stories.  They were always a hit with the desk girls.  After that, they could talk about country music for a while.

Kristi's eyes glazed over.  She thought about the routine maintenance tasks she was supposed to be taking care of at this moment:  vacuuming the carpet, cleaning the restrooms, and moving stray weight plates back to their proper positions on the weight trees.  This guy's constant talk was really setting her back.  At this rate, she'd have to stay after her shift to get all her tasks checked off.  Couldn't he see that she was not interested?

No, he could not.  One of Steve's other weapons, along with the Gift of Gab, was a defensive one.  It was the Inability to take a Hint.  It served him well.  It was only on extremely rare occasions that anyone would say anything explicit to him, asking him to alter his behavior.  Almost always, they dropped hints.  But he did not have the ability to pick up on hints.  Or, rather, he had a useful and powerful inability to take hints.  This was a beauty thing:  it allowed him to maintain his original course of action in nearly every situation, unimpeded by the thoughts and feelings of others.

It was 42 minutes before he returned to the bench press, his 225-pound Olympic barbell still waiting for him.  He lay on the bench and performed another set.  This time it was ten slower, more controlled repetitions, still not going all the way up at the top of each rep.  He racked the weight, stood up, and reached for his water bottle.  He loosened his leather belt between sets, to give him the ability to breathe a little more deeply.  His eyes scanned the perimeter of the gym, looking for the next person to talk to.  He saw Philip.

"Phil, baby!"  he called over to where Philip was in the middle of a set of T-bar rows.  "Lift big or stay home!"

He chuckled loudly to signal to Philip that he was in a good mood and therefore, Philip was also required to be in a good mood.

Philip was a very knowledgeable nutrition expert in the field of fitness and bodybuilding, but he had a quiet, understated personality.  Though he knew fifty times as much as Steve, it was always Steve who advise Philip on dietary matters.  It was strictly a matter of Steve being a completely confident blowhard, and Philip's time being too precious to him to bother correcting Steve's every clueless statement.  He saw the path of least resistance as being:  feigning interest, nodding his head, and then excusing himself to do the next set.

This was not always completely efficacious, however.   Steve often stood alongside Philip while Philip performed his next set, still talking about his latest theories.  Philip took it all graciously, as far as any visible signs showed.  But inside, he was seething.  Early on in their lopsided relationship, this had ruined many sets of cable rows, squats, pulldowns, calf raises, incline presses, laterals, and leg curls.  But, then, he'd gone through a paradigm shift.  It happened during a set of wide grip pulldowns.  Philip was trying to concentrate on his latissimus muscles, to feel them as he moved through the full range of motion of the exercise.  He had a death grip on the iron bar that hung suspended from a cable.  The cable ran over a pulley at the top of the machine, and attached to a stack of weights.  The stack of weights could be anything from 10 pounds to 250 pounds, depending upon where a pin was inserted between consecutive weight plates in the stack.  When the pin was set for a lesser weight, there was a polished steel shaft with a pointed end that was visible below the weight stack when you pulled down on the bar to lift the stack.  The end of the shaft was pointed to help guide it back through the holes in the unused plates.

Philip had been working out with 140 pounds when the new idea came to him.  Steve had been chattering at him about distilled water and positive nitrogen balance, and Philip's blood was boiling.  He suddenly had a vision of Steve's fat head, sitting on its side atop the unused weights.  Each time he lowered the 140-pound stack, he pictured in his mind the pointed steel shaft plunging through Steve's head, sending blood everywhere, and leaving Steve's mute tongue lolling out of the lower side of his mouth.

It was a powerful vision, and Steve's incessant nutrition and workout lectures only enhanced its power.  Somehow, the momentary imagination of Steve's head pierced by the one-inch shaft gave him a superhuman strength for the next downward pull on the bar.  The 140 pound stack fairly flew up to the top of the apparatus.  At the end of this set, Philip bumped the weight up to 180 pounds, more than he had ever used to that point.  Steve kept up his monologue, Philip kept visualizing Steve's head being impaled, and ten perfect, clean reps were accomplished.

This was the paradigm shift.  Philip had packed on five pounds of solid muscle since he had begun to impale Steve with the weight stack shafts.  Of course, variations had to be devised for free weight exercises, but Philip's mind was nimble, and he found plenteous ways to link his lifting performance to the successful dismemberment and silencing of Mr. Gift of Gab.

He still would have preferred never to have heard Steve's voice again, but this new inspiration Steve gave him, and the muscle derived from it, was certainly among the best silver linings he'd ever found behind any dark cloud.

Steve was oblivious to all of this.  He reasoned that his pal Phil kept silence because it was simply the proper thing to do in the presence of a superior.  His physique and knowledge, he felt, were far superior to Phil's.  But he would help Phil catch up to him … a little bit.  Never all the way.

Soon, it was time for his next set of bench presses.  He added a 25-pound plate to each end of the bar, bringing its total weight to 275 pounds.  The increased weight required that he perform more gyrations on the bench, making sure that his back was symmetrically located, and that his hands were not even one millimeter off to either side of their appointed places on the knurling of the Olympic bar.  If he doubted his hand placement, he took both hands off and started again.  He wiggled his but to get it centered on the bench.  Finally, he was in position.

Steve took eight deep, rapid breaths to fill his bloodstream with oxygen.  He unracked the weight.  At this weight, his form was different.  He bounced the weight off his sternum at the bottom, using his ribcage as a spring to reverse the momentum of the falling bar.  For the first three reps, he was able to keep his butt on the bench and get the weight up.  But beginning with the fourth rep, he arched his back and lifted his butt off the bench, to bring his stronger lower pectoral muscles into play.  He managed five reps in all.  That was Steve's chest workout.

He headed over to the treadmill.  He punched in his desired speed and incline, along with his body weight.  He added ten pounds to the body weight number, because it made the automatic calorie counter go up faster, which made him happy.  He walked briskly for two minutes, jogged at a quicker rate for one minute, and then did a two minute cooldown walk.

He paced to the men's locker room, making sure to hold his fists out from his side to make himself look wide.  He puffed up his chest.  He loved chest day.  He showered and shaved at the gym, and put his work clothes on.  The world was his oyster.

Friday, January 23, 2015

1955 Cadillac Print for Sale!

I completed this oil painting of a 1955 Cadillac near the end of 2013, and it is now available as a Limited Edition print (100 prints total).

Here is the link to purchase the print on ebay.  The cost is $30, shipped to anywhere in the United States.

2014 Michigan Gumball Rally Video!

My son Eliot and I went on the 2014 Michigan Gumball Rally in our supercharged 2003 Mercury Marauder.  We had a blast!

This video summary of the 3-day event captures some of the fun, including Eliot driving on a 1/4 mile paved oval stock car track, me drag racing (and beating) a Shelby Super Snake, and Eliot doing the cool burnout right at the beginning of this video.  Also, see if you can spot the close-up of our boost gauge, which makes an appearance later in the video.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Trouble In Transtopia: Murmurs Of Sex Change Regret

This article is most worthy of  your attention.

What kind of evil person tries to silence the warnings of those how have done something they regret and are trying to warn others not to make the same mistake?
Phantom Limb Syndrome. I guess they didn't see that coming.

"Oh, Petra, I am so frightened. Darling, something dreadful has happened. I’m sure — I’m almost quite sure. Do you remember when I said Nature couldn’t revenge herself? Oh, but she can and has, Petra.


I don’t know. I feel so ill, and I can’t sleep. He asked me what was the matter with me today. I’d been crying and I look simply awful. Petra, my dearest, what can we do? How cruel God is! He must be on the conventional people’s side after all. " (Dorothy L. Sayers - The Documents in the Case)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Everything I Ever Really Needed to Know about Bodybuidling I Learned from Dave Draper on the Beverly Hillbillies

I first saw this episode back in the 1960s.  I watched it again in its entirety about 10 years ago.  Then I watched it again today.  It is funny how each time I watch it, different things pop out at me.

What I learned about bodybuilding from Dave Draper's appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies.

1.  Outsiders will view bodybuilding as a disease (Barbell Bloat).

2.  Aesthetic Strength versus Functional Strength (see 19:25 in the video).  Clearly, Ellie Mae Clampett was a crossfitter.

3.  Origin of the word "swole"!  Spoken by Granny at 5:50 - "Look at his arms, swole up twice to normal size!"

4.  People will never understand what it is we are trying to do (see video at 12:23).  "Swole up as he is, that poor boy is trying to build hisself a wheelchair."

Fall of the Rebel Angels

This blog entry from artist Ken Ruzic is most worthy of your attention.

I like everything about this painting!

When you go to the blog, do not forget to click the "Play" button on the Fauré Requiem video!

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Response to "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete"

Veteran bodybuilding journalist John Romano recently penned an editorial titles, "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete."  Reaction to the article, at least in the Comments section at T Nation, were overwhelmingly positive.  But I wonder why, because I don't find much I can agree with in the article.

DISCLAIMER:  I admit to being biased in this matter, because I am exactly the sort of person that Mr. Romano finds so vexing:  a bodybuilder with extremely poor genetics who competes in spite of this fact.  So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Even before Romano gets around to listing the 5 Reasons, the article is problematic for me. He states:

"Some people just don't belong on the bodybuilding stage. Sometimes it's their genetics or they're just not ready yet. Sometimes they're delusiona
When is a person ready to step onto a bodybuilding stage?  Only when he or she is likely to win a contest?  Ronnie Coleman (whose genetics nobody questions) finished 15th in his first Mr. Olympia contest in 1994.  Should he not have competed because he was not ready to win at that level?

Romano goes on to say:

"Competing is serious business. Do it 'for fun' if you must, but realize that you're annoying the audience, the judges, and the truly dedicated competitors."
How does he know that competing is a serious business?  He offers no proof, but merely an assertion.  What if it really isn't some kind of life-and-death, gravely earnest thing like Romano assumes it is?  What if it is more like adventure, play, or "sport"?
We have still not reached the 5 Reasons when we read this:
"Now, there are people who will contend that bad genetics can be overcome. To some degree that's true, but only to an extent. There are certain genetic attributes that are not favorable to bodybuilding. The extreme examples of which, sadly, must cause the athlete to concede that competition is just not in the cards for him. It should only take a couple of contests to realize this unfortunate truth."
Okay, fine.  Let me grant this for the sake of argument.  So, Romano is in the audience for a bodybuilding contest.  A guy comes on stage who looks woefully out of place.  Should he be condemned by John Romano for being there?  No.  He may simply be following Romano's advice here, by entering a couple of contests to test the waters.  He is following Romano's own recommended process, and should be left alone to do so.

Then, we read this:

"Even if you have the will and the desire and means, plus the requisite genetics to go the distance, there are still better odds that my next Ferrari will be lime green than you ever winning the Olympia."
Wait, hold on!  Is he seriously saying that nobody should compete unless he/she has a good chance of eventually winning the Olympia?  Because that is what he is saying here.  And if we follow this dictum, the vast majority of bodybuilding competitors should not be competing.

Oh, wait, he's going to backtrack now:

"You may not have what it takes to be Mr. Olympia and that's okay."
Then why bother even mentioning the green Ferrari analogy?  Okay, so he was just kidding about having to have Olympia potential in order to be allowed to compete.  Are we coming to the 5 Reasons now?  No, not yet.  But there is this:
"Why is that a problem? It's simple. If bodybuilding were a sport that didn't have an audience attached to it then no one would care. But bodybuilding has an audience. And those fans have to sit through amateur shows that are littered with multiple classes and divisions - from teens to masters to wheelchairs and the endless classes of female competitors - routinely corralling 400-500 or more competitors on the regional level. And they all want their two minutes on stage. If they all got just that, prejudging alone would be over 16 hours long!"
Perhaps this is the crux of the biscuit, then.  Bodybuilding shows take too long!  And this is a valid concern.  But a few things.  First, this does not apply to local shows.  I've attended shows in which only 30 to 40 competitors (in all classes combined!) are entered.  Prejudging took perhaps 45 minutes to an hour.  And this is exactly the kind of show that the inferior competitors Romano is complaining about tend to enter!  To be frank, the promoter is probably very glad for every person who enters this kind of small contest, because it increases his/her chances of breaking even financially on the event.  Every "Mr. Puniverse" that pays his entry fee and brings 3 or 4 of his gym buddies or family members to the show helps to make it viable to put on such shows.  The promoters at local competitions need these competitors to enter their shows.

And those shows that draw 400 to 500 entries?  How many of them are in the Bikini division?  Probably close to half.  So one way to assure that shows are completed in a reasonable amount of time would be to separate Bodybuilding from Bikini.

And, as Romano says, these are regional level shows.  How big a problem is it, really, this phenomenon of under-prepared competitors at big shows, say at Jr. Nationals?  I've just not seen it very often at all.

But let's say it was.  Then, instead of making a blanket statement about people who should "Never" compete ... what about if we just urged people to compete at the appropriate level?  Then, Mr. Romano would never have to attend a regional or national show with weak competitors on stage.  Those competitors should be urged to stay at the smaller, local shows until they rack up a few victories at that level.  That, I could sign up to.  But that is a far cry from telling someone to never compete!

We are almost to the 5 Reasons, I promise.  But first, just to underscore the extreme seriousness of this kind of bodybuilding crime, Romano says:

"That being the case, wasting just one precious second on a competitor that has no business being up on stage is an affront to every single person on either side of the stage that day."
So many questions are begged.  If wasting even one second is such a crime, what about the M.C. telling stale jokes for 5 minutes?  That's 300 seconds, for those of you keeping score at home.  What about inept facilitators, inefficient check-in procedures, and various delays caused by the judging panel?  Maybe those will be covered in a separate article.

And at long last we come to the 5 Reasons:

1.  You're Not Ripped

"This one is my pet peeve and I'll tell you why. As anyone who's ever dieted down into shredded, striated, veiny, contest condition knows, it's a grueling work of intense suffering. There's no way around it. 
Some people do have an easier time of it, but to diet down to contest condition is to suffer incessantly. Usually, the most ripped guy is the guy who can suffer the most. 
Some people can't do it. Some can't get close. And that's okay. All it means is you don't belong on stage."
I am actually close to agreeing with Romano on this one.  You can't flex fat, as they say.  And like a decent tan and appropriate posing suit, being sufficiently lean should be just a basic requirement for competing.  Anyone with sufficient desire can get lean.  Many people lack the desire and that is okay, as Romano says.  Still, I'm not sure if or how you police this.  With a pre-pre-judging, so that the judges look at everyone before allowing them to step on stage for pre-judging?  I don't think that is going to happen.

2.  You Just Don't Have Enough Muscle

This is pretty straightforward.  You need muscle to do well in bodybuilding.  You need lesser amounts, usually, to do well in the Masters and Grand Master divisions or in drug-tested contests.

But isn't that what the contest is for?  Determining who has more and better muscle?  If those with lesser amounts of muscle excuse themselves from even entering, there is no contest -- only a parade of the winners, to collect their trophies.

And, also, this "Never" thing keeps coming back to me.  Bodybuilding is a dynamic process, not a static status.  So, just because you don't have enough muscle today, does this mean you should Never compete?  That's ridiculous.  I remember once reading a quote from Bev Francis, which was complaining about some of her competitors.  She said something to the effect that they were not real bodybuilders ... just skinny girls who got built up!  Wait, whoa!  Isn't that the entire point of bodybuilding ... you start skinny and add muscle?  So, to tell a skinny competitor that he should Never compete ... is ridiculous.

3.  Your Calves Suck

This is easily the most bizarre thing in the entire article.  Apparently, for Romano, calves trump every other body part:

"Small biceps, a weak chest, or a shallow back can all be overlooked in view of the whole, but not having calves turns an otherwise good bodybuilder into a lawn dart."
Which is completely absurd. I begin to see why he waited so long to get to the 5 Reasons.  Although my sense of propriety prevents me from listing their names, there are many, many high-level bodybuilding champions who had/have weak calves.

4.  You Have A Bad Structure

Now we come to a crucial point.  Admittedly, some people are cursed with bad genetics for bodybuilding.  It's true.  But there are many bodybuilders with average genetics who have turned Pro.  Phil Heath used to always be critiqued for having narrow shoulders ... until he built enough muscle on them to become Mr. Olympia.  This runs directly counter to what Romano claims:

"Because no matter how much muscle you put on, you're never going to be able to change the framework upon which it is deposited."
5.  Your Skin is Ugly

Although he starts to go into a discussion of tattoos on bodybuilders, this is a dead end, and the section actually ends up being about acne.  I think we can all agree that acne is unattractive.  So, Romano gives this advice:

"Save competing until after you get your skin under control."
That kind of makes sense to me.  It seems like reasonable advice.  But maybe John Romano has forgotten by this point that the title of the article is "5 Reasons Why You Should Never Compete", not "5 Reasons You Should Wait Until You Are Ready To Compete."

After thus concluding the enumeration of the 5 Reasons, Romano continues with this:

"While no one really wants to admit just how much of a limiting effect (career-preventing actually) genetics has on bodybuilding, there is certainly enough evidence these days to support the claim."
I suppose that is true to a degree.  But I prefer this statement I heard from a bodybuilder years ago:
"The harder I work, the better my genetics get."  
To me, that captures the real essence of bodybuilding:  overcoming supposed limitations, not giving up before you even start.