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This was to have been a chapter in my (as yet unpublished) novel, Love $ick.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.