An Outing at the Beach
|As the day of the contest approached, the workouts became a little disorganized. We all agreed that Jonathan's workouts took priority, so whatever equipment he decided to use was his, and he was no longer willing to alternate sets with one of us. If he needed a spotter, someone spotted for him until he was through with the equipment. Otherwise, Stan, Barry, and I would work out together on some other exercise. Notwithstanding Jonathan's warning about likely mood swings, Stan seemed particularly disturbed by Jonathan's impatience, and had to be assured that Jonathan wasn't *really* angry with us, and this would go away soon.
Jonathan's posing practice was a lot easier to take. He seemed to really enjoy putting his routine together, and the last few days he started posing with a tape he had made of Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries'. Even in the sort of diffuse light of the garage-gym, and without oil on his body, Jonathan's posing routine was a treat to watch (to say the least), and Jonathan grinned and bowed when we all applauded. The day before the show, Jonathan told me to pinch his skin at several points, especially around his midsection and triceps. I had never seen anything like it: there was no discernible fat below the skin, and I was simply pinching epidermis together, a thin film stretched across his still thick muscles.
With Jonathan focused on his contest, it was easy for the rest of the Muscle Club to plan a surprise. Barry's mother was in real estate, and worked closely on many occasions with a professional photographer. He owed her a favor, since she had sent a fair amount of business his way. It took several phone calls, but we arranged for the photographer to be present at the Muscle Beach show. He would keep the negatives, and could sell the photos if he wanted, but we would be able to present Jonathan with a professionally photographed and developed picture of his appearance (and, we fully expected, victory) in his first contest, mounted and nicely framed, and it would only cost us the few dollars we put together as a nominal fee.
A couple of days before the contest, as I was walking home with Barry, I sort of cleared my throat and said, "Look, about the other day, you know, in your bedroom. I'm sorry I freaked out on you like that. Nobody had ever talked to me like that before." I paused, awkwardly. "Can I ask you something?"
"Would you think it was weird if I asked you to let me feel you flexing your legs sometime? Not now, not yet...just...you know, hypothetically?"
Barry looked at me sort of funny. "Well, I don't know, maybe it is weird. But If it is, then that makes two of us, because I think it'd be really cool."
"OK," I said, and briefly squeezed his shoulder at the trapezius. "I may hold you to that someday."
Finally, it was Saturday, August 31, the day of the contest. Barry, Stan, and I met at a bus stop and made our way to Santa Monica. Barry was much more familiar with the beach area than either Stan or I. In fact, he said that he thought there was supposed to be a nude beach somewhere near one of the Venice piers, but didn't know where it was exactly, because he rarely got very far south of the Santa Monica pier where the bus stopped. Since that was obviously more than Stan or I knew, Barry was designated our official navigator for finding our way to the Venice Beach area where the Muscle Beach 'pit' and contest stage were. If he happened to find some other attractions along the way, well, so much the better.
The only time I had been in the Venice area before was in 1963, for a birthday visit to the Pacific Ocean Park amusement park, now closed and boarded up and looking rather sad as we walked past. I was completely unprepared for the scene at the Venice boardwalk.
Always a sort of haven for eccentrics, Venice had in the last couple of years become a sort of mini-Haight-Ashbury -- a conglomeration of hippies, transients, Tarot readers, incense sellers, and every other type of young and old person all milling around in what could only be described as a continuous street party that made me think of a psychedelic version of the pictures I had seen of Mardi Gras. At every turn someone was playing music (it was my first look at a real sitar), or meditating, or handing out leaflets for everything from the SDS and Black Panthers to a half-dozen anti-war events, or extolling the virtues of drugs, free sex, or Transcendental Meditation. There was a small group of activists protesting -- quite rightly, I thought -- the disgusting events during the week just past at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. A couple of uniformed policemen watched them with bored and contemptuous expressions, ignoring the occasional shouts of "pig!" directed at them. Street peddlers were everywhere, selling funky clothes, psychedelic posters, drug paraphernalia (Barry had to explain some of these), and all sorts of baubles, bangles, and beads. Barry bought an inexpensive leather headband which looked quite good on him; I bought a couple of buttons reading 'Frodo Lives' in Elvish script and 'Go Go Gandalf' (which, in turn, I had to explain to Barry).
We must have walked around there for a good hour (with our shirts off, the term 'strutted' is probably more appropriate than 'walked') breathing in the mixture of sea air, suntan lotion, barbecue smoke, marijuana, and strawberry incense. It was so fascinating that we almost forgot why we were there -- Barry, apparently, had even forgotten about hunting up the nude beach -- but we soon headed out to look for the 'Muscle Beach' weight pit and the stage where Jonathan had told us the contest would be.
When we reached the weight pit, a good sized area containing a variety of lifting equipment surrounded by a waist-high fence, we had to stop strutting. We were pretty good-sized and muscular kids by now, but these guys were *big*. There were men in their forties or fifties who had builds that most college guys would envy; the smallest teenager, who looked about 17 or 18, was considerably more muscular than any of us. We watched as he benched a set of ten reps at 185 near the edge of the pit where we were standing. When he finished the set, he saw us watching and flashed us the two-fingered 'peace' sign that had become a common greeting in the last couple of years.
"Looks like you guys lift," he said. "Are you guys going to watch, or are you going to work out?"
Barry spoke up, "Don't we have to be members or something? It'd be really far out to work out here in the open and everything."
The teenager pointed to a nearby gate and said, "Oh, it'll be OK, just go in there." We walked around and came back to the bench where the teenager was waiting. He looked like he might be Chicano, though he had little accent. He had long, dark hair tied with a beaded headband. He was about Barry's height, but a lot heavier and more muscular. I guessed his arms were 16 inches or maybe even more, and his chest maybe 45 inches or so. He wasn't really lean, and showed less abdominal definition than I did. He was wearing a pair of Venice High School gym trunks over his strong-looking legs.
"I'm Roland," he said. We all introduced ourselves.
"How long have you been lifting?" I asked.
"Since I was 14," he said, "about three years. What about you?"
Barry said, "MuscleMike and I started at the end of last semester. Stan had already been training for over a year."
Roland's eyes widened and he looked us over again. "You're doing really good for just a couple of months," he said, "*really* good." Then he looked at Stan. "Over a year? How old are you, anyway?"
Stan answered, unexpectedly, "Thirteen come Monday." Barry and I hadn't realized that Stan had a birthday coming up. But we weren't anywhere near as surprised as Roland, who said, "Oh, wow, by the time you're my age you're going to be *huge*! How much do you guys bench?"
We told him how much we were doing for sets, and he said, "Don't you ever try for a single rep maximum?"
Stan said, "Our trainer says that just wastes energy and doesn't really make you stronger."
"Oh," Roland said, "that's true; single-reps are just for fun. You want to see how much you can do?" We all went for the idea. We were grooving on the idea of showing off our strength out there in the sun at the closest thing there was to the famous Muscle Beach. We did some light weight warmups ("Don't want you guys to hurt yourselves doing this," Roland remarked), and then Roland set up the bar with 175 pounds on it. With much effort, I was able to bench this weight twice, but failed on the third rep. Barry got it once. Stan didn't quite manage it. On the next trial, I just pressed 185 pounds, and Stan neatly succeeded with 165 pounds. Roland was really impressed.
"You guys are out of sight! Benching way over your body weight this soon after you started is amazing."
"Well," said Stan, "we have a great trainer. He'll be in the Mr. Muscle Beach contest this afternoon."
"Far out!" he said. "I have to be at my grandmother's this afternoon, so I can't see the show. But why don't you guys come back here and train with me sometimes this fall?" He looked at me. "I think we'd work out really well together. This is *the* place for muscle freaks like us to be."
"That sounds really cool," I said, "but we go to Hami, and none of us drive, so it wouldn't be very easy."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Shit. Well, maybe you guys'll make it some weekend. I usually train around noon." Roland still wanted to finish his workout before he left, and we wanted to get to the stage where the contest would be, so we all said goodbye, leaving Roland on his bench, doing 'flyes' with 45-pound dumbbells.
As we walked on the sand towards the contest site, with Stan running a bit ahead, Barry poked me. "You know, Roland? He, you know, had a pencil in his pocket when you were benching." I looked at Barry skeptically. "No, honest. Didn't you see how he was looking at you?"
I shook my head. "Next time," I told Barry, "make some hand signs or semaphore or smoke signals or something."
Barry laughed. "Ya know, for a smart guy, sometimes you... OK, next time I'll just give you a 'thumbs-up'. That should be descriptive enough."
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