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Mr. Muscle Beach
|The contest wasn't at the pit itself, but at an outdoor stage a short distance away, a large semicircle built of bricks and concrete half-surrounding a wide open area for spectators with a half dozen concrete tables and benches with metal umbrellas overhead. We arrived about 45 minutes before the show so we had plenty of time to stake out a good location at one of the tables. About ten minutes after we arrived, Barry spotted his photographer friend looking around and they found themselves a spot near us that the photographer decided would be a good setup. The three of us were still shirtless and the photographer asked to take a picture of the three of us posing together on the stage so that he could get a light reading, choose a lens, and similar mysterious photographer things. Nobody was there yet to keep us off the stage, so we climbed up. As the tallest, I stood in the center doing my best lat-spread, while Stan stood on my left showing his side-chest pose to the photographer while Barry stood on my right in what was obviously one of his favorite poses, flexing his arms with his hands behind his head while crunching his abs and flexing his legs. It was only after we sat back down that I remembered how camera-shy I had been on that first day of training in June.
By then, people were starting to show up for the contest. Most of them were just the usual beach-going public, drawn mostly by curiosity, along with a few curious hippies and other local denizens. Some were guys we had seen back at the 'pit', as well as some other amazingly big guys who apparently worked out at a nearby gym they called Gold's, which had opened two or three years ago.
Without much fanfare, and with noisy squeals of microphone feedback, the emcee, an older bodybuilder named Bill, came out to welcome everyone to the Mr. Muscle Beach contest for 1968. He spent a little time recounting the history of Muscle Beach, and introduced some of the people who made that stretch of beach famous in the 1930s and 1940s, including a well-built woman with the curious name of 'Pudgy'. He then introduced a 'guest poser'. This proved to be an Austrian bodybuilder with a nearly unpronounceable name like Arnold Somethingorother. Even though he was no older than Jonathan, apparently he had already won the Mr. Austria and Mr. Universe titles, and had been brought over by a magazine publisher to come and train here in Venice. This guy was introduced as the 'Austrian Oak', but when I saw him I muttered to Barry and Stan that this was just because they didn't have any redwoods in Austria. The man was not much taller than me, but weighed (according to the announcer) 240 pounds. His arms, when flexed, were literally as big as Barry's 21-inch thighs. He made a brief speech in hard-to-understand English, thanking everyone and saying how "heppy" he was to be in "Kawleefawnyaw", and then started his posing routine. We were all, to say the least, impressed by his development and symmetry, and the guy got a standing ovation (although most of the audience were standing anyway). Barry's photographer friend seemed to be really pleased, and told us afterwards that he thought the pictures he took of this guy might be worth something someday.
Before getting the contest underway, the MC thanked the guest and gave a short diatribe exhorting all the hippies, yippies, 'dippies, and whatever else is out there' to 'turn on' to healthy living, 'tune in' to their bodies, and 'drop in' to the Muscle Beach weight pit or other gym. He was rewarded by a mixture of applause, laughter, and a shout of "hey, man, that's not my bag," from someone at the back.
Finally, the contest started. There were four 'divisions' -- a tall and short division in each of the Junior and Senior categories. The Junior contest was first, with the short men appearing first. There were only four men in this group, and after seeing that Mr. Universe guy from Austria, we were a little relieved to see that they were more 'ordinary' in their physiques -- one of them seemed to have only been lifting a couple of years. Via the MC, the judges asked the contestants to line up, turn at various angles, then hit particular poses at the same time for comparison. Even the least-built of these men was much more muscular than any of us junior Muscle Club guys, and they were all oiled up and wearing beach swimsuits that were smaller and tighter than any I had seen, so it was fascinating to watch these young men hitting their poses all in a row. They left the stage, and then each of them came out in turn to perform his posing routine. Barry watched carefully, and I thought he was watching the choreography just as closely as he was watching the physiques themselves. Each time one of the guys would hit a pose, everyone would cheer, and a group of the guy's friends would cheer louder and whistle, or shout encouragement, or call to the judges to pay attention. It was different from anything I'd seen before, but everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun, except perhaps the contestants.
Finally, the tall Junior class was introduced. Jonathan was up against only two other guys; one, a Negro, was about his height, but seemed much heavier, with arms and thighs that were obviously thicker than Jonathan's. But he was not as 'cut up' as Jonathan, and you could only vaguely discern his abdominal muscles. Jonathan's other opponent was even taller than me, but seemed to weigh little more than Jonathan, if that. He had a reasonably good back, but his legs showed little shape and his chest, while sharply defined, was plainly less thick and powerful-looking than Jonathan's.
Jonathan himself looked different from what we had expected: he had had his hair trimmed to a very Establishment-looking cut, and his face was more clean-shaven than I had ever seen it. He was wearing a very brief blue swimsuit made of some stretchy material that fitted his trunk like a second skin. He was lightly oiled in a way that caught the afternoon sun perfectly, bringing every muscle fiber into razorlike relief. When he was introduced, we shouted in unison, "Sock It To Them, Jonathan!" which got a grin from Jonathan and some laughter from the rest of the crowd. The photographer deduced that this was probably the man he had come to shoot, and set to work.
As the men went through the mandatory poses, Stan and Barry and I looked at one another in growing excitement. On every pose, Jonathan was showing more hardness, symmetry, and muscularity than either opponent. The larger opponent showed a layer of fat hanging over the back of his trunks when the men did their back poses, while Jonathan showed perfect hardness even in the small muscles at the base of his back. I was even too excited by seeing my friend and trainer demolishing his opponents to get sexually aroused.
Jonathan's posing routine went flawlessly, making allowances for the crude loudspeaker's mangling of Wagnerian opera. The crowd applauded loudly at all the right moments as Jonathan glided easily from one strong pose to another, synchronized nicely with the repeated crescendos of the familiar orchestral work. At every pose our group whistled and cheered, shouted, 'Way to go, Jonathan!' or 'Hey judges, he's ripped to the bone!' and the like. By the time the routine was finished, we weren't the only ones shouting. Our friend's performance was simply beautiful, and we were busting with pride at being able to say we were trained by this superb specimen.
The remainder of the contest was a bit of an anti-climax, as we had to wait for the Senior competition before the results were announced. These guys were obviously seasoned veterans, perhaps only a year or two away from a title like Mr. America or better. All of them were proportioned bigger than Jonathan, and most of them were at least as well defined. I had never seen so many beautiful muscular men in one place in my life. It was like a dream, and a pretty damned wet dream at that.
When all the posing was complete, the judges considered for a few minutes and the results were announced. Jonathan had won the tall class (the big man took second) and received his trophy to raucous cheering from the crowd. Jonathan was required to 'pose down' against the short-class winner for the overall title, but it was obvious that Jonathan outclassed him by far. Jonathan received a second, larger trophy for his overall Junior Mr. Muscle Beach win, and it was presented to him by the Austrian guy who had posed earlier. As they shook hands, Jonathan hit one final pose for the crowd, and then left the stage with everyone still applauding loudly.
We got ready to leave, and scarcely paid attention as the Senior class winners were announced. As the MC made his closing remarks, Barry quickly thanked the photographer, and we ran around the back of the stage as quickly as we could to catch up with Jonathan.
It was pretty easy to get around to the area behind the stage. Jonathan was there, flanked by his trophies, still in his posing trunks and getting his picture taken by tourists. When he saw us, he excused himself from the middle-aged man in the flowered shirt who had asked for a photo, and greeted us. "You guys made it! What did you think?"
We all spoke at once, congratulating him, telling him how he had obviously outclassed his competition, and generally letting him know how much he had impressed not just us, but the whole crowd. Jonathan was grinning from ear to ear. Another tourist came up and asked for a picture, and Jonathan asked him to take it with his three protegés in the picture as well. Jonathan must have posed for another dozen or so pictures in the next several minutes, and for almost all of them, he posed with Stan, Barry, and me, sometimes one at a time, sometimes as a group.
As the crowd started to subside, the MC came back and congratulated Jonathan again, telling him to come back and compete next year. "Well, I don't think I'm going to make a career out of this," Jonathan said. "But we'll have to see. Say, I'd like you to meet some students I've been training this summer. Mike Wesson, Barry Winters, and Stan Pettit. Guys, this is Bill. He's been at Muscle Beach since before any of you guys were born."
We all shook hands politely. Bill looked at us, with a look of undisguised contempt at Barry's long hair and headband. But he only said, "They just started training this summer? That's great, guys. Keep it up and maybe next year you'll be up on the stage too. We're thinking of having a teenage division, so one of you might be the first teenage Mr. Muscle Beach!"
Bill got distracted by someone else who seemed to be an old friend, and we were left alone. Jonathan toweled the remaining oil from his skin and started to get dressed. "It was really great having you guys out there yelling for me." He looked at the trophies. "Man, what a trip. I couldn't have asked for a better day." He finished dressing, and picked up the grocery bag containing his things.
"OK, let's get going. I'm *starving*! You guys want to bring these trophies?" Stan took the smaller one, I took the larger, and we all followed Jonathan back across the beach and boardwalk to a where his car was parked, off that tiny Venice alleyway with the laughable name of 'Speedway'. We all piled into Jonathan's car, an old Ford Falcon, and headed for a pizza place in the vicinity that Jonathan knew.
Jonathan treated all of us to the late lunch, and lavishly expressed his gratitude to us. "I know I've been kind of self-centered the last couple of weeks, and you guys never made a peep of complaint. Seeing you out there in the audience, I just..." He looked sort of embarrassed. "Well, I couldn't have been prouder. I really don't think I could have put myself through this without you guys, and I don't know if I'd do it again, but I'm really glad I did it. I had a blast!"
"That guy Bill said maybe we could do the contest next year," said Stan, "Do you think we could?"
"If you really wanted to, there's no doubt about it," answered Jonathan. "Assuming you keep lifting, by next year there won't be a whole lot of guys your age who could beat you. Do you think you'd want to?"
Stan said, "That'd be so bitchin'!" and Barry nodded enthusiastically. "Could be fun at that," I said.
"OK, then I have an idea. Next Saturday is our last day of lifting before school starts. I'll want to get updated pictures anyway, so let's do it like our own contest. You guys put posing routines together, and you'll get a chance to sort of see what it's like. Sound good?"
Everyone's mouths were stuffed with pizza at that moment, so all we could do was nod. Our last week of training before school. I wondered what that would mean to our Muscle Club, but tried not to think about it. This week was going to be fun!
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