I grew up scrawny, which always sort of bugged me, convinced the girls wouldn't be too impressed. On the other hand, I was always the tallest guy in class, which surely must count for something. Actually, in the fifth grade, a new student transferred in who was an inch taller, but I hit more home runs than him, and by the end of that year, he moved. So, I was back to my full stature among classmates.

The ultimate sex machine?
By ninth grade, I was mostly done growing, at least naturally. Here are the statistics: 6'4" at 138 pounds. Definitely a bean pole, as this wrestling photograph from that time indicates.

Same thing all throughout high school, but definitely more hirsute by senior year. Despite the fact I considered my weedy physique a definite impediment with the opposite sex, I deliberately kept my weight down, and here's why.

Viet Nam.

This was on everyone's mind in 1970. I was royally pissed. All I wanted to do was read books and learn new things, and the Fed needed me to kill people I didn't even know, half a world away, for a not overly compelling reason. I made a very deliberate decision then and there: I would never serve under any conditions, for any reason. I'm not a Quaker, but was committed from the get-go never to hold a gun, especially aimed at another human being, for any cause, regardless of the consequences. By high school I had already come to the conclusion that there was enough of that over the centuries, and wanted no part of continuing the tradition. As the character H. G. Wells put it in that wonderful Nicholas Meyer film, Time after Time:
"The first man to raise his fist, is the man who has run out of ideas."
So what's that got to do with my undernourished carcass? This. The church I was compelled to attend (another abomination to be shucked as soon as I was on my own) had sponsored some sessions on how to avoid the draft. This was perhaps the one useful activity that organization ever sponsored. I learned from the chap conducting the get-together that there were weight and height cutoffs which could disqualify a person. In particular, at my height, the minimum weight requirement was 128 pounds.

That's just a fraction from where I was! I figured I could cut ten pounds by diligence should my lottery number come up, my turn in the barrel, so to speak. So, I elected to keep my body weight static during the interim. By the way, my old man, who had been an officer stationed in London during World War II, was in perfect accord with my decision.

I spent senior year terribly self-conscious about my bony appearance, convinced I would never attract a girlfriend. But at least I wouldn't be going against my conscience and aiming weaponry at a fellow inhabitant.

It was a long wait, but by the following year, I was in the clear; my draft lottery number was considerably toward the middle and I felt safe at last. This was probably the only time in my life I found myself near the center of a distribution! But isn't that the pits? At such an age, one should be thinking about creating, not destroying. Gibbon ought to be required reading for anyone who thinks they're fit to run the country and makes us do things contrary to conscience.

My brother was a national champion powerlifter, and by this time I was living with him, as described elsewhere herein. I began to work out with Bill, becoming very interested in the sport, above and beyond just trying to gain some weight.

We took our workouts at the YMCA, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, each one running about three hours. Naturally, with the increased output, it was essential that I change my diet big time. Now we get to the part you're not going to believe, but I'll swear on the Book of the Law it's all true. Each and every day I consumed:
  • one pound of ground beef
  • one pound of fish
  • one tub of peanut butter
  • one carton of cottage cheese
  • one gallon of whole milk
...in addition to a "health" malt every hour on the hour during the daylight. Health malts consisted of a quart of milk, a couple eggs, a cup of Hoffman's Quick Weight Gain powder, a half cup of honey, and a half cup of dessicated liver powder. In between, I also consumed no end of Abdullah energy bars (molasses, honey, coconut and figs making them up), and countless cans of Nutrament, which I bought by the case from Madsens.

This was not hit or miss, by the way. Bill and I had worked out a careful regimen, committed to paper with checkboxes to be filled in religiously. I don't recall the exact figures, but it was somewhere around 10,000 calories, and a couple hundred grams of protein daily. My buddy Joe, described elsewhere, was convinced I was killing myself.

I've never been able to gain weight easily so this took sheer concentrated work, total diligence. I was constantly nauseous from eating, and of course all that input does have an impact elsewhere in life, to put it daintily. But I was so committed, I didn't care. And the workouts were like heading into a torture chamber. My back and legs were in a constant state of agony.

But guess what? My weight began to creep up from that scrawny 138 pounds. First 150, then 170, then 175, and then 185, and then...

Competing in the 185 lb. weight class
It was time for my first powerlifting competition. This was an intramural affair at Potato State College as it was then known. The pictures here show the contest in progress.

In the first one, I'm being spotted by Larry on the left and Lee on the right in a full squat. Larry became my workout partner a year later after I had moved to Norton Street. He in fact lived but a block away on that same nefarious street, so we often had cram sessions together: eat, eat, eat. His was another success story. As you can tell, he was a small man, fairly short. But through pure application, he was able to go from around 120 pounds up to 198 pounds, truly impressive for his stature. By the time he reached the high end, he was spouting non-stop nosebleeds, no doubt from the increased body mass. Someday, I'll have to write up the hilarious episode when an outraged father beat down the door at Larry's house looking for an errant daughter. It led to one of his roommates escaping from a second story window on a ladder, running down Norton Street in his skivvies, while Larry threatened to punch the old man in the nose. Damn, I miss those days!

Check out the facial expressions throughout.
I competed in the 185 pound weight class, against a guy named Doug. There's so much drama in this picture! (Click to enlarge it). First, on the right and behind me is brother Bill, who coached me that night. Next, on the left and behind, is Doug, with his girlfriend posed crosslegged in front of him. Can you read their facial expressions? This snapshot was taken during my third and final attempt in the deadlift, the last lift of the night, and it put me over. I beat Doug by five pounds; I had won my first contest!

I no longer saw myself as a 97 pound weakling...

Goddamn, the competition killed me, though. Walking home that night, just four blocks from campus, was total misery. I collapsed in bed at once and slept for over fourteen hours, but aroused myself briefly every two hours (I set an alarm clock) to prepare and drink another health malt. My roommates were not amused.

After several days away from the gym to recuperate, it was back to business: waking, eating, studying, eating, attending class, eating, working out, eating, even getting up in the middle of the night to eat.

But my body weight was stuck. After that initial surge, I found I was locked in at 185 pounds, and try what I may, just couldn't budge it. I can remember pleading with Bill, "What on earth can I do? I've tried everything, and just can't gain." His response, was unwelcome, but the absolute truth. "Isn't it obvious? You'll have to eat some more."

By this time I was living with that heterogeneous collection of bachelors on Iota Street, just a stone's throw away from Wilson Campus School. They were never very happy with me, since I was always in the kitchen fixing some massive protein rich meal, and of course constantly dirtying up our collection of pots and pans. (They were also severely envious of the babes who would show up from time to time to study the occult with me; Gloria in particular, the busty one in a white cashmere sweater, had them all salivating).  One night sticks out in my mind vividly. I was on my sixth meal of the day, around 7:00 in the evening, followed up by another one-quart health malt. They were all peeved because the dishes were a mess by this point and shouted that I better get to the sink at once to start cleaning them. I waddled in that direction, drew some hot water, suds-ed it up with dish soap and started scrubbing. Between the hot, steamy water wafting into my face and the massive digestion going on below, I started to feel whoozy, bobbing back and forth.

Ker-plop! I passed out at the sink, falling in a clump on the kitchen floor. Skeeter and Ron dragged me to my bed and flopped my carcass into it.

About an hour later, I awoke, still groggy, but made my way to the kitchen. The dishes had all been washed, drying in the Rubbermaid drainer rack. I nonchalantly started to prepare my next meal, a complete batch of Hamburger Helper which I consumed,
in toto. The guys were completely disgusted, and basically never spoke to me again. Winnie understood, though, liking to eat whenever possible, too.

Finally! 225 lbs. at Norton Street.
Well, you get the idea. It took a tremendous commitment, both in the gymnasium as well as in the kitchen. Eventually I broke that 185 pound barrier, and my weight skyrocketed again, ultimately hitting 225 pounds. By this time I was living with Flapper Tank Ball at 249 Norton Street. Unlike previous roommates, Flapper was always amused by the nonstop eating and the health malts. He referred to the Hoffman's Quick Weight Gain product as "butt powder." Flapper once paid me a fine compliment: "Damn, Studs, you're more muscular than Greg Gagne!" Well, maybe that's not such a compliment after all.

After maintaining this weight and competing a second time in a higher weight class (I lost), I found my heart just wasn't in it any more. I was basically spending sixteen hours a week in the gym and double that in the kitchen, all the while trying to wrap up a Master of Arts in Mathematics simultaneously. One day, I just decided to throw in the towel. Twenty pounds slid off in a week-and-a-half, without so much as a lifted finger. But those devoted years were truly wonderful. I will ever look back on the powerlifting days and weight gains as one of the great experiences of my life.

One final thing, almost a footnote. Back then, brother Bill was taking a special workout at Eddie Sharkey's Seventh Street Gym in Minneapolis, just prior to a big contest out in Denver. He got a-talking to Eddie, a former professional wrestler and now trainer, about me. Eddie said, "Jeez, Bill, if your brother is gaining all that weight, tell him to come up and I'll train him to become a professional wrestler. For $500, I'll take him all the way from the basics on up to his first bout."

Oh, was I thrilled to hear that! I immediately got on the horn to my parents, pleading for a loan so I could enroll in Sharkey's wrestling school. They were not tickled with the idea at all, which led to me to become an academic prostitute instead--a rather poor trade-off, don't you think? I had to pass up the opportunity. And the very next pupil Eddie took on was Jesse Ventura.

I might have been Governor had my parents not been so short-sighted...

Next installment: The Devil in Miss Jones Redux

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