The Watsonville, California, Gold’s Gym, my current training digs, is a comfortably bleak concrete chamber with enough irresistible tonnage to satisfy Samson and Delilah. On the inside wall, high above the floor in large bold print, the declaration is sprawled: GOLD’S GYM <> SINCE 1965.
The reference is to Joe’s Gold’s original gym in Venice, the cinder-block building he built by hand that housed some of the greatest oversized machines, which he also built by hand in his garage a mile away. It was the perfect gym we all dream about, look for and can no longer find.
It’s gone. It’s become, well, this—a grandchild in fancy pants 48 years later. It does nicely, for a proper, well-heeled, bare-bearded lad. The substantial room containing the iron is one corner of a 25,000-square-foot affair, the entirety of which I have never experienced. For all I know and want to know, all that exists is this oversized rectangle, the john and the parking space immediately outside the door.
I watched the Venice gym go up and watched Joe form and weld the iconic equipment in his cutoffs and flip-flops. Before the dust settled and the plumbing was complete, I joined. Joe called me his first member. I wasn’t, I don’t think, but I was one of the first. Zabo Koszewski, the bronzed, muscular old dude (42 at the time) who dug the foundations, beat me to it.
I remember one morning sitting with a handful of stout dumbbells perched on my lap awaiting the sudden thrust into position for the launch of some delirious inclines. I was conspicuously alone, the floor was bright with sunshine, full-size mirrors and lined the walls (with me in them, dare I look). Unimpressed cars zipped by the open front door, and the endless ocean, a block away, heaved upon the shore.
I had no idea I was in heaven.
At 23, with a Jersey accent, a sweet and frightened 16-year-old spouse, a darling gooing daughter, a furnished apartment, a nickel and a dime and an obscure brain, I thought about nothing and no one, nowhere and nohow. Duh, anybody using this bench? I spoke in clinks and clanks, emitted clunks and was working on thuds.
It was my first workout removed from the downstairs, dark, rusty, splintery, mirrorless and sort of frightening Muscle Beach Dungeon. I suspect that had the Dungeon on 4th and Broadway in Santa Monica not closed due to building demolition, I would be training there today.
Holy moly, we’ve had something like 10 presidents and three or four wars since then.
Did I mention that the original Gold’s Gym, Venice, crumbled, like the Colosseum in Rome, and here I am today, 350 miles north?
Mostly guys in their 20s populate this Gold’s weight room floor. They look at me clinging to a bench and wonder for a split second who the heck the old guy with the pulsating vein is. They’re a good group—solid, tough and hardworking; no wise guys or loudmouths. Just disgustingly young.
I slip in when the action is light. That’s not true; I don’t slip into anything, except an occasional coma. I park as close as I can to the front door, gather my gear, wits and breath and, carefully aiming my body toward my destination, lean forward and hope for the best. It works every time. Once I gain access and am amid the equipment, I’m safe to go, each chunky machine a support as I blast my way through a workout.
Oh, yeah, blasting is another thing that’s faintly controversial.
I improvise as I go, as you know, keeping the distance between the superset equipment to a minimum. Improvisation is the foremost facility I’ve accrued, lesson I’ve learned, skill I’ve acquired, treasure I’ve heaped after the years of iron intervention. What to do, when and how much, I’m certain; why still gives me pause. Because it’s there is sometimes the best answer to the latter curiosity. It all has to do with shoulders, chest and back, bi’s and tri’s; the legs below my waist, the brain lodged between my ears and the heart vaguely in the vicinity.
Let’s see; where do I start, how do I proceed, are we done yet? When in doubt, press, squat and deadlift.
Incline curls, 4 x 8, supersetted with presses, 4 x 15-20
Wrist curls, 4 x 10-12, supersetted with dips, 4 x 15
Single-arm cable crossovers, 4 x 15
Single-arm dumbbell lateral raises, 3 x 8
Light weights, lots of force and focus, fortitude and fatigue (phooey).…
Go, Go, Go.… Godspeed.… David “Kid Glock” Draper
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