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What else is there?

Essay
Jim Steel

What else is there?

Times have changed and I have a problem with it. I was born in 1967 and I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and I desperately want to go back there, back to a more simple time. As the world has spiraled downwards over the last few years, I have retreated back into yesteryear, before cell phones and social media and the Laptop from Hell and the United States of Stolen Elections and globalism.

Along with the “plandemic”, it’s the constant bombardment of everything that has made me look backwards. The phone always with you, buzzing ringing, beeping. People at the gym with huge asses posting selfies of themselves giving advice on how to build a fat ass. And people fall for that shit. I have kids , so the phone is where teachers and my kids keep in touch with me, and I have online training clients so they text me videos of their training sessions, and it has a GPS on it so I don’t get lost when I am driving (remember maps?), and it has my 10 year old’s baseball news and schedule on it. I want to throw it in the pond out back of my house. I hate it, and I often look back fondly on times past when phones weren’t around. We had an answering machine growing up. You would get home from being out somewhere and it was sort of exciting getting home and checking messages. Oh! Someone called! It isn’t just the phone, its everything. All these damn channels on TV. Where I grew up in Maryland, we had 3 channels when I was coming up. Actually, we had 4 channels because sometimes, if I adjusted the channel just right, I could get channel 45 out of Baltimore. The TV was black and white, but my sister and I swore that channel 45 came in in color. Wake up and go outside. Go down to the woods and fish. Walk through the woods to Knollwood Park and shoot some hoops with friends. We didn’t text, we saw each other at school and made plans to meet. If someone didn’t show up, we just wondered where he was and then the next day, we asked what happened. Couldn’t text or call. Walk or hitchhike to my girlfriend’s house a few miles away. Usually, someone that I knew would pick me up and drive me, but sometimes I would run to her house.

One of my fondest memories is of Saturdays during my junior year in high school. I worked 13 hours every Saturday at the Adelphi Mobil gas station, pumping gas, fixing flats, eating steak and cheese subs from Pizza Oven up the street. After the day was over, I’d go home and I would get changed and run to my girlfriend’s house, around 2.5 miles away. I would get there and go downstairs to squat. My girlfriend didn’t have Olympic plates yet, so I would squat with standard plates and bar, set after set, putting all the weight in the place on the bar, all of the 25’s, 10’s, 5’s, 2.5’s. It was around 400 pounds and I loved the feeling of being tired from the day of working and the run and I liked the feeling of squatting and fighting that accumulated fatigue, sweat dripping into my eyes during the sets. It was training and I didn’t need a spin class or hot yoga or a pencil neck instructor telling me what exercises to perform. All there was back then were free weights and power racks, maybe a lat machine. Even the public gyms were full free weights, barbells and dumbbells with maybe an old stationary bike in the corner with the chain halfway on. Nautilus had its own centers, touting quick workouts and magic results. My friends and I knew nobody that lifted with Nautilus. Later, when I could afford a gym membership, the gyms that I frequented were in out of the way areas that were in the basement of some storefront, with a side-alley entrance and a small sign above the door that read, “Don’s Gym”. The inside would be dark and musty, smelling of sweat and liniment. Guys would be wearing gray cut-off sweat shirts and sweat pants with white athletic tape around their wrists. Some guys would be just getting off work and they would lift in blue jeans and white “wife beater” tank top. A boom box would be sitting on the floor in the corner, playing Judas Priest and AC/DC. There were mirrors, with really only one clean mirror where guys would look at themselves after a session to check on their pump. It would be a quick check though, any more than a cursory check of progress would be seen as weird. They may have done that shit in California, but not in Maryland. Big dudes who didn’t worry about their abs walked the Earth. Big dudes who hit each other on the back before a big set, sending a cloud of chalk flying. Nobody talked about their glutes or took pictures of their post-workout meals. Everyone just drank milk, and lots of it. If you were a bodybuilder, you lifted with the powerlifters, then after the big lifts like squats and deadlifts were done, you went off on your own and did the “pretty” exercises like curls and pushdowns. Nobody wore shirts that read “Savage” on the front. All that self-aggrandizing came about just recently. There was no juice bar or ferns in those places. Nobody carried around a gallon jug of water. You drank from the rusty water fountain that barely trickled lukewarm water, instead. Nobody worried about being dehydrated, you just drank when you were thirsty. Preworkout consisted of a strong cup of black coffee bought at the gas station on your way to the gym. Maybe you got a hold of some ephedrine from a truck stop for an extra kick, but nothing else. There wasn’t a protein powder around that was worth a damn, most of them were soy protein and they were expensive and tasted like crap. You just ate real food and drank milk.

I feel sorry for my 10 and 15 year old sons, because they don’t know how it used to be, when it all was better, and they never will. It’s never going to regress back to the old days, it never does. They both get bored on long rides when I don’t let them have their phones. Hell, they are supposed to be bored. I want them to be bored and then use their brains, by themselves, to just think. If we have to wait in line, the kids go crazy, they need that constant stimulation. When I drive them, I want them to look for deer in the fields or ducks in the bodies of water. I used to ask my father all kind of questions about the woods and water that we were passing. I would ask my dad, What kind of fish are in that river? How many trees in that forest? Drove my dad nuts with my questions. I feel like nobody needs all those electronics and if they do need them, they should use them sparingly.

To counteract all of the bullshit buzzing around me, I hunt and stay in the woods a whole bunch. It all keeps me sane. My dog and I. My son and I. My buddies and I. After hunting and fishing, drinks at the local watering hole to go over the day’s hunt. Warming up as the first beer or whiskey goes down. Laughing and joking about the morning’s hunt. I think about how fortunate I am to live out in the country and have friends who have land that I can hunt on. I would go crazy in the city, all the people, all the noise. I took my son into Philadelphia for a dentist appointment and couldn’t find a parking spot for 30 minutes, so I headed back home. Not doing it.

I can’t or won’t get used to the way things are today. When I ride the exercise bike, I watch old Dallas Cowboys games from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Randy White, the All-Pro defensive tackle was my idol growing up, so whenever Randy played, my whole family watched. I watch the movie Outlaw Josey Wales over and over. I read books about Hemingway deep-sea fishing and trout fishing. My favorite book is Johnny U by Tom Callahan, which chronicles the Baltimore Colt’s Johnny Unitas’ career as a football player, but also delves deeply into America back in the 50’s and 60’s and how the NFL players played for the love of the game (definitely not for the money. Unitas made $17,500 in 1956) and how they all lived close together, helped each other out, and how they all worked other jobs in the off-season. Most of those guys on the Baltimore Colts back then were also World War II veterans. Gino Marchetti served on the Siegfried Line and when he was with the Colts, he worked in a steel mill in the off season. These guys had seen war and were humbled by it. They understood life and death and when they came back, they were ready to work hard and build America into the best country in the world. And they were humble. One of my favorite stories is after the Colts won the “Greatest Game Ever Played”, the 1956 championship game against the New York Giants and Unitas won the game almost single-handedly, he and teammate Andy Nelson were riding home from the airport that was packed with screaming Colt’s fans. Nelson recalled that they they didn’t talk about the game, just listened to the radio. And what did Unitas say when Nelson dropped him off at his house after winning the NFL Championship? “See you tomorrow.” I always chuckle picturing Johnny Unitas scoring a touchdown and dancing in the end zone. He used to throw a touchdown pass or an interception and walk off the field with his head down. Just another day at the office. Better to be cool than dance like a fool. Sports today? Flopping, dancing and self-praise. Sickening.

In the old days, there was a mystery to it everything. As an aspiring young lifter , I was hungry for information regarding training and diet. How did I learn about training? I went to seminars. I went to seminars with Tom Platz, The Barbarian Brothers and Dan Riley, strength coach of the Redskins. My friend and I would go to Dynamo Barbell Club in Berwyn Heights, Maryland and watch the weightlifters and ask them questions. I remember lots of chalk and dudes that had no problem answering questions from eager youngsters. I did that a bunch. There were no big corporate gyms in the early 80’s. Gold’s had just started to franchise but it wasn’t all soft and serving pizza. The one Gold’s in my area was a hardcore gym. I didn’t always have the money as a teenager to join a gym, so I would take what I learned from talking to other lifters and watching them train and them go apply it in my girlfriend’s basement. In fact, most of my friends were basement lifters. One friend’s basement had posters of Bill Kazmaier, Mike Mentzer and my favorite, Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, hiking the ball to Terry Bradshaw. I used to just stare at that poster, marveling at Webster’s arms, striated triceps and biceps sticking out of his jersey. He had this huge biceps vein and all of us wanted arms that looked just like Webster’s looked. I’d be in class in high school, and in between writing my all-time NFL team , I’d write my workouts for that afternoon, getting all excited about the squats that I was going to perform. I remember being in 9th grade and squatting 225×10, 250×10, and 275×10 for the first time. I did it all alone and I remember being so damn proud of myself that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I remember getting an Olympic set for my when I was a senior in high school. We all had saved up and bought 10, 45 pound plates. I immediately tried to squat 500 pounds. I couldn’t wait. I put all the weights on the bar and missed, throwing the bar over my head when I couldn’t squat it. Of course I tried it again, and the same thing happened. I remember being glad that I was all by myself, because my girlfriend’s parents would have been pissed with the weights clanging all over the place when I dropped them. The times back then were all so grand. School, football, fish, weights, girls. No distractions. Work enough to buy some plastic worms to fish for Largemouth Bass at a local pond and double cheeseburgers. For Valentine’s Day when I was in high school, McDonald’s had 50 cent double cheeseburgers. I used to order 5-10 every day of the sale. When I think of these times, I think of just being so damn free. None of us were allowed to sit around in the house. Our parents would have none of that idle time, watching television. Get outside. See you when Mom rings the bell for dinner. These days, these soft-ass kids are in their basements, watching videos of other people living. Sitting in their basements, posting on Twitter, bags of Cheetos at their feet, wondering why the world is so messed up and worrying that they will be triggered in some manner regarding their sexual orientation, their political views or something that they read on Twitter. God give me strength.

And now, at age 54, I go to a local gym, and all the old timers are working hard in ratty old shirts and sweatpants with holes in them and the younger generation is wearing (both girls and guys) some type of skin tight pants or shorts and taking numerous selfies of their abs and asses. They all do it. Its a phenomenon. Even the folks laden with adipose tissue are sticking their butts out for a few pics and then posting to social media how to never give up on yourself and also telling you how else to live your life. What the hell happened? It really wasn’t that long ago that men were men. Self-help? “Get off your ass” was a mantra that we all learned from our Fathers. Look. I get it. I understand the genesis of it all. It was the Beatles and Vietnam and Nixon that begun getting the world and the United States in particular all fucked all up. It was the beginning of the shit, where the culture changed for the worse. The veil was lifted on what was really going on with government and society. Trust no longer existed between the citizenry and the media, and it continues to today.

I can handle all this stuff today, I lived when it was different, when it was better. I can retreat into my mind. It’s the kids who are in trouble.

So what is the answer for them? I have some Navy Seal friends and they all tell me the same thing when I express my frustration at the world today: Raise your tribe to the best of your ability and to make them into bad asses. Raise them up like the old days. Get them outside early. Yes, they should play sports and exercise. Organized sports are fine, although you can run into over inflated egos from parents and inept coaches. Choose teams wisely. Teach them how to handle themselves in the woods. Teach them how to handle a knife. Teach them how to handle a gun and then take them hunting. Teach them how to split wood, to start a fire. Teach them how to fight, whether its boxing, muay thai, jiu jitsu, or other martial arts. It teaches discipline, it teaches your kid to exercise control instead of being reactionary, and it teaches them that getting punched in the face is not all that bad. Take them in the woods and let them explore. Let them get as dirty as they want to, it helps their immune system. Only let them have a phone when they need to get in touch with you, not to play games or social media. And doesn’t matter if all the other kids do all of that stuff, your kid isn’t doing it.

And what about you? How do you fight modernity and softness these days? Well, if you don’t know how to handle a knife or gun, get busy. Your kids are depending on you. Hunt and fish. If you have never hunted, get started right away. Take a hunter-education class and learn. Hunting will stir something deep in your soul, and once you try it, you will be a hunter for life. Teaching your kids to eat what they kill is a lesson that is imperative to reaching manhood. Fishing is great and creates amazing memories. Stay fit and stay strong. Be somebody that your son looks up to. Train everyday. Lift as heavy as you can with perfect form. Cardiovascular health is important so get in the cardio. And it doesn’t have to be boring at all. I love shadow boxing, using Bas Rutten’s MMA Workout. I perform it out on my back deck that overlooks a wooded area. I just put the workout on a speaker and get busy. My son’s sometimes join in also. The workouts can be done on the heavy bag or with someone else holding boxing mitts. This training will also keep you sharp to fight when needed. Sled training is great and the sled can be walked with, run with, and can be done forward and backwards. The sled can get you stronger and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Other forms of cardio that are excellent are hill running or walking, rucking with a weighted vest or back pack. Also, learning a martial art, especially muay thai and jiu jitsu will also rip you up and teach you how to be a bad ass fighter.

I am thinking that if all of us like-minded folks do our part within our circle, we can make a difference, change the narrative. Some will never believe, some will never rise up, and that’s okay. Screw ‘em. We will be the last men standing, ready for the next manufactured shit storm coming our way.

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