I have been a gym rat for a long time – about 50 years, depending on how it might be counted. Simple arithmetic on the back of an envelope reveals that I have survived a bit over 5,000 workouts. I am not athletic – I’m unfamiliar with any form of team sports.
For a kid in Nome there were no team sports whatsoever. I never saw a football. Basketball was only for the older kids. My father once took me to a basketball game in the school gym; the teams consisted of military men against a sort of ‘bar team’ of local civilians. I had no idea what the rules were.
In the summer of what may have been ’46 there was a baseball game, and many adults and most of the kids in town gathered. We just stood around watching, there was no seating. The game was between soldiers from our local Nome base and a bunch of sailors from a submarine that was visiting Nome. There was an ample supply of alcohol to fuel the sport on a pleasant afternoon. Submariners had a reputation for rowdiness – they were cooped up in tight quarters for weeks at a time and were given a bit of slack when ashore. There was a lot of shouting, and insults were tossed about during the game. I gather that submariners could and would get involved in quite a bender given the opportunity.
I had no idea what the rules of baseball might be. As kids we played a sort of workup, with informal rules similar to the ‘German Batball’ missionaries taught American Indians. It was a low-keyed game that rotated the players to enable everyone to play every position. There was an ‘official rubber ball’ that could be bought in town, and some of the more dedicated youth had special bats hacked and carved from planks. Upon arrival in the states I had never seen a regulation baseball bat, although I had seen and wondered at a regulation hardball – what was the point of a ball that didn’t bounce?
I’ve never watched more than a couple minutes of sports on TV, never paid to attend any sport. I just lift weights, and as a result I’m at least twice as strong as anyone half my age that I am likely to meet. I have met, and worked out next to men that were bigger and/or stronger. I worked out with a young chap that was convinced he was on the way to the Olympics as a shot-putter and hammer throw contestant. I was briefly a member of a gym dedicated to power-lifting, and it was a humbling experience. Those guys are immense and quite strong. At my peak of powers I could almost do half of their workout, for instance.
Occasionally someone will ask why or how I became involved in weightlifting. My standard answer is that I had started training to become a jockey, but after all these thousands of hours I find that I am no closer to being a jockey than when I started. Actually I was so sick in my teens and early 20’s that I drifted into lifting. A doctor had suggested that I could, perhaps, get some meat on my bones by exercising. A neighbor in Suquamish heard of this, and showed up at the door with his long-gone son’s abandoned Charles Atlas Training Guide and the Atlas weight set. I was somewhat familiar with weights; I had been consigned to weight lifting in high school because I was utterly incompetent in PE at the required popular team sports. We ‘losers’ were constantly beaten, shoved, bullied and harassed by the more aggressive champs – in my view that should be chimps or chumps. The deal with the coach was that we losers were to spend the time lifting, and if our T-shirts were damp at the end, we passed with a C.
My first part-time job in college was in a warehouse at a wholesale business that sold TV’s and Hi-Fi’s to furniture stores. My job was to read the order lists and prepare shipments to various stores in the area. Stereo music had just been introduced and was becoming popular. The showroom had demonstration units on display, complete with special records with exaggerated sound tracks. Visitors would stand astounded at the sound of a train going from left speaker to right speaker, or a brief ping pong game, or a Sinatra song with the trumpets on the left and the piano on the right etc. There was a specially recorded album of Oklahoma in Stereo, which I heard far too many times at what was considered high volume. The unintiated customers (rubes) were amazed.
The business was doing rather well and employed several salesmen. I’m not sure there are salesmen of that sort still at work; out making ‘cold calls’ selling merchandise from catalogs. Sales were solely on the basis of persistence and personality. They lived on the road, staying hotels or motels, covering entire counties that were their exclusive territories. They lived on earned commissions. My father became a salesman, but insisted on being home based.
One of the salesmen, Jake, was quite a snappy dresser and liked flashy cars. He had a Red and Charcoal Chevy Nomad with a big V-8, and white wall tires. He liked flashy women and crude jokes that would be unrepeatable today. He took me to lunch one day. We went to a rather upscale place with a view of the water. It was a momentary act of generosity, and an opportunity for him to talk about himself. He was his own best topic, his opinions and conquests. He thought of himself as quite the ladies man.
I was uncomfortable there, a bit too posh for me – I was lurking in coffee houses where Marxism and socialism were commonly discussed. I had cultivated a little goatee and mustache and had gone without a haircut for months in emulation of the Beats. At the restaurant we were seated with a view of the water and within the service area of his favorite waitress.
One of his topics was horse racing. He had a penchant for the horses. In the Spring and Summer there were frequent races, and in those primitive times, the winning horses would be recited on the news, much as we now suffer with sports team scores. Jake claimed to be making money betting on the horses, and was attempting to perfect his selection methods. He was sure he was developing a system that would soon enrich him effortlessly. He loved to go to the races on weekends, dressed in his snatty clothes, with a gleam in his eye, often accompanied by a selection from his stable of mistresses.
My parents moved from Nome to the tiny rural town of Suquamish. Perhaps once a year we would eat in a diner or restaurant. There was no nearby establishment as elegant as Jake’s treat. I had been trained to order from the right column of the menu – always select the least expensive meal. I ordered Salisbury Steak; he had a slab of Salmon. I had a glass of Coke, and he proceeded to toss down 3 Martini’s, talking all the while.
He felt called upon to regale me with tales of his most successful bets, the people he met at the track, and how he drank with the trainers and jockeys at the end of another successful day. He also wanted to grill me about all those sorority girls that he’d heard so much about. I had been in college for about 6 months and was still terribly shy and could contribute nothing to his vivid imaginings. He attempted to engage the waitress, Darla, in his conversation: “Darla, were you one of those sorority girls?” Of course she had not attended the university, she’d gone to work right after dropping out of high school. “What? You weren’t one of those ‘Felta Thigh’ girls in the sororities?”
I was reared in a ‘no touch’ family. Physical expressions were frowned upon. As a shy guy I was in awe and distress at his behavior when Darla came to the table. As a lover of horseflesh he felt free to pat her on the rump or run his hand up her thigh, or move his hand up from the table as she bent over to serve the food, enabling him to brush her breast. This sort of behavior was evidently acceptable. She didn’t slap him or say anything about it other than occasionally coyly say “Oh please don’t”. As we left he felt free to put an arm around her waist and give her a bit of a hug. In those times, a plain but buxom waitress was expected to be available for fleeting touching, and graciously accepting gratuitous fondling probably had an effect on the nature of the tip.
He didn’t take me to lunch again. Shortly after our little meal he quit and went to work for some other outfit. He had sold magazines, greeting cards, insurance, vacuum cleaners, nutritional supplements, Fuller brushes, mail order shoes from a catalog, and so on. He started out as a door-to-door salesman before moving up the feed trough to hawking furniture to stores.
Through his interest in the horses, we would have a visit by people from the track to the warehouse showroom. The deal was that if they paid cash they could buy TV’s or record player consoles wholesale, which was about a third off the retail price. I was at work a few times when jockeys came in. It was an amazement to see these tiny wiry gents in person, often accompanied by a sample ‘babe’ female towering over them. One jockey showed up with an oddly attractive dwarf lady friend that was perhaps an inch shorter. Another showed up with a couple henchmen, big bouncer or wrestler style guys. Their job, aside from protection, was to load the console into the back of the horse trailer waiting outside. The jockeys would pay cash. They’d take a wad of bills out of a pocket and peel off tens and twenties.
Several years later I attended a horse race at the track. I was on the verge of leaving the motorcycle social group that I had been associating with. One of the recent additions to the group was working down at the track. Hawky claimed to be wanted by the police in ‘all of the 5 Western States’ and he was laying low. In the days before computers and long before our current surveillance regime, it was possible to stay out of sight for extended periods of time. Alaska was full of these guys, evading the law, or starting over, or skipping bills and obligations. Hawky was working in the stables, shoveling manure and so on. The job paid cash daily and they didn’t want to know your name. Show up early, work all day, and collect the pay. It was possible to sleep in empty stalls with fresh hay, but many of the laborers would take a cheap local motel room, and fill it with half a dozen co-workers willing to sleep on the bed, the floor, the couch, or the tub. They would pool resources and sit up drinking vodka with coke, eating take-out pizza, playing cards, swapping lies, and upon rare occasion getting a whore in to service the willing.
We were to meet Hawky at a specific gate near the stables. We were to park the choppers out of sight, and he would let us in, and thus avoid the entry fees. It was a nice sunny day, and it was crowded. It seemed to me that much of the day involved standing in line to place minimal bets and buying overpriced beer in paper cups. Initially I thought it was a lively scene, but it quickly became repetitive and boring. The views of the horses were remote and not as depicted by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.
After many hours we left as a group with lots of noise. We were headed for the local sleazy motel – The Paddock Inn, as I recall. It was an older unit, probably dated from the 40’s. There are still a few of these type of establishments in existence, but that type of ‘mom & pop’ 20 unit single story motels are no longer the investment opportunities they may have been when rooms on the road were scarce. The Paddock Inn just off Highway 99 in a block long row consisting of a gas station, tire shop, carpet warehouse outlet, used car lot, and a large vacant lot that truckers parked in. The motel was in need of paint and repairs, with a permanent vacancy sign that had a hand lettered addendum advertising ‘low weakly ratez’.
Hawky’s room was in the middle. He was paying the weekly rate and sharing the room with 3 or 4 other ‘hot walkers’ and ‘stable boys’. The door was heavily weathered and much of the veneer had peeled off, the doorknob was loose, the window was cracked and the dark brown drapes oddly stained and torn. The room smelled terrible, smokers, drinkers, dirty clothes, and unwashed laborers. The room had a double bed, a wobbly nightstand with a cockeyed lamp and a Bakelite radio. The room was quite dark with one overhead single bulb light fixture. The bathroom door was seriously dented; someone had tried to shoulder punch his way in. The bathroom was horrid, with mold in the grouting, randomly missing tiles, and there was strong ammonia – Pine Sol scent. I think that room service consisted of fresh towels and sheets once a week in the office when the next week’s payment was made.
We no sooner got there than others started drifting in. All strangers to us, one everyone was thirsty. A couple of the bikers had stopped on the way and purchased a half case of generic beer to lash onto the passenger seat (the pussy pad). None of the choppers had saddlebags. The beer vanished immediately. We took up a bit of a collection and headed back down the road to little store run by Chicanos and got more beer, and some chips, and some Mad Dog 20 that had been requested. About an hour later, in the dusk, we had to make yet another run. Luckily a car owner wandered into the group and he went and got a pizza and a bucket of KFC hunks.
There were 15 or 20 guys crowded into the room; standing, sitting on the floor, and on the bed. All smoking and tapping ash on the floor and inserting the butts into empty beer bottles. One of the bikers had a pocket full of speed and so there was an accelerating pace of the chatter about bikes, babes, previous near misses, outlandish episodes, wrongful incarcerations, and random mayhem. It was getting quite loud and unknown riff raff were wandering in and out, a few buying packets of speed.
A couple of young ladies showed up. They were also residents of the Paddock and familiar with Hawky and the denizens. Amy and Carla were perhaps 20 years old and appeared to be of the second string in the high school beauty’s parade, now entrepreneurs as ‘working girls’. They were plump, big breasted, plain but good hearted, and eager to engage a john. They immediately deduced that someone had pills and they proceeded to cajole a couple apiece. Carla went to their unit and brought back a ‘boom box’ and some tapes. The girls began to mince around in a bit of low key dancing moves – there wasn’t much room, the air was thick with smoke and general funk as they put on a bit of display. Trolling for a trick in that crowd was problematic. No one had money worth counting. Amy decided that she was too warm and proceeded to remove her jacket, and then her blouse, revealing an ample jiggle.
This entertainment went on for a while, varying in tempo with the music. A couple of rail thin ‘working girls’ wandered in – business was not brisk that evening on 99, and the uproar could probably be heard for quite a distance. Bikes were firing up every half hour or so for another chips & beer run. The second pair of ladies was older and rougher looking. They seemed to be waiting, observing, off to the side a bit. Soon a rather sleek gent showed up – tall, thin, perhaps Indian or Octoroon – and the three of them vanished – into the bathroom as it turned out. Eventually all the beer drinkers had to pee, and the bathroom was locked and time was passing. Knocking on the door was getting no response.
One of Hawky’s friends wandered over to the door, crouched down, and picked the lock with some tiny tool and the door was open. Inside were two hookers and their friend in disarray. They had been involved in some sex act in return for the opportunity to shoot up. All three were in a heap and thoroughly subdued, grey, sweaty, and close to unconscious. The shared needle was on the floor. They were dragged out into the middle of the room, and guys were pissing in the sink, the tub, and toilet simultaneously for a bit. Of course some had already stepped out into the parking lot and peed on the ground.
I decided it was time to get out of there and went out and kicked the Harley. The druggies soon awakened and returned to their own room, one of them bare-assed. The cops eventually showed up because of a noise complaint, but the group had dispersed a bit, and no one was arrested. I suspect that motels of that sort are the cause of frequent police calls.
Shortly thereafter I quit associating with that crew. I didn’t mind a bit of drugs, but the group had progressed from an excuse to hang out and have a drink to shifting bulk sacks of pills into tiny glassine envelopes to sell to street peddlers.
I don’t happen to have any pictures of jockeys, however I have images of horses in a few of my paintings. Here is a couple.