Sunday, September 30, 2018

For a Big Chest, Part Two, Complete - John McCallum (1969)

Originally Published in This Issue (June 1969) 

Within the limits of a certain busy city, there is an area known colloquially as skid row. It is also known as canned heat country, the ghetto, hunger hollow, flop town, garbage manor, bingo village, and a hundred and one other terms of an even less complimentary nature. 

This is the area that shelters the socially unstable, the have-nots, the welfare cases, the chronically unemployed, the rubbies, the unfortunates who, through accident or design and usually no fault of their own, can't hack it in the competitive jungle man has created for himself. 

This is the area that screams for attention but never gets it. The people who design building codes and safety bylaws try not to think about it, and Fire Chiefs lie awake all night whenever they do.

It is twenty-seven square blocks of shame and misery, populated during the day be ragged, blank-eyed, listless families, and during the night by hordes of clicking rats who eat better than the children. The buildings are tall and gaunt and look like starving old ladies holding each other erect, and  pall of gloom shrouds the whole area like a dirty grey blanket.

One of the long time residents was a gentleman named Loganberry Charley. Charley was a sixty-year old with watery blue eyes who subsisted on gallons of cheap wine laced with shoe polish squeezings, both of which he purchased after the sale of anything he could steal.    

One rainy morning, Charley was sitting on the edge of his cot waiting for the tremors in his leg to subside while examining a box of shells and a Remington 12 Gauge Pump Action shotgun he had found in an unlocked basement. 

I saw a guy have an alcohol seizure once. Fair good friend. As good as you could allow, considering he was prone to drinking absolutely anything with alcohol in it when he'd crash at my place. You know, trying to avoid the horrors of a full on seizure. 

Here's a Polish film that got the thing right. You might wanna avoid this one if you have a thin skin. Some of the seizure scenes are ruggedly realistic. Of course, there's an underlying comment on Poland at that time running throughout . . .

Anyhow, Buddy of mine would always leave a nicely worded note when he'd gulp down all my rubbing alcohol, etc. I could tell by the shakiness of his penmanship how severe the thing was, each time it happened. He pitched a helluva seizure this one morning while we were sitting out in the backyard of some other drunks' rental place. There was a "barbecue pit"  . . . a hole in the ground with the ashes of fence-posts, broken chairs and such in it. The ground around was dusty and when he began vibrating on one side of his body violently from the seizure a cloud of dust and ash rose up. That little fella in the Peanuts cartoon. Pigpen. Like that but prone and minus the happy aspect.

One leg and a hand shaking out a drum roll of sorts on the dusty ground. Hard to explain just how fast a rebelling body can shake, flutter and convulse. His pal ran inside and came racing back out with a bottle of over proof rum. Proceeded to pour a good third of it down buddy's throat and, slowly but surely the vibrating subsided. Pretty scary, actually. Another guy I knew, no idea if he's alive or dead and gone now, went into a full bodied seizure and hit a coma for a long enough time to cause some brain damage. This one had a very, very active mind that raced around about 20% faster than most. Make that 35, I keep forgetting the average speed. He came outta the hospital and from what I last heard from his brother the guy's doing fine. Better than he was before, socially. Slowed him right up. Anyhow . . . that movie is KILLER . . . 

Pod Mocnym Aniołem:
The Mighty Angel is the name of the bar, so don't get all positive and such thinking it refers to the lead character. Some excellent cinematography in there, but for me the keyword was visceral. 

Here's a trailer. It'll be subtitled film unless you speak Polish. Eh. 

It comes from a novel by Jerzy Pilch that's been available in a fine English translation since '99: 

Pilch's prose is masterful, and the bulk of The Mighty Angel evokes the same numb, floating sensation as a bottle of Zloldkowa Gorzka.

The Mighty Angel concerns the alcoholic misadventures of a writer named Jerzy. Eighteen times he's woken up in rehab. Eighteen times he's been released—a sober and, more or less, healthy man—after treatment at the hands of the stern therapist Moses Alias I Alcohol. And eighteen times he's stopped off at the liquor store on the way home, to pick up the supplies that are necessary to help him face his return to a ruined apartment.

While he's in rehab, Jerzy collects the stories of his fellow alcoholics—Don Juan the Rib, The Most Wanted Terrorist in the World, the Sugar King, the Queen of Kent, the Hero of Socialist Labor—in an effort to tell the universal, and particular, story of the alcoholic, and to discover the motivations and drives that underlie the alcoholic's behavior.

A simultaneously tragic, comic, and touching novel, The Mighty Angel displays Pilch's caustic humor, ferocious intelligence, and unparalleled mastery of storytelling.

Two other translations of Pilch's work you might dig:
My First Suicide
A Thousand Peaceful Cities

Okay, enough already, although I can't sing the praises of this book/movie enough. 
Back to McCallum's Loganberry Charley . . . 

Abstract thinking was a subtle art Charley had long since dispensed with, and no one will ever know for sure what reserve of remorse prompted his next act, but finally Charley got to his feet and opened the box of shells. He loaded the gun, put the open end of the barrel in his mouth, reached down with a stick of wood, and pushed the trigger. 

Ah, that stick of wood. 
Man: The toolmaker. 

The Fire Department Rescue and Safety rig was there in a few minutes. The R & S Captain pushed open the door of Charley's room and put his head in. Charley was on the floor. His head, from eye level up, was gone. The lower part was a hollow shell, scooped out as cleanly as a newly washed bowl. The ceiling was festooned with little bits of things that dripped redly on to the dirty floor. 

 - Pretty surprising McCallum got this all into the magazine without cuts. 

Twenty-five years in the fire service had given the Captain a macabre sense of humor. He pulled his head out and turned to the youngest of the crew standing behind him.

"Hanley," he said. "There's a sick man in there. Get in and give him mouth-to-mouth!" 

Hanley rushed in, took one horrified look, and fell over in a dead faint.

"Strange," the Captain muttered. "I always thought those weightlifters were tough."

The young man, Hanley, was revived and taken back to the Fire Station where he was plied with strong black coffee and prevailed upon not to murder his Captain. On his first day off, after some heavy heckling, he went down to a gym where he trained and talked to the owner.

"Tell me," he said. "Does the sight of blood bother you?"

"That would depend," said the gym owner. "Some blood would bother me immensely. My own, for example."

"I don't mean your own," the young man said. "How about other people's?"

"That, too, would depend," said the gym owner. "For instance, I would love to see my mother-in-law's blood. Great gooey gouts of it, running all over the floor and gushing . . .

"Hold it!" the young man said. He clenched his teeth and swallowed hard. "Never mind the details." He thought for a moment. "Isn't weight training supposed to make you tough?"

"Tough?" said the gym owner. "I suppose so, in a physical way."

"What about fainting at the sight of blood?"

"That wouldn't have anything to do with it," said the gym owner. "That's a matter of emotional sensitivy."

"So what do you do about it?"

"Nothing," said the gym owner.
"Live with it. Improve the things you can and forget about the rest."

The young man thought about it. "That sounds like a good idea."

"It is."

"Okay, then. In regards to something I can improve - I'm ready for the next step in my chest program. Remember?"

Here, Part One:

"Sure," said the gym owner. "I remember." He got out a paper and pencil. "Step two," he said, "means a change in your workout, and a supplementary exercise you can do throughout the day.

"We'll take your workout first," he said. "Do this three times a week and work hard.

"Start off with one-arm military presses. Alternate arms for 3 sets of 12 reps each. You got it, right? 12 reps with one arm, 12 reps with the other arm, and 12 reps with the final arm, you circus show freak.

"Next, do concentration curls. Alternate again for 3 sets of 12 each arm.

"Now," he said, "we do breathing squats. One set of 20 as heavy as you can, followed by 20 light stretching/breathing pullovers. Give the breathing a Grade A effort. Your ribs have got to ache when you're through.

"Next," he said, "take a short rest and then do bench presses. 5 sets of 10 with all the weight you can handle.

"As soon as you finish the bench presses, go right into the flying exercise on a flat bench. 5 x 1nd get a good stretch at the bottom.

"Now," he said, "a short rest and then another set each of BODYWEIGHT BREATHING squats and light pullovers. 20 reps.

"Rowing comes next. 5 x 12 with a narrow grip.

"After the rowing, do pulldowns to the back of your neck on the lat machine for 5 x 15.

"Finally," he said, "do a set of 15 stiff-legged dead lifts and a set of pullovers, then a set of 10 stiff-legged dead lifts and a set of pullovers, and then a set of 8 stiff-legged dead lifts and a set of pullovers.

"And that," he said, "wraps up your program for the second month. Work as hard as you c an and concentrate on chest size."

"What about the supplementary exercise?" the young man asked him.

"Oh yeah," the gym owner said. "I nearly forgot.

"The supplementary exercise," he said, "is a combination of two things. It's a form of yoga breathing technique designed to develop your lung power to its fullest, combined with an exercise designed to lift your sternum and give you a high, arched chest. It'll expand your rib-box terrifically and reshape it in the process. It'll give you chest size at the top where you want it. It'll give you a high, massive foundation to build slab-like pecs on."


"Very good," the young man said. "But how do you doos it?" 

"Easy," said the gym owner. "First of all, you do the exercise every day. It only takes a minute or so. You do it 10 or 15 times spread out evenly over the day.

"You can do it standing, sitting, kneeling, or balancing on your head if you want to. The only equipment you need is something to grip that's solid and at any height between your waistline and a foot or so above your head. About eye level is best, but not absolutely necessary. You can use the steering wheel of your car if you're driving, or the dashboard if you're a passenger. You can stand and use the top of a door, or kneel and use a window ledge or a piece of furniture. You can always find something to fill the bill. 

"Now," he said, "get in front of a solid object and grip it. Any grip from wide to hands touching is okay. It doesn't really matter.

"The thing," he said, goes like this. Blow all the air out of your lungs. Now inhale through your nose to the count of three. At the count of three, your lungs should be jammed completely full of air.

"Now, hold your breath," he said. "and start pulling with your hands. Pull down and in together. It's as though you were trying to make the figure "V" and the only thing stopping you is the object you're gripping. Pull for a count of three. Pull down and in as hard as you can. If you're doing it properly, your sternum will rise a couple of inches and your pecs will contract strongly. Tense the muscles in the front of your neck and try to lift your chest higher with each count.

"Now, release the pressure, relax, and exhale to the count of three. Your lungs should be empty when you reach three.

"And now, pause for a count of three on empty lungs, and then start the cycle all over again. Inhale, tense, exhale, pause. Three counts to each section.

"Call the full cycle one repetition. Start off with 10 reps and work them up to 20 in a week.

"Do you understand?" he asked.

"I think so," the young man said.

"Don't forget, now. You do the supplementary exercise at odd moments throughout the day. Every day. 20 reps a set, and a set every hour or so.

"If you're doing it correctly," he said, "you'll feel a definite soreness in your sternum and upper ribs. If you don't feel the soreness, readjust your position and work harder."

The young man got up to leave. "And this'll give me fast results, eh?" 

"You'll be astounded," the gym owner said. "Man, it'll blow your head clean off." 




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