Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Eating Journey -- Ken Leistner (2002)

As expected, if one is involved with weight training for over forty years, a lot of territory will have been covered. Despite the number of articles already included in this series, it will remain ongoing, as there is much more to tell which I believe will be helpful to readers. 

In addition to the travels taken through the many gyms, basements, garages, and lofts that held weights and the knowledge needed to get bigger and stronger, the adventure, the one that continues to this day, has also covered kitchens, restaurants, and back alley diners that provided the fuel to train and the raw materials needed for muscular growth. This article will provide a bit of an overview of that aspect of the journey.  

When I arrived at the University of Cincinnati, I had already logged a number of years of weight training experience. That experience was replete with excellent training programs and half-assed attempts at achieving what at times was a nebulous goal to "get bigger for football." In comparison to others of my age, however, I was ahead of the pack as far as having consistent training and a backlog of heavy, demanding physical labor behind me.

My father ensured that I would be "fit" although that wasn't his goal. He was out of his house at the age of twelve, working as an ice man. Not many of the past few generations have the slightest idea how difficult a job that was. Before electric refrigerators ("Yes, Winston, there was a time, long ago, when these did not exist!"), there were ice boxes. 

To this day I often ask one of my children to please get some water out of the ice box, which is met with derisive laughter and a good-natured bout of eye rolling.

Large blocks of ice, some weighing hundreds of pounds, were placed in the bottom of an insulated box which served as one's refrigerator. Up until the 1950s, these could still be found all over the New York City area. I know, as we had one. This necessitated the delivery of the ice, and since almost all of the tenement buildings on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn were six floors, and none with elevators, the arduous task of delivering these huge chunks of ice fell to the ice men, who would cut the ice at the plant, load it onto their insulated trucks, hold them with huge tongs and carry them on their shoulders and backs to the delivery points throughout the city. Strong? Enduring? This is what my father was doing full time at the age of twelve. By the time he entered the field of labor associated with iron working and welding, he was already rough hewn and powerful.

His goal for us wasn't that we live the same way or become strong. He just felt that he was doing me a favor by allowing me to stay in the house and have the benefit of his advice and food and rent until the age of fourteen. "I was out at twelve," he reminded me, "I'm not a hard ass, you've got until you're fourteen. At fourteen, don't ask me for anything, you're on your own for anything you need to get. If you want advice, I'll give it but I ain't giving it unless you ask and you ain't being given nothin' else either." 

Hey, I thought it was a good deal because I had two more years than he had, and I thought that was the norm. I also began to lift weights at the age of twelve or so, realizing I was going to get my ass handed to me on a regular basis if I couldn't make up for the fact that I was one of the smallest guys in the entire grade, an ongoing state of affairs. I knew I had to eat in order to gain muscle tissue and had the early awareness that I would look like one of the neighborhood fat guys if I ate and neglected to lift weights. 

The few magazines around shouted "milk," and the lifting guys in the neighborhood seconded that statement. Milk was relatively cheap, easy to find, had protein and calories (although calorie was not a word in my lexicon for years to come), and tasted just fine. Meat was harder to come by, especially with the steel mill shutdowns in Pennsylvania in 1960 and the accompanying city-wide strike by the local iron workers. "Take three bites of bread to every bite of meat and don't make me count" was the standard dinner time admonition. The old man wanted us filled up and compliant without spending a fortune to stock the dinner table. 

I found two reasonable, filling and weight-gaining meals that held me in good stead for years: fried macaroni with ketchup, and hot dogs and beans. 

The former was actually a neighborhood mainstay, something you could get by dropping in at almost anyone's house, at least where I lived. The small elbow macaroni was boiled, drained, then fried in butter and ketchup: cheap, filling, and in retrospect, high in calories if lacking in protein. As some of the neighborhood couldn't afford the ingredients to make tomato sauce, ketchup became the flavoring agent. As a culinary tip, if one scorches the macaroni on the bottom of the pan, the crunchy texture is an added bonus. 

The big meat meal of the week, usually seen once but sometimes encountered more than that, was a casserole of hot dogs and beans, and my mother or grandmother (who lived with us) would cover the entire thing with strips of bacon and throw it in the oven. When the bacon began to crisp up, it was ready.

We would place half a loaf of white bread in front of us and slop up every bit of the bacon fat which had seeped down and through the entire mess. To this day, if I ever mention that "I'm in the mood for hot dogs, beans, and bacon," my wonderful wife will put her arm around me and ask "What's bothering you?" I haven't eaten that meal in many years. I talk about eating it three or four times per year, every year, but don't actually sit down to eat it more than once a decade or so due to its fat and chemical content. However, with its emotional attachment and the memories it evokes, Kathy is sure that just mentioning it is a sign of impending emotional calamity!  

With the addition of lots of milk, and early "protein drinks," made in a large mixing bowl with a manual egg beater, of milk, chocolate syrup or powder, a few raw eggs, and nonfat milk powder, I managed to get through high school at a hard, but none too imposing, 150 pounds. I knew I needed to do something about that once I arrived a college. 

At college, one of the advantages was the daily availability of food. Believe me, this was a great bonus for me. I had spent the summer prior to my freshman year, running, lifting weights, and trying desperately to boost my weight from my graduating mass of 145 pounds. Working construction with my father and in a number of kitchens with my uncle certainly stimulated my appetite. My uncle allowed me to take advantage of every eating opportunity. 

I would have a steak or two when I first arrived on the job, and another before I left whatever kitchen we were working in. I drank milk by the gallon, literally, peaking out at six to eight quarts per day. I recall a line uttered by either Ken Avery, a linebacker out of Southern Mississippi who later played with the Giants and Bengals, or from one of McCallum's articles, in which one of them said, "I ate so many Hoffman protein tablets and drank so much milk I rattled when I walked." That could have been me.

Arriving at school, the coaches, given the mistaken impression by film and discussions with our high school coach that I was somewhere around 5-8 and 175, were shocked when they first saw me, leading to the inarguable conclusion that a face-to-face meeting with a new recruit, be done at all times. 

"Have you been sick over the summer?" I was asked. 

I admitted to having a sniffle back in early July and wondered what the problem was. 

"Your weight, you're one fifty-two." 

Having spent the entire year prior to my summer gain-weight blitz at one forty-five, I was quite proud of my new weight. 

"Yeah, it's up, must be those protein drinks." 

They were less than pleased, and I knew once the season was over, I needed to gain some additional body weight.

My concern for "doing the right thing" paid off in an unexpected way. For anyone who has resided in a football or athletic dorm, at least as they were in the 50s and 60s, the rule of the day was "near anarchy." Guys would often while away the hours riding motorcycles through the hallways, having water or fistfights, playing a form of tackle football in the hallways, or seeing whose record player would offer the loudest vibrato thud in an attempt to shake the plaster loose. As a serious student, I retreated to the small cafeteria in the basement of the dormitory, longingly looking at the limited menu of burgers, hot dogs, fries, and milkshakes while focusing on my lab work and other school assignments. 

On perhaps my third evening there, I noted that the elderly women who worked behind the counter were having difficulty carrying out the large garbage pails. I immediately jumped up, offered to carry out the pail the two women were trying to negotiate, and then went back and completed the job of emptying out the pails. They thanked me. As I was one of the few students who spent almost the entire evening camped out in the place, I spent the next few nights repeating my chivalrous act. After a few nights of this, one of the women told me that not one student, in all the years they had worked there, had offered to help them do any of their tasks. I shrugged, having nothing to add to the comment. The others had decided that since I was "so small compared to the other football players," they wanted to help me get bigger.

Thus, four or five nights a week, I would be given some of the food that would have otherwise gone to waste or home with the ladies. They would precook hamburgers and French fries, and if those didn't sell by closing time, they would either carry them home or give them to me. I would charge up to my room with five or six hamburgers, bags of cold French fries, and a shake. From my perspective, this was a windfall: carry out some garbage pails, something I was doing anyway to save the older ladies from this backbreaking work, and get a ton of free food in return. What a deal, and the additional protein and calories helped to pack the muscular body weight on almost immediately. 

I supplemented these evening snacks and my regular meals with Weider's Gain Weight Formula Number 7. I had somehow missed numbers one through six, but I used either the Weider's powder of Hoffman's Gain Weight Powder to ingest even more calories. Almost every day I would carry half-pint cartons of milk back to my room from the cafeteria. I would store them on the window sill in cool weather, and in the rear toilet tank otherwise. No one messed with the milk as they knew I was on a mission. I would take a clean, empty glass milk bottle that I kept in my room, pour milk into it, add the weight gain powder, and then take it around to various rooms where the guys would take turns shaking up the mixture, seeing who could get it to mix best. I would then sit on the fire stairs, and sip my concoction while reading. 

I began my weight gain journey in earnest in late November, and by the following March I weighed 188 pounds. When I returned home for a summer of lifting, hard physical labor, and the opportunity to eat while I did security work or kitchen work for my uncle, I watched my weight increase even more. By the time fall camp began, I was now a solid 200 plus.

I had begun to take more of an interest in vitamin and mineral supplements, too. Through high school, I had talked my mother out of utilizing the one thing in the neighborhood that every kid, black, white, or Spanish hated. My brother and I would line up in military formation, backs ramrod straight, at absolute attention. We would open our mouths, and my mother would shoot a huge tablespoon full of cod liver oil down our throats. We were told that this vile oily mess was essential for good health as it provided all kinds of vitamins. It seemed as if every kid I knew was subjected to the same daily protocol, and we all hated it. By high school, my mother insisted that I take a one-a-day multiple vitamin, not a bad idea considering some of the food choices we had.

As I worked and saved money and became enamored of the various muscle magazines, I added an array of "stuff" to my daily intake: wheat germ oil. vitamins C and E, brewer's yeast, kelp powder, and a number of other forgettable supplements. Since many caused immediate diarrhea and were harsh to the taste, it was easy to say, "well, this wasn't working anyway" and drop it from the arsenal. I stayed with the C and E and added liver tablets and B complex pills. They may not have helped, but psychologically, with my non-fat milk powdered drinks, I felt I was at the cutting edge of nutritional science. I then discovered Rheo H. Blair's milk and egg protein powder and another door opened to me.

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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