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             Into The Cauldron by Jim Ganley

 

Jack Benson was up early Monday morning looking for work.He had gotten a few leads on job openings and couldn't wait to investigate them. At 7:05 he boarded the bus for Broadway, where he planned to register with personnel agencies for the city, county, and state. The fact was driven home all too soon that the San Diego area currently had an unemployment rate of 11%........and he had thought that New Hampshire had a tight job market! This time however he was dressed to interview, wearing Biff McAllister's gray business suit, the one that Biff had fronted to him for having taken his law school aptitude test for him two years ago. Who would have though that a city as large as San Diego would have had such a staggering unemployment rate? The problem, Jack surmised, was that this was a beautiful city and everyone wanted to live here. With numerous military bases in the vicinity, a high percentage of personnel chose to remain in the area following discharge from the service, even if it meant taking a low-paying job.

 

When his job leads with municipal, state, and county failed to materialize, Jack walked several blocks away and registered with the unemployment office, reasoning that getting his name out in the market place might increase the likelihood of his connecting with potential employers. Then he got an idea. The San Diego area was home to numerous health clubs and gyms, so to him it seemed feasible to apply for a job in the fitness industry. Jack possessed both the education and experience so felt his chances of getting hired would be excellent.

 

As luck would have it, none of the clubs which Jack had called from a corner pay phone were hiring .........Maylen's Health Spa, Clark's Gym, Point Loma Health Studio, Stern's Gym; nothing! Then he chose to call the largest advertisement in The Yellow Pages under the heading: Health Clubs and Gymnasiums. This was Jack LaLanne's European Health Spas, a multi-billion dollar operation boasting a half dozen clubs scattered throughout San Diego and the outlying suburbs as well as across the country.

 

Jack promptly called the club located in Pacific Beach on Clairmont Ave. "Yes," he was told by the manager, "We're always looking for good people. How soon can you get out here?"

And so, thinking optimistically that he had connected with a hot job prospect, Jack hopped a bus for Pacific Beach and arrived there within the hour.

 

The manager's name was Scott Beverly. He seemed pleased to meet Jack, and after the formalities and job applications and been completed, a tour of the club was arranged. Scott showed Jack around the facility, praising the sophistication and efficiency of its adult fitness programs. As Jack looked around the club, he couldn't help but notice the atmosphere. From his perspective at least, it was all wrong. First, it could hardly be considered a gym for serious, results oriented athletes. For starters, the female staff were all wearing skin-tight, Capri slacks with form-fitting jerseys. Exquisitely made up, they looked more like Sak's Fifth Avenue models than fitness instructors. They just stood around looking beautiful without interacting with any of the members. The male staff wore white lab coats, the purpose of which was to impart a clinical appearance. They looked more like barbers. All sported meticulously coiffed hair and needle thin builds.

 

Next was the chrome. It was everywhere........machines, dumbbells, weight stacks, and benches, while the upholstery was gold metal flake. Plush carpeting ran from wall to wall. The members lounged around casually chatting with one another, and nobody seemed to be breathing hard or sweating at all. Off to the side, a heavy-set, middle aged gentleman sat in a specially designed, motorized apparatus that had a four inch wide canvas belt suspended from directly overhead that came down and under his chin and back up again like a fan belt in an auto engine. The man's head was being buffeted up and down and he had a pained look on his face.

 

"What's this supposed to be doing?" Jack asked Scott.

"Tones up a double chin," Scott told him matter of factly, giving two quick pats to his own sagging jowls.

 

Jack just looked on in disbelief. "Oh, yeah? ........Huh!"

Then he surveyed the area and asked if there was a deadlift platform.

"A what?" was the manager's response.

"A deadlift platform," Jack repeated. "You know......a heavily reinforced platform for doing deadlifts, standing presses, power cleans, and like that."

Scott mumbled something about the members being intimidated by serious lifters.

 

".......And our dumbbells only go has high as 25 pounds; you don't need any more than that."

 

"So then," Jack continued, "there's no squat rack either?"

 

Scott seemed irked. "SQUATS? Are you out of your mind? You'll blow your knees out, kid!"

 

Then he took Jack into a nearby office and continued to proselytize about Jack LaLAnne's European Health Spas.

"Our staff reads like a 'WHO'S WHO' of sports medicine and physical fitness."

He scanned Jack's resume and frowned.

"You don't own a car?" he asked, sounding dumbfounded.

"Well, uh...." Jack stammered, "I just came out her by bus from back East."

Then Scott delivered the bad news.

"I'm really sorry, Jack. Y'know we require all of our staff to have dependable motor vehicle transportation. Y'see, we like to be able to move 'em around form club to club during the course of the day. Without a car of your own I'm afraid we can't offer you a position here."

Jack tried to argue his case but came up empty.

"Sorry, Jack," Scott said yet again. "I really cannot make any exceptions; company policy, y'know."

Then he went on to set Jack up for a membership hard sell.

"Say, Jack.......have you ever considered what a membership at LaLanne's could do for you?"

"Not really," Jack said, laughing, "I'm living in Ocean Beach and just told you that I don't own a car."

"Regardless," Scott shot back, jumping up from behind his desk, and now hovering over him. Jack watched as he discreetly flipped a switch on the intra office intercom. "improving your fitness will improve your chances of finding a job!"

Jack just smiled.

"Well.......I think I'm in good enough shape for most normal jobs."

 

The office door opened, and a tall, thin man with permed hair entered the room and introduced himself. He said his name was Brad and that he was the director of membership for the club. Jack sat there looking amused as Brad went over a number of slick payment plans, all of which included substantial enrollment fees and various monthly dues running from months to years. Basically, the longer the term, the lower the montly dues and enrollment fee would be. What was being outlined here was a contract , although it was never specifically identified as such. 'Membership Agreement' was the term that was used.

"Jeeziz, Jack!" Scott shouted, joining in on the attack, "How can you just sit there and let this opportunity pass you by?"

Jack, still acting amused, came back with a question of his own.

"Look, guys......You've just told me you have no squat racks; no deadlift platform, no Olympic weights, and no dumbbells heavier than 25 pounds......You don't even have any of those new Nautilus machines, so how can I benefit from your help?"

 

Brad pulled up a chair, sat down next to Jack, and promised to waive the enrollment fee if he would just sign up for a year immediately.

"I can only make this offer once," he said slowly, "If you walk out that door without enrolling, then you'll have to pay the standard rate."

He stared at Jack for a moment wihtout saying anything, and then added as an after thought, " We'll even put you LaLanne's famous 'Mini-Max Program'! That's maximal results with a minimum time commitment. It was designed by Jack LaLanne himself working with physical therapists, doctors, nurses, and computers. It'll allow you to get into top shape in half the time."

 

Jack stood up and stretched.

 

"Half the time you say? It's about time I was on my way back to Ocean Beach. Thanks for your time, guys!"

Then he walked out the door vowing to never return, and thankful in a way that he hadn't come to be asscociated with such people in either a working or membership relationship.

Later that afternoon back in O.B. while on his way to the Safeway Market over on Cable St., Jack noticed a sign at an entrance to an alley. It read:

 

                                      GYM

 

and had an arrow pointing up the alley. He chose to investigate. Walking up the alley his ears were greeted by the sounds of clanging iron interspersed with rhythmic grunts, shouts, and laughter. The source of these noises was a small storefront opening out into the alleyway. There was a picture of palm trees and seaside beach scene painted on the storefront window, and beneath this artistic masterpiece was another sign. This one read:

 

HEALTH BY THE SEA

HOURS MON. -SAT.

9AM TO 9 PM

DAILY-WEEKLY-MONTHLY RATES

 

Jack enterd the gym and was totally amazed by what he found here. Yes, there was deadlift platform and also the best, heavy-duty power rack that he had ever seen. But there was much more. There were numerous Olympic bars along with thousands of pounds of Olympic barbell plates; dumbbells ranging from 5 pounders to 110 pounders; a Smith machine, horizontal leg press, combo leg extension / leg curl machine, cable row machine, lat machine, flat and incline benches, as well as chinning and dipping bars which could be attached to the power rack, and slant boards for training the abdominal muscles. The walls were mirrored and surprisingly clean.

 

Several husky young men surrounded the power rack and shouted words of encouragement as one of their comrades went to the limit on squats. There was a radio over in the corner playing Funk # 49 by The James Gang and its volume was maxxed out.

"C'mon, Mannie!" shouted his spotter, "If you don't get 10 reps, you'll never get laid again!"

The rest of the group roared with laughter.

"Go Mannie! Go! Go Mannie! Go!" went their chorus.

Manie had an Olympic bar loaded with 365 lbs. balanced precariously across his upper back. He would slowly descend into a low, squatting position and then explosively come up out of the hole screaming bloody murder until he was standing upright, take two or three deep breaths, and then do it again......and again......until he had completed all ten of his required repetitions. All the while his eyes were fixated on a collage of sports photographs mounted on the wall directly in front of him. The collage was for motivation and depicted a football receiver scoring a touchdown, a sprinter breaking the tape at 100 meters, and a batter hitting a grand slam home run. Mannie did eleven reps and almost fell over. Then his spotter assisted him in racking the weight and he fell to the floor, completely exhausted.

After the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, the other guys returned to their own workouts. The one who had been spotting Mannie turned to Jack and said, "Hey, bud.......can I help you with somethin'?"

 

Jack just smiled and shook his head in wonder.

"Whose idea was the pictures?" he said, motioning toward the wall above the power rack.

"That's one of Ben's motivational tools. Why do you ask?"

"Cuz I think it's a great idea! Can you tell me what they charge for a membership here?"

"Yeah," said the big guy, tightening his lifting belt and grinning "I guess I could tell you that.......seeing as how I'm the manager here. It's fifteen bucks for the month, but if you're a student then it's only ten. Now I could've sworn that I heard you say you were a student, but don't give me the money yet. I'll give you a free workout, and if you wanna train here then just give me ten tomorrow. "

The manager's name was Chuck McEwing and he played football for Mesa College as linebacker. At 6 feet two inches and 230lbs, he resembled a much younger John Madden in a Prince Valiant hairstyle. With an habitual cocky grin, he gave Jack the impression that he thought everything was a joke. Always by his side was Josh, a small German Shepherd mutt, who sat there calmly watching everyone train.

Not even bothering to change out of his street clothes, Jack dove straight into an intense workout, doing benches, inclines, dips, pushdowns, and heavy barbell curls. The environment here was extremely supportive, with the other members spotting for each other and always shouting words of encouragement to one another.

Toward the end of Jack's workout Chuck came over and asked if he wanted to work at Health By The Sea managing the place and instructing. Chuck needed more time for his studies and football practice and wanted to know if Jack could be available Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings. The pay would be minimum wage under the table, but Jack would get his membership there for free.

"I just got off the phone with Ben," Chuck explained, "and told him about how you're an experienced lifter and instructor. He says it's fine with him if you and I wanna split days and hours managing this place.

Jack jumped at the opportunity.

"Hey, no kiddin'? That'd be great! But who's Ben?"

"Ben is the owner," Chuck told him. "Health By The Sea was his idea." He then went on to fill Jack in on the details surrounding Ben Cipranic, and was most effusive in his praise for the man. A true eclectic, Ben had a vividly colorful past though, at least from Jack's perspective, it was difficult to separate fact from fiction. A practicing attorney, Ben was in his mid thirties, and in the process of going through an acrimonious divorce. He owned the gym, a mini-mall called Scrimshaw Square, and a small fleet of tuna boats. Prior to entering law school he had taught history and coached football at Point Loma High School. It was at Point Loma High that Chuck had met him and played football under his tutelage for two seasons. If this was not impressive enough, Ben had also been a Navy SEAL who, after separation from the Service had been recruited by the CIA for Operation Mongoose, a secret campaign to infiltrate Cuba with the intent of assassinating Fidel Castro.

Ben didn't like many people and, according to what Chuck had to say, if you said anything at all to the man you just said "Hi." Ben would appear at the gym from time to time, put himself through a savage workout, and then vanish for days at a time. He drove a white, 1974 Mercedes convertible, and was often seen racing the streets of OB on a ten speed bicycle. Ben also served as a father figure for Chuck, whose own father had walked out on the family when he was a small boy. It was through Ben's motivation and inspiration that Chuck hoped to one day break into professional football.

Chuck was still waxing nostalgic about Ben when his attetntion was diverted by a ruckus over by the gym window.

"Hey, guys!" shouted Blaine and Little Joe to the rest of the crew, "It's her again! Here she comes!"

WIth this annoucement everbody stopped their exercises and rushed en masse to the window. Chuck, appearing a tad bewildered, gazed at the clock on the wall and remarked, "Yep! 5:35 p.m. Right on time as always!"

 

Then he and Jack went over the the window with the others to investigate the source of everyone's excitement. Walking down the alley, directly past the gym was a woman in her mid to late twenties attired in a plain, white dress, white nylons, and white oxford shoes. Without even trying, she was strikingly beautiful...."drop dead gorgeous!" according to Chuck. Mannie said that he thought she worked at the medical practice located at the other end of the alley. She walked by the gym every day at precisely the same time. Totally oblivious to her male admirers, she strolled past Health By The Sea, down the alley, around the corner, and out of sight. Then, for the crew at Health By The Sea, it was back to the weights and business as usual.

Jack thanked Chuck for the job offer and promised to return the following afternoon. It was definite; Health By The Sea was Jack Benson's kind of gym. He had been in town for three days and found a place to stay, a place to train, and gotten a part time job. Now he really needed to focus on finding a job with enough hours to pay his bills. Of course connecting with some good-looking women was still a priority, but he figured this matter would soon be taken are of with little effort on his part

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