Remembering Charles Atlas

I still remember all the comic books I had as a kid. In every comic, after Dick Tracy used his magic two-way watch to defeat the villain, after Superman saved the damsel from falling off a rooftop, I would turn to the last page to see some skinny kid with his girlfriend at the beach looking forlorn as a bully kicked sand in his face and departed with the fair damsel and a derisive chuckle. Then, like a miracle, the clouds parted, and there like a Greek God stood Charles Atlas comforting the kid and by subscribing to the Charles Atlas fitness program, in a very short time (AKA five years) the young man returned to the beach with the body of an Olympian body builder and chased the bully away and reclaimed the fair damsel, who always had a shy smile and little hearts swimming around her head.

I could only imagine the scene in my hometown in the middle of Nebraska. This was going to be a life-changing program and after constant begging and promises to do my chores for a lifetime, my father finally gave in, and I sent my money in an envelope to my new buddy Charles Atlas. Daily trips to the post office with breathless anticipation were finally rewarded when the package arrived.  In my bedroom, I took one last look at my skinny 14-year-old body in the mirror. Wait, I hadn’t even opened the box and it seemed my bicep had a small bump that wasn’t there before.

I feverishly ripped open the box to find a jump rope, two four-pound dumbbells, and three rubber bands made from old inner tubes, and a manual with my idol Charles Atlas, in full color, tanned, and with a very skimpy red bathing suit. As I looked at the picture, I suddenly saw my face on that magnificent body. I quickly found that jumping rope requires a minimal amount of physical dexterity and coordination which this skinny 14-year-old did not possess. Did I read the directions right? Jump rope 500 times three times per day . . . had to be a misprint. And then were those rubber bands. “Stand on the band with both feet and stretch them up to shoulder height thirty-five times.”  I had to consider that Charles Atlas may have been a dwarf as I never was able to stretch them past my knees.

I struggled valiantly throughout the winter with hopes and visions of my efforts paying off. I knew Cindy would fall all over me with little hearts dancing above her head. Even getting constantly tangled in the jump rope, falling and spraining my shoulder, getting a black eye when the damn rubber band slipped off my foot and my hand punched me in the face, I persevered. Finally, summer came, and I ran to the city pool which had a small sand area for tanning. I spread out my beach towel, when suddenly . . . there she was, the goddess, my true love, the vision that dominated my dreams. 

I sucked in my stomach, flexed my arms, and with that well-practiced smile I said, “Hey, Cindy, would you mind putting some suntan lotion on my back?”

Then it happened, not just like the comics, but close. Cindy laughed and kicked sand in my face. I wonder if that ever happened to that damn Charles Atlas.

September 2022 Issue

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