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The Point, Whitey

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them"...Henry David Thoreau

 

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hitey made his living moving furniture.  He was a friend of my dad's who also worked part time on the moving van.  With my father's non-stop diet of Fleischmanns  and Pall Malls, he had developed a body like Woody Allen, but I guess someone had to carry the light stuff.  Whitey was a different story.  He was built like a small linebacker.  His hair was white, almost albino like.  Whitey moved the big things, like refrigerators and freezers.  You could tell he was sort of special among the other movers.  They were all hustling while Whitey would just have a smoke and wait until they had cleared a path to the serious stuff.  He was the Alpha Male of the moving van.

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them"...Henry David Thoreau

 

W

hitey made his living moving furniture.  He was a friend of my dad's who also worked part time on the moving van.  With my father's non-stop diet of Fleischmanns  and Pall Malls, he had developed a body like Woody Allen, but I guess someone had to carry the light stuff.  Whitey was a different story.  He was built like a small linebacker.  His hair was white, almost albino like.  Whitey moved the big things, like refrigerators and freezers.  You could tell he was sort of special among the other movers.  They were all hustling while Whitey would just have a smoke and wait until they had cleared a path to the serious stuff.  He was the Alpha Male of the moving van.

     I was maybe nine years old, and up to this point I never really thought about how the big appliances made their way into people's homes. I was about to get my first lesson in strength, tenacity and grit from Whitey

     One summer, we moved from one apartment to another about half a block away.  It never seems to cool down during summers in the inner city.  The concrete and brick absorb heat all day and radiate it back out in the evening. As a favor, Whitey said he would move our refrigerator for free.  We lived on the fifth floor and the tenement building had narrow hallways and tight turns.  Whitey was already soaking wet with sweat after climbing the five flights of stairs, but this didn't even qualify as a warm-up for the man.

     He pulled the refrigerator away from the wall, threaded a sling around it so as to not damage the coils, squatted and lifted the refrigerator onto his back.  Wow!! I was impressed!!  An albino Hercules was doing tricks in my kitchen.  Then his ordeal started.

     I can't imagine what it is like to go down a flight of stairs with something like that strapped to one's back.  One misstep and he is crushed.  He can't hold the handrail since the sling must be kept taught and I would imagine losing his grip would be deadly.  I watched wide-eyed as he threaded his way down the stairs.  I followed him down quietly as he moved in slow motion. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally walked the huge refrigerator down the concrete steps which led out and onto the hot sidewalk.

     Now, I expected Whitey to set the refrigerator down and sit for awhile, but he wasn't having any of that.  He just kept on walking with that enormous white box on his back all the way to our new apartment.  It was a slow, deliberate walk in brutal summer heat. For good measure, there was another set of steps going into the building which he climbed before setting the refrigerator down in our new apartment.  This whole trip took maybe thirty minutes.

     After watching all this, I was pretty sure I didn't want to grow up to be a mover.

     That day, I learned about the importance of strength and would shortly discover weight training. Years later, Whitey would become sort of a litmus test for me.  I would ask myself what would happen with this karate move or that move if I was facing Whitey.  It was a sobering reality check as to whether a technique was worth perfecting or whether it should be tossed in the trash bin.  I started in tae kwon do and realized I would hate to miss a head high kick and have Whitey making a wish with my legs like a Thanksgiving turkey.  An arm bar against a man who could lift me off the floor one handed?  Maybe not a good tactic.      

     But what I learned most in that half hour is how a human being could just ignore his predicament.  And, maybe, simply not thinking too much about things is all it takes to make it through the day.  It is what it is - no more, no less - don't dwell. We all get to take the refrigerators off our back for awhile and start fresh.

     Whitey was also a bit of a brawler.  His favorite move was a throw.  No, not some otoshi whatever.  He would pick up an opponent and just throw him like a bag of flour

     Whitey was part of a dying generation of men who, after a day at work didn't need exercise.  They needed rest and a few cold ones, before facing another day.  Yet, they always kept a sense of humor. Coarse humor.  Not the politically correct, namby-pamby, you hurt my feelings stuff.  Good natured insults meant acceptance.

     A lot of karateka start doing Tai Chi after decades in karate.  The reasoning is sound; it's gentler on the joints.  But it also ignores a fact: you will lose strength and muscle as you age unless you convince the human body otherwise. And the only way to stay strong is strength training. It is the SAID Principle; Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  The human body will adjust upwards or downwards to the load placed on it.  You cannot maintain marathon level fitness by walking and you cannot maintain strength by training under your current limits. In other words, if you are capable of lifting 200 pounds at thirty years old, you must regularly lift that weight if you expect to do it at sixty.   

     One of the strongest motivators for not allowing yourself to rely solely on the easier, gentler way is this: the number one reason for the elderly being forced into nursing homes is frailty.  It doesn't happen overnight.  But it is preventable.

     In the Winter 2008 issue of Hardstyle, John Saxon of Enter the Dragon fame is shown pressing a 70 pound kettlebell overhead one-handed.  He is 71 years old and lifted all his life.

     Whitey would have liked him.