We used to sit on the floor of Ken Lindley’s drugstore (now the Red Onion Tavern) in the mid-‘40s, reading Dell Comic books. In every issue was an ad for The Charles Atlas Body Building Course. 

The ad entailed a skinny kid walking on the beach with his main squeeze, when suddenly two 150-pound bullies kick sand square in his face and even steal his gal. Sad story, but the skinny kid does buy the Charles Atlas course.

Enter: The skinny kid is now 180 pounds of muscle, and he throws bullies Nos. 1 and 2 off the beach and recaptures his main squeeze. But what if two 220-pound bullies come along — is there light at the end of that tunnel?


Changing sizes

Monday-night wrestling was on Channel 5 (the only channel), right after the test pattern, and we were riveted to both. 

Two popular wrestlers were bad guys Ivan and Soldat Gorky, who showed up on our very own Madison Beach one summer day. We ran like the wind to see these huge, muscular, sacred giants of the ring.

Impressed by Charles Atlas and the Gorkys, we decided, “Let’s get big!” 

For a few Saturdays, we hit the YMCA on Third Avenue downtown. Not sure how to approach this new aspiration, we swam, climbed rope and lifted weights — quitting before we saw any results. 

In the Army, with calisthenics and running to and from the mess hall to eat in limited time, it was possible to get in shape. Twelve weeks later, the heavy were thinner and the thin were toned. 

Jack LaLanne and Happy the dog were ever-present on black-and-white TV. Gyms were mostly for men in those early days: Barbells gave way to Nautilus, and women’s gyms opened in the ‘70s. 

Then the Mark Eden Bust Developer came along, as did Suzanne Somers’ Thighmaster. 

Appealing to the inhibited or budget-minded, the portable home gym came along. You could slide it under the bed, hang it on the wall or sometimes find it in an alley with a “Please Take Me” sign affixed to it. 

Along with gyms and workout equipment came the various diets to lose weight, gain muscle or reshape. One friend was trying hard to get in the modeling game, having to lose pounds to be camera-ready. Her fix: The Grapefruit Diet. 

Before and after each meal, she ate half a grapefruit, drinking the juice, along with some protein. She began looking a little gaunt but carried on. 

One day, I saw an ambulance slowly drive by, and someone waved from the gurney in the rear. It was my friend! She called me from Harborview Medical Center to say the diet did her in by dehydration. 

She bagged the runway, worked in an attorney’s office, married the boss, moved from the Park and became a model mother.


Watered down, but juiced up

In the early ‘50s, water injections were an answer to the problems of added pounds. Madison Park had Dr. Herb Harris, remembered for making house calls, who administered the injections. At just $5 a pop, it was a pretty good diet, but it also led to dehydration.

In the ‘70s, coworkers and I worked out at Harry Swetnam’s gym near the Paramount Theatre. A doctor who also worked out there discovered he had high cholesterol, so he went on an all-canned tuna-and-lettuce diet. Not only was his breath bad, his cholesterol went up, not down.

While looking for something in the basement, my wife, Karen, found her Champion juicer. She was excited to bring out the old green-juice recipes and get us both into some semblance of health. I carried the behemoth machine upstairs, which was a workout in itself. 

To get this process going required mass quantities of fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before. It took a long time to clean the machine and then to trim the pieces to fit them into the juicer’s small opening. Sometime later, we had a mere three glasses of juice and a sink full of pulp. 

We might have been on track for health, but we were money-poor for the organic purchases. 

A few hours later, we bagged it and had Italian sausage dipped in sweet, hot mustard, along with my secret recipe for the world’s second-greatest martini. Who serves the first? Who cares? 

RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident.