POSITIVE SARCASM PRESENTS: NO EXCUSES: CHASING DANTE (PART ONE OF TWO)
“A few weeks later I was once again across the street from the same venue attending a show and was on my way to the after party to see my buddy and fellow competitor Kevin, when I received a text…one that changed everything.”
-No Excuses - November 27th, 2014
We'll get to that in a minute, please understand that most of the experiences I've had in this sport and during this time period were less than glamorous and that whatever I write in this article is with the up most honesty that I can provide, without too many needless side stories to mess up the flow of the article. This is not an opinion piece, this takes place between November 2014 – January 2016...
Mid November 2014:
Shows are over, no more stage lights, no more boarding shorts, no more posing classes or weekly updates. I'm still basically homeless, crashing on couches whenever I can, with very little money, very little direction and I was about to publish my final article, because from all the stimulants I took while training, my sleep patterns were fucked and I wasn't able to concentrate properly, I was waking up almost every night from these nightmares of a past life, images of family life would trigger my adrenaline to race and I would wake up to my calves cramping so hard, I was brought to tears. It was 4am again and I knew my sleeping for the night was done.
I had met some interesting people along the way, as Bruno and I made our way down to our first WBFF show as spectators, Aly Webster was favoriting some of my crap on Twitter, so I figured, let's see what this chick's league is all about...holy shit, we were in for an interesting night in Providence.
Pretzel carts, cheering banners, thumping club music and an awful lot of red wine. As far as the stage performances, evening gowns, suits, bathing suits, unrehearsed non-standard pose-downs and pageant wear. Every woman hit the stage like a Peacock on acid, amazing and well crafted costumes, with a interesting standout from one Ashley Packard who I think came out with a whip...a whip.
Bruno and I had become rather close as he knew pretty much all about me at this point and after everything was done and checks stopped coming, Bruno was still there...Jimmy, my diet coach, on the other hand was MIA and with how my current psyche was forming, it would prove to become an issue down the road.
A week later I was chatting with Zack Frawley, someone I almost got into a fist fight with at the gym, just cus he looked at me wrong and now we were goofing off together like two male seals slapping fins on some iceberg in Antarctica, we had the oddest friendship and still do till this day. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I talked about my current situation with him and he offered to get me out of the cold and under a more spacious roof. He moved into this giant house with his girlfriend at the time, but...well...yeah, she's gone. It wouldn't be for another month anyway so I continued couching it until all the formalities were taken care of.
In the meantime, back down to Boston I went, this time for another show, the WNBF was hosting a massive event at the very theater I was just competing at two weeks before, I met a few friends, including Zack's future girlfriend, Lyndsay. This loudmouthed Jew from Dorchester/Hyde Park would grow to become one of my most trusted friends. I'd punch planets for this chick, but Zack has bigger arms, so it make sense for him to step in just in case Jupiter decided to pick a fight with us. Seriously, fuck Jupiter. Your ugly and you have a huge wart.
So before leaving the show, I took a few pictures of the competitors and I knew that my Boss, M, was having relationship problems, cus her ex took off with some 22 year old bimbo, so to give her a laugh I sent her a photo of some of the physique guys, “I know your looking for Mr Right, so here's 3 of them.” I said hi to Kevin at his booth and said that I would meet him at the after party in Waltham, Mass...I arrived late.
No longer on strict food prep and dying for a burger, I knew that Back Bay Harry's was just down the street from the hotel I used for the show and as I strolled in through the front door, I noticed something about the place that night that was rather...gay.
I rolled up to the bar in my finest threads and ordered some food...the eyes were on me. Chris and his friends throwing heavy slurs back and forth with the bartender that night and as I sat down and took off my coat, I was immediately targeted. I played nice and introduced myself, shared a few laughs, told em what I was doing down there, and before I could finish my story, one of them uttered, “how do you look with just the scarf?” Luckily my phone vibrated across the bar surface towards my Tequila, it was M.
She laughed about the photo and thanked me for sending it. I was glad she responded and got a laugh out of it, but I left it at that and continued having my awkward conversation with “Gary and Ace”.
Five minutes later, my phone vibrated again...FUCK.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,fuck, fuck.....FUUUUUUCK!
“I'm just sitting here having a glass of wine and relaxing, what are you doing?'
My phone slides out of my hands and gently lands on the bar surface.
As Chris's friend is trying to rub my back, I said out loud, “oh noooo, I think my boss is hitting on me.”
Kris responds, “ Your getting a raise, dude.”
Despite everything that was transpiring, I somehow got Chris's number and would chat with him soon about some possible photo shoot stuff. I don't know, something to do with mesh underwear or something, anyways...
I'm heading towards this party in Waltham, but still getting texts from M. What took place next was the most unprofessional phone call an employee could ever make to his supervisor. I remember some of it, but what I remember most was as I was chatting with her on the phone, I wasn't paying attention to the concrete parking structure on the right side of my car. Eh, it'll buff out (no it didn't).
The conversation ended with me getting lost in Waltham and never attending the hotel party. However, I did have a Gym date the next day. What the hell is a gym date anyways? Is that like a movie date? That never works.
Moving ahead to Sunday night, the idiots are at it again, this time Zack and I are running down the street with a stolen Sombrero, screaming about chicken wings and Chimmichangas...y'know, adult shit.
Obviously, the subject of women came up and since I was celibate the entire 5 months I was competing, thanks to my cheating whore ex-girlfriend, Andrea. Seriously, Tae Kwon Do guy? Fuck you, cunt.
I told Zack about my current situation with M and we got all overly romantic about it in some chicken wing fueled banter that ultimately led me to where she lives and kissing her under the November stars...don't judge me. Not yet, anyway.
As my sugar filled ass finally returned to the gym, I started becoming friends with some of the people I had met backstage. NPC Heavyweight Josh Brown was in New Haven when I wiped his sweaty ass down just after he melted the stage to take first overall in the East Coast Cup. Strong Physique, Adorable dogs and a dark-haired angel for a wife. True fucking winner in my book.
The other one backstage whom I actually wouldn't meet in person for another six months was the itty-bitty Kristina C. Well itty-bitty in terms of height, she's like 4'11 and Italian. We chatted a little bit on the phone about the last show, what our current back stories were and how I came to be.
In the past two years, two women have seen me cry, Kristina was one of them, more on that later...
Now besides the sleeping issues and the headaches I was having when I was alone, December was one of the greatest months of my life. Christmas, New Years, all spent with M. While in the gym, I was hitting maxes I had never seen before while training with Zack, how was it possible for a little guy like me to be benching almost 300 lbs? It was alien to me, but Zack was like, “ don't worry about the weight, just lift it.” So up it went, I felt like a little monster, fueled by discount thanksgiving turkeys and every carbohydrate on earth and maybe outer space. Let the gains begin...
“Love, which pardons no beloved from loving, took me so strongly with delight in that, as you see, it still abandons me not...”
-Dante Alighieri, Inferno
An interesting time in my life, the house was stocked, I was killing it in the kitchen and with the final articles already finished, It gave me a lot of time to experiment in the kitchen with baking and blending. It's hard being a foodie and a fitness competitor at the same time, but after some coaxing from Kristina , who I later named my “brain coach” I had no choice as I had set a date for my final show in Boston around mid-May, I felt that this show would be the proper ending of my crazy ass journey through competitive fitness and would make my personal life a bit easier to deal with. I also spent a lot of time in the basement in the food lab working on prototypes for a potential peanut butter company down the road, I was pretty broke then as well, but I figured just some simple essentials would at least get the ball rolling. Holy shit. The amount that I sold in the first month paid for my NPC registration and my show, about 250 dollars worth. So that was on track at least, as for the idea of morning cardio approaching fast, my anxiety started to rise and it was starting to show at work, at home and in my situation with M. For the record, I despise going to the gym at 5 am to do High Intensity Cardio, right as the first speed burst would kick in, I will go into a full blown anxiety attack, so after 15 minutes of this, I would go in the cycling room and shake and cry and try to finish my drills. My head was covered, so noone could see my face, but it was hell on high speed. The music in my ear-buds would send shock waves of bad memories through my head like a 4th of July gone wrong. I was still running fat burners and Pre-workout in the morning too, so my heart rate was all over the map. One week down... 19 more to go. To take my mind off the upcoming show, with the permission of Zack, began hosting these large Sunday dinners for anywhere between 8 and 12 people, I did all the prep, all the cooking and if I didn't like something, it would be in the trash before anyone arrived. I don't remember hearing any complaints, as I couldn't really touch any of the food as I was in prep. It didn't matter tho, I truly enjoyed watching everything being devoured with pure delight, M managed to make a couple of the earlier dinners, so it was awesome to see her taking it all in. It showed a true family environment and a great cast of characters, everyone showed up well dressed for some reason, so I played along with the idea, my wardrobe was limited at the time, so I couldn't compete with Eric Miltner's cashmere high neck sweaters, but it was nice to see people taking my dinners so seriously to the point of dressing up. I mean, we were beautiful people with beautiful clothes, eating beautiful food.
As for the food I was eating, I didn't have a nutrition coach anymore, cus Jimmy took off after the New Englands without even a goodbye and getting dieting tips from my fellow competitor Tom was like trying to drag race through a fucking labyrinth. I couldn't keep up with his math and all his fitness apps, so I made an attempt to do my own, but with the intense cardio, low servings of proteins, smaller distribution of carbs, awful sleeping patterns and growing headaches, this proved to be a decision where I would later learn my most valuable lesson.
Handling M sometimes was no easy task either, as she was trying to recover from a bad past as well, but fireball was clearly not her friend as she kicked the shit out of my bathroom scale in a drunken tirade about her ex, one I handled quite well as I knew the pain all too well, but we all don't recover the same...some of us don't recover at all.
As the snow began to melt and the dinners currently being in full swing, I managed to have Lyndsay up so she could join in on the fun and meet everyone, Elizabeth and Cali had bubbly personalities, so she wouldn't feel out of place. She handled herself quite well as Nick tried unsuccessfully to run a little game on her, not hard to turn down as his game skills were more Checkers than Chess. After the meal was over, Zack approached me with the look of a Cocker Spaniel that gets confused by the sound of his own farts.
“Who is that?!?!” he asked heavily.
“Who Lyndsay? Dude...you will not find a cooler chick than her, you just won't.”
...and just like that, the Cocker Spaniel was off and running.
“As little flowers, which the chill of night has bent and huddled, when the white sun strikes, grow straight and open fully on their stems, so did I, too, with my exhausted force.”
-Dante Alighieri, Inferno
Admitting that you have a problem is the first step and I felt it appropriate to tell M that the only time I had a good nights sleep was when she was there, I felt like I would have my energy back the very next day and I promised that after the Jay Cutler Classic in May, that I would be done with the sport so that we could focus on living a normal life and I could focus on possibly finding a new job so that there would be less anxiety on her already narrow and weathered shoulders. I didn't get the reassurance that I was hoping for at this time as I always give people as much space as they need and not suffocate them, but whenever I had free time, I always offered it up to her, because I cared that much. It was tough handling this uncertainty as I watched the relationship between Zack and Lyndsay grow stronger everyday, but while I was happy that Lyndsay had met someone that had her happiness as priority one, I knew very well that with the addition of her to the house...my time there would be coming to a close.
The diet was killing me, my caloric intake was that of a bikini girl, my sleeping problems were getting worse, my cardio sessions felt like heart attacks, my fat burner pills were increased to “Superburn”
and this stuff made me hate life, especially on such a low calorie diet, but on top of all of it, Bruno said I needed to do a warm up show in Vermont to shake off the rust before the May finale. I didn't tell anyone on the team I was doing it either, just M, Lyndsay and Zack knew, cus I was around them the most.
I figured before hitting the stage in Mid April, M and I would attend a WBFF show at Mohegan Sun, one of her favorite places, she must've dropped like 50 bucks in this one machine and she wouldn't shut up about the free range chicken at Michael Jordans Restaurant inside the casino. As we approached the front door of the show, I noticed a thoroughly angry Aly Webster and her boyfriend Austin with his head down.
“Austin forgot his stupid ticket!” She said rather loudly, see you have to be careful with bikini competitors cus when they near the end of the dieting, they let you and everyone on instagram know about it. Talk about Angels and Demons, but I give Aly a pass, she works her ass off to get on that stage. She did have a small stumble during one of her transitions, but besides that, you knew at the end of the show, she would be standing near the middle. Although most of my elation came when they awarded Ashley Packard her pro card for her bad ass Catwomen costume. Married, two kids, early thirties, yet hyper as fuck.
Well they did their job...my turn.
I showed up in Burlington, Vermont in a full suit as a “supporter” of Ryann and the other teammates, but when I showed up the next morning covered in Pro-Tan, I just winked at the ladies and placed my stuff against the wall. I also brought some of my Cashew butter along as a post show treat, Kat Cousins wasn't being shy and gave me cash right there for one of the jars, not sure how many times she climaxed over it as I was too busy getting my pump on for the stage. I stood on my tip toes a bit to get into class D; which was a smart strategy I must say. During pre-judging, the judges will move people around to determine where your going to be placed and then for side by side comparisons. I thought I was dead last at the end of this process, so I was a little bummed at that moment. Thankfully lunchtime had arrived so we all went down to the lake all tanned up and took a bunch of photos together, at the time, Ryann was clearly the flagship of our team as finding a new vein on her quad was like Christmas time for her. So I found it important to play second fiddle during this whole process and let her get some of the best shots, but I had a few that I played up for the camera before returning back to the show for finals.
Since the New Englands in 2014, the size of the competitors in Men's Physique had increased dramatically, Max Santos, who went on to win the show was carved with a knife and there I stood at about 167 pounds and retaining way too much water and my body fat was far too high, but this was a warmup show, so I went out and accepted my pending fate...3rd place.
I looked down at my number to make sure it was me they called and I was overjoyed to be standing where I was, I had a lot work to do, but for the moment, I was just fine.
I had a long night of traveling and stuffing my face, so I called M to give her the good news, it was just so damn good to hear her voice, it was the right way to end the night, and I was in total road warrior mode. I dropped Bruno off in Manchester, NH then blasted up to Meredith, NH where my mother had just arrived about a week prior. Then after telling her the whole story in better detail that led me up to this point, I hopped back in the car around noon, headed back to Manchester and nailed down an awesome Sunday dinner for the gang all in four hours.
All the usual suspects were there, including Elizabeth who brought her date up for the first time, he was about as stereotypical Massachusetts as you could get, but he enjoyed the food nonetheless. Everything was going fine until near the end of the meal when we were lounging and after M had taken off to pick up her kids, A few of the others had left abruptly. The one thing I never wanted in these meals was to have drama, I wanted everyone to be like family, if only for a moment, but when family starts to drink a little too much and things come to light, drama always will unfold, I decided with the last show just over a month away, that I would cancel the Sunday dinners for the time being, maybe let the drama die down a bit. Turns out it only got worse as we all went to the same drama filled gym and as for the anxiety with M...that was about to hit a serious roadblock.
I'm not sure what was going on, all I knew was she was scared of losing her job, rightfully so, but I wasn't helping as my diet was causing me to lose a lot of lean body mass. My mind was warping out of control and my energy levels had plummeted. This is what's commonly known as crash dieting...and I took it to a whole new level. My cardio and supplement intake hadn't changed but I had pulled the majority of healthy fats from my diet and was running on mostly proteins, around 160 grams a day. This was bad, we're talking under 1000 calories a day. I was doing stupid cross-fit drills along with my workouts to keep under 170 lbs, but I was dropping weight way too quickly, but my mindset was in a bad way with everything going on, plus I was running out of money after paying for all the accommodations.
About a week out from the show, M and I agreed to meet at the park along the Merrimack River, a place where we've had a lot of great memories, sadly this day was not one of them, she said she couldn't risk her job anymore and had to call it quits, I said...well to be honest I don't remember what I said, I only remember the time we had in Boston, along the Seacoast, but it didn't matter now. I just let her go on her way, hoping that someday, she would come back.
That Sunday I took a good look in the mirror. I didn't look good. Truth be told..I looked like shit.
...Weekend of May 23rd, 2015.
“On march the banners of the King of Hell.”
-Dante Alighieri, Inferno
Work was headphones on, head down and talk to noone. As soon as it was 5pm, my chair was empty and I was out that door before anyone noticed, it was my last few days at Gold's Drama Gym, I couldn't last more than 45 minutes before calling it quits and heading home. I didn't want to hear words or sounds from anyone, not even Bruno. He saw me going for a walk across the bridge and chatted me up for about 20 minutes, he mentioned something about a wedding from a life I no longer recall as being real, so it phased me very little. Since I had a hotel and noone to help me with my tan, I made an offer to little Cali Hebert, a luxury hotel, access to the entire city of Boston, free gym access, free Latte's from downstairs and all she had to do was help me with my back tan. She was like a dog with her head out the window the whole way down that morning as we pulled up to the lovely Loews Hotel right across the street from the event center. My body mass was so small I didn't even look good in my suit and that is very hard for me to achieve. I never just sit in the hotel tho, I have to move around, so we took about a 45 minute walk to the north end where we dropped a few dollars for some pastries and some other stupid stuff. After grabbing a burger and finishing my tan up. I braced myself for a long night of all the thoughts running through my mind...
4am Saturday Morning...
As usual, my calves locked up, my head is killing me and my heart is pounding. I was already dehydrated and well below a healthy weight for my size. My abrupt awakening made Cali stir a bit, so I scratched her head for a few minutes until she fell back asleep and then I lied there for another two hours.
I stood there pacing at the front entrance of the hotel around 8am waiting for Kristina to show up and escort me to the show, I was already in my pre-show pissy mood, so I walked in myself with my hoodie up and my head down, I usually am in good spirits after I get my final coat of tan, but to be honest, I hate that dream tan shit, its brown Vaseline and it destroys whatever clothes it touches. There had to be something better than this garbage. Word to any competitor at any level. NEVER. USE. DREAMTAN. It is shit, absolute shit. Trust me. I remember Jimmy and Alison globbing that stuff on me in my first few shows like I was Arnold hiding from the Predator. It was warm in Boston that day, but I was freezing, I was 160 pounds of dust, if you blew on me, I would have disappeared. As Kristina finally arrived, she would periodically check in with me throughout the show as she too knows what it's like on game day, if you were ever to meet a person like K, she's a person that's impossible to hate. I needed that type of personality around cus today's level of competitors were at a level I had never seen before. These cycloptic, Gigantour looking mutha-fuckas who should have been in the heavyweight class...were putting on boarding shorts and stepping into my division. How's this allowed? It was bad enough I was walking out there at a Holocaust-like 160 pounds, but I was standing next to a 200 something pound bodybuilders and the class sizes had tripled in just six months. What made it worse the show was being run like a national level show, so everyone was being rushed and they had very little patience for a tiny bitch boy like me. As I was chatting with some familiar faces like Joey Klamka, Diego and newcomer Josh Ziegra, my headache had returned just as I was a few feet from the stage border, then when that moment happened and the stage lights hit my eyes, they were so dry, I started onto the stage, but I couldn't completely see where I was going, My posing was already questionable, but I had to look down at the judges which caused my posture to bow and I ended up looking like the leaning tower of Pieceashit. I was completely and properly embarrassed at what I did to myself that day. I was to get one last trophy and ride off into the sunset and put the pieces of my life back together, but when they called top five during finals and I was dead last in my class, I was met just off the stage by Kristina and I couldn't bring myself to even pick my head up and look at her. She said it was the best I ever looked, but I know she was just being kind, I knew that I had just embarrassed myself and my team. I shouldn't have been up there. I broke down right there only able to mumble out a few words to her.
“Joey, the stage will always be there for you.” She said.
Fuck that...I was done. Retired.
I was nothing more than a throwaway who slept on a futon mattress upstairs with zero possessions of any value. No trophy. No money. No Sunday dinners. No M. No clue of what was to come.
PART TWO ARRIVES OCTOBER 2ND...