Thursday, August 24, 2006

Yo, Rock! Save Me One More Time

They say that in Hollywood, everything is possible.

I learned well the lessons of my Theatre Appreciation professor at MSU (that's Memphis State University - and not The University of Memphis), Ken Zimmerman, who said whether on the stage or on the screen, in order for the art depicted to communicate with the audience, the audience must willingly suspend their disbelief, and enter the reality of the production before them.

So, when I heard that Sylvester Stallone, at age 60, was filming the sixth movie in the Rocky series, titled, "Rocky Balboa," rather than scoff and as a predictible effort to grab one more dollar from a tired, old character - I said - thank God! I need Rocky one more time to help me focus on personal matters that must get tended, and quickly.

Much of my journey and battle with my weight can be set alongside the release of Rocky movies.

Weird, perhaps.

But true?


"Rocky" came out in 1976. I was in the 7th grade.

The story of a no name club fighter with a shot appealed not only to me, but obviously to the whole country. Stallone became a superstar.

I lived in Jackson. Was a part of a devoted group of friends, all of whom were about 3 years older than me. Even at that age, my role in the group, strange as it may seem, was pastoral counselor. To this day, I value that time with David, Buddy, Rusty, Amy, Greg, Chris, Brett, Joey, and all the rest so deeply. Only a week or so ago I saw Amy for the first time in almost 25 years.

I was immediatley back to 1979.

What are you gonna do?

"Rocky II" came out in 1979. I was in the 10th grade. I had just moved from my beloved south Jackson to Memphis. I went from a school with 300 students to a school with over 300 in my grade alone.

Culture shock.



I know what food as comfort means. I "self-medicated" and gained weight until I was up to over 280 lbs. My body still bares the stretch marks of the most painful time in my life.

"Rocky III" came out in 1982. The year of my gradution from high school. Starting at the tail end of my junior year and just before the start of my senior year, I lost 120 lbs. How you might ask? I sorta "came to myself" in a prodigal kinda way.

Being the rational person that I am, I figured that if I burned off more calories that I took in, I'd lose weight. I measured everything I took in. It was not to exceed 500 calories a day. I played basketball in my driveway daily while listening to music.

What music you ask?

Wait for it -

the soundtrack to "Rocky II," on a LP Album copied onto a cassette tape.

I used the degree of dizziness I felt from getting up too quickly as my measuring stick that I'm losing weight. My personal best one week weight loss under my "program?" 11 lbs.

My parents were worried about me. Of course, this was before we had diagnostic labels for particular eating disorders.

So, at the start of my senior year of high school, I was "smokin' hot," or so I thought. I found a girl and she became my girlfriend - the first of my life. Ginger and I dated for 4 years. That was a very important time for me.

As "Rocky III" opened, I'm graduating from high school and entering my first semester at Memphis State.

I had my first job at Fred Montesi's grocery(another story another time, but I did get to sack Sam Phillips and Dr. Nick's groceries), and with that money I joined the French Rivera Spa at Ridgeway and Park. Along with Tim, Brian, Stick - we'd go two to three times a week to pump iron. By 1984, I had muscled my way from 160 lbs. in 1981 to 200 lbs., and I was cut, for me.

"Rocky IV" opened at Christmas, 1985.

I was in good physical shape, but change was in the air. I was in the middle of my "first" senior year at MSU, I was moving jobs as youth director at Whitehaven UMC to Emmanuel. The realization that my relationship with my girlfriend had reached its end was upon me - and I had a painful choice to make. The soundtrack for that time was "St. Elmo's Fire."

Water was not my beverage of choice.

Beer, and lots of it, was. Anybody remember the Sports Page at Park and Mt. Moriah? Or, how about the V.I. on Highland? Then you get it.

There's a story I've been told by friends that due to my "loss" in a game of quarters, one night I table danced at the VI to "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves.

Glad I don't remember that one.

That semester at MSU was hardly stellar, but it was a benchmark.

My GPA for that semester was, are you ready? 1.0

How do you earn a 1.0?

Pretty easy.

Just don't go to class.

Don't study.

I didn't.

Somewhere in the middle part of '86 I found Kristy. Or, she found me. That's another story. Anyway, in finding myself again, so, too, did I find the Rocky IV Soundtrack to accompany my workouts. Through which medium? A Compact Disc, of course.

My "second" senior year was needed in part to rectify some of the damage done in my first, but the time was spent well getting to know the woman who would be my wife.

When "Rocky V" came out in 1990, change was in the air again.

I graduated from Vandy, was moving across the Tennessee River into the promised land of the Memphis Conference, I had been married for a year - and immersed myself in my work and not my physical disciplines. The label "fat and happy" applies here.

In 1998, I lost 40 lbs. Exercise and water by the gallon. Amazing. "Rocky" music was my companion. Got down to 218 lbs. It was as close as I had been to my optimal "fighting" weight than I had been in a very long time. By that time, I was able to mix the tracks I wanted and burn them on a CD.

It's 2006 - I'm over 40. A couple of years over 40. I have high blood pressure (it's in the family), but I can't ignore the factors contributing to keeping it high that I perpetuate. I have an elevated cholesterol level that I need to get a hold of.

And I need to get 30 lbs. off, and keep it off. 215-220 lbs. And hold there. That's what I need.

The death of my brother, my parents getting older, the reality of my own mortality is present in this my moment of ontological shock. But more than that, I watch the pure joy my children give my parents and Kristy's parents, and I long for the day (not anytime soon, mind you), that I can be Granddaddy. And I want to be an active one.

So, I've walked a couple of miles four times this week. The TotalGym is calling my name.

The ringing bell that starts Rocky's workout is ringing in my head. And downloaded on my mp3 player?

Yep - you got it.

This movie could not come at a better time for me.

One more time, Sly.

It's time.


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