Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Arm Size" by Josh Alan Friedman

We remember Bruce Jay Friedman with an excerpt from Black Cracker, an autobiographical novel by his son, Josh Alan Friedman.

Sometimes my entire worth rested on whether or not I could fight. When you lost, you were worthless. “May the better man win” took on a literal meaning. The winner felt victorious in every regard, as if you were only as good as whom you could lick, like cavemen. Glen Cove was a medieval society amongst children. Predators stalked the earth in search of beating you up.

I figured my dad could kick anybody’s ass, and this gave me a small degree of comfort. He worked out every day at Vic Tanny’s Gym on Madison Avenue in New York during lunch breaks. As for his novels, he considered writing to be like heavy lifting. You “rolled up your sleeves” and went at it. He never behaved like an artiste, he always spoke about it like it was blue-collar labor. But he was fit as a lumberjack, unlike other working men in the neighborhood. He took me to Vic Tanny’s in Manhasset on weekends. While my dad exercised, I ran up and down the sit-up boards. I bent down and tried to pick up the heaviest dumbbell I could. I figured that was how you worked out. The only kid present, I was an annoyance to the serious weightlifters.

Arm size was religion to them. The bigger the arms, the stronger the man, I supposed, with all the wisdom of a Popeye cartoon. With big arms, you could take care of yourself in all aspects of life. “Gotta pump up,” men told each other at the curling irons. “Got a date tonight.” Weightlifters were convinced the only things women noticed were their arms. What more did you need to impress girls? I prayed for big arms when I grew up. Mine were skinny, a matter of shame, and there was nothing I could do about it. No amount of weights could bulk up my pre-adolescent biceps. What confused me, however, was that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones didn’t have big arms, yet millions of girls fainted over them. Didn’t they notice how skinny Mick Jagger’s arms were?

As was custom, my dad bought us two V8s from the vending machine at the end of our Saturday workout. The V stood for Vegetable, and the 8 was how many vegetables were used for the drink. It came in a little can, and should have been called V9—the ninth flavor being the metallic taste of the can. Some bodybuilder, employed as a greeter by the club, would flex his arms, making a muscle for customers on the way out. His bicep was the size of a grapefruit. I was awed. When I asked how I might bulk up like that, he merely advised, “Eat a lot of rye bread, sonny.”

As we walked to the parking lot, I begged my dad’s assurance as to whether he could take this guy. He dismissed the subject, but I didn’t let up. He had his own threshold of patience when humoring me about these matters. “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” he said. But I didn’t want my dad to be a lover. I needed to know that he could lick all the bullies that tyrannized my existence. Even though he didn’t.

“Yeah, I could take him,” he finally assured me.

“But, Daddy, he’s got even bigger arms.” This bothered me.

“Yeah, but I know some tricks,” my father winked. I breathed a sigh of relief. Knowing some tricks could defeat huge arms. I wished I could learn these tricks, but he didn’t let on.

Excerpted from Black Cracker, an autobiographical novel by Josh Alan Friedman.

© 2009, 2020 Josh Alan Friedman, all rights reserved.

Thursday, February 20, 2020


Stanley J. Zappa, saxophones and clarinets 
Nick Skrowaczewski, percussion  
Andrew Wedman, Rhodes

MANZAPPACZEWSKI is the totality of three semi-wasted lives rolled into one dynamic trio dedicated to the UFDA sound and way. As a group they have no particular musical agenda other than finding the most efficient, effective way to rid our collective improvisation of all accumulated cultural shibboleth. Their debut record Live a Little is, for creators and future listeners alike, a very close brush with the greater "it."


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