It had been nearly a year since I had sat down with Randy and drawn up a plan for him to compete at his next contest a full eight pounds heavier than his debut, in all the right places, and nab his first win.
Thanks to a stroke of luck, he actually had more time to prepare for the show than we had previously thought. The contest was supposed to be held in mid-September, but the promoter had been forced to scramble for a new venue.
For the past couple years he had been holding his events at a very nice, but very stuffy, college theater.
And I don't mean stuffy as in needing better ventilation; I mean stuffy as in, "I say my good man, what the deuce were you thinking when you decided to wear that horrendous ascot to the country club?"
The janitor cleaning up after his bodybuilding event in June had found an empty whiskey bottle beneath one seat, and--I don't mean to disturb anyone reading this but--the remains of a smoked joint in a bathroom stall.
Heavens to Betsy, Lord knows that alcohol and marijuana are something foreign to all colleges and universities, whose students live chaste existences devoted to study, prayer, and abstinence from sins of the flesh.
As ludicrous as it sounds, the outraged school had declared bodybuilding fans a pack of degenerate hooligans and banished our kind from their ivy enclave.
In any case, all of Randy's hard training, strict dieting, and putting up with a pompous, overbearing bastard like me had all come down to one day, and it was here at last.
This was a pretty big regional show, second only to the New England in terms of overall numbers, quality, and prestige. More important, it featured novice divisions, which gave my protege a fighting chance to take home the glory.
Weigh-ins and competitor registration were scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. I had told Randy I would meet him there shortly after. It was about an hour's drive north of our area. When I showed up at a little past 9:30, he was freaking out.
"Where were you, Ron? I've been here since 8:30!"
His eyes, slightly sunken in his drawn face, were wild.
"Calm down, calm down. The prejudging doesn't even start until noon, what's the rush?"
"Look at all these guys!"
He hissed this in a whisper, eyes darting back and forth as if we were in a den of sleeping vipers that would attack at the slightest movement or loud noise.
What I saw brought back a lot of memories from over the years, and the nearly two-dozen contests I had competed in since 1989.
Camped out and spaced nearly evenly around the dimly lit auditorium were about seventy male and female competitors and their entourages, which included significant others and coaches--sometimes one and the same in the case of the women.
They looked like a ragtag band of refugees with hollow eyes and cheekbones, faces stained brown with tanning dyes and creams, most chewing gum absently like cows gnawing a cud. They wore sweats and tracksuits, with feet propped up on the chairs in front of them.
Some dozed or at least tried to. The stench of ProTan was thick in the air. To paraphrase Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, I love the smell of ProTan in the morning. Smells like ... victory.
Actually, to me it always meant it was time to get up there and show what you had been working your butt off for over the last few months. To me, that alcohol-tinged aroma meant, "Let's get it on--bring it!"
Randy didn't display that same enthusiasm. Actually, he appeared edgy and nervous.
I was starting to wish I had given him the go-ahead to bring that bottle of cheap wine, so he could take a few pulls and chill the hell out.
"How you feelin,' kid?"
"Thirsty," he rasped. He was exaggerating a little bit. I had instructed him to drink a gallon of water yesterday, but to stop all fluid intake at 9 p.m.
Since his body was still in the mode of flushing out water thanks to the sodium-loading and -depleting process, it would continue to shed excess fluid long after he stopped drinking it.
I had guesstimated that he would take the stage around one p.m., meaning that sixteen hours would have passed since he stopped drinking.
That should be about right, from my experience. Much longer than that and he would just flatten out, no matter how many carbs he consumed.
I say he was exaggerating because I knew there were always a few competitors that took the water elimination to dangerous extremes, going twenty-four or even forty-eight hours without drinking prior to the contest.
Seeing as the body, including the muscles, is composed of roughly seventy percent water, I never thought this was too brilliant. This isn't to say that I never tried this brainless strategy.
Back in 1993 I took the advice of a collegiate nationals winner (who had clearly not majored in pre-med), and dehydrated myself for close to three days before a show.
Did I forget to mention he also advised me to sit in a sauna for 30 minutes, twice a day, on the Thursday and Friday leading up to Saturday's event?
Imagine my horror when I saw that my bodyweight had dropped from 176 to 158 pounds in that brief time. Hitting poses during prejudging was a challenge, as I felt weak as a kitten with the flu, and ready to pass out.
I really knew I had taken the dehydration thing too far when I drank an entire pitcher of water with my meal between prejudging and the night show, yet didn't urinate so much as a drop.
I guess you could have called me SpongeRon, because that's how dry I was. I was also so woozy under the bright stage lights, you could have told me I lived in a pineapple under the sea, and I would have believed it. My kidneys were probably looking like prunes, too.
"Who do you think's in my class?" Randy continued in that conspiratorial whisper that was starting to irritate me.
I looked around with him. There was no way of telling how big anyone was, because they either wore clothes that were so loose they could have been smuggling an extra coach under there, or looked like they had been planning on climbing Everest or possibly exploring Antarctica.
A lot of the men especially were dressed in multiple layers to create an illusion of greater size: a couple tee shirts, a sweatshirt over that, then a big hooded sweatshirt over that.
Thus, you couldn't tell if the guy choking on a plain rice cake in the back row was 150 or 250 pounds.
This psych-out was only effective until it was time to weigh-in, because you had to do that in your posing trunks, and nothing else.
It had never ceased to amaze me how many of the dudes I had been intimidated by as mass monsters turned out to have a whole lot less mass once I finally saw their actual physiques.
Sometimes it reminded me of a turtle stepping out of his shell, or those little wooden Russian dolls within dolls.
The women's fitness and figure competitors had already registered. Since they were classified in height classes, they were not required to weigh in.
"Women's novice bodybuilding!" an NPC official yelled out into the auditorium. A lone woman, a pretty blonde in her late twenties or early thirties, sauntered up on stage where the scale was set up to record your weight.
This is also where you would receive your competitor number and badge, and hand in your posing music. I looked around for stragglers, but apparently she was the only one.
"Congratulations, you won!" I hollered, and a few people chuckled. She had won by default. This was something that had never happened to me, though there were times in the past when I had envied such luck.
Hey, as long as no one else knew you had been the only one in the class and didn't have to beat anyone, you could proudly (maybe not too proudly) list that as one of your titles.
If this gal were also crossing over to the women's open, as Randy was doing today in the men's, she would have some real competition.
There were about ten other women bodybuilders scattered around the seats, and I recognized a few faces as athletes I had seen do very well in previous shows.
The officials took care of her, and then we heard the call for the novice lightweight men. There were only two divisions for the novice class, for those over and under 175 pounds.
Ten men went up to register in the lightweight class. I was a bit surprised, but then again, our area hadn't had a novice class in any of its events for many years.
"Man, I am so nervous," Randy admitted to me.
"Just relax," I told him in my most soothing tone.
"You've done everything you could possibly do. All the hard work is over, now it's just time to have fun and let the judges sort you guys out."
It was less than ten minutes later--which I'm sure felt like ten hours to Randy--before we heard the call for novice heavyweights. I was very curious to see who Randy would be up against, but I was even more interested to see what he weighed.
Apparently he had been awake since four a.m. had been consuming a small bowl of oatmeal and a half a yam every hour on the hour.
We hadn't discussed weight in over a week, and he had been right around 200 then.
Six other guys shuffled to their feet and made their way to the stage with Randy, who was doing his best to check them out without being obvious, and failing miserably.
He was first in line, and so was first to strip down to his trunks and step on the digital scale. The guy weighing him announced the weight to the other official sitting down next to him, who recorded it. They were too far away and talking too softly for me to hear anything.
"One-ninety-five!" Randy shouted to me, not caring that he was making a spectacle of himself. He pumped his fist in the air.
This was eleven pounds heavier than he had been at his first contest the year before, and in better condition.
Our goal had been an eight-pound gain, but thanks to a lot of heavy training and a lot of good eating, he had exceeded my expectations.
Even from this distance, I could see how much improved his upper chest, biceps, and calves were. I could also see the grin fixed on his face as he put his clothes back on and watched the rest of his class weigh in.
A couple of them were clearly not in the proper condition, looking like they needed at least another month to get as lean as they were supposed to be.
There was only one man that dwarfed Randy in size, but Randy was much leaner and better balanced than this guy, who had very little back development and hams that were far behind his quads. That was evident just from seeing him in trunks for maybe ninety seconds.
There was one Latin guy that I thought would be the one to give Randy the most trouble. Other than that, the kid had a really good shot today.
As for the open light-heavyweights, we wouldn't see them for another twenty or thirty minutes, but Randy would certainly look like he belonged this time around.
Judgment Day was upon Randy now, and this time, he was prepared.