"Man," Randy said, shaking his head as he walked into the gym. And I knew exactly what he was referring to.
I had written something in a magazine that someone was very upset about, and through the magic of Internet message boards, it had escalated into a major international incident. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these message boards on bodybuilding web sites, let me try to draw a comparison.
In the old days, housewives used to gather in their backyards as they hung up and folded their laundry, gossiping over their picket fences about who said what about who, who was cheating on their spouse, stealing from the church offering baskets, secretly wearing their wife's underpants, etc.
Then the telephone came on the scene, and gossip started burning up the phone lines. This facilitated the rapid dissemination of rumors, lies, and unfounded accusations so that dirt could be spread faster than ever. But then came the mother of all high-speed communication tools - computers linked in a worldwide web called the Internet.
Nowadays, bodybuilders can share their training and nutrition tips with their fellow brothers and sisters in iron at lightning speed. Of course, they can also insult each other, make wild claims and accusations, and intentionally start trouble in any number of ways. The anonymity of screen names and the ability to effortlessly impersonate others in a malicious manner only makes this easier.
Let me tell you, those housewives of yore clucking beneath their laundry lines had nothing on today's bodybuilders when it comes to delighting in gossip and scandal. It doesn't quite mesh with the image of big, strong, macho dudes very well, does it? Trust me, muscleheads can dish with the best of them.
I hadn't trained with Randy in over a week, and that was when most of my dubious Internet publicity had erupted and festered. Randy followed the whole mess, and had even chimed in to defend me several times under his screen name, "Buttercup."
Yes, most guys had tough-sounding names like "2Huge4U" or "BenchPress700," but Randy had appropriated the name of one of the Powerpuff Girls (Though it should be said that Buttercup is a lot tougher than either Blossom or Bubbles, the other two). I actually had to ask him to cease and desist with his well-meaning defense, as he was also insulting the other guy mercilessly in the process.
This only served to infuriate the other guys' fans, who unleashed a new wave of hostility and ill will. The whole thing was getting uglier and uglier by the minute, and I mean uglier than a bouncer in a Tijuana strip joint, until I finally had to stop responding at all.
The negative energy from all the back and forth garbage was actually making it hard for me to sleep and focus on my work. And over what? It took my wife Janet to make me step back and realize what a colossal waste of time and energy this whole fiasco was - kind of like campaigning for Ralph Nader for President.
I was finally shrugging it all off, but I could see Randy was still seething.
"Did you read what that idiot 25inchGuns posted this morning?" he demanded to know.
"Randy, I don't even want to know. I promised my wife and myself I wasn't going to reply anymore, no matter what was said about me. All that does is keep this thing going and going."
"I don't get it, Ron. Some of these fools are making you out to be worse than Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and the AntiChrist just because you're in this feud with -------, their idol."
"I know, and it was really getting under my skin, but all of a sudden I came to my senses and saw how ridiculous it was. I knew I didn't deserve the abuse I was getting from some of these nameless message board trolls (oops, I wouldn't want to insult any actual trolls by making that comparison), but you have to understand that some people thrive on negativity and live to make others miserable. Even really nice guys like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler, who never say anything bad about anybody, are the victims of these negaholic bastards."
"Yeah, I have heard about them getting arrested a couple times," Randy mused.
"Every couple weeks you hear about someone getting arrested, dying, going through a divorce, or being responsible for the death of Princess Diana. Nine times out of ten it turns out to be a total fabrication. But in the meantime, the accused has to go through a good amount of grief and waste his time trying to convince everyone the story isn't true. And I hate to tell you this, but if you do achieve any amount of fame or recognition in this sport in the next couple years, odds are you will eventually be the subject of trash-talking and rumors."
"That's crazy!" Randy laughed. "What could anyone possibly say about me?"
"Oh, where do I start?" I grinned back at my naïve young friend. "If you have a great bodypart, you'll hear how it's all Synthol or an implant or something. Or if you have a lagging bodypart, they will gloat about how horrible it is and how you will never bring it up. People with nothing better to do will question your sexuality, accuse you of being a drug addict, even say you are a huge fan of Justin Timberlake."
"That's so wrong," he moaned. "I hate Justin Timberlake."
"Years ago when I was first getting into this business working for a bodybuilding show on ESPN, my boss told me I needed to develop thick skin and let all that crap bounce right off me. I wasn't even really listening at the time, but I sure understand what he meant by that now. There will always be people who are jealous of you, or who dislike you for their own evil reasons. And now that we have the Internet, those people have an easy forum to spread their vile hatred for all to see."
"So what do you do, just ignore them?" I had to let that question sink in a moment, because ignore the negativity is exactly what I should have done from the get-go, but hadn't.
"Ignore them, to start with. Of course, once you have read the rotten things they have said about you, it's nearly impossible not to let it stress you out to some extent. But luckily for us as bodybuilders, we have access to a better stress-reliever than anything you would ever see in a pharmaceutical company's commercial with the tag, "ask your doctor if - is right for you."
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Randy tilted his head to the side for a second like a dog. "You mean training?" Boy, if I had a gold star to stick on his forehead, or even a Scooby Snack to reward him with, I would have given it to him right then.
"Exactly. Take all that stress and grief and turn it right around. I have had some seriously ferocious workouts over the past week, and it's all thanks to the mean-spirited things that were posted about me for the whole bodybuilding world to see. Every time I get one more rep or use ten more pounds on an exercise than I did the time before, I am thinking, this one's for you, you sorry SOB's. I should start a thread thanking them for helping me get bigger and stronger."
"So that's what I have to look forward to, huh?" Randy asked glumly. "And here I thought I would get fans and people saying only nice things about me."
"Honestly, there is plenty of that if you are a good guy and treat everyone respectfully. But occasionally there will still be jerks who want to bring you down for their own twisted motives or insecurities, and you will have to deal with it."
"I think I will deal with it by becoming an even better bodybuilder," he said as he launched into a set of seated dumbbell shoulder presses. I thought about that for a minute.
"You know what Randy? Every once in a while I learn something from you too. When anyone tries to bring me down, I will just become a better bodybuilder. If you let them get to you, they win, but if you keep on doing your thing the best you can, you win. Success is the best revenge of all."