It was a perfect Sunday morning in late September. Nacho Del Grande and his old training partner Bobby “Duke” Nukem, both friends of mine, had come to visit and train with me at my home at the base of the Catoctin Mountains. The boys arrived at 7 am and after downing some strong Cuban coffee, we headed to my garage gym where we crushed ourselves: six sets of maximum deadlifts, five sets of overhead press off the power rack. This was followed by four sets of barbell press behind the neck before finishing with a brutal series of bicep/tricep super-sets in the steep incline dumbbell curls and double-dumbbell overhead tricep press.
Shattered, shaking, drenched in sweat, shock-blasted, yet exuberant, all three of us were enveloped in a post-workout glow state that only comes in the aftermath of a body-shocking workout. If the workout intensity is sufficient the bloodstream becomes flooded with narcotic-like endorphins, growth hormone, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. Exhausted yet blissed-out, we made our way to the deck. The boys lounged about on the glider and deck chairs while I made them each a protein shake: Parrillo chocolate Hi-Protein powder, double portions, mixed with raw whole milk and spiked with organic honey.
The two men moaned as they sipped this incredibly delicious, restorative concoction. I threw three massive rib-steaks on my Weber grill. I had gotten the hardwood coals going in between sets of barbell presses. I threw the heavily salted, dry-aged, grass-fed, grain-finished rib-steaks on the red-hot coals. The meat was obtained from a local Black Angus cattle farm. I had half the grill banked with coals and the other half of the grill filled with an iron water pan. After I seared all three steaks on each side over the 600-degree coals, I rotated the three steaks over the water pan.
I then threw handfuls of mesquite wood chips on the still-blazing coals. I placed the globe top on the grill with the vent holes open and atop the steaks atop the water pan. Now the fragrant mesquite smoke was being pulled over the steaks, impregnating the beef with a deep wood smoke flavor.
“Damn that smells good!” Nacho yelled.
Being smart, and not wanting to ruin this expensive meat by overcooking or undercooking, I snaked a probe connected to a steel cord connected to an external thermometer through the vent hole in the lid of the Weber. I pushed the probe into the middle of the smallest of the three steaks.
When the external thermometer indicated that the internal temperature of the beef was 120 degrees, I pulled them off the grill and let them rest for ten minutes. This ensured perfect medium rareness, I had it timed so that when the protein shakes were finished, the rested steaks would be ready. You could smell the smoke coming off the beef as I brought them on a platter to the table.
Duke Nukem ripped into his steak, he took a bite, then another and another, he was eating like a crazed cannibal, “Oh my GOD!” He yelled. “I would fucking MARRY you! if you’d have me!” Nukem didn’t look up, he was too busy ripping at the meat; I noted he wielded his steak knife with great expertise. He moaned and looked skyward. “This is better than the steak I got at Morton’s last month!”
Nacho had picked his rib-steak up by the bone and was chewing on the outer meat ring with his teeth. He was amongst friends and eating his with his hands. I brought out another platter of fried eggs (over easy) and a killer potato/onion/green pepper crispy hash. Nacho was a longtime fan of my cooking. Nukem was a new convert.
“Oh my god – this is incredible!”
“He eats this way every day.” Nacho was eating the hash with a spoon. “He’s like a hillbilly Jacques Pepin.” Apparently, Nacho watched HBO cooking shows.
Everyone was done, stuffed to the gills. It was time for a restorative ride in the mountains. I dropped the top on my jeep and we loaded up. Nacho, all 6-3 and 280-pounds of him, sat in the passenger seat. Nukem, 6-1 and 245, grabbed the exposed roll bar and pulled himself into the tiny rear jump seat with great fluidity. He was agile as hell and reeked athlete: at age 40 he still played guard and linebacker for a hardcore Baltimore semi-pro football team. He had played for the same team for ten years. He drove a propane truck for a living and came from a tough section of a tough city.
He’d done well for himself. Duke Nukem and Nacho Del Grande had been training partners at a notorious gym in the Dundalk section of Baltimore. The gym catered exclusively to hardcore powerlifters. There had been some Olympic lifters training there, but that was before “Crystal Night” when a monster powerlifter in a fit of roid rage broke the Olympic lifter’s trophy case, smashed all their trophies and spray painted “Olykmic lifters suck!” misspelling Olympic. This caused an exodus of Olympic lifters from the gym. The same lifter that smashed the trophy case later had to go into witness protection.
“Yeah, Jeff just went ape-shit crazy for a while. I miss him.” Nacho added.
Nacho was positively streamlined: he had taken 2nd place at the USPF national powerlifting championships the previous July. He had weighed a shapely and athletic 325-pounds. Since then he had reduced to 280. “I don’t want to blow a head gasket street racing a 59 Cadillac body with a 45-horsepower VW engine.”
This was his typically cryptic and very Zen-like way of saying no matter how much size and muscle a man adds, his heart muscle is the size of that man’s clenched fist: granted, some men have big clenched fists, however, the point being, unless you are competing, why stay huge? Why power around a huge body with a tiny heart? Ego?
I drove the two men into a state forest that I can access two miles from my home. This is old growth forest, untouched since the beginning of time. I broke off the small paved road and onto a nicely-kept gravel road. I knew the endless intersecting gravel roads that crisscrossed this section of the state forest like the back of my hand. My passengers were loving it. To these boys it was like an episode on the nature channel. They were regenerating sucking in the crisp, clean mountain air, and the scenery was breathtaking.
We headed up the side of a picturesque mini-mountain and as we rose above the forest tree line, the farmland to our left was revealed in a Norman Rockwell-like panorama. You could see for 20-miles. little mini-houses, colorful mini-barns, ribbons of road, it all appeared on a colorful checkerboard cropland landscape that went on forever. It was intoxicating, surreal; there was wonderful sense of total aloneness. We saw no one. I put on some excellent and appropriate mood music. My sound system was pulsating. Someone produced a spliff….
I took a final semi-hidden turn when we crested this particular mini-mountain. I dodged axle-busting pot-holes, huge rocks and low hanging branches. The jeep bounced like a buckboard up steep switchbacks and down steep slopes that made you glad it wasn’t February and icy. A few hundred yards in, I parked at a wide spot, exited and motioned the boys to follow me.
I walked down along a barely visible game trail that led to a barely visible hole in an unending sea of seemingly impenetrable pine trees. Walking into the pine forest turned a sunshine-filled day into night; dark and cool, the temperature dropped 10-degrees. “Spooky!” Nacho opined as we picked our way across a sea of pine needles. Everyone broke into broad grins when we existed the darkened pine forest onto the shores of a sundrenched mini-lake.
“It’s a mini-lake in the mini-mountains! Shiny, happy small people should populate the shoreline!” Del Grande said. He was stoned.
“Damn!” the hard to impress Nukem exclaimed. “Nice! Where are all the people?”
“No swimming allowed. Fishing license required. The locals hate it. They boycott this place.”
“Good for us!” Said Nukem.
I motioned them to follow me. We walked the circumference of the sunny side of the lake until we came to a beautiful cove hidden by tall reeds. We sat down on a large log not five feet from water so crystal clear you could see the stones on the bottom as far as the eye could see. Nacho was positively wistful.
“I could live here. I would live in a yurt. With a super model. But I would need to have Chinese and pizza delivered. Otherwise I would starve to death.”
“Right, you’d die after three days. The buzzards would eat your fat dead carcass.” I pointed skyward at three hawks lazily riding the thermal currents above the lake.
“Holy HELL – are those Buzzards?!”
“Oh yeah, they’re real. They swoop down and pick clean anything dead.”
Nacho stared at the hawks shaking his head. “If they are starving, I would imagine they would attack humans.”
“They prefer small children or dogs, something they can fly away with….”
Nukem knew I was messing with Nacho’s altered state. He quizzed me, “So what fish do they pull out of here? and how big?”
“This is part of the state forest. The locals avoid it because this place is crawling with game wardens that will stop your pickup truck and search your vehicle for fish caught without a license. The fine is staggering, like $30 a fish. So, this place is basically deserted. You need to get licensed-up; to drop a line in this lake requires $25 in fees and stamps. It’s a $25 fine just for having your line in the water without a license. They say 8-pound large-mouth bass are caught here. I would believe 5-pounds.”
I became the hero when I unzipped my backpack, reached in and retrieved three 16-ounce beers. We were hidden from sight here in the cove and could hear anyone trying to sneak up. I told them getting caught drinking by the game warden was a $250 fine. Sips were taken and cans hidden behind the log we sat on. Again, a spliff appeared.
“How much is that fine?” Nacho asked pointing at the joint. “Oh, probably $3,000 by the time you get on the other side of everything.”
“Maybe you should walk about 50-feet away with that thing. No more interfacing with law enforcement? Right Nukem…Nukem had a close brush with the law a couple weeks ago – right Nukem?”
Duke Nukem, a guarded man let down his guard and did something he had not done in a decade, he took several massive hits of the extremely potent weed. I dared not look at him. Out of the left corner of my eye, I could see that he had visibly slumped – but not in a bad way – in a relaxed way. He leisurely and expertly exhaled his fifth toke. I got it, he was not some weed virgin, he was an expert sworn off. Now the weed loosened his inherent controlled nature
“Yeah, I had an incident…a violent incident. I hadn’t had anything this intense in fifteen years…”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well, my wife and I went to the movie theatre at the local mall to see some movie. It was an afternoon showing and the place was relatively empty. We had good seats, far enough back but not too far. We are in the two right aisle seats in the center row: viewing perfection.” Nukem finished his 16-ounce, crushed the can and handed it to me. I stuffed it into my back pack.
“Want another?” I asked.
“That would be fabulous. This is better than a Raven’s game.” Nukem, already buzzed out of his nominally straight gourd, now started his second 16-ouncer at 11:22 am. Nukem was feeling loose.
“So, what happened?” Nacho prodded.
“Yeah…not good…right before the movie started the empty seats in front of us were filled by a foursome of loud talking swaggering dudes. Not kids. Guys in the their 20s. They bang down hard into their seats, running their foul mouths the whole time. And sure enough, here we go….”
Duke Nukem’s voice trailed off, he reached behind the log, took a huge pull on his 16 and then hid it. “This is fucking beautiful. Thank you for taking me here. I could come here every day and zone out if this was my neighborhood.”
Nacho was insistent. “Tell him what happened at the movie!”
“Nacho, you are bringing me down – I am mellow and beautifully buzzed, and I don’t want to dwell on violence…”
“Well I want you to dwell on violence – just finish the goddamn story.”
Nukem moaned and shifted from sitting on the log to sitting on the ground. He leaned back on the log and watched the hawks lazily surfing the mountain thermals, not 50-feet overhead.
“So, the lights have not gone down for the movie. The place is not that full. The obvious leader of this crew sits in the aisle seat, right in front of me. He’s big and right away he is blocking my view. I am about to tell my wife we need to get up and find new seats when the smallest idiot on the left leans across the middle two to address the supreme leader. In a really loud voice, he starts talking street jive punctuated with the F-bomb every third word. My wife goes, “Hey watch your mouth! There are children here!” and the skinny smart ass goes – “FUCK YOU BITCH!” And then the other three whip around in their seats and start yelling profanities and making hand gestures.”
I was on the edge of the log dying to know what happened next. Nacho looked at me and made small circles with the index finger of his right hand next to his right temple while mouthing “He’s Crazy!” Nukem emptied his second 16-ounce, handed me the evidence and continued.
“I had been on Defcon 5, the highest alert level, the instant these four salty dudes sat down in front of us. My wife was just babbling on an on, oblivious to anything other than whatever inane bullshit she was going on about. These guys were not real gangsters. They were like suburban toughs that probably dealt weed or X, faux gangsters, but with all the trappings.”
“What was the plan of attack?”
“Luckily, I still had on my work boots and luckily the leader was on the aisle. While they were busy turned and screaming profanities at my wife, I bounced out into the isle and squared up. When the head ganagsta whips around to see what I’m up to – POW! Front mule kick flush to the face with my work-boot. I remember the sneer on his face right before I rearranged it. Caught him flush and hard. Unconscious. One down.”
“The second in command was next to the boss and took time out from frightening a 130-pound woman to look over to see what was happening to Number 1. He then turned and looked up at me just in time to see my right cross smash his nose. Flush. Two down.”
Nacho was visualizing it. “So, after the right mule kick, you were perfectly set, cocked, ready to throw the hard, straight right.”
“Exactly. It was like punching a pumpkin.” Nukem balled up his right fist. It had a nasty tear of skin on the two predominant knuckles. “Number three did not want to fight. He melted onto the floor whimpering. I wanted to get my hands on the little Fuck You! dude that started it all, but he skittered away backwards like a spider. He wanted no parts of me.”
I handed him a third 16 ounce. He popped it and after looking around for the game warden took a long pull and set the can behind the log.
“My wife was in shock. First, she just wants to see a movie with her husband when suddenly she’s being verbally assaulted by four gangbangers two feet from her face. Then her husband starts murdering these guys, she is seeing violence and carnage up close, unleashed by her insane looking husband. People are screaming and its anarchy at the Multi-plex. She is leaning back, shrinking from the carnage.”
“Number 1 gangster is unconscious and likely going to the Emergency Room. Number 2 is moaning pretty badly with his flattened nose. I reach in, grab her right arm and yank her into the aisle. I look her straight in the face ‘Take the car, go home. I’ll be back later, go NOW!’ She snaps out of her shock, wheels, and runs up the aisle just as four movie employees are running down the aisle.”
Nacho waved a finger. “Those guys were looking to make a citizen’s arrest. They were going to hold you till the cops show up, maybe they’d duct-tape you to a folding chair – what’d you do?”
Nukem blew a perfect smoke ring with a cigar he’d cranked up. “I booked. I ran fast as hell and hoped those well-lit exit doors they have on either side of the movie screen weren’t locked or chained. I hit that door full steam and it about flew off the hinges. Now I am trying to get my bearings. I am outside the theater in a parking lot surrounded by a fake redwood fence. I am running like a rhino as I head out into a quiet suburban neighborhood.”
Duke Nukem was always in great cardio condition: he had been prepping for preseason training. He played both ways. “I still got four theater employees in black pants, white shirts and Snap-on red bow ties, chasing me – they are wearing street shoes. I got 50 yards on them holding steady. But they were game. So, I said, okay, let’s take this to the next level, so I start running through back yards, hopping chain link fences, running through clotheslines…”
“Just like on TV!” Nacho was fired up.
“Now the fat guy dropped out, but the other three were in good shape and doing good handling the obstacle course. After five minutes of this, I was getting pissed. I was not so much tired as frustrated. I wanted this to end. We’d been running for 15-minutes by this point. I had no goddamned idea where I was, other than that it’s a nice, quiet suburban neighborhood. During our chase-fest we’d only seen two people and they were old and didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.”
“We hit an alley between two rows of houses and I dead-stopped. I wheeled around facing them, pull myself to my full height and I start yelling like an insane person, “DO YOU REALLY WANT TO CATCH ME??!!” over and over. Their ringleader, I guess the boss, he was an in-shape middle-age guy with a bad hair-cut. His eyes bugged out of his head and he stumbled backwards like he’d just discovered I was radioactive. I kept stomping towards them. None of them weighed more than 170.”
“Bad news for them. Plus! they’d already seen your mayhem handywork and what you were capable of!”
“And now I was pissed.”
“And now you were pissed….”
“I really didn’t have time to get pissed before I tied into those ‘gangsters’ in the movie theatre. I had to act before they got the drop on us. If my wife hadn’t been there running her mouth non-stop, I would have gotten up and walked out or walked to a different seat.”
“What happened with the chase?”
“The two dweebs looked at their boss, pleading to stop. I am stomping towards them promising to catch one of them and pull their arms out of the socket. They were horrified…the dweebs backpedaled, turned and ran and did not look back. Then the boss turned and ran. I stood and watched them until they were out of sight. I started jogging and after 45-minutes finally popped out on Pulaski highway. I had to follow it for, oh, another mile…”
“Alongside cars going 70…”
“Oh yeah. I finally get to an exit and a gas station and a payphone and called my wife to come pick me up.”
“How’d that go?” Asked Nacho.
Nukem spit out the end of his cigar and said with considerable exasperation, “Nacho you know how that went.”
A pregnant pause hung in the air. The only sound was symphony of crickets in a bed of reeds 15 feet from our log perch.
“Oh yeah, that’s right, sorry….”
Nacho turned to me a whispered. “He got served with divorce papers.”
The spell was broken. We gathered our empties and left.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.