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Gila River Review
Neil Brewer

The OC Arm Wrestling Champion of 1992

            Marty peeled the worn, white tee shirt off the coat hanger and pulled it over his head.  He pulled it down tight, it didn’t fit like it used to, and he gave it a couple of strong tugs to fit it over his stomach that now protruded directly out making him look like he wasn’t even fat, but pregnant.  It had been eighteen years since he first wore this shirt, and he could still smell the old glory that was woven into the white, cotton fiber.  He grabbed his old, tattered hat off of the top shelf in his closet and made a show of placing it on his head.  He was in good spirits.  Fastening his hat he remembered back to a time when this hat used to sit like a crown on top of a proud lion’s mane, and noticed how now it looked more like it was being used to cover a sick bird.  But at least his smile had stayed the same, he thought. 

            He turned to look at himself in the full length mirror on the inside of his closet door.  He lovingly ran his hand over the text on his white shirt, slowly revealing the faded gold lettering, “1992 Orange County Regional Arm Wrestling Champion,” and then he gave the mirror a wink that could have fanned away a girl’s propriety, were he back in the day.  He looked down at the arm of an old champion, and he squeezed his hand into a fist.  He looked at his arm like a proud father looks at his son.  He coiled up his arm like it was a snake, and his balled fist darted around in spastic rhythms like a serpent’s head.  The movements made it look like the snake was stretching its heavily pregnant body.  The muscle of his forearm always looked like it was stretching his skin to the limits and was in danger of breaking.  Looking at it, his eyes filled with unabashed pride.  After fifty-one years his once mountainous physique had turned to mashed potatoes.  His skin had the worn and brittle texture of paper that had gotten wet and then dried in the sun.  His lips looked like a couple of poorly-rolled cigarettes.  And his nose was like a shittily built Ikea dresser with two deep, dark missing drawers.  But his right forearm had all the iron and vitality of a virgin god.  In fact, he possibly had the largest forearm in the world. 

            Marty was in the mood to entertain himself.  He coiled the snake up again; it looked like an earthworm digesting a crystal ball.  Gazing into the ball nestled on top of his elbow his apartment began to melt away, and he could see that inside of his arm was a large crowd.  They were gathered around him and talking in voices that broke with excitement.  Everyone was pushing in close to him asking for pictures, and autographs, and appointments, and sperm donations.  Kids hopped onto his arm two and three at a time, grabbing onto it like a monkey bar, and he would swing them around and around, backward and forward until they laughed so hard they couldn’t hold on any longer and dropped off.  He saw himself on famous couches being chatted up by famous celebrities of famous talk shows where they had funny and witty banter about his diet and exercise routine until the hosts couldn’t stand holding it off any longer, and asked to measure his forearm with a yellow ribbon.  The dream faded into the orb inside of his arm, and reality was back.  It was Saturday morning in Hollywood, which meant he had somewhere to be.

            Inside his closet was a red and gold podium.  He picked it up by a strap that had been nailed to the side.  Stenciled on the front were the words: OC Arm Wrestling Champ.  The power and beauty of his image in the mirror with the large box slung over his shoulder; the box he had made with patience and delicacy that wouldn’t be expected from his muscular hands was literally breathtaking for him, and he had to concentrate on his breath to collect it.  He paused there at the mirror to cherish the moment.  Remember this moment.  He thought.  When people ask you about the day you were discovered, you’ll want to tell them everything.  Remember. He breathed out heavily and said, “Go get em’ Marty,” in a whisper that was pure hope. 


            Marty came up to his usual corner on Hollywood Boulevard, just next to the famous Chinese Theater, and set his podium down.  He let the sidewalk traffic adjust to him being there before he got into it.  People noticing Marty behind his stand, stopped; wondering what he was going to do.  Marty let the crowd marinate in their anticipation for a drawn out moment, and then he coiled up the serpent and flexed it for the crowd.  People looked on for a second, and then two, and then they realized that that was that.  The show had begun and ended in the space of the same second.  They began to leave.  Marty watching them go looked into each one of their eyes; he could see awe. 

            There was no awe in anybody’s eyes.  What was in those eyes was barely-offered politeness, or flatly aghast confusion, if their eyes weren’t being diverted completely.  

            So, since nobody was interested in taking a picture, Marty pulled out a large stress ball from inside his podium, and he began to knead it with his fingers so his forearm would swell like the face of God for his fans. 

            It was getting later and people would pass by and notice his stand, but they rarely stopped.  Mostly hipster teenagers in love with irony would stop to chat awhile while smoking cigarettes.  They would take a picture sometimes, collecting their permanent pause in the pitched battle of a fake arm wrestling match for a buck seventy-five.  Some people who walked by would make a remark, and some people would nod politely, and some people would flex their muscles too, and all of it was wonderful to Marty as he coiled up his snake and made that baby hiss for the crowd.

            It was getting late in the afternoon.  Marty was pushing out the swell of his forearm for the amusement of a young couple that to anybody but Marty might see, were unamused.  That’s when he heard a sound.  A clicking sound.  The click, click, clicking sound of shoes punching pavement, being led by some conductive, upbeat music enchanting him from somewhere.  He looked across the street and saw that a small crowd was starting to gather there.   He couldn’t see what was happening, the crowd was too large.  Marty’s stomach started to twist.  The crowd was getting larger, and he was squinting and scanning for a hole through the crowd to see what was going on.  The crowd had gotten too large to hope to see through to what was causing the commotion, but Marty didn’t need to see to know.

            He kept his eyes fixed on the crowd, not daring to blink and risk missing the chance to see what he knew in his bones was already there.  Marty’s eyes were beginning to burn, he needed to blink.  His eyes were screaming out, “MOISTURE!” When suddenly he saw it.  A head covered in rainbow colored tassels popped out over the tallest heads in the crowd, and then disappeared back under just as quickly as it came.  “Not this son of a bitch,” Marty whispered.  Marty had never met him, but he had heard bar room talk about him before.  His name was Patrick Riley.  Patrick was an ex-“Lord of the Dance” backup dancer, and if the rumors were true, Patrick had the largest calves in all of Southern California.  Marty, still watching from across the street saw more rainbow colored tassels flip out over the heads of the crowd in a colorful whip, and he knew by the hang time of those rainbow colored ribbons, that these rumors were probably true.

            Marty watched as more and more people were finding their way over to the dancer’s corner to see what was happening.  Marty watched as his audience was leaving him.  Marty watched as his talk shows were leaving him, as his witty banter with celebrities was leaving him, as his fans and swinging children were leaving him.  Then he felt his air leave him.  Marty felt like a deflated balloon called “Has Been”.  In that one moment, he felt like he had been sucked through a black hole and put in a universe where everything was wrong, and backwards, and false.  It was the closest Marty had been to living in reality in nearly eighteen years.  This lasted just a moment though, as is typical with weakness in champions, and he felt his balloon begin to inflate again.  Now the balloon was called “Will Be Soon” and it was being filled by the heat emanating from an ember called Passion that had been left smoldering in his gut since 1992.  He was ashamed for losing his sense of who he was, even if it was for just a moment, but he had it back now.  He was the goddamned Orange County Arm Wrestling Champion of 1992!  He was the Champ!  Marty went behind his podium and swung open the door with unequivocal purpose.  He reached inside and pulled out his old boombox.  It was the same boombox he had used in 1992 to pump himself up before every arm-wrestling match. He set it down next to himself, and with possibly the most muscular finger in the world, pressed play.

            The hiss of the tape deck as its ribbon rolled through the metal gears sliced the air with a quiet static that gave his world anticipation.  A single man heard the static’s hiss and looked over his shoulder to see Marty standing still as a statue, staring down at his feet with his arms flexed in fists in front of his pants, patiently waiting for the cue from the music.  The first note of the slow build intro to Metallica’s, “Enter Sandman” began.  When the first chord hit with a smack from the cymbal of the drums, Marty’s head popped up, and his heel began to tap in time, and Marty began what would be the greatest performance of his lifetime.  The crowd looked over in surprise.  There was Marty.  The song was continuing its slow build, and so was Marty.  He was saving the forearm for the moment in the song when the whole band came together in the climactic “Enter Sandman” rock.  When it did, the serpent was up, Marty was marching, and the crowd was surprisingly interested.

            Marty had the snake coiled with a violence that he had never had before.  His forearm was a lion in mid-roar.  His muscle was the grand majesty of the Rockies and the inspiring face of Jesus.  Marty guided each tug of the muscle and each twitch of the wrist like Picasso would glide a brush across a canvas.  Marty wouldn’t let himself be ignored.  People began crossing the street to get a closer look at Marty and his arm, which he was flexing in time to the music’s rhythm like a choreographed laser light show.  He flexed and posed and marched and danced with all of his soul, and willed as many people to him as possible.  It was the greatest Marty had ever felt. 

            It was the greatest Marty would ever feel.

            Marty spared a second of concentration, to glance across the street.  The man across the street was indeed Patrick Riley.  He was sweaty and shirtless and had a band of colorful tassels gliding off his hair and sticking to his sweaty neck.  Patrick was a sparse man in all respects except for one.  The black tights covering his legs bulged at the calves to preposterous proportions.  It looked like somebody had sewn phonebooks into the back of his legs, which were at the moment a furious typhoon of awesome, choreographed beauty.  Marty looked directly into Patrick’s eyes, and with his eyes, Marty sent Patrick a message that was just two words long: Game On.  Patrick was stepping to his routine, it was the jauntiest part of the tune so far, and the crowd was starting to find its way back to him.

            Marty for the moment felt desperate.  “Who wants to see if they can pin my arm?” His voice was booming and had a slight tone of hysteria.  A smiling teenager in a Korn tee shirt made his way up to the podium where he grabbed Marty’s hand.  Marty let the boy push his arm a little way down before Marty slammed his hand down hard onto the smooth, podium top.  The crowd looked underwhelmed.  Even Marty saw that.  Marty looked across the street at Patrick.  Patrick was at a point in his routine where he was lifting himself off the ground in high and elaborate jumps, and his legs, which were like diesel pistons attached to pogo springs, were launching his tiny body upwards in a way that looked impossible.  It was a performance that had to be seen to be believed. 

            “I’ll take two people on at once!  Who wants to see if they can pin my arm?”  Marty said, trying to keep his healthy adrenaline from turning into panic.  Two more teenagers stepped up.  They wrapped their hands around Marty’s big fist, and pushed against it with all their might.  Marty slammed their hands down onto the podium hard, maybe even a little too hard.  The kids were starting to see Marty losing it, and they began to get very, very interested. 

            Marty looked across the street.   He saw a flurry of tassels, and a blur of black spandex, as Patrick was whipping his legs into the climax of the routine.  It was like nothing Marty had ever seen.  The dancer’s calves were so large and his body was so small, his leaps and bounds were overwhelmingly beautiful and bizarre.  He was intoxicatingly strange.  Marty stepped out from behind the podium then.  His blood was pumping and a current of adrenaline came and swept Marty up completely.  He gave the mightiest flex he had ever given, and he felt a primordial scream rise up from deep inside his bowels and force itself out of his throat.  The scream left with such raw energy that it reverberated and shook his body and being and left him tingling as the sound echoed off the walls and streets.  Then as the pounding in his ears died away, and the last echo of the scream had returned, he heard something he didn’t expect: Laughing.

            The couple of teenagers that had wrestled him from before were doubled over, falling to the floor, holding their stomachs, laughing.  Marty was stupefied.  They knew it was coming, and Marty didn’t disappoint.  They were on the floor.  Delirious, Marty looked across the street at Patrick.  Patrick was putting the finishing touches on his routine, seemingly completely unaware of Marty.  Did Patrick know we were dueling? 

            Patrick didn’t.  Aside from the look of surprise he first had at hearing “Enter Sandman” being played at arena volume with a man twitching his fist back and forth while marching in the street, Patrick hadn’t spared a second glance.  Patrick was a professional dancer.  He had to focus on the routine he had taken years to perfect.  He couldn’t afford to give Marty or his ridiculous twitching fist any of his attention.  Who could?

            Marty felt his face burn with embarrassment and he began to gather his things up into his podium as quickly as possible.  The two teenagers seeing his sudden attack of self-awareness, laughed even harder.  Just these two boys were left laughing in the street, the only two left with any awareness of Marty at all, but what Marty saw was a boulevard in hysterics.  A hundred people having a laugh over a carnival display of ignorance, and he was the freakshow that had given it to them. 

            Maybe the truth of there just being a boulevard of people that didn’t care would’ve been sadder to Marty, if Marty was capable of noticing that.  But he wasn’t. 

            Marty was trying to stuff his boombox inside his podium, but his hands were shaking from his nerves and he couldn’t fit it in properly.  He just threw it inside and shut the door clumsily before he grabbed the strap up and swung it over his shoulder to leave.  The sound of the laughing boulevard was ringing inside his head.  He wanted to get as far away from the sound as possible.  He was walking so fast that the podium was bouncing back and forth on his shoulders, hitting one and then flopping over to the next.  A good bounce threw the podium door open and sent his boombox smashing across the street.  He didn’t think for a second to stop and collect up the pieces of his smashed history littering the street, he just looked forward, pretended nothing had happened, and walked as fast as he could while weakly battling against the urge to flat out run.  He turned the last corner and was onto the straightaway that led to his house.  Along it he passed a restaurant that had tall glass windows where he could see his reflection.  He saw his big red and gold podium, bouncing off his cartoonishly large arm.  It looked like Popeye’s arm attached to Olive Oyl’s body; if Olive Oyl had gotten knocked up that is.   And behind the reflection, Marty saw rows and rows of patrons violently laughing at him and pointing to his freakshow arm and his ridiculous box; even though that restaurant had been closed for weeks.  If at that moment he had been given one wish, he would have wished for a baggy coat with sleeves that went all the way down to the fingertips, and a regular, boring backpack that was slung over his shoulder, instead of this stupid fucking box.  But he didn’t have that, so he just picked his legs up and started to run.  The strap on his podium wasn’t used to the stress from running, and it broke. His podium swung down hard, and smashed against the pavement.  A long crack was sent running up the side of the box with the carefully stenciled words, “OC Arm Wrestling Champ 92”.  He could see his door from where he was, so instead of picking up his podium, Marty slung the strap over his shoulder and ran as fast as he ever had to his door while the ruined box bounced and dragged against the ground behind him, leaving a trail of red and gold paint from the end of his block to his door. 

            He burst inside his apartment and hurried to his open closet door where he looked desperately into his full length mirror.  His panting belly was pushing his tiny shirt in and out offensively.  Just watching the movement was making him sick.  His old hat looked like it was dragged out of the trash and placed on top of a goose’s shaved ass.  And his bulbous forearm, his proud serpent, looked like the missing piece to some incomprehensible and unfathomably stupid Halloween costume.  It looked like a freakshow.  It looked like the grand prize of narcissistic delusions.  He hung his arm lamely at his side, like he might never use it again.  He looked into the mirror, into his eyes.  The champion he saw in his eyes that morning wasn’t there.  Not anymore.  Instead he saw a child.  “You’re gonna be okay Marty.  You’re gonna be okay Marty.  You’re gonna be okay…” he panted the phrase continuously, saying it over and over until it became a constant, unintelligible whisper.  The child was cold and scared, and was crouching in a corner.  The child was hiding something.  It was a toy.  It was some kind of toy that had broken into a dozen jagged little pieces, and it littered the bare floor around him.  “You’re a champ Marty.  You’re the champ.  People respect you.  People like you.  They want to know you, see you, they want to be you Marty!  People respect you.  People respect you.  People respect you.   People respect…”  The child was trying to fit together the jagged, broken pieces that were scattered around him, picking them up and jamming them together, trying to get every piece to fit and stick, but nothing the child did would fix it.  “They want to like you Marty… they want to know you…they want to…to…”  Marty moved his lips as if he was going to say something, but then he just stopped.  He just stopped.  And then he looked into the mirror.  He looked into his eyes.  There was nothing inside them anymore.  Not a child.  Not a champion.  Not a toy.  There was just a cold, empty room.  An empty room inside his retina: lifeless, soundless, stale. 

            Marty could distantly feel the hot tears collecting in his eyes, as he felt himself becoming detached from his body and falling with the feeling of never expecting to land.  As the tears collected inside the cup of his eyelid, just the moment before Marty became detached from his body completely, Marty saw something.  He could swear that he saw something; images swimming into focus on the back of his tear.   He looked, and it was himself sitting in his recliner chair every Saturday watching talk shows, alone.  It was himself sitting in his usual seat at his favorite bar telling his least-favorite people the same tired story of an arm wrestling competition in 1992.  It was himself with eyes like dark, vacant lots, staring into a square black tube, using possibly the strongest forearm in the world to lift 12 oz aluminum cans to his thin, dry, cigarette lips.

Neil Brewer is a twenty-three-year-old Education major at CGCC.  He began writing short-stories after taking a creative writing course at Chandler-Gilbert, where he was encouraged to begin submitting pieces by his teacher, Patrick Finn.  He plans to continue to write and submit to journals while pursuing his goal of becoming an English teacher.

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