John Boston | I’m Going After Smyth’s Bench Press Record

John Boston

A New Year’s resolution I’m starting early is getting back to being strong. Mind you. Not strong — SMELLING. Just — strong

A couple months back, a little boy, maybe 6, was staring at my big Western belt buckle. I was wearing boots, bolo tie and the big O’Farrell for some SClarita rigmarole. Shyly, he asked: “Are you a — cowboy?” 

I had to think about that. 

“Son,” I answered. “Lately? Darn if I haven’t been more of a desk-boy…” 

I’ve friends who used to be Other Species Strong. Bigfoot would walk up respectfully to ask: “Excuse me. Sir? How much do you bench press?” 

“One million-six…” 

SClarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth once confessed to me years ago he could bench press 3,000 pounds. 

I’m thinking Cammykins meant the English paper currency. Not the iron gym equipment. Still. With every rep, Smyth uttered an undignified, high-pitched and lady-like — “eh…” 

I’ve been thinking about my dad lately. Always do. Walt’s birthday would have been yesterday. Years ago, he called to sheepishly ask if I’d give him a hand hefting something. “Sure,” I said, because that’s what sons are for. It touches my heart because with Pops, there was always some Laurel & Hardy backstory attached. 

Flat screen TVs were beginning to flood the market. Dad was at Sears and succumbed to a Big Floor Sample Clearance Sale!!!!!! abundance of exclamation marks being Sears’,  not mine. Pops bought himself the absolute last, clunky, Pleistocene Epoch TV set. It was the size of Oprah. 

That TV set was bigger than my dad’s car and every on-duty mall employee labored to squish it into the front seat. It was so cramped, Walt had to make a second trip just to bring back the remote control. 


Back then, Dad lived upstairs. 

I studied the situation. 

“Dad. Unless you know six muscle-man Egyptians who built The Pyramids without a fulcrum,” I finally said, “we’re going to have to drive your car upstairs. Then, we’re gonna acetylene torch your roof off to liberate yon Fred Flintstone TV from your unsexy demitasse Chevy Chevette death trap.” 

Dad laughed. Being an engineer, I think it was the welding torch and fulcrum references that tickled him. Dad volunteered to help get the TV upstairs. Bless him. He was in his 80s then. I thanked him and suggested we limit it to one hernia per family, then retrieved my thick leather weight belt from my truck. I tore rags and duct-taped my wrists, slid on knee braces then began slapping myself in the face and hyperventilating to psyche myself. There was only one way to get that white elephant up two flights of stairs: P.P.B.F. 

Pure Polish Brute Force. 

Clearly, I remember pondering. At my age — 50-ish — this was the last time I’d ever do anything so macho and stupid. That darn TV was bigger than the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Worse, my lower back was screaming in protest. Just removing the stuck TV was like trying to retrieve the Space Shuttle stuck in a manhole.  

And, I did.  

In one move, I literally ran upstairs with the TV because this was the absolute last exhibition of Cro-Magnon-ness I would ever exhibit until St. Peter said: “John. Welcome! It’s time for you and your truss to enter the Democrat-free Pearly Gates!!” 

Those good old days, of being young and ferocious. 

I remember chucking hay bales, leg-pressing a half-ton. Splitting firewood all day, sprinting up mountains, pulling stumps and once carrying a refrigerator — and dolly — upstairs, solo. Folks would wince and make faces at my Herculean feats of strength. Mouths ovaled, their expressions silently shouted: “Well how abjectly stupid. That’s why they make dollies and that’s why they put wheels on them. Like — on the bottom…” 

That parenthesis of being indestructible, from birthing babies to unloading cargo ships, is unfairly narrow for all of us. I marvel that a 340-pound college linebacker with 2% body fat was, 20 minutes earlier, learning cursive handwriting. How do people grow so fast and powerful? Like hair, how does it slip away so quickly? 

I have old farmer friends who are still tougher than a Soviet anvil. 

My pal, Maury Korey, was a ranch foreman and also ran the local karate dojo in Downtown Newhall back in the 1970s. At his age, he’d still travel Asia to perform exhibitions and I’d tease Maury about getting his kyu white belt during Japan’s Jomon Period — 30,000 B.C.  

I’d kid him — from a safe distance.  

Maury never lost his thick Bronx accent and loved good cigars. Nearing 90, he was the size of a wet second-grader. He was so blankety-blank — tough. And gentle. 

Once, his wife Kitty asked if I could drop off something at his Main Street studio. When I entered, Maury lit up like an obedience school German shepherd dropout at the OLPH Catholic Barbecue. Maury stopped the class. He motioned for me to join him center ring. 

Wincing painfully, I nodded “no” and pointed. Cowboy boots. Sorry. Then, I shared my fervent religious beliefs: I was an abject coward and Father Banks said I couldn’t participate in martial arts demonstrations with undernourished senior citizens.    

“I’ll give you a one-time pass,” Maury said with a yum-yum smile. I’m 245. He’s half a Don Knotts. He asked: “John. What would you do if someone wrapped their hands around your throat like this?” Lightly, he throttled me. 

I bent over a foot so we were eye-to-eye, then hoarsely answered: “Maury. I’d go — CUT IT THE HELL OUT!!!” 

I can still hear Maury in his little Holiday Inn complimentary karate bathrobe, laughing. 

“Correct answer!” he said. 

After I get back into race horse shape — a small favor? 

Don’t share this information with anyone in town who needs help moving… 

With more than 100 major writing awards, John Boston is one of America’s top columnists and can lift more than 35 pounds over his head. That’s 32 more than Cameron Smyth…

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