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How much you weigh, slugger? When you weighed 168 pounds, you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn. That skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.” 

Those are the lead-in lines of Charlie Malloy (played by Rod Steiger) that prompts his younger brother Terry (Marlon Brando) to unleash one of the film world’s most revered soliloquies: the back of the taxi “I coulda been a contender” speech in “On the Waterfront”.

When I went to Kaiser last week to get a blood pressure checkup - after testing kinda high the month before, holding off on a prescription to lower it by vowing to cut down on certain foods - the nurse had me weigh-in by sitting on the examination chair.

“168 pounds”, she said.

I felt elated. My dream weight, my own fighting weight! Finally, after many years I was back in shape. Cutting down on butterscotch Budino, Nancy’s Fancy gelato, lamb shoulder chops and double orders of cacio y pepe had paid off.

Then, my absolute worst nemesis, me, went into sixth gear down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans. That month before, when I had that highish blood pressure check, I had weighed 179 pounds. Sure, that was pretty good for me, who peaked over 200 a few years back. But to lose 11 pounds in a month? Jeez, I thought with dread oozing, something’s very wrong with me. I hated to think it, but to lose that much weight that fast, I might, I could, I, I, I thought of one thing. Cancer. The scourge that killed both of my parents.

on the waterfront 1200

How cruel a disease to come at me with “168”. It was almost admirable in its wickedness to use the number that leads to the most famous scene of my all-time favorite movie.

I needed to weigh again. I told the nurse. She did and it was 167 pounds. Oh no, I’m going fast.

“Let’s put on you the regular scale,” she suggested, sensing my anxiety. I got up – wobbly - and walked at least 13, 14 feet to a stand-on scale. It came out in kilos. 81 of them. I quickly did that math, the 2.2 pounds per kilo. Hmm? That’s, ugh, 162 plus 16.2. Wait, that’s 178 pounds.

Yes, 178, not 168! Immediate relief. I’m fine. That feeling was quickly followed by me thinking, “Damn. A month of cutting down at Mozza and I only lost one measly pound?”

I keep going over and over in my mind, telling myself how fortunate I am on so many fronts. My health, my family especially my sister, no bombs are falling on me, that I’m still kicking, all the funerals I’ve been to, my incredible girlfriend of 19 years, but that ‘ol nemesis of mine, me, keeps trying to throw big ugly monkey crescent wrenches onto my wonderful life.

I told my friend Caroline Blundell I was my own worst enemy and she just said “Join the club.”

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You have next to no idea how many times I’ve almost had a stroke, often when I’m having an outwardly pleasant conversation with a friend or acquaintance. Or one of those sudden heart attacks that kill you nearly as fast as a bullet to the brain. Oh, I just had a, just right now, a sudden twitch in my right neck, It went away quick, but isn’t that one of those early warning signs that the big one is coming. Or is that a shoulder pain? A neck pain seems a lot worse than a shoulder pain.

If you don’t feel well, never go and Google a symptom. You probably know that, but it needs to be repeated. (Especially to myself.) Any possible twitch is a symptom of deadly disease.

My own twitch just now has passed, and I feel pretty good. But, for the heck of it, I’m gonna Google “twitch in the neck” Hold on. I just did. I shouldn’t have. That’s all I put in “Twitch in the neck” and it looks like I have an underlying spinal problem.

Of all my worries - my heart, my brain, my liver - I always figured my spinal situation was good. Something I didn’t have to be concerned with. Now look. I might have an underlying spinal problem.

But I don’t know. I feel pretty good. Even with this possible spinal issue. In fact, I feel so good that I wonder if something is wrong with me.

Yeah, I worry. I mostly keep it to myself, though. I mean there are many people out there who know me and actually think I’m cool. They see me as a journalist who covers the street gangs in the projects in Watts. Who covered the war in 2020 in Artsakh, ,Armenia. Who has a wonderful famous chef as a girlfriend. Who drives around in (her) 450 horsepower Porsche like he’s Steve McQueen. Who women on the Mozza Corner turn to when they have a flat tire. Zeus forbid they should read this. In a way, I’m hoping my editors Susan or Karen rejects this piece.

I told my sister the opening to this story, the italics of “How much you weigh, slugger?” and her only question was “Who’s Billy Conn?”. I told her he was a light heavyweight (up to 175 pounds) boxing champion in 1939-1941 who moved up and was beating heavyweight champ Joe Louis until the 13th round when he was knocked out after he got cocky and went toe to toe with the Brown Bomber

Actually, ya know, back in the day, way back, my cousin Alec told me I coulda been a good boxer. Yeah, I thought, I coulda been another Billy Conn.

Charlie - How much do you weigh, slugger When you weighed 168 were beautiful. You could have been another Billy Conn. That skunk we got you for a manager. he brought you along too fast.

Terry - It wasn't him, Charley. It was you. Remember that night in the Garden? You came down to my dressing room and said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson. You remember that? "This ain't your night." My night! I could have taken Wilson apart! So what happens, he gets the title shot outdoors in the ball park and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville! You was my brother, Charley. You should have looked out for me a little bit. You should've taken care of me a little so I wouldn't have to take dives for short-end money.

Charlie - I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry - You don't understand, I could have had class! I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead of a bum...which is what I am. Let's face it. It was you, Charley!

Krikorian Writes