In 1969, I had many reasons to dislike Billy Burns. And on this one particular night at O.D.’s, a nightclub in Cambridge, I was about to get one more. I was sitting up at the bar with my then girlfriend, Debbie, when he approached us to grace us with his presence. I suffered through the amenities and noticed he was wearing a three piece suit, a very tailored three piece suit, and as usual, he was full of himself. Gag!
After he left to bestow the gift of himself on other unsuspecting patrons, I muttered, “What a creep, huh?” Debbie responded with “But he has the most beautiful body, though.” Though? THOUGH? What the hell was that supposed to mean? I stared down at my protuberance, winded and wounded. I’m thinking, not him, Jesus please, not him. If rat poison cocktail was on the bar menu I would have ordered one. And drank it. I was out of my body for the rest of the night trying to staunch the bleeding to my wounded ego. I had dreams of Debbie asking him if she could feel his bicep. Dreadful.
The next morning I was at Sears in Porter Square buying one those metal spring chest expanders Charles Atlas was always hawking and proceeded to wreak havoc on my once sedentary, fleshy, complacent body. I was relentless. When my brother noticed the clumps of hair trapped in the springs and my irritated nipples, he asked me if I was using them correctly. Who cares? That goddam Billy Burns was making my life miserable. “Though” still ringing in my ears, I continued pinching the rest of my chest hairs off.
Sometimes a poke in the proverbial belly is all it takes to get us to tighten ourselves up. That was fifty years ago and no matter what I was going through in life I still took my iron pills. I was once escorted out of a Holiday Health Spa in Newton on a Saturday night because I was drunk. Sadly, they thought little of my efforts.
Vanity can be a double edged sword but if it can bring us around to taking better care of ourselves then why not? In the end I have Billy Burns and my insensitive girlfriend to thank for pumping me up. Billy was the first guy I ever knew who put the word Narcissus in a sentence. I will never forget that night as painful as it was, and Billy will always have my deepest respect. Kinda.