by Eric Vrooman

With the exception of four people, I’d like to acknowledge everyone for helping me become Bemidji’s Strongest Man—from the ice-changer at the supermarket fish counter to the towel-washer at Lars’ Gym. When I’m doing the log clean and press, I imagine everyone in the world is lifting a feather’s worth of weight. And I want to acknowledge your effort. Truly. I even thought of having the Atlas Stone trophy exploded and giving you all a pebble, or maybe a grain of stone. The problem is how to send it. Not everyone in China and Newfoundland’s got an address.

As for the four people I’m not going to acknowledge, Mike Sanderspree, you’re first and here’s why. When I told you I was getting married to Shelly Ann, you said, “Bad choice, dude,” and then put your card on someone else’s wedding present at the AmericInn banquet room. And as the best man, you should have at least mouthed the words when everyone else sang “O Perfect Love.” It’s not like I was asking you to eat the cracker body of Jesus. It was just a hymn, and you heard what the minister said about love being hard and everybody having to support this wonderful couple.

Next up, Ollie “High Marker” Olson. Putting the highest snowmobile mark up on a mountain isn’t much to be proud of, let alone give yourself the nickname for. There aren’t any mountains in Minnesota, so we’ve got to take your word that you beat those Wyoming cowboys and escaped an avalanche by lassoing yourself to the top of a prickly-pear tree. I, for one, have my doubts. After all, what kind of person would Vaseline the handle of my keg and shout “Lobotomy Head” on my backswing? You realize, I hope, that being bald is a sign of having tons of testosterone, which may be why I won the competition, despite placing last in the keg toss. And I can’t help it if I got hit on the head with a lawn dart when I was frickin’ four years old. You should spend more time on your muscles and less time running your mouth. Based upon your performance in the tire-flip, farmer’s carry, and seated truck pull, you probably think a trapezoid is something you swing from in the circus.

Third, Bart Urin. I don’t know who you are. I just ran across your name in the phone book and, for some reason, I can’t get your name out of my head. It’s really annoying, plus your name sounds kind of profane. So, no offense, but I’m not going to acknowledge you.

Last, Shelly Ann. I bet you hoped the fourth person would be someone else. Maybe someone else who pledged her love to me, lying in the Conan Wheel’s empty rock basket, under the stars. Someone who said “holy flying fig” and drank beer out of teacups at church socials. Someone who taught me to roller-skate and let me lean my arm on her shoulder. The same someone who later claimed it was more fun to clip her toenails than hear me talk about protein shakes. Who complained that we never had “walk-in” sex anymore, just “appointment” sex. Who left circled apartment listings on the coffee table and had “girls’ night” three times a week. Who wouldn’t commit to even one push-up.

When you stare at yourself in the mirror for hours a day, lifting weights, it’s hard not to get depressed. I’ve got a wrinkly, scarred head. I can make change with any bill under a hundred, but when I hear stuff like “pi r squared,” my thoughts turn to pastry. And I can’t write love poems for dirt. But I could handle all that if you put some of those heart-shaped candies in my lunch bag, or asked me to choose your Saturday night outfit, or pretended to lift the automatic garage door with your pinky, like you used to.

When we watched TV, the silence between us got so long, I’d make corn dip just to stir the air. I entered us in that bowling league, but when I hugged you from behind, trying to show you the proper form, you said, “Gross! If I wanted to be frisked, I’d call a state trooper.” And when it was my turn to bowl in the tenth frame, you laughed as Sanderspree imitated a squirrel’s mating call for the millionth time.

So I started working out more, taking advantage of the one thing I’ve got—strength and the ability to tolerate pain. If I could’ve trained myself to become smarter, better looking, and funnier at the same time, I would have. But since that isn’t possible, isn’t it better to become good, really good at one thing, than to suck at everything equally?

I know I’ve got a long ways to go to become the World’s Strongest Man. At thirty-seven, it’s probably not going to happen. I realize that. I know, too, that tomorrow I’ll be back detailing cars, unloading trucks, and paying minimums on my credit cards. But for tonight anyway, I’m Bemidji’s Strongest Man and I’m setting a record for the amount of people being acknowledged. Or maybe I came up four people short.

Shelly Ann, if I’m going to be completely truthful, and I am now, I’m not thinking of all those people in China and Newfoundland when I’m doing the log clean and press or lifting the Atlas Stones. I’m thinking of you. But I made a promise to myself and I’m a man of my word. I acknowledge my mistakes, I acknowledge my weaknesses, but not you. Not tonight.

Eric Vrooman lives in Minneapolis and teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College. His short fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Cream City Review, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, Twelve Stories, and Ninth Letter. He is working on a collection of stories with the support of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant and a SASE/Jerome Award.