All Hail Queen Alina

Bow down and worship Alina Popa!

Alina Popa is the GOAT.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the lingo the kids are using these days, “GOAT” is not an insult. It’s not what Charlie Brown feared he would be if he were to give up the losing run at the end of his playground baseball game. It’s not an animal. It’s not one of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. No. GOAT stands for Greatest of All Time. It’s the highest compliment one can bestow upon a person. It’s a high honor.

Miss Popa is the GOAT. Or a GOAT. Or one of the GOATs. Or in the top 5. Or top 10. We can’t all agree where she ranks among the greatest female bodybuilders in the history of the sport, but for the time being most of us should be able to recognize that Alina is one the best of the best of the best of the best.

For many reasons, Alina has captured our hearts and imaginations. She’s beloved. She boasts near universal adoration. Everyone loves and respects her. If you were to take a straw poll of one thousand female muscle fans worldwide and ask them who their favorite FBB currently is, I’d wager a guess that more than 80% would have Alina somewhere in their top 5. If she’s not in their top 10, then they’ve lost all credibility as far as I’m concerned. If they’ve never even heard of her, then I don’t know if it’s fair to call them a female muscle fan in the first place.

Alina’s appeal is fascinating to break down. She doesn’t have the crossover appeal of Cindy Landolt, yet she’s probably more beloved than she is. Alina doesn’t participate in sexually explicit pornography like Denise Masino or Brandi Mae Akers, yet she’s still considered unbelievably sexy. She isn’t as prominent on social media as Lauren Drain, but Alina is heads and shoulders more popular than Miss Drain will ever be. That isn’t to insult Miss Landolt, Miss Masino, Miss Akers, or Miss Drain – but rather to point out the impressiveness of Miss Popa’s popularity.

But it isn’t just about popularity. It’s emotional appeal. Alina makes us feel things. Intense things. Intense thoughts, feelings, and fantasies. One does not simply look at a picture of Alina flexing her large muscles and not experience a rise in blood pressure. Unless one is already in a vegetative state. Heck, looking at Alina’s body of work may very well put you in a vegetative state. And you probably wouldn’t complain too loudly when that happens.

She is a unique lady. She’s a one-of-a-kind. Her appeal is both obvious and not obvious at the same time. Alina is the GOAT, but she’s more than that. She’s a queen. No, rather she’s THE Queen. The Queen of Female Bodybuilding.

Alina Popa was born on October 12, 1978 in Brăila, Romania. Like many female bodybuilders, she led a fairly active lifestyle, having competed in track and field sports since she was 12 years old. In her late teens and early 20s, Alina became a regular gymgoer and started to do what guys always do at the gym but some ladies are reluctant to: lift weights.

In 2000, she placed 2nd in a local regional contest, which probably boosted her confidence and gave her the “hunger” to compete in more. That obviously set off a firestorm. The rest of her impressive résumé is as follows:

  • 2000 IFBB National Championship – 3rd (HW)
  • 2003 IFBB National Championship – 1st (MW)
  • 2004 IFBB European Championship – 2nd (HW)
  • 2005 Mixed Pairs European Championship – 2nd
  • 2005 Women’s European Championship – 5th
  • 2006 Grand Prix Due Torri – 1st
  • 2007 NABBA Miss Universe – 1st (Miss Physique class)
  • 2008 IFBB Worlds Santa Susanna – 1st (Overall and HW)
  • 2010 IFBB Ms. International – 8th
  • 2011 IFBB Ms. International – 3rd
  • 2011 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 5th
  • 2012 IFBB Ms. International – 3rd
  • 2012 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 4th
  • 2013 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 2nd
  • 2014 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 2nd
  • 2016 WOS Rising Phoenix World Championships – 3rd
  • 2018 IFBB Muscle Vodka Tampa Pro – 1st
  • 2018 Rising Phoenix World Championships – 1st

There’s no need to rehash the controversy in 2014 when Alina placed 2nd to Iris Kyle in the final Ms. Olympia contest. Alina placed 2nd the previous year and every prognosticator thought this would be the year the seemingly unstoppable Miss Kyle would be unseated. Alas, that did not happen. Iris won her 17th overall IFBB professional title, an eyepopping achievement that deserves considerable recognition. But in the hearts and minds of FBB fans everywhere, Alina deserved to place 1st at least once while the Ms. Olympia still existed. She may not have persuaded enough judges to earn that crown, but she’s definitely earned our awe and admiration. We understand that one’s accomplishments are not always defined by others.

So as far as professional competitions go, Alina may not technically be the GOAT, but she’s nevertheless one of the greatest to ever have stepped onto the stage. But for those of us who don’t need external validation for the things we love, we can live with that. Others who crave that validation are probably still bitter to this day.

Alina is a Queen because she’s everything you could possibly ask for in a female bodybuilder. She has it all: Brains, beauty, brawn, charm, and grace. She’s beautiful, yet approachable. She’s accomplished, yet humble. She’s tough, yet kind. She’s relentless, yet grounded. She’s glamourous, yet authentic. She’s strong, yet compassionate. She’s muscular, yet still unquestionably feminine. She’s big, yet curvy. She’s confident, yet amicable. She’s a woman, yet she doesn’t let her gender define her.

Her body is flawless. Some may have been disappointed when she decided to get breast implants, but that is neither here nor there. She can choose to enhance herself if it makes her happy. Alina has achieved the near impossible: She appeals to female muscle fans across the entire spectrum. She appeases those who love big, big, big muscles. She also appeases the folks on the other side of the aisle who value traditional femininity and are turned off by FBBs who exhibit too many “masculine” qualities. There’s nothing masculine about Miss Popa. She’s as feminine as can be.

When the sport of female bodybuilding rose to prominence in the 1970s, there was a stigma attached to women who were so bulky it (supposedly) compromised their “femininity.” As a result, many female competitors intentionally chose to not get too big out of fear it would damage their ability to win contests. That’s bad news. So praising Alina’s uncanny ability to perfectly balance femininity and muscularity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s the reason why she’s so beloved by female muscle fans around the world. On the other hand, it feeds into the perception that female bodybuilders are somehow obligated to also look feminine because not looking sufficiently feminine can be detrimental to their success.

Hm. This is an awkward place to be. It’s discouraging to praise ladies like Alina, Cindy, and Minna Pajulahti for their femininity and strength because – even if it’s implicitly implied – it reinforces the belief that women who are not like them are somehow inferior. Jennifer Kennedy and Kathy Connors are not inferior. They’re also awesome and deserving of respect. They may not get the same universal adoration as the previous group, but they are still worthy of our undying love. It’s much easier to defend Cindy Landolt than it is Miss Kennedy, a fact that begrudgingly acknowledges the reality that traditional femininity still matters to a great deal of people.

FBBs like Miss Kennedy have deep voices, masculine-looking faces, and a “roughness” about them that makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. One cannot deny that, even though one can also argue that these features do not chip away at her identity as a strong sexy woman. Alina’s presence is a breath of fresh air because she checks every box a female muscle fan could ask for, in addition to not having to carry much of the baggage typically associated with muscular women.

There isn’t a whole lot you can criticize about Alina. But we think of her as a Queen not just because of her crossover appeal, flawless beauty, perfect balance between muscularity and femininity, and considerable professional accomplishments. She’s earned her Queen Status because she makes us feel things very few other women – muscular or not – can also conjure up.

One of her most famous talents is the ability to isolate her muscles and bounce them on command. It makes us swoon faster than a pack of teen girls at an Elvis concert circa 1956. She can wiggle her glutes, bounce her pecs, and make her quads dance as if it were a cast member of Soul Train. Her muscle control is a sight to behold. It takes your breath away. Your eyes are peeled to the screen as you watch her show off her skills. It’s a shocking reminder of how in control she is of her body. She doesn’t just spend hours a day at the gym building her body – she owns her body. It doesn’t own her. She knows her physical self better than most of us think is even possible. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Watching Alina control her muscles – and knowing that we can never do that no matter how hard we try – makes us appreciate her that much more. She’s a Queen because she controls her domain with an iron fist. She’s a Queen because she doesn’t let anybody stand in her way. She’s a Queen because she does what she wants, looks the way she wants, and pursues her dreams with reckless abandon.

For the longest time Alina chose not to get breast implants. Then, she went under the knife in 2017 and looks great as a result. Does she look better? Yeah, but once again this is a tricky area. That isn’t to imply that she looked inferior before. She looked stunning before surgery and she still looks stunning today. Personally, I am not super picky about whether or not an FBB chooses to get breast implants. I love strong flat chested beauties as much as I love strong enhanced beauties. Fans may bicker and argue amongst themselves, but you’ll find no quarrel with me.

Whenever I scroll through photos and videos of Miss Popa I’m reminded of the famous quote from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet when Romeo remarks “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” Likewise, before Alina, true beauty did not exist. You’ve never actually seen a truly breathtaking woman until you witnessed Alina in action. Watching her strut toward the camera, flex her quads, and give the viewer a sweet but naughty smile is enough to give us cardiac arrest. But more than that, it’s sort of like a spiritual experience. Your brain realizes it’s seeing something that’s different from what it’s seen before. It’s difficult to explain, but universally understood by those who’ve experienced it.

Watching Alina is like being touched by the hand of divinity. You notice every muscle fiber, every curve, every fine detail of her immaculate body and wonder how a human being could possibly look that way. It’s as though every “traditionally beautiful” woman you’ve ever seen don’t matter anymore. Like Romeo, Shakespeare’s famous male protagonist thought he’d seen it all. He thought he knew what a beautiful woman looked like. Then, he saw Juliet. And his whole world came to a crashing halt. His paradigm shifted. His perspective changed forever. What he thought he knew he immediately threw away into the trash can.

He knew nothing. And now he knows everything.

In similar fashion, we thought the “perfect woman” would look like Marilyn Monroe or Pamela Anderson or Trish Stratus or Megan Fox. Little did we know that our standards were way too low. Heck, our standards weren’t even in the right curriculum. Alina Popa dominates them all. She vanquishes her enemies like Alexander the Great marching through Persia. She redefines beauty, or even transcends the word “beauty.” Yes, that’s more like it. She transcends all conventional wisdom.

Alina transcends the sport of bodybuilding. She’s bigger than it – metaphorically speaking. She’s in her own class. She may not be the most accomplished or legendary or historically noteworthy, but she’s loved by everyone who knows her or knows of her. There’s also something strangely pure about her. She rarely does nudity (only a few photos of her topless exist) and she never does any kind of porn. That isn’t to demean any FBB who does go down that path, of course. But in Alina’s case, it works to her advantage. She’s sexy, but not in a naughty kind of way. She’s sexy in a way that isn’t wholesome (this isn’t the Disney Channel), but it’s not gratuitous either. Her sexiness is more charming than sinful.

If this seems like a series of rambling observations, that’s because it’s impossible to succinctly explain why Alina Popa is so amazing. All one can do is talk endlessly about why one loves her. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not rational. It’s unambiguous, yet not easy to describe.

In short, Alina Popa is a Queen because she exhibits one characteristic that very few beautiful women can match: Control.

Her muscle control is one thing. Her control over our hearts and minds is another. She controls us. Her beauty, brains, personality, aura, and ethereal nature have us in the palm of her callused hand. She can do the most mundane activity and make us go crazy. She can walk down a hallway wearing heels. She can bake bread. She can sit on a couch and watch TV. She can lie down on a bed and simply look up at the camera and smile. She can just stand there wearing a bikini and not say a single word. Alina can do anything and still make us go gaga over her. She doesn’t have to try to be sexy. She just is. Whether she’s wearing sweatpants or an elegant dress or a sparkly bikini, Alina appeals to us no matter what.

Come to think of it, she’s the most minimalistic female bodybuilder in the world. She’s simple. She doesn’t need to put too much effort into being sexually appetizing. She simply is…all because she busts her butt at the gym day-in and day-out. She makes immense sacrifices to look the way she looks. She puts in more work in a single day than most of us do in a month. And she does this because she wants to. It empowers her. It inspires her. It’s motivates her to get out of bed every morning. It’s her raison d’être. And we are grateful for her for making these tough decisions.

I believe Alina once told a story on Instagram about how her Romanian mother at first didn’t approve of her daughter becoming a female bodybuilder because Romanian girls are supposed to be “narrow and skinny.” But once Alina started winning trophies and accolades, her mother fortunately altered her opinion. Alina breaks stereotypes. She challenges what you thought you knew about female bodybuilders. And she does it with the cutest smile on her face.

Her muscle control mirrors her emotional control over her fans. Female bodybuilders are often described as being either “queens” or “goddesses.” A goddess is a deity who’s powerful but remains fairly detached from human civilization. A queen is also powerful but directly rules over her kingdom. A True Queen looks after her people with kindness, benevolence, and sternness. She’s authoritative, but not oppressive. A True Queen earns the trust of her people, as opposed to ruling over them through fear. A True Queen’s legitimacy comes from a place of love, not malice.

Alina Popa is loved. That is why she’s a Queen. Not because she says she’s a Queen, but because we say she’s a Queen. Because we want her to be our Queen. She’s a democratically elected Muscle Queen, not one imposed upon us by a third party. See the difference?

All hail Queen Alina!

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A Female Bodybuilder Christmas Carol (part 1 of 3)

When you picture what Bobbi Cratchit would look like, think of Hannah May Southwood.

“Sorry, my friend. But my mind is made up.”

Bobbi Cratchit, a brand new 24-year-old intern at the West Coast Bodybuilding Federation, could not help but eavesdrop on her boss’s conversation with his director of marketing. She knows this is a crucial discussion that will determine the fate of the WCBF’s female bodybuilding division. An aspiring bodybuilder herself, Bobbi’s heart sinks at the tone of her boss’s voice. She knows what’s about to happen.

“There’s nothing I can do about it. This decision has to be made,” Ebenezer Scrooge growls into the phone. “The lady competitors don’t bring in the crowds like they used to. Hell, let’s be perfectly frank, Charlie. Those ‘roided up chicks never brought in large crowds. It’s just the truth.”

“Shit,” Bobbi whispers under her breath.

Ebenezer stands up and looks out the window of his spacious office. A newly minted sheet of snow has just fallen across town, giving it a unique poetic beauty that even the grumpy Mr. Scrooge can appreciate. But he’d never acknowledge it out loud, of course. That’s not who he is.

“Listen, Charlie. My fucking mind is made up, alright?” Ebenezer pours a small amount of whiskey into his coffee cup and sips it with the delight of a powerhouse boss who doesn’t care what other people think. “Take off all mentions of the FBB Division from the website and scrub it from our social media accounts. But tell our sponsors that we intend to keep the bikini and fitness chicks. They can draw a crowd!”

Bobbi nearly snaps her pen in half in response to her boss’s sexist attitude. She has nothing against the bikini and fitness girls personally, but philosophically she’s totally offended that they’re allowed to compete in a bodybuilding contest when most of them probably couldn’t do a single pull-up to save their lives. Bobbi aspires to be a heavyweight bodybuilder like Alina Popa and Anne Freitas – which takes building a hell of a lot more muscle than any bikini competitor can even comprehend of. But her anger is outweighed by her sadness that her dreams of becoming a big-time female bodybuilder is about to get shattered for good.

A few minutes later Ebenezer hangs up the phone and downs the rest of his whiskey. He burps loudly and walks out of his office.

“You probably heard every word of that conversation, right Bobbi?”

“Of course,” she says with the fakest smile she can possibly muster. “How can I not? You and Charlie always have spirited conversations.”

Sitting at her desk near the main entrance, she’s well within earshot of Mr. Scrooge’s palatial corner office. It has a nice leather couch, a well-stocked bar, and plenty of posters of nude and near nude female bodybuilders lining the walls. He may not think much of them as financial assets, but he sure has hell seems to like how they look. It’s almost pornographic, as many outside visitors have observed over the years.

“Well, that’s certainly true.” Ebenezer scratches his salt and pepper colored hair as he peers outside the window on the opposite side of Bobbi’s desk. He notices out of the corner of his eye a familiar car park in one of the guest spots. He sighs. “But business is business. I have to do it. I’ve held out long enough, but now is the proper time to make this difficult decision. The Female Bodybuilding Division has to–”

“Sir, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but can I persuade you to change your mind?”

Bobbi gets out from her desk and approaches her boss. She may be a woman with well sculpted muscles, but she still lacks the confidence to firmly reprimand her superior. Hopefully she can use her own personal story to persuade him to change his mind…

Ebenezer chuckles condescendingly. “You can try, my dear. But you won’t. My mind is made up. I know you desperately want to one day become a competitive bodybuilder. And that’s great. I don’t want to dash your dreams. But if you’re going to do that, you’ll have to move away from the West Coast and head somewhere else.”

A power executive office.

A virtuous knock on the door interrupts their awkward exchange. Ebenezer tries to ignore it even though he knows very well who their visitor is going to be.

“Yes, it definitely appears that way. But it’s my dream to get on that stage and compete with the best women in the world. And I have some great ideas of how we can market it moving forward…” Before she can finish, the door opens and Fred, Mr. Scrooge’s chipper nephew, struts on in. He knows he doesn’t have to knock on the door – it is a business, not a private residence after all – but he does so anyway because he never wants to appear to be rude.

“Oh, uncle! Good day to you! And it’s very nice to see you, Miss Cratchit.” Fred enters the room wearing a fashionable pea coat, Seattle Seahawks beanie, and red wool scarf. “Oh, I almost forgot. Merry Christmas to you both!”

Well, it’s not technically Christmas yet. It’s still Christmas Eve. But everyone knew where Fred was getting at.

“Bah, humbug,” Scrooge mutters to himself. “We were just talking business. And you have the nerve to barge in like this, dear nephew?”

Fred is carrying a gift basket full of wine, cheeses, fruit, jams, and crackers. He places it on Bobbi’s desk and smiles at her. “How is your family, Miss Cratchit? And how old is your son now?”

“Oh, you remembered!” Bobbi exclaims. “He’s doing very well. Just started first grade this fall. He turns six in three months.” Ebenezer walks into the bathroom to pee. He has no interest in talking to his annoying nephew or hearing about Bobbi Cratchit’s pitiful family matters. The father of her child is the son of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer’s former business partner. Jacob passed away seven years ago from cancer. He battled it for several years, but it finally conquered him. Ebenezer won’t admit this to anyone, but that tragic event changed him forever. He became colder and more distant. And definitely more emotionally detached. But because Bobbi’s son is Jacob’s grandson, Ebenezer felt an obligation to give her a job at the WCBF front office as an administrative intern. He’s too cheap to pay for a full-time employee, so he just simply cycles through intern after intern so he can take advantage of their affordability.

Plus, most employees tend to not last very long around Mr. Scrooge, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.

“That’s lovely. Tell him I wish him and his mother a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,” Fred proclaims. “Wow! You’ve certainly been working out, huh?”

Today, Bobbi is wearing a short-sleeved blouse that shows off her big muscles. She began lifting four years ago after her son Tim was born. She usually wears a sweater to the office – especially on cold winter days like this – but she plans to attend a Christmas Eve party later this evening and she wanted to look “classy.”

“Thanks for noticing!”

“Well, how can I not? You look impressive. One day you’ll be a world-class bodybuilder,” Fred says. “I can sense it!”

Ebenezer flushes the toilet and forgets to wash his hands. He storms out of the bathroom and revels in being able to break to his nephew the cheerfully bad news. “Unfortunately, nephew, that’s not going to happen as long as she lives around here. I’m axing the FBB Division for good. It’s official as of today. Or more specifically, as of ten minutes ago.”

Competitors from Wings of Strength.

Fred turns toward his uncle with an exasperated look on his face. “Are you serious? You aren’t joking?”

“No, dear Fred. I’m being perfectly serious at this moment. After years of staving off this harsh reality, I’m afraid this is the time to do what should have been done years ago. I’m eliminating the women’s bodybuilding class for good. Permanently.” Scrooge sits down in a comfortable leather chair and basks in his unsentimental despotism. Fred turns to his uncle and pleads his case.

“Oh, please reconsider, dear uncle,” he begins. “The women deserve their time in the spotlight, too. They work just as hard as the male competitors, if not harder. They’re incredibly hardworking athletes who deserve to have their blood, sweat, and tears recognized. Please don’t do this, Uncle Scrooge.”

Fred’s uncle shakes his head with the look of a man who refuses to be persuaded otherwise. “Sorry, nephew. My mind is made up. I already spoke with Charlie about altering all our marketing materials to reflect this new reality. The FBB Division is a dead goose. But the bikini and fitness girls will be allowed to remain, if that’s any consolation prize.”

“Consolation prize?” Fred interjects with righteous indignation. “This isn’t about what I want. This is about fairness, equality, empowerment, and doing the right thing. Women have made an indelible impact on the history of this sport. Don’t turn your back on them!”

“Nope.” Scrooge leans back, demonstrating his power and prestige with the careless smugness of a totalitarian dictator. “My mind is made up. Business is business. End of story.”

Fred, knowing putting up a further fight would be fruitless, turns toward Bobbi and smiles at her. “Well, so be it. I hope you are able to achieve your hopes and dreams, Miss Cratchit. Even if you need to move away from my uncle’s jurisdiction.” Bobbi is crushed to hear such a nice man like Fred become such a cynic so quickly. That’s what happens when you engage in a business conversation with the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.

“Thanks,” Bobbi says meekly.

“Well, my reason for coming here is to invite you to my Christmas Eve party, dear uncle. But I get the feeling you won’t feel charitable enough to attend.”

Scrooge laughs and stands up. “No, my dear nephew. I will not be attending. I don’t like parties. Parties make me uncomfortable. Too many people having a good time. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.” Scrooge grabs his coat and briefcase from his office and locks his office door. Bobbi quickly glances at the clock and sees it’s nearly 4 p.m. How fast time flies! “Have fun, Fred. And tell your wife I said hello.”

“I shall,” Fred begins. “If you change your mind, you know where I live. My address hasn’t changed. The party starts at 6 and will go on all night.”

“Bah, humbug. I won’t change my mind, I can guarantee you that!” Just as Scrooge is about to exit through the front door, Bobbi suddenly remembers an email solicitation that arrived in her inbox just this morning.

“Oh, Mr. Scrooge? We got a letter today from the local homeless shelter. They’re asking if we’d like to sponsor their annual year-end holiday fundraising dinner. Can I tell them yes or…”

Scrooge stops dead in his tracks. Without hesitation, he provides his answer. “Tell them not this year. No fucking way. We gave them $1,500 last year and the homeless problem is even worse. Worse! I tell you, someone needs to address the issue of this pitiful surplus population plaguing our fine town. It’s cluttering up our streets!” And with that, Scrooge slams the door shut, leaving Fred and Bobbi completely and utterly speechless.

How can a man be so cruel and unfeeling? It boggles the mind.

“Merry Christmas, uncle,” Fred mutters with much sadness.

The drive home was long and arduous for Ebenezer Scrooge. When it snows, people in Seattle become idiots and can no longer drive like civilized people. On a clear day, he can make it back to his condominium in twenty minutes flat. But today, it takes almost forty-five minutes. Bah, humbug indeed.

Winter in Seattle.

Scrooge parks his car in his usual spot and trudges toward the front door. The chilly air assaults his senses. A few neighborhood kids are building a snowman. A larger group of kids are making snow angels on a nearby baseball field. Scrooge hates the snow. And the rain. And sunshine can be a bother if it gets too hot. Basically, Scrooge hates a lot of things.

He takes his keys from his pocket and proceeds to unlock the door. But before he can do that, he looks at the brass door knocker and sees the reflection of a familiar looking man. Scrooge’s heart skips a beat.

“What? Who are you?” Scrooge violently turns around to see who has crept up behind him. He sees…nobody. How fucking strange! He then turns around and looks at the door knocker again. There is no one in the reflection. Not even Scrooge himself. The man in the reflection looked oddly enough like his late partner Jacob Marley. But that’s impossible, Scrooge thinks to himself. Of course it is, but the resemblance was uncanny. He must be exhausted from working so damn much. Nothing a short nap and a tall glass of brandy can’t cure!

Moments later Scrooge is pouring himself a glass of brandy and opening up a bag of barbecue chips. Though he is a 57-year-old man, Ebenezer still snacks like a small child. He regrets nothing. He eats nearly the entire bag. Satisfied for now, he puts the chips away back in the pantry. He knows in a short while he’ll crave actual food. But now is not that time.

By now, the sun has completely set and the unforgiving coldness of winter makes its presence felt. Ebenezer finds an old blanket sitting in the laundry basket and wraps it around his body. He turns on the fireplace. Within seconds a generous warm orange glow fills the room. Scrooge sits down in his favorite lounge chair and takes out his phone.

“What the hell should be open at this time? Chinese? Thai? Greek?” Ebenezer opens a take-out delivery app and scrolls through his various options. Nothing excites him. So he has to settle for Chang’s Family Restaurant, one of the worst Chinese joints in the city. It isn’t bad on its own, but it certainly doesn’t satisfy his desire for a nice juicy steak. So stir fried green beans and noodles will have to do for tonight.

He makes his order and sees his dinner should arrive in 22 minutes. Fantastic. Scrooge turns on the TV to see what’s on. Nothing much except for a college football bowl game featuring two teams he doesn’t care about. After flipping through channel after channel chock full of God-forsaken Christmas cheer, Scrooge opens Netflix and peruses through whatever terrible options it has to offer. More of the same. More Christmas. More dreadfully happy people enjoying this superfluous commercialized monstrosity of a holiday.

Bah, humbug.

Scrooge turns off the TV in disgust. He checks his phone and sees his dinner will arrive in 19 minutes. Can time move any slower?

Perhaps it can. Scrooge leans back in his chair and sighs. If there’s anything in the world he hates more than Christmas and holiday cheer, it’s having to wait a long time to satisfy his hunger. Scrooge is not a man who is accustomed to waiting. Whatever he wants he gets. Immediately. It’s been like that his whole life. A great example is how his first marriage came to be. Gail was her name. She was a rising star in the bodybuilding industry, having graced the covers of several magazines and appeared in a few documentaries and television commercials. He had to have her. No one else could. Scrooge remembers the first time they met. Gail just wrapped up a photoshoot with a well-known photographer. It was at Venice Beach in 1989. He was a young scout recruiting new athletes to join the newly established West Coast Bodybuilding Federation. She wore a revealing red bikini and looked radiant. Scrooge approached her boldly and asked if she was interested in turning pro. She blushed and replied enthusiastically “yes!” He was lost in her deep blue eyes, unable to think or complete a coherent sentence. He could not stop looking at her magnificent body. She had a lot of muscle but had the potential to build so much more. She just needed a few more years and a better personal trainer who knew…

A knock on the door interrupts Scrooge’s trip down memory lane. He looks at his phone and sees 20 minutes have passed. Did he fall asleep? Scrooge could have sworn he only closed his eyes momentarily. Surely he didn’t take a nap without intending to!

Chinese takeout food.

Scrooge gets up from his chair and heads to the front door. He greets the delivery man, a youngster in his early 20s who looks annoyed that he has to work on Christmas Eve. Ebenezer pays the kid and slams the door shut, locking it with authority. Soon, Ebenezer returns to his favorite chair and eats in silence. The green beans were fine. Not the best, but not the worst either. But it was the noodles that pleasantly surprised him. They’re much tastier than he was expecting.

After he finishes eating, Scrooge looks at the huge pile of dishes sitting in the sink and scowls. He doesn’t have any inclination to clean up after himself. It’s a holiday, after all! Can’t he be lazy just for one day out of the stinking year? Yes, that’s perfectly okay. So he decides to take a real nap instead of an accidental nap. That’ll cap off this frightful evening…

Within moments, Ebenezer Scrooge falls asleep for real.

He cannot remember if he dreamt of anything. But something startled him awake. Something was happening downstairs. There was a loud clanking sound repeating itself again and again on the bottom floor. Scrooge opens his eyes and sits up. The noise continues unabated.

“Is that…someone deadlifting?” Scrooge asks himself. He knows this is absurd, considering he’s the only person in the house. And he doesn’t have a personal gym downstairs. Ebenezer gets up and picks up a baseball bat sitting on top of a pool table. In “attack” position, Ebenezer cautiously walks down the stairs to investigate the source of this unexplainable cacophony. Once he reaches the ground floor, he notices a light shining in the living room. Scrooge raises the bat high in the air before pouncing toward his intruder.

An ominous light creeping behind a door in a dark hallway.

“You there! Get the fuck out of my house, asshole!”

Just before his eyes can adjust to the light, a familiar voice replies to him.

“Ebenezer, cut it out old friend! You said I was welcome into your home anytime I was in the neighborhood,” the voice beckons. Scrooge lowers the bat and drops it to the floor once he is able to comprehend what is in front of him. Sure enough, sitting in the middle of his living room is a makeshift home gym. He could have sworn none of this existed an hour ago! He sees a bar with four 45-pound weights on each side lying on the floor. And sitting on a bench is the figure of a man Scrooge had known for decades.

Jacob Marley, his old business partner!

“Jacob! I must be dreaming. You can’t possibly be alive,” Scrooge observes in a daze. Jacob – if that’s what this apparition can be called – appears to be working out…right in Scrooge’s living room. He’s just got done deadlifting 405 pounds for who-knows-how-many reps. Very impressive. Jacob was always a gym rat at heart. He just sort of abandoned it later in his life and substituted going to the gym for snorting cocaine, partying all night, and heavy drinking. It’s what ended up killing him, unfortunately. His liver couldn’t handle his over-the-top lifestyle and became too sick to function.

“I’m not,” the apparition replies.

“Then…who are you?” The ghost blinks.

“No, no, you dumbass! Ask me who I was!” Taken aback, Scrooge swallows his pride and does as the ghost tells him to do. After all, it’s a fucking ghost he’s dealing with here.

“Alright, you prick. Who were you, then?”

The ghost, seemingly satisfied with getting everyone’s vernacular on the same page, takes a few steps toward Ebenezer. He backs up with fear.

“In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.”

Ebenezer stands still and ponders what the ghost has just told him. He wonders if he’s still dreaming or if that Chinese food he ate was secretly spiked with LSD. Maybe this is what happens when you don’t leave a generous tip…

“You don’t believe me, do you old sport?” Jacob asks.

“Of course not! You’ve been dead for fucking seven years! There’s no way you’re still alive. This is just a fucked up dream, that’s all.” Just as Ebenezer was about to turn away, Jacob picks up the bar with one hand and tosses it across the room. Instead of smashing his coffee table into a million pieces, it instead disappears into thin air. Nevertheless, Ebenezer lets out a gasp when it happens.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your own senses? Why do you doubt your senses?” Jacob floats toward Ebenezer and stops right in front of him. Up close, he looks as real as a freshly trimmed hedge. Refusing to back down, Ebenezer ignores the philosophical implications of the existence of ghosts and addresses his old friend directly.

“Because,” says Scrooge, “A little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of beef broccoli, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone chow mein. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” Unconvinced, Jacob demonstrates his “realness” by picking up Scrooge and wrestling him to the ground. He pins Ebenezer to the ground and nearly chokes him. That’s enough to persuade him that Jacob is, more or less, real. “Alright, you fucking asshole! I get it, you’re real. God damn.”

Both men stand up and Jacob wipes off sweat from his brow. “Good. Because I’m as real as I’m going to get in this current reality. You’re probably curious why I’m appearing before you. Right?”

“Yes, of course,” Scrooge says.

“Good. Well, it appears the Powers That Be aren’t too happy with you. Especially since you’re planning to discontinue the Female Bodybuilding Division for good.”

“Oh shit. Is that what this is about? Mother fucker!” Scrooge leans against the wall and groans. “Why the fuck do the Powers That Be, or whatever the hell they want to be called, give a rat’s ass about what happens to the fucking Female Bodybuilding Division? It doesn’t make money and has no hope of ever making any money. Alright?”

Jacob Marley drinks from an imaginary water bottle. “True, but it can in fact make money and become really successful if you give it a chance. If you rebrand it. If you take my daughter-in-law’s advice.” Scrooge stands up straight.

A nice looking home gym.

“Well, this is fucking fantastic. You can hear my private conversations. Yes, you’re right that Bobbi mentioned she has some ideas of how we can make the FBB Division more successful. But I’m not convinced it’ll work. It’s not even worth a try…”

“Not worth a try? Oh come on, Ebenezer. That’s not the Ebenezer Scrooge I know. The real Scrooge loves muscular women. Almost too much,” Jacob smirks. “Your first four wives were all bodybuilders, were they not?”

“Of course they were!” Scrooge begins. “I love them as partners and lovers. But not as business commodities. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s how the real world works. There’s nothing I can do to change that.”

“Hm, I somehow doubt that’s the real reason. I think you’ve ignored your entire life just how important female bodybuilders are to you, your industry, and the world at large. Thankfully, I’m here to change all that!” Jacob rises into the air, with a brilliant white light filling the entire house. Scrooge squints in response. “More specifically, my friends are! You will be visited by three spirits. The first will arrive at the stroke of one. The other at two. And the third at three. Heed the lessons they teach you! I died a bitter man with lots of regrets. I drank and did lots of coke because it filled the void in my soul. Don’t make the same mistakes I made!”

The ethereal light gets brighter and brighter. Eventually, Jacob Marley’s body disintegrates into a fine white powder that looks ironically like the same kind of white powder he’d frequently snort off the butt cheeks of Brazilian supermodels. Within seconds the room returns to normal. The home gym disappears into the ether. The light is gone. Jacob Marley is no more. The house is dead quiet.

Scrooge remains frozen. Absolutely stunned. He cannot believe what he just witnessed. But he gets the horrid feeling that the fucked up shenanigans are just getting started.

Continued in part two