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"Well, I'm still here!" We all laughed. "After that," he said, "I began to believe I could do anything if I wanted to badly enough. That's when I started eating right, exercising and developing my system."
I don't know where I got my nerve, but I asked, "Is Charles Atlas your real name?" I'd been reading about Greek mythology.
Emboldened, I asked him if there was a special rate for his mail course for kids who had attended Camp Atlas. "I never thought about that," he said. "What's your name, son?" I told him. "Well, Jerry, after you get home, write me and remind me. I'll give you a 50% discount on the course." (After camp, I did write him. Sure enough, he answered, offering the entire series for $10, or half price. To save postage, Atlas sent all the lessons at once. I put them away, using one each week just as though they were coming through the mail.)
Because Hercules Atlas was my age, he often joined our group for sports and other activities. He was a quiet boy who seemed embarrassed by his name. We eyed him with a certain amount of awe, wondering if his father had endowed Herk with superhuman strength.
Charles Atlas led us in calisthenics every morning before breakfast. Later he would roam the mess hall, making sure we ate the foods that would help build our bodies. When one boy left his bread crust on the plate, Atlas picked it up and ate it. "It's the best part of the bread," he told the kid. I'm sure that was the last crust the boy ever left. By the end of the summer, most of us had developed a great affection for this fantastic man, admiring him as much for his kind manner as for his physique. But the next year, I was old enough to go to Boy Scout camp, so I never saw Camp Atlas again. Or any of my fellow campers—except one.
Many years later, when I was an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard, preparing for the invasion of Normandy, we tied up next to a Navy LCI in Southampton harbor, England. One evening, returning from liberty, I started a conversation with a young ensign on the Navy ship. He invited me into the wardroom for coffee. "My name's Charles Atlas," he said. "Junior," he added, when I looked startled.
I looked at him carefully. Could it be...? Yes, there was a resemblance. "When you were younger, was your name Hercules?" I asked.
You'd have thought he'd seen a ghost. "How did you know?" he said.
"I was at Camp Atlas," I said. "A long time ago."