December 28, 1993|By STEVE JAMISON

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco. -- The Church of the Everlasting Pump is a strange and frightening place.

Inside this cathedral here, hundreds of Arnold's disciples were pumping big-time. It was crowded. It was noisy. It didn't smell so good. Here the clergy wear Spandex, and the mantra is a grunt. It is the World Gym, and Arnold is god.

When I looked around it seemed each worshiper had access to a magic air hose. I saw men with breasts the size of 30-pound ButterBall turkeys. Women had forearms like Popeye's and biceps the size of coconuts.

A large color photo of His Pumpness, Arnold Schwarzenegger, hung on the wall like a side of beef. It appeared he had hooked up the magic air hose to every section of his body and turned it on full blast.

Arnold seemed ready to burst. His body had been shaved and slathered with oil. He looked plump, plucked and basted; ready to be popped into the oven for a holiday dinner.

It was loud. Ten or 20 speakers blasted out selections from the Led Zeppelin hymnal while disciples genuflected before strange-looking machines loaded with iron.

Periodically an anguished groan would pierce the wall of sound. It was of such intensity and volume that I was taken back to my days on the farm when a cow would bleat out a terrifying ''moooooooo'' just prior to admission into the slaughterhouse.

In this instance it was not a cow bellowing. It was a large man in tights hoisting large weights, then slamming them back down again. It seemed like an exercise in futility. Lift them up. Slam them down. Then look in the mirror.

It was a house of mirrors. A muscle worshiper never had to turn more than just slightly to see reflective evidence that the muscles were still there; and pumped.

Disciples, in fact, seldom made eye contact with anyone but themselves. Looking at one's own flexed image in the mirror seemed to be a complete experience, like an erotic fantasy where the object of your lust is yourself (''I love me. And, I love me, too'').

I noticed a poster with a picture of a magnificently pumped disciple called Flavio. Magnificent Flavio was getting ready to compete in a contest for Mr. Olympia or Mr. Universe of Mr. Solar System or Mr. Something or Other.

The poster said that in addition to working out rigorously, Flavio had to ''sleep 10 hours a night and eat seven or eight meals a day to gain the necessary muscles. Plus practice posing for one hour daily.''

Accordingly, Flavio didn't have time to get a job: ''Your donations would be appreciated.''

I'll bet they would be appreciated. I admired Magnificent Flavio's audacity in admitting that because he was eating and sleeping and posing so much he wouldn't have time to get a job. I was impressed by Flavio's honesty.

I was also impressed with Flavio's unique dimensions. He had muscles which resembled those of the Mighty Schwarz himself. In height, however, Flavio more closely resembled Danny De Vito. Flavio had muscles that were bigger than himself, if that's possible.

I wanted to help Flavio continue his grueling schedule of eating seven or eight meals daily and sleeping 10 hours a night so I left a dollar in the collection plate.

And left.

Steve Jamison is co-author, with tennis star Brad Gilbert, of ''Winning Ugly.''

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