Missed Connection-Thursday, January 5th

Wednesday was busy.

One of the great challenges to this whole endeavor is finding time to be active in between meetings and other social appointments.  Last night I had a date for “Beer and Babies,” where a couple of us guys go over to a friend’s house and eat and have a beer…and watch the kids.

It sounds like a case for Child Protective Services, but I assure you it’s not.  Mostly because the kids keep you so active you can only get through half a beer before it gets so warm you have to pitch it.  Children and their wily ways…

This meant, though, that I had to get to the gym and run between 6-7pm.  On the face that doesn’t sound difficult.  But in reality, getting out of the office, heading up the stairs to the apartment, getting gym clothes together, resisting the urge to lay down on the couch and stuff my face with stale Christmas cookies, and then getting over to the gym has been known to take me an hour in and of itself.

It’s not because I don’t want to work out.  It’s because I really don’t want to work out.

Life lesson for the day: it’s easy to put physical health on the back burner in an already full life.  This is one of the reasons Critter and I lift at 6am.  It’s the only time “free” on my schedule (technically “sleep” has marked off the time between 6am-7am, but I’ve had to have the “it’s not you, it’s me” talk with sleep lately).

When I get to the gym its absolutely packed.  So packed, in fact, that all the treadmills were full of tiny butts and swinging ponytails.  And to the guy with the ponytail: Really?

As the stair-climber is really no longer an option until it gets its act together (my thighs shake when I look at it), I was forced to get on the elliptical again.  This time I thought I’d be ambitious and do level 15 (out of 20).  It was a bad idea.  But the guy next to me was on level 4 (no joke) so I made sure to have an audible commentary to myself as I punched it in.

“Let’s see…last time I did 12 and that was waaaaay too easy.  This time I think I’ll do…15!”  And then I attempted to look at the dude with an ominous face.  He, on the other hand, was looking at People magazine.

I put the machine on the “rolling” level (which, as far as I can tell, just means that the bar graph in front of my face rolls…I couldn’t tell a difference in resistance) and began the long descent into endorphin ecstasy.

As I was chatting with a friend earlier in the day, I was alerted to the fact that people at the gym “cruise” each other a lot.  This apparently means that they check each other out, doing pass after pass.  In fact, I think I witnessed such a cruising earlier in the week, and recorded it in “The Gym is Not for Flirting” post.

But my buddy went on to tell me (I refuse to reveal their name because, really, this whole phenomenon should be embarrassing to even have knowledge of) that when they don’t make contact verbally…or otherwise?…that they post it on Craigslist under the personals column, sub-category: loser.  I mean, sub-category: missed connection.

So, being of a researching mind when it comes to health (even relationship health), I checked out the “missed connections” section of Craigslist to see what this was all about.  After all, with the frequency I’ve been going to the gym, and the rate that people love to hit on slightly overweight, balding, married men, I was sure to have at least five, maybe more, “missed connections.”

I think I did have one.  But I wasn’t sure.

I couldn’t tell because, well, those posts are stupid.  Here is a sample from a real entry:

w4m- (toilet store)  *No joke. The place of the missed connection was identified as the “toilet store.”  I had no idea those were real!*

“Do you want me? One kiss. Could we stop then? What I feel when I’m close to you is unlike anything I have ever felt before, and you haven’t even touched me. Everything is heightened, and I can’t think clearly, except for desire. I wish it would just stop. One kiss”

Is that a “missed connection” or the lyrics to a Wham! ballad?!  C’mon…

Another one:

w4m-(State and Lake Crossing the Street)

” I was with someone else and so were you, but we made eye contact and I knew that I wanted to run into you again. I was the blonde with the ponytail, you had a hat on. This website is super cheesy but thought I’d give it a chance! Hope you felt the same”

Well, a little more description in that one.  But let’s break it down for a second.  Do you know how many people I may eye contact with a day?  True, it’s usually to intimidate them so that they won’t mug me, but I literally see a hundred people I don’t know every day and look them in the eye.  Well, the nose.  I hate eyes.  Can’t tell that story yet…

Oh, and she identifies him as “wearing a hat.”  It’s frickin’ winter in Chicago, lady!  Everybody and their mother’s got a hat, hood, or helmet on!  C’mon…

But the lady is right about one thing: the website is cheesy.  Actually, I’d identify it as banal, useless, and about as informative as Ikea directions.

This got me to thinking, though, as I was ellipticizing away.  What would a “missed connection” for me look like had someone been writing on Wednesday night?

w4m-(gym)

“Hey, been seeing you there a lot lately.  Morning, evening, random hours.  It looks like you’re doing everything you can just to fit it in your day.  You were looking really hot today with your miss-matched socks, mesh shorts, and t-shirt that said “Hi! I’m Mr. Right” on it.  That shirt is funny…in an ironic way.

What color was that shirt?  I couldn’t tell, unless “sweat” is a color.  You seemed to be pumping away at the elliptical at a pretty quick clip.  That’s awesome for level 15!  And what was that sound blaring from your ipod?  I think it was Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”  If so, she’s right, now that I’ve found you.

I sometimes see you working out with a younger, taller, stronger guy.  He has tattoos.  And hair.  I know this is a long shot, but could I have his number?  I was the woman walking with the shoes on.  I hope you see this!”

Yup, that’s about right.

I gotta tell ya, if your emotional well-being is wrapped up in how many people look at you and want to jump your bones, come sit on my couch and we’ll talk about it.  Because, really, if that’s the case, the only missed connection is you with yourself.*

*Yes, cheesy line.  But true.  I am not responsible for your keyboard if you just puked on it.

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There’s an App for That?-Wednesday, January 4th

Lifting day with Critter yesterday.

When I arrived at 6:20am there were considerably more people there than when we had hit the gym the week before.  I guess folks are all trying not to break their New Year’s resolutions before day 3.  They will.  Oh, they will.

Critter said he gives it to mid-February before the majority of them drop out, like fumigated flies or Nickelback from relevancy.  I’m more optimistic.  Late February is where my money lies.  We’ll see.

It could also be argued such prognosticating on our part is the pot calling the kettle black.  We’ll see.

My Freshman year of High School I made a New Year’s resolution to begin spelling my name with a slanted “T” that looked like the first two strokes of a “Z.”  The resolution was the result of pure laziness and vanity.  A cursive “T” took forever to pen, with its curly loops. The adapted “T” I was working on made it much easier to sign my name quickly, which I was certain I would have to do many hundreds of times in a row at my future celebrity record signing.

In celebrity signing, too many strokes of the pen is the enemy; speed is the goal.  After all, I couldn’t leave my fans waiting!  Sure they’ve enjoyed listening to my pop single play over and over again through the speakers at the corner Media Play* while they waited in line for me to pen over my face on an artistically stylish album cover that I designed myself in a drunken stupor, but they also had to buy my second new single-tape before leaving the store. So can we sign a bit faster, please?

I spent hours in Mrs. Ogle’s Honors English class (don’t be jealous) writing my name in straight lines down my notebook.  TJB, I’d scribble.  After I joined a fraternity I’d add the “…” behind the B.  To explain the meaning behind it I’d have to kill you.  Would it be worth it?

That was a useless resolution, but sure enough, I kept it…and still sign my name that way.  This, I am hoping, will be a more fruitful resolution.  Although, technically, “The Year of Health” is not a New Year’s resolution because I started it a few days before the New Year.  Hence if I fail it will just be another attempt at a better life foiled by mediocrity, illness, or the siren call of Starbucks (if I were to guess). I’ve wasted many a good hour at Starbucks that could have been an hour spent at the gym.

As I hinted above, only time will tell.

Oh, and Rhonda has some opinions on it.  But if you want to know those you’ll have to ask her about that. I’m trying to keep this blog positive.

But today was a lifting day with Critter and, despite the larger crowd (four small guys who could bench me instead of only two last week, oh, and an Ewok…I’ll explain the Ewok in another post), we again had the run of the gym.  We began on the elliptical, my trusty friend who, every time I step off it, I feel like I’m doing a “walk of shame.”  Elliptical, you sordid mistress!

We quickly moved on to those lovely warm-ups I’m so fond of.

Supermans? Yes please.  60?  Sure, why not.  And leg-ups.  Oh, and these things called “ab-twists” that make you look like you’re trying to start the lifting machine like a lawn mower, but the machine has run out of gas.

And then I laid down on that bench of misery again for the bench press.  Faithful readers will remember that 90 was the poundage I pressed before.  Chris, always the sunshine of my early Chicago morning, suggested I go with 100 this time.  I suggested he go to hell and loaded it up to 90 pounds.

It’s a good thing I know my body.  Lifting this time around was even harder than before!  I have a theory on why…

Imagine a flock of sheep (which also can be identified as a mob or a herd…thanks to Trent Kissinger for that tidbit of useless trivia that surely pushed something important out of my head).  In the center are the awesome sheep.  They’re awesome because they’re smart enough to stay in the center.

Now imagine a pack of wolves wanting to eat the sheep.  Which sheep do they eat first?  The dumb ones standing on the outside.  Why?  Because the smart ones on the inside have doused the dumb ones in soy sauce, that’s why.

So now all the dumb sheep are gone, eaten.  The awesome sheep are all that are left…they are now the perimeter of the circle, which has grown much smaller. But the wolves are still hungry.  And with the idiot sheep gone, the wolves start attacking the awesome sheep and having them for dinner, further depleting the strength of the flock.

Get the metaphor?  Sheep=muscles.  Wolves=weights.  Last time my muscles were stronger because, while last time they were full of dumb-ass fibers, there were still more of them and many were expendable.  Now I’m sacrificing strong, good muscles to the weight-lifting gods…which is why 90 pounds felt like I was lifting Carnie Wilson to the Wilson Phillips blaring from my ipod (don’t ever let anyone step all over you!).

If I have to explain my metaphors to you every time, these posts are going to get really long…

By the way, the above story also makes a good moral tale for your young children, where you can ponder together whether they’re the idiot sheep or the awesome sheep of the world.  If you’re unsure just ask their PE teacher.  They’ll tell you.

Critter, however, had no noticeable trouble with his awesome lifting that morning.  And while I struggled, he was very encouraging to me, even once saying, “Breathe and don’t be a pansy.”  That’s motivating in a Dr. Cox sort of way.  You’re aces, Critter.  Aces.

While he may have whooped me on the bench press, I did best him in the fly machine (75lbs for 3 sets of 15 reps).  When I was at the gym last Thursday lifting without Critter, which is not half as enjoyable, I did spot a man curling the 90lb weights.  His veins looked like they could move Hershey Syrup they were so huge.  I was not jealous as I can still buy shirts at any local store and not have to take out the sleeves, but my plaque-clogged arteries were jealous.  They can barely move the paint-thinner blood coursing through my body.

We also did incline presses, tricep-extends, tricep pull-downs, and tricep reverse curls.  I am in love with my triceps.  They never complain, they always do what they’re told.  They’re the “me” of the muscle world: small but obedient.

And then we get to the last part of the work out.  Critter pointed me toward a machine and said, “Lift that while I go get something.”  I can tell when I’m being given a meaningless, time-stalling task. But being the tricep of that relationship, I did what I was told.

He came back with his iphone.

“I have an app for the last workout.  What do you want to do, 5, 7, or 10 minutes?”

“Of what?”

“Ab work!”

If I’m the tricep of this relationship, he’s the idiot sheep.  Really? Let’s do 10 minutes.  Please.  I mean, I can’t touch my elbows together because my arms feel like jello, and I’m pretty sure that the 70 year old man lifting behind us on the bench press was laughing out loud and pointing while I was lifting.  But I’d like to fail again this morning, so, please, 10 minutes.  Line it up.

Actually, I said, “Do we have to?”

“Fine, 5 minutes,” he replied.

It was at this moment that the workout became me looking at an iphone screen the size of a tea biscuit trying to figure out what the figure on the screen was doing while lying on a mat at an awkward angle.  I didn’t have my glasses of course.  That, plus the sweat dripping from the vast tundra that is my forehead made it difficult to see. (And, no, I’m not getting contacts.  If you mention the contacts thing again I swear I’ll throw soy sauce on you.)

Because I couldn’t see, Critter did the interpreting.

“Regular crunch.”  For a count of a gut wrenching 40.  “Lumbar crunch” which made me think of futons.

Leg lifts.  Reverse crunch.  Arms-out crunch.  Captain Crunch.  I was done.

By the last exercise I was lying there sure that I would never get up from that green mat.  They’d have to scoop me up and my abs, which now felt terribly heavy, would be the last to lift off the floor.

I didn’t know there was an app for Hell; but there is.  If there is a Hell it certainly involves those exercises.  And an iphone, probably.  With a cracked screen that is “your fault” so they won’t fix it.

I’d had enough.  With all my idiot muscles exorcised and my awesome muscles bruised and beaten, I limped wearily from the “smell area” to the “smellier area,” aka the locker room.

“I’m going to go use the elliptical,” Critter informed me cheerily.

“I’m going to go crawl in the shower, ” I said resolutely.  And, as per last week, my arms refused to reach above my shoulders, so my neck did most of the movement required to remove the dirt and shame from my face.

C’est la vie.  In the game of life, though, advantage goes to Brown today.  Now, if only they’d have an app that would work out for me…

*Hey, this was the early 90’s and it’s my fantasy…choose your own media store and let he who hasn’t dreamed of one day signing autographs in a mid-priced media chain throw the first stone!

Gyms are Not for Flirting-January 3rd

I saw it yesterday: the gym flirt.

Having spent most of the day lounging around in moose pajama pants (thanks Mama B!), stocking cap, and a robe, I decided at 4:30pm that it might be time for me to go to the gym.  If there’s one thing this blog is making me do it is get off my ass and go to the gym.  After all, I wouldn’t have much to write about if I didn’t.  And I don’t think I can, in good conscience, write about walking up and down the back steps of my apartment with a load of laundry while trying to prevent my robe from flying open, in what I can only guess were 90 mph winds tormenting Chicago yesterday, and still call this blog “The Year of Health.”

I figure I have to do something “health” related if I’m going to write it up for the public to see.  And so, at 4:30pm, after six episodes of West Wing Season 6 (thanks Santa!), grits, coffee, and two loads of laundry done and folded, I decided to get to the gym.

I was not going to be ambitious.  We’re starting out small, remember.  I’m a tortoise, not a hare.  Ask anyone.  I’ve always resembled the clunkier turtle to the agile rabbit.  So 30 minutes on the wimpy but effective elliptical was all I was planning on doing.

Oh, btw, discovery number one of the day: “elliptical” has two “l’s”.  I want to thank all 300 of you who have been reading this for alerting me to that fact.  It’s not enough that I’m sharing very personal information with you, but apparently I also get to show you I spell like a 3rd grader.

And I used to teach reading.  Sigh.  Just another confirmation that, should I ever think too highly of myself, there are at least 1342 reasons not too.

Ready for reason number 1232?

On arriving at the gym I made another discovery: the check-in sensor talks to you.  It’s not that I hadn’t noticed this before; I had.  Upon swiping your card you hear a “Have a good workout!” in a deceptively high yet humanoid voice, to which I have, without fail, replied, “I’ll try!” followed by a huge smile toward the desk attendant.

Only this time I finally noticed that it was the computer talking, not the person behind the desk.  This explains the bewildered looks I received each time I replied.

Curse technology.  And curse the desk attendant for being mean and not telling me that I was talking to a program.

So, now that I’ll never be replying to that again, nor chatting up the desk attendants, I’ll move to the story.

Having changed and gone to the second floor (where the elliptical machines aren’t placed in front of the street-side windows so I don’t have to suffer the odd looks from the people outside), I chose the elliptical nearest the dreaded stair-climber, punched in my weight, time, and level (a modest 12 out of 20) and began to ellipticize.

At minute 5:34 a woman hops on the stair-climber, which is positioned at a right angle to my elliptical.

At minute 5:55 a man comes running over to the woman as if she was about to leave the country and he had to verify her passport.  He was holding out in front of him a water bottle, but holding it at an alarming angle.  I’ve seen a similar scenario with this style of fast sprinting/object holding.  Only it was in a hospital.  The sprinter was a nurse.  The object was a cardboard box with a heart on ice inside, ready for transplant.

You see where I’m going.

This is the conversation, as best as I can remember it:

Him: “Hey (hopping guard-rail blocking off running track from exercise area in one leap making you feel as if you’re a failure at life because you cannot do that without looking like a doofus), you left this at your Zumba class station.”

Her: (Flipping ponytail to look at him with a perfect smile) “Oh!  Thanks!  You saved my life.  I need my hydration!” (Laughs)

Him: “I know.  Water is sooo good for you, and tastes good!”

…I kid you not, he said water “tastes good.”  You can’t make this buffoonery up.

Her: “Yes!”

Him: “Well, you’re welcome.” (Flashes perfect smile and begins to walk around the guard rail)

Let’s pause.  I should describe him for you, just in case you’re wondering at this point what he looks like.

He was probably chiseled out of limestone at one time in his life, touched by a wizard, and given the gift of breath.  His biceps were the size of two liter bottles, the 1980’s versions with the very round tops and bottoms.  The ham steaks glued to his chest could be called pectoral muscles if they weren’t large enough to be a person of their own.  I imagine he could probably hold a quarter between them and, with the flick of a muscle that he can move independently but that I don’t even possess, could shoot that quarter right into my waiting hand should I want to buy a Hostess Cupcake from the vending machine.

His legs looked like they were constantly flexing.  He had hair (that’s all I’ll say about that).  The only flaw was that his eyebrows were continually furrowed, but I blame the difficulty that conversation probably posed for him on that expression.  I don’t think it was permanent.

And her?  She was, of course, Trixie-rific.  Tight blonde ponytail.  Tight leggings.  Short tank-top that accentuated the fact that nowhere did she bounce where she wasn’t supposed to.  Her shoes were pink, her sox were white, and she was doing a setting of the stair-climber that I dare not even attempt.

It’s like they were created in the same factory and shipped on the same date, and now were reuniting so that pretty people can continue on this planet.  I felt like an imposter, watching Fate work her magic for attractive people.  Fate usually just led me to step in dog crap and track it in the house.  That’s what Fate does to people who blog about elliptical machines.

As he started to walk away, she called back at him and said, “So what are you going to do now?”

Him: “Uhm, probably lift a bit.  I have to work my shoulders.  My training coach says that they’re my most underdeveloped area.  Some lat work next, at that cage over there.”  He pointed to one of the “cages” that held tire-sized weights.

Her: (Laughing) “You look in pretty great shape to me.”

Him: “Yeah, I do alright.  In between school and work, I don’t get to lift as much as I’d like.”

It was at this point that I realized that conversation was not hard for him.  He was in school, worked, and found time to go to the gym.  I started to peddle faster, seeing that he was put on this earth to be inspiring, not to be mocked.

Her: “I’ve almost got my nursing degree.”  At which point I peddled even harder.  Gosh, these beautiful people were inspiring, with their wondrously toned arms.  And here I was “sweating to the oldies.”

Him: “Well, I hope to see you again soon.”

Her:  “I’m sure you will.  Thanks for the water.” (Takes a sip) “Just what I needed!”

I looked down at my clock and it was now just minute 12:12.  “Just what I needed” ?!  Please, lady.  You haven’t been on this machine 10 minutes, don’t pretend your dying of thirst.  It’s not impressive (it was).

Although I had to suffer with their superior bone/muscle structure for another 17 minutes, I’ll spare you the details.  He would pass her by every so often and wave.  She would wave back and then return to her routine of breathing through her nose and out her mouth.  All the while I was melting like a snowman in Jamaica, just trying not to appear as if a) I was listening in on their conversations/interactions and b) going into cardiac arrest.

When I stepped off the machine at minute 30, I was ready to be done.  My legs were tense and my morale, while happy that I had worked out, told my stomach “See what you could have been had you done this 10 years ago?!”

Such a scolding is difficult to take, unless you remind yourself that it’s not about getting ripped, it’s about being healthy.  At which point I remembered that I had a loving partner, good relationships, AND I was working out regularly.  That I had been through school, gotten three degrees, AND am a good godfather, uncle, husband, and friend.  Suddenly ham steak pecs weren’t as necessary (unless they’re on the menu, and then I’ll gladly take them on behalf of humanity).

Oh, I should also mention that one time when the guy passed, he made a motion as if he was going to smack her butt.  It was at that moment that I realized that while he may be good looking, while he may have huge biceps, he wasn’t classy.  And she laughed at it.  And I realized she wasn’t classy either.

Please, lady, go for the nice guy.  And don’t flirt at the gym.  Vomit is hard to wet vac.

Stay classy, gym rats.

Exercise Soul-Monday, January 2nd

I don’t work out on Sundays.  It’s a spiritual discipline, believe it or not.  After church, I’ve worked out enough for the day.

I think if God rested on the 7th day from creating stinkbugs, aardvarks, and mineral salt deposits, the least I can do is take a break from torturing myself at the gym.  At least, that’s the excuse I’m going with.

It’s good to rest, though.  This, too, is part of living a healthy life.  I know that many of you reading this blog are now snickering to yourself because you know me well enough to know that “time-off” is not a phrase found in my usual vocabulary, but you all can keep your snickers to yourself (and bite me) because this whole endeavor is all about a new start.  And with new starts comes the chance for redemption.

Plus, I’m a religious person, and redemption is half of what we do!  The other half  is apologize.  (I’m sorry for saying “bite me.”)

By the way, if you’re not a religious person, you might want to consider investigating the noumenal side of existence (I’ll pause while you go grab your lexicon).  And if you want a non-religous reason to do so, just consider that at least two bloggers name “practice spirituality” as part of the “12 Things Happy People Do Differently.”*  And those bloggers are named Marc and Angel, so you know you can trust them.  Anyone that replaces the conventional “k” with the unconventional “c” in their name can be trusted.  They’re hip enough to be in the know.

And I am certain that these two bloggers know what they’re talking about because I have been forwarded, tagged, or forced to see this very link in no less than 92 of the Facebook status updates in my news feed over the past three weeks.  The people have spoken: Marc and Angel are an authority.  And if 2000 years of Christian tradition (not to mention 1500 years of Islamic or thousands more of Buddhist tradition) aren’t enough for you to consider looking at what a religious life might bring, then Marc and Angel might just be your tipping point.

We should all congratulate ourselves on the internet-assembled philosophies we’ve cultivated.

I think one of the reasons that people have chosen to disengage from religious life has to do with the campfire/religious/protest songs of the 70’s.  It is well documented (“well” is used loosely here) that Peter, Paul, and Mary had more drugs in their bloodstream than Alaska has salmon, but apparently this made them well suited to use the kinds of metaphors that make the skeleton of campfire/religious/protest song.  And despite the desire of children from that generation to continually sing these songs, I have to tell you that if I “had a hammer” I’d probably put it back where I found it.  I’m no good with tools or tool-based metaphors.

But I digress.

We really must rest.  Especially if you legitimately ran on Saturday, like I did.  On Saturday I told the eliptical to “kiss it,” totally ignored the stair-climber (we’re not on speaking terms), and sauntered up to the treadmill.  I sauntered up to it because I find that I have to act toward a treadmill much like I’d act toward someone in a bar after having too many drinks.  A treadmill behaves like that bar encounter you regret: they keep wanting to move to the next level before you’re ready, and by the end of your time you begin to feel self-conscious being seen there because everyone in the place has realized you’ve made a bad decision.

I step cautiously onto the tread.  I’ve had treadmills start on me before I’ve been ready before.  One time the treadmill began moving before I could untangle my earphones, and I slid right off the back of it.  I decided that the beast had embarrassed me enough for one day, and moved on to the idiot cousin of all exercise machines: the deep-seated exercise bike.  Any machine you can use while knitting (I’ve actually seen this) is not a workout machine.  If knitting was conducive to “workingout” there’d be yarn for sale at the front desk.

After choosing my speed (6.5 in treadmill speed) and time (30 minutes or bust), I turn on the tv and plug in my headphones.

Awesome; the tv is fuzzy.

And not only is it fuzzy, but it’s the kind of fuzzy that shakes every time my foot lands on the tread.  And Judge Judy is much less entertaining when you can only understand every other word of her insults, so I abandon the tv for my ipod and begin the journey to nowhere.

Some people have different running music on their ipod that they intentionally upload before they hit the gym.  I do not.  That would require me actually spending time on itunes and figuring out how to manage my files.  I’d much rather do with my ipod what I do with my chili: dump it all in and see what I get.

Plus, there’s something satisfying about running to Snoop one minute and Hall and Oates the next.  It’s a veritable “tour through the genres” as I’m literally touring nowhere while people stop outside the window the treadmill faces to tap on the glass, much like one might do with a gerbil in the wheel.  I can easily block those jerks out with a healthy audio diet that includes Gin and Juice and Man Eater back to back.  It’s a satisfying melange of music as Sufjan opens for Belinda Carlisle and Tool sings us out.

My favorite artist to run to is Lady Gaga.  Her music has a certain je ne sais quoi (weird techno beat) that is conducive to my pace.  It’s like she wrote Poker Face utilizing a metronome that had a “slightly overweight, bearded but balding, 31 year old” setting.  I swear she’ll be up for sainthood one day, because her music does miracles for my exercising soul.

But while Gaga is the patron saint of my workout, my favorite song to run to is Walk of Life by Dire Straits.  In fact, its so amazing that I included a link, on the off-chance that you’re reading this while running.  You can thank me later.

That song, for some reason, is the best mix of synth/bass beat for the gyrating stumps my doctor has graciously labelled “legs” that I have found.  I’ve been known to play it during a difficult run two or three times in a row.  And it never gets old, at least not for me.  The people running on either side of me probably tire of me audibly singing “Whoohoo” along lead singer Mark Knopfler during the instrumental breaks, but frankly, I’m tired of them not being able to control their bodily functions while we’re running in an already hot gym.  So I say we’re even.

One of the problems with cardio work, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I get bored.  One of the ways that I tackle this boredom on the treadmill is by playing with the incline/decline and level/pace.  I usually start out at 6.5 with a 0 incline, but then after 10 minutes move to 7.0 at an incline of 2.  If I’m ambitious (and want to show off because an especially annoying person is next to me), I may crank it up to level 8.0.  At that speed I imagine it looks as if the treadmill has taken over the workout as elbows and knees go flying, providing some comical relief for the old woman watching me through the glass window eating her fries.  I don’t mind, though.  That scene is probably the highlight of her day, as she goes home to those fries and a solid two hour block of Soaps.  I’ve done my part for humanity in that instance.

As I power down the treadmill, huffing and puffing in such a way that makes the front desk attendant open the box for the defibrillator and begin charging it (it sounds like the Millennium Falcon warming up), I look at my sweat-drenched dashboard.  3.4 miles in 30 minutes.  Not bad for a guy who just wants, as Kevin James has so rightly said, to “brush his teeth without his stomach jiggling.”

So Saturday I ran, legitimately.  Sunday I rested and strengthened my faith-life, legitimately.  Exercise the body, exercise the soul.  Not a bad way to start off the week.

Oh, and I ate a piece of cheesecake.  But we’ll deal with diet next week.  Baby steps, folks.  Baby steps.

*As a side note, I don’t think “happiness” is the point of life.  If I did I would have already purchased a dog because I am certain that a dog would make me very happy…at least for a little while.  And then when it stopped making me happy, I’d have to get rid of it, and thus deal with the subsequent guilt that comes with deciding that the fuzzball that once brought you joy just ate your Italian leather shoes and you have to drive it out to Kankakee to live on a farm.  And then you have to realize that your shoes didn’t really bring you happiness either, which makes you despair further because, if Italian leather can’t bring happiness, what in this world can?  Hence why “happiness” is a crappy goal.  Don’t go for happiness in life…you’ll never be present.

Tackle the Stair-Climber/Week in Review-Saturday, December 31st

There’s an event here in Chicago called “Hustle up the Hancock.” *  It’s where people run up the back stairways of the Hancock Building to the 94th floor or the 52nd floor, depending on whether you sign up for the “insanity” course or the “mentally deranged” course (you can decide which monicker belongs with which course).

I will not be doing this race.

It’s not that I’m against it.  I actually thought about signing up for it as an interesting post-generator for this blog.  Oh, and the race also raises money for a good cause, the Respiratory Health Association.  I guess I should have put that reason before the selfish reason…

The reason I won’t be running is because the race conveniently falls on my Pop’s 60th birthday and, although my parents live in Carolina and we can’t spend time with them, we’ll be observing the day by doing old people things like going to matinees, eating at IHOP, and complaining about our neighbor’s yard (which is harder than you might imagine because we live in a condo).

And while Rhonda and I are observing the day, my Pops will be running a half-marathon.

Seriously.

I don’t know what it is about parents of a certain age.  They all of a sudden decide that 13 miles sounds doable.  It’s actually, literally, quite inspiring.  Not quite inspiring enough for me to join him in running on that day, but inspiring none the less.

He called me the other day to tell me that he had tried “hot yoga”.  I’m not sure you ever want your Pops to call you and describe a sweaty, stretchy, 40 minute session.  But sometimes you get that call.  If/when you receive such a call, my suggestion is that you try to think about baseball instead.  It helped block out mental pictures.

He’s also trying to go primarily vegetarian, which I think is great.  I encourage it mostly because meat is too expensive.

I would be vegetarian if it wasn’t for the ultimate companion food: bacon.  Bacon goes well with everything.  Don’t believe me?  I’ve had it on corn, ice cream, cookies, waffles, dates, cheese, water chestnuts, bread, and a paper towel (I didn’t eat the paper towel).

Bacon is the chef’s dream; it saves every dish. If I were on Iron Chef, that’s what I’d use it to garnish every course offering. “For our next course it appears that Chef  Tim has made a deconstructed lasagna…with a side of bacon.”  Beat that, Bobby Flay!

My brother-in-law is also on a bit of a health kick.  He’s been working out, losing weight, and following what he calls a “hunter/gatherer diet.”  Apparently if it can’t be hunted or gathered, he won’t eat it.

This diet does not make sense to me.  I gather all sorts of crap from my pantry.  Applejacks.  Jelly.  Peanut butter.  Little Debbie Cream Pies.  I don’t see how he’s losing weight.

This is all to say that many other people will be starting off 2012 with new health goals, so perhaps it will be a year of health for many!  Which is great.  Unless they end up losing a ton more weight than me and enter body building contests (I’m looking at you, Pops).  In that case it will be embarrassing on many levels…

But, I started out this article mentioning the Hancock race because, while I think I would actually do the race (but cannot for the above reasons), I figured there was no reason I couldn’t do my own “mini-Hancock” last night.  It meant, though, that I had to get on that dreaded stair-climber again.

I hate that machine with the fire of a thousand suns.

One of the things that I hate most about it is that I can’t really figure out a way to put my book on there securely.  The gym I go to has only one “book adapter,” which slides over the machine dashboard like an ill-fitting tube sock, and when I finally located it I saw that it was being used by a Trixie who was simultaneously looking at People magazine and talking on her phone while elipticizing.  And I use the term “elipticizing” loosely because her heart was definitely not in it.   Apparently the machine has a “drowsy sloth” setting.

Crushing my urge to unplug her machine and break her phone (I really wanted that book adapter), I moved on upstairs to where the stair-climbers wait in rows (not unlike a firing squad) adaptorless, relegated to leaving my book wedged between two heart sensors, totally obscuring the clock on the machine.

Having the clock obscured is actually not so bad.  I can work out without concentrating on the time, which sometimes is as discouraging as if someone was standing next to you saying, “You’ve only been on here for 7 minutes?!  You look like crap for just 7 minutes…”

And when you yell back at the clock people start to stare.  Which makes your butt mad, because people are looking, and so it tortures you by working extra hard…

But I climbed on the machine, wedged in my book, and started climbing stairs.  30 minutes later Chapter 2 of my book was dingy yellow and my glasses were smudged.  My workout reading at the moment is a book about how microbiology, virology, and how we’re all going to die from rogue virus strains.  “Palin-viruses.”  I made up that term, but it seems to fit.

On a related note, I think there is a good probability that the world would be in serious jeopardy from the real Palin actually going rogue.   But enough about politics. I won’t mention my opinion on Palin again.  Stop asking!

But, in that time frame, I climbed 80 imaginary floors.  And, while I’m not sure how the machine calculates imaginary floors, I’m going to take its word for it.

When I limped off the stair-climber my shirt had magically changed from a dark grey to black, my shorts from emerald green to forest green, and my morale had changed from “optimistic” to “spent.” Sweat truly does change you.  Some people glisten.  I turn colors.

But that’s ok; I had a good workout.  And I’m pretty sure that Hustle up the Hancock 2013 will have a new participant.

Below is the week in review:

Cultural Health Update: Saw “A Christmas Story: The Musical” on Monday and “The Nutcracker” on Thursday

Dental Health Update: Regular flossing has begun.

Physical Health Update: Lifted-2 days.  Cardio-3 days.

Spiritual Health Update: Prayer/mediation 4 days.

Weight at beginning of week: 235.  Weight today: 233.

We’ll talk next year…

*This should not be confused with “Hussy at the Hancock” which is a premier dating service for Hancock residents.

Son of a Nutcracker-Friday, December 30th

I finally did get that workout in last night.

I came home from the office around 5:15pm, and planned on heading straight to the gym after I grabbed a quick snack.  Rhonda beat me home (which rarely happens because her cells are like little children that need to be fed at all hours of the day).  We had theater plans at 8pm. Live theater.  Can’t beat that, and it’s rare on our budget and time frame. So when a parishioner gave me tickets to a rendition of The Nutcracker that he wrote, showcasing at the Chopin theater in the trendy Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago, I said “Let’s do this.”  Or something like that.  That’s not a direct quote.

In an interesting side-note, the Bucktown neighborhood hasn’t always been trendy.  When I first moved to Chicago, back when I was young and full of dreams (2003), Bucktown was what we lovingly called “stabby.”  As in, there was always a chance you could get stabbed there if you hung out there past a certain hour.

I’m happy to report that it’s much less stabby now, although we did see someone getting drunk behind a building and three people fighting over what I suspect was a 40 when we walked out of the theater.

So when I walked in, I threw down my stuff and headed straight to the fridge because I didn’t have much time.  I typically don’t like working out with too much in my stomach because I have a tendency to puke.  And although you’d think that a gym would be a pretty safe place to hurl, I’m convinced that the managers at my gym only know how to use a wet vac.  It’s all I see them with.  And I don’t want them to have to wet vac puke.  It would work but, I mean, a wet vac smells like hot plastic as it is, and vomit and heat don’t mix.  Let’s not chance it; it smells.

When I opened the fridge I saw what I desired: left over Christmas ham.  Excellent.  Two slices of that and a handful of peanuts, and I was ready go.  Packed my bag, grabbed my shoes, and yelled “I’m leaving!” to the woman sitting in the corner.

“Hold on a sec,” she says coming over to me.  A pre-lifting kiss.  She’s so supportive, and my heart swells.  Until she comes close.

“You smell like ham and peanuts,” she says, making a face that I thought only could be caused by indigestion.  Romantic as the day is long.  It’s really hot when your partner tells you that you smell like pork and nuts.  It’s nice to hear that you don’t smell kosher.

I settled for a kiss on the cheek and left.

Shoulders and back today.

Apparently you can work your back.  I have long imagined that my back was simply skin stretched over a fat pad, much like a killer whale but without a dorsal fin.  But apparently there is muscle there.  And groups of them.  And as I worked them I realized that I did know them; we’d met before just weeks earlier when I was putting up Christmas lights.  In my zealous love of Christmas, I decided to string them up in our front window.  As I was precariously perched, extending my arms upward in an oblation to Christmas, securing lights, the footstool slipped out from under me as I was straddling the stool and the window ledge.

A scream.  A twist.  In the blink of a Christmas light I was transformed from a healthy 31 year old into a 90 year old.

It hurt like the dickens.

Uhm, I should also explain the scream was from me, not from Rhonda.  She saw the whole thing happen and reacted like one might react to watching moths mating: grotesque interest, but not alarmed.

But this was my day to get those muscles back…into shape.  Lateral pulls, bent rows, medicine ball sit-ups, shoulder presses.  I did it all.  But first I started just as my brother had taught me: with a cardio warm-up.  And for some reason I thought that the stair-climber might be a good idea.

That machine is a machine of death. After only minute 2:30 I could see my pulse bulging out of my neck in my peripheral vision, bull frogging in what I can only imagine was an attractive mating call rivaled only by the pork and nuts aroma I was omitting.  5 minutes was plenty of time on that machine, and I gave it a small kick as I walked away, dripping with sweat.

Frankly, I would have felt perfectly fine walking back in the lockerroom then.  I looked like I had been working out at the gym for hours, with the half-moon sweat mark on my grey shirt as a badge of honor.  In reality it was a badge of shame.  No one should sweat that much in 5 minutes.  I blame genetics.  And the stair-climber.  And the jackhole who invented that machine.

I then started the weights, moving slowly from one group to another, making sure to alternate the muscle groups.  My favorite lifting today happened during the dead lift.  I can dead lift a lot.  Do not fear if you ever pass out in front of me; I can lift you.  I can’t carry you anywhere, but I’ll sure enough get you off the ground.  But only in reps of 15.  And I stop at 45, so you had better come to by then.

My worst?  The shoulder press.  Those things killed.  And without Critter to push me I was in danger of either dropping them by the third set or skipping the third set altogether.  In reality it wasn’t half as bad as the bench pressing on Tuesday.  I muscled through.

See what I did there?

Eh-hem, anyway, in reality the worst thing happened back when I was relaxing my muscles in the lockerroom.  Oh, and let me take this moment to say to the old guy drying his whole body with the air dryer: stop it.

That wasn’t it, though.

As I was sitting in the steam sauna relaxing with my ipod, two guys stepped in chatting.  After a minute or two, one tapped me on the arm.  Suspicious from the beginning.

“Can you turn down your music?  We’re trying to talk.”

Oh, so I’ll turn down my music so I can hear you and your overly manscaped buddy babble on about how your girlfriend is not supportive of your new tattoo, and how your father is 54 and now living in a studio in Buena Park due to a midlife crisis gone wrong?  As exciting as that conversation might seem to your over-sexed and under developed brain that is obviously jealous of your biceps in the size department, I’d rather listen to Simon and Garfunkel, thank you.

I mean, I can imagine you telling me to turn it down if I was flailing my arms to Aerosmith, synchronized with the drum beats in a way that made you concerned for your safety.  But it was Simon and Garfunkel, for heaven’s sake!  And I certainly never heard them write a song about tattoos or deadbeat dads.   They sing about important things: herbs, MILFs, and architecture.

But I understand.  It’s a public place.  So lets make a deal.  I’ll turn down my music, but then you can’t blow your nose into your hand anymore and fling it around like you’re Tinkerbell spreading pixy dust.  How’s that deal sound, Bruno?

Son-of-a-Nutcracker.

Luckily, I had to head out to make it to the theater on time.  So I turned the music up as I left, leaving them to ponder just what Simon was doing with Julio down by the schoolyard.  I had to get to the Nutcracker, because I’m cultured.

And that’s the lesson of the night, I guess.  Culture.  Go to the theater. It expands your mind and your cultural base.  Stick to your goals even if you have some missteps.  It shows you have culture.

And don’t blow snot rockets and expect people to do you favors.  Especially when all you want to do is talk about your tattoos.

That’s not cultured.

The show, by the way, was great.  Great writing, great acting, great nut-cracking.  Well worth the stabby potential (which, in reality, is minimal…unless you’re a 40. A 40 in that neighborhood will get killed).

Flossing (Not the Dance Move)-Thursday, December 29th

I overslept this morning and missed my scheduled workout with Critter.  This bodes well for the future…

But, lessons learned, right?  As my friend Maggie would put it “Pro Tip: If you want to wake up early, don’t go to bed at midnight.”  Thanks, Maggie, for that bit of wisdom.  From now on please stay on your own blog and don’t talk to me all slanty-lettered any more.

I will, by the way, be working out this evening to make up for it.  It will throw my schedule off, but we must not get discouraged.  No.  We must not lose hope.  Not this early in the game.  We must persevere, do the hard thing, make up for our losses, and choose life instead of apathy!

I suggest you copy and paste those last five sentences and print them out.  Paste them to your mirror or computer or the inside of your “special place” where you go to hide from the world when discouraged.  You’re welcome.

Now, back to the topic at hand: flossing.

I am what the world would call an “occasional flosser.”  As in, I never floss unless I’m a week out of a dental appointment.  In my world that counts as occasional.  If you have a different definition of that word, a different standard, then label me as you will.  But stop judging now, please.

Frankly, I used to not floss much because it hurt.  And I don’t like seeing blood in my spit.  It brings back memories from my karate days when I would bite my lip or the inside of my cheek.  Not because I was sparring or getting hit, but because I was so nervous about sparring or getting hit that I would chomp my teeth and bite the inside of my lip.

That, actually, turned into a bit of a blessing.  It would appear that I had already sparred because blood dripped from the corners of my mouth and occasionally my cheek would swell.  Obviously the definition of “winning.”

But last night, after I brushed my teeth, I creaked open that medicine cabinet and grabbed the dental floss.  Actually, it was “dental tape,” for those of you taking notes.  Even though I rarely floss…until now!…I’ve always preferred the tape to the floss.  The floss sometimes would shred in my teeth, causing me to have to use more floss to dig it out, which also might shred, and then the circle of torture is complete, my incisors as the victim.

When it was obvious that I was done brushing my teeth but still standing in front of the mirror, Rhonda, my lovingly supportive wife, said accusingly, “Are you flossing?”  She asked the question like someone might ask their husband, “Are you wearing knee-highs?” as if I was doing something absolutely absurd.  And it’s not that she doesn’t floss; she does.  It’s that she knows I don’t floss.  You don’t live with someone for six years and not pick up on the fact that their oral hygiene is less than ideal.

“Yes,” I replied.  “I can’t do this ‘year of health’ without actually practicing healthy habits.”  And thus I began flossing, just as my dental hygienist had taught me in grade school.  Down each side of the tooth, back and forth.  That particular visit, the one where she showed me how to floss, was uniquely traumatizing for me.  After cleaning my teeth she made a “tsk tsk” sound (I kid you not), brought out a mirror and made me hold it, while she showed me how to floss my teeth.

I wanted to scream at her, “I know how to floss, you patronizing sadist.  I just don’t do it!  There’s a difference between ignorance and inaction…”  But her hands were in my mouth, so all that came out was a muffled, “Oooahhmmmehem.”

But last night I flossed, and then I rinsed with mouthwash.  I actually like that stinging feeling that mouthwash gives a post-flossed mouth.  It’s painful enough to trick my brain into thinking I’ve done something sacrificial, when in reality I’ve just done something that should be done.  Period.

And not just for oral health, of course.  While the links between periodontal health and cardiac health have not been conclusively found, the idea that my mouth plaque could become my artery plaque is gross enough for me to start being proactive.  If you want a brief (and I mean brief) glimpse at this, check out this site complete with diagram of just how the bacteria in your mouth could become the bacteria in your heart, traveling the highways of your arteries to your certain doom.

And you know what, I flossed again this morning, too.  Booyah.