Thursday, 177 2 Go

No matter how old I get (as if I had a choice), I can’t seem to get better at that not-making-mistakes thing.

My latest screw-up was noble enough, but then. I got a garden variety case of the flu, but also a visit from my daughter at the same time. What to do? So I crawled out of bed, put my best Dad-is-healthy-now! face on, and got very stupid quickly.

I’ve been paying for it this week, every day hoping to make the jump back to where I was, forgetting that nothing really works that way, at least in this universe. So here we are, the end of the month, and the last part has been just lost.

Add to that dark, wet weather and my mood has been in the basement if my body hasn’t. I’ve found out that my strength is also my weakness, my endurance my fragility. My habits got thrown for a loop and I got untethered, and only now am I trying to pull all the ends back together.

So this morning I went looking for him again.

It’s been a big part of my program. People do different things, to varying degrees; if I thought there was just one way I’d have written that book by now. My way came about organically, from where I was to who I am, but every morning, pretty much, I start the day by looking for the drunk.

See, it would be bad to forget him, in the sense that he hasn’t really gone anywhere. We move on, but we also wear the chains we forge in this life. I will drag the drunk behind me wherever I go, and good for me. Sometimes I need a little extra weight to remind me.

Mornings were the worst, of course, because I’d wake up in full-blown withdrawal. Withdrawal is what people who don’t really understand mean when they talk about “physical dependence,” or “physical addiction.” It’s a shallow way to look at it, if understandable, because withdrawal is such a small part, if uncomfortable.

And it’s not really that the body is craving a chemical suddenly taken away; it’s more that the body’s normal functions have been put on hold, and when the chemical is gone things start getting back to normal. So withdrawal is, in a sense, the beginning of healing. Someone addicted to opiates, for example, has a lot of aches and pains just stored up, waiting to make their presence known. And then there’s the gastroparetic effect; opiates slow the bowels way down, so when the drug is taken away things can get messy. Withdrawing from opiates won’t kill you, but it might make you wish you were dead.

Withdrawing from alcohol, on the other hand, might very well kill you.

Booze slows everything way down, so when you stop drinking it all speeds up again. Heart rate, blood pressure, thoughts, everything. That’s why people shake. That’s why it’s so important to get medical help. That’s why the best thing you can do for an alcoholic in withdrawal, short of getting him or her medical help, is get them something to drink. Seriously. Keep them alive first.

On the plus side, with medical assistance it’s a pretty easy process. They can detox a drunk fairly quickly, a couple of days, and safely. Then the fun part starts.

So I used to wake up a mess. I recently found a word processing macro I’d written years ago. It was a key combination that saved a document and then opened a blank one, nothing complex. But it was oddly redundant, and I opened up the code to look at it and wonder what I was thinking, until I remembered. See, sometimes I’d press that combination of keys, open up a new document, and then press it again, saving the blank file and overwriting the one I wanted to keep, sometimes losing an hour or so of work. So I had to write a little backdoor save. All because my hands sometimes shook so much.

So that’s what I remember in the mornings, and what I have, nearly every morning, for the past 17 months. What it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. Just a little reminder, when I’m down or sick or just out of sorts, that I used to be somewhere else, and that there are worse things than the flu.

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Wednesday, 178 2 Go

It’s comedian/actress Brett Butler’s 50th birthday today. Ms. Butler had a spectacular flame-out in the early 1990s, getting attention for her comedy and then a temporarily successful sitcom (“Grace Under Fire”) until she imploded in a burst of booze and pills and some nasty work habits. She made an appearance on “My Name Is Earl” a while back but her resume remains awfully thin. But she’s 50, and I’m not.

I realized last night that I’m old enough to remember when people first started making fun of the way Tom Brokaw talked (back in the 1980s, as I recall; probably Harry Shearer). They drag him out on MSNBC from time to time, and it’s painful to watch; it’s like he’s got a fair-sized squirrel in his mouth. I imagine at his age he must go through life as a marked man, knowing somewhere there’s a syllable with his name on it.

I also realized that what I long considered just being a good citizen, doing my civic duty and staying informed, has become a niche hobby. Aside from like-minded people who wander in my particular orbit (and maybe read this blog; hi), most people I meet have only a vague sense that there is something political going on in this country. Some of them have heard of Iraq, but that’s about it.

So the hours I spend reading and watching, debating policy points and subtle demographic markers with my wife, must just seem bizarre to everybody else. This is how obsession starts: You think everybody else collects vintage ashtrays, too, until suddenly you’re talking about it at a party and people are backing away.

So, just to fill you in: Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards have both dropped out, so we’re essentially down to four candidates, two in each party (there are some Republicans hanging around, like Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee, but that’s really not going to happen). And it’s certainly not over; this thing could go to the conventions in either party, or both, and there might be lots of wheeling-dealing and maybe some surprises left. I’m just giddy.

Also? The economy really, really sucks.

There. My public service for the day is done. Now I can go to eBay and find ashtrays like everybody else.

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Tuesday, 179 2 Go

Happy birthday to Judy Norton Taylor, my favorite Walton girl (she was Mary Ellen), who turns 50 today. I actually dated a young woman for a while who, among other things, reminded me of Mary Ellen Walton.

And happy 50th anniversary to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, married on this day in 1958. An interviewer once asked Mr. Newman why, given his movie star status and obvious appeal, he’d never had an affair, and he said, “Why go out for hamburger when you can have steak at home?” Obviously a romantic, and I imagine Ms. Woodward reading that quote and rolling her eyes, but by any standards, and particularly Hollywood’s, it’s been a remarkable partnership.

Housekeeping: I was going to do a poll about that, about Newman films or screen partnerships or famous married people, but I think I’ll table the Tuesday polls for the time being. Only 20 or so of you participate (and many of you read this site via a reader, and polls require clicking through), and I have a suspicion there are some bandwidth issues. So maybe only occasionally from now on, we’ll see.

More Housekeeping: Some of you took a little issue with my premise yesterday that ditching the dog would improve your exercise regimen, assuming you’re into regimens. People and dogs; go figure. But I hear you. You were saying, hey, I get a good workout with my dog! All I was saying was no, you don’t.

Heh. Sorry. Just a joke.

Sure, it depends on the youth, size and vitality of the dog, among other things. In GENERAL, people. And really, what was on my mind was perception, anyway.

I gave a friend, a college instructor, who wants to lose weight. She bought a pedometer, and since she figured she was on her feet all day, walking all over campus, she must put in miles and miles daily and wanted to check it out. At the end of the first day, she took off the pedometer and found that she had logged about 45 yards. So, perception.

Exercise is GOOD. Dogs are GOOD. Walking the dog is GOOD.

If you want to lose weight, though, you have to change. If you never walk the dog and now you start, that’s change. Change is GOOD.

I’m just saying that to me — TO ME — walking a dog as part of a weight loss program is like babysitting as part of a socializing program. Yeah, sort of, maybe, well, no. Too many distractions, too many variables, too many limitations. A good way to start, though, maybe. And if you’re fit anyway, then obviously something is working right.

Eventually, though, you’re going to need to walk faster and further — if your experience is like mine, you’re going to want to.

And what do I know, anyway? Me, with a few months under my belt? Nada. Don’t listen to me, do what you want.

But lose the dog.

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Monday, 180 2 Go

Happy 50th birthday to the LEGO, which not only graces this site but the carpets of unsuspecting parents everywhere. It’s not the day it was invented but the day its patent was approved, but we’ll still wish it well. LEGO, by the way, is a fusion of the Danish words “LEg” and “GOdt” (“play well”).

The National Weather Service teased us all weekend, threatening here, withdrawing the threat there, until it became The Boy Who Cried Snow. We stopped believing, or caring, and figured what would happen would, and possibly not here, anyway.

We woke up believers, with 5 inches of new snow and the very real threat of more tonight. I prefer watching it snow to walking in it, so a little picturesque scenery goes a long way, but at least it’s change, and not too much trouble, assuming we can get Beth to the airport tonight.

And since it’s change we’re talking about, and I believe up there I mentioned walking, and since I have nothing else to say this morning on anything else, let’s do another

Weight Loss Tip Of The Day: Lose the dog.

I like dogs, don’t get me wrong. And dogs need to be walked, and walking dogs is good exercise, although I’m not sure what bad exercise is unless it involves somebody other than your spouse. And I know many people who get themselves moving by the necessity of taking the dog out.

In terms of weight loss, though, I’d submit that you might as well go grocery shopping for the amount of benefit. Which is not bad, either; any movement is a good thing.

I speak from observational experience. I walk every day; I do it on purpose, for a purpose, and I see other walkers, too, many of them with dogs, and believe me we are doing two very different activities. Dogs wander, stop, sniff, backtrack and generally have a good old time, and the person on the other end of the leash is a passive participant (Jerry Seinfeld did a routine about this, which I can’t remember verbatim but he essentially imagines a space alien viewing a dog and its owner from afar. The alien sees one creature pooping, and one creature holding the other’s poop, and there is obviously no question who’s in charge).

So if you decide walking is part of your plan, lose the dog. At least part of the day. You’ll go faster, you’ll probably go further, you’ll burn more calories, you’ll rev up the metabolism better, and you might gain some self-esteem, who knows? Let the dog hold its own poop for once.

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Sunday, 181 2 Go

Happy 50th birthday to attorney/author James Grippando, who turned his South Florida trial lawyer experience into a new career in creative writing, specifically crime fiction, starting with The Pardon in 1994 and including Found Money, Last To Die, and Hear No Evil. Most of his novels are set in Miami and feature Jack Swyteck, a criminal defense lawyer.

After three days of pretty much houseboundness, my only exercise consisting of checking my temperature and trying to decide whether I wanted to be prone or supine, I decided yesterday to take a walk; having only rarely missed a day of my constitutional since late October, when I ditched the treadmill, I found myself creaky after three days of abstinence, and I thought it was time.

Well. It was a learning experience in a lot of ways, including (a) it’s hard to breathe when, you know, you can’t breathe, (b) there seemed to be no glycogen to release, no energy to burn, and it felt like I was walking in a space suit, and (c) hey! Did you notice that it’s snowing?

So I cut that baby short at just under 2 miles, tireder but wiser. And today oxygen seems to be moving a little easier through my nasal passages, although I will admit that my sleep (and probably Julie’s sleep) was interrupted by The Night of the Living Cough. I do seem to be moving through phases.

And I learned other things.

I don’t really have a favorite food, or a particular weakness when it comes to food; that, too, goes through stages. I’ve made a lot of comments about pizza in this space over the past few months, but really only in the sense of a running joke, and as an example of things I need to avoid. Pizza is a bad food for a guy who doesn’t do moderation; it’s soft, it’s easy, it’s stuffed with sugars, it can be eaten hot or cold, and it contains a lot of energy (i.e., calories) that my body likes to store in unfortunate places. But I’m not pizza crazy.

As I mentioned yesterday, though, I did use pizza occasionally during my weight loss for some mental relief, metabolic motivation or just caloric repletion when I drifted into Paris Hilton eating habits. Last summer I found a couple of brands of frozen pizza that actually were decent, if I kept it simple (pepperoni only, when quality and freshness don’t matter), and if I found them on sale I’d buy and save. They’re small pizzas, but they still pack a punch at around 1400 calories if you eat the whole thing. Let’s not even go there.

OK, let’s. Recently I’ve discovered that I don’t have to eat the whole thing. This is me we’re talking about. It’s curious. It’s not a question of feeling full quicker; full has nothing to do with it. I didn’t get fat because something was screwy with my fullness monitor; I got fat because I liked to eat, because I liked to eat late at night, because I liked to eat things that probably I shouldn’t have been eating. So what’s with the two pieces of pizza and I’m done thing?

There’s more. During the worst of my sore throat, Julie went out and bought a couple of pints of Haagen Das, because that sounded good to me at the moment, although I never got around to trying them (in and of itself odd). Last night, though, as my appetite had finally returned and my throat remained raw, I sat down in front of the TV, watching the South Carolina primary returns, and opened up my favorite. Mmmm. Chocolate and peanut butter.

And yeah, maybe my clogged sinuses interfered with my taste so much that I got bored. Maybe. But I ate a third of that pint, popped the lid back on and shoved it into the freezer, where it belongs.

Not that a third is unimpressive; that’s still around 500 calories. And fat, and sugar, etc. But I just wonder now. Is it possible that over the past four months, I’ve learned how to moderate? I wouldn’t hold my breath (ha! sinus joke), but it got me thinking. Maybe it was just the taste thing. As I head for fifty, I’m embracing change but cynical about achieving much in the new tricks/old dogs paradigm. Dropping some weight, taking some classes…that might be as far as I can go. For half a century connections have been forming and solidifying among my neurons, many of whom have been murdered anyway. I may have trouble letting go; I accept this.

But I sat there last night, watching MSNBC, and I saw Sen. Clinton’s famous husband on a stage, smiling, pointing at the crowd, holding his mouth open in that perpetual “O” that seems to have replaced lip biting, and I had a thought that surprised me. It was different, it was new, it was extreme, it was unlike me, and it was:

If I never see Bill Clinton again, it will be too soon.

Breathe, Chuck. Breathe.

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Saturday, 182 2 Go

Happy 50th birthday to Ellen Degeneres, a very funny person. I miss her stand-up days but she’s got a great talk show and I guess a little job security goes a long way.

I’m at the tail end now of the mystery viral illness, having gone through 48 hours of the febrile stage and today mostly in the head-full-of-snot stage. Yesterday, though, in its ongoing effort to achieve homeostasis, my body apparently realized that it had been lying in bed for a while and hadn’t been fed much, so that was the please-don’t-faint-in-the-car stage. Beth, John and I made a little trek to Trader Joe’s and then she fixed us marinated tuna steaks and green beans for dinner, which eventually did the trick; three hours later I was suddenly ravenous and feeling sort of like a normal, if hungry, human again.

Although the scale told me this morning that I’ve lost 10 pounds in January, that’s sort of a bogus number. Probably more like 6, which is fine with me; my goal was to put the brakes on slowly and sort of ease down into maintenance. Actually, at my age and level of activity now, I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to weigh anyway.

My tendency in all of this, as in everything, is to play the apologist: Listen, I figured this out, let me explain how to do it, etc. I resist this tendency as much as possible, mostly because people are just different, physically, emotionally and psychologically; but also because I’m discovering, on my personal journey as well as my educational one, that resistance to change is a big issue for most of us.

Still, I’ve learned a lot of general principles and it’s hard not to share. So maybe from time to time…

Weight Loss Tip Of The Day: Food has weight. So does liquid. It’s funny how many people have trouble with this concept and so give themselves grief they don’t deserve. I could also call this tip “You can’t blow a diet in a day.” Listen to me carefully: No matter what you think or hear, you can’t gain five pounds in a day. You can’t. In theory you can, but you can’t, trust me. In fact, it’s hard to gain one pound in a day.

A pound of fat (what, in a general sense, we’re talking about) is 3500 calories. So, how much is 3500 calories? A lot. Maybe you could eat 3500 calories with a jumbo pizza with everything on it, double cheese, etc. A half-gallon of gourmet ice cream might do it, too. But that’s not enough — and it’s surprising how many “experts” get this wrong — because to theoretically gain a pound, you have to eat 3500 calories more than you would normally eat to maintain your weight. That could be anywhere from 1200 calories a day for a fit, small woman to 4000 and beyond for an obese man. It would be hard (if I really wanted to gain weight fast, I’d eat candy; read the labels sometime).

So if you’re trying to drop some pounds and you go crazy one night, it’s probably insignificant in the long run. Don’t beat yourself up; cut back for a few days and everything will even out.

(I’ll add that the few times I hit little plateaus in my weight loss, I usually got past them by pigging out. I’d triple my normal calories, or more, eat bad stuff, and within a few days I was losing weight like crazy. Probably my metabolism needed spurring, but I’ll take it any which way.)

On the other hand, it’s not hard for the scale to tell a different story. Again, stuff weighs. Let’s say you’re good all day, eating very light, exercising, and then since you’re weakest in the evening, you decided to drink a gallon of water instead of snacking. No calories in a gallon of water — but it weighs eight pounds. Might make a difference the next morning (the good news? We tend to get rid of water efficiently and quickly, and the more you drink the less you retain, in general. But don’t go overboard, or you run the risk of diluting your electrolytes and causing all sorts of problems).

Are we clear here? Broccoli is a great food, and low in calories, but a pound of broccoli is still a pound until you digest it. Don’t sweat it.

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Friday, 183 2 Go

Actress Dinah Manoff turns 50 today. The veteran stage, film and TV actress has been around a long time (she was a Pink Lady in the film version of “Grease” when she was 19, and won a Tony for Best Actress when she was 22), with her major credits being stints on “Soap” and “Empty Nest.” She’s also a neighbor, living over on Bainbridge Island.

“Grease” gives me pause, and not just because I paid real 1977 dollars to see it in a theater, First of all, it’s interesting that Manoff was fairly unique among the cast members in that she couldn’t actually remember the 1950s. Secondly, although the movie, when I first saw it, was set only 18 years in the past, it still seemed like ancient history. I’m not sure what the explanation is for this relative disconnect — was it just that 18 years seems a long time ago to a 19-year-old? Or did life change so drastically in those particular 18 years that it was hard to find similarities? I have no idea.

What I should probably do is find me a young person with a good grasp of cultural history and ask for their thoughts on, say, the late 1980s, a time that seems only a moment ago to me. I’ve got jeans older than that. Possibly underwear. Definitely socks.

And, as luck would have it, I happen to have the good fortune of sharing a roof with just such a young person at the moment, so maybe I’ll ask her and let you know. If she ever wakes up, since it was a loooong day yesterday, from Boston to New Hampshire to North Carolina to home, or where home used to be, and so was exhausted and stressed and very skinny. But my girl is back, for the weekend. Rama-lama-ding-dong.

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One Flew West, One Flu…er…West

So, this could have sucked. Here my daughter makes a spur-of-the-moment trip to Seattle for a few days, and it appeared for a while there what she was looking forward to was an unconscious father.

Ah. Brings back memories…

It seems that maybe I’m over the hump, although I got knocked for a loop there and not in a good way. It was relatively mild, I guess, as flu-like illnesses go; a little coughing and congestion, some throat soreness, that’s about it. Except for the Fever From Hell, which never hit the stratosphere but just stayed. I figured it out — over a 36-hour period, I was awake only about five hours.

Not that I was blissfully out of it, either; the dreams were all weirdness, and I’m not sure they were dreams.

At any rate, I’m hanging in there with a temperature of just under 100 as I write this. I managed a shower and shave, and there is still some straightening up that needs to be done before company arrives (not that Beth would be surprised at all to find dust bunnies and dog hair and maybe a half-eaten banana in unexpected places, but we always like an excuse). What I’ll manage to do is anybody’s guess, but I do feel better.

And our friend Ken Levine shares my pain; he’s been sick all week, and he wrote his impressions of daytime TV, something I haven’t been able to stomach this time around. Even my 10 hours of DVR shows I’d been postponing for such an event didn’t work for me. On the other hand, I wasn’t really trying, not with the eyes mostly being closed thing.

Really, as (I think) I said in an earlier post, being sick isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. I will skip this from now on, I think, and try to limit my unconsciousness to 6-8 hours a day and maybe my Law & Ethics class. And without the dreams, if that’s not too much trouble.

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Thursday, 184 2 Go

Happy birthday to British band leader and television personality, Jools Holland, who turns 50 today; as does Neil Allen, who had a fairly ordinarily Major League Baseball career as a pitcher and now is the pitching coach for (I couldn’t resist) the Montgomery Biscuits.

As for me, I’ve developed a twitch today; I stick a thermometer in my mouth every half-hour or so, trying to will that number down. I would take anything in the neighborhood of under 101, but that doesn’t seem to be working. And I can’t type, either.

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Wednesday, 185 2 Go

Happy 50th (if maybe a little early) to the lovely and talented Anita Baker (most sites actually list her birthday as Jan. 26, but others say today, including the New York Times. What to do? Wish her well and hope for the best, I guess).

And if you’re in the mood to wander back 20 years and listen to some R&B as only Anita baby can sing it, here’s some sweet love:

I sat outside this morning around 6 a.m., before dawn and with a big gleaming ball in the southwest sky. Full, too, or so it seemed between the trees, and I spent a good minute or so just casually trying to remember what we call it. M-O-O-N, that spells moon.

Call it hubris or irony or just about time, but all of this physical and emotional well being crumbled yesterday under the assault of, I assume, a virus that wouldn’t last long in the cold outdoors or in John’s room. I have the flu, I guess, and it seems to be focused on a very sore throat, a chronic cough, and a fever that hasn’t gone away quite yet.

Sometimes I look back on times when I’m sick with a flu-like illness (and they seem to happen every 2-3 years, maybe longer) and think of it as relaxing; just sort of fuzzy, lying around in bed, watching daytime television and having people bring you juice.

The truth is, it’s no fun at all. My dreams last night, when I slept, were bizarre and focused on some sort of philosophy of life, as if my delirium gave me insights if I could only remember. And then there I was, sitting outside, trying to remember the name of the moon.

And it doesn’t help that I just saw “The Savages” on Saturday night at the Harvard Exit, which was excellent but kind of sad. The father wasn’t much of a human being in that film but it was still hard to watch him be so confused as senile dementia took its toll, and particularly early this morning, when I wandered around the house, unable to sleep, not sure of what I was supposed to be doing, finally ending up outside in the cold, looking up at the sky, trying to focus, gave me a little taste.

I’m sure I’ll be better by tomorrow. Especially if John survives; it makes him nervous when I’m not feeling well, and he sort of skulks around, talking to himself and saying, “oh jeez” a lot like a character out of Fargo. And then Beth will be home, and we’ll have fun, etc. It’ll be fine.

And I made a joke. As I came back in this morning from the back deck, heading back to bed, I looked up and said, “Goodnight Moon,” which sounded familiar, although I only just now got it.

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