One Particular Number

My relationship with 200 pounds is entirely adolescent these days. I flirt with it, sidle up to it, then get to second base, then back off, then watch it from across the room, then go steady, ignore it, get depressed about it, want nothing to do with it, then wrestle with it in the backseat as the windows steam up. I’m not serious about our relationship, but I think about it all the time.

It used to be the gold standard for fatness, 200 pounds. Like six feet in height, a pretty unremarkable stature when you think about it but still bouncing around as a reference for tall (he was a six-footer) — 200 pounds meant something then, and was where you didn’t want to go unless your goal was to play left guard for the Rams.

Now it’s nothing; 300 is the new 200, and 300 is pretty unremarkable, too (I know someone who keeps his eye on 400; that’s where he doesn’t want to end up, but he will).

Now it’s sort of the holy grail for men of a certain age; if we could just get under 200 pounds, we’d be at our fighting weight, back in our prime, all good and ready to buckle up.

This is probably just another signpost for the middle- and late-middle- and so-late-the-party’s-over-middle-aged man, something to wish for and have no real intention of reaching. It’s possibly been replaced by the iPad.

Generally speaking, of course. Some men grumble about the flab and never get close to 200, either because they’re shorter than average or they’re really just too damn vain, shut up. But it’s familiar enough that I know what I’m talking about.

I thought it would be a moment, a few years ago, when I slid under the magic number but it wasn’t. The world didn’t look different from a sub-2 vantage point at all; it was just another minor numerical goal, something to mention (getting under 220 was much more dramatic; clothes started to fit better, or worse, depending on what I was wearing).

And for a guy my size and with my particular pattern of fat storage (not to mention my age), 200 is nothing, slightly overweight. I could stay at 200 the rest of my life and be a shining example of a man fighting nature in the United States of Obesity, as he falls apart in oh so many other ways.

It’s convenient, though, a yellow light. A caution. Like every other behavior I’m saddled with, what I do and particularly what I eat falls on a continuum, sliding in one direction or the other, and one direction is not very nice. I got on a scale one day in the summer of 2007 and saw 272; I got on it again, a couple of years later, and it said 168. So 200 is convenient, as I said; not an alarm, just a motion detector.

And not a challenge, either, or much of one. But sometimes, or some days, I feel the need for a little romance, get the pulse racing and the sweat beading. I need to flirt, in other words, and so, apparently, I do.

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Stranger Than Fact

Here’s one of those “the way we were” things: It was possible, 30 years ago, to work in a busy office and not know the latest. Not so today, I would think, but in 1981 I was 22 and worked in a health clinic, clerical work, sitting in a small office with medical charts and an electric typewriter and labels to stick on, and I was unaware.

It was a swing shift, early afternoon to late evening, but that day I came in a little early so I could get home in time to catch some of the Academy Awards. My car wasn’t working so I rode my bike, and it was only when I got to my apartment and turned on the TV, expecting to see Johnny Carson hosting and “Raging Bull” winning, that I heard the news, almost 10 hours old.

The president had been shot, something that would have glued my Breaking News soul to the TV had I known. Can you imagine going 10 hours these days without knowing something like that? I can’t.

I just finished “Rawhide Down” by Del Quintin Wilber, which gives a detailed, minute-by-minute description of that day, although I found it disappointing, nothing new there, and a little — what’s a nice fancy word? — hagiographic for my taste. Then again, it’s hard not to be when reading the story of a 70-year-old who survives a serious gunshot wound (the only U.S. President to be shot and not die) and stays chipper.

Actually, what I found interesting was how much of an actor’s vanity Ronald Reagan had retained, although in a mild, sort of funny way. He wore contacts, he refused to wear a hearing aid at that point even though he was seriously handicapped in his right ear, and a couple of times in the narrative we hear of doctors examining his hair, trying to figure out exactly what was going on with that dark color.

From the history angle, it was mostly old news to me; the president was far more seriously injured than we knew at the time, the situation was probably more chaotic at the White House than we suspected, etc. This has been covered before. Reagan looks good in this story, resilient if maybe a little superficial. George H.W. Bush comes off well, too. Alexander Haig not so much.

Having wandered into speculative history from time to time, it’s clear that even great events seem to hinge a lot on the survival or not of significant people. Knock off Socrates in his 40s, as very nearly happened, and pretty much Western civilization looks a whole lot different.

I’m not sure you can make that case for the Reagan assassination attempt; we know what a George H.W. Bush presidency looked like. On the other hand…there are other hands.

Mostly I wanted to point those of you who might share my interest to a 2006 film, “Death Of A President,” a British television mocumentary (don’t think “Spinal Tap”) about a fictional assassination of George W. Bush in 2007. It’s offered on Netflix Instant, which is where I saw it the other night, thinking I’d watch a few minutes and getting sucked in for the duration.

When it first came out and played a few film festivals, it got the usual noise from the usual suspects, outrage mostly. It was political and tasteless, they said, from the White House to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Not sure where I come down; it’s provocative, at any rate, or would have been 5 years ago. In 2011, it’s just alternative history. We know what that Bush presidency looked like, too.

What got lost in all this is that it’s a very good film, one that shines a pretty authentic light on (mostly) media in this country. It was subdued in terms of a different history; nothing much happened along those lines, some strengthening of The Patriot Act, etc. We saw the usual rush to judgment.

What was striking about this, though, was how easily these filmmakers were able to incorporate existing footage and some mild CGI to persuade us that this actually happened. From some amazing acting by the players in this drama (virtually all of the people “interviewed” felt real and unscripted) to the consistent format of a documentary, which could have easily been a Frontline project, I found myself drawn in, wanting to hear the history I didn’t know, and which didn’t actually happen.

And I kept thinking of how easy it was to believe this optical illusion, and how easy it might be to believe something else. We live in an amazing age of information, but I couldn’t help wondering about our tendency to believe what we’re taught is always the truth, that what we hear and what we see is the only true reality. From Orson Welles and “War of the Worlds” to “Forrest Gump” to “Wag The Dog” to this, there’s a path of potential manipulation that’s a little frightening, making one wonder who to believe, me or your lying eyes?

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Learning To Walk

Tomorrow, March 28, is the most trivial of all the trivial anniversaries that seem to bounce around my head. I may feel the urge to mention it. I may not.

What’s more interesting to me, a feeling you almost certainly don’t share, is that given all the dates, all the 4ths and 27ths and 11ths and 14ths that stick around, that pop up and make me remember where I was and what I was doing, some of the most life-changing or at least significant are lost.

There are people I’ve known for decades now, and I can remember our first meetings but not the date (I can usually manage the season and sometimes the month). There are good reasons for this but still; it sort of makes the whole “anniversary” concept a little weak. We celebrate our wedding anniversary every year, but there are at least a dozen far more significant days before that, first meetings and crucial conversations, and those are lost. Shame. Anything for a celebration, I say.

This isn’t about anniversaries, of course, it’s about significance. And it doesn’t matter that I don’t remember the exact date I looked up and saw the woman walk through the door, bright and bouncy and Texas diphthongs tickling my ears; it’s important that it happened, and that I remember what it felt like.

Or this: On September 24, 2007, I began taking a night class at the local community college, playing with some ideas about the future. Since I’d also been thinking a lot about the future of my expanding waistline around that time, and September 24 happened to be a Monday, I began both things on that day, some education and some adventures in weight loss. Both were interesting; the latter at least turned out well, although it’s not like I changed basic biology. I can either pay attention to what I eat or not, with pretty reliable results.

And starting some sort of exercise was in the plan, and a week later I got on my ancient treadmill and did a few minutes. And then a few more. An awful thing, the treadmill, which is why the metaphor lingers. There’s no charm in a treadmill, just efficiency, and eventually I went outside.

That’s what I don’t know. I can look it up, actually, thanks to relentless blogging, but the date doesn’t immediately come to mind. Sometime in October of that year I plugged in my iPod and headed west toward the Sound on a nice fall day, and as it turned out I kept going.

Yes, yes; tell us something we don’t know about you. Talk about relentless blogging.

I was pretty well indoctrinated, though, for a few years in a practical philosophy of dealing with specific demons, and one of the truths I learned from all those meetings in Sunday School rooms and halls with lots of coffee and life was that all I have is my story, and my story is significant in many ways for how I learned to walk.

Weight loss? Meh. It was fun while it lasted, and I’m better off thinner than fatter in a lot of ways, but what happened on the road didn’t stay on the road and it had nothing to do with pounds.

There are more efficient ways of burning calories; running, for one, but also a stationary bike is great. I have one, I use it from time to time to break a sweat, but I’ve never had a spiritual awakening on it and I’m not hopeful.

But being outside, walking in the fresh air and the rain and the wind and the smells and the neighbors, can cover a lot of sins.

I’ve been a little lost lately, something that happens and that doesn’t alarm me, but it’s important to note. My energy scatters and I feel like a cartoon character, waving his arms and not flying but falling. Not a big deal, just note to self, but I also know the solution. Lace up, layer up, ready set go.

This has been my spring so far, then. I walk up and down hills, I walk around my neighborhood, I try to avoid boring routes and I walk a lot, miles and miles. All I have is my story, and my story is about this lately. When nothing is working then my first step is actually a step. It doesn’t solve everything or sometimes anything, but it helps that I can think of worse things to do.

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Love And Other Drugs (Brief Movie Review)


Let’s get this out of the way. When “Love and Other Drugs” showed up last fall, the heavily promoted buzz was all about how HOT it was, and how NAKED the stars were, and how much SEX there was. Which is not a bad way to get people to see your movie, or maybe even read your book (note to self).

This was not actually the reason I rented it, although it was in the back of my mind, so time to settle up. Dismissing relative terms, this film has several scenes of a sexual nature. In these scenes, both actors (Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway) act without benefit of clothing.

Maybe it’s just me, growing up and seeing films in the 1970s, when every week in that post-MPAA world some movie was opening a new door and finding nekkid people behind it, but forgive me if I yawn. If you’re shocked or offended by a few shots of breasts and butts (well-toned), then no, don’t see it. Otherwise skip that particular buzzing, nothing to see here (specifically, nothing you haven’t seen before, and far less that you’ve seen in other, much better movies).

And there’s nothing sensual about the sexuality, which works since these are two people desperately seeking less from intimacy, not more, although for far different reasons. Hathaway plays a young woman suffering from early-onset Disease of the Week (Parkinson’s; when will we see psoriasis or lupus? Just wondering), independent and noble enough to wish no entanglements that could lead to a partner having to deal with the coming stages of this progressive disease.

Gyllenhaal is a charming, smart, ambitious but conventional career-suspect guy who mostly wants to have fun and make some money. We see his abilities early on as a stereo store salesman, so we know he’s going to do well in his new job as a drug company rep. Particularly since the drug company is Pfizer, and the year is 1996, and a little blue pill is looming.

The other buzz from this film was that it didn’t quite work, didn’t know what it wanted to be. “Flawed” was the word of choice, I think. So I was surprised about halfway through when I realized I was really enjoying it.

The buzz killers turned out to be right. At least the first three-fourths of this film worked for me, mostly due to the actors. Hathaway in particular, building (for me) on her “Rachael Getting Married” work and ignoring the Oscar show, which I didn’t see anyway.

And then it turned into “Love Story,” which never will end well, although this ending wasn’t nearly as sad. Also a flaw, probably.

What happened to me, though, was although I was aware of the script taking the interstate north when maybe it should have stuck on the surface roads, by then I cared. Cared enough to suck it up for the Big Speech (think “You complete me” and “Stop. You had me at hello.”) and not feel bad at all. They can’t all be perfect, this one wasn’t, but I enjoyed and I’d watch again with someone, giving them fair warning about the last part and the butts, of course.

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What Dreams May Come

I had a dream about high school last night, nothing new there. It’s not a common experience for me, but it’s well within the normal for dreaming, I would think.

It wasn’t about anxiety; I wasn’t in my pajamas, or naked, or late for class or unprepared or locked out, all of which I’ve probably dreamed before.

And it wasn’t a lucid dream, being aware that I was dreaming but still stuck in fantasy land. It was an ordinary dreaming experience.

But I knew I was Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, suddenly back in a 16-year-old body with an actual waistline and hairline and gum line but aware that I didn’t belong. And OK with that.

Actually, it might have been some sort of redemption dream, since I seemed to be focusing on being kind. I don’t remember being a particularly unkind teenager, but surely I was cruel and clueless at times about fragile people and egos, and defensive about my own fragility, so in this dream I decided to fix it, maybe.

But after what was probably only a few seconds of quick brain activity before waking up, I patted a few teenagers on the shoulder and even hugged a teacher I remember disliking. And I tried to explain that I was from the future, and that everything, generally, would turn out all right.

I’m thinking that this was a Facebook dream.

I’ve been participating in some sort of online life for more than 20 years, from bulletin boards to AOL chat rooms to early listservs to today. I tried to nurture new relationships and I looked pretty relentlessly for signs of former lives, for email addresses and anything popping up in early search engines.

I never went to a high school reunion but I was curious about them, asked questions of people who did go, and wondered a lot. And then boom, Facebook.

It felt like boom, too. Suddenly names would pop up and lives would unfold immediately, spouses and partners and children and histories. Suddenly reunions seemed stupid, superfluous; we are catching up in real time, baby, and sometimes with real babies.

I dip in and out of social media these days, sometimes intrigued by what’s happening, wondering about the personal curation aspect, where I say Hey! Look what I found and you do the same. And then I’ll get tired of too much diffused energy, or tired of sitting in front of a screen, or tired of links and outrage and reality TV reviews.

But I always come back to Facebook, somehow, several times a day, and I think it’s because I like to be reassured in a crazy world.

I rarely try to explain to younger people what the next bend in the road has to offer, but when I do it’s always this: You don’t get smarter, you don’t stop making mistakes, you might not even get wiser but you get used to stuff, used to throwing out calendars and getting new ones and noticing patterns and learning when to shut up and when to speak up, that sort of thing.

We will all eventually get assimilated into calendars, in other words, and the pages will flip regardless of our inattention, and while I wouldn’t use the word “joy” to describe a few seconds of skimming through status updates, I will say I get satisfaction and pleasure out of knowing that it generally turns out OK.

You will grow up, I said to my subconscious teenagers, and have families and relationships and jobs. You will survive. You will stay alive, most of you, and it will be OK, and here’s a hug for you, just because I know how it all will turn out, and because I want you to know, too, before I wake up.

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Freak Of Nature

I keep virtual Post-It notes on my PC desktop, which are handy but don’t seem to work any better than real ones, except they don’t stick to my socks.

They contain some pretty lame attempts at motivation and/or organization (I’ve yet to return those too-big shirts to Target, even though RETURN CLOTHES! has been sitting there for 2 weeks). There are also random notes, including some mileage, which confused my wife when she saw this and which I didn’t bother to explain.

I will explain now.

They’re just reminders of how far it is to two common errand-running locations for me, a grocery store and drugstore. Both are essentially around the corner, although there’s a short way and a longer way, the longer way involving a steeper hill. Since I’ve been using the Gmaps Pedometer site for a while now, and since it’s pretty common for me to walk to these places but easy to slack off and use a car, when I have a car, depending on the temperature and the precipitation, I thought it would be useful.

And it is. The short way to the drugstore is 0.6 miles roundtrip; it more than doubles to 1.5 miles for the longer version. Just a reminder for me that even little walks can add up.

I would like them to add up, too. Whether it’s lack of movement or added pounds or both, aches start to creep back in when I don’t exercise regularly, and who wants that?

When I get in this mood, when the love handles start to wear on me and the scale moves up and my pants are too tight, I go back to tracking ins and outs, just like I did in 2007 when I saw 272 on the scale and thought that was inappropriate.

And I’ve lost by now the basis for all my formulas on calorie expenditure based on my mass, since I adjusted this over a three-month period until I made all those numbers line up like good soldiers, and I’m conservative in these calculations, not wanting any surprises, but since it was sunny yesterday and I was energetic, I walked 5-1/2 miles. At my current weight, these comes out to around 550 calories burned, which is symmetrical as it turns out; 100 calories a mile.

I’ve also expended nearly 400 words here boring all of you mercilessly, so my point and I’ll go: 550 calories in nothing in the world of food we live in. I had a nice meal with my wife at a restaurant the other night (for future reference: St. Patrick’s Day is a good time to go to a Mexican restaurant; it was empty), a chimichanga, some rice and beans, and I’m betting that ran me 1000 calories.

All this was in proximity to an old article I read the other night, from the late 1970s, which mentioned that at that time, the average American watched 7-plus hours of television a day.

The assumption, then, that we’ve become lazy in the last three decades or so with all of our electronic devices and passive interests, thus accounting for our statistical fatness, annoys me. We’ve been lazy a lot longer.

Or, to put it another way: It’s the food, not the exercise, not really. We’re awash in a sea of easy energy, and while it might make you feel special to think that all the fat kids we see are due to negligent parents and hours of video games, I would beg to differ.

Begging probably burns some serious calories, too. See a lot of fat homeless people? I have to look that up.

(Chauncy Morlan (1869-1906), a freak show fat man with Barnum & Bailey, now appearing like people you see in WalMart every day)

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My Week (And Yours)

As First Ladies go, the mold was poured, set, made and broken by Eleanor Roosevelt. There have been 40-odd presidential spouses (I’m too lazy to look it up; Buchanan never married, Wilson had two, Cleveland is counted as President twice, etc.) and they’ve ranged from recalcitrant to partners, but whenever I read about Eleanor Roosevelt I think of a blur. “I am my husband’s legs,” she said at least once, but she could also be called his conscience, and she was a force in this country long after she left the White House.

Here’s the most amazing thing to me, though: During those nearly 30 years, from 1932 until her death, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a newspaper column almost every day. “My Day” it was called, which some of you might remember. Six days a week. She was a blogger, in other words.

Me, sometimes I get lost. A week ago today, I had for some reason gone to bed early, 9:30-ish, and woke up shortly after 5am, rested and ready. And then I turned on the computer and saw the earthquake news, nearly 8 hours old, and the next few hours were spent on the screen.

Finally I broke away midmorning and went for a walk in the cold and the rain. My method lately on these walks has been to head in one direction for a couple of miles, then turn around and head back, trying to prevent myself from cutting them short due to laziness or bad weather, etc.

So it was sort of at the apex of this that my phone beeped (I rarely hear it ring on these walks, but for some reason I almost always hear it beep to let me know I missed a call or got a text from John, asking me when I’ll be back). My neighbor had slipped on the golf course and fractured his ankle, so I tried to double time my way back home while John held the fort in good soldier style, trying to comfort.

This was my week, then, watching the news and trying to help out as much as I can, mostly running little errands and helping with some driving. He’s doing fine, too, with the pins in and hopefully healing starting (Larry! Keep that foot elevated!).

And then there’s been some stuff with John, a lot of paperwork and planning, and some cooking and other things. Storms have been sweeping in from the Pacific most of the week, including some interesting thunder and lightning (rare up here). The house is a mess as always. Walks have been infrequent. It’s been busy.

But I still managed to make a movie.

Long story, and certain duties call, but the short version for now: A couple of months ago I brought out a revised version of my first book (same title as this blog, in case you’re sleepy). I’d always wanted to do that, edit out some politics and local stuff and blog posts and recipes, etc., and try to get a manageable version, a record of those three interesting years in my life, documented on a weekly basis (I bow to you, Eleanor) in the newspaper.

And I did, but I also wanted a Kindle version (more on that later) and there were complications. Last week I finally got that straightened out.

The latest thing (besides e-books) in the publishing world is book trailers, little promotional videos that often feature the author describing his/her book in visual terms. Some are entertaining, some not so much. And I thought it might be fun to create one of those, just for kicks.

At the same time, a Facebook friend who is seriously into animation showed off a current project he was working on, using software I’d never heard of, so I decided to give animation a try. That way I don’t have to take a shower, etc.

As I said, more later; I’m off to the store now, walking carefully in the wet grass. I swear to stay upright, and eventually I’ll fill in some details, but in the meantime a little 5-minute glimpse, maybe, into what I do and why I do it. Or at least how I would, if I were a cartoon. And sometimes, y’know…I am.

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Morning Dialog

In John’s bedroom, trying to get him up for class:

ME: You have way too many empty Dr. Pepper bottles in here.
JOHN: I know.
ME: I think they’ve developed a rudimentary intelligence.
JOHN: Hive mind.
ME: One day you’re going to find a list of tenets nailed on your wall.
JOHN: I’ve created Lutherans.

Yeah, Simpsons reference. Still, I think we should take our act on the road.

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