Saturday, June 14, 2008

All the world's a stage and one man in his time plays many parts. Most of my parts involve resting now.

You have to work really really hard to irritate people who are doing yoga, but Sweetie and I and The Babies! did just that the other night. Without even trying, and, in my case, without even noticing.

Thursday night was one of my nights to work out this week. I try to work out every third day. That's way down from what I used to do. When I was healthy and young, I worked out every day. It was easier for me to work out every day then because I was healthy and young, and because I really had no other life to speak of. The days when I worked out every day, jogging 5 or 6 or even 16 miles at a crack, were also the days when I was not seeing anyone, when I wasn't working very much, and when the entire furnishings of my apartment consisted of a lamp, a mattress, a couch, a desk, and a tape player/radio. You can only read and/or listen to "Mad Radio 92.1" for so long before you have to go do something, and so I worked out a lot back then, jogging and biking and even rollerblading until I gave that up because rollerblading isn't as much fun once you've scraped off most of the right side of your body in a luxury subdivision.

I was never a great rollerblader, anyway, but I liked it because it gave the feeling of running while not actually being like running. Rollerblading might have been the first of many, many activities that people tried to trick themselves into thinking were actual exercise when they were not. Everything from the "Abdomenizer" to "Tae Bo" has been passed off as being as good as running, when it's not. But in the exercise department, "as good as" can only mean one thing: as much work as. So if you're doing an exercise that is less physically demanding than some other exercise, then it's not as good as that other exercise.

Nothing in the exercise department is as physically demanding as running. Here's what's as good as running, in the exercise department: running.
Although I ran a lot, I didn't like running all the time -- because it was hard-- so I would occasionally mix in rollerblading because it was "as good as" running. It was hard, even then, for me to understand that claim. Rollerblading was nowhere near the amount of work that running was. One of the general rules of life: nothing with wheels on it is as difficult as something without wheels. On the other hand, rollerblading was 17 million times as terrifying as running, again because of the wheels, so maybe those two were supposed to average out to being as hard as running, because the fright would

People always claimed that rollerblades could be stopped. People lied. Rollerblades were and are unstoppable. I generally dealt with the problem of not being able to stop rollerblades by rollerblading on flat surfaces: the campus of the college I attended, parking lots, the hardwood floors of my apartment, etc. On specific occasions, I dealt with the problem of not being able to stop rollerblades by falling down, not always on purpose.

The fall that led to my quitting rollerblading occurred just a few days before opening night of the play I was in that summer. That was the other thing I did, back then, to kill time: I exercised, and I acted. I got into acting for the same reasons I went to Morocco and became a lawyer: I didn't have much else to do.

"I didn't have much else to do" explains virtually every major accomplishment in my life, as I sit here and look at it. I suppose it's lucky for me that we didn't have cable TV or the Internet when I was a kid or I'd never have gotten out of my parents house (which would be a problem, given that they sold it about 20 years back. But I bet the new people are pretty nice and would have liked me.)

Not having much to do one summer, I decided that I would be an actor and began trying out for parts in local plays. That required me to memorize a Shakespearean monologue, which makes twice in my life that I've had to memorize a Shakespearean monologue. Let's check the stats:

Number of times I have been required by society to memorize a Shakespearean monologue: Two.

Number of times I've been required by society to know how to save someone who's choking or having a heart attack: Zero.

That says something about America. Or me. Or my role in America. I just know it. But I can't say what it says because the only answers I know are found in the various Shakespearean monologues I've memorized.

Here's another thing I've memorized: the book So Big, starring Elmo. So Big is Mr F's favorite book, because he likes to wave "bye bye" when Elmo does and he likes the [SPOILER ALERT!] fact that Elmo "pops up" and is SO BIG at the end of the book. We read So Big about three times a day; sometimes we read it twice in a row, even though you'd think that it wouldn't hold quite such a thrill once you know the ending. We've read it so often that we're on the second copy of the book; the first got torn apart, understandable what with all the excitement of Baby Elmo standing up and Baby Elmo drinking from a cup.

I can recite So Big by heart. That, too, says something. It says something about the general direction my life has headed since college that I used to memorize Shakespeare and now I can just as easily quote Elmo. ("Baby Elmo sings: la la la.)

Then again, I tend to think that Shakespearean monologues and So Big have roughly equivalent market value for lawyers, so I'm probably doing as well as I ever was. And the Babies! don't get as much of a kick out of my Shakespeare quotes. Maybe they would if Shakespeare popped up at the end. (How big is Shakespeare? SO BIG!)(That might make Shakespeare more palatable to almost everyone.)

I had successfully memorized my quote and turned that into a small part in the play Brother Truckers, which ran for four days at a theater nowhere near anybody, and a few days before opening, went out rollerblading because having landed a part I again had nothing really to do; I only had about four lines in the play -- don't look down on me for that. That one old lady got an Oscar for having, like one line and slapping Denzel Washington, didn't she? Didn't she? I'm going to remember it that way anyway, so there you go: I'm right, and there are no small parts, only small actors.
Except my part actually was a small part and didn't actually require me to even be at all the rehearsals, so I was rollerblading on a beautiful summer day and, feeling daring, had decided to get out on the road a little bit, just a local actor out enjoying the sun, and I started heading through a rich subdivision where no doubt some day I would live after getting my Oscar or whatever award it is they give to small theater productions, and I was cruising down the road and getting faster and faster because it was on a slope, until I reached the critical velocity where I no longer was enjoying the activity but was devoting most of my energy to figuring out how and when I would stop, when that decision was made for me by a patch of hot asphalt, which caught one rollerblade but not the other, sending me skidding along the road on my left side for a long time and scraping off roughly 100% of my skin.

I don't mean "roughly" as in "approximately." I mean it was scraped off roughly.

If you saw that play I was in -- if you were one of the 20 people-- then I apologize if "The Prosecutor" moved a bit stiffly and did all his accusatorial pointing with his right arm. It was not my first interpretation of that character.

Nowadays, I'm even less likely to want to go through that kind of workout. I know all about "no pain no gain," but I can't think of what it is I gained through that fall, and I know I lost a lot, mostly in the skin department. Plus, with my more hectic life now, I don't have all the time and energy and youthfulness and extra skin I need to keep working out like I used to. So now, I try to work out about every third day or so, which makes it easier to fit in my workouts around my busy schedule of not actually ever doing any work in my office and then complaining about how nothing ever gets done.

Another thing that I've found makes it easier to fit in my workout is changing my workout. I haven't changed my basic attitudes towards exercise: running is still the best exercise and I still sneer at people who try to say that something is as good as running. I'll never change that. Once I form an opinion, it's set. I think that most people waste a lot of time and energy changing their opinions all because someone presented a bunch of "facts" and "logical reasons" why they should change their opinions. If my opinion was right once, why wouldn't it be right forever? You don't see other things that are right being changed, do you? Nobody goes around saying that the law of gravity really ought to be re-examined given what we now know about this or that. (Although if they would re-examine the law of gravity, it might help me get back to rollerblading.) So my opinions about running, like my opinions about what constitutes good music and what foods are edible, have stayed constant for decades. (The opinions are, in order: "it's the best exercise," "the song 'Sit Down' by James," and "Doritos.")

What has changed is my opinion about cross-training. Cross-training is where it's at. Nowadays, it's all about cross-training. To stay in shape, I can't just go running all the time, I've decided; I need to mix in some other activities, activities that may not be as good as running but which are valuable because they "work my body in different ways" and "exercise different muscle groups" and do all that other stuff that the doctor says when I've stopped listening because I'm still fixated on the part where he said I need to lose 40 pounds and I'm wondering if I should point out to him that I had my car keys in my pocket when I was weighed and that probably skewed things a bit.

So I've begun cross-training, taking some days off from running, and I've got to tell you, I love it. I love it mainly because of the different activities I can now count as "exercise" and consider myself a healthy person for doing. Here are the activities I mix in as part of my extremely strict cross-training regimen:

Playing basketball one-on-one against The Boy.

Playing "Police Bees."
Doing some sit-ups while I watch "The Daily Show."
and, most recently,
Taking The Babies! to the health club to play with them for a while because it was raining and I wanted to get out of the house and thought that the club would be pretty empty only it wasn't so we ended up just walking around the track but the boys got antsy and loud so the lady who was teaching a yoga class at that exact time on the area the track went around got on her little yoga-headset and said over the PA that the 'people on the track have to be quiet because we have 10 minutes left' so we gave up and got in the car and went for a drive instead.
That was my workout Thursday night, an integral part of my cross-training regimen. I have to say, I felt great at the end of it. I felt great because it was really a very low-impact workout and also because I hadn't actually heard Yoga Lady yell at us over the PA because to try to quiet down Mr F, I'd taken to swinging him around as I walked to make him laugh, and he was laughing, so I missed the announcement about just how much we were disturbing Yoga Lady; Sweetie had to tell me.
It should be obvious, too, that walking around a track while swinging a 35-pound toddler around is actually a very good workout. You can find out for yourself by buying my new exercise video: Walking Around a Track While Swinging A 35-pound Toddler Around... To The Oldies!.
If you order your copy today, I'll throw in a bonus DVD of me reading So Big! Opening and closing that pop-up at the end is almost as good as running.

Don't tell me you never heard this song! Everything you need to know about my exercise regime is encapsulated in the chorus:

Coolness continuum:

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Maybe I could enlist in the Police Bees and help restore order.

Here's what I did so far today: I invented a new kind of cereal. I call it "Breakfast Cereal." It will have little cereal bits shaped like pancakes (and slightly maple flavored) and muffins, and will also have marshmallows shaped like bacon and eggs.

I have no idea how to take it from the "I'm driving to work but have a brilliant idea which I will text to myself using my cellphone while I drive so that when I get to work I have an email that says bkfstcrl waiting for me" to the "Here's the finished product that people can buy for too much money at the store and then have their Babies! spill all over the floor so that the vacuum cleaner they bought for $39.99 at Wal-Mart will jam up, as though it didn't jam up a lot already because it's frequently used to vacuum up macaroni and Ramen noodles and pretty much everything else that's on the floor after dinner, including, possibly, one of The Boy's school textbooks" stage, but that's not really my problem, right? It's a problem for engineers, or factory workers, or someone who has skills that are more of the functional/useful variety than mine.

Although not useful, I am very proud of the skills I do have, which at this point include not just lawyering and inventing breakfast cereals but also making up new games to play with the Babies! -- the latest is "Police Bees," which I had to invent because "Cloverfield" is taking a toll on me. Cloverfield is a hard game to play. These Babies! are up over 30 pounds now, and so to play "Cloverfield" I not only have to walk around swinging my arms, but I have to pick them up and drop them on the couch, sometimes doing that for as much as a half-hour, and sometimes they don't really try to get away, sometimes they just sit on the couch, because the best part of the game is the dropping, not the running, and I have to pick them up right away again, so my arms don't even get a break. Plus, I have to roar and keep yelling "CLOVERFIELD!!!!" and that gets hard on my throat.

So I invented a second game, for when my biceps just can't lift them anymore, and that second game is "Police Bees," which is more or less what you think it is, assuming that you think it's me chasing Mr F and Mr Bunches around our house while making siren noises and, when I catch them, tickling their ears while buzzing -- because that's what Police Bees do, they chase the criminals and then sting/tickle their ears when they've got the bad guys.

That's pretty much my contribution to society these days. I've been worried about my contribution to society ever since I gave The Boy's friend a ride to school last Friday. I had to give The Boy's friend a ride to school because it was the first of final exam days, and at The Boy's school, they don't have to be at school all day for finals; they only have to show up for the start of their test and they're free to leave after their tests are done.

Ordinarily, The Boy and Middle and the friend go to school together at 7:30 in the morning. But on that morning, The Boy wasn't going in until 9 and Middle wasn't going in until later. Neither had bothered telling the friend this, so he showed up at our house at 7:30 expecting a ride to school and only then learned that he was on his own.

I don't know why The Boy didn't tell him; I don't know what it is that makes The Boy so busy that he can't tell his friend -- who lives next door -- that he's not going into school until later so the friend would be able to arrange his own ride. It might be that The Boy's projects keep him busy, projects like the olive-ectomy he performed on a slice of pizza the other night. We were having leftovers for dinner, and The Boy wanted leftover pizza. So while I sat down and ate and Sweetie sat down and ate, and the Babies! sat down and ate, The Boy was off at his own end of the table doing something with his slices of pizza... for 45 minutes. When we were all done (I thought) I got up, and began cleaning up Mr F and Mr Bunches and said to The Boy "Okay, start clearing up," and he protested, saying:

"What? I haven't even eaten yet!" I asked him what he'd been doing for 45 minutes, and he explained that he'd removed, apparently surgically, every olive and mushroom and green pepper from the leftover pizza, digging into the cheese to get them out while leaving as much cheese and sausage as possible.

Because The Boy is always too busy doing food surgery, I ended up driving his friend to school, and asked him what exams he had that day. The friend's only exams were in shop-related classes, and he described how he'd machined a bolt and built other kinds of stuff and wired things, and kept on until we got to the school and I dropped him off and drove away wondering what good I might be to society.

As a longtime fan of science fiction, I've long known that it's only a matter of time until civilization as we know it collapses. It might be a nuclear war, like in The Day After or Alas, Babylon. It might be giant elephant-like aliens who we have to attack with a nuclear-powered spaceship piloted by bikers with bad backs. It might just be that American Idol gets cancelled. Whatever it is that causes the collapse of civilization, it's certain to collapse.

After it collapses, then, it's also certain to need rebuilding, and that's where I get nervous. I have exactly zero useful skills. Do you think all those people gathering in Colorado to battle Walking Dude and his forces of evil in The Stand would need a blogger? When they relocate the capitol of the US to Albuquerque, New Mexico, because the Russians have invaded and C. Thomas Howell isn't around to fight them off, will a consumer lawyer be very much in demand?

I'd like to think so, but I'm skeptical that the dregs of humanity will be beating a path to my door saying things like only your encyclopedic knowledge of e e cummings' poems can help us now!

It's not like I'm completely useless. This past Sunday, for example, when crisis threatened, I was able to capably lose a tool while getting soaked. We were coming home from church around 10 a.m., and I was contemplating how we'd have to spend the next few hours continuing the shed demolition, when God intervened and rewarded me-- I thought -- by making it start to rain. Hooray! I could spend the rest of the day watching TV and playing "Police Bees."

Only it didn't work out that way, because the back stairwell started to flood again. Having just replaced the carpet, I wasn't about to let it get wrecked. We might have bought bottom-of-the-barrel, 55-cent per square foot carpet, but I like it and I'm going to defend it with my life.

My life, or the tools to unclog a drain. At least, the tools I have to unclog a drain. The tools I used to try to unclog the drain were: my Starbury running shoes (not the basketball shoes; those were muddy from the shed day), a long pole that was duct-taped to another long pole and used to be in my closet for some reason, a spade, a long metal pole with a hole in one end, a branch trimmer, a bucket, a laundry tub, and two hammers.

With those highly-useful tools, I went out in the pouring rain -- there was also lightning-- and stood ankle deep in the mud and began to try to figure out how to unclog the drain. I first tried reaching down into the drain itself, which required that I kneel in the mud water.

You have to know this about me: I saw Jaws when I was really little and ever since then, I don't trust any body of water larger than my hand. I don't even like bottled water.

I mention that because when I reached my hand into the water to reach down into the drain pipe, my very first thought was I hope something doesn't bite me. I don't know what I expected to be living in the drainpipe under water. An aquatic raccoon-shark, maybe. I just expected something to bite me.

When getting my arm dirty and wet proved to be useless, I began phase two of Operation Save The Carpet, which involved sticking various poles and saws into the hole and trying to dislodge the dirt and muck I assumed were in there clogging it. That's why I needed two hammers. I would put one of the poles or the shovel in there, and then ram it around with my hands, and then pound on the end of it with a hammer. (Don't try that at home. Or, do try it. After all, I did it safely, so you should be able to, as well.)

That completely failed to work, too, and resulted in my losing a hammer when the first one slipped out of my hands and dropped right down into the drain. So far from unclogging the drain, I was adding to it. And still the rain kept coming.

Phase three of Operation Save The Carpet had me pouring all of our Liquid Plumber into the drain, in case Liquid Plumber is capable of dissolving rock and dirt and hammers. (It's not.)

Phase four involved me realizing that I was now standing just over ankle deep -- the water was a risin' -- in muddy water in the lightning, only now the muddy water also contained Liquid Plumber that was probably going to start eating away my shoes.

Phase five was bailing out the stairwell with the bucket. I did that three times that day, going outside and getting soaked and throwing buckets of water into the yard until the water level went down to where it was no longer threatening to flood the new carpet. One of the times bailing the water out was around midnight that night. So whatever I'd thought earlier that morning, it was clear that God was not giving me a day off, and I'm definitely going to pay a lot closer attention in Church this week.

It worked: there was no flooding, and we got a drain guy out the next day. I had to call three drain guys to get one to come out there; the other two actively talked me out of hiring them. I'm guessing they had so many calls the day before that they'd retired from being drain guys and were going to move to Hawaii on their drain guy profits.

Drain guy number three came out, looked at the drain, and said it wasn't clogged, it was just a small "French drain," designed to take runoff and leach it into the ground, and that it was overloggged with water from all the rain. In short, there was nothing he could do for us-- except charge us $60 for coming out, and recommend getting a pump.

So if society's collapse was one involving either (a) a lot of flooding, or (b) a need for new breakfast cereals, or (c) someone to guide the Police Bees to their quarry, I'm your guy.

Anything else, you'll probably want to get The Boy's friend. Or The Boy -- odds are, pizza surgeons will be in high demand in the new world order.

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Snack Food: