Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Today's workout: Feling leaner.

Monday was fencing: yesterday was lactic chest and shoulders:

Today - intervals and plyometrics.

Clean and Jerk: 115# set of 6, then 5, 4, ... 1. Rested between sets, one minute to start and decreasing to 10 seconds by the end.

"L" hangs: I don't know what else to call these. I hang from a bar and stick my legs straight out and try to hold it as long as I can... which is 30 seconds, then 3 more sets at 15 sec each and 15 sec rest in between. Followed immediately by...

Manly Plank: per Theory to Practice by way of Jeff. Managed 45 sec.

Dumbell Cleans: 4 each side at 60#... then a try each side at 70#. I made it on the right! Finished with more @ 60# but not many.

Heavy Bag: Simulated fight: 3x 3 minute rounds with one minute rest.

I weighed under 147 1/2 before the workout - so I'm looking forward to a good number in final caliper check of 2008.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Put a Lampshade On It!

You might think that writing a work of historical fiction is all about getting the facts right and telling an interesting story around them. I think that's mostly true. But what about when the facts aren't as interesting as you'd like, or the facts are in dispute?

If Miles Davis had been a writer, he might have said, "It's the facts you don't write."

Case in point for me is the problem, first raised by Reader Ray, that the body of Mark might not have been in the place where I have my protagonists find it.

The History of the Coptic church puts the body in the rival Melkite church at that time. Norwich's History of Venice, drawing from European sources, puts it in the Coptic church. Most other authorities are ambiguous, saying only that it came from Alexandria.

My problem is that I want Mark to come from the Coptic church which he founded, and I don't want to confuse the reader by including the Melkites. But I don't want to be wrong either. So what's an author to do?

One tactic is called, "putting a lampshade on it.". That is, to point out within the narrative that I know about the problem. It's a footnote without footnoting.

You can see lampshading in many popular works. An good example would be Jack Bauer making a comment about how he seems to have one really bad day a year. The writers are saying, in effect, "we know this is implausible. Give us a break, and enjoy."

So, Mark stays with the Copts, and I include this exchange:

"I'll go to the church," Buono said, "and speak to the priests myself."

"My dear Buono, I urge you, do not. The situation is too delicate," Claudius warned.

"You just don't want me going without you."

"Yes, because you stand to ruin everything I've worked for! Look, Buono, the body may not even be there. Some say it lies in the Melkite church, all but the head!"

Buono frowned. "Now, you're just trying to complicate matters," he said.

And that's what makes it fiction- and hopefully a good read.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Train to Fight - But Don't Fight, Kids... OK?

It's the dirty secret of Evolutionary Fitness: our ancestors were lean because they were killing machines.

When we talk about the functional roots of EF, we usually speak in terms of man versus nature. Food is scarce, mammoths are... mammoth, etc. But seriously, when was the last time nature gave humans our primary survival challenge? Even Neandertal had tools and weapons. The fishook and the deadfall trap don't require a barrel chest and hulking shoulders. Neither does running a herd of wildebeasts into a box canyon.

But KEEPING your food when Ogg wants to take it- THAT is a survival challenge.

Does it make sense? Modern subsistence hunters are lean, but not powerfully built compared to what we know the human body is capable of. The reason is, they don't kill each other so much anymore.

Now, what does this mean for your workout? It means do what a lot of us do already: train like a fighter. Look at the body of a man who fights for a living sometime!

Hand to Hand:
Absolutely requires total body strength, and powerful arms. Ogg is sitting on your chest? Ogg is behind you, choking? Now you know why your EF-optimized muscles can bench-press or jump-squat your bodyweight.

Striking means explosive power, of course, and anyone who knows how to punch knows that the motion involves the whole body.

AND you need strong, tight abs: for both offense and defense.

Workouts: full-body strength or explosive motion (Olympic lifts, all presses, deadlifts, squats, kettlebell lifts and turns, heavy bag)

Weapons, Melee:
The club is the classic example, but don't forget the spear and the long stick. The quicker you move and the heavier the weapon is, the more damage you'll do.

And don't forget the legs! The tactical advantage in a fight with weapons belongs to the fighter who controls the distance. Fencers lunge, spearmen jump-thrust, etc.

Workouts: kettlebells! and of course actually working with weapons, but that's more for the dojo and the salle d'armes than the gym. For explosive leg movement, snatches, cleans, etc.

Weapons, Ranged:
Well, throwing rocks comes to mind doesn't it? I know a lot less about this than I do the hand-to-hand arts, but one notices that Field events like shotput, javelin and discus are all weapons styles. I'd look at what those guys do to train.

Workouts: shooting baskets, throwing baseballs, medicine ball drills, kettlebell toss if you have the outdoors to work with.

I'm hoping for some good discussion on this one - and to incorporate more of the melee weapons stuff into my workouts.

Jeff, wanna wrestle sometime? ;^)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Recovery or confusion?

I was leaving the locker room yesterday as Jeff was coming in. We had a brief discussion about workout style: Jeff was wondering whether he should continue doing full body workouts or do the alternate day thing (legs/shoulders one day, chest/back another, for example)

The thing is, the reason to do an alternate day style workout is that you overstress the muscles and they need time to recover. In my experience, this is the only way to build strength beyond a certain point: that sort of training is what got my bench from a 160# plateau to 185# in a couple of months.

Jeff's point was that going into a fatigue condition one day, though, would prevent him from doing a power workout the next day: for example if he did squats and deadlifts to failure he might get to do sprints for a while. I wondered if having that sort of strategy would just create good muscle confusion.

I tend to alternate between targeting strength and targeting power, myself: do a heavy lift to fatigue one day, and the next do all plyometrics. For example:

Yesterday's workout :

Bench Press: pyramid to 185# followed by alactics at 165#
Dumbell Snatch: one-hand snatch, ramping to 4x65# (new best)
Incline Negative Situps: 30# kettlebells each hand, 2x5 slow.
Kettlebell swings to vertical: decending sets from 8 reps, 30#.
Lat Pulls alternating with Incline Dumbells: 175# and 55# respectively, 3 sets to failure

Today's workout (planned):

Burpees: maybe will go for 20! ... will see how long that takes.
Box jumps: single leg and double leg with 30# barbell on my back. 2 minutes on, one off, 3 sets.
Heavy bag: 3 rounds, 3 minutes on / 1 minute off
In between all this: track sprints, one lap slow and one lap fast

We'll see how I do... my whole body is a good sore from yesterday's big weights. Everything I have planned for today is about speed and power, not strength.

UPDATE: the workout ended up being,
1 lap sprint warmup
20! burpees with at most 45 seconds rest between sets (210 burpees total)
3x 3 minutes heavy bag with 1 minute rest between. Did not have speed for triple jabs coming off the burpees. Good right cross today.
30# weighted box jumps: 30 seconds on / 20 off / 20 on /10 off/10 on / 5 off / 5 on
(two minutes? What was I thinking!)
3x 1 lap sprints

Actually I feel pretty good. Enjoying a bowl of seafood gumbo from the cafeteria, with lots of tabasco.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Meatheads in the Mud

It's been a while since I had a good post on the neighbors. Emjay and I planted a line of trees between our house and theirs over the summer and the problems seemed to disappear. Last week before Thanksgiving we could hear a car running hard next door around dinnertime. Someone was trying to park a VW on the backyard lawn. We could tell from the sound that in the rain the lawn had become the consistency of pumpkin bisque, and only a complete moron would continue spinning the wheels.

The engine revved for another hour as we finished dinner and put the kids to bed.

I decided the right thing to do would be to go over and offer help. Maybe I could show them how to properly "rock" a car out of a hole. I might even offer to help push.

But I got there and saw that it was hopeless. The left front wheel was a quarter in, the right sunk to the centerline.

"You have to stop," I said, "You're just digging further in."

"Yeah, I know," Ted said, "My brother's coming after he finishes working out. He has a truck."

I spent a moment to imagine what sort of workout the brother was finishing. Probably a few sets of bench presses at low weight, and then about a dozen sets of bicep curls. Steryotyping? maybe. Then the mook got back in the car with his cocked ballcap, cellphone to his ear in one hand, and spun his wheels some more.

We saw the aftermath the next morning. Their backyard looks like Ypres the morning after, minus the mustard-gas. Remnants of a broken garden hose, apparently used as a tow cable. A line of cars, for once actually parked in the driveway.

At least, that's what I think I saw. It's hard to tell with a line of trees in the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maybe I'm storing it for winter?

I got the skinfold caliper check yesterday... and for the first time since I've been measuring, I've gone in the wrong direction. Up to 8.8%, from 8.2.

The total measurement was up 2mm from last month. I suspected something was wrong, as my weight had climbed a couple of pounds and my belt wasn't getting any looser. Analysis shows that lean muscle mass did not change. The extra two pounds are fat. Specifically, it's abdominal fat. I dropped half a mm on the chest but added 2.5mm to the belly. Great news, a few days before Thanksgiving!

So, what am I doing wrong? I think it's portion size. I had myself convinced that my total intake of calories was going to muscle, since I eat (mostly) EF. So for a couple months I've been finishing any meat and vegetables the kids leave on the table. Also I tend to eat 2-3 full meals a day. Again, these are all fat and protein- but it may be that I've put on all the muscle I'm going to put on, and the extra calories have to go somewhere.

Now, what to do about it? I'm going to target a weight of 148 lb. I'll go back to leaving some food on the plate... quitting BEFORE I feel full. And of course I'll continue to stay away from processed carbs and sugars.

But Thursday? Some things take precedence. I am going to fast until dinner, and then I'm having stuffing and gravy. Stuffing and gravy, baby.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Modern Shaving for the Paleolithic Man

He has a totally ripped Superhero body... but after he works out, the man massacres his face with a disposable Bic and still ends up looking like Sonny Crockett... and not in a good way. And so, as promised, here is Richard's Step By Step Guide to Manly Shaving.

0. Find a mirror and a sink.

If you have been following the Evolutionary Fitness way, now would be a good time to reflect on your achievements. Go ahead, take a look. Flex a little. You've earned it.

1. Prepare the lather.

Here's where you will need some new equipment. I have a fancy shaving mug with a handle that Emjay got me last Christmas. Up until then, I used a metal 35mm film developing tank. The brush should be badger hair - don't get boar if you can help it. Badger hair holds and sheds water just right. You might spend $50-$80, but you will have the brush a long time.

My soap comes in a tube from Crabtree & Evelyn. There are a lot of choices. You can also get the soap in cakes, but I have trouble getting a consistent lather from a cake.

With soap in a tube, i just put a dollop in the mug like so. Meanwhile, the brush is heating up in the sink.

2. Prepare the face

Wash your face with hot water. You need to open up the pores so that your hairs stand up well and can be cut close to the skin. You may also want to put a hot towel on your face, like they do in the barbershop.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh..... now, mix up the lather. Shake the excess water off your brush. Experience will show you how much is "excess". Your lather should not quite be the consistency of the cheap stuff that comes out of a can. That crap is only for squirting at cars on Halloween. You are "wet shaving" - using the heat and the fluid to soften your beard and get a closer shave.

Now lather up, cowboy.

3. The Razor

I prefer a clamshell-style safety razor with platinum-coated double edge blades.

I got the razor, a vintage Gilette adjustable, for a few bucks on Ebay. You can spend a lot more and get a new one, of course. The blades are Merkur, good German steel. I buy them by the case from a variety of online dealers. I find I can get 3-4 good shaves out of each of the two edges.

4. Shave

You should know how to do this already... but with a double edge there is a bit of an art to it and you can cut yourself pretty badly if you are not careful.

Your face has a grain - the direction in which the hairs want to lie. Too many guys using electric razors or fancy 7-bladed vibrating monstrosities don't know which way theirs goes. Usually it's down on the cheeks and up on the neck. I have some spots where the grain goes across, from cheek to chin. You can find yours pretty easily with your fingers before shaving, or by testing with the razor which direction seems to be easiest.

Shave with the grain first. The angle of attack varies by user from 30 to 45 degrees. The steeper the angle, the closer - but possibly the rougher - the shave. As in many things, you must find your own path. Note the direction: for me, down above the chin and up below.

After a first pass with the grain, I like to take a second pass AGAINST it for my chin and cheeks. Doing this will give you a very close shave. Be sure to lather up again. It's important to keep the skin warm and wet, or you will get serious razor burn doing this.

5. The Post-Shave

Rinse off all your equipment and splash your face with cold water. Ahhhh. This re-seals the pores.

To complete the shave, you might want one or more products to take care of your skin and make your face smell nice. If there is a particular person from whom you want regular affection, involve that person in the selection process.

My products: "Every Man Jack" lotion from Target followed by a few spriztes of cologne, again from Crabtree and Evelyn. Note that the brush is hung up to dry: this is important for protecting your investment in badger hair.

That's it! You're ready to start the day. It might not be paleolithic, but this way you can save the stone knife for skinning squirrels.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh no he di'nt

Following my workout today (dumbell snatches, 4 rounds heavy bag with O2 debt, incline negative medicine ball situps) I was walking out with a colleague, and we spotted this magazine cover:

Me: "Ha! That's pretty funny"
Him: "Yeah, look at that, he's all pimped out."
Me: "Waitaminute. You know who the original picture is of, right?"
Him: "Yeah, well..."
Me: "So FDR wears this and he's just FDR. A black man wears the same thing, and you think he's a pimp?"
Him: "..."
Me: "Dude, you need to go get yourself some training."
This is the same guy who I caught expaining to someone exactly why it is that black men can't swim. Means well, nice guy, but somewhere along the line he missed getting a few memos.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Too much for the Hilton

Went to the hotel gym at 6am. I t was clean, new, and too light for me. The biggest dumbells were 50 lb, so I warmed up with those on the flat bench and then tried to get something burning on a pulley machine. It only went up to 150, so I maxed that on lat pulldowns with no trouble. Then, inspired by Jeff, I went asymmetric.

Yes, I licked the Hilton gym with one hand!

I used the pulley machine to continue the chest presses: doing a twist and push one-handed up to 90lb each side. Also used it for pulldowns, etc, going one handed on most exercises. Ended up building a pretty good burn and getting some work on the obliques with all the twisting under load. Finished the set with one-armed pushups and felt pretty well exercised after all.

Then, to work- and I decided to work out again in the real gym over lunch! 15/8/4 squats ending up at 225#, weighted pullups ending up at+15, skullcrushers, jump squats, and finished it all off with snatches. I got 115# up on my last lift- might be a new best, I'll have to check.

I should be pretty well ready to sleep on the flight home!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Medieval Prices - yes, it's as confusing as you'd think.

In my opening chapter I have my two merchants arriving at Venice with a cargo of oil and pepper - pretty valuable commodities at the time - but they have covered this cargo with a bit of grain and are telling the customs official that it's "grain... all the way down." As part of the fact checks, I had to work out whether all this is plausible, and whether the actual values of the goods involved justify such deceit.

A ship of this kind (52 tons displacement, 15m long) was found off Bozburun, Turkey. Dr. Matthew Harpster reconstructed the wreck, and he estimated that there were about 1100 amphorae in the cargo hold. Each could hold a couple of gallons of liquid. My estimate is that the same ship could hold about 4000 bushels of grain.

Based on this handy reference site, I calculated some prices. I had to make some assumptions to convert everything: for example, that in this time period a gram of gold is worth 10 grams of silver. (It's more like 50:1 today, I think) Also a byzantine solidus weighs 4.5 grams. And so:

A cask of pepper weighing 20 pounds is worth about 32 solidi: they are smuggling "a few dozen" casks. Estimated worth: over 1000 solidi.

Could not find a reference for oil - but wine was worth 4-8 pennies per gallon. I estimated 2 shillings for the capacity of one amphora... 1000 amphorae * 2 shillings * 18g/shilling * 1g Au/10g Ag --> about 800 solidi.

Claimed cargo: 4000 bushels of grain... @ 50 lb/bushel ... a different source gives a value of 10g silver per 100kg wheat... yada yada ... about 200 solidi.

So, it all checks out: they pay 10% duty on 200 solidi but are bringing in 1800 solidi worth of goods... saving 160 solidi (less whatever bribe they made) 100 solidi at that time would have been a nice yearly income for a minor noble.

So there you have it Dear Reader, I am thinking about all this stuff... it's not all blood and pirates and sex and riots in the street!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Gym

One of the nice things about my company is that when I travel, I get to use the local gym! Today's workout was a bit ad hoc- the gym here in South Carolina is well stocked, but not the same as home.

Clean & Jerk - ramped up to 145#, alternating with straight-up mil presses, up to 85#. Had some joy watching a very big dude do 125#-155# shoulder presses in a Smith machine while I was tossing weights about the same size over my head, and actually involving some stabilizer muscles.

Punching Things - instead of the suspended heavy bag of home, a weighted floor model... but my kickass jiu-jitsu gloves are a thousand miles away. So... I WRAPPED MY HANDS IN GYM TOWELS!!! and beat the crap out of that bag. I think I might have scared off a yoga class. Two minute rounds: could not manage three minutes, because the floor model doesn't swing away to give me a breather. Felt like a pankrator or something with my ad hoc wrappings.

Lethal Negative Incline Situps - No kettlebells here, so did it with 20lb dumbells. Finally recovered from doing those last Thursday. I should be sore in 2 days based on prior experience.

One-Hand Assisted Chinups - Something I see the big boys in the home gym do from tome to time. Good asymmetry. Alternated with shoulder presses up to 45#.

Dinner after was at Outback Steakhouse: nice med-rare steak with grilled scallops, double order of steamed veg and a nice shiraz. Read more Goitein.

Document Life Cycle Management is Older Than You'd Think

My nautical archaeologist contact clued me into an amazing resource. The Jewish and Arabic scholar Shlomo Goiteim made his life's work the translation and understanding of a trove of medieval documents from something called the Cairo Geniza.

Jews believe, as many do, that the name of God is sacred. This extends to the written name: so any paper that might contain God's name is considered special. As a practical matter, any writing in Hebrew may contain the Name. At the very least, the characters YHWH would all appear in any writing of length. So even if out of order and separated, the Name is in there.

What to do, then, with personal letters, bills of sale, property records, lading bills, legal arguments, etc, etc? A special room in the medieval synogogue called the geniza was set aside as a repository. Eventually the documents would be interred to await the Resurrection. In Cairo, the geniza was a room with no doors or windows, with only a slot near the ceiling accessible by ladder. It was opened in the late 19th century and has been studied ever since.

This is one of those, to my Goyish way of thinking, quaint and wonderful bits of Jewish scholarly thought. One bit of logic leads to another, and then naturally one needs to construct a geniza!

It gives us a unique window on daily life in medieval times which is not available from any other subculture. The Muslims and Christians of course wrote things down, but their more casual writings are ephemera. For the Jews of Cairo in 1100 AD, everything went into the Geniza.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some welcome help on fact checks

I've made contact with a nautical archaeologist based in Turkey who has done an extensive reconstruction of a ninth century sailing vessel on which my Venetians' ship is based. I have a whole list of questions on sailing and cargo characteristics for him: so I'm very excited to have gotten a reply and also some references for commerce at that time. You'll notice from the fact check list that a lot of the details are in specific prices and relative values. Also the technical information on sailing characteristics will be very helpful in the action scenes.

Sure, sure, the casual reader doesn't know a tack from a clew and doesn't care. But I find that the best part about reading good historical fiction is immersion in the culture and technology, even if it's not understood as long as it's self-consistent.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facts I'm checking

A selection from the fact check sheets: just to give you an idea of the scope of the next phase of book writing. Aren't these fun taken out of context?

  • A 9th century vessel displacing 52 tons can carry about 200 amphorae of oil, or 4000 bushels of grain.
  • In Venice in 827, you could sell a few dozen casks of black pepper for 600 gold solidi. (2.6kg gold)
  • But even a whole ship full of saffron would not be worth 10,000 solidi.
  • Women dancers in venice in 827 were considered disreputable.
  • In 827, the Pope wore red slippers.
  • Sharks exist in the Mediterranean.
  • Depths in the Giudecca Canal can range from 3 1/2 to 4 fathoms.
  • 9th century fishermen in the Adriatic used hook-and-line to catch big fish
  • 6 solidi is a high, but reasonable, price for treating a dislocated shoulder
  • Goat droppings come in piles.
  • Belaying pins were commonly used in the 9th century.
  • An old man with an arrow in his lung would last at least a minute before suffocating.
  • A brothel in Constantinople might have a floor made of reed mats.
  • The road Makoros Embolos in Constantinople was made of crushed stone.
  • "Al-Sinnif" is the Arabic equivalent of the nickname, "Lefty".
  • The Coptic pope in December, 827 was named Yakub.
  • The Pharos lighthouse was on the left side as one exited Alexandria harbor.
  • Catapult stones fired over water can skip if launched at a flat enough angle.
  • It is possible to float an iron pin in sea water by coating it in oil.
  • A Dromon carried about 150 oarsmen.
  • Greens and squash are available in Bari, Italy in January.
  • There are carvings of Abraham and Mary on St. Mark's Basilica

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The importance of failure

Went to the gym to work chest today. Usually I do a 30 seconds of shoulder loosening, warm up with a quick light set, and then hit my max. Last 3 weeks in a row, that max was 185 pounds. Today, I couldn't do it. Failed on each of two reps.


Failure tells the body something. It says, "you needed to do something- and you weren't strong enough."

I have to believe there is a further conclusion embedded in the evolutionary wiring.

"You weren't strong enough, and you were damn lucky to survive."


"Next time you might not get lucky. So get stronger."

And that makes building muscle a survival signal, the highest priority signal for any organism.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Food is scarce. Muscle is expensive. Why should the body build muscle it doesn't need? And what tells it what it needs?

A near miss- coming up short-


I went on to do descending alactic reps until I was exhausted. Then I alternated triceps skullcrushers and lat pulldowns, then weighted dips with "pec deck". All heavy, every set to failure.

I hope I taught my muscles a lesson. Next time, they might not get off so easy.

Redlines done!

It was a sprint to the end: in all I burned through three red pens and covered 396 pages with scribbles. Also I compiled a detailed list of facts to check, and made notes to track how each character and plot idea develop in the course of the book. Next step is to churn through all that, make any factual or structural corrections necessary, and then it's time to write the draft for submission to publishers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A few lines of Coptic

I'm editing a fun section - the actual taking of the body from St. Mark's Church. The event in my book is surrounded by the chaos of a multi-faction street riot. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to write a baroque fugue, with all the different lines coming together. Hopefully the writing is tight and clear enough to make it all hang together.

I have a couple of lines of Coptic that I want to put in the text, if any speakers of that language happen to be looking at the blog. They are,

"Mark, save us!"


"Save Saint Mark!"

The astute reader will figure something out about how I've written the event based on these two lines...

I realize of course that the real Coptic uses a different character set: I will be transliterating to the English alphabet in the text.

Hey, while I'm at it there is a single word of Arabic that I also need. What would an Arabic-speaking sailor from, say, Syria yell upon sighting land? The classic English line is, "Land ho!" or just "Land!" Naturally I would have to transliterate that as well.

I thank my readers for any help they can offer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Already voted!

First in my district this morning at 6:06 AM! Can't wait to see the results come in tonight.

The presidential race is so odd... I can't help but think of it as though the gods were handicapping the race to make the bets even:

Thor: Look, Bush screwed things so much, it's gonna be a slaughter.

Zeus: Then we'll make the Republican candidate somebody who Bush hates.

Thor: Not enough. Just being in the guy's party is poison.

Zeus: OK, we'll make his opponent black.

Thor: So what?

Zeus: Mixed-race then. And raised outside the country.

Thor: Still not enough. Can you make his middle name "Hitler" or something?

Zeus: Don't push it. How about "Hussein"?

Thor: All right, you've got a bet.

This post (other than the fact I voted is Completely Fabricated.

Friday, October 31, 2008

New deadlift- and spooooky abs

My apparent body double, Andy inspired me with his nice comment to the last post: I went for the glory, six plates, 315# deadlift!

Also an abs exercise that some might find amusing. I sort of made it up as I went.

Started doing situps on the steepest incline bench with a 20 lb kettlebell in each hand, held near my shoulder. I found I could not do very many with that weight static.

Then I had an idea: I threw the 'bells up and did the situp with the momentum- then put them back on my shoulders for a S L O W negative incline situp. Two sets, insane burn. Also did windmills with the 35# 'bell to work obliques. Squats and clean and jerks rounded out my terrifying Halloween workout.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Process Check: BMI

Sometimes where I work, an argument will go around in circles for a while until somebody says, "Process check!" and then asks a very simple question that either cuts to the heart of the matter, or at least gets at how the group is going to come to a conclusion.

I saw a reference to BMI in a post that Jeff referenced. So here's a quick process check on that stat, using my own body as reference.

I am 5' 10.5 inches tall (and I insist on that half an inch, thank you.) With a current weight of 149 lb, my BMI is 21.1 which is considered "Normal weight" by the Obesity Education Initiative. My body fat, as measured by skinfold caliper, is 8.2% which is considered "freaking awesome" and "a sick result" by Jeffrey D. Erno.

Playing with the BMI calculator I find that the Normal Weight range of 18.5-24.9 BMI would allow me, at my height, to weigh anywhere from 134 to 176 lb. Sounds reasonable - lots of people at 5' 10.5" would be doing great at 176lb.

Now let's look at that 176lb as an extrapolation of skinfold measurement, for my body. My first ever skinfold measurement was in March 2008, and I was at 12.7% and a total weight of 154 lb. That makes my lean body mass at that time 134.4 lb, with 19.6 lb of fat. I could get to 176 lb from that point by adding 22lb of fat, and BMI would say I have normal weight, right?

Lean Fat Total Percent
134.4 19.6 154 12.7%
134.4 41.6 176 23.6%

Wow. Other paleo types have said it before, but I wanted to do the process check anyway - BMI stinks as a measure of fitness. I should note as a further point that at 160 lb (estimated body fat 16%, BMI=22.6) I had stage I hypertension: now I am 110/70.

BMI calculator
skinfold calculator

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Following up on Ray's comments to the last post - I have found an English version of the story he references online.

"During the schism which burst between the Copts and the Melkites, the first kept the head while the body remained with the latter. On 644 A.D., a soldier sneaked into the church where the head was buried. He took it away to his ship under the impression that it was a treasure. Later, when Amro-Ebn-El-Aas (leader of the Arab troops) ordered the ships to sail off Alexandria, that particular ship could not move. Eventually the soldier had to confess and Amro handed it back toPope Benjamin. The saint''s body did not remain in Egypt, for it was stolen and taken to Venice by some Italian merchants. They built a huge cathedral in St. Mark''s name, believing that St. mark was their patron Saint. In 1968, part of his relics which is now kept in the new Cathedral in Cairo, was offered to the Egyptian Pope Cyril (Kyrillos VI) from Pope Paul VI)."

Oh, my. Imagine that you've spent 2 years writing a book about a body being taken from one place, and then be told that it was never there at all! Well, there are a few ways out of this. First, not every source says that the body was with the Melkites. Second, authors use composites all the time. Whether this story of the Melkites having the body is true or not, I think I need to composite the two churches of Egypt into one, and have the action take place there. Perhaps I can include an authors' note explaining this, and my reasons for it.

As an aside, there are those who beleive that the Venetians did not get Saint Mark's body at all: that instead, they took Alexander the Great, who was secretly buried in Alexandria. Does it matter exactly which body they took? For my purposes, no. All that matters is that the Venetians thought they had Mark, and so did everyone else.

The edits are coming along nicely!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Visiting the Copts - Part III

Habib poured me a big, black cup of coffee.

"It's not cappuchino," he admitted, "For that you have to come to my place."

Besides the coffee, there was cake and pastry - and big, big trays piled up high with hamburgers and hot dogs in buns. It made sense. In reading up on Coptic traditions beforehand, I learned that they strictly fast before eucharist. Many other Christians do this as well - but their services are three hours shorter.

The other men came in shortly afterwards. I sat down with the cafe owner, a young physician, an FBI translator of Arabic and a professor of finance. They all insisted that I eat something with my coffee, so I got a small piece of nutcake.

Everyone was very interested in the book. I explained that it was not a history, but a historical fiction.

"I know there are a million ways it could have happened," I said, "I just want to write down the most interesting one that's possible."

So I asked the men at the table what they knew about the theft of Saint Mark: what stories and legends had been passed down in their culture? What could possible have persuaded Coptic Priests to give up the body of their first pope?

No one had a good idea of it. I did find that for these modern Copts, thoughts of that time are heavily colored by the history of the Islamic conquest, and the recent history of radicalism in Egypt which many beleive the government turns a blind eye to. (I'm not touching that one.)

They did agree on one thing. "A lot of people say the priests were bribed," the translator said, "There's no way they would take money for a thing like that."

"I agree with you," I told him, "The way I wrote it, they were offered money and refused."

Everyone liked that. By now, Father Demetrios had sat down with us. All the men kissed the cross in his hand, and he blessed them. I shook his hand and introduced myself. He said Habib had told him all about me.

"Why don't you eat something?" he asked me.

"I'm sorry, I just didn't fast like all of you," I admitted, "I've had breakfast."

"Ha! At least he confesses it!" the professor said. I got the impression that breakfasting was often done, but rarely admitted.

By now I could see that the how and why of the theft wasn't something they thought about much. It had just happened to them, the same way foreigners had invaded and ruled their country since the time of the Greeks... and the Romans... and the Byzantines... and the Caliphate... Ottomans... Napoleon... the British...

"Let me tell you how I wrote it," I said, "And you can tell me if it sounds all right."

I told the story of Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello entering Saint Mark's church: what they said to the priests, what was happening in the city outside the church, the body leaving the church and what happened after that. (If you weren't in that room, then you'll have to wait until I finish the book, and you buy it, to hear the rest.)

A long silence.

"That's it," the translator said, "That's exactly the way it must have happened."

I left with a good list of contacts in my notebook, as several of my new friends offered to help with translations or future research. Also Father Demetrios took me up to his study and let me copy some pages (in English, thankfully) from a book he had. I also left with a very touching story.

"I would like to make a comment," the physician's elderly father said, "I was there in the Cairo airport when the Pope brought Saint Mark's Body to us from Rome."

I had heard of this. The Roman Pope, Paul gave to the Coptic Pope Cyril with his own hands relics of Saint Mark. The old man told me all this with a misty eye, how he was there and saw it himself, and how the Copts rejoiced to have their saint back home after 1,140 years. I could tell that the image was still vivid in his mind, a rare moment of joy and victory for his people in a long history of increasing marginalization.

There was more. His son, the physician told me that there was not enough money to build a proper cathedral to house the relics, but that Nasser's government came through with the funds. That made Saint Mark a symbol of Egypt, and acknowledged the Coptic religion as integral to Egyptian nationalism - even if the nation itself was Muslim. I didn't know about that part. I found it very touching.

After this visit I feel like I have the last piece of the puzzle. The edits are coming along - the story as I've written it seems to be a good one - and from the contacts I made there, (and now here in this blog- thanks Ray!) I'm confident that I can give the parts of the tale that happen in old Alexandria the right feel.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Visiting the Copts - Part II

The Coptic liturgy is like opera - an expression of the greatest human suffering, with the hopeful spark of divinity that is man's greatest joy. It is also like opera in that it is entirely sung, and is four hours long. Fortunately Habib told me that, like many of the men, he only attended the final hour.

That sounded good to me. I set out on foot from my house at a quarter to eleven. I had driven by the church many times before, sometimes pointing it out to Emjay and saying, "I really need to talk to those guys about my book."

When I got there, I wasn't quite sure how to enter. The obvious big front door was locked. I went to a side door. I could already hear voices singing, and smell incense. It didn't seem right. I waited outside, and soon a family drove up.

"Good morning," I said, "I was hoping I could visit today. Can I go in with you?"

"Sure," the dad said, "Wait- are you Christian?"

I don't think anyone had ever asked me that before. I copped to it, and followed him in.

Orthodox churches traditionally have an entry hall called a narthex, the main room for worship which is the nave, and the sanctuary where the priests manage the sacred objects and Body and Blood of Christ. The three areas are laid out like a Manhattan "railroad" apartment, so one enters the narthex to get to the nave, and reaches the sanctuary from there. St. Mary's and St. George's did not begin life as an orthodox church. That explained the locked main doors. The side entrance and rooms served as the narthex.

I followed my host through a couple of rooms used as Sunday schools and nurseries. We entered the nave very near the front of the nave - so far to the front that we were behind the deacons, who at the moment were prostrating themselves on the floor. I stepped gingerly past them and found a pew in the back.

A crowd of altar boys, acolytes and deacons led the chants and hymns from the front. Men had the left side pews and women the right. Kids hopped freely from one side to the other and no one seemed to mind. The priest wore long white robes and a white satin hat with tails. He had his back to us, praying at the altar in a cloud of incense.

Once when I was church-shopping I went to a Methodist church that completely turned me off. They used Powerpoint and an LCD projector to help people follow the service. In this church, though, the projector seemed essential. The liturgy was part English, part Coptic (which is itself part Greek), and part Arabic. All the words in all three languages were projected side by side.

I sat quietly, joining in a "Kyrie eleison" or two. I tried to sort out who was depicted in all the icons. Saint Mark was the first on the left - Mary and Saint George, of course, Christ, and then a few particular to the Coptic church. I could turn enough of the Coptic letters into Greek in my head to be able to sound out half of the names. Other than the icons, the rest of the decor was very Prodestant, down to the stained glass windows with decidedly non-Coptic names of benefactors.

If I closed my eyes, and I did, I could feel immersed in an ancient Christian tradition. Other than some updating of language the liturgy is just as it has always been. This was a decidedly non-European, non-Americanized, Middle Eastern feel. No pipe organ, but cymbals and triangle. No four-part harmony, but chanting from the roots of voice. This was the Christianity of Mark, coming from Palestine to Egypt. A Christianity that never had a Crusade, a Henry VIII, a Cotton Mather or a Jerry Fallwell.

Habib arrived about ten minutes after me. He was just in time for the Eucharist, which in Orthodox churches is a bit different from the Catholicism of my youth or Anglicanism of my now. The priest finally turned around to face the congregation, holding a basket of bread up for everyone to see - take joy! The sacrifice is here for us!

The men all lined up first, and then the women. I did not participate, being an outsider. Also I knew that it is Coptic tradition to fast before Eucharist, and I had had a good paleolithic breakfast. Since the Orthodox bread is leavened and made into loaves, they had to finish it. (the unleavened bread I'm used to can be stored intact. I never thought of that.) This meant that, among other things, the altar boys had to go round and round the altar taking more bread until it was gone. Then they had to wash all the serving plates, rinsing them with water and drinking the dross- you cannot just throw out the Body of Christ. Fortunately they got to do the same with the wine.

Afterwards, Habib invited me to come up and sit with him and his friends. I was introduced to them quickly, while the priest blessed us and sprinkled us with holy water. A baby had been baptized that morning: he was paraded through the church in a wicker basket, dressed identically to the priest down to the satin hat. A grandmotherly-looking woman in the procession ululated.

Then, the sermon. In Arabic, of which I understood two words: Allah, and if I head correctly, "aasif", which means "forgiveness". I only know the latter because I named a character Aasif in my book.

Finally, some time after noon, it was over. Habib's friends were excited that I was writing a book about Saint Mark, and they pointed out the icon to me. Then it was time to go downstairs for coffee. I got out my notebook.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Visiting the Copts - Part I

At the high point of my book, my Italian protagonists manage to bluff their way into St. Mark's Church in Alexandria, and make off with the saint's relics. (How? Well, I have to finish the book, and then you have to buy it.)

I'm a partial beleiver in "method" writing, and I'm part Italian - so last week, I bluffed my way into St. Mary and St. George's Coptic Orthodox Church in Albany... and made off with a delicious piece of cake! Ok, technically I was invited.

Here's how it went down: last Saturday I was shopping antiques in Troy with the family and our friend, whom we refer to as Lord Skeeter. We stopped for coffee. The cafe was filled with Egyptian art- pharaoh busts, hierloglyphics, that sort of thing. So I wondered to myself, as I watched a robust man with a bald head and a mustache make my cappuchino... is this guy a Copt?

Lord Skeeter knew exactly what I was thinking. He'd been in on the book almost since I started writing it. I picked up a takeout menu.

"He sells ham!" I said, excited. Lord Skeeter knew what it meant: the man was Egyptian, but not a Muslim.

"What are you talking about?" Emjay asked.

I looked behind the counter and saw an icon - Madonna and Child. "It's a lock!" I said, pointing to the icon.

"Oh, God, it's the book," Emjay realized.

We brought the cappuchinos outside. They were too cold. Skeeter and I went back in to ask for a warmup. The kids stayed outside with Emjay.

"So," I began innocently as he pumped live steam through my cup, "Would you happen to be from Alexandria?"

"Why, yes!"

"Oh, that's interesting. It happens I'm writing a book about how the Venetians stole St. Mark from the church there."

"Oh! You know about Saint Markos? Hey, I'm a Copt."

"Really? What a coincidence!"

I asked the man - his name is Habib - to tell me what he knew about the theft. What stories had he grown up with? How is it that the Coptic church let its first Pope, a Gospel writer, be taken away?

"I can't tell you anything about all that," Habib said, "I tell you what. You come to my church tomorrow. You meet our priest, he can tell you everything you want to know."

I came back outside with my warm cappuchino.

"Guess what?" I said.

"You didn't."

"Yep. Tell Reverend Mary I'm not coming to church tomorrow - I've gone Coptic."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gaining weight, and strength

It's official - I can now bench 185# in single rep. I did it last week, but the spotter touched the bar. She swore she only stabilized it and that it was "all me", but it takes muscle control to stabilize so I wasn't quite ready to call the game yet. Monday I had a good clean lift.

Also I had gained 2 pounds. I was a bit concerned until I got the fat check yesterday: it's all muscle. New stats are updated at right. I think the benefit has come from the plan to increase bench and also from diet.

I roll a bit different on diet than Jeff: I do not fast, I eat when I'm hungry and I am hungry every few hours. I had two eggs, bacon and cheese on an english muffin (the high protein/fiber version) for breakfast - and I'm already hungry again. If I hadn't already eaten the 5lb jar of nuts from Target I'd be having almonds. Instead I might go lift, and then have a big lunch.

So, this is building up muscle and strength - the question is, is that what I want to do? Sure, my 20 year high school reunion is coming up and I want the muscles to show - but after that, really it's about lifetime fitness. I am wondering if I should reduce overall calories and scale back the workouts, try to maintain a 92% lean composition at 147-148 lb and ramp up aerobic fitness, endurance and quickness.

To answer that, I'll increase monitoring of my blood pressure in the coming weeks while I try to increase another max - maybe deadlifts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Did I mention the book?

One reason I haven't been that I've been writing. About seven years ago I visited Venice and first heard the story of St. Mark's body coming to Venice from Alexandria in 827. I was amazed that the details of this audacious body-snatch were lost to history. I resolved to write a book of historical fiction, filling in all the details. Then my wife and I had two kids.

Two years ago I started research for the book. Last year I began writing in earnest. A few months ago I finished the first complete draft: 99,000 words. Since then I've been doing very detailed red-line edits... making notes for fact-checks and improving the text.

And that's why I haven't been writing- been doing loads and loads of edits the old way, with a pen, so my writing time has not been at a computer.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Doing a 180

Brief warmup, then a single rep at 180. Failed on the second- and of course I tried a second. Finished the day with lat pulldowns, skullcrushers, tri kickbacks, incline dumbells and declines using the kettlebells.

I've now added 15# to my bench in the last couple of months. My weight is exactly the same. At last check, body fat is down to 8.5%... Sadly still no change In the belly caliper reading despite significantly fewer homefries.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Today's Workout: I'm a 7-card stud.

Here's the draw today. I took 7 cards because 5 didn't seem like enough of a workout. I'm thinking of assigning a point value to each card, and you stop drawing when you get enough points.

3 of diamonds: 3! burpees... that seemed light so I also did 3! pushups and 3! situps
4 of hearts: 4 suicides. It's a short room so these are about 20 seconds of sprinting each.
A of clubs: "warmup" clean and jerk at 135, max at 145, failed to clean 155, then did 5x135.
10 of spades: ugh. TEN alactic reps on the bench press, 155 lb each.
Q of diamonds: 15x -30lb, 8x-20lb, 3xfull weight. Could not get that last one.
5 of spades: five alactic reps, sumo deadlift. First two at 275#, last 3 at 225#. Back was a bit sore.
8 of hearts: 8 suicides, with a 10-15 second rest between each.

The whole workout was 45 minutes - and if jacks are 11 points, queens are 12, etc. this was a 3+4+14+10+12+5+8=56 point workout.

Power Law Random Workout - Pick a card!

Here's something I came up with for a random, power law exercise plan. You will need: a deck of cards, some thought, and a fully stocked gym.

Each suit represents a different kind of exercise, and the value of the card represents the level of effort. For a workout, draw 5 cards from the deck and do the exercises in any order you choose. I recommend doing it this way so that if a card calls for a max anaerobic effort you can get that out of the way before the other exercises tire you out. Going from day to day, you can either shuffle the cards back into the deck or keep drawing until you do all 52 exercises.

This is what my deck means. Of course every individual should come up with a set of exercises that makes sense for him or her. You will want to adjust some of the numbers I quote based on your own weight and strength.

Hearts- Aerobics
Choose an exercise first- preferably one with sprints and/or intervals. Examples include, 100m sprint or "suicides".

If you draw a number card, (2-10), that's the number of sprints/suicides you will do.
Jack of Diamonds: 7 minutes on an aerobic machine: rowing, elliptical, treadmill, stairclimber, etc. Go fast!
Queen of Diamonds: 10 minutes
King of Diamonds: 15 minutes

Aces in any suit mean a max effort- Here it might be 15 or 20 sprints, or it might mean this is the day you run 5k. But decide what a "max effort aerobic" means, for you, in advance!

Diamonds- Body Weight Exercise
This can be pushups, pullups, situps, all of the above, or burpee factorial sets. Decide in which it will be before drawing cards, and stick to it! You can mix up the exercises. For example,

Number Cards- Burpee sets, up to 10! (10, then 9, then 8 etc.)
Jack of Diamonds: 15 reps of assisted pullups (-30lb), slow. 8 reps at -15lb, faster, 4 reps at bodyweight.
Queen of Diamonds: Three sets of pullups, all to failure. The first unweighted, the second at +10lb, the third at +20lb.
King of Diamonds: Two minute drill: pushups, situps, or pullups (make it 1 minute for pullups.)
Ace of Diamonds: max effort! How about 15! burpees? Or 20 ?. Whatever challenges you.

Spades- Steady Force Weight Training
The exercise you pick in this suit will depend on which muscles are sore that morning. Stick with big barbell, big muscle groups though. Bench or incline press if it's a chest day, squats or deadlifts if legs, or military presses for shoulders. The cards:

2-10 of Spades: the number of reps in an alactic set. Pick a weight at 70-90% of max, lift once, rest 15-20 seconds, lift again.
Jack of Spades: 15/8/4 style: 15 reps at light weight, slow. 8 at medium weight, faster. 4 at max weight, fastest. Example for me on the bench press: 15@ 95#, 8 at 125#, 4 at 145#
Queen of Spades: 5x5: five sets, five reps each, at a weight the allows you to finish.
King of Spades: Warmup set at low weight, then two sets to failure at a weight where you can just get 3-5 reps out. Do a negative on the last set. Use a spotter!
Ace of Spades- Get a spotter. Warmup set, then go for your maximum single rep. Then one or two sets at reduced weight. Example for me on the bench: 8@95#, one at 180#, 2x5 at 145#.

Clubs- Plyometric
Time to get explosive. Your exercises will depend on the equipment available. For me, my deck is:
2-10 of Clubs: Factorial sets of box jumps (with 50# barbell on back) or kettlebell swings. For example, a 6 of clubs means 6 swings with each arm, then 5, then 4, etc.
Jack of Clubs: Full squat clean and jerk at an appropriate weight (115#, for me), 2 sets of 8 reps
Queen of Clubs: Alactic clean and jerk, resting between reps. 6-8 reps. (@ 135# for me)
King of Clubs: Two minute drill: hang cleans at 115# with full squat.
Ace of Clubs: Clear the area! Max effort clean and jerk or power clean. Do a couple at lower weight for form, and then let it rip. My current best is 145#.

I'd love to see how my reader(s) do on this plan, and alternative card decks.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wait...I'M the cat?

After seeing a Stephen Hawking look-alike in the latest page of Dr. McNinja, then wiki-ing the real Hawking, then following some more links I came upon an explanation of the many-worlds hypothesis and the concept of "quantum immortality". This sparked a lot of thought on my part - something I had considered before, but never saw written up as a complete theory.

I'll try to explain. For starters I have to assume that the reader(s) of this blog are familiar with the general principles of quantum mechanics and the famous Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.

There are a couple of leading interpretations to the often-cited result of the experiment, the cat being simultaneously alive and dead. One holds that the two stated exist "smeared" over one another until the box is opened, then reality "collapses" to one state or the other. The other interpretation - the Many Worlds version - has it that when the quantum event occurs that either kills the cat or does not kill it, two parallel universes are created: the cat is alive in one and dead in the other. When the observer opens the box, he finds out which universe he happens to be in.

OK - now, what if Many Worlds is true... and you're the cat? Two universes are created. You're alive in one and dead in the other. You cannot observe the fact that you're dead... so you must continue to exist in the universe where you're alive, and can observe the outcome!

Take this to the logical end... if every random chance is the result of a quantum event, and there are infinite universes that encompass all of these possibilities, you will continue to live in at least one of them as long as there exists a non-zero chance of you being alive.

Quantum immortality.

What could be wrong with this? A few things. So don't try this at home. The Many Worlds interpretation could be wrong. If there's an afterlife then all bets are off- you would be able to observe a universe in which you had died.

But what if it's correct? It would explain a lot. We often hear that the odds of human life arising in the universe are infinitesimal. Well, this just happens to be one of the few universes where all those coincidences happened. Ever think that you were lucky to have survived something? Maybe in 99% of all possible universes, you didn't.

This raises a question in my mind(s): there have to be a lot of possible universes in which I could still exist. Why is my consciousness in this particular one? Is it,
  • I have a consciousness in each universe, and they are not aware of each other or connected
  • I exist and remember my life in the final universe in which I continue to exist
  • I exist in the "best" of the possible universes - by some unknown measure of quality

No way to tell, of course, but intriguing. If all this is true, one must still be careful with one's safety. Perhaps even more so. We might have quantum immortality, but if we behave stupidly we limit ourselves to existing in a small number of possible universes, and many of them may not be pleasant.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oy, the weights I lifted!

Rare workout at the JCC today while I'm home on a sort-of-working vacation. I ran there, probably about a mile, and went straight to the squat rack. They have good rubber-bumper weights there so I could drop my bar from about waist level and not strain myself trying to set it down. These weights are in kg, which is a nice treat for the athletic engineer. The workout:

Warmup - clean and jerk, 60kg - 5 lifts
Squats - 70 kg x 5
90 kg x5, four sets
alternating with military presses on the Smith machine: 70 pounds plus whatever the bar equivalent is
Deadlifts: 120kg x5, two sets

The deadlifts were fun. I asked a trainer to help me lift the bar off the rack, but she demurred.

"I'll hurt my back! Can you really lift all that?"
"I can lift it from the floor, just not the rack. I'm stronger than I look," I said, "That's easy, since I don't look very strong."

So I took off 50kg. She offered to help me with that, but I set the bar down myself. Then I put the 50kg back and she watched me do a few deadlifts. Later, I did,

Clean& Jerk: 50kg x5, two sets.

She came in just as I was finishing. "I've never seen anyone work out like that here."
"It's a shame," I said, dropping the bar for a satisfying thud that shook all the plates in their racks, "these bumper weights are great."
"So what do you get here," I asked her, "A lot of big guys who come in and do curls?"
"Not even that. Just a lot of old people."

It was true. There were a fair amount of old people working out, bless them, and younger folks too. Many of them were doing exercises that had to be just plain ineffective. One gentleman of about sixty had a lat pulldown machine with about 10 lb on it. He stood in front of it, gripping the bar and with vigorous shakes of his arms from the shoulders he made the plate oscillate up and down slightly. A woman of maybe forty-five worked with a trainer. He handed her small dumbells and watched her do various exercises, with a good four minute kvetch between each set.

The young guys I did see were even worse, because they should have known better. One loaded up the Smith machine for bench presses. He was twice my size and lifted less than I do, lots of reps. I'm sure in the cosy confines of the Smith he got no benefit from it at all. Somehow, though, his muscles were big and puffy.

Oy. Genetics.

But so was his belly.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Oracle at DelFino's - Part 2

Angie pulled another beer for Andy Castro, clear-pale yellow in a frosted mug.

"Twenty- three," Andy said to me.

"What's that?"

"It ain't come up all day, twenty-three. You think I should play it?"

"I don't think you should play at all."

"Yeah, right. But I'm no good at math, so I ain't gonna listen. Should I play it?"

"It doesn't matter. It has exactly the same chance as any other number."

"Oh," Andy said, nodding thoughtfully. I knew he was mocking me.

"Then why doesn't it come up, smart guy?" he demanded.

"It just hasn't. It's luck."

"What're the odds of that?"

I thought about it. Twenty numbers drawn out of a field of 80. The odds of not getting a 23 would be 79/80 times 78/79 times.... not worth it.

"Pretty good," I estimated, "Maybe close to even."

"For one game, right? Well, they do a game every four minutes. I been sittin' here about three hours. That's like sixty games."

"Forty-five," I corrected him.

"Whatever. So what are the odds now?"

"Pretty low," I admitted. I whipped out my Blackberry, raised 50 percent to the 45th power.

"Wow. Hundred billion to one."

"How about that," Andy said. He drained his glass and called for another.

I sipped my bourbon in silence. The Quickdraw numbers rolled. No twenty-three.

"See? Told ya."

"So? It still doesn't mean anything."

"So ya gonna bet twenty-three, then?"

"I'm not going to bet, Andy."

"Good. Cause if ya bet twenty-three, it ain't gonna come up."

"At least you're not saying it's 'due'", I said, "but it's got the same chance as ever."

"Tell ya what, it doesn't come up next game you buy me a beer."

"You have a beer," I said.

Andy drained his glass in one gulp. Tiny streams of watery beer escaped the corners of his mouth. He ignored them..

"You said it's a hundred trillion to one, on luck. What're the odds they just lost the disk or whatever with the twenny-three on it?"

"That's not how it works," I said.


Four minutes had passed. A new game. No twenty-three. I finished my Jack Daniels and put some bills on the bar.

"Get this guy a decent beer, will you?" I said to Angie.

This post is Completely Fabricated.

175# and other numbers

With Jeff spotting, managed a single rep at 175 on the bench: now halfway to the goal of 185. Working the triceps has been the key, I think. Following the new PB, I did a few reps at 155 and then did 2 reps plus a negative at 165#. Not too long ago, that was the max of maxes!

Alternated back exercises with more chest and tris:
- close grip lat pulls
- sled rows (alactic method)
- incline dumbells, up to 60#
- weighted dips (+20#)
- pullups (bodyweight)
- skullcrushers (50#)
- cable pec crossovers

Chest was BURNING afterwards. I think it also helped that I have had a week off from heavy lifting, except a session of mostly clean and jerk at the JCC last Friday.

Just took my BP: it's 110/68. Remember, I got into this because at 165# body weight and exercising several days a week - including earning black belts in aikido and iaido - I had stage I hypertension (130/90). Now it's,

weight: 147# (for reference - 70.5" tall)
body fat: 8.7%
BP: 110/70

Not bad so far!

In the works: another installment of the Andy Castro story, and a method for doing a random power law workout.

Monday, September 1, 2008

It doesn't get much more evolutionary than this...

Since Jeff likes to show pictures of his dinner sometimes, here's mine... next to the knife I used to personally KILL it! Would have been a very paleolithic meal if not for the nice Chilean Cabernet I enjoyed with it, and the sausage and peppers... some chicken... one of Emjay's cookies... well, at least I killed and ate some protein. I was very hungry after 20!-12! burpees. (getting farther!)

Sorry I could not get a picture at an earlier stage in the preparation, but I have a pretty nice camera and I did not want to get fish guts all over it.
Fish in question was a good-sized grass pickerel caught in Helderberg Lake. We were visiting some relatives at their lake house. Some of my second-cousins were snatching sunnies out of the water by dipping the lure straight off the dock, then releasing them.
I deplore this! Since so many hooked fish die no matter what you do, I believe in keeping and eating any fish I hook including sunfish, perch, whatever as long as it's a legal species and legal size. Not a lot of people know this, but a 7" sunfish has enough meat for a good-sized taco and the bones and skin come right off when you grill it on an open fire. Mmmm. Fish tacos.
There's no limit on such fish in most waters in New York - or the limit is something ridiculous, like 50 fish - so catch enough to make a meal of it. In my opinion it's the only respectful way to fish. You wouldn't stab a bunny, pick it up so the kids can take a look, then pull the spear out if its leg and let it go to live or die with that wound... would you?
If you don't know how to clean and cook the fish, put it in a livewell and take it to your local Asian market. The one in my neighborhood carries live fish that they slay and prep on-site, I'm sure for a nominal fee they'd prepare your catch.
Oh, and GET A LICENSE, as long as I'm declaiming here. The State spends a lot of money stocking the waters and keeping the fisheries in good shape, so it's the least you can do to pay for the privilege.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Everything I need to know about Work, I learned from Chess.

- About half the time, it’s not your move.
- You only get to move one piece at a time – but that one move can help all your other pieces.
- Pay attention. The clock is ticking.
- Forty good moves can be undone by one bad one.
- Before you go after the other side’s King, make certain you’ve protected yours.
- Move your weakest piece.
- The secret power of pawns is that your opponent doesn't want to lose a bigger piece by capturing them.
- You can't win a game with just a King and a Knight. But many, many games are won with King and Pawn.
- Extensive preparation makes spontenaity possible.
- Sometimes winning means knowing when to break cover and attack with the King.
- Sometimes a draw is as good as a win.
- If you’re losing and you want to win, find a way to attack.
- If you're winning and you want to lose, stop attacking.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inching towards 185#

The extra work on triceps is paying off. Got to 170# on the bench today, also did incline dbells and some back work: close grip lat pulls and weighted pullups. The latter has become one of my favorites. I highly recommend it, it's very functional and works a lot of big muscle groups. Weighting the pullups let's you keep building strength even after you've reached the point you can bust out, say, a dozen pullups unweighted.

No time for a gym workout yesterday,so I did burpees at home before and after work. I did a 12! set in the morning (the ! is for factorial, mind you) and attepted a 20! In the evening. I didn't make it. Collapsed in the set of 14, so I did 20!-14!+4 total. This is close to 12!, not coincidentally.

Had the fat check today and it was 26mm total for 8.7%. I'm a bit disappointed, based on falling weight I was hoping for 8.2. It might be time to cut back on the home fries... Nah!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hey you kids, get off my lawn!

"Sir, do you have to raise your voice?"

"Yes, I do," I said, because I'm sick of this!"

He stood in his driveway in the open door of his car, an old black SUV. I assumed it had been the family car until Little Meathead went off to college. Two of the car's tires rested on my lawn.

"Look, I know you like to park on the back lawn instead of the street. And it's hard to make the turn without driving on my lawn. But that's not my problem!"

"Well, Sir, it is my backyard, and..."

"No, it's not your backyard," I interrupted, "it belongs to the people who acually own this house."

A low blow? Maybe. But I had had enough. It's moving-in weekend for this autumn's prize crop of meatheads. They had parked three-across in the backyard the day before, and I'd yelled something nearly pleasant out the back window when one of them swerved onto my grass trying to make the turn. One of the kid's dads had even clipped the rental house. And today, Sunday dinner, a lovely Asian-spiced pork chop by Emjay, interrupted by me rushing out the front door in socks to confront the latest tresspasser.

He was trying to "manage" me. Calling me Sir, playing the calm one, trying to act innocent and accomodating. Oh, no, son. I manage managers. I'm mad and I'm going to stay that way.

"Look, Sir, I'm willing to talk about this..."

"Good. You need to understand that normal people do NOT park in their backyards. The driveway isn't designed for that. If you can't get back there without hitting the house or driving on my property, then park on the street like everybody else."

"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, Sir."

Oh, the non-apology. Is this guy preparing for a career in politics?

"Good. Are you also sorry you drove on my lawn?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"Thanks. I appreciate that. I'm Richard."


"Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances," I said, and went inside.

Let the Games Begin!

This post is Completely True, except,

*all idiot college-age neighbors in this blog will be assigned the pseudonym 'Ted'. Why? Imagine one of them introducing himself to Tarzan.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Oracle at DelFino's - Part One

Andy Castro was the kind of guy who could blow through a thousand bucks in half an hour, and then live on his last twenty for week. Either way, he always seemed to be biting on a cigar with a plastic tip. I don't think I ever saw him light one.

I met him at DelFino's Grill. That's what the place is called, although you'd have to be an idiot to order food there. But nobody can screw up pouring whiskey from a bottle, and at DelFino's if you asked for it neat, they tended to pour a lot so it wouldn't look so lonely by itself in the glass.

"That's a smart hat," Andy told me when I sat at the bar next to him.

"Thanks." I had on my favorite brown fedora. I wasn't the original owner, and it was showing some wear after 50 years. I still thought it was a pretty smart hat, myself.

"You don't see those anymore," Andy said, taking the unlit cigar out of his mouth to take a bite from his cheeseburger. "Hey, Angie, this burger's all right!" Andy's hat was a Tommy Bahama refugee from the 90's that had probably once been white.

"Jack Daniel's, neat," I told Angie.

"You want that on the rocks?"

"No, neat," I said.

"He means he don't want nothin' in it," Andy roared, still chewing a tough mouthful of burnt hamburger.

Angie poured me half a rocks glass full of bourbon. I sipped it, and noticed Andy was watching me.

"You play Quick Draw?" he asked me.


"How come?"

"It's just an extra tax, on people who are bad at math."

"Oh, I see. Well you look like a smart guy, I bet you're good at math, huh?"

"I'm not bad at it," I said.

"Right. Hey, you want some advice from an old man?"

"Not really," I said, turning back to my drink.

"Good," Andy said, nodding approval, " 'cause sometimes it seems everybody who comes in this place wants my advice, and ain't none of it good. But you know what?"


"They always take it," Andy said. He scooped ketchup with a limp french fry.

"Hey, Angie, these fries stink! You ever change the oil in that thing?"

"Screw you, Andy."

This story is Completely Fabricated

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I am going to bench press 185 pounds.

I did dome thinking after working out with Jeff yesterday, and came to a decision:

I am going to bench press 185 pounds.

This is 20 pounds over my current best. I have a few reasons for picking this goal:

1) The plates to do it are "pleasing to the eye", as Aristotle might put it: 45+25 on each side.

2) It's 1.25*bodymass. That's what Jeff did yesterday, at 225.

3) It also happens to be my weight (147) plus my age (38). The Numbers make it fate.

So, how am I going to add 20 lb to my bench before I turn 39 and screw up the math?

TRICEPS- I don't work them separately. It's possible my chest has room to grow, but I can't lift the weight I need to develop my chest because my triceps are underdeveloped.

LATS- Provides a floor to push from.

REST- Max out on chest once a week. In between, work on the auxiliary muscles.

I am going to bench press 185 pounds!

Progess will be reported. Back to stories soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A day of bests

Worked out with Jeff today- he lifted yesterday but was still up to go heavy. He bench-pressed 225# in very impressive fashion. That's his weight +50lb, or +28%. Wow. I barely got 165#, which is +18lb / +12%. You can see the difference in our chests, too. So its a good thing my wife has lower standards than Jeff's.

I also got a personal best on the clean and jerk, 150# which is just over my mass. We were watching the olympics at about the same time, I think they were the 120kg guys doing 200kg snatches... so that puts 67 kg me lifting 68kg in perspective. Jeff's psychological help was invaluable:

JEFF: OK, say it.
RICHARD: I do not lift with my arms. He who lifts with his arms has forgotten the face of his father. I lift with my legs.

OK, that was Not True. But I did lift it. Then we did weighted pullups and 5x 1 minutes HARD rounds of boxing. Jeff beat the crap out of the bag. One of the caribiners holding it up snapped clean in half, so the bag swung very free after that and I got to practice one of my favorite things, circling the bag at speed and raining jabs into the target.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Some days you win...

...and today wasn't one of them. I fenced very well up until we started keeping score. I made good attacks, and when my opponent got tired and his actions got bigger I took advantage. I showed him a point, and when he swept his blade in a big arc to try and bind it I waited for it to go by like a second-hand and thrust behind it to score.

But when we started keeping score, it all changed. He went to a very high guard. The body was completely open, but I didn't go for it. Sure, it was a trap, but I should have just attacked it and made him react. Instead I played his game up high. I didn't trust my attack. That's not iai! I have forgotten the face of my father!

I only lost by a few points. If he busts that guard out again I'm stabbing him in the belly.

Jeff, I took a cold shower after. That felt better than the fencing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm not really a writer- Part Two

I don't remember where I went after I left Dean Rich's office. I might have gone to play pinball, or eat. When I got back, my roomate handed me a note.

"Your english teacher left this."

It was hand-written on looseleaf.

"Dear Rich"- I was called Rich back then- "I apologize for the way I treated you in my class. You are registered for Creative Writing 101 and I look forward to seeing you on Thursday. If you have any questions I'd like to invite you to my house for dinner," and he gave an address in Brighton.

"He came here?" I asked my roomate.

"Yeah. About an hour ago."

I imagined the sequence of events that must have happened after I left the dean's office. Dean Rich called the dean of English and verbally keel-hauled him. Then that dean came down on my professor, who found out where my room was and came to apologize personally.

"He came here?" I said again.


It was too late for dinner but I decided to go see the professor anyway. I caught the green line T to Brighton, which was free outbound. I would be walking home rather than spend the 75 cents.

The professor lived in half of a duplex not far from the T stop. He opened the door himself. I thought he looked old, with graying brown hair and big round glasses. He couldn't have been more than 40. I caught a glimpse of a woman in a sort of loud orange caftan. She went into a back room and closed the door.

"You drink?" he asked, "Whiskey?"

I didn't, then, but I said yes anyway. He poured a glass for me and I had a sip. It went straight down, kicked my ass, then bounced back up and burned my nostrils.

"I got your note," I said when I could talk, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you in trouble."

He shrugged. "Had worse. So, you're a writer?"

"Not really," I admitted.

"But you write."



"Short stories. Some science fiction."

He snorted a bit. "Of course you do. Everybody writes short stories. Why?"


"Why do you write?"

"Because I can," I said without thinking.

"And can you?"

I finished the whiskey. The second gulp was easier. I had made a life-long friend.

"Look, I'm sorry. Thanks for letting me take the class. I'll see you Thursday.". I put the glass down and left.

It was about a 20 minute walk home. Green T's clatterered past me. The outbound ones were filled with boys and girls heading to parties in the suburban student ghettos.

On Thursday I went back to the class. The professor never hinted that we'd met, or that Dean Rich had come down on him like the hand of God. The chairs were set up in a circle.

"Thursdays will be for reading your pieces, and having the class critique them,," he said, "I know it's the first week, but does anyone have anything to get us started?"

Silence. None of the English majors had written anything, or were ready to admit it.

I pulled a thin stack of paper out of my bag.

"I have a story," I said, "It's called 'Douglas Webster and the Ode to Joy."

I read it aloud. It wasn't great. Maybe it was at least interesting. But I had it, and I read it. In that moment the only writer in class was the engineer who didn't deserve a seat.

This story is about Half True.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Fencing: Changing My Game

I watched the womens' sabre sweep - very nice moment with President Bush 41st (never thought I'd be nostalgic for that guy) giving one of the athletes his hanky. I used to fence sabre so this was very interesting to see. I noticed that the USA women were very aggressive, more agressive than the competition. They controlled the action by attacking, and made the other women react - that's how you win at sabre!

In the last couple of years, despite my natural aggression, I've been more of an epee fencer. I found a partner here at work and we fight on mondays. We typically go for about 40 minutes without counting touches, and then race to ten. The rules of epee don't favor the agressor so much - in sabre if both fencers are hit, the one who started the action gets a point. In epee, both get a point. So epee is more of a mental game: hit without being hit. More like a duel. Honor means putting yourself at risk, but the important thing is to come home alive.

For me, this makes sabre (at least the way I learned it) sabre-jitsu. I'm trying to learn epee-do.

After wathcing the mens' individual epee matches online (available here) I could see very clearly that these guys have The Way. How else can one know when to leap flat out, get the touch, and not be hit in return? That reminded me very much of another sword art: iaido. Draw and cut in an instant, and strike first. That is the defense. For a great example of this, see the duel in the beginning of Seven Samurai. The one where they start out with wooden bokken, and the loudmouth calls it a draw, but the Samurai says "No, I won." They do the exact same thing again with real katana - and the loudmouth dies.

If you don't have a copy of Seven Samurai, watch The Magnificent Seven. The equivalent scene is James Coburn bringing a knife to a gunfight- and winning. THAT is iaido.

So, how did I do? Well, I made enough attacks in the practice period that I got hit a lot - my opponent even commented on how I was open for the counterattack and the stop-thrust.

"Yes, I know," I told him, "I'm forcing you to teach me how to attack properly."

He taught me enough: I was first to ten touches this week, with some margin. More important, the attacks felt good. There is a moment when it is too early to attack, and the moment after that it's already too late. In between there is time for attack - and if you notice with your mind that it is time, it's already too late. When it happens right, when your blade is bent on the opponent's chest before you realize that you've struck, there is a moment of purity of the soul.

Then you realize, "I scored!" and with that, the moment is ruined.

That is Do... you cannot grasp it, but sometimes it can be reached.

This post is More Truth than I Can Handle.

Friday, August 8, 2008

I'm not really a writer - Part One

I've written for fun for as long as I can remember. My friend Tom Skuja and I used to make our own books in elementary school and junior high. (He's published a book of short stories, by the way: The Reluctant Prophet, available on Amazon. I am editing drafts of my first novel- tell you all about it sometime)

I kept writing through high school, and Tom and I shared the school's creative writing prize (never saw him again. You out there, Tom?). Then I went to engineering school. I figured I could be an engineer for a career, and write on the side. One does not find many career writers who do engineering as a hobby, after all.

I was "forced" to take a humanities course in my first year. I passed on the easy ones, like "English for Hockey Players 101" and signed up for a creative writing course. It was the kind where enrollment was limited and you had to have stamped approval. I got it all squared away with the dean of the Liberal Arts college, and a couple of weeks later I showed up for the first class.

I was not welcome.

"Sorry, we're overbooked. You have to drop the class," the professor said.

"But I signed up! I have approval from the dean!"

"That was the old dean. Look, you're in the engineering school, right? Well, we need the seat for the english majors. How'd you like it if an english major took your seat in a physics class?"

"If any English major can handle it," I said, "let him try."

"Sorry, you have to leave. I'm starting class."

So I left. And I went straight to the office of the Engineering dean.

Dean Willis Rich was a trim, neat man in a dark suit. His bright eyes broadcasted a profound intensity. It made slouching undergrads stand up straight and wave the hair out of their eyes.

The Dean's last job had been with the Navy. He had been a submarine captain, commanding both attack and nuclear missle boats. "Start World War III" used to be part of the man's job description.

I knew that taking this to Dean Rich was like turning the first key to arm the nukes. It was up to the Captain to turn the second key, and the English Department was under the bull's-eye.

This post is Completely True.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sorry, No Legs Tomorrow

Got the invite, Jeff, but will have to restrict tomorrow's session to upper body. Today's workout:

Squats- progressive sets ending with 2x3 at 245# (new best!)

Deadlifts- 1 at 285, 2 at 295, 2 at 295# (another best)

Jumps- 70# curl bar on my back,jumping up and down to a 12" platform. Also single leg jumps. 3 sets x 8 reps each exercise.

Did it on a fast- Jeff would be proud- then chowed down on meatball soup and nut-heavy salad. Looking for more protein now. I think there's an Odwalla bar in my desk. If not, squirrels beware.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why I love the Pentathlon- and you should, too.

I'm a great beleiver in functional exercise, and an Olympics junkie. That's why I love the Modern Pentathlon. Other sports select for highly specialized athletes. Making the body ultra-specialize to do something its not evolved to do has its risks. How many little girls have had their bodies destroyed by competitive gymnastics? In pentathlon, if you specialize, you lose! You will also be less beautiful. I cite no less an authority than Aristotle, as fine a judge of young men if ever there was one... not that there's anything wrong with that.

"Beauty varies with each age. In a young man, it consists in possessing a body capable of enduring all efforts, either of the racecourse or of bodily strength, while he himself is pleasant to look upon and a sheer delight. This is why the athletes in the pentathlon are most beautiful, because they are naturally adapted for bodily exertion and for swiftness of foot.

"For one who is able to throw his legs about in a certain way, to move them rapidly and with long strides, makes a good runner; one who can hug and grapple, a good wrestler; one who can thrust away by a blow of the fist, a good boxer; one who excels in boxing and wrestling is fit for the pancratium, he who excels in all for the pentathlon.

The most perfect sportsmen, therefore, are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony."

Of course Aristotle spoke of the ancient pentathlon- running, jumping, wrestling, discus, javelin. These were the military arts of Aristotle's day. In Pierre de Coubertin's day, the founding of the modern Olympics in 1896, the military world had moved on. The events have changed, but the spirit of functional performance is the same.

1. Pistol - ten meter air pistol, shooter is standing. Requires body control, steady strength in the shooting arm, and a hunter's eye.

2. Fencing - epee, ONE touch, round-robin format. Fencing requires quickness, burst power, endurance, and a fighter's reflexes. One touch bouts instead of the ten normally allowed makes this very much like a duel.

3. Equestrian Show Jumping - WHAT??? Yes, that's right. Not only that, the pentathlete doesn't meet the horse until 20 minutes before the competition. This simulates an Army-issue horse, or one taken from the enemy. Horse riding is a full-body exercise, especially when controlling a horse through a course of 4 foot high obstacles.

4. Swimming - 200 meters, freestyle. Again a whole-body discipline. Strength and sustained power a must. The distance is right for fast and medium twitch muscles to excel.

5. Running - 3000 meters, cross country. A perfect distance, I think. Not anywhere near the muscle-eating endurance runs, but long enough to be exciting. And it's cross country: random terrain=functionality! As an added bit of stagecraft, the start for this last event is staggered based on the points for the first four. So, the pentathlete who crosses the line first is the champion!

I'd love to be good at all these events. I'm not. I'm a good shot and an epee fencer, I run OK at 3k, I'm a terrible swimmer and I've ridden a horse across country exactly once. No jumping.

In a future post: it's been 100 years and time for an update. What 5 events go in the Post-Modern Pentathlon? Comments welcome.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Today's Workout: New Best Clean and Jerk!

145lb clean and jerk, up from personal best of 140lb. Huzzah! Within about 1 kg of my weight.

Also did a lot of cleans/front squats with a lighter weight. Also did bench, weighted pullups and dips, close-grip lat pulls...

And also dumped the bar with 145 lb on it trying to do a full squat clean, right after the record. Just lost my balance. I was pretty low already, so I simply pushed the bar in front of me. It made a heck of a bang, since the gym only has metal plates. A bunch of guys heard it and started running over- I bounced up OK before they got too worried.

Here's a picture someone took for publicity last week. It's me, power cleaning 150#. Hey - first picture on this poor excuse for a blog! Hopefully there will be more: Jeff has formally requested meathead photos.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I Miss Enos- Part Two

Enos was not the ideal neighbor. He was a putterer. This in itself is not a sin. You'd expect a man of a certain age, one who enjoys his power equipment, to putter.

Every puttering episode took a full day. It started with the radio. He'd being it outside and tune it to the light jazz channel. I like jazz. I'm a great fan of J.J. Johnson, Diz, early Miles, the Desmond/Brubeck quartet, Sonny Rollins... but Enos's music was jazz in the same way Pat Boone's was rock and roll. That is to say, it wasn't.

Once Enos had forcibly changed the neighborhood ambiance into something like the cereal aisle at Hannaford, the serious work could begin. No matter how small the project, Enos began by taking everything out of his garage and lining it up neatly on the driveway. Everything. Boxes, toys for Keenan, lawnmowers- yes, plural- snowblower, EVERYTHING. Then he found the object he needed, like a paint can or a bottle of weed killer, did the job, and put everything back in again.

I'm quite sure that he thought ahead to his next project, and put the things he'd need at the back of the garage so he'd be able to perform the same ritual next time.

Since he was home on disability, the puttering wasn't confined to the weekends. Emjay would call me up at work sometimes.

"He's doing it again!"

"What is it this time?"

"I think he's waxing his van."

"Everything out of the garage?"

"Everything. Why does HE get to pick the soundtrack for the neighborhood?", she'd complain.

"Play some opera."

"Oh, sure, if that wouldn't be the perfect crazy white lady response. And you're the one who likes opera."

"Play your music then."

"I'd still be able to hear Kenny G. That might ruin the Cowboy Junkies forever," she'd sigh.

All day, every day sometimes when the weather was nice. Puttering. Shuffling along at middle-aged disability speed. With happy sunny major key dreck that some apostates call jazz.

But of course, he was keeping the house up. And Enos was a lot of things, but he was no meathead.

One day his lawsuit for the disability was settled. I found out when I saw him and Jill on their porch, having a meeting with a financial planner. In a week, he'd bought a place in Florida. In a month, he'd sold out to a couple who live in California, and the place was rented.

It went to a group of women graduate students first. We had a noise problem exactly once, on someone's birthday. After that school year, the first meatheads came. Then more, then meathead subletters, then still more meatheads.

I miss puttering. I miss Kenny G. I miss Enos.

This post is Mostly True.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I Miss Enos - Part One

There's a spot in the kitchen that we tell people is the exact place we were standing when we decided to buy the house. It's true, the realtor was leading us through, and when we saw the inlay in the floor and the stained glass on the kitchen pass-through, Emjay and I turned to each other with the look that says, "we're buying this house!"

But I had already decided I wanted it, weeks before. I had driven around the city taking pictures of all the houses for sale, to go over later with Emjay and narrow down the choices. It had snowed recently.

I saw Enos, who owned the house next door, using his snowblower. Of course I didn't know his name yet. His winter clothes meant business. I bet he had matches and a candy bar in his pockets, in case he was trapped in the snow in front of his house and had to spend the night.

You could tell he was the sort of guy who liked power equipment. He proudly wrestled the handles of his 12-horse snowblower against about 2 inches of snow. He clenched a fat, unlit cigar in his wide grin. His young son played in the snowbank near him.

I took one look at Enos and thought, "I want to live next to that guy."

We bought the house. Enos's wife Jill was a great neighbor too, and their 7 year old Keenan was a nice kid. I learned that Enos was really on his second life. He'd been disabled at work and was on disability pension. Some time before he'd also been a drunk, on the streets. I found this out when a man came by begging money, and Enos hustled him away before I could say a word.

"Ain't nobody has to go hungry in this city," he told me, "That's just his excuse."

Enos knew. He'd been there, he'd pulled himself out of the hole, and he had nothing but contempt for the ones who were to weak to do so themselves. I think he felt the same way about his old self.

This post is Completely True.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rocky Day

An off-lift day. Did 5x 3minute rounds with the heavy bag. In between rounds, medicine ball incline situps. Each set I did 4x S L O W crunches, then another 4x slow twists for obliques, then fast situps/throw and catch with the 14# ball. 5 sets total.

Good explosive stuff for lean muscle, I hope. If you think about it, Rocky's training and diet was all about Evolutionary Fitness: right down to the glass of raw eggs!

I didn't know Meatheads were in season already

Last Friday I saw Hellboy2 with a friend. The street was unusually noisy on the walk home. At least 3 of the lovely Adirondack style porches on my block had been usurped by beer pong tables. I noticed, to my horror, that one of the parties was at the house next door.

It was late, so the kids were in bed. Emjay had left a cheerful note for me on the computer. I went upstairs to find her.

She was on the balcony porch attached to our bedroom, smoking a cigarette.

"Where did you get that?" I asked.

"I had one left over from the Christmas party."

"It's still summer. I didn't know meatheads were in season already."

"If they wake up the kids," she said, pausing to take a drag, "I will kill them."

I went to get some cigarillos for me, a glass, and the bottle of Maker's Mark. I came back just in time, as Emjay's glass was empty.

I poured the bourbon and lit my cigar. We were on a second floor porch in the back of the house, and they at ground level in the front, so we had some good distance from the noise. Still, it was loud.

I looked up from my drink to see a meathead in the driveway next door. I guess he thought he was in a secluded spot. He unzipped and started pissing in the middle of the driveway.

"Dude, you are a fucking pig!" I shouted down. He looked up, surprised, and ran back to the front porch.

We smoked and drank for a while, cigars and bourbon looking down on Keystone Light.

Another meathead went behind the house to piss. Dick in one hand, cell phone in the other.

"Excuse me! I can see you!" Emjay shouted, "You're going to have to clean all this up in the morning, you know!"

"Chill," he said.

"Did you just tell my wife to chill? Do NOT make me come down there and go all Benjamin Linus on your ass!"

That confused him. He retreated to the front porch, muttering on the phone.

"You can't sound like the crazy old lady next door," I told Emjay, "You need more edge. Belittle them. Question their manhood."

"I can do that," she said.

A shirtless meathead staggered into the driveway, turned and puked into a gabage can. Emjay stood and leaned over the porch rail.

"Learn to hold your liquor, you pussy!"

The meathead looked up. There was Emjay in all her beautiful fury, cigarillo in one hand and bourbon in the other. Shame, eternal shame. Totally owned.

When we'd had enough, I got the mag lite out and put new batteries in it. I got the tactical baton out of the drawer and put it in my pocket, in case I did have to go all Benjamin Linus on someone. Then I thought better of it, and handed the weapon to Emjay.

"Who do you think I am, Locke?" she said.

"I'll be right back."

I went down to my front porch and walked to the edge. I turned the light on them, holding it up above my shoulder the way cops do.

"We're not going to have a problem, are we?"

"Huh? Whaddid he say?" a girl asked.

"Let's go inside," one of the meatheads said.

"What did he say to you?" the girl asked- the tone that means, 'are you going to take that?'

Apparently, he was going to take that from me and my big scary flashlight. They went inside, and as far as I know they were quiet the rest of the night.

This post is Mostly True.