Monday, April 26, 2010

The Audacity of Hope

Dare I dream? Dare I?

My life is pretty damned good. Awesome girlfriend. Awesome hobby. Great family. Great friends. I just about have everything a guy could wish for... Just about.

Now I'm on the precipice of completing the picture.

For all of my life I've felt like every time I've gotten to this point where things are falling into place, the rug has been swiped out from under me. That may seem dramatic, but I can't help how I feel. I start loving college and suddenly I'm displaced. I start loving my job as a teacher and the hours and salary become impossible. I start finding the perfect balance between my job, my hobby, and my personal life and within months I lose my job, my girlfriend, and my home.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not for a second suggesting that I didn't have a hand in both my fortune AND my misfortune. I let my weight get out of hand my freshman year, and wasn't quite the versatile actor Wright State would have wanted. I CHOSE to leave the teaching job for no real good reason. I got complacent in all facets of my life, creating an unsustainable lifestyle... If that hadn't happened, I wouldn't have fallen so hard after losing my job back in '06. I get it. I take responsibility.

Well... Now I am back at a place I could get used to. I WANT to get used to it. There's only one single thing missing, and I'm right at the cusp of placing the final piece into the puzzle...

'm remaining guarded.

Why do I feel filled with dread? Why am I waiting for the other shoe to drop at any second? I don't have an answer. I'm going about reaching my goal in the right way. I am being proactive. I'm being aggressive. At the same time, I won't allow myself to over-reach.

I've started thinking about The Secret. You know The Secret right? Focused Positive thinking manifests positive results. Believing hard enough can tilt the pinball down the right chute.

I read a blog recently where a woman was having issues, and she sent herself text messages that her issues were going to be resolved and both times "within 30 minutes" she got the news she was wanting.

Sounds awesome right? It also sounds a bit suspect to me...

Far be it from me to question fate, or the power of positive thinking (I mean, hell... my grandpa had crystals and a copper meditation pyramid to concentrate his positive energy), but I'm also a natural skeptic. I'm a pessimist (I have the mug to prove it). I would love to fully believe that all it takes to nudge fate my way is some focused good thoughts.

For a cynic, would the opposite will work just as well? Maybe I need to behave as though I expect the worst. Set my expectations to "zero". Work on my back-up plans as though they are the front men. Just assume that all of my efforts couldn't possibly make a difference. Text myself things like "Don't get your hopes up. You have it good enough already. Stop being greedy." Only then, free of expectations, can the best things happen.

Or maybe the negative thoughts will simply manifest themselves, just as the positive ones would.

Clearly it's complicated. So... how bout this...

From now on I'll send myself those positive thoughts... I'll even text myself right now. (texting... texting... texting...) (Um... Is it odd that I got this surge of happy thoughts when I read the message I literally JUST sent?) From now on, I'll be positive. A guarded positive. I can't get too high (on hope). I have to be prepared for Plan B. It's the whole eggs in basket thing. The whole chicken counting thing I guess...

All that said... I want to have hope. It's a nice feeling. Even though there's no official headcount of those aforementioned chickens, there's a definite estimate.

To quote a great moment in a great movie:

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

So, I hope.

Wish me luck.

(I wonder how many people will find this post because of the title... shamelessly stolen from our President Obama)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

3 Months Forever

Now I'm committed...

Some of you know (if you've read from the start of my blog in the Summer of 2008) that I had gastric bypass surgery in January 2008. Since that time I've lost over 185 pounds and my life has changed drastically. That's great and all, and to a large degree I've had very little to worry about in the realm of weight loss since then. It's pretty tough to NOT lose weight when your stomach can't even take in more than a certain amount. Aside from running for 2 months last Summer until my knees couldn't take it any longer, I've been extremely inconsistent with my exercising. Well... eventually the losing slows and stops. Then you're really just maintaining, and as your stomach pouch slightly stretches it's possible to slide back...

The metabolism slows as the calorie intake drops. That's natural. Your body stops burning calories as rapidly, because it thinks you're in a state of deprivation. It stores more. After the surgery there's a natural rubber-banding when once you've reached your low weight, it rises some...

Well... I'm not having it. I was miserable for years because of my weight. I fucked up my knees and my feet. I can't even entertain the idea of backsliding. So... in front of my friends and my readers I'm placing on myself the following challenge...

For 3 months, starting May 1st (I'll explain why I'm waiting 2 weeks in a minute)...

-- I'm going to be a vegetarian. This is really a no brainer for me. I have more difficulty with eating meat than any other type of food. It doesn't process well. It usually makes me feel sick. I love the taste of it, but I've been thinking for a while that the trade-off isn't worth it. Now the Tofu Muchacha can help me introduce more Tofu...

-- I'm cutting out fried foods and sweets (with the exception of Jello)... This sounds drastic, but to be honest with you, I live perpetually on a slippery slope... Better to cut it out entirely... I've never been good at moderation. Just because my tiny stomach pouch enforces moderation for me, doesn't mean I should lean on that.

-- Why 2 weeks from now? I want to give myself as much of the 3 months of pain-free exercise as possible. As I mentioned earlier my knees are totally jacked up. Last Fall I went to see a doctor about them, and aside from recommending surgery, his only other solution were these silicate injections that sort of create a synthetic lubricant between my joints. Well, I need to make an appointment to get these injections. The effects won't be instantaneous, but if I can get a head start on making my knees a little happier, I'll take it.

-- I'll be attempting to do P90X. It's an extremely popular work-out program that claims to make a huge fitness impact in the span of 90 days. I've started and stopped it a couple of times already, though not particularly recently. This will be my biggest challenge, as I need to carve out at least 80 minutes (with workout and shower) every day, and that's easier said than done. Of course... I've spent an hour on this blog (I half wrote a different, unpublishable one)... The time DOES exist.

So... We'll see how it goes. I don't have a weight loss goal. I'm not concerned with losing more weight, really. Just want to feel healthier. Possibly tone. Sharpen my jawline...

Come May 1st, I'll officially announce the start. I'll post weekly updates at least, and I'll likely have a lot to say about the ills of tofu.

Thanks for indulging me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

After the Break

I slept late this morning, and now I'm all wired. And bored. The Tofu Muchacha is slumbering peacefully, having earned a solid rest after a day of running (10 miles!) and rehearsal. I accidentally deleted "Ultimate Recipe Showdown" before I watched it. The Cardinals/Brewers game is quietly in hand. I'm bored.

As I waited through the commercials, a couple of them struck me, so I've decided to write a short post about some of my issues with the growing weirdness of television advertising.

Screaming. Two of Three commercials featured men screaming. Staples is currently running these crazy ads where this idiotic business man is standing in the aisle of the store and just absolutely insanely shouts "WOW!! That's a low price!". Then he repeats this several more times as he sees all of the low prices the store offers. It's utterly ridiculous. The other screaming man commercial features George Takei. 'Nuff said.

How is having a man scream like a crazy person suddenly something that would make me think your product is good? I've been blown away by some low prices in my time (though, to be fair, never at Staples), and I've never felt the urge to scream like Howard Dean at a Prince concert.

I don't understand what it is about the beach that 1) makes people suddenly feel sexy like in those Cialis commercials or 2) makes ladies feel like their period is going better like in just about every tampon commercial. Sand isn't sexy. In fact, I am struggling to think of more than two or three things LESS sexy than sand. It gets in your crevices. It's used to grind things down. That really is all you should know about sand before determining you don't want it incorporated into your love making. And yet... Cialis will have you believe that when you take their magical pill you'll want to be transported right down onto the closest sandy beach for your middle-aged love making. I really enjoyed the Kotex commercial where the girl was all sarcastic about how the first thing she wants to do during her period is run around on the beach. At least they're aware of how stupid most tampon commercials can be.

Shame. Did you know that Infinity is currently running an ad campaign for one of their cars that brags the interior has silver dust polished into the wood. SILVER DUST. Like, first of all... how is this even remotely reasonable? Not to rip off a David Cross bit, but THIS is why most of the world hates us. Our fancy cars aren't fancy enough. We have to rub precious metals into the wood grain. Does it make our car run better? Does it conserve fuel? Does it smell like springtime? No. It's just a completely retarded thing. It's rare that I'm offended by oppulence (I mean... I work for a private jet company.) This isn't in the league of the 300,000 dollar watch that doesn't tell time, but it does make me think of it.

While I'm on the subject... Is it just accepted at this point that functionality is no longer the primary selling point in a product. I'm pretty convinced that something doesn't even have to work at all if it looks cool or has diamonds buried in it, or it smells like poppies or whatever. Moen wants you to buy their faucets because they look nice. Volkswagen wants you to buy their cars because they no longer look like toasters. Of course, Honda wants you to buy their cars because they DO look like toasters, so I don't know what to think.

The one thing I'm absolutely positive about is they don't even have to talk about how well their products work. This is amazing to me.

I've managed to blog myself into sleepiness. I leave you with one final thought...

DVRs are wonderful things.

This blog brought to you by the new Nike Air Muchachos
Oh yes. Those are real.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Me Eye! Me Eye!

Way back in the long-ago month of January I developed this.... thing. Right on my eye. Well, on the lower right eyelid. It started out as this small little bump. Not painful. Not annoying. Hardly even noticeable, really. I showed it to some various folks and I got a bunch of different home-doctor diagnoses...

"It's a stye. You should rub some silver on it."

"It's a eyelid zit. It'll go away."

"It's an ingrown hair."

Well... I didn't try silver. I didn't really do anything. I just stopped wearing contacts, started wearing my glasses for the first time since I was 16, and went about my business. I went to San Antonio. I did a show. I went to Denver.

Progressively, the "thing" got worse. It went from being barely noticeable, looking more like an irritation than anything else, to being this bulbous, throbbing pustule. It was so bad at one point that my boss asked if it was obscuring my vision. He wasn't kidding at all.

In late February I decided I was tired of looking at it, and went to the doctor. He took about .5 seconds to diagnose me as having a Chalazion, not a stye. You can see the difference by clicking on the link. The comforting thing was that he seemed less than concerned, and gave me a 2 week cycle of tetracycline and told me it would just go away....

It did not.

In fact, during the week in Denver, it got significantly worse, going so far as to crack and bleed a little. It annoyed me enough, and grossed out my hosts enough, to prompt me to schedule another appointment with the doctor.

I went on Monday, and in another .5 seconds he was all "Yep... that's gonna have to be lanced."

I was all about it, and basically leaned back and started swabbing the area my own self, but he just sort of chuckled and said "Oh... in the old days I would have been able to do that for you, but nowadays there are specialists. You'll have to schedule in with one of them."


So I did. For yesterday at 8 AM.

Let me tell you a little about my experience.

I got to the office (an hour North of home and an hour and a half north of work) and they get me back almost immediately. I barely had a chance to read about all of those CRAZY INVENTIONS in Readers Digest. (Someday I'm going to have to write a post about Readers Digest, because that is one magazine I don't fucking get.) Anyway, they take me back to the first room where they (for the 3rd time in 6 weeks) test my eyesight. Even if I couldn't see it, by now I know what the line says. Then some random doctor comes in and looks at the fucking thing AGAIN, and lo-and-behold, much to my surprise, agrees that the GIANT EFFING BLOB on my eye needs to be removed. Then she goes away. That was weird to me, because she didn't actually do anything at all. She just agreed with Doctor #1 and left.

After a little bit, I finally meet this "Specialist" who I will say was very, very nice. He comes in and is all asking me about my job and talking to me about the weather and all kinds of random shit. As he's chit-chatting away, he leans me back in this chair and swabs around the thing. Then, casual as can be, he says.... "Okay. I'm going to give you some numbing medication so that we can perform the procedure. You'll feel a little pinch."

Then he proceeds to stab my eye with a big effing needle. Four times. To call it a "little pinch" is a little like calling getting your ballsack caught in your zipper a "little pinch". Not to be crude about it, but that bitch HURT. The 4th of 4 needs went literally right into the corner of my eye. The whole time he's all "oooh.. sorry... sorry... What kind of people do you fly?"

If the guy weren't so damned friendly about the whole thing I may have wanted to murder him.

So then he gives me a swab of gauze and tells me to hold it on there for a minute or so before removing it. I do, and when I remove it, I see one of those things that is probably harmless and normal, but really freaks you the hell out. The gauze is just SOAKED with blood. Like someone had shot me. That didn't make my tummy flies stop their fluttering, that's for sure. I'm not squeamish about blood, and I'm not really a baby when it comes to pain, but something about bleeding from my eye got to me.

So after a while, my eye did start to numb-up something fierce. It was kind of an odd feeling, because the numbness was extremely localized. The top lid was totally fine, and the space just below the lid was fine. When I blinked, it felt like my upper lid would just fall into an abyss.

They walked me into the "Minor" room, where they perform minor procedures, and sat me down in the chair. I made the terrible, terrible mistake of looking to my right where the "tools" of my little "minor" surgery were waiting. Tongs. Q-Tips. X-Acto. I wish I were joking. I should NEVER have looked at that.

So Friendly Doctor walks in again and is still chit-chatting away, and he leans me back again and grabs on to my lid with the aforementioned tongs. I close my eyes. Then I hear the worse sound I've ever heard. The sound of an x-acto blade cutting my eyelid open. I could FUCKING HEAR IT. It was nauseating. Sadly, it got worse.

After he sliced me open like a dude at a gang initiation, I felt this weird pressure. Not unlike the pressure I felt after my surgery when the doctor pulled the drainage tube out of my chest. Not pain, but something possibly worse than pain. Just a gross, icky pressure.

Oh... and whatever it is that he's doing (I can't feel it specifically enough to figure it out) is rocking my whole head from side to side. I can also feel the pressure change intensity. I realized what it was after about a minute. He was scooping around in my open eyelid cavity with the damned Q-tip.

This went on for 10 minutes if it was a second. At one point I felt so close to vomiting from the sickening movement of the whole thing that I took a deep inhalation of breath. This actually caused him to interrupt his delightful conversation with the nurse about what her son's plans for Spring Break were. He was all "You alright?"

I was all.. "*gulp* yeah... just feel a good deal of pressure *gulp*".

"'ll get that. If you start feeling pain, let me know. We can fix that. "

My brain shot to the needle in my eye and I shut my damned mouth. Soon enough he finishes up, and gives me an ointment, and shakes my hand and sends me on my way.

Overall, not so bad really.

I have 2 favorite moments from the experience.

1) As I'm immediately making my 90 minute drive from there to my office, I offhandedly look in the rear view mirror. Blood is streaming down my face, like I'm one of those creepy statues of the Virgin Mary.

2) I went to a gathering of theatre folks last night, and my buddy Nate seriously tells me "Your eye's looking better." I've thought a lot about this comment, and have come to the conclusion that the "thing" that haunted my poor right eye for 2 months must have been pretty fucking bad, because here's what my eye looked like last night:

Oh... one last thing... I was most disappointed that I didn't get to wear an eye-patch. Even just for a day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

(Except not Shitty)

As you all know, I've been on a bit of a "post-apocalyptic/ zombie" kick of late when it comes to my book reading. This is, in no small part, the influence of the Tofu Muchacha who has possibly the darkest taste in stories of anyone other than my dad. I asked her for a recommendation when I finished Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse. She immediately rattled off about 15 books within the post-apocalypic/zombie genres. One of the books that stood out most to me was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. I remember her reading it when we were in Michigan, and commenting repeatedly how much she liked it.

The book is considered "Young Adult" fiction, which sort of made me hesitant to read it... I mean, I'm generally at such a sophisticated reading level that I feared "young adult" would be too boring... Kidding.... I really just typically like more detailed descriptions of boobs and drug use. What made me even more hesitant was that the book is about a 17 year old girl. Oh... and there's supernatural elements AND a forbidden romance AND a love triangle. Now... call me crazy, but when I hear "Young Adult fiction about a teen aged girl, where there are both elements of the supernatural and forbidden romance with love triangles".... I think of mother fucking Twilight.

Well... I read Twilight. I read it based on less trustworthy recommendation than that of The Tofu Muchacha. You can read my full thoughts on Twilight HERE. (Interestingly, I think my overall opinion of Twilight has degraded significantly since I wrote that.) So, based on the recommendation alone, I decided to read it The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed it... In fact, I enjoyed it for succeeding in many of the areas where Twilight failed. Allow me to discuss...

The Writing...

Carrie Ryan does an excellent job of writing the whole book from the first person perpective of her heroine, Mary, without making her seem like a completely self-involved idiot. On the other hand, Stephenie Meyer also writes her books from the first person perspective of her heroine, Bella Swan, and utterly fails to make her even remotely likeable. The structure of her prose is graceful... intricately weaving the internal monologue of Mary with the first person observations about the factual events going on. I think my favorite thing about the writing is that while the events in the story are fairly repetitive, the descriptions never get stale. It's really an interesting read. Meyer fails to create any sort of variance in her descriptors. In fact, she does the opposite of Ms. Ryan. She has these incredibly varied scenarios, and yet describes them all using the exact same 20 words. (if I have to read about Edward's diamondy skin again...) . The biggest strength of Carrie Ryan's writing is her understanding of stakes. It's so important, in a good thriller, for the stakes to be high throughout, and in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the threat of death is literally present from the start. I could read The Forest of Hands and Teeth again... I don't know if I could get through Twilight a second time.

The Main Character...

I sort of alluded to this already, but god......damnit do I hate Bella Swan. She's annoying, self-involved, and perpetually in peril. Stephenie Meyer managed to create a book series that is hugely popular with teen girls, with a teen girl as the main character, while making her the most forgettable and unlikable character in the whole series. I'm not one for causes, really, but when I hear about feminists bemoaning how awful a role model Bella Swan is, I find it 100% impossible to disagree. She's helpess, irritating, irredeemably boy-crazy, and makes one insanely bad choice after another.

Carrie Ryan's Mary isn't all that much different, on the surface, than Bella. She has family problems. She analyzes and analyzes and analyzes literally everything that passes through her head. She has a crush on a dude. She's got a legion of the undead wanting to eat her at all fucking times... Still, despite all of those similarities, she's more interesting in the first 6 pages than Bella is in her entire damned saga. She becomes an athiest. She has to deal with her possible fault in her mother's death. She finds herself torn between her loyalty to her best friend and her love for Travis. She's got complexity. She's not always likable, but she's always relate able. Also, it likely doesn't hurt that when Mary is in trouble that she actually does something about it (like decapitate some effing zombies) as opposed to Bella, who lets Edward and Jacob do all of her fighting for her.


I acknowledge that vampires are effing awesome. I further acknowledge that the Volturi are especially effing awesome. Awesome Ancient Vampires notwithstanding, they are no match for The Unconsecrated. The Unconsecrated is what the characters in The Forest of Hands and Teeth have given the zombies. They're not as cool as vampires who drive fast cars and engage in witty repartee, but they will actually kill someone, which Stephenie Meyer seems to avoid a lot for a book about fucking VAMPIRES. That's always been my biggest problem with Twilight... the bad guys never do anything bad. In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the Unconsecrated kill hundreds of people. They cause the deaths of the main character's mother, father, sister-in-law, and beloved. They're bad. They have no feelings. They only thirst. It's fucking terrifying. They fight and claw and push until they get what they want or literally fall apart and degrade to the point where they physically can't continue. As long as their brain is connected they never stop. That's a scary villain.

The Romances...

I said it during my review of Twilight that I thought the love of Bella and Edward was fucking creepy. They went from meeting to madly "irrevocably" in love in the span of 4 pages. It's not romantic that way. It's weird and obsessive and gross. The love of Mary and Travis in The Forest of Hands and Teeth isn't completely different... Mary is willing to give up everything she knows to be with Travis. Even with that similarity, the realism is much, much greater. I love the complications that Carrie Ryan imposes... There are familial loyalties. There are sacrifices of safety and comfort and the feelings of best friends. Every decision Mary makes is weighted with the knowledge that it effects someone she cares about. There's a lot of uncertainty with their love. It may not be as blazingly, crushingly romantic as Twilight, but it has texture to it. It's compelling because you don't know from the first page how it'll end. (Which I may suggest is what is compelling about love in general.) I also really like that Mary doesn't completely lose herself in her romance with Travis. In the end, she's still acting heroically on her own.

All of this is not to say that the book is perfect. There are places where the meandering mind of Mary gets a little maudlin. The story is unfocused in places. The payoff of reaching The Ocean comes too quickly and couldn't possibly live up to the thousand or so references that serve as build-up. The secondary characters are barely developed and in some ways completely inconsequential. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Shamalyan movie The Village.

Still... I'd read it again, and I'm excited to read the sequel, which came out last month. The book perfectly segued into the likely sequel, and the scope of the first book was small enough, and the frame of reference of Mary was so limited that there are still many books of discoveries she can make.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Based on a True Story

It's weird to think about South Park having been around for 13 years or whatever it's been, but it has.

There have been some absolutely excellent episodes over the years. The one where Cartman gets his own amusement park. The one skewering World of Warcraft and Anime and Scientology and Mormons and ________.

One of my all-time favorite episodes is called Casa Bonita. The basic idea plot is that Kyle is allowed to take 3 friends to this crazy theme restaurant known as Casa Bonita. A place featuring completely ludicrous things like cliff divers, and a strolling mariachi band (which I guess isn't all that ludicrous), and a place called Black Bart's Cave (a haunted tunnel). Cartman is upset by being left-out in favor of Butters (my all-time favorite South Park character.) He tricks Butters into hiding in a bomb-shelter and gets the replacement invitation. Cartman's plot is discovered, and once caught he runs through Casa Bonita enjoying all it has to offer. It's pretty fucking hilarious.

All this time I assumed that Casa Bonita was a fictional place with invented features assigned to it, in order to poke fun at theme restaurants like The Rainforest Cafe or House of Blues or whatever. I like those places, which made it even funnier to me.

This past week, while on vacation in Denver, I took Tofu Muchacha and her sister Ping to a few thrift stores. The first thrift store we visited is on West Colfax in Lakewood. To my great shock and delight, the store shared a parking lot with THE REAL CASA BONITA.

I couldn't effing believe it. All this time I thought the place was fictional. Even if it wasn't, I would have assumed it was exaggerated for the sake of comedy.

Nope... Totally and completely real.

The exterior from South Park was depicted as this sort of Pink Mexican style hacienta type place... Here's a picture from the episode:
Here's the actual place: It's amazingly accurate, don't you think? Even down to the big-boned dude posing out front.

I admit that I was incredibly excited. I demanded that we went in and take more pictures. Here's what we came up with... T.M. and her sister outside, with one of the sign-boards showing all kinds of fun entertainment to be found inside.

The map of the whole restaurant, featuring all of the delights I thought South Park made up.

The "streetscapes" we encountered just walking in to the host station. This reminded me of something Disney would do incredibly well. The Casa Bonita version of this was a little dirty. Kind of smelly too. It's a pretty long journey from the front entrance to the point where you first meet an employee...

Lastly, here's me after being completely shot down when I simply asked if I could walk in and take a look around the dining area. We were told that we would not be allowed in at all without purchasing a meal, which... appears to be buffet style. Effing bastards. I was really bummed. I wanted to see a god-damned cliff diver. Maybe next time, when I'm prepared to come across the now non-fiction Casa Bonita.

Now I wonder what other crazy things South Park has featured are real. Underpants gnomes? The Brown Noise? Mel Gibson?

The world is suddenly full of amazing possibilities.