Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sleeping Like a Jock in Econ 101

MY TWO-DAY STREAK of insomnia broke last night. I avoided taking a nap over the course of the afternoon after I posted yesterday's entry, for fear that this might further disrupt my circadian rhythm (irregular at best). By about 5:30, my mother called, to update me on some medical goings-on, and to reiterate the plan she and my dad had to dine out. She asked if I wanted to accompany them, and I eagerly accepted. Since going on a small-but-frequent-meal eating plan, I have barely had any meals out. I knew an evening meal, particularly the chicken parmigiana I knew they had at the place they were going, would knock me out. So I hit the town with my parents, gorged (at least by recent standards), and by 9:00 was slouching around the apartment like a drunk ape. This time, I fell right to sleep. Delicious.

I didn't take any sort of heat at work over taking the day off. I am fortunate enough not to have needed large blocks of sick time, and for planned absences, I always give a couple of weeks' notice and ensure that my work will move forward without me. I did get a couple of more jobs in while I was gone, which Murphy's Law could have predicted. No matter. Staying busy is important, what with management's occasional snooping about to determine how much we are accomplishing.

I was sad to miss the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I have never been there live, but when I worked in Midtown, the blocks surrounding Radio City Music Hall would pick up a distinct vibe on the day the lights were to be lit. Couples and families, either from other districts of the metropolis, or from out of town, would fill the streets, decked in their holiday regalia. Children there for their first viewing would be in abundance. Regardless of the weather, the holiday spirit would fill the streets.

There's not as much of a Christmas feel in Chelsea yet, or at least none that I could sense. I recall some lit windows from last year. Some of the retailers may also decorate their storefronts, though none so grandly as Macy's. Starbucks has of course filled their outlet in our building with holiday ads and knick-knacks. Our department usually stages a Secret Santa around this time, but the organizer is at home, awaiting her own nativity scene in the closing days of her pregnancy. Also, there's no good place for us to set up our tree as we had in the last building (right next to my desk, actually). I don't participate in Secret Santa (mutual ignorance of what I and my coworkers might want), and most of the holiday confections folks brought in for the occasion in the past are things I am trying not to eat. So it remains to be seen whether our company will decorate or otherwise denote the presence of the holiday season.

One way in which they used to do so was a bonus. The first year I was there, 1999, the company was evidently flush with enough cash to hand out two American Express traveler's checks: a $25 one at Thanksgiving, and a $50 one at the end of the year. This was in addition to a lush Christmas party in the revolving restaurant and club atop the Midtown Mariott Marquis. Two years later, the dot-com crash and 9/11 combined to make that year's party the last. I won't hold out hope for this year, despite rosier economic news from the bigwigs. Employment, it seems, might be the better reason to be cheerful.

I can't believe we've been in the new digs for two weeks short of a year. It went by alarmingly fast. I intend to make better use of the fantastic resource that is my location — near the Village and close to the PATH for easy escape — when I have the chance to stay later than usual. Even just for extended afternoon walks under the crisp winter sky. The commute home is going to take an hour one way or the other. I can slow down the rest of my day when I need to. And I should.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Inexplicable Insomnia

FOR THE PAST TWO nights, I have been plagued by an unprecedented streak of insomnia. This never happens to me. I can stay up late when I need to, and then fall asleep like a corpse when the night finally ends. Sometimes, after poker night, when I pull down a good win, I get too excited to sleep. In those cases, I just run out my string either by cleaning up or futzing around on the Internet. But otherwise, even in Las Vegas, I can usually expect some shuteye after I actually shut my eyes.

Well, I was doing that for a damn long time Sunday night, after Chinese food with my parents and a bit of the late-day Jets game, and it just wasn't happening. I usually sleep with earplugs in, due to my noisy upstairs neighbors (they evidently don't believe in following the part of the lease that mandates rugs). I only had one cup of tea with dinner, which was made without MSG. Still, I just lay there, flopping around, looking for the magic body position that would plunge me into slumber. This on a night before what I had planned to be a workout morning.

The last time I can remember seeing my clock that night was midnight or so. I did eventually drift off. But even then. I kept waking up. Not because of any memorable nightmares or excessive street noise. Mysterious and irritating.

My original wake-up time of 4:00 wasn't gonna cut it anymore. When it buzzed in the next morning, I reset it for 6:30 and, thankfully, slept right through to that moment. I went with a plain whole wheat bagel and Diet Coke for breakfast and managed to survive the day somehow.

I got into bed last night around 9:45, after taking some time to cook food for the week. I had avoided caffeine in the afternoon so I might have a better chance of getting right to sleep that night. No dice. Again, I kept tossing and turning, listening to my breathing, with no visit from the Sandman in sight.

Between last night and Sunday night, I don't think I got more than 8 decent hours of sleep. This presented a risk. Cold season is well underway. Flu season is slinking about the periphery of the area. At least two people at a poker game on Sunday were getting over colds. By Tuesday morning, I hadn't exercised in three days (working out boosts the immune system). Plus, two of my teammates at work were fighting on-and-off colds or chest infections and, inexplicably, placed the importance of their jobs over their health.

This is insanity. Work will give you health insurance if you are lucky, but not your actual health. No job is worth your wellness, and no job will give it back to you after it fails. Even though I only have three days left this year, I took one of them today to steer clear of disease and to ensure a proper amount of sleep tonight. I'm not a Howard Hughes–type by any stretch, shuffling around with tissue boxes on my feet and bathing every surface with Lysol. But as I've gotten older, I have become less tolerant of those who don't take care of themselves and in fact share their illnesses with others out of a stubborn sense of duty. I had a subordinate at a previous job who boasted about never having taken a sick day at one of the other two jobs she held in addition to the one we had in common. She would often come to the office hacking like a malfunctioning diesel engine. This was not one of the factors that contributed to her eventual dismissal, but it was definitely something I did not miss when the next cold season arrived without her heralding its approach with a cacophony of coughs.

I have actually taken the opportunity to get over to the gym. It felt good to go through my program again. I lost a little strength in two of the exercises, but in most of the others I either met or beat my recorded reps and/or weight from last time. I enjoyed a thick protein shake while writing this, purple and frosty from the frozen blueberries I added. I anticipate collapsing like a drunk midget by the end of the day.

I have conceived of one mildly productive duty to undertake while here, however: booking my next trip to Las Vegas. I owe you, the faithful Schizohedron reader, my take on the Neon Havens. I shall not keep you long.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Grim Tromp of Athletic Shoes to the Gym

I ANTICIPATE AN AMUSING scene tomorrow at the gym I attend. Before all the soccer moms and muscleheads clot the highways of my corner of New Jersey this Black Friday, many of them will remember that they have gym memberships. In a fit of guilt, they will stretch on suddenly snug T-shirts and Spandex shorts, dig to the nether reaches of their closets for the $250 cross-trainers they snagged at Sports Authority in a fit of optimism-via-credit card debt, empty them of any resident mice, shiver their way to the car, and pull up to the gym, effulgent in their desire to drop the 4,000 calories they consumed during the Lions and Cowboys games with but a mere 15 minutes on the elliptical trainer.

Well, if nothing else, it'll bring out the chicks.

Okay, okay, stop throwing the eggs. I will join them tomorrow, but I don't feel an ounce (har) of guilt about my Thanksgiving dinner today. I got to spend the day eating homecooked food with the two people most important to me. That's a benefit no stack of iron or Stairmaster is going to bestow.

This is because my underlying eating plan has been working. I have indeed been eating better. True, I have occasionally eaten things in the past 2 weeks that aren't exactly nutrient packed. I did have some potato chips on Tuesday night, which due to the holiday became "Thursday" poker night. They tasted exceptionally salty. I largely have avoided processed foods and especially bagged snacks, so the salt and pseudo-flavors in the chips were brash and brassy.

I put on one of my older belts today prior to heading out to my parents' place. I noticed that I had to cinch it all the way to the end of the holes. I took it off and examined the notches, then re-cinched it to represent my fattest weight (probably from this summer). I had a good couple of fingers' worth of play between the belt and my actual pants. Not bad. All of this was from not eating crap. No entire bags of Doritos, or late-afternoon treks to the bakery across the street for a hunka hunka burning crumb cake. I haven't been lifting or even doing cardio every day. When I do get past this beginner workout and into a more active phase, which could even be 20 minutes of cardio on days when I am not lifting, I should continue to see results.

Over the course of the two past weeks, I have concluded that poor nutrition sabotaged any true efforts to lose weight I made in the past 5 years. I began going to a gym regularly in 2000. Well, as regularly as my motivation and depression over failing to get anywhere with it would allow. During none of this time did I give any deep thought to how I should be eating. I am trying not to feel like I have wasted all of that time and money, but the best antidote for that sort of regret is to enact a plan that I know will work.

So that's where I will be tomorrow, getting myself in tune for a more dedicated program, taking things slowly but not without attention to detail and care for my beginner's body — for I am really a beginner in light of the past 5 years — and realizing that one dinner with my parents will not upset a carefully laid and enacted plan of attack.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Twenty Long Years on Tatooine

I JUST RE-WATCHED Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I have actually been going backwards through the new trilogy, having rented Revenge of the Sith when it recently came out on DVD, followed by watching the magnificent first volume of the Clone Wars animated series ahead of the release of the second volume.

Between Episodes I and II, I wrote the following speculation over what Obi-Wan Kenobi might have done between his parting with Darth Vader and his appearance in Episode IV. (At the time, we were still going on the "Anakin falls into lava during his final duel with Obi-Wan" theory in circulation since the late 70s.) By way of showing you, the faithful Schizohedron reader, just how deeply the depths of my geekdom reach, I inflicted the following on my friends way back in the comparatively idyllic year 2000:

Our first introduction to Obi-Wan Kenobi was in 1977, when he appeared in Star Wars. Yet we soon found out that this was really "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," and that prior to this film, Obi-Wan withdrew from the public after Anakin Skywalker fathered Luke and Leia, fell to the Dark Side, and became Darth Vader. Assuming all this happens in the as-yet-unnamed Episode III, that leaves a fairly large stretch of time before "Ben" Kenobi rescues Luke in Episode IV. How did Obi-Wan spend those twenty-odd years?
  • Failed business venture #1: Obi-Wan's Taco Hut
  • Hoping he successfully hit "CTRL+ALT+DEL" on those two blabby droids Anakin had
  • Saying, "He betrayed and murdered your father" in front of a mirror until it looks convincing
  • Becoming confused over seeing, "DON'T GO TO THE DEATH STAR" floating in his Alpha-Bits
  • Failed business venture #2: Jundland Wastes Hotel and Casino ("Loosest Slots in the Outer Rim!")
  • Operating methadone clinic for Tusken Raiders
  • "Calibrating" his "lightsaber"
  • Writing column for "Crazy Old Hermit Monthly"
  • Failed business venture #3: Off-track betting for podraces (muscled out by Jabba's goons)
  • Getting really sick of postcards saying, "Told you so, I did" from Dagobah
  • Thinking obsessively, "LAVA!! I knocked him into LAVA!! Who survives fucking LAVA???"
  • Failed business venture #4: Country Ben's Rotisserie Jawa Shack
  • Seeing Qui-Gon Jinn getting saber-skewered for 2000th time in dream; screaming self awake
  • Writing, "Wander into desert to save AS's kid" years in advance on calendar; wondering why
Have a great Thanksgiving, folks, and enjoy the weekend!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shocking Weekend Display of Discipline

BY SOME WONDROUS MIRACLE of will, I actually levered my scabrous bulk out of the bed before 7 a.m. today. No, I didn't then settle down on the couch (or, worse, the toilet) for another couple of hours in dreamland. If I can get my gym clothes on before the urge to set the alarm forward another 15 minutes, I am guaranteed to get to the club, where I can then fall asleep in the sauna.

Which is not to say there aren't potential speed bumps between my parking lot and the gym. Said bump today was the first frost of fall, beautifully (if obstructively) encrusting my windows and even the painted surfaces of my car. My scraper, oddly enough, was in my apartment. I'm not sure how it got up here. My theory is that, when I cleaned out my last car prior to selling it, I took the scraper up with a mass of other assorted crap. I know I had been giving it to the smokers in my poker game to prop open the back door and eliminate the ned for me to buzz them in after they satisfied their addictions.

With no scraper save my pathetically ineffective driver's license, I simply sat in the car for 5 minutes with the defrost settings blasting, and thought about the workout I had ahead of me. This would complete my first of six weeks at this beginner level. Once again, my legs were smarting from the last one. Not my quadriceps again. The second time through for squats actually went a little easer. This time it was my calves. I had done seated calf lifts the first time because the gear I needed to do them standing was in use. (Imagine standing on the edge of a step and levering yourself up and down out of boredom or as a stretch, and that's the motion. Oh, and while holding weights.) I was able to use the right setup the second time I visited, and good gravy, did my calves ever feel it. I was walking slowly and making turns in the office with uncharacteristically delicate care. Perhaps this is why I posed such a tempting target to the drive-by haberdasher — he may have sensed I couldn't escape and thus might help him make the week's nut.

With the last workout on Wednesday, though, I figured the actual muscles might be able to bear the abuse, despite the lingering pain. I don't have a full handle on the exact process by which a muscle heals after exercise and the physical symptoms at each stage. All I know is hurt/no-hurt. The worst thing that might happen is I would cut the second set short by a few reps. I could also reduce the weight and finish out the set that way. Vee haff vays of making you lifft.

I also thought about the week in terms of nutrition. The only deviation from my eating plan was the Thursday night dinner at my parents' house. This points to a recurrent snag in my plan. I eat dinner there on Sunday nights. My mother enjoys cooking for three people on those occasions, and it's always good and usually abundant enough for leftovers. I have to find a diplomatic way to let them know I may not be eager to join them when they're eating certain things. Thanksgiving is only once a year, and I believe my gym is actually open that day, so I can anticipate the food siege to come. (Mmmmmm . . . food siege . . . calls to mind catapults flinging pumpkin pies over castle walls and directly into Homer's gaping maw.) But it's the recurring date I have there that I will need to integrate into my menu. I got off to a good start, though, so tomorrow's dinner should not impact what, otherwise, has been a flawless first week of careful eating.

At length, the frost melted on my car enough to make it street legal, so I tooled through the clear, chill town and into the parking lot of the gym. My workout went smoothly, even the squats, which are second on the list, so it makes the rest of the exercises something of a downhill jog. But the last item on the list was the dreaded standing calf raises.

The correct machine was not being used (this is why I go early!) so I glanced at my list of exercises for the right weight and began the first set of 20. By the 15th lift, I was really grimacing. I did hit 20, though, and after about a minute's rest, I started the final set of exercise for the day.

This time, when I hit 15, I hit the wall. ¡No más! as Roberto Duran might say. I unracked the weight and staggered over to my sheet to record my reps. There, I noticed that I was only supposed to have done two sets of 12, not 20.

If my calves still didn't feel like freshly tenderized meat, I woulda pimp-walked out of that gym.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Drive-By Haberdasher Strikes Again!

DO I EXUDE SOME sort of pheromone that attracts these types? In case you're joining us late, back in October I detailed my encounter with an Italian man trying to peddle clothing from his van.

Well, evidently he has a regular beat. I was walking along the very same street this evening, just one block west, when I hear, "Sir! Sir!" from the street. I recognized the accent, and just to confirm my suspicion, looked up. Sure enough, it was the same guy in the same van!

I stopped and let him speak. In the same unsteady tone as the first time, he says, "Lincoln . . . Tunnel."

Tonight was dinner with the parents, and I was not missing tacos. Quoth I: "We've been through this before. You have suits to sell in the back, right?"

I think I stunned him off the track of his usual spiel, so I gave him a cursory left-right-left set of directions to the tunnel to allow him a face-saving and literal answer to his question, and then just kept on walking.

What are the odds against running into this guy again? Do you think he actually sells a lot of suits this way? I thought the days of the pushcart vendor were long over, gone the way of the wandering ragpicker and knife sharpener. Evidently the tradition still lives on, updated to the Gasoline Age.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chocolate for Breakfast and Other Weight Loss Tips

OKAY, NOT STRICTLY CHOCOLATE. I didn't fill a bowl with M&Ms and Yoo-Hoo and chase it down with a Swiss Miss stirred with a Toblerone bar. (That happened before I woke up.) Rather, I am describing the mini-meal I had before going to the gym for my weightlifting routine. This time, I left sufficient minutes between eating and lifting to avoid the same nausea I felt on Monday. However, I also made sure I ate something I would want to retain: a homemade chocolate protein bar.

If you have visited the health-bar section of your local supermarket or drugstore, you have seen enough slabs of compressed nutrients to build a road to Iceland — which would then be devoured by invading Vikings. Many of these are crap. High fructose corn syrup, poor balances of nutrients, insufficient fiber, and the like.

The website I visited,, has a message board forum on which one popular thread listed home recipes for protein bars. The advantage with this is that you know exactly what goes into each bar, so at the end of the day, you can rely on them to be of a certain nutritional level.

So I made the following recipe:

3 cups Quaker oatmeal
8 scoops chocolate protein powder
2 cups skim milk
1 package Jello fat free/sugar free chocolate pudding mix
1 tbsp peanut butter

Mix, pour into a glass dish, refrigerate or freeze, then cut up. I will say that fridge-only bars stay fairly mushy, and that a couple of hours in the freezer before cutting them up and returning them to the icebox is a good idea. But I had one of the slabs this morning before motoring off to the gym, and it was a chewy chocolate dream.

I did more or less the same routine as on Monday, except that I was able to do the work on the proper machines. I got there at opening (5:00 a.m.!) to have full access to all machines, because last time I had to substitute one shoulder machine for another due to a guy doing innumerable bench presses on the one I needed. Now, had I hit that Mega Millions score, I would be calling contractors to design a house with a gym. Not to be. Not yet anyway.

Recovering from the infamous squats was somewhat easier this time. I have no idea when I will begin putting actual weight on the bar during the squats. This early part of the routine is supposed to last 6 weeks. Maybe by week 24. At any rate, I got through all of the exercises as well or a little better than on Monday. The degree of difficulty I am having with some of them lets me know that my previous workout routines simply were not sufficient to grow and maintain muscle and burn fat.

Tomorrow, I plan to get 20 or 30 minutes of cardiovascular work in. According to some of the real muscleheads on the aforementioned message board, cardio somehow interferes with muscle growth. I suspect this is in the case of athletes who follow days of lifting with a 10K run. This is not me. The only way I am traveling 10K on my feet is if I put on in-line skates and someone tows me behind their car. I need the endurance training and heart-healthy benefits, and what I do isn't so intense from a tear-down-the-trapezius sense that I will reverse what minuscule gains I have made merely from watching a half hour of Wakeup Call on CNBC while flapping my thighs on the elliptical trainer. That's a good 400 calories I can drop there.

So if you see a maroon Toyota with a maroon of a driver slowly wending its way toward the town gym early tomorrow morning, you know it's me, reversing the sins of the past. If you then see me steer toward the bagel store on the corner, kindly shoot out one of my tires.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Quad Damage Really Does Hurt!

NO, UNFORTUNATELY, THIS IS not a discussion of any of the various versions of Quake. It's one of the beneficial, if painful, byproducts of the first day of my new exercise regimen. For a maiden flight, it went well, but I am particularly excited by the success of the accompanying eating plan. I nearly had a mishap, however, with the first meal . . . a Technicolor, three-dimensional mishap. if you get my drift.

The gym program I had adopted featured some exercises that are new to me, the most formidable of these being the squat. This specifically targets the four quadricep muscles across the top of the thigh. It is considered a "core" exercise because it forces your lower legs and back (and the associated ligaments and tendons) to complement the quad motion by enforcing stability, which leads to greater overall body strength than a machine (with a single axis of motion that isolates your quads) might foster.

Basically, you rest the barbell across and behind your shoulders, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and then come back up to near-standing. If you've ever seen an illustration of the proper way to lift a box, you've seen the upward half of a squat.

As I'm already carrying extra weight I don't normally force through that range of motion (unless I lift boxes in my sleep, the way dreaming dogs sometimes run), I did my first quads with no actual weight plates on the bar. The program called for two sets of 12 repetitions. The first 12 took effort but not strain. About nine reps into the second set, I reeeeeeally had to push to stand up. Upon racking the bar after the 12th rep, I knew that stairs were not going to be a pleasant experience that day. But I was proud to have completed the exercise.

The initial 6 weeks of the program call for a full-body workout of about nine exercises, most of which I completed. I managed to crank out 40 abdominal crunches in two sets, which was more than I thought I could do. The only exercise I fell short on was the bench press, another key aspect of many weight-training programs. I suspect it's because I did a half-weight practice set of 12 reps before the two sets at full weight. One is encouraged to do such a practice set to get blood flowing to "cold" muscles before tucking into the "working" sets that you execute at full weight (or beyond if you're a real psycho). I stalled out at rep 10 of the second set. I wasn't disappointed, as I considered this day an experimental run to find the appropriate weights at which I could begin the program.

I have started weight-training programs in the past, but the two key aspects where I was deficient were getting enough sleep and proper nutrition. This is why I made so little progress in the past, I feel. As I mentioned earlier today, I took the first action to correct the nutrition aspect by eating a two-"egg" omelet of Egg Beaters and some cereal with soy milk. The problem here was that I ate all this a little close to the workout itself.

By the time I had returned to the car — walking down the gym stairs, as predicted, with stiff-legged awkwardness not seen since Boris Karloff last glued bolts to his neck — I was feeling a bit queasy. I had read about serious weightlifters who had followed their pre-workout meals with intense exercise just a little too soon, and had been sick as a result. I was afraid of heading down this very road, which I devoutly hoped might end in a bathroom. The real humor in such a result would have been that, once down on my knees, the squats would have denied me the strength to get back up. Lovely scene for the coroner to usher my parents into:

"And this is how we found him, Mr. and Mrs. Schizohedron . . . Yes, I agree, if he had stuck to cookie dough for breakfast, I'm sure this never would have happened. . . . No, we're still trying to figure out the note, but it looks like a menu for the rest of the day. Either he was plotting out a nutrition program, or we're gonna have to call in the Food Forensic Department to decipher it and see if it was suicide or merely death by resistance training. . . ."

I sat for a while and browsed on the computer, the ingredients to my post-workout protein shake waiting for me to integrate, blend, and down them, while my stomach pushed ominously upward. After a shower, and the decision that calling in sick over a self-inflicted dietary wound was not gonna be good for my karma, I got dressed, packed up my prepared food, made the shake, and headed out to the latest train I could conceivably get. I did give my boss a courtesy call to let her know I anticipated a late arrival, and a sketchy reason why.

Sipping the shake — raw oats ground into powder in my coffee grinder, chocolate whey protein, frozen blueberries, and fat-free Stonyfield Farms plain yogurt — actually settled my stomach, and I spent the train ride watching the surprisingly beautiful morning grow sunnier and warmer by the minute. By the time I got into the city, I was digesting confidently, even if my gait was slower than my usual angry–Sith Lord stalk. I did steer clear of anything except water until 10:30 or so, when a slight headache reminded me that, yes, I am a caffeine addict, and I needed a hit.

I tracked what I ate over the course of today, which was easy in that I had already measured out everything that I had brought into the city. I had also been eating carefully parceled-out snacks and greens over the past couple of weeks, so I had a little practice. I am not going to make you read my daily intake with each blog entry, but I figured it would be interesting to show you how the day's feeding schedule broke down. (Plus I may want to return to this post should I succeed in making a difference in my weight and build months or years from now.)

MEAL 1—Pre-Workout
½ cup Egg Beaters, made into an omelet, fried with Pam
2 Weetabix wheat cereal bricks
½ cup soy milk

MEAL 2—Post-Workout (aka "second breakfast")
The following blended into a shake:
½ cup steel-cut oat groats, powdered, raw
1 scoop chocolate whey protein
¾ cup frozen blueberries
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
½ cup skim milk

2 Ryvita crackers, covered with
1 tbsp each natural peanut butter

MEAL 4—Lunch
4 oz. pork tenderloin
1 cup brown rice
2 cups red-leaf lettuce
2 tbsp Newman's dressing

Same as Meal 3, + ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese

MEAL 6—Dinner
3 oz. can water-packed tuna
1 cup broccoli, steamed
1 tbsp lite mayonnaise
1 tbsp flaxseed oil

Based on an estimate of my lean body weight, if I am going to train with weights, I should be taking in 2812 calories, at a ratio of 40/30/30 of complex carbs, protein, and fats. I subtracted 500 calories from this to foster fat loss, taking the total down to 2312.

Would you believe that the above meals totaled up to 2321?? On my first try, I came within a rounding error of my goal. Not bad! I also came damn close on the ratios: The above split assumes a carb/protein/fat split (in grams) of 241/170/92, and I hit 240/180/74. What I plan to do is to assemble a series of food "modules" for which I know all of these stats, so I can quickly put together meals that I not only like, but that meet my desired calorie count and stats.

So I am going to bed tonight feeling pretty damn happy with myself. I know how to stay on track and how to get back there should I have to improvise or diverge. I wouldn't call them moments of weakness, as the underlying program seems pretty strong. It's not even really a "diet" in the traditional meaning of a program of denial. More like the way I should have been eating, assembled sensibly to keep me feeling full and swimming in nutrients while my body uses up stored fat. Ninety-two grams of fat looks like a lot until you sit down and track its origins, and in my case it's all coming from healthful sources, not off the side of a steak or the fry pits of the local Burger King. With any luck, even if all I do is get a little stronger and only drop a little excess weight, I will decrease my chances of dying of something stupid and avoidable . . . unless my beleaguered leg muscles strangle me in my sleep.

Less a Feast Than a Bucket Brigade of Nutrients

I SPENT LAST NIGHT after dinner cooking lunch and dinner. Chunks of spiced pork roasted fragrantly in my George Foreman Grill. Brown rice steamed on the stove. I portioned cottage cheese and plain yogurt among eight single-serve plastic cups and tossed the original containers. Into two of my many plastic pint cups, scavenged from untold heart-clogging side orders of egg drop soup, I sifted protein powder and ground steel-cut oats . . . these last from a four-pound tub of oats had bought earlier that day from the loose-grains aisle at Whole Foods and pulverized in a coffee grinder for quick absorption when I blend them — raw — into a protein shake. . . .

Why the sudden burst of food-oriented organization? I am making a sincere effort to combine gym attendance and meal distribution to grow muscle and drop fat. For the past 2 weeks, I have brought oatmeal, salads, whole wheat/rye crackers, natural peanut butter, and tuna to work. I have distributed the three large meals I ordinarily eat into five or so smaller meals. This weekend, I researched the proper amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein I should eat to reduce stored fat and encourage muscle growth in conjunction with regular weightlifting. My previous workouts were not followed up with food in the right combinations of macronutrients (i.e., the three divisions just mentioned, along with vitamins and minerals and water), and I did too much cardiovascular exercise for someone trying to retain muscle.

I have a program downloaded from the forums at to ease into the correct way to build muscle. I had viewed this site a year ago, and was using another beginner workout to distribute lifting weights across different days and body regions (doing splits) to avoid working the same muscles twice in a row. My efforts were subverted by getting discouraged, poor nutrition, and lousy sleep schedules.

So today I've kicked things off on the right foot by eating an Egg Beaters omelet and some whole wheat cereal, along with a ton of water. I was a little nervous about the Egg Beaters. Serious weightlifters consume enormous quantities of egg whites, sometimes raw. I had never eaten Egg Beaters, and I was hoping they wouldn't resemble the jars of egg whites I had seen on the shelf at Whole Foods . . . unappetizing to say the least. I am also not a big fan of the texture of egg whites, which has steered me away from hardboiled eggs and the whites of fried eggs in the past. Fortunately, the Egg Beaters were an inviting, creamy yellow, and they tasted like a blend of maybe one yolk with two or three whites. So far it's stayed down, so I think we've got a winner.

I bought a cooler so I could tote prepared cooked meat into the city, along with dairy like cottage cheese and all manner of leafy green vegetables. The idea here is to avoid running across the street to Chelsea Market to raid the bakeries there, or to follow folks carrying leftover sandwiches or pastries after catered meetings and feed like a lion on grease and starch. And of course, the holidays are coming, with junk food offerings on the home front and at work in the form of thank-you baskets from our vendors. Winter or no, I don't need to gorge like a pre-hibernation bear.

So I am off now to the gym to get this started. If I type with a limp in the next day or so, you know why.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Boots on the Ground Safe and Sound

EXCELLENT NEWS. Rich, the Army major I detailed in this post, has returned to native soil safe and sound. He came back to Fort Dix, NJ earlier this week. His mother, wife, sister, and infant daughter were there to greet him. I can only imagine how happy they all were. No college homecoming of mine could ever equal the feelings of relief they all must have shared.

The war is not over. Keep your thoughts and prayers focused on those who have not returned so that they, too, might excel, survive, and return to their loved ones.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dizzy Mofo No Mo'

IT'S JUST OVER A week since I went to the doctor for my persistent dizziness. I am happy to report that the condition has cleared itself up. The drug I was given was more of a palliative for the symptoms than a cure for the underlying cause. Amusingly, one of the many warning stickers on the side of the pill bottle was that it could cause dizziness. Had I been seasick, these would have reduced the nausea.

I found a specific exercise on the Internet that — as much as the passage of time — may have helped speed the departure of the vertigo. I basically had to slump sideways on my bed, with my head cocked at a 45º angle, and hold it for 30 seconds, then rise to a sitting position for another 30, then slump to the other side, head cocked in the opposite direction, and so on, for five total slumps on each side. As slumping onto my bed is an inborn reflex, this was an easy therapy to enact. Over the weekend, I only felt dizzy once . . . after I took one of the pills.

I actually had adapted to the vertigo fairly rapidly. I only really noticed it was gone when I walked around. I had grown accustomed to feeling my weight lean out along the edges of my feet as I walked, as though I were on the deck of a gently rolling watercraft. Seeing as much of my volunteer duty at the WFMU Record Fair was going to be walking, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to complete that part of the shift, even with the adaptation I had made (e.g., not making fast corner turns, not stopping short, etc.).

Turned out not to be necessary. I was feeling a lot better by Friday, and only the pill-induced dizziness kept the weekend from being asymptomatic. I'm going to renew the prescription anyway, just in case I need it on short notice. I've never had any problem on airplanes, but on the off chance it decided to manifest itself on my next trip to Las Vegas, I want to be prepared.

I did take time to vote today. For once, we had some New Jersey elections to share time with the big story across the river. It throws me for a loop that Jersey elects its governor in odd-numbered years. Because of the presidential-election schedule, I associate elections with leap years, not half-assed years like 1997 or 2005. Yet that's what we have here. Fortunately, there is no opportunity for anyone not in a coma to avoid the carpet-bombing ad schedule on the radio and TV here. (As for the dead, they apparently know when to get to the polls.

The results of the New York City mayoral race are not in doubt. Mike Bloomberg could have beaten a nun to death in Times Square in between hits on a crack pipe this morning and still have looked forward to a good 35-point margin of victory. I do not like Bloomberg. I began working in NYC in 1999, after the iron fist of Rudy the G had driven all traces of Dinkins-ism out of the five boroughs. No way in fucking hell would I have taken a job right out of college, in 1991, anywhere in Chelsea, unless I had majored in chemistry and knew how to cook heroin.

I find Bloomberg to be colorless technocrat, a caretaker mayor who continued enough of his predecessor's anticrime measures to meet the second-biggest concern of the city's voters (the first being antiterror measures). Every time I hear him speak, with that petulant spoiled-boss lilt to his voice, I want to push him down a flight of stairs in his Aeron chair. This is the putz who wants to restore — and increase sixfold — the city "commuter tax" on non–NY resident workers. I know I would sleep well knowing that such vital civic practices as NYPD bag searches in the subways and mass arrests of cyclists during the Republican National Convention would receive even more funding from New Jerseyans, folks from Connecticut, and, who knows, maybe even the Amish who come in from Pennsylvania to sell pies at greenmarkets.

He is no Giuliani, which makes some folks very happy, and he is no Ed Koch, which makes others happy, and he is no Fiorello LaGuardia, which proves there is no God. But in my thinking, the big brash sprawl of New York City needs a personality, not a CEO, running things. If you're the mayor of New York and you're not actively hated by some interest group, you're not doing your job.

But of course, I am a spectator in all of this, having deposited my nectar of suffrage on the hive on this side of the Hudson. The amusing thing is that when I approached the rear entrance of our building (yes, near that famous corner), I saw a woman with a NY1 microphone and a cameraman. When I caught her eye, she smiled and asked if I was going to vote. I apologized and said I wasn't a New Yorker. I should have said I would still vote for Fernando "Jorge McGovern" Ferrer. Poor bastard needs a break.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A Million Vinyl Discs Descend on Manhattan

THIS IS WHAT USUALLY happens with my blog ideas. I get them while washing the dishes, or in the shower, or loading a dishwasher, or performing some other mundane daily battle against household entropy, and when I finally sit down, they've skeedaddled under the couch . . . possibly because that is one of the few places I won't clean. Still, a broomhandle — or a broomhandled Mauser — can come in handy for flushing them out, and, having done so, I can now proceed.

This weekend I have devoted to volunteering at the mighty WFMU Record and CD Fair, which began last night and ends tomorrow. For those who haven't clicked on my radio links, WFMU is a listener-supported freeform station broadcasting on the air in the New York City and northern New Jersey area at 91.1, in the New Hope, NY region and the Catskills at 90.1 in its WXHD guise, and live to anyone with an Internet connection in a variety of formats. DJs on WFMU program their own shows without station-mandated playlists or corporate interference, and 100% of the funding for operating the station and paying its tiny staff comes from the listeners, via an annual fundraising marathon, station music benefits, and the Record Fair.

Even if the New York radio market wasn't a listener-hostile stew of least-common-denominator pop tripe and management contempt for the listener, WFMU's blend of diverse programming and personalities, plus its informational shows, would still soundly kick ass. The man who taught me my trade as a typesetter and editor turned me on to this station on September 14, 1992. Yes, I remember the date, for it was momentous. It was my first day of work, and Chris indicated the radio on his desk and said, "I listen to this weird college station. If it ever bugs you, let me know and I'll change the channel." Rather than being bugged, I was immediately hooked. I remember, from my early days as a listener, a polka record that actually was recorded somewhere other than Poland, and the first two movements of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana performed on banjo. Six months later, I first contributed to the Marathon.

It wasn't until 1994 that I began listening to WFMU outside work. It's not the strongest radio signal on the air, and pulling in the waves from my workplace and home required either one of the more advanced antennas, or a certain amount of aerial-manipulation kabuki as one strove to isolate the region of best reception. This was just before the Web was widely available, to say nothing of reliable streaming audio or home broadband connections. But the immersion of listening at home and while working led me inevitably to the next step: volunteering.

Online WFMU playlists don't reach far back into the 1990s, if at all, so the exact date in 1997 (if I even have the right year) would have to be confirmed by whoever could tell me what day Kristin Hersh played live on Andy Waltzer's show. WFMU was still housed at the Springdale Avenue location in East Orange, its previous owner, Upsala College, a few years dead, the move to Jersey City about a year away. The station relies on a small army of volunteers, some sporadic, a few permanent and helping daily in some way, to keep the freeform flag flying. In my case, I spent an entirely pleasant day processing Marathon credit card payments and cull duplicate entries from the contributor database. The staff was very friendly and happy to have a listener in and helping out. My first stint at the Marathon, taking phone pledges, soon followed, as did my first duty as a Record Fair volunteer.

These days, I help out in the Fair's A/V Lounge. At the Metropolitan Pavilion, there is a side room that for the first couple of fairs went unused. Then someone at the station had the brilliant idea of showing music-oriented video programming in there, with the added attraction of free coffee. The thought was that folks might want to take a break from the mass mosh that goes on at the record dealers' tables, grab a cup of free joe, and watch some video rarities or a documentary. We've had some excellent programming in the past: You Think You Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story, a documentary about Joe Broussard and his massive collection of vintage 78s, and the Ramones doc End of the Century. The lounge was packed for that last one.

The other major area I work is security. That sounds more ominous than it is. The dealers begin loading in or arriving as early as 7 a.m. (the doors open at 10 a.m.). I walk around the hall, making sure everyone has their dealer tag, and ensuring nobody goes rummaging through absent dealers' wares. As I was one of the first folks to respond to the request to get there so absurdly early on a weekend, I became one of the go-to guys for this particular volunteer shift.

I enjoy the contrast over the course of the day. When I begin, the hall is virtually empty, with tens of thousands of vinyl records, CDs, 8-tracks, and cassettes slumbering under draped bedsheets on the dealers' tables. I walk around as the dealers stream in, sometimes spotting colleagues they haven't seen since the last local record show, or even since the last WFMU Record Fair. Sometimes several dealers will swarm over one guy's table, burrowing through his stacks to find rarities to snag and offer from their own table to the public, or simply to complete a personal cache of wax. By 8:30, it's getting plenty populated with dealers. Tables are deployed, milk crates are brimming with offerings, TVs for displaying sale videos are running, and small home record players are sometimes poised on top of the racks, for discerning buyers to assess the worth of a find. By 10:30, you wouldn't recognize the place, as the public has poured in and is now digging lustily into the crates, waving singles at dealers, and slumping under the weight of a dozen new acquisitions. By this time, I have shifted to the A/V lounge, where these folks might revive themselves with fresh caffeine and Nabisco-based brain sugar.

I have another shift tomorrow, so I have to hit the hay soon. The only down side to the whole affair is that, with this occurring on a weekend, my work week is destined to go straight downhill after this. Nothing at work can compare with the satisfaction I get from helping out this fantastic radio station.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Masque of the Green, Snot-Ridden Death

A WEEK OR SO ago, I noticed a change in atmosphere on the trains and in my office. No, I didn't cut down my fiber intake. Rather, I could hear one of the more familiar sounds of autumn: coughing. The traditional fall cold was making the rounds.

Soon, at work, I could hear two of my cubemates hacking away, one of them to the point of losing her voice and having difficulty breathing. She actually left early today (I know that feeling) for a doctor's appointment to dope out once and for all what was screwing up her lungs. I tried not to inhale when I was in her presence, but being directly on the other side of her wall, there was little practical that I could do, aside from decent sleep and nutrition.

So far these practices have spared me the current outbreak. When I bring water or tea to my desk, I cover the mug with a lid to prevent cold viruses from dropping in. I wash my hands well, and avoid touching my eyes, which is a major and little-known vector for cold transmission. I have little contact outside of work with people who have children. And although there have been few coughing folks so far on the train, I generally relocate when one sits nearby.

It's really not the common cold that worries me. Nor is it this super bird flu over which Bush is now flapping his feathers. Rather, it's the garden-variety influenza that I am trying to avoid. I get vaccinated every year. I am not immuno-compromised or feeble or in the health care field or anything like that. I am always out — on the train, at work, in a mall. If I have armored my system against the virus du jour, and it doesn't turn me into a sneezing, highly contagious mess, I cannot then pass it along to someone else who is in one of these risk groups, or, even more deadly, an unimmunized senior.

Also, I don't need to tell you that having the flu utterly sucks. Figure on a solid week dead, stuck on your ass with not even the lure of the Internet enough to get you off the couch. No fuckin' way. Twenty-five or thirty bucks to avoid that is cheap as hell. Consider also that I go to casinos and play in a poker game where some of these goons will play with a half-sawn-off leg if it's not their accelerator foot, to say nothing of a cold. Last time I played, the guy immediately to my right was coughing and sniffling, and I couldn't relocate quickly enough. I lucked out in that case. My luck may not last forever.

I didn't even bother to bring up the topic of a flu shot when I went to the doctor on Monday. I suspected that most places besides hospitals hadn't gotten their serum in yet. Sure enough, right on the glass partition in the front where I stood to announce my arrival, there was a sign stating exactly what I suspected: no shots yet. Hospitals in my area have been giving clinics, but most of them are scheduled for midday or early afternoon. Good for suburbanites or seniors, not for me. I actually just checked to see if St. Vincent's, a hospital near me at the junction of Chelsea and the Village, offers shots, but no dice.

With a projected Las Vegas trip in January, coworkers who never take sick days or have kids, and the steel box of contagion in which I ride filling slowly with pathogens from afar, I'd really like to get a shot in sometime soon. I may just have to bite the bullet and take a day off to sneak into the hospital. Either that, or wait until the senior center behind my building offers shots again, then lurch in dressed like Grampa Simpson. I've got the patter down: "I remember before we had flu shots, we had to wear a toad in our overalls, that being the style of the time, real frogs being scarce 'round about then due to the invasion from Canada, which in those days we called Mexico. . . . "

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Curse Strikes Again!

REMEMBER HOW I OBSERVED that I worked adjacent to a star-struck street in Chelsea? Boy, did it ever come true again today. I am going to count this because you could see this from the corner of which I have written.

I take the PATH train to 14th Street to get to work. (Dizziness update: Still there, but I'm no longer panicking about my heart going up like a grenade.) Even as I was mounting the stairs, I could smell smoke on the wind. Being the sort to savor a smoky breeze in the fall, I smiled, imagining how nice it would be to have a fireplace going on a cool autumn morning.

If only that were it! When I finally made it out to the surface, I could hear sirens in the distance, out west — the direction I was headed. Looking down 14th Street, I saw not the fringe of Jersey, but a grey smudge . . . in what seemed to be the vicinity of my building.

I called home to see if my parents had heard anything on the radio. They reported a parking garage was on fire on 15th Street and Ninth Avenue. This is right across the street from where I work! I kept walking, assuming I would know by the throngs of my coworkers if my building had been evacuated as a precaution.

Emergency vehicles passed me in haste as I finally reached Eighth Avenue. Nobody was standing outside, aside from the usual cancer cluster sucking down a quick nail before punching in. But the smoke from this distance was black and menacing. Fifteenth and 16th were blocked heading west, and I could see flame licking from some distance structure of unknown use.

From inside the building, I couldn't smell anything — surprising, as the stench (no longer a romantic wood smell, but the acrid tang of combusting gas and tires) was pervasive outside. Possibly everyone on the window side had closed up before heading home Tuesday night. (Yes, I work in a 1930s building with windows you can open. Not that I have an office.) Had they been open, the whole office easily would have smelled of it.

The horrific fact is that dozens of cars were destroyed, and in many cases, their gas tanks were exploding. I am led to understand that, contrary to what Hollywood action films would have you believe, gas tanks are far more stable in car wrecks than they seem on screen. They require a spark or high temperatures to touch off. And the latter was present in spades at this parking garage. It must have been bitter duty for NY1, which is based in the Chelsea Market complex right next door to the fire, to report that many of the news channel's employees, and the company itself, had lost vehicles. Can you imagine sitting at your desk and wondering if your car was still intact? Does insurance even cover such a thing?

So the cursed corner of Chelsea has struck again! I fully expect the follow-up to be a horde of snakes or perhaps a plague of locusts.