Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cerebral Betrayal


935-3678. This was my grandparents' telephone number during my childhood. Both have been deceased for well over fifteen years. Don’t ask me how I still remember this number. It’s not that I called them often when they were alive. (Regret).

That was their daughter’s job - to call them. My mother would call her mother at least once a day when I was a kid, and I remember this because I would spy on her in the hallway, peering at the curly cord of the phone that traveled under her bedroom door. Those two mean girls would talk about my preteen years as if my life were plastered on the cover of US Weekly. According to their secret conversations, I was not respectful, way too narcissistic (had to look that one up as an eleven year old), and just down right rude. The point is not to cast aspersions on Mom and “Dama”, although I would love to here, but to highlight the fact that I still remember that damn phone number. Still. To this day. Almost 30 years later.

Why, when I can’t remember that Tuesday is trash day, that my husband AND my mother’s birthdays are on March 23rd. which I have incidentally missed at least once. And most recently disturbing – I cannot remember who is older, my friend of more than ten years, or her sister. Typically, this wouldn’t be such a big deal other than the fact that I have asked her this question at least four times a year since we became friends. And every time she answers me, this is my response, “Ohhhh yeaaahhhh you (or she) are (or is) older. It totally makes sense. Sorry for asking again."

Retaining this information is important to me – being an older sibling myself, I find it necessary to understand the psychological effects of my friends in the pecking order of sibling hierarchy and to relate to who they are as people. Alas, I have no clue with my sweet friend.

If I had to take a test to determine whether or not I could function as an adult (thank God such a test does not exist), and the question of whether or not my friend was older or younger than her sister was on the test, I would have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right. And here’s the most absurd detail, I asked her to answer this question for me not more than three weeks ago. That’s right, no recollection. Now, I do remember in detail asking her, but may likely have had a clinical blackout when she responded.

Permanent Fact: As of this moment, I have no idea whether my friend is an older sister or a younger sister. And I never will. Ever. Perhaps a tattoo on my forearm would help. But I wouldn’t trust it. I would question whether or not the tattoo artist took my word for it or asked my friend to verify the information herself.

So, why can I never remember this important fact, but I can’t seem to forget a phone number that I called maybe a handful of times; a phone number that belonged to two grandparents whose love of which I was not worthy? Someone, please. Help me regain my sanity. But wait, soak in this little anecdote before administering aid:

I don’t know how to spell my husband, Pants’ middle name. That’s not to say that I have seen it in print over fifty times – we have been married for five years, together for eight, and I have personally had to sign a lot of house loan docs, coupled with the three life insurance policies I have out on him (hence the benefits of marrying an older man). I have had to sign each doc, each page, under penalty of perjury (or whatever a notary spewed at me at the time). These types of official documents are required to be accurate.

“Ms. Brown, did we spell yours and your husband’s name right on these documents? Please check before you sign.”

Looks good to me.. Allen or Allan, who cares? They get the point. Why the hell should I be required to keep track of how to spell Alle(a)n? I have more important facts to retain (like that damn phone number). Unless it means that I couldn't cash in on some sweet moola if Pants were to happen to pass on accidentally. God forbid, of course.

Pants has corrected me several times when I have had to fill out IRS papers, refinance docs for the umpteenth time (blasted real estate market) and health care insurance applications, but without him flying copilot, I am all but lost.

What the hell is wrong with me? I need answers. It’s getting worse. I know my eighth grade band teacher's name (Berney), but can't remember who parted the Red Sea in Egypt. (It was Moses because Pants just told me as I posed this question out loud).

Let's face it - I know few things. Except for that damn phone number and a couple of other fartless facts like the champion quotes from the Bill Murray movie, What About Bob? “I need, I need, Gimmie Gimmie”. I also know that Oprah wheeled in 60 plus pounds of fat onto her stage in a Radio Flyer Wagon during an episode in 1988. I was sixteen at the time. Let that soak in.

Per my chosen career path, you would think that I would take these little idiosyncrasies and use them to my advantage by choosing a career in say, entertainment news. You would be wrong. Instead, I chose a profession that requires me to retain heavy amounts of detailed information on how water law works in California, what a discounted rate of return is when addressing public pension funds and what it takes to consolidate local fire services.

Oh, how I find myself in trouble, daily.

Right before I have to retain a crap load of information for my work, I find it soothing to breathe deeply and peruse Craig's list. It clears my mind and gives me some needed junk food for the brain - what are people calling out for in my own community? I don’t spend a lot of time memorizing the ads, ideally. (Although user #193348 is selling a "gently" used sectional sofa for $175), I just glance. Take a gander. Then it’s back to water flow standards, defined benefits and other brain teasers like unilateral implementation. Don’t ask me how I make the transition because I don’t rightly know.

My grandfather, who I affectionately referred to as Papa, died of Alzheimers at the young age of 74. He was an engineer-scientist-brainiac type who worked for PG&E for the better part of his adult life. This man could construct transister radios out of parts found in the trash bins behind his church alley. I was never one to take an interest when he got all weird and technical when describing his work, but I was incredibly impressed from afar.

I often wonder why his brain betrayed him in his elder state. I figure it had something to do with genetics, which means I am screwed, but perhaps it had a little to do with his insatiable need for more scientific information. Perhaps his brain couldn’t take it any longer, that it just pooped out. Perhaps that’s what mine is doing at the age of 38.

People’s faces never escaped my Papa, nor do they escape me. But names, forget it. I would wait impatiently for Papa to introduce me to a neighbor or friend or, God forbid, his boss. Never happened.

“When I don’t introduce you, it means I forgot the a-hole’s name, so do your Papa a favor and introduce yourself. That way, I will know it for next time.” Papa would ramble on about the fact that the brain could only hold so much information and that he didn’t have time for such trivial facts. But really, let's be honest. Say I did introduce myself. What were the odds that he would recognize and retain the information for the long haul?

Look, Papa. I get it. But don’t think that I or anybody else were ever planning to bail you out. The minute the "no name" introduced himself and said his name out loud and shook your hand, you forgot him except for twitch in his eye and his downturn lip curl. Period. That’s how it works in our world. I know this because I have seen you call the same people "buddy" or "kiddo" when you greeted them everyday as you took out the trash. I find myself doing the same thing.

I play Sudoku and do jigsaw puzzles in the hopes that it will reverse whatever Papa handed down to me. I read somewhere that mental exercises like this help with the process, and I hope to beat the genetic cards that I have been dealt, but that’s simply bullshit. I am not at a higher intellectual level due to these little time passers, nor do I feel I am cheating my genetic code. Simply put, I have a piece of the frontal (or rear) lobe that refuses to retain information the way most people do. And it’s something I have to live with, unless someone out there tells me what I have to do to change this little computer clitch, this mental hiccup. And if anyone has the magic solution to beat the odds, I am all ears.

I am all ears.

It’s Wednesday, right? December?

Let me end with this: in the context of work, I have one particular business partner who shows me up on the detailed-fartless-fact front on a daily basis. Not that I am bitter or anything, I find it a nice little bonus to our overall portfolio that we offer clients – a savant, if you will, of useless information that will inevitably get us through the proverbial door of success. Look, I know my limitations. I know that I have to read something at least four times – along with yellow (not green or pink) highlighter notes, coupled with a lot of “what’s your interpretation of this information?” questions in order for it to sink in. I get it. But it slightly irks me when my business partner can read this info on his handheld while walking into a meeting and sound like a patriot hero in front of the client when I have to spend the better part of a Saturday studying up.

How is any of this fair?

If the part of my brain that remembers my dead grandparents’ phone number were to throw me a bone and offer up some free space of memory for things that actually mattered like how to construct the perfect solution to a statewide budget deficit, or (alternatively) obtain an abundance of personal wealth, or for Pete’s sake, simply allow me to remember the date of my husband and mothers’ birthday, I would be eternally grateful and perhaps give back to the cosmos for my cerebral gifts.

Until then, I am bitter, thus selfish and envious of those who have what I do not.

A bonefide memory.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Key to Ski at Three


Olympic swimmer, Spanish translator, sponsored mountain biker, and now add professional skier to the list. Yack has some future ahead of him.

I was never going to be that mom – the annoying kind who gets her child up at 4 a.m. to go to swim practice for four hours before school starts. The kind who forces their kid to go mountain biking in the rain because she thinks it will toughen him up for competition. The kind whose idea of relaxing is practicing the constellations en espanol.

Oh, but I am that mom. And I have hated myself for it, until today where I saw a glimmer of joy on my son’s face when I forced him into doing something that made him cold and miserable.

Let’s back up. When Yack was seven months old, I signed him up for swim lessons. Well, swim lessons is a misnomer. Float lessons is a more accurate description. This Infant Resource Swim program forces your kid to either be deathly afraid of the edge of a pool, or if luck would have it and he happened to fall in, to float on his back and scream like a banshee for help. At first, I wasn’t too concerned with whether Jack liked the water or not. (An emphasis on the "not", screaming bloody murder to get out of the pool). I was doing the responsible thing, though. This was about him not drowning.

But now as we enter our third season, I have fantasies about him emulating Michael Phelps, absent the bong hits.

Sure, I want him to be a happy kid, but I also want him to reach his true potential. Because his mother sure as hell didn’t. Isn’t having kids a little like being granted a do over? Don’t you get a second chance through the lives of your children? Long live vicarious parents.

Cut to last week. Pants and I have been excited (read: impatient) to teach Yack to ski. This is strictly a selfish act – we both would like to spend a lot more time on the mountain with our snowboards and can’t do it without the guilt unless the kid comes with. So, we have been implementing a number of tactics to get him into the sport. One includes having him watch some of his cartoonish heroes in the act. “Look, Yack, Go Diego Go is SKIING! How fun do you think he is having right now? Let’s pause it to see the true smile on his face.”

Other coaxing mechanisms that seemed to work are listed below. For those parents who would like to get your kids to be excited about freezing in the snow, please feel free to borrow these suggestions. I take no ownership in them. There will be absolutely no copyright infringement. You’re welcome:

1. The minute he is old enough to walk, take him sledding. Any old makeshift platform will do, but make sure it’s smooth on the bottom and durable. No computer bags or outdoor furniture covers, please. These typically have some sort of zipper or belt buckle that will find its way into the booty. Household items that worked for us: reusable grocery bags, infant bathtubs, trash can lids, or here's a novel thought: get a sled.

2. Don’t pick a spot that’s too steep, and know how to stop when going too fast. I made this mistake by putting a screaming Yack on my lap and hurdling down a very steep mountain side that was highly populated with pines. At the last minute, I had to throw Yack off of me and into the hands of my father as I plunged into a tree trunk, shoulder first.

3. Cover your child’s hands. If his hands happen to get wet, the jig is up. The fun is over. You can pack it up and go home. If kiddo gloves are not readily available, use socks or your stocking cap and wrap a rubber band around his wrists.

4. Have a snowball fight. Let him hit you a few times in the legs or back and then turn around and wallop him a good one right in the head. Make sure that the snowball is not packed too hard and don’t aim for the eyes. This will inhibit his ability to see and he will want to go back inside.

5. Under any circumstances, do NOT call a bib a “bib”. He will think it’s for babies and refuse to wear it. After several temper tantrums in the sporting goods store, we had to convince poor Yack that he wasn’t wearing a bib, but overalls and that they will keep him warm as he plummets head first into the powdery snow.

6. Force his feet into the ski boots. They will seem constricting at first but after he almost collapses of exhaustion from fighting you, ask him to kick something - a garbage can, a car bumper. He will find this amusing and not want to take them off.

7. Tell him that he looks like Buzz Lightyear in his snow outfit. This will increase his confidence and he will think he is flying down the mountain while yelling, “To infinity…. and beyyyyooond.”

These little strategies added up to be the key to Yack’s success. I’m not going to lie. Pants and I were nervous about the potential meltdown. But the work by all three of us paid off. We took Yack to a hill behind our cabin that had about three inches of fresh snow. Pants distracted him while I pulled up his big boy bib and clicked in his mini skies. We carried him up the mountain and told him to point his ski tips towards Daddy. “What are tips?” Oh, right, I forgot we were teaching a three year old.

“The tips are the front points of your skies.” And that’s all the explanation Bode Miller needed before he began shredding down the mountain side. With a smile on his face and his arms out like Buzz, my little boy zipped past me while yelling, “Yee Hahhhh.”

“Mommy, I’m a skier.”

You most certainly are, my sweet boy.

Zhao's Lights


I have this friend. (I know, surprising, right?) She has done a fairly good job at bringing me into adulthood and maturity. Because of her, I have noticed that I am invited to a lot more functions, events and holiday parties especially during this end of the year. I would like to think that this is due to my social and professional improvements, but let’s be realistic – it’s likely because I hang out with her. She’s got good status.

And no, that’s not the only reason why she’s my friend. She’s also my client.

And no, that’s not the second reason why she is my friend. She’s also pretty.

And no, that’s not the..

Lately, the parties that she has me attend make me exceedingly anxious. I just don’t know when to cut the cord on the conversation boundary, but my client, good status pretty friend typically knows when to reign me in with a nudge and a look. She answers the question I have never been able to answer, ever: “how much is too fun among the people you define as professional acquaintances?”

She is truly one of my dearest feminatzi friends (who I talk to about off limit topics such as irritable bowel syndrome, the early onset of menopause, the fact that she doesn't sweat, and my paralyzing fear of the esthetician). Granted, she does not allow me to discuss said topics among colleagues, although, when she’s not around, I slip up. Hello, bloggety blog..

Recently, my friend – we shall call her Zhao Wie – invited Pants, Yack and me to HER holiday party where she was hosting her staff. For all intents and purposes, she considers me her staff too based on how much she bosses me around, but I chalk it up to needing that kind of influence in my life right now. Besides, technically I work for her so taking her orders is something I get paid to do, although in certain instances proves to be very difficult.

Her dining room table was blanketed in 20 different types of holiday cookies that she made from scratch. I know this because she called me three days before the party and in a guilt ridden stupor admitting that while she was making cookies, her 19 month old daughter accidently did a half gainer off the kitchen counter onto the floor. “We were making the cookies together.” God, how I love working mothers.

As the night progressed, Zhao and I sat in a corner, huddled together discussing topics that completely intrigued me: gossip, her husband’s obsessive compulsive bike riding, and how she just spent the amount of her monthly mortgage payment on a pair of Jimmy Choos – did I spell that correctly? She wore these art forms while pregnant too, hoofing it through the halls of the State Capitol, while I loudly pointed out how ridiculous it is to wear 5 inchers while 8 months knocked up, and that she needed to move a little faster. It’s a wonder why she doesn’t have varicose veins and turf toe. I must say, though, her feet looked fabulous. But I ain’t going there. I’m going to the Aerosole shop and Larry’s comfort shoes. You never know when you are going to be called upon to play in an emergency basketball game.

Our friendship works because of a mutual respect. I revere her as being the princess feminist that she is, she gives me the space to be socially inappropriate and about a decade behind in my fashion sense – otherwise known as being incredibly cheap. Hello nice sweater from Target. If I wash you, you will cease to be pulled out of my closet and worn. Hello, necklace I borrowed from Zhao, if I ruin you or lose you, I may have to file for bankruptcy.

Zhao likes expensive things and gets a little carried away when it comes to overindulging. Like the time we went to Maui and she spent two hours and $____ (OMG!) amount on a piece of art while I drank beer in a bar watching the Superbowl and sending her nasty text messages: WTF? Where R U?!? Get to Bubba Gumps STAT.

So, I found it odd that at her holiday party I noticed that her tree, albeit beautifully decorated, didn’t don any lights. It looked as if she just pooped out after a half hour – she is a working mother, you know – and the odd part was that it was displayed in her front window for all passers by to see. I mean, if I were walking by Zhao’s house and looked in the window, I would be reminded of the tree scene in Poltergeist. How odd…and scary.

I didn’t want to make a scene by asking her in an accusatory tone at her party – I had to be mindful of Zhao’s influence on my new found maturity, which involved thinking before I talked, listening more, and not being so quick to point out people’s faults, especially hers. The last thing I wanted to do was make a spectacle out of Zhao’s homemaking skills, I mean she was feeling rather self conscious after dropping her kid on the floor and all.

I am proud to report that Pants and I left that party without incident. It’s probably because Yack was experiencing a very painful bout of constipation and wanted to “poop, mommy, I have to poop!” So we herded him out the door and bid our respects and head nods and Happy Holidays to our colleagues, the guests.

I had a hard time sleeping that night. Who goes to the trouble with getting a tree, putting very fancy decorations on it, but forgets the lights? Who does that? Especially Ms. Jimmy Chow, Ferrari baby stroller, VP of high powered association?

I waited until 7:50 to call her the next morning.

“Hey, Zhao -
thanksforhavingusoverlastnightwehadfun,asidefromthe
constipation,butitwasprobablyasignbecauseIwouldhave
donesomethinginappropriatelystupidinfrontofyour
staffwhat’supwithyourChristmastreehavingnolights?”

Zhao’s response almost verbatim:

“Well, Vidal(that’s her partner, baby daddy, Brad Pitt type. I don’t think they will get married until everyone can. So 2010-hip), and I have this continued debate on whether to string colored lights or white lights. And you are probably going to side with him because well, you always do, but I refuse to put up colored lights on the tree. And since he won’t go to the store to get white lights because we already have colored lights here, I refuse to put up the lights. And every year I forget to go out and buy white lights, and inevitably refuse when I do remember because it’s too late, so the last few years we have gone without lights entirely.”

Me: “Do you think that’s being passive aggressive?”

Zhao: “No, it’s about not adhering to a cheesy decision because I can’t get my shit together at Christmas.”

Me: “You’re weird.”

Zhao: “Um, I bet you’re talking to me right now while you are looking at your Christmas tree decorated in those hideous colored lights thinking, yeah, they kinda suck.”

Me: “I hate you, Good Bye.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stinky Injustice


My husband Pants is the kindest, gentlest human being around. He’s soft around the edges and usually lets me win when we argue. He never speaks poorly of people and always chalks up bad decisions made by friends and family to “perhaps they’re just having an off day”.

I’m the hot head, not him. I’m the blurter, the impatient one. The one who yells when we get cut off in traffic. The one with the quick trigger finger to point out little injustices in the world. Not him.

Not my Pants.

We had just finished a meeting with a client we both share (an excuse to see each other during the workday), and we were walking back to Pants’ parking garage. It was about 30 degrees outside (unacceptable weather for California) and Pants noticed that I had left my coat in my office. Being the perfect gentleman, he whipped off his wool coat and draped it over my shoulders. We strolled hand in hand (are you getting a little nauseous over the happy couple crap? Good, because it’s about to end).

As we approached his office building, Pants stopped walking. He motioned me to stop too. This is where I became irritated. My nose was getting frost bite.

“Look over there.” He pointed to a dog getting ready to drop a load on the lawn across the street. I wondered out loud why we were watching a dog take a crap.

The dog belonged to a police officer who was standing next to him while he shat (real word, look it up). “Good boy,” the officer said.

Pants mumbled something about betting that the officer wouldn’t clean up after his dog and wanted to see if he was right. I was mildly amused.

After several seconds of us staring at this squatting dog while we shivered in the cold, the officer took his leash out of his pocket, clipped it to the dog’s collar and walked away.

And it went downhill from there.

“HEY!” Pants yelled.. loudly.

This is when I took off in a full arm pumping sprint in my three inch high heeled boots, heading straight for the entrance of Pants’ office building. But before I reached the door, I heard another, “HEY!”

As I crouched down behind a raised concrete planter box outside the front door, I felt like I was in the middle of a bad cop movie.

The officer answered, “yeah?”, slightly annoyed at the fact that some yahoo in a business suit is yelling at him.

“Are you gonna pick up that shit?” I peeked around the planter box and saw Pants pointing his finger at the officer and then at the poop. By this time another officer had approached the chaos and stood there staring at Pants which compelled him to repeat.

“HEY, ARE. YOU. GOING. TO. PICK. UP. YOUR. DOG’S. SHIT??”

The offending officer looked at his partner, shrugged his shoulders they turned around and kept walking, luckily.

By this time, I was shaking – half cold, half sacred that I was going to have to bail my husband out of jail for “officer harassment”. I couldn’t imagine how he would explain this one down at the station. “Get your hands off me. Your officer failed to pick up his dog’s crap and you’re arresting me? I am filing a complaint. This is an outrage! A travesty!”

I stood up after not hearing much of anything else and there was Pants heading straight for me, hands waving, yelling, “Can you believe that? They would have ticketed us in a heartbeat if Conrad were to drop a load in front of them. I can’t stand the injustice!”

I immediately flashed back to Pants giving me a lecture last week about letting things go when the gardeners failed to fix some sprinkler heads after being asked… twice.

I used good judgment by not bringing that up at this particular time, as Pants and I walked to the car. I simply grabbed his hand, gave him a smile and giggled quietly to myself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Grand Master Plans


New Years Resolutions are set up to fail. Everyone knows that. The media covers it, neighbors and friends talk about it.. Oh, let’s figure out how to promise ourselves to accomplish our goals and then never plan to reach them. Let’s even write them down so we can be reminded of our failures in about three weeks. By Martin Luther King weekend we have just cracked open our sixth beer after promising to decrease our alcohol consumption to a moderate level. It never works. So why do we do it? I know why I do it.

I think of my psyche as a snake. My skin must be shed of all the dead end habits I have accumulated in a year’s time, which by the holidays add up to be quite a bit. And thinking about starting fresh on 1-1-11 after I have fine tuned the acts of gluttony, borderline alcoholism and losing patience with people in an instant, the task to straighten up my act seems downright daunting.

So, I’m pretty sure I have unlocked the solution to this seemingly permanent failure of mine – along with the rest of the world’s. It’s called the quarterly grand master plan. I should give credit to the creation of the Archivers (see October Archiving the Dream) for this little scheme. Here’s how it works: a group of friends, preferably supportive, gather round for dinner, a little wine.. slap on a DVD so the kids don’t bother the GMP process… and write down two or three things you are going to do in the next three months. The moderator/facilitator, which is usually me, will ask leading questions as to how you think you might obtain said GMP. For instance, a nice fellow was dining with us last week. He’s a friend. Not a close one probably because he knows that I think his wife is hot, but I am married.. to a man, but whatever. I asked him and his wife and others around the table if they might want to engage in a little GMP exercise. Most were new to the idea so there was some non verbal reluctance. Let’s call nice fellow the Hot Wife’s Husband (Just to be clear, Hot Wife’s Husband is hot too). So Hot Wife’s Husband played along and indicated that he wanted to be able to touch his toes by April. I had to determine if this was in fact a lofty goal so I ordered him to stand up and show us how far he could bend over. Well, Hot Wife’s Husband at that point looked a little like Old Man River. He barely cleared his knee caps. I asked if he wanted to shoot for the shins by April. He said no.

When asked what he is going to do to meet his goal, Hot Wife’s Husband said that he was going to lean over and stretch with legs locked twice a week for ten minutes (HWH, yes you did say that, I wrote it down). He also said that he would take a yoga class once a month. I will bet a mortgage payment that HWH has done neither of these tasks.. but here's where the New Year's Resolution and the GMP differ. I will begin to thoroughly harass and publicly flog HWH if he does not begin the tasks needed to stretch those rappelling ropes he calls hamstrings.

Now on to Hot Wife who said that her GMP was to eat two vegetables and two fruits per day. I asked the dinner host for some clarification on this the next day. Who doesn’t eat fruits and veggies and still looks like that?!? Apparently, HW is a HW due to her gene pool and not what she puts in her mouth. This new fact makes me hate her a little.

I mentioned while I wrote down HW’s goal that she may be setting herself up for failure if this wasn’t a regular habit. Perhaps she should start with two or three days a week. She compromised and said that if she makes it a regular habit three times per week by February, she will consider it an accomplishment. May I suggest hiding your fruits and veggies in the food you love like bacon wrapped asparagus and apple slices dipped in chocolate? Just a helpful suggestion, you freak of nature.

Next there was the "friend who replaced me". A little stage setting: I have been bffs with the dinner host - a woman we will call Litha. We have been bffs for, oh, I don’t know, eternity. And this friend stealer just swoops in and takes her from me because they are both single and believe that this is the common thread that will keep them together. News flash, Friend Stealer, she has a dark side. And for the record, Litha, I can go out and dance and go to bars and drink and be your wing man. You didn’t have to throw me out like yesterday’s trash. Anyway, back to Friend Stealer’s GMPs. Her goal was to start a workout program with Litha (big surprise) and to spend more time meeting new people. I’m new, do I count? Anyway, she had other GMPs but I should respect her privacy and not publicize it for the world to see like I am going to do with Litha’s.

Litha plans to bench press 100 pounds and clean and jerk 80 pounds by April. Now, I worked out with her today – jealous, FS? – and she did well, but has a long way to go, just sayin. Stay the course, Litha. Keep going to the torture chamber and you’ll get there easily.

My favorite GMP of the evening came from a veteran to the GMPs. He’s been hanging around for the last three years. He is a good friend and fun to have at dinner parties. We will call him Jailbait. Jailbait’s GMPs is to limit his work schedule to 60 hours a week and gain 25 pounds through exercising and eating. Jailbait went into detail as to why he felt these were laudable GMPs, which I later realized were a heaping pile of stinky excuses to work less and eat more. Bottom line, Jailbait, gaining weight and cutting back on the number of hours you work are not acceptable GMPs. I am on to you, so pick again.

Oh, and one last general comment, Shall Remain Nameless, drinking more wine and spending less time with your kids are also inappropriate GMPs.

Nevertheless, it’s important for all of us to keep our own wheels oiled. Thus, compiling a list of GMPs that will set the stage for personal improvement on an incremental level seems to be the more appropriate strategy. Besides, it facilitates the need to gather together, and self indulge way more often than just New Year’s Eve.

So, get those pens out now and let the upgrading begin.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Dreaded Pull Up



After the Tough Mudder race I needed an incentive to return to the gym on a regular basis. After all, come October 9th (race day) what was going to keep me returning? I already have a few friends who dropped off the gym schedule. Not to name names, but Vince who originally guilted us in to participating in Tough Mudders to begin with hasn’t been seen at the gym since October 6th – “I need three days prior to the race to rest”. Apparently, he needed two months after the race to rest too. How are those Big Macs, muffin top?

I needed a reason to keep going - I couldn’t be motivated solely by inner peace, outer strength and an overarching need for physical maintenance. Sadly, knocking on 40’s door wasn’t enough to keep the ol’ gym attendance up. I needed something else.

As I pondered this dilemma out loud one day to no one in particular, my trainer politely stepped in.

“I noticed that you are having a hard time doing a pull up. Perhaps that can be your goal.”

Um, yes I can and eat my shorts.

After several embarrassing attempts at the pull up bar (think dead fish flopping on land), it was clear what my next goal would be. But before I get into the details that would help me achieve that goal, I want to pause for a moment and allow that reality to settle in: I cannot do one stinking pull up.

I vaguely remember the “President’s test” in junior high – the physical education test to gauge how fit American kids really are. Couldn’t I do at least three pull ups back then? I can’t remember. But due to my over inflated sense of physical self, I remember feeling damn good about my accomplishments back then. And since pull ups were a highlight, I recall doing them without struggle… or was that the sit up?

With this new goal in mind, my dear trainers at the gym have harassed me into submission. I distinctly recall a particularly difficult workout that zeroed in on all of those muscles in the upper body – the ones I don’t have – the pecs, the lats, the biceps, the shoulders. Instead I am the proud owner of two underarm sag bags. And proud – did I say that already?

The workout consisted of clean and jerks (this is apparently not an exercise to do while engaged in intimate relations with your partner), sandbag tosses (think mamed German Shepard over your shoulder), and kettle ball swings (these are old cast iron Russian weights that really have no place on American soil). Oh, and here’s the exercise that almost put me in an early grave – the burpies to pull ups. I will do my best at the description. Start with a pushup, but instead of ending with arms extended in the horizontal upright position, end with your legs in a squat position and leap through the air as if you are going to choke the person standing in front of you. Then, when you are fully extended with hands reaching for the sky, resembling a completely spaced out Shape magazine model who just found out her cereal is non-fat, you grab on to the pull up bar and spaz yourself upwards so that your chin clears the top. Now try doing that eight times.

Eat my shorts.

With all of the complaining I do (“less talky, more lifty” says my trainers), I am rather surprised to announce that two weeks ago, I did three pull ups. That’s right, not one but three. And today, I added a forth.

What’s next, you ask? Well, don’t ask me, ask my trainers. They say I can do ten pull ups by March. Actually, there’s some discrepancy. One trainer (who seems to be the more rational one – the one I like better) says I can do ten. While the other one (the Devil himself) says that I can probably accomplish 15-20.

Eat my shorts.

You may be wondering what my chest looks like right about now. (Or if you’re not, thank you for being polite). Either way, I will share. Let me just put it this way. I shop in the junior department for specific undergarments. And that weird line that goes down the middle of your upper chest? Apparently, that separates out the pectoral muscles that were once my breasts. Who knew?

Well, I know one thing – I may look a little odd (male) from the sternum up, but I could probably whip the behind of the perp who is following you down that dark ally. Do you need an escort madame?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's About Time


(It took a night with my most long term and cherished girlfriends to jump start me into blogging blather once again).

I read a book a couple of years ago that stuck with me. It’s called Tripping the Prom Queen and the premise centers on how women are our own worst enemy, that the failure of your best girlfriend brings you secret pleasure and that the sexism and oppression a woman faces over her life in most part comes directly from her female colleagues, natural foes and yes, her girlfriends.

The book conjured up painful memories of my childhood where I was kicked, pinched, harassed, called boy hog, trollup (had to look this one up), all the while dodging rocks from the fifth grade she devils in my class. I remember a particularly excruciating moment where the Queen She Devil invited every girl in class to an ice cream shop during the lunch hour, except for me. I remember sitting at my desk surrounded by elementary school testosterone, and making a decision to survive. I adapted to the ten year old boy way of life. I played football, I wore vans and rags (remember those pants?) and didn’t pay too much attention to my hair - for those of you young Tomboys with long hair, the best way to keep it out of your way is the standard French braid, but get someone to do it well so you won’t have to wash it for up to a week.

High school was a little different but not much. I wasn’t being pelted with rocks, but I still felt like an outcast among the pubescent young women who had boobs and menstrual cycles, of which I had neither. Being fingered as the late bloomer, I acclimated by being semi funny and self deprecating. Still, being in the presence of my fellow female counterparts was always filled with giddy, nervous anxiety.

Then I went to college. It was there by the grace of good luck, and perhaps a little divine intervention, I ran into a handful of women (I call them girls) who not only taught me how to love my own sex, but they eventually became my family.

Oh, these girls, we have not towed the line of responsiblity, like the time X1 showed up to a formal gala in thermal underwear to give a piece of her mind - rather loudly - to a girl who owed her money, or when X2 thought that I wouldn't notice the change missing from my waitressing tip jar for months, or when yours truly got clocked in the eye at a bar in San Francisco when I was trying to stop some a-wipe from stealing X3's purse. They dragged me down to the underbelly of the 90's. For all intents and purposes, those girls should be fleeting memories.

But they are not.

And back to the book's theme, it’s not as if we spare each other from verbal pillage. Everyone has their faults and these girls will be the first to point it out. When X5 grew her hair long, we all protested and all but handed her a pair of scissors. When X2, in a moment of weakness, confessed that she didn’t like going out and meeting people, we told her that she would end up an old maid. In fact, just two days ago, we were all celebrating X3’s fortieth birthday (old maid) and I was promptly told that my hair was too light, too long and that the necklace I was wearing needed to be removed immediately. We also conducted a strategic dog pile on X4 who has spent, in our most judgmental opinion, way too much time pining over some foreign hothead who has his own challenges following the law.

But these verbal assaults are signs of our unfettered friendship. Is it due to our unconditional commitment towards sustaining our little “friends network”? (A coined nickname given to us in college by some boys who were engaged in physical relations with a few of us and didn’t want said relations discussed. Sorry, too late. And, by the way, she faked it).

Back to X3 turning forty. It’s incredibly odd to do the math on this one, not because she’s forty, which, sorry, X3, but is old. But it’s about how long we have been hanging around. If you’re counting, that’s twenty-two years, or over half our lives. It's surprising we still talk, let alone make concerted efforts to spend time together.

What I realized while spending this recent evening with these girls was that they along with other women in my life serve a purpose no man can. Sorry, Pants and my business partners and other dudes I call my closest friends. It’s true. Here are a couple of reasons why:

Details are required. A “hi, how are you?” means that you must answer with several anecdotes about how your partner completely screwed the pooch on your birthday or the specifics on why you are taking your landlord to court. “Fine, great or okay” are completely unacceptable responses and you will be verbally beaten down.

Downloading on the status of your private (as in parts) life is mandatory. We need to know how many times a week you’re getting it, and if you aren’t, what you plan to do to get it.

Psychology 101 is applied. Have a problem? We likely have five different solutions depending on who you consult. If you consult us all at once, don’t be surprised if a fight erupts over the varying differences with how to deal with your little quandary. Have a whiney kid? The women who don’t have kids in the group typically have the best ways to curb the behavior. Have trouble meeting eligible singles? Ask the divorcees in the group.

Insults show that you care. Hey, if they aren't going to tell you it's time to get yourself some Xanax or hit the gym more often, who will? Time to lay off the sauce? No surpises here. But, what if you're doing everything good and right in the world? Feeling fit? Feeling successful at work? Is the marriage good? Kid speaks six languages? Don't go thinking you're all that and a bag of chips. They politely remind you that you suck and you should shut up until your need to gloat subsides.

Loyalty is a given. If you go for months without connecting (or returning voice mails), you can be sure you won't be written off. You will, however, be publicly flogged next time everyone is together. Also, if by chance you find yourself in a Mexican prison, you have five numbers to call if you somehow can’t bring myself to tell your husband what happened. You will also be assured that the reasons that lead you to prison in the first place will be kept within the “friends network”. Now that’s not to say that after they bail/bribe you out, you won’t be reprimanded and ridiculed and never allowed to forget your ultimate stupidity, but you will be back on home soil.

I wonder why these catty bitches have meant so much to me. But they do. So I guess it’s safe to say that they paved the way for me to covet and foster other amazing female friendships that are as important to me. But really, should I be giving them that much credit? Should I be paying homage to X1 who said just last night after a great meal with wonderful friends, “I paid sixty-three bucks for Top Ramen and sand.” Should I respect X5 for making me return a $25 gift card and getting the $50 for X4’s birthday because she thought I was being too cheap? And this, after she bought X4 a flipping trash can? Should I really give credence to X2 when she told X5 that she used to be fun in college, but was now a downer?

At least I will have another twenty-two years to make up my mind.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Archiving The Dream


What do you get when you cross a masseuse, a trainer, a communications director, a college student, a state trooper, three lobbyists, and a political hack? The Archivers, of course…

The big day was upon us; we would soon see if the two months of training paid off or if we were going to be left up on the mountain side to rot, patiently awaiting the Donner Party to put an end to our misery. Incidentally, I had worked myself into such a frenzy that by the time Tough Mudder Eve approached, I was keeled over my carbo load pasta bowl with the worst gas pains known to human kind.

With my fellow Mudder team members’ coaxing, I took regular trips to the bathroom and downed antacid pills like they were candy. And it wasn’t just me who was falling apart..

My buddy Vince, the crackpipe who got us all into this horrid race in the first place, was out due to a pulled groin (insert lame marriage joke here). My husband, Pants, was nowhere to be found during our debrief the night before, and most of our team was half bagged on homemade sangria and Negro Modelos before dinner was even served. I sensed trouble.

We had made a nice little plan to convene at my cabin up in Arnold (18 miles from the race sight) the night before to talk strategy, iron our Archivers decals onto our black shirts (see previous blog entry on team name origination), and load up on the requisite intake of strength and endurance food that inevitably lead to chocolate covered coffee beans, blocks of cheese and alcohol.

Pants and I drove separately because he was saving our household a few bucks by pouring cement into our now gutted hole in the ground we used to call a pool. By the way, let me publically thank you for all of the work you have done, Pants. You make an excellent assistant to cement pourer.

When 8 p.m. Friday rolled around, I began to get a little nervous when Pants was still nowhere to be found. Our team was coming apart at the seams, literally. (Apparently, when you iron white decals onto black wick-away shirts, they burn the material and can’t be seen on the black background). At approximately 8:27, Pants burst through the front door Cramer-style donning a shirt that read: I Make Good Babies, along with a tie died Speedo and his trail shoes.

When everyone settled down over the excitement, we went over our strategy: we didn’t have one. The only team members who seemed pretty well rounded and knew what they were doing was the State Trooper, the Trainer, and the Stunt Coordinator for Bring it On. That’s right, Jordan mentioned that she used to coordinate efforts on those cheesy B movie cheerleading commercials. This bit of information, evidently, made me feel a lot better and my gas pains began to dissipate, but only for a while. I imagined her talking us through how we brace one another to hoist over the 12 foot walls. She then poured me another Sangria as she explained this.

Meanwhile, Vince was getting the royal treatment from the Masseuse who was strategically rubbing out the weakness in his groin. Would he be joining us or not? The constant haranguing coupled with the rub down were just the ingredients needed to pull Vince out of Weaksauceville.

The next morning, I woke up to Pants yelling profanities in the dark. It just so happened that he forgot his shorts at home, and realizing that his only option was the Speedo put him into a little bit of a panic. (I truly believe, however that he wanted to wear said Speedo because he didn’t ask any of his fellow Archivers if they had any extra shorts in tow.. just my opinion. Just sayin’.)

We arrived on the mountain an hour and thirty minutes before our start time all taped up and ready to face our destiny. And some more than others. Vince was in all right, but he was wrapped up so tight, he looked like something out of a zombie flick. Apparently, wrapping up one’s entire body in athletic tape doesn’t allow for a lot of movement.

As I looked at each one of our team members, juxtaposed to the Tough Mudder demographic, I couldn’t help but think of the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity on the movie Revenge of the Nerds. I just hoped it ended the same way.

As we lined up at the start, Pants began to do downward dog stretches to the chagrin of fellow Mudders who apparently were appalled when asked to join in. We positioned ourselves in the back of the pack, knowing full well that we could get clobbered by the second wave of participants behind us.

We then raised our hands in the Tough Mudder salute and chanted the following:

As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…
I understand that Tough Mudders is not a race but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I don’t whine. Kids whine. I help my fellow mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears.

Saying it is one thing, but doing it?

While waiting for the start gun, there was one more announcement: “mystery” obstacle number 18 involves doing a shot of hot sauce.

Then the gun went off and we began running like gazelles... wounded, tired gazelles. Scratch that. More like maimed gorillas.

Our first stop was called the Kiss of Mud where we were to army crawl our way under only eight inches of space below wire and above that barbed wire. The description in the Tough Mudder guide was a little misleading. It indicated that we would be wiggling our way through mud. Nowhere did it specify that the mud was actually tiny gravel which dug into our knees and found its way into our shoes.

It was after this obstacle that I began to think that I could do this, that I and my teammates were well, Tough Mudders.

The Death March was next and it was grueling. Our thighs began to catch fire as we attempted to robble (half hobble half run) our way to the top of the first ridge. Body builder types sans shirts were whizzing by us, running outside of our pathway. I hated them but only for a little while. Actual military officers were standing on either side of the Death March trail supporting us with their “thank you for supporting us” and “you’re almost to the top (this turned out to be a lie)” and “at least you don’t have bullets flying over your head”. This last bit of encouragement had the most influence on whether I was going to quit or not. They were right. These young men in uniform did what I am doing on a daily basis while the enemy was shooting at them. Get out of your own head, Brown. Come on and do this thing. (My words of encouragement were similar to soft drink slogans and cheesy H.R. team building mission statements). Nothing like the military.

Next up, the Boa Constrictor. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t bother me. I did a test run in the sewer pipes a couple of weeks prior to the race. But this was slightly different. First off, they put two long sewer pipes end to end and covered the entry and exit with black burlap sacks. And to add to the claustrophobic effect, they threw in a little dirt and told you to climb fast because there were people at your heels. Being in those tubes reminded me of the New York sewer system. I began scratching at the side, chewing my way out.

At this point, one may be wondering if our entire team was still intact. That can be answered in a number of ways. Yes, we were all still together, supporting one another, making the best of our surroundings. But were we of strong body and mind? Not really. Vince’s groin was starting to ache. The three women (present company included) were starting to feel the altitude creep into our brains, and the pep talks became less frequent.

One exception: The Trainer (of course) who was running around, slapping our hands, telling us how great we were doing. He would even run up and then back down the hill to make sure we were all together. Kind of like a Border Collie, and we were his sheep. Old, broken down sheep. Alas, only fifteen more obstacles to tackle. Fifteen. Fifteen. Fifteen.

We ran up the mountain side after the Boa Constrictor and ran into the Dragon Wheels. These things were not as bad as I originally thought, although, one could not attempt to get over these alone. This is where teamwork really started to kick in. One team member stood at the base of the large spool with his hands clasped while the rest were hoisted over. The strategy here was to turn over on the belly and slide down the other side. Some didn’t do that and ended up face first in the feebly placed hay below. We had to do this twice.

And then we got a photo op, because really, that’s the only reason why we were all doing this.. is to get good pictures. Wait, let me fix my hair..

After hoofing it down hill (I called this part of the race the knee wrecker), we were upon a small muddy lake, which we had to wade through before being soaked by a high pressure hose into the face and midsection. At least the mud was off. But let me just elaborate here: running straight up hill while getting pummeled by a hose was hard. We wanted to walk, but then the torture would last that much longer. So we ran as The Trainer yelled “Archivers” through the pelting.

The next obstacle had to be my favorite (insert sarcastic tone here). It was aptly named the Cliffhanger. We grabbed on to anything we can find – shrubs, plants, rocks – and bear crawled up the side of the mountain. This went on way too long and made me want to yell profanities into the air. But based on gym experience when I yell profanities, the Trainer just says that the energy it takes to yell is more than enough to do the exercise. And the last thing I wanted to hear come out of anyone’s mouth as I Spiderman’ed my way up the Cliffhanger was, “This mountain must be too easy for you.”

At the top of the Cliffhanger we were greeted with water and head rushes. No air at 8,000 feet. I felt buzzed and not in a two glass of Cab happy chit chatty way; rather a double vodka on an empty stomach way.

Next up was the Swamp Stomp. This was a waste-high mud pit that looked more like a sewage facility and smelled like one too. The mud was thick and clay like. In fact, one of our Archivers plunged in, fell over and lost both of his shoes. As I watched from the sidelines, I thought of the Trash Compactor scene in Star Wars.

Obstacle number ten was one of the most challenging for our team. The Kentucky Derby was crafted out of these eight feet high beams resting on pillars, and they were difficult to navigate. In fact, it took The Masseuse four times to finally make it over. This man is 220 pounds of pure muscle, so it took our entire team to hoist him over. And being completely caked with the smelly clay mud didn’t help. He kept sliding down backwards. He even yelled a few profanities. Must have been too easy for him.

I had heard later that the Stunt Coordinator broke her finger on this particular obstacle but I have yet to confirm this information, as she has a tendency to stray from the truth. More on this later.

Following the Kentucky Derby came the School of Tough Knocks. This appeared the easiest out of all the challenges, yet it didn’t turn out that way for me. Most of my fellow Archivers mastered this one. I, however, had some troubles. There in the middle of the forest was a parked school bus which was draped with cargo netting. We had to climb over the bus. Sounds easy, but when everyone is climbing on the cargo netting at the same time, keeping balance becomes a challenge. I almost lost my footing a couple of times so this one took me awhile. Meanwhile, my fellow Archivers were already racing to the next stop.

We were met by a long rolling downhill coming off the school bus, but after making a sharp left, we realized that we had to scale up another vertical climb. The Archivers collectively exhaled, ah, another hill.

About half way up, my head started pounding. I feared altitude sickness the most (aside from hypothermia, anxiety attacks, exhaustion), and I was now developing symptoms which included headaches, dizziness, fatigue. And trust me, I read up on what can happen: It can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema which are potentially fatal. Alas, we trudged ahead and were met by the Berlin Wall – a pyramid of large tree trunks and a plastic and quite slippery board which was affixed to the side. Getting up to the top on one’s own proved difficult and impossible if you were under six feet tall. We had teammates at the top and bottom helping us scale the wall. Some fellow Mudders who were not a member of the Archivers took it upon themselves to help us.. pity? Perhaps. Nevertheless, we made it over. Thanks, orange team.

The most difficult challenge was by far the Underwater Tunnels. We had to hoist ourselves down by a rope into a 40 degree lake and then bob underneath the floating tubes. My fellow Archivers and I lost our breath as we acclimated to the temp. In fact, the college student and I stood frozen gasping for air. The sweet Tough Mudder staff who was beside us in a canoe told us that this loss of breath (and mind and bodily function) happens to most people and to just wait it out before going underneath the tunnels. Great advice, but the 40 degree water was not pleasant and hanging around while my body adapted was counterintuitive.

As I came up from out of the water, all I hear is Pants’ proclaiming to the rather attractive Tough Mudder female staff, “I have shrinkage here. This isn’t me normally.” And after watching him and the Masseuse and Stunt Coordinator do a head first plunge into the water, I followed.. swallowing a mouth full of murky pee water, we swam around a buoy and again, lifted ourselves out by a rope.

Obstacle number fifteen (four more to go, four more to go, four more to go) Grab Your Wood involved lugging a log down and back up a hill. The Stunt Coordinator and I decided to do a two person – big log, either shoulder. This proved difficult due to the required strategy and communication. I was so spent, that when I was going too slow or she was going too fast, I couldn’t tell her. Or when I needed to switch sides, I just did it, causing some imbalance.

Obstacle number sixteen Fenced Off was down a rolling hill (another knee wrecker) and involved crossing back and forth over a 12 foot high fence. The Tough Mudder map indicated that we would only be doing this four times. Well, that wasn’t quite accurate. We did it eight times. Dear Tough Mudder team, please correct that error.

Between obstacles sixteen and seventeen the Stunt Coordinator let me in on a clarification. She was never a Stunt Coordinator nor did she ever work on those cheesy cheerleading movies but, she will have me know, she used to be a cheerleader.

Why the lie, I asked? She said that I was so freaked out the night before that she thought that it would calm me a little to know that various team members had the requisite skill set to handle most obstacles. And she was right. I didn’t mind that she lied, I did mind that I came across as such a lame wimpy chick.

Obstacle number seventeen, the Devils Beard. I felt like a damn fly caught in a spiders web in this one, ready to be torn apart. We had to yet again, get on our bellies and navigate our way through knotty rope that was secured on either side of a sand pit. My head kept getting caught up in the rope so I strategically lodged my booty up in the air to catch any free falling rope – it worked. The woman next to me started doing the same and whispered, “nice call.” I knew what she meant. We both wanted out of there.

As we made our decent to the finish line, my fellow college student Archiver rolled her ankle. What luck to have this happen during the last half mile. Just like any Tough Mudder, she unquestionably hobbled her way to the eighteenth obstacle where we were gulping down a horrid mix of Tabasco and lemon. All of us winced, but seeing the finish line made us forget that we were shooting future heart burn. It was the burning ring of fire. We hopped over the two sets of flaming crates and threw our hands up as we crossed the finish. Cameras were to our right, a table full of bananas were on our left. We were done, finished, toast, cooked.

I had heard later that a woman did a face plant in the fire and had burned most of the front part of her body. I also heard that she had to be helicoptered to the ER. But I cannot verify this information as hearing it made me feel like a complete bad mamma jamma. So, I will go with the fact that this did happen, and she is okay.

One would think I would be on a cloud after said torrid event. Truth is, after my beer and the Stunt Coordinator’s medicinal aid, I was rather numb. I performed the token jig with my teammates, my Speedo wearin’ Pants. But the euphoria just wasn’t there. Perhaps I was too exhausted to relish in what we had just accomplished. Who knows? There are a couple of things I do know, however.

One, we will be doing this again next year. We had too much fun bonding and hoofing and plotting for us not to do it again.

And two, the workout I did today at the Torture Chamber two days after the blessed event was more difficult, more strenuous and tiresome than anything thrown my way during the Tough Mudders event. Perhaps I will stick with the gym and find my next challenge. Anyone want to join me…?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Archivers


Our Tough Mudder team name is the Archivers. At first read, it’s rather confusing. What does an archiver have anything to do with a group of idiots planning to meet a fate worse than death on a mountain that is 8,000 feet in elevation? Is “archiver” even a word? According to Wikipedia, a sound and trustworthy source of information on the Internet, a “file archiver” is a computer program that combines a number of files together into one archive file. According to Webster’s, there’s no such word. Archive, yes. But Archivers?

Many brave souls on our team are accepting this identity in blind faith; most have never even asked where that name came from or who came up with it. Most are probably more preoccupied about whether they will make it through the “Ball Shrinker” obstacle course, which entails traversing across a river in waste deep ice water while holding on to a rope. They have little time to ponder the origins of such a… well, stupid team name.

The Archivers originated circa 2000 when I was fortunate enough to win a fitness magazine contest where I was shipped to a fat farm in Utah for a week to endure the pain of eating flax seed pancakes and performing circus routines which are now commonly known as Pilates. They picked me because I penned a sob story about my club foot (true, I have one), my horrible eating habits (kind of true) and the fact that I run, but have never lifted a weight or taken a yoga class in my life (not true).

I didn’t consume alcohol during the entire week at the fat farm – complete torture on its own – and learned to eat slowly and breathe deeply. I came home refreshed and five pounds lighter. At the time I was dating an ER resident who picked me up at the airport upon my return. Said boyfriend had no interest in listening to my enlightened sense of self, but his father did, who was also in the car.

So, the boyfriend's father, “Bob” and I headed back to our house for a little wine and debriefing while tired and overworked and uninterested boyfriend headed back home for “an early shift” at the hospital.

My roommate at the time joined in the conversation and the three of us talked about my magazine trip and how inspired I was upon my return. The conversation turned to our goals and dreams for the coming year. We put together an implementation plan and found that our fate was sealed. Bob wanted to learn to stain glass. Litha wanted to take a pottery class. I wanted to keep up with my new way of eating and also learn to be nicer to people.

I suggested that we meet once a month to check in on how we are doing with our goals and came up with a name, just to inspire ourselves. We were to offer constructive feedback, assistance and encouragement.”

I also suggested naming our group the Willow Tree. In the material that I brought home from the hippie fat farm, there was an old Chinese story about how a Willow tree that does not bend in the wind, will not last in the storm. I don’t remember where it originated, but it sounded good at the time.

We finalized our next meeting and departed for the evening.

The next day I received the following email from Bob:

Amy – I am very excited about our motivational group. We should expand it to others. I have to say, I don’t like our name. It sounds too girly, and as you know, I am not a girl. How about the Archivers?

Bob.

I read the email twice, not really understanding what he meant so I called him and asked for an explanation, as I didn’t really agree with his assessment of the term Willow Tree and what the new team name meant.

“What do you mean, Achievers seems to be a perfect name. We are attempting to ‘achieve’ our goals.”

Bob should have added “improve spelling” to his goal list.

I forwarded the email to as many people as I know as making fun of people’s mistakes and shortcomings is a satanic pastime of mine. I incorporated an epilogue to detail intent, and background.

After reading my email, my buddy Vince, the crazed friend who got us involved in the Tough Mudders race and (still) friends with my ex, facilitated a meeting of the Archivers immediately. It was held at a brewpub. I was the self proclaimed President. We were to grade the difficulty of our goals and progress.

After two meetings, I was overturned in what could only be described as a secret coup. Apparently, I was “too hard” on my fellow Archivers, using terms like “lethargic” and “lame” to describe reasons behind the F’s I gave across the board. For example, Vince’s goal was to learn to swing dance before our next meeting – a laudable goal in my opinion. He not only neglected to practice one time, he didn’t even take the “How to Swing in Five Easy Steps” video tape out of its plastic cover. His fellow Archivers gave him an A for effort for actually buying the video. This was a clear illustration of what is wrong with Generation X – pure laziness is rewarded.

After I was overthrown as President, a new “softer” President was elected. She happened to be my old roommate who helped to originate the group back in the day. This seemed like an appropriate replacement for a couple of reasons: first, she had the institutional knowledge of the origins of the group, and secondly, she was so soft on effort and didn’t want to offend anyone, that it appeared as though people ceased to feel pressure. Note: an Archivers meeting has yet to be convened since my departure. That was 7 years ago.

So here we are, the Archivers back in action attempting the feat of our lifetime. I imagine that if history is the dictator of our success, we will likely form a group of pathetic quitters at mile point five, and archive ourselves in the “first team to need an oxygen mask” or “Most frequenters of the First Aid stations” categories.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Counterintuitive Advantages to Hurting Myself


I was strolling down the street heading back to my office after running a few errands on a regular workday when I was stopped by two acquaintances, two separate times who happened to compliment me on my hair. One even went so far as to say, “what are you doing differently? It looks so healthy.” Now, normally I wouldn’t blog about something so superficial and vain, (yes I would), but I thought it a bit satirical as to why my hair was so “different” lately.

Had I garnered the nerve, this is the way I would have answered that woman’s question:

“Oh, this bouncy tress (hair toss, giggle). Well, lean in because this here is a beauty secret that landed in my lap about two months ago. I plan to market it somehow and make millions, so keep it between the two of us for now, okay? (hand on woman’s shoulder, wink).

“You see, I go to this gym called Midtown Strength and Conditioning right there off of T and 3rd Street. You could walk from here but I drive. I go to their “Puking is Okay, Quitting is Not” noon class. It’s an hour and it involves a whole host of exercises that muscles you never knew you had start screaming profanities at you. (begin to whisper, make eye contact with said woman).

“By the time the hour is up, I am usually late for a meeting or a fundraiser or some conference call, so even though Midtown has showers, I figure that a little baby powder, water splashed on the face and a towel will suit me just fine. I then head for my car with crackberry in hand, and I know that I have a handful of “crisis” emails from my staff who I have left in a lurch because the workout always comes first these days. (making my hair the focus, I give it one more toss).

“When I get in my car, I blast the air conditioning to the highest level, which is number four in my Ford Escape 2005, and I tilt the air vents so they are aimed at my face and hair. And I sit there for a minute, responding to the email crises as I tap tap away at the crackberry. Then, I tilt the rearview mirror so my reflection is looking back at me and I fix the blurred eyeliner, the sagging mascara, add a little lipstick.”

“And here’s the big secret (now the woman and I would be nose to nose): I begin styling my hair with my hands – it’s like I have built in hair gel so it will pretty much stay in the shape that my hands demand. It’s like art. I become a sculptor. Obviously, today I chose the wind swept look, but tomorrow I might go for the slicked back sides. And perhaps next week, I may do a little 80’s action and poof up the bangs. You never know, but it doesn’t matter, because I can do anything with this mop under those circumstances. Anything.”

I will then wait to see if the woman has any other questions regarding my beauty tip. Likely not. I imagine she would do an about face and run away from me as fast as she can for obvious reasons. And I would probably regret ever having told this woman about my beauty secret. But I am on to something here. I know an entrepreneurial opportunity when I see one.

Don’t be too surprised when you see my product on shelves in hair salons across the country.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where's the Air?


I may be smiling on the outside, but I am crumbling with fear on the inside. Last weekend, the brood and I decided to scope out the terrain and the course of the dreaded Tough Mudder run. This turned out to be a very bad idea. It sounded good at the time, though.

We had two friends up at our cabin for a little hiking, a lot of food and some libations. During our wine soaked discussion on Saturday night, our committed friends decided that they were going to come up to the mountain that weekend and help cheer us on, and assist with watching Yack as he would surely want to follow his parents through the mud and tunnel courses. Being two, this race would probably appear to him to be nothing but preschool on crack. We needed some dedicated souls to hold him back as mommy and daddy plunged into oblivion.

Since our cabin is exactly 18 miles from the ski resort, (or death march as it were), we decided to hike it the next day. Having downed a couple of bottles of wine between us, it sounded like a good idea at the time, but when we woke up, it was the last thing we wanted to do.

The base of the mountain is at about 7,000 feet. Simply getting out of the car gave me a nose bleed. I realized at this moment as I struggled to pick Yack up out of the car seat that this was going to be ugly. And as of that moment, I had 42 days to psyche myself up for the hell that will become my reality.

As I hoisted my little man into his backpack (this child’s back breaker is typically made for a 2 year old who doesn’t weigh 100 pounds), I peered up into the sun and atop the mountain where heaven was shining brightly whispering to me, “return to the car and get the heck out of dodge”. Alas, I have been known to ignore the whispers from Heaven.

Our group approached the base of the mountain and noticed that the Tough Mudder staff had already begun assembling the various torture contraptions throughout the course. There were several narrow PVC pipes – likely for sewer lines – that were lying together side by side. My guess on width would be about 2 and a half feet wide which would be an overstatement. I put Yack down and climbed through, just to see. Just to test the waters. As I army crawled my way through the tube and over the pipe’s divots (ouch, they hurt my forearms, not to mention my knees, shins, and tops of my toes), I began to feel a sense of claustrophobia. Crawling backwards would prove my weakness. I put my head down, closed my eyes and crawled to the light.

Yack was right behind me, making a mockery of my Achilles heal. “Mommy, that was fun. Let’s do it again.”

No thanks. I’ll wait until there are 50 people behind me with mud caked on to their bodies, yelling at me to go faster.

Next, we decided to climb to the top of the mountain as we followed the map we pulled off the Internet. According to the description, we were supposed to be running up the mountain. I, however, walked. Let me rephrase. I stumbled, digging at any hole or sturdy terrain that I could find with my climbing boots to reach the top. (According to the Tough Mudder preparation manual, one should wear tennis shoes). I had to stop about five times to catch my breath and curse the clouds above for more air. I figured we were now at about 8,000 feet – not enough air in the world to help my dizzying state of affairs.

Reaching to the top was euphoric until Pants showed me the map. “During the race, we have to crawl up that face,” pointing to a mountain that looked to be at a 90 degree angle from where I was standing, “and we have to do that four times. The last time includes us carrying a tree log on our shoulder.”

That’s when the air left my head, my heart, my lungs and my feet. The air was on to something. The air was right. “Get out now!”

As we plunged down the side of the mountain back to our car, my thighs, knees and lower half of my body screamed in pain. My dear friends giggled in delight as they knew what we were headed for – watching me panic is something that brings them pure joy. What great friends.

And to make matters all the better, as we put Yack back into the car and headed for the brewery for a nice liquid lunch, Pants proclaimed in earnest, “Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Straight Up Bad Decision Leads to More Bad Decisions


I am back in action, as it were. Work has become a little less hectic and in turn, my new little mission is taking over my life. Let me be clear about something: my number one priority is my family, but because of my overly efficient and controlling ways, my sweet family members are running on autopilot. (Thank sweet Jesus for Jack’s preschool and Pant’s willingness to join me in this physically daunting crusade). I now have time to abandon all other duties and put myself through physical and mental torture in a weak attempt to survive the feat that is Tough Mudder. I have come to the pathetic conclusion that the only reason why I have committed myself to this task is due to the pride factor plain and simple. My ego is too big to back down.

I began working out at a new gym about five weeks before I actually signed up for the Tough Mudder event – set for October 9th. It was early August and I was panicking about verbally committing to compete, but not physically committing to survive. I was complaining to a friend about my utter stupidity when she suggested I try the torture chamber that is Midtown Strength and Conditioning. I had only heard of it a few times -once during a rubdown from my sweet masseur (“you know, if you just use a kettle ball every once in awhile, this shoulder knot will disappear, in fact, I belong to this gym where you push tractor tires down a long path”). Not quite the relaxing massage I had paid for – the workout sounded dreadful. The second time this gym was brought up was by a friend who said that she attends the 6 a.m. morning anguish class where they throw sandbags and do Russian twists with medicine balls. No thanks.

Once something is brought up twice by two different people who don’t know each other, it’s destiny. I had to join. So when this friend, sick of listening to me complain, said that joining this gym is the only chance that I had of surviving the race, I arrived, checkbook in hand that very same day.

To describe that I was intimidated would be a huge understatement. Try petrified. I heard the gym before I walked in the front door. Grunts, yells and huffs were heard through the rollup garage door before I entered. I hadn’t heard sounds like this since.. well, let’s move on.

The place smells of metal and steal and sweat. It’s wrought with gymnastic rings, sandbags, kettleballs, football sleds and a hell of a lot of jump ropes, which I hate with a passion. It’s also crammed with burly men, and some kick ass women. I tiptoed in, looking for the manager.

“You must be Amy. We have been waiting for you.” A message from God, or Goddess in this case. Her name was Tara. Her smile was inviting. My fear dissipated but only a little. I explained what I was doing there. She knew the story. Jeez, this town of 400,000 people is sure small.

“Tough Mudders’, huh? Well go change, we have work to do.”

I was immediately relieved to know that a woman would be training me. Who else knows my body but a woman, and maybe my husband but that’s not appropriate blogging etiquette. I changed into my spin bike outfit – so not conducive to what I was about to do – and was greeted by a muscle of a man named Camilo. Wait, where’s Tara? Apparently, she ran the morning classes and tricked me with her sweet inviting ways.

Camilo was on me in seconds, even before I headed for the door. Just as we started our routine, my buddy Vince joined us. I use the term buddy lightly because he is the one who got me into this blasted race in the first place. I was happy to have misery join me in what would undoubtedly be the most painful experience of recent history. The following is our first day’s workout. (It has since increased in reps, weight and pain as I hit week #6):

Scrawled across the dry erase board at the mechanics garage turned torture chamber:

Tough Mudders Do Three Sets of Each:
Russian Twists – 20x
Jump rope – 100x
Burpees – 20x (for those who don’t know what these are, ask a retired high school football player)
Mountain climbers – 30x
S Street Run – this is where you run, not jog, two blocks down the street
Alligators – this is where you hold ten pound dumb bells in your hands in the push up position while your toes are in the curves of a twelve pound plate. You must drag the plate while moving your weights across the floor. These are the epitome of hell.

Don’t forget to rest for 30 seconds in between reps.

When Camilo is feeling nice, he will have us also do dead lifts, pull ups with rubber bands, and sled pushes with 50 pound weights on them. What a sweet guy.

I started off going to this gym twice a week. I now go four. You must be wondering what I look like after working out like I am competing in a body building championship. I am about to tell you: I have gained six pounds – yeah yeah yeah, muscle weighs more than fat. Put a cork in it. I eat twice as much. That’s why I have gained weight.

And, as icing on that delicious cake, my mother told me this weekend that if my arms get any bigger, she is going to start getting the hots for me because I will cease to look like the woman that I am and cross over into dude land.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Am I Tough Enough? Um, that would be a no.




I must be out of my every lovin’ moyind.. oops, I meant to type “mind” but my arms resemble cooked spaghetti. I can’t even lift my finger to scratch my nose which itches from the caked dried sweat. I’ll just leave it until someone starts to stare. I will then ask for help. Perhaps a wet warm tissue please?

I have reluctantly agreed to participate in a male dominated chest pounding macho-fest in the mountains. The event is scheduled for 78 days, 15 hours and 32 minutes from now, but it could be 1,078 days and I can admit right here and now that I still wouldn’t be “ready”.

Apparently, “ready” means being of sound mind and body to run through fire, climb over a bus, wade through waste deep shivering cold mud all at a lung exploding altitude - 8,000 feet.

I combed through the pictures and descriptions of what is aptly called The Rough Mudders event (not a race, they don’t keep time that’s probably because most sane people don’t finish), and a overwhelming sense of anxiety washes upon me. That’s because I know in my gut this is not a good activity in which I should engage.

I turned the ripe old age of 38 last May. For those math wizards, that’s two years shy of the biggie. And when I parooze the pics of said Rough Mudder participants, I hardly fit the demographic: mid to late 20 something men, likely single with muscles atop of more muscles. Sure, there are a smattering of women who participate, but those women belong on stage of the Body Builder USA competition, something my body (and mind) never aspired to do.

So here I sit, after my first hard workout (well, hard for my standards) thinking is it really worth it just to say I did it? Just to have bragging rights over those too smart to join in this rugged mud slurping sausage fest?

But something within me (call it foolish pride) just can’t say no. When this little project presented itself through an impulsive and irrational friend, it looked like a fun challenge. What appealed to me the most was the team environment. I envisioned my band of brothers and sisters hoisting me over the 8 foot scaling wall or pushing me through the mud filled tubes as I army crawl my way to sunlight. It gives me tingles, really, to know that we will suffer through the throws of hell and come out singing and dancing and having a celebratory beer together.

The course is only 7 miles. I use the term “only” very loosely here because I probably couldn’t run 7 miles on a backroad in Kansas right now. I use “only” because that appears to be the less daunting part of the event. It’s set up at the Bear Valley ski resort. I have season passes up there so I am pretty familiar with the gnarly downhills.. which translate to uphills in this race. Along the 7 mile course (it’s assumed that participants will run the entire route), there are 17 obstacle courses that were developed by British Special Forces and I am not kidding about that. As far as I can tell by the website (and I stopped looking after my stomach started to turn) there are swamp swims, river crossings, army crawls into and under really scary things, and yes, there’s a fire run too.

Here’s what the website says to do in order to be ready:
A general tip
We suggest starting off each day taking cold, freezing showers to prepare for the icy water and mud you’ll have to wade through from start to glorious finish.
After your shower, look at yourself in the mirror. Punch yourself in the mouth. This works on two levels: the first is that you get used to pain.

Nutrition: What you put in your body has a direct effect on how you preform on May 2nd – mentally and physically. We recommend a meal of raw baby cow, preferably one you found and wrassled yourself (for city dwellers, any form of rodent, bird, or next door neighbor will do.) For dessert, snort two lines of protein powder and call it a day.

To replicate the burning conditions of our ring of fire, cover the inside of your pants with cayenne pepper for a 5k run through the park.
Alternate: Put tigerbalm in your eyes. Stare at the sun.

Strap some steaks to your legs and take a run through Michael Vick’s dogpound.
Alternate: Strap some pill bottles to your legs and take a run through Lindsay Lohan’s house.

We also recommend wearing a hat with a swim cap underneath and a pair of tough, thick gloves to prevent any burns from the ropes obstacles and splinters from any walls.

After reading these suggestions for training, I almost fainted from fear. This has got to be the dumbest thing I have decided to do in my life.

In the meantime, I must start getting serious about training. Today was a good start but I have to put it on hold for a while as I am headed out the door to Las Vegas to compete in the World Championship Beer Pong Tournament. I do have my priorities, afterall.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Man On the Street


I happened to be occupying a middle seat on a Southwest flight from Orange County back to Sacramento about two years ago. I was pissed because I didn’t have any reading material. My work files were tucked away in the overhead bin – likely a subconscious move in order to completely avoid whatever assignment awaited me after my work trip. My book version of a chick flick was abandoned on top of my comforter at home. I could envision it, sitting there, spread open so far that the spine was stretched to its max crying for me to come home.

To boot, I was sitting next to a snorer to my left and a loud iPod player to my right. I couldn’t recognize the thumping base. Probably not in my musical repertoire or I might have enjoyed having it blasted in my inner ear.

I tried unsuccessfully to catch a quick nap. I was on this rare occasion bored out of my mind.

I picked up the reading material that was stuffed into the pocket in the seat in front of me. I had no interest in breezing the airline shopping mall for nose hair pickers and six foot garden gnomes, so I put the magazine back.

And then my world shifted, just a little.

I picked up the Southwest’s rather mundane knockoff of Esquire and began scanning its contents –Vegas is lovely in the summer if you stay indoors; Willie Nelson is On The Road Again; the SWA President’s message – thank you for your business. But the article that completely captured my attention was one about Greg Packer, a resident of New York and native of Long Island.

I read and reread the article, soaking in all that this guy had accomplished to eventually come to be known as the most quoted man in America.

After graduating high school in 1983, Greg Packer eventually earned a living as a highway maintenance worker in Huntington, NY. He retired and began a very successful outlet of reaching out to the masses and being quoted in several hundred news outlets throughout the U.S. not as a reporter, but a regular guy on the street. How does he do it? By standing in line.

Greg has done it all. Google his name and there are an overwhelmingly number of hits of him at certain high profile events, offering sound bites to reporters that invariably get in the press.

Take the time he stood in line for 110 hours before the iPhone went on sale, becoming the first to not only purchase the devise but be filmed and photographed walking in to the store. His efforts don’t stop there, in fact, he has been quoted or photographed at least 16 separate times by the Associated Press, 14 times by Newsday, 13 times by the New York Daily News, and 12 times by the New York Post, according to Wikipedia. He has had the opportunity to meet people including Madonna, Hilary Clinton Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Dennis Rodman, and Ringo Starr, as well as at least three presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Most of these people recognize him and know his name. He has been quoted on his reaction to military strikes against Iraq, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the opening of the new Star Wars movie and at countless Yankees, Mets and Jets games.

He was also the first to sign Princess Di’s condolence book and the first to be scolded and called out by Anne Coulter as being a shill for the lazy media, “It was easy for the Times to spell Packer's name right because he is apparently the entire media's designated "man on the street" for all articles ever written.”

At the time I read this article, I was writing for the temporarily dormant magazine, California Conversations and decided to interview Greg. I was fascinated with his methods, the way he seeks out these events, his consistently quotable quotes.

I found Greg’s contact info – it wasn’t hard, and reached out to him with my request. He not only jumped at the chance to be interviewed, he suggested a trip to California so I could see this gig really worked – in the flesh. Now some may question the safety of connecting with a perfect stranger, but all potential fear dissipated with my first phone call with Greg.

His thick New Yawk accent captivated me during our first conversation. I began speaking like him right away, for even today I attempt to “talk East Coast” when I want to make a point while sounding tough and friendly at the same time. Our conversation went as follows:

GP: “Hey, Brown’a, how’s the left coast treatin’ ya?”

Me: “Yo, Packa, how’s it hangin’ out there in the lost coast?”

Our banter became almost instant, but so did our friendship. We began planning our trip to seek out Jesse Ventura’s book signing in LA. I started checking flights.

But then the sweet, successful magazine didn’t have the staff at that particular moment to ramp up another edition, so here I sit, itching to write about the (mis)adventures of Greg Packer.

In the meantime, Greg and I still keep in touch. He sends me a Mother’s Day card every year. Very sweet. I have even seen him on TV on two occasions – one time during the Today show as I got ready for work. It was Friday and the network was having a concert in the park – the New Kids on the Block. In the sea of middle aged moms, there stood Greg, holding a bright yellow umbrella in the rain, waving to the camera. I thought I might be seeing things so I rewound the program and paused it. Unmistakable. I called him. His voice mail box was full.

Another time, I was watching a program about Steve Jobs and the crazed outpour of the iPhone. Sure as day, there was Greg Packer being interviewed walking into the Apple store, albeit a little unkept, sunburned. Cameras were flashing from all different directions. It was then I realized that Greg is more of a celebrity than those he seeks out.

I follow Greg on Facebook and keep up on his daily statuses which are laden with sports and celebrity events updates. In fact, Tuesday’s status update was the following:
GOT TO SEE QUEEN ELIZABETH THE 2ND TODAY STANDING AT #10 HANDOVER SQUARE IN NYC IN SPITE OF THE RECORD 102 DEGREE HEAT,AN EXPERIENCE THAT I WILL NEVER EVER FORGET!!!!

I will someday get my chance to spend what will undoubtedly be a most memorable occasion with Greg Packer, and I will live proudly to write about it.

Until then, I will have to settle on those updates from the man that continues to put a smile on my face:

NATHANS HOT DOG EATING CONTEST LIVE FROM CONEY ISLAND 12NOON ON ESPN FOLLOWED BY MACY'S FIREWORKS ON NBC.HAPPY 4TH OF JULY EVERYBODY!! MAY GOD BLESS AMERICA ON IT'S BIRTHDAY AND MAY GOD BLESS AMERICA AND CANADA TOO.LET ALL CANADIANS JOIN OUR PARTY!!!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Finally A Little Perspective


I have had some really crappy jobs in my lifetime. I remember one summer I had a job as a seating attendant at the horse races, which on the surface seemed like a fine way to make some quick cash, but it was so degrading and laced with sexism, that I was fired after two weeks.

Prior to my blunt kick to the curb, I learned in short order that the tips I received from those rich old guys would exponentially increase the more I bent over to wipe off the dusty seat with the rag that I hung from my back pocket of the jeans that I painted on. After they were seated, they would chat me up, ask me to grab them a drink from the bar, “and make it quick, sweetheart”. I learned to reel in the attention, to smile, graze their shoulder, as if my summer money depended on it. I was seventeen at the time and heard that old men thought that they had hit the jackpot if someone within that age range even pretended to be interested.

After three days on the job, I walked away with tips that amounted to 200 in cash and a winning ticket. I later cashed it in for $500. I never had so much cash in my possession in my life. I began to understand the allure of the other oldest profession.

The job allowed me to fine tune my ability to flirt with men as well as women. Old ladies in grandiose hats would accompany their husbands and eyeball me as if I were the devil. After a few trial runs, I learned quickly that paying more attention to the wives with similar affection – a few winks and slight hand to arm combat – my tips ended up being the same dollar for dollar.

I also made a lot of jokes. In between races, I would stand before the crowd and indulge my audience in a monologue about my dating life, my father’s strict ways or my brother’s nerdy behavior. Some laughed. Others wanted to get into my pants and thought that giving me center stage would be just the way to do it.

Then I was fired. Well, technically, I wasn’t outright fired. I was moved up into the nose bleed section where teenage boys would pinch my butt and throw pennies at my head when I showed them to their seat. That lasted three and a half days and then I quit.

My worst job was at a popular gym. At the time I was attending UC Santa Cruz. I was a personal trainer for the morning shift, which meant I was up and manning the front desk at five a.m. on weekends and on those days I didn’t have class until after 11. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. College perpetuates and fosters the ability to continue to sleep in the way we did in high school, except not just on weekends.

I guess you could say I wasn’t thinking. To boot, I had a walking sexual harassment case for a boss. To his credit, he wasn’t totally responsible for his behavior – he was on steroids which, as gym lore dictated, made him extremely irritable and shrunk his testicles to the size of blueberries.

Two incidences worth mentioning: I was cleaning the gym equipment one morning and Mr. Steroids showed up unannounced. He usually slept in which meant that he grumbled something to me about logging people in properly as I was leaving my shift.. something that was truly manageable, until he “noticed” me.

On this morning, the heebies crept into me something fierce. “You know, Brown, you would be kinda hot if you did your hair and wore makeup.” I tried to downplay his inappropriate comment by replying that he should be aware that I attended UC Santa Cruz and that his suggested get up would be condoned.

“No, I’m serious. Let’s see you with your hair up.” His Jersey accent and curly mullet made me want to vomit in my mouth.

“No thank you.” And I grabbed my wad of hair out of his hand and began cleaning the mirror, horrified.

Mr. Steroid got the picture but he wasn’t happy with the rejection. In fact, after that he made my life at the gym a living hell. I was subject to write ups, delays in my checks, my friends who attended the gym (and paid) were harassed, and he told boys who would ask for my phone number that I was a lesbian and not to waste their time. He would whisper loud enough for me to hear, “She is a Banana Slug. She likes pussy.”

I should have quit then, but I liked the money. The beer money. So did my friends, so I stayed.

One day Mr. Steroid lost his mind and yelled at a 14 year old boy who was bench pressing. The kid was struggling to lift up about 120 pounds and asked for help. I was watching from my perch at the front desk trying to stay out of the way. Mr. Steroid yelled at the boy for a good 20 seconds before grabbing the bar and told him to get the eff out of his gym, that he didn’t allow wimps.

I should have quit then, but I liked the money. The beer money….

I had made a likely friend/ally during my time at the gym. We bonded over a common emotion – we both hated Mr. Steroid. She had dated him for a spell and told me how abusive he was. One time she told me that after they broke up, he forced himself on her while his pit pulls watched.

I asked, “So he raped you?”

Her response, “Well, since we had been together and since I went over to his house and drank too much, I wouldn’t necessarily call it rape.”

I wondered what she would call it then.

My new friend and I used most of my working hours to talk shit about Mr. Steroid. This was a brilliant set up in my opinion because I was getting paid by him to soil his reputation with her and others who would listen.

And then one day, my friend walked into the gym (don’t ask why she was still patronizing the gym if she feared for her life with this guy. I asked and didn’t get a straight answer, but I do believe the rape story. Mr. Steroid talked regularly about bringing girls back to his house and scaring them with Cujo and Killer). She hopped on the treadmill and began her cardio when Mr. Steroid approached her.

I watched from my perch.

They talked for awhile. She was seemingly uncomfortable. She finally pushed the off button on the treadmill and headed for the door. I perked up, watching every move.

Mr. Steroid followed her and as she was approaching the door, he grabbed her, pushed her to the wall and yelled in a rather Steroidish way, “these tits aren’t real.” And then he cupped them. She then began crying and ran out of the door.

That day I quit and three weeks later I was called by my friend’s attorney to be a witness in court.

I am thirty-eight. In retrospect, those are some pretty bad jobs. But they are only two. I have been working regularly since I was sixteen. I chalk those two bad jobs against several great ones to luck and success.

Without my education, I would probably still be in one of those windbag jobs, or worse. Thank you, parents, for giving me the opportunity and knowledge to get out of some bad situations. Thank you U.S. for affording me the ability to even know that there’s more out there.

In some places, my bad work experiences are norm, and that makes my heart sink.

I just finished a book that should be required reading for every woman in the world. It’s called Half the Sky and it’s life changing. If it isn’t, your empathy gene is non existent. The premise is set on women who have been violently beaten, verbally abused and oppressed all over the world – in Third World countries as well as ours – the good old USA. It covers the gamet – trafficking, genital mutilation, male only education, women as property to their spouses. Most, if not all of the examples in Half The Sky described women penniless, working for free, slaves in their own homes, or for some rich guy who wanted a prostitute and housecleaner. Sometimes these girls were as young as nine. Some were seventeen, like me at the horse races, wiping off seats with a rag. I never had to go home with any of them. I always got paid. I even got to quit. That’s freedom.

The book made me cry but then gave me hope. Upon finishing, I performed the quintessential clich̩ РI got online and spent $100 for a Nepalese girl to attend school for a year, which also earned her family a pig.

You could say that I am on a mission now. Call me a chestnut. Call me a poser. I don’t give a shit. What I have come to realize is perspective. What I have also come to realize is that if I sit back and do nothing in the name of Mr. Steroid or Mr. Richman horse race gambler or the woman who was sold into prostitution and became a mom at the age of twelve, I will be living in vain.

And that is the opposite of freedom in my book.