Add this to the amusing downslide of the modern male

I have a few stringent  strict rules in life I loosely abide by.

One is that I don’t post more than once a day on this blog. But rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?

Well, in this case the rule begged to be broken.

During the process of preparing to post my Makeover video, I glanced at the news items on MSN and this link in the Lifestyle section caught my eye: Man Corsets.

How could I not look? You tell me that.

They spoke to a woman from an online retailer that is pushing a new men’s “shapewear” garment. The man can slide the sheer and feminine “He Corset” over his flabby paunch and instantly be transformed into a muscular and lean hunk of meat. It reminds me of the infamous “Bro” (a male bra for manboobs) from Seinfeld.

(I must have trampled on some copyrights, the video was removed from Youtube. Follow the link if you’d like to witness the trainwreck. Here is a screenshot.)

This strikes me as incredibly anti-masculine on a deeply instinctual level. I realize that men have every right to use any means available to make themselves look better but I don’t have much tolerance for lazy and cosmetic falsity for appearance’s sake.

That is a woman’s game…if you’re an able-bodied man, you are genetically required to earn your physique and your toughness. You can’t don silly masks in order to fool others. Life is not Halloween.

Rant off

Obviously, a bit of self-examination clearly tells me why I find things like this annoying…

A symbolic update for East L.A. Makeover’s stage 3 and 4

Yeah, yeah, before you start nagging at me, let me just say it’s been a very busy month.

Between the holidays and some serious busy-ness at work, I haven’t had much time or motivation to take on any major housecleaning since November. Now that it’s a new year and things are simmering down, I can’t hide my laziness and procrastination behind convenient excuses any longer.

This video, while not much of an update in the truest sense, is merely a reminder, a wake-up call, for me to get my butt moving.

The kitchen (stage 3) and the dining room (stage 4) are nearly complete. The major remaining obstacles for the completion of both is a little shopping. I had my fill of department stores and malls last month…I was not about to shop for any damn household furniture until after the New Years anyway.

I’ve got your Swine flu right *here*

Have you had the swine flu?

Know anyone who did (or has it)?

In retrospect, it’s easy to see the whole of N1H1’s public lifespan and observe how our public attitude has evolved to accept the “terrible” new virus.

When Swine flu cases were first spit up by the news in March of last year, exaggerated panic flooded the airwaves and reports would have you believe we were living out Chapter 1 of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” The sky was falling. At first it was the “hybrid” flu, a really messed up name which sounded insanely ominous.

A flu is one thing; once the public begins to learn about the genetic and scientific background of the influenza virus and its transmission venues, all hell is bound to break loose. And it did.

The influenza virus has been the subject of mystery and mortal darkness for ages, but most people simply don’t pay attention or bother to learn anything about it other than dealing with it when they are struck down. Not until then do we give it any thought and instead prefer at that point to shovel medicine into our mouths and pass out for a few days before limping back to rehabilitation. We don’t give the virus another thought.

The Swine flu has undergone a rough evolution in the public perception since last year. Initially it was the biblical plague come to lay waste to the human race. We saw photographs of people wearing masks. Mexico City looked like one big smoggy ER ward. I saw a few people here in L.A. wearing large surgical masks as well, right about the time I read that they might do nothing to stave off the tiny virus.

Little by little the clinical blandness of its attack became more commonly known.

Now it was “N1H1” and we learned all about its genetic heritage which spanned across several unrelated species. The virus underwent more name changes than Prince. And it attacked in waves. At first, an outbreak, then an epidemic, now a pandemic. When can we officially call it a pestilence?

We even went through a period where the Swine flu was stigmatized and people seemed reluctant to admit they or someone they knew might have it. And pigs, the poor little piggies. Vilified and ruthlessly blamed for the Apocalypse. For a while it seemed everyone was Jewish or Muslim.

Just recently I’ve learned (second-hand, of course) of 3 Swine flu cases within a relatively small circle I’m loosely connected to. Ladies and gentlemen, the swine flu virus is ready for you.

At work they’ve been offering an H1N1 flu vaccination. Notices are posted everywhere about washing your hands. In the Metro stations the television screens occasionally flash PSA public health pointers about curtailing the spread of illness. Even buses are boasting posters imploring us to stay home if sick. Yeah man, if anyone should be warning the public about microbial contamination, it’s public transportation agencies. Some of the shit I’ve seen on buses and trains is is downright scary. Hell, well before the swine flu I would wash my hands with the fastidious care of a pre-surgical rub down the minute I stepped off any bus. Those are germ farms on wheels (or rails).

A couple of years I ago I saw some sick fuck on the bus literally pick his nose, study his little prize, and rub it on the empty seat next to him. Not pretty.

Well, anyways my point being that I believe we’re reached the point in N1H1’s PR campaign where we can safely say its “de-stigmatization” has begun. H1N1 “victims” themselves and relatives, acquaintances, neighbors are now testifying to their viral exposure enmasse, and while not announcing it at the public square, are nevertheless willing to share the information. Typhoid Mary has become Typhoid Joe Blow. Swine flu is yours and mine.

I just don’t want to catch it.
The swine flu or any flu for that matter.

True influenza is a glimpse into the maw of death. It bends you over the log and butt rapes the hell out of you. While a banjo plays in the background and you just want it to stop.

I say “true influenza” because I notice a lot of people don’t seem to grasp what the flu is. It’s as if they never had it. How can that be? Don’t they remember the experience? Maybe they aren’t in touch with their bodies. I think a lot of folk suffer a disjunction with their physical being. Even when they are very sick they don’t feel it, experience it. And thus have no memory of the vile illness.

I’ve had the flu less than a handful of times in my life. And I remember every damn one of them.

The last time was February, 2008. I wonder if that might have been a very early case of N1H1. I doubt it. That’s wishful thinking…for if it was, I should have some degree of immunity now.

According to Wikipedia,

While it is not known precisely where or when the virus originated, analyses in scientific journals have suggested that the H1N1 strain responsible for the current outbreak first evolved in September 2008 and circulated amongst humans for several months before being formally recognized and identified as a novel strain of influenza.

Damn, missed it by about 7 months.

The only thing I can say about my 2008 flu was that it did affect my gastric system unlike previous bouts. I remember clearly, the Monday after the Super Bowl, I came down with a dry cough while at work. Felt sorta crappy. By bedtime I was feeling worse and I crashed earlier than normal.

The next morning I literally had to drag myself out of bed. I tried to lift weights and I just gave up. I lift weights through anything, so this was unusual. Over the next couple of days I slept about 18-20 hours each day. I had a severe fever and I felt weak and shitty beyond description. I had the chills, the kind that strike you to the bone.

On Thursday morning I thought I could do it. I tried to lift weights and was able to push some weight but it was an absolute joke. During some .25M deadlifts (25% of my max) I felt like I was going to faint. NO kidding, just pass out there in my dining room. I drank some water and it nearly came right back up. I had no appetite and at the expense of being too graphic…I was sitting on the can a lot. The world felt disconnected…I felt like a foreigner in this reality. That is feverish malaise. The brain, subjected to unusually high temperatures, defaults to delusion. Fever dreams.

Just thinking of the ordeal makes me feel sick again. Makes the latent antibodies in my body start to rev up in anticipation of my recollections becoming reality.

That’s why I laugh when I hear people complain of the flu at the first sign of sniffles. Flu’s begin with dry coughs, not sniffles. That’s a cold, my friend. If the common cold is a fender bender, the flu is head-on collision.

Yup, the flu sucks, but it’s not all bad. We can thank it in part for some splendid artwork, courtesy of Halls cough drops and a winter marketing campaign. These posters have been showing up on some MTA Red Line cars:

My adventures in fasting

 

Let’s put it this way…

 

I am a man of unorthodox habits and behaviors. In other words, I’m slightly “adventurous.”

 

In appraising my life through this point in my life (something I suspect most 45-year-olds fall prey to), I’ve noticed a common theme that has been in place since the moment I was a small child first learning to walk: I’ve always had that “fuck it, gotta try it at least once” attitude.

 

I suspect this might be perceived as a positive trait; perhaps even admirable. And while I do agree, it is also a curse and has proven to be toxic.

 

A sense of adventurousness is an asset for the mature adult who has a good dose of wisdom under his belt. This enhanced maturity keeps his adventurousness in check; it is constrained and channeled into healthier avenues now. As an immature youth, my tendency to experiment landed me in more than a few scrapes and at the center of countless boondoggles.

 

Now, I pick and choose with care the absurdities I decide to try on for size.

 

Case in point.

 

I’ve been trying something for about 3 or 4 months now. Intermittent fasting.
Yeah, fasting. As in going through periods of time where I don’t eat a thing. Dig it?

 

I’ve been loosely following a program detailed in an e-book written by a nutritionist who has trumpeted the benefits of fasting. At the risk of sounding like a cheap pitch man, I won’t give his name or the name of his e-book in this post. The aim of this post is not to explain the medical and scientific intricacies of fasting. I’ll just say that he convinced me. Perhaps another post, another time, I will link back to his body of work.

 

He makes a persuasive argument detailing the benefits of fasting.

 

One of the most convincing facts he mentioned was the concept of dual “fed” and “fasted” states.

 

In a fed state, we are eating and storing calories. Physiologically, it is very simple. If we are not in a fed state, we are in a fasted state, which simply means we are not fed and burning calories. If your body is processing food, it is storing; if your body has no food to digest, it reverts to burning calories. The body seeks equilibrium and it needs energy for this.

 

Before the wonders of the modern era with its tools of food manufacturing and air travel and preserving mediums such as chemicals and artificially frozen environments, food was not so readily available. Meat used to be (and should be) an infrequent and expensive luxury.

 

And if you go back a little further, food was not even guaranteed. Before the “3 squares a day” paradigm ruled the kitchen and the gullet, humans only ate when they could, meaning when food was available. Periods of food scarcity were inevitable.

 

This set the cycle in motion, that of “eat/store” and “fast/burn.”

 

Mother nature’s system struck an ingenious balance. Fasting periods complemented feeding periods and calories were not allowed to accumulate in our asses. Until now. One study cited in the e-book said that we now spend, on average, about 20 hours per day in a fed state. That means we are only burning calories about 4 hours per day. This is because food is so readily available, and available in such inhumanly large quantities. We eat around the clock, and we eat so much that even after we stop stuffing our faces, our bodies continue to struggle storing latent calories from the previous feast. And as soon as we finally enter a fasted period, we eat again. Hunger is a bad word with terrible connotations. We seek to alleviate hunger the minute we feel an inkling of it creep into our consciousness. We are not taught that hunger is a very natural sensation and is quite endurable.

 

Some of the benefits of fasting include decreased body weight and body fat, decreased insulin levels and increased insulin sensitivity and increased growth hormone levels, just to name a few. The book proceeds to list various examples which the author illustrates with charts and studies.

 

And this is where I enter, always ready to try something at least once.
I am not obese, nowhere near it.

 

My BMI, at 24.1 (gotta be careful interpreting that, it’s a shaky measurement) is near the top of the normal range. This is owing to the fact that I weight train and much of my body weight is comprised of muscle mass. For this reason, you need to take into account your body structure when looking at your BMI. My waist measurement is 31 but I could stand to tighten up my abdominal area. I eat too many carbs.

 

This was my thinking when I first considered intermittent fasting. Most people fixate on weight when they should be looking at weight and body proportions. Only the very obese need to worry solely about weight.

 

However, most people are not morbidly obese and are better off embarking on a program in which they increase muscle mass while simultaneously targeting body fat. Simply stated, they need to eat less (maintaining a caloric deficit) while adding an exercise regime  regimen (ha!) to their lifestyle.

 

Initially I fasted 2 days per week. That was my big entrance into the world of intermittent fasting. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s I did not eat for 24 hours. This consisted of eating a normal dinner one night then skipping all food until 24 hours had passed, in time for dinner the next night. For the most part, it worked out quite well. Coffee was my most difficult hurdle. Food I could do without, but I was absolutely unable to resist coffee. According to the fasting program, a small cup of coffee or tea are allowed as long you don’t add sweeteners or milk. Keep it down to 3 or 4 calories, tops. In lieu of that, feel free to have a slice of gum.

 

Many fasters complain of irritability or headaches. By the late afternoons on my fast days I begin to get very hungry. The first few times I tried this, it was torture, but by the 3rd week it began to get a little easier. It’s amazing how vivid and strong the taste of food sits in your mouth after 24 hours of fasting. That first bite is like the best food you’ve ever tasted, even when it’s some crappy steamed broccoli.

 

I began to lose weight…too much weight. It started to impact my weight lifting. My deadlift suffered the most. I don’t know if it was psychological, but my strength tanked. It seemed to me that fasting twice a week was too much. I downsized to one day per week. Thursday. It also seemed fasting the day before a weight day was hampering my lifts as well, and Thursday was the perfect day since I lift on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday.

 

Fasting takes practice. The first few times you try it, it’s grueling and the difficulty is proportional to the role food plays in your life before you start fasting.

 

In my case, food, while important, was not my life. I had narrowed food down to its essential role, a necessary utility involved in my survival. I worked, mentally, to deconstruct its place in my life, to pure sustenance and nothing more. Food was compartmentalized into that part of my mind which has nothing to do with emotions or feelings or sensuality. Yet, despite this, fasting proved difficult at the beginning. Demonstrating that many times we are oblivious of our relationship with food. A relationship distorted by ritual and habit.Fasting illustrates the role of food in your life.

 

You’ll be shocked to learn just how centered around eating your daily existence really is.

 

Food, more than any other tool of survival, has been perverted and tainted by modern society. It has become larger than life. It is entertainment; it is the center of rituals; most apparently, it is also a moral and physical battle for a whole bunch of people as well. The fact that food is “abused” and the center of such conflict is a revealing insight into our nuanced relationship with it.

 

For instance, fasting allowed me to see just how much I depend on breakfast to start my day “right.” Seems I bought into that “breakfast as the salvation of the modern diet” mentality espoused by the food industry. Lacking food and coffee made my mornings feel empty and unfulfilled. For the first time I saw how incredibly excited I was at the prospect of eating breakfast as I bounded out of bed in the morning. On fast mornings, there is no bounding. I drag my ass to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water. That’s the highlight of fast mornings. And I discovered that lunch was vital to filling the midday void when I’m at work. Without it I feel bored and slightly uncomfortable. Fasting has allowed me to recognize and work towards overcoming these attitudes, but they still linger.

 

Yesterday was my first fully fasted Thursday in about month due to the holidays. I took advantage of the beautiful day and walked to Borders and browsed the shelves in an attempt to avoid dealing with the fact that it is was lunch hour for chrissakes. The clock seems to tick just a bit slower on fast days. I found myself in the nutrition section looking at some Michael Pollan books. At times it seems my life is a twisted, ironic circus.

 

By the afternoon on a typical fast day my mouth gets dry and cottony. My cold sensitivity is heightened…and this from someone who doesn’t get cold easily.

 

One peculiar mental byproduct of fasting is that I feel crappy-looking. The greatest psychological phenomena of starvation is my sense of invisibility! I lack the vibrant and confident reassurance about myself that usually puts many people off. I have no edge and I feel flat.

 

In spite of all this, I don’t feel physically bad. Just deprived. And insignificant. Or is it this blog? Who knows.

 

That’s the bad.

 

I hope I’m not painting a miserable picture of fasting.

 

If it was as miserable and painful as I’ve made it sound, I wouldn’t continue doing it.
Fasting is one of the most self-empowering things I’ve ever done.
Fasting is the ultimate manipulation of the modern environment. You assert control of food.

 

All you need to do is look around you and it’s easy to see the hold that food has on most people. Refuting this gastric enslavement is to rise above gluttony while proclaiming a disciplined saintliness and asceticism while the lazy spoils of our world beckon humanity into their lazy depths. Fasting is a common and ancient religious tradition believed to help achieve a sense of higher awareness and spirituality.

 

In my case it’s about control of my environment and escaping the “culture of comfort.” Many of my unorthodox habits which I’ll detail in the future center around this concept. One goal of modern man should be that of overcoming the culture of comfort while learning to reign in his exaggerated physical urges. I’ve chosen to fast as a way of overcoming “food,” the most misunderstood and distorted environmental variable plaguing our health today.

 

As I said, fasting is a skill which needs refinement and practice. Coming off a one-month layoff yesterday, I needed a refresher. Other than a cup of coffee in the morning and a cup of tea in the afternoon, I did well. Next Thursday I’ll shoot to keep it to only one cup of either coffee or tea.

 

By dinner time I was pretty damn hungry. Sitting in the bus, I didn’t think about eating, but the minute I walked in my door I pounced on my car keys and sped off to Taco Bell. I ordered 2 tacos and a cheese pizza…the girl obviously flustered by my great looks (or maybe it was the fact the place was packed and the drive thru line stretched into the parking lot) accidentally gave me 4 tacos with the pizza. I didn’t notice this little gift until I opened my bag at home. Ugh. So hungry. I ate everything.

 

That’s the pitfall of fasting…your first meal back needs to be normal. Your fasted voraciousness will steer you to overeat. Which I did, quite happily so. My first meal is normally something simple and home-cooked. Like I said, I need to get back in the groove. Maybe next week.

 

 

Goddamned H2O

A beautifully sunny and mild day. The kind of day I leave the building for a few lunch minutes and sit out on the brick wall on Gower while I watch the cars and a parade of Hollywood’s most illustrious parade by.

This is a dream day.

It does not get better. Temps in the high 70s, L.A.’s sky is uncharacteristically clear of haze or brownish vehicular soot. People walk by wearing t-shirts, shorts, even flip-flops. Yet it’s not harshly southwestern desert-like in the least. The kind of day you can sit in the direct sun, and the combination of the breeze and low-cook sunlight still cannot make you break a sweat.

I save a lot of money during the winter on deodorant. You simply don’t need it when the air is so Pacifically unobtrusive that your body does not need to expend one extra joule of energy for the purposes of heating you up or cooling you down.

Even the Arrowhead dude is taking it easy. His truck is parked along the curb and each side is lined with boxes, compartments, filled with empty water bottles or full water bottles, many of which will end up standing in coolers in offices where they will be the office town square around which slackers and lazy-ass paper pushers can talk nonsense in order to break the monotony of their computer-bound existences.

One of the lot security guards is also sitting on the brick wall. Not sure if he’s taking a break or surveying the street for possible intruders, encroachers who would be so bold as to dart through the open door, bypassing the secure, badge-activated doors. Once on the lot, capable of who knows what…

The Arrowhead dude, friendly guy, he delivers to our building and once in a while we make idle, stranger chat, the kind of fluff you talk about with people you don’t really know and probably never will know, but it’s the usual human urge to merge existences, however fleeting. Arrowhead guy and me wave, smile, I sit. Watch the cars pass and the wind is so nice and comforting that I can’t imagine leaving this to walk back into my large fluorescent cage.

I was made for the wild, that’s where I belong. Problem: the wild isn’t wired, is it. What willlll I doooo?

Arrowhead dude (I’ve never learned his name, I’m not good with getting or remembering names) finally stands. Enough chilling. He heads through the door for another water call, apparently. The guard who was out front follows and I am left behind to guard the precious Arrowhead Springs liquid gold weighing down the truck’s shocks with all their 5-gallon heft. A few minutes pass as I sit in utter stillness while I let the beautiful day prolong my stay out here when I should really be heading back to my desk.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a man, around 30, white, with scraggly dirty blond hair, not unheard of in Hollywood, a tight t-shirt and fashionably distressed jeans. He is lingering around the rear of the Arrowhead truck and without looking too obvious, I study his cautious and tense movements as he slowly leans in and pulls out a full bottle of water from the rear compartment.

Instinct propels me to my feet and I really should begin walking back to my office. Instead, I march over to where the gentleman is slowly bracing the water bottle over his left shoulder and setting to walk way. “Excuse me, you can’t take that water,” I command. The man, shocked, spins to look at me and in that instant of surprise he drops the bottle on the ground; it falls just right because the red plastic cap tears and streams of water pour out the top of the bottle as it dances and rolls at the man’s feet as its emptying contents run to the gutter.

Now the look of shock gives way to…what is that? Anger, fear?

He reaches into his pocket, his right pocket, and I don’t realize or can’t realize what is happening. Because the water is pouring out the bottle, clean, fresh, expensive, distilled water and it’s a waste, that’s all I can think, it’s such a waste and the fact I’m standing here playing water cop is such a waste as well because I should be back at my desk by now but this damned sunny weather, this beautiful day, has enraptured my senses. Won’t release me.

And I played water cop and now a bottle of water is gone to waste and my life gone to waste as well because out of the blue, the water thief pulls out a fucking pistol from his pocket and points it at my face and pulls the trigger.

In the microscopic second before the gunpowder pop and the bullet shreds my skull in half, in that microsecond, all i can think is “H20.” Goddamned H20.