I save coupons from packets of tea

Tuesday was a marginal evening: if I’d felt any worse, I would not have gone to jiu-jitsu. As it is, I still ended up taking an open-handed biff to the head and a shot to the gut in the course of scrapping that evening. Not to mention the eight to ten chokes that were demonstrated on me in various positions, plus one cross-collar strangle that I had to take an aspirin for the next morning. But the beauty of our school is that when you take a slap to the head, the attacker immediately asks, You all right? And I was, and I said so. My own fault anyway, not putting up a block. Plus – I learned some key stuff that I needed for defending against multiple attackers. So the class was definitely worth it, as they usually are.

Anyhow, forty minutes earlier: I’m in my apartment, munching some snacks to boost my energy and staring into the open cabinet I’ve just taken them out of. I’m reading the ingredients on the loaf of Multigrain 100% Whole Wheat Bread that I’d bought at the Shaw’s five days earlier, because I have a busy mind and my eyes needed something to occupy them. Whole wheat bread, the kind I use four slices of to make sandwiches for lunch every day. Multigrain; more than one grain; grains being Good For You, as every American student of the food pyramid could tell you. Probably the best cheap bread I could buy in a chain supermarket.


Shaw’s Multigrain 100% Whole Wheat bread has 100mg of sodium per slice and contains high fructose corn syrup. God damn it. So with four slices in two sandwiches, not counting what goes between them, that’s already 400mg. And high fructose corn syrup. Damn it all. I don’t eat greasy corn chips, I have maybe one soda a week, I drink water or milk with most meals and I still can’t get away from high fructose corn syrup. It’s not the health implications that bother me – I’ve been ingesting it for years and I’m fine – so much as the feeling of being stalked. I don’t feel that I need to cut HFCS out of my diet. But I’d like to know that I could. I’d like to know that the greasy fingers of Archer Daniels Midland aren’t stroking my hair as I wander the aisle of my favorite chain supermarket, steering my head towards its preferred breads, baked goods and gelatins. I’d like to know that, if the doctor told me tomorrow to expel HFCS from my life, I wouldn’t be limited to an index card worth of food. I fear an unlikely future of asparagus, rice cakes and apple sauce with a farmer and a sunrise and some synonym for Promise on the can. I’m all lost in the supermarket; I can no longer shop happily.


and I ain’t never scared; I’m everywhere, you ain’t never there

Thanks to Mike Shapiro and his lady Eleanor for teaching me the following technique to unkink your back:

  1. Take a book of about “Harry Potter width” (2 inches). If you don’t own any Harry Potter books, then your copy of Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State should suffice.
  2. Lie down on the floor, face up, with the book under your head.
  3. Bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are flat on the floor and comfortable.
  4. Lie there for fifteen minutes.
This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s had a profound effect every time I’ve done it. When I get up, my lower back burns in that way that only a good stretch can do. It’s easy to do right before going to bed, to help shut my mind off and sleep. And it’s probably helping my posture.

For decades, I’ve treated posture like a series of nervous bleats. “Stand up straight! Shoulders back! Chin up!”, etc. Bad posture’s especially visible on the tall and skinny; it’s easier to spot the bend in a reed than in an oak tree. Only recently did I realize that posture isn’t about tensing your body into rigid perfection. It’s about relaxing. I look hunched forward because I’m walking with my shoulders near my ears. If I relax, my shoulders fall into line and my spine adopts a more natural curve. People stop shying away as my footsteps thunder down the sidewalk.

Relaxation is attractive. The shoulders are down, the arms are loose, the legs are comfortably settled. There’s a reason Sports Illustrated shoots its swimsuit models laughing and skipping on the beach, not raising drywall while balancing on rolling chairs. There’s a reason all the euphemisms for being cool – that most desired mental state in the Western world – eschew tension. Relax, chill out, mellow, hang loose. Take it easy. The world doesn’t have much use for people who are relaxed all the time, but there’s something to be said for being able to relax when you should.

it doesn’t matter; put your fists up and instigate it

Every night after jiu-jitsu, as I stagger into the tiny curtained room that two dozen men change in, I play the where-am-I-bleeding game. We practice at a kids gymnasium; our practice space is four inches of foam rubber, atop flexible plywood, atop another four inches of foam rubber, the whole affair covered by a thousand square feet of cheap blue shag. As a workspace for advanced judo (tomoe nage, hane goshi, harai goshi), it’s almost decadent, a far cry from the thin mats on the basketball court of our BC days or the packed dirt of Nagoya rice paddies. But you have to deal with rug burn. So, as I strip off the heavy cotton gi, I check the backs of my hands to see where I’m bleeding.

It’s never bad, of course: a scratch, a few light scrapes. But after I have a few drinks with the other students, I go home, wash my hands and then apply bandages. A gangly adolescence taught me to ignore scrapes on my hands – which live something like a mile away from my head and thus my brain – on the presumption they’d eventually go away. But they no longer go away. And while no one dies of a scrape to the knuckles anymore (in the First World at least), it hurts. Every time I reach into my pocket it hurts. But there’s no good way to bandage the knuckles or the inside of your finger so you’re left with beige tape crossing your hands at jagged angles: your drunk uncle Ben taping up your Christmas presents.

And these aren’t rough, intimidating scars either. If you’re looking for someone who’s been in a lot of fights, look at their knuckles: they’re flattened and misshapen, broken from repeated forty mile-an-hour impacts against other people’s jaws. Mine are still whole knobs rising toward the front of my hand like cliffs, dotted with pinpoint scars. There’s the one from the sharp tip of a fake wooden knife. There’s the friction burn from the sleeve of my own gi. The two newest ones – which will become scars no matter how long I bandage them or how much bacitracin I apply – on my left major ring knuckle and the middle of my left pinkie, from when I stopped grappling for position with a man who has sixty pounds on me and just lay atop him, dead weight and sprawling limbs, breathing like a furnace with my left hand pinned to the blue shag, shifting from half guard to full mount an inch at a time. Not resting, but advancing with care (UPDATE: that entire last sentence sounds unwittingly pornographic; not at all what I intended; leaving it as written because, hey, what is a blog if not a history of first drafts)

april, come she will

I forgot my camera battery when going to Mia and Bob’s wedding in Dublin, NH this Saturday. So now I have to weblog about it to remember it at all. It’s not my fault.

  • Rachel V. and Steve were kind enough to give me a ride up. We listened to Steve’s XM radio and Rachel’s extra-danceable iPod playlist.

    “Was nu-metal a reaction to the … flamboyance of hair bands?” Rachel asked at one point.
    “I thought nu-metal was a reaction to grunge,” I chimed in from the back seat.
    “And grunge to hair bands,” Steve finished.
    “Only one way to settle this,” I concluded, digging out my cell phone to call Fred Durst. Still hasn’t got back to me.

  • “Who are you texting?” Rachel asked Kevin Q. We stood in the shade around the rustic firepit in Mia’s mother’s backyard.
    “I’m not texting anyone,” he said, not looking up.
    “Then what are–”
    “I’m live-tweeting the wedding.”

  • Later, someone waved a copy of the program at Kevin, with its admonition to silence cell phones during the ceremony. To drive the point home, Serpico texted “turn off your phone” just before the ceremony started. Kevin got it and fumed.

  • The ceremony, though outdoors, was shaded by the towering trees and aerated by ambient wind. Mia’s uncle, a pastor, conducted the ceremony, giving plenty of advice and insight to the young couple. We sat patiently until told to stand again. I suppose it says something of the secularity of the audience that nobody knew what to do when prompted to “share a sign of peace.” It fell to the lapsed Catholics (like me) to turn and start shaking hands.

  • No communion wafers, though. Hell, that’s another, what, fifteen minutes? Twenty?

  • Chatting with my favorite EMT, Lynne W., I learned that tall, skinny people are more prone to suffer collapsed lungs. “I wonder if that has any connection to the stabbing pains I feel once every ten months or so when I draw a deep breath,” I speculated.

    “Could be.”

    “Eh, my cross to bear.”

    “Oh, life’s so hard for you tall and slender people.”

    “Exactly; I – hey!”

  • I got to chat at length with the significant others of my friends: Rachel’s Steve; Michelle McN’s Ben; Kevin’s Shawn. They have an identity outside of their predicate attachment to an existing friend, I discovered. For instance, Ben took up snowboarding after skiing screwed up his knees. He, Haley and I chatted about it in the smoker’s circle near the parked cars. I wasn’t smoking; I just wanted to hang with the cool kids. Like Ben.

    Also, Steve quit smoking, drinking and caffeine a year ago, all on the same day. Neither Vickie nor I could believe it. “I don’t even drink or use caffeine that much, and I don’t smoke,” I told him. “But if a doctor told me those two were killing me, I’d ask, ‘How long do I have?’ ”

  • Rode back with a full car – the Serpico/Keoughs and the Smithneys, me snug in the backseat with Claire and Kim*. We reminisced about childhood indulgences: our favorite books that we devoured a stack at a time, our favorite cartoons, our favorite food. Everyone conceded that everyone at the wedding was cool and that we all need to hang out with them more. Which I plan on.

* All ri-ight.

it longs to kill you; are you willing to die

Allergies have struck back with a vengeance in the last forty-eight hours. Itchy eyes, congested nose, gravelly thick voice. Things got so bad this morning that I took one of my jealously hoarded pseudoephedrine.

I have given up trying to predict allergy reactions based on the weather. Two Saturdays ago, the weather was sunny, 80 degrees and breezy; I felt fine. This week it’s been rainy and in the 50s and I’ve been miserable.

So forget the weather report. Forget the pollen count. A decade in Boston has taught me plenty. If I can make it through Memorial Day, I’ll be fine.

and now it’s time for the breakdown

My body’s starting to disintegrate around me.

Last week I caught my third cold in three months. This from a guy who used to go years between colds. This one has no sinus presence – just a steady, unproductive hacking from deep in the back of my throat. Last night the muscles of my neck actually hurt from coughing so much.

(To save you a lot of time: I take a multi-vitamin every day, I exercise five days a week for no more than an hour each time, I wash my hands thoroughly every time I go to the bathroom, I get at least 6 hours of sleep every night and usually more, etc)

Soreness takes longer to heal than it once did. Scrapes turn into scars rather than scabbing over and vanishing. My neck cracks, my back aches and my joints pop. I’m officially starting to get old.

# # #

I went bowling on Sunday for the first time in years, hitting up Lanes & Games in North Cambridge. They have a remarkably nice bar considering that they’re a bowling alley on Route 2. Kristina C., Madeline, Matt and Chris came too, though Chris only watched. I bowled two sub-100 matches.

On Monday the tendon running the length of my forearm ached all day (see above).

don’t touch that dial; we’re in denial

In a dream this past Thursday, I accompanied some crooks on some complicated robbery in this compound up in the mountains. Law enforcement showed up, including the President in a VTOL jet. I had a rifle handy, so I took a shot at the President – not out of any particular dislike of Geena Davis, mind you, but because I thought it would make a good distraction. The bullet creased the side of her head; she glared at me, said something I couldn’t make out, and took off from the cockpit in her jetpack. I pegged her in the foot with a second shot – a pretty phenomenal shot, really, as I had to lead it by a few yards, given the distance and altitude – and she spiraled out and crashed.

The biggest hassle in the days that followed wasn’t going on the run for murdering the President. Rather, it was turning on CNN or MSNBC and watching talking heads dissect the details of my life for clues as to my troubled past. I watched Rachel Maddow pick apart my Netflix queue with a criminology “expert” and felt awkwardly angry.

# # #

Pulled something just beneath my glute at jiu-jitsu. I grow old. Liz B. suggested that it might be my “uber-hammy,” or the biceps femoris. It’s fine now, but bothered me sorely this weekend.

Every time I pat myself on the back for teaching jiu-jitsu, I strain something in my shoulder. Sure, I’ve stuck with something for 8 years that most people quit in 3 months. I would not work out regularly were it not for jiu-jitsu: the gym bores me. But throwing people around, even on the supremely cushioned mats we use*, takes a toll on the heartiest athletes. At the brown belt level, I regularly see people nursing wrist sprains, neck trouble or aching backs.

I lay all this out not in a search for pity or applause, but because I genuinely don’t get it. I know that I’m going to end most classes limping and sore, and not in the way that power yoga or 45 minutes of spin gets you sore. I have yet to break anything other than my nose or an errant finger in class, but the law of averages has its eye on me. But I keep showing up anyway.

# # #

Woke up on Saturday with a mild cold – sore throat, small congestion. I didn’t really feel the worst of it until Gorefest set-building on Sunday, when I tried to hoist a light up into the rafters of the theater and had to stop on the ladder to rest.

My cure: take one ibuprofen (500mg), one melatonin (5mg) and one multivitamin every night before going to sleep. So far it’s helped me sleep and kept my symptoms livable. Sorry if I pass this cold along on to anyone else, especially anyone who has to sing in 10 shows over the next 14 days**.

# # #

I saw the most intelligent baby I’d ever seen on the Red Line on Monday morning. Most babies regard the world around them with shifting, glazed eyes. This one looked at each person around her with preternatural focus. She didn’t make any random noises or flail without purpose. She sat there calmly, making and holding eye contact with every other rider in her periphery, unstrapping her velcro shoes with quiet deftness. She was, quite possibly, the world’s most perfect baby.

* Most jiu-jitsu studios use the thickest gym mats you can buy and even those don’t help. They change an accelerated fall from a height of six feet from crippling to survivable. The academy I train at uses a modestly sized mat, layered on top of ten inches of alternating foam and plywood. It springs under impact. Without that I would have found an excuse to quit years ago.

** Buy your Gorefest tickets now!