Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What’s In A Mussel/Muscle

I missed three days in the Gym.
I was in Baltimore with my wife visiting our granddaughter to help celebrate her fourth birthday.
It was a great time. We were able to visit the National Aquarium, take a dragon boat ride on Chesapeake Bay, see the Circus and stop in a little waterside Café for lunch.
My muscles weren’t aching.
I ordered a glass of wine, a real extravagance in the early afternoon and the steamed Mussels for lunch.
I heard the phrase echo in my mind as I ordered the Mussels, “old men don’t grow new muscles”.
Was I subconsciously hoping to eat Mussels/muscles?
My wife noticed the choice.
“That is an unusual entrée. I didn’t think you liked saffron and those Mussels are swimming in saffron.”
“Yeah, well I have become a big lover of saffron”, I lied.
Actually I hadn’t even noticed that the Mussels were “swimming” as I read the menu.
I had just noticed Mussels and had also noticed that my muscles weren’t aching for the first time in months.
Somewhere deep in my brain Mussels and muscles became interchangeable as neurons fired and remembered pasts fused into new thought.
“Well how are the Mussels”, she asked.
“Really quite good”, I replied as I pulled a truculent steamed Mussel from it's death’s grip anchor on the shell and tried to chew past the grit and sand.
“Really quite good”, I said again, trying to convince myself as much as her.
“Boy they gave you quite an order, I would say only 25 to 30 to go” she said laughing.
Was she reading my mind and casting out a challenge, “bet you can’t eat all of those”?
“I hope it is enough”, I said with extra emphasis. “I have been thinking of Mussels every since the restaurant that had fresh Mussels closed”. “They are a good source of low fat protein”, I said vindicating my choice.
“Well Bona Petit” she said and went back to her Lemon Crusted Salmon.
I did finish the Mussels (took over an hour) as I imagined I could feel all that healthy protein streaming into my muscles to replace and repair those which were ripped and torn by prior weeks of ongoing exercise while the sand coated my teeth and intestines.
“I think I’ll have the Lemon Crusted Salmon next time”, I said to no one in particular as we got up to leave, “they say it has lots of Omega-3 oil and that’s supposed to be really good for you also.”
“Yeah and you don’t have to eat a lot of sand”, she said to no one in particular.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

“Cheshire Cat”

It is the smile.
The smile is the first thing you see.
Alice in Wonderland met the “Cheshire Cat” as a disembodied smile sitting in the tree.
The first time I saw the “Cheshire Cat” it was much the same, a large smile seemed to enter the gym through the front door.
It was only after she took out the wraps and began preparing for the upcoming training session and spoke a greeting that I realized this was a “Cheshire Cat” as the rest of her came into view.
It is the smile. It is “big” and warm and commands attention.
She is a commuter and drives over 60 miles a day (that is a long commute in Southern Indiana) to the job, the gym, finally reaching home late in the evening.
I believe some days she must feel more like Alice, who asks the “Cheshire Cat”; “which way do I go” with the “Cheshire Cat” responding, “where do you want to go”, and Alice saying, “it really doesn’t matter”, then said the Cheshire Cat “it really makes no difference which way you go”.
So it is not surprising that some days she just doesn’t make it and passes on the group.
Some of the others have said, for a better offer.
But when she shows the “Cheshire Cat” always brings the “Smile”.
The group definitely feels a “little better” on those days.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It’s Gonna Be Fun Tonight

“Listen up, tonight is going to be “Brutal” so if you are going to quit, do it now”.
I think to myself, yeah, yeah, sure: I don’t see anyone walking toward the door.
Actually it feels kind of safe. There are eight in the class tonight.
How bad can it so be?
Eight stations, new people joining tonight, possible recruits, should be fairly straightforward with some stations even allowing a little rest.
But then again, she did say “brutal”.
Maybe I should take her at her word.
So I think; Don’t catch her eye, don’t mess up the rotation, try not to bring attention to yourself , like suddenly dropping dead and we should get through this.
Then she calls out the stations. Five in a row, dedicated to the legs and the big muscles.
I know we are in for a “fun” night.
Running followed by squats, immediately followed by the squat ball press, followed by the jump rope and last but not least the ladder, boy, were we in for some real hurt.
At the end of the session, I couldn’t get up, my legs were shaking and I was sure they wouldn’t hold.
So, to avoid the next obvious move, standing up, I looked up at the trainer (I need to use her nickname) “Sparta” and said in a tone of innocent almost childlike wonder, “Was this a little harder than usual?”
She laughed as she moved toward the door, “I told you-brutal”.
When I managed to get up, change, go to the car and finally sit down at home, I looked up the term brutal.
My vision was correcting as some blood flow had returned to my head so I read the dictionary description aloud:
1. Demanding, taxing, exhausting
Not enough I thought, another one read,
2. Harsh, rugged
Still not enough and then finally, an apt description,
3. Savage
That was it. The muscles had been “savaged”.
It felt good to know I could actually get past pain to numbness.
The pain would come later.
I knew I would pay for this outing for several days to come.
But, I also knew I would be back to see what else she had in store.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Transformer (For Janzelle)

She has and is transforming herself, a little at a time.
In many ways she is my hero.
I suspect we have many “vices” in common.
I think we would both admit to not being adverse to “Death by Chocolate”.
She has admitted a desire to “stay home”.
I feel the same way on many days.
Food, more than nutrition, a “forbidden” pleasure.
But here she is, exercising, spinning, running, boxing and becoming something different for the present and the longer future.
I know I will be there because I know she and the others are there and won’t give up or in.
She has amazing speed on the ladder and I watch her, trying to burn the footwork into my mind.
She is fast and I am always relieved to see her running as the timer as I know I will receive an early reprieve from some “painful” station.
She is agile and works the jump rope and the abs with the same easy facility.
She knows herself and sometimes comes in with “both guns blazing” but on other trips takes a sedate almost genteel approach to the hard lessons of the gym.
She transforms the boxing routines into long continuous discussions on whatever she and the trainer talk about and I am amazed at the flow of the interchange, in rhythm with the uppercuts, crosses and jabs.
She recently changed the hard body blows with the heavy bag into a humorous vignette much like, (When Harry Met Sally) that went unappreciated by the majority.
And in a final analysis she has been for me, an object lesson in the “right attitude”.
There is no redemption without effort and pain but occasionally a bar of chocolate helps.

Monday, March 9, 2009

And Now for A Commercial (All I Really Need Is A Hug)

I have been at it for some time now and it isn’t getting any easier. In fact I think it is getting harder. Two nights a week Tuesday and Thursday and then Saturday morning I go to Ultimate Training, Wednesday is ballroom dance lesson night and then I try to get to the gym on Monday, Friday, And Sunday to lift weights, do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio and work on my abs.
I would think by now that I would be making some progress but every time I make a little gain on the group, the intensity kicks up, the group moves ahead and I am left sitting on the floor wondering if anyone got the license plate of the truck that ran over me.
This is when I am most vulnerable and think to myself, a very self-indulgent thought, “all I really need is a hug”.
When I was a kid my Mom would always say, “you just need a hug” and the world always seemed to right itself. These hugs were great until I moved to the more open realm of the playground, the ball field and the gymnasium. Hugs in those venues, I knew, would be lethal. Friends, cheerleaders and coaches would dessert you if they knew you were ever thinking “such thoughts”. The name of the game was tough to the end.
So we grew and left hugs behind except possibly for “romantic hugs” which are much different than the hugs of Empathy.
Empathy hugs have been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase trust, and create feelings of well-being as well as “slow things down”. Sure maybe romantic hugs do the same thing, but empathetic hugs are of a much shorter duration or at least should be so they don’t turn into romantic hugs, which could be very embarrassing on a football field
There is also a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to total strangers in public places. The campaign, in its present form, was started in by an Australian man known only by the pseudonym "Juan Mann".
The hugs are meant to be random selfless acts of kindness performed by a person for the sole purpose of making others feel better. This year (2009) Free Hug Day will take place on Friday February 13 until Saturday February 14, depending on your time zone.
See I told you all I really needed was a hug.


She is from the south. I thought I lived south but this lady is really south.
Her drawl is pure “Southern Belle”.
She loves the gloves and loves to hit.
The “smack” of leather on leather is pure and loud. When she is on the mitts with the trainer it is like a well orchestrated dance.
She is high caliber and automatic. There is no thinking as she runs through the sparring routines, one, two, on and on to twelve, no missed beats, no missed hits; all the same staccato rhythm; pouring sweat, pouring jabs, uppercuts, right crosses, on and on.
Then on to the heavy bag, pop, pop, pop, BANG.
Punches rain down on the poor defenseless patron of the corner.
I often wonder how arguments end up in her house.
She is powered by generous amounts of caffeine.
She would be a great addition to the commercial showing some guy up in the hills picking coffee beans.
“Hey Juan,” she would yell up the hill, “just give me the beans and I’ll eat them straight up.”
“Who needs all that brewing and excess water?”
She is an aerobic machine.
Some days she goes to ultimate training at noon and then again in the early evening. She is in the gym almost every day at lunch and three days a week in Boot Camp and I really have no idea of how many days she devotes to spinning.
Lithe and well muscled, she is topped with a generous amount of red hair.
This shouldn’t surprise you after the above description.
My first thought after seeing her in action, “Wow, Tigger really lives, but he is a she”.
She laughs, smiles and never quits and I don’t believe she has ever met a stranger except there is hardly a session that goes by without her telling me; “you are crazy”.
I think she means it in a kind way or maybe she has met a stranger.

The Ambassador

Ok, lets delve into the Group.

The first person to greet you from the group is the Ambassador.
We should send this guy to the Middle East. We would get peace in record time.
The first time I showed up, I was greeted and at each station, he would demonstrate what we were trying to accomplish.
I have watched him over the past many months and he offers this assistance to any and all new people.
He explains, demonstrates and partners with the new recruits during the first and sometimes the second class they attend.
He plays a “mean” air guitar, burns the re-mix CD’s, repairs the broken jump ropes, helps set up the various “torture (I mean training) stations and is just an all around good human being.
He is an avid golfer, puts in hours at his place of work but is primarily addicted to exercise.
His agility on the speed bag is useful as he works out complicated routines. Some of these have included elbows and the forehead. The bag won the forehead routine, leaving significant abrasions.
I haven’t seen that routine in awhile.
Jumping rope is hard but this guy makes it look easy.
He is superb on the mitts and makes the heavy bag groan with repeated body shots.
He is the “big brother” to the ladies in the class and is often the driver when the group goes out for “THE PARTEE”.
I think somewhere in his “gut”, he would love to spar with some real boxers and maybe play in the ring for real but right now is perfecting his endurance, punching ability and ring agility for the ultimate goal of health. I know of no other exercise as hard as “training for a bout”. Just keeping the hands up for 15 three-minute rounds while continuously moving around a square “ring” (I don’t understand that) would wear out even the most highly trained athlete.
Keep up the good work, Mr. Ambassador and if Hilary needs a sub for her globe trotting peace making, I would like to recommend you.

The “Arrogance” Of Authorship

It takes a level of arrogance to try to characterize a person that you have only known for a short time. As I said when I tried to capture the “Trainer” and more recently the “Group” I may get it wrong and I beg your tolerance early on, but these are some of the people that make up the story of my life.
Exercise is a huge part of my life and has been one of the facets of my “redemption”. The people I am introducing to you are the reason I keep coming back. They have been a gift. They make it “easy” to keep on keeping on.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Group

You met the trainer in my last piece, in a fashion. Now I would like to introduce the GROUP.
When people exercise together, they do it for several reasons.
They may know each other and add support to the endeavor. They may be romantically involved and see this as just another form of “togetherness”. They may have been thrown together and over time developed an easy relationship built on the knowledge of each other’s abilities and may even serve as an external monitor so that when you feel like skipping, your first thought, “What would the Group Think”.
This was the group that I suddenly joined. They appeared to have bonded over time. They were comfortable with each other and the interchange was relaxed and easy, that is until I walked in.
The room became quiet and I was scanned. I was by far the oldest person in the room
Initially intimidation was strong but finally curiosity won out and I “joined” the group. The Ambassador was there to help me struggle through those first few sessions. I didn’t realize the multiple tasks I would be asked to accomplish, the heavy weight of being the timer, the feeling of complete and utter hopelessness on many occasions and the sheer exhaustion I would encounter early on. But the group never let me down, “ you had better pick it up out there, you are the timer and we don’t like standing on station so long”, “C’mon can’t you run faster”, “You (implied-the old guy) just do two laps”, “ if you lay that punch off again, I am going to hit you upside the head”, “why do you jump rope backward” and finally “oh, you’ll get it” (Ha, Ha, Ha).
And then came the breakthrough. A song was playing in the background at a level slightly less loud than a F-16 in the room and I was trying to pick up the lyrics. My hearing isn’t all that good but the song seemed loud enough to interpret and the guy sounded like he was screaming, “ and my Monkey had come down wid da sickness”.
So I said to the no one in particular, “why is this guy singing about his sick monkey”?
I can still hear the guffaws and the laughter and someone else repeating the line.
I was later informed he wasn’t talking about his monkey and the sickness but it was a lyric that even today I can’t decipher.
Maybe I am not supposed to but it got me over “my sickness”.