The Cracks Are Showing

The evil side of Pure Austin Fitness is starting to poke its ugly head out from behind the façade of copious water fountains polished back to virginity every five minutes and free Q-tips. What is the dark side of this otherwise seemingly perfect gym? Food. Here, let me explain by first telling you the story of my workout…

I did a full workout yesterday: a warm up, close to an hour of resistance training and then 45 minutes on the elliptical. This was a tough one. I hit a wall right at the 30 minute mark where I felt like I just couldn’t go on. I took a break, refilled my water bottle, and got back on the machine before the pause timer expired and reset the unit. I mused for a while on what my problem was, thinking about carb starvation and trying to remember my high school biochemistry regarding stuff like ATP and ADP and aerobic versus anaerobic metabolism. Unfortunately there’s a gap in my knowledge between the science of sub-glucose cellular energy utilization and the lore of low-carb dieting, so I didn’t get very far. Eventually what I came up with is that I just have a 30-minute attention span these days for just about everything. I need to work on that. Can anyone suggest a good yogi?

In any case, there was an exacerbating factor: for some reason the food bar at this gym bakes a fresh batch of brownies every 11 minutes! Why on earth would they do this? I haven’t actually witnessed a brownie being pulled from an oven or consumed, but from the smell this is what must be happening. I know it’s every 11 minutes because I have a damned timer running whenever I’m on the elliptical machine. The cardio machines are in the loft above the snack bar, so presumably warm smells waft up, and I’m telling you, they’re making brownies. Cruel. Just as hawks can see the body heat of a field mouse from a thousand feet up, I, as a skilled low-carb dieter, can detect the radioactive glow of sucrose and fructose from great distances. Hence I avoid even looking at the snack bar as I walk by. But just from my peripheral vision and the continuous whir of blenders I can tell you they make smoothies and have an inventory of approximately one million nutrition bars. I refuse, however, to look at the menu or behind the counter to satisfy my curiosity about the brownie smell for fear of what I might find—worst case being actual brownies, piping hot from the oven.

peeping tom sign guyBelieve it or not, the food situation gets worse from here. As I’m struggling through my last 15 minutes of elliptical hell, to my right is a personal trainer talking to his client while she does a different kind of elliptical machine. This must have been a cool down for her, because they were just chatting back and forth. The trainer was talking about the 67-mile bike race he was in the previous weekend, which is impressive I admit. But then he starts talking about the celebratory dinner that night for all the racers. He’s talking about all-you-can-eat salad and pasta, all-you-can-drink beer, all-you-can-eat cookies and ice cream. Can anyone see the problem here? Should rail-thin personal trainers who are capable of riding 67 miles in a row (“but only 4 miles of steep hill climbing, so no big deal,” the bastard says) be allowed to use the phrase “all you can eat” within earshot of normal people struggling through a cardio program? I think not. And pasta for fecksake!

This is probably why I ate four meals, a bar and a low-carb dessert yesterday. I should sue.

I also had the joy of the peeping tom sign guy again. Two of the three times I’ve been to that gym there’s been a guy in a cherry picker working on a sign right outside the windows in the men’s locker room. It’s not a huge deal, but it is a little disconcerting. I noticed last night, though, that they did get the sign working, so presumably that’s over with.

Try This at Home

I noticed a clicking sound on the way back from the gym today that would seem to indicate a rock stuck in my tire. However, there hasn’t been enough tread on my tires to hold a rock in at least six months. Uh oh.

Inspection in the driveway yielded a very large bolt lodged in the tire. Hey, at least it had a washer! But seriously, the slow hiss of air implied imminent failure. Yanking—and failing that, unscrewing—with pliers yielded an 8mm x 30mm bolt. For comparison, this is roughly the size of one of two bolts that holds in, say, the starter motor on my truck. Or just think about your pinky, past the last joint. In other words, this sucker left a pretty big hole, big enough that the tire was totally flat in about ten seconds. If this happened to you on the highway you’d call it a blowout.

So I got out my trusty Walmart tire plug kit. A while back when I started running low on plugs I bought some of the monster truck-sized ones, and this hole seemed to justify that purchase. I plugged the tire in the normal way and inflated to about 30psi. I couldn’t hear any air escaping, so I inflated the rest of the way to 50psi and shut off the compressor. (As an aside, I discovered during this process that my compressor has a leak in the regulator. It will still get up to 120 pounds, but it just runs continuously at that point without ever shutting off. So, add that to the project list).

Anyway, in the quiet, I could again hear the tire hissing, and I could see plug adhesive bubbling out. This is not normal—you’re supposed to be able to drive on these things immediately at full pressure. I messed around with the plug a bit and nothing seemed to be improving the situation, so I used the cleaning tool to force the plug into the tire, leaving just a hole again, and again flattening the tire in about ten seconds.

Finally achieving true desperation, I cut another new plug in half and forced both halves into the applicator tool on top of each other. I then, with some difficulty, forced this blob of sticky goo into the hole. Repeating the inflation and testing, this double-plug solution seems to be holding.
 
 
 

Go to the Gym, Gain Five Pounds

Or maybe 14 pounds. Or so it seems when you’re used to weighing yourself naked and dehydrated in the morning on a flaky bathroom scale and then you step onto a balance scale in the locker room in your gym clothes at 1:30 in the afternoon. So, currently, I weigh somewhere between 239 and 225. Who the hell knows?

me at Pure Austin FitnessBut yes, I went to the gym, for the first time in about two years. This was over 24 hours ago, and I’m not as debilitated as I might have expected. Still, I’m envisioning serious tendonitis setting in sometime tonight. At the same time, I feel really good. It still works! It’s amazing how the body remembers what health and activity feel like and how quickly it comes to adapt to and crave them. I think a big part of it is chemical—testosterone, growth and repair hormones, endorphins. Your body pumps out this stuff as a defense mechanism but your brain soaks it up like a drug. You go from not being quite sure you’ll make it out of bed one more morning in a row to believing you can lift heavy objects and bend them to your will. In one day.

So, how does this fit in with “the plan?” Well, only one day behind, for starters! And it probably wouldn’t have happened at all, I have to admit, without the encouragement, and yes, the slightest bit of good-natured badgering (and really, have you ever met any bad-natured badgers?) from you, my faithful friends, readers and googlebots. Actually, I’m still waiting to hear from the googlebots, but I assumed they wanted me to go to the gym as promised. This was the first gym on my list to check out: Pure Austin Fitness (formerly Powerhouse, which is how I mistakenly referred to it in the previous post). It’s more upscale than my memory of 24 Hour Fitness, but still in the same range. It’s definitely no Mecca. Though there are some Mecca-like touches, which are really nice.

First impressions: When I got there at about 1:30 in the afternoon on Friday, the place was dead. Not totally, but it’s so cavernous and the sight lines are obstructed enough that even though there were at least five gym employees, two or three people working out with trainers, and maybe another five people working out solo, I often felt like I had the place to myself. I had the men’s locker room totally to myself both when I checked it out during my tour and later on when changing into workout clothes. There was one other guy in there after my workout.

The girl who gave me the tour was cute in an overly-made-up sorority girl kind of way, but other than that totally vacuous and useless. She never introduced herself, knew less about the gym than I did from visiting the web site earlier in the day, and couldn’t be bothered to actually take me on a tour of the facility without me pointing at things and saying, “Show me that now, biatch.” The one factoid she offered up to me was that “the owner goes to Vegas every year and brings back all the best equipment.” This was also the one time she really became animated as it seemed to really impress her. That made one of us. Though I have to admit I had some interesting visuals of what a fitness convention in Vegas must be like. I’m sure it will be on CSI next week. Only through cross examination did I hear about the climbing wall, the swimming and kayaking quarry lake, the sand volleyball court, the kick-boxing studio and, saving best for last, the free towels. Oh, the other piece of information she volunteered, which I don’t count because it violates the first rule of checking out gyms—which is: it is what it is, anything they promise will happen “soon” will never happen—is that they plan to install a heated, outdoor “junior Olympic” (again, more great visuals) swimming pool “by May.” Since it’s basically March now and there’s no giant hole in the ground out back, I assume this is somewhat optimistic.

membership bookAbout half way through the tour when I asked about rates she said, “Oh, this is yours,” and handed me a three-ring binder she had been carrying around and which contained a bunch (19 pages) of information about the gym. You know, by the way. Okay, B+ for the physical presentation, but they really need to work on the delivery, literally. Since I had my backpack with training shoes tied to it over my shoulder the whole time, I assumed she would offer me a chance to work out, but apparently she didn’t get the message. At the end of the tour I said something about checking out some other gyms and only then did she mention that they offered a two-week free trial membership. I know what you’re thinking: this is good salesmanship—wait for me to ask before offering anything free, in case I’m ready to sign on the dotted line immediately. But it wasn’t. I really don’t think it had occurred to her beforehand. I mean any of it: not that a goofy bag and goofy shoes might mean I wanted to work out, not that I might want a trial membership, not that I might or might not sign on any dotted lines today. I just don’t think she cared one bit. Then she asks me if I want to work out today. Um, yeah.

As far as the workout, pretty standard stuff. I did ten minutes on a Precor elliptical to warm up and wandered around finding and trying various resistance machines for probably an hour before finishing up with 35 minutes on a different elliptical machine. All the machines have heart monitors, which is nice, so I knew that during the cardio portions of my workout I maintained between 135 and 152 bpm heart rate with an average of 139. For my age and fitness level that’s pretty good and relatively non-life threatening. And at my weight it means I burned a whopping 600+ calories on the elliptical alone. Woo hoo! Taco salad, here I come! I wish. Anyway…

Environmentally, this is an absolutely beautiful gym. Everything is brand new and super clean. The views out the back are as phenomenal as you get for suburban real estate in Austin. The value of being able to stand on any piece of cardio equipment and see—out one window—water, rocks, trees, ducks, and girls playing beach volleyball (okay, this last part is just my fantasy, since it’s about 50 degrees here right now) cannot be overestimated. The gym personnel are cool and detached, which makes some sense since many of them appear to be Swiss. Oddly, most of the gym staff didn’t look like they work out, though presumably they have free memberships. I’m pretty sure the girl who gave me the tour wouldn’t have been able to operate a treadmill to save her life.

Setting everything else aside, I could probably join just for the locker room. Again, spotlessly clean and, incredibly, sunlit! Who ever heard of windows in a gym locker room? It’s brilliant. Spacious lockers, shower stalls with curtains, nice tile, free hand lotion, mouthwash, and Q-tips. I have to stop and talk about the Q-tips for a moment, because this is a real parity-determining issue for me. I had actually thought about Q-tips quite a bit during my phase of considering re-upping at a gym. Mecca had Q-tips and 24 Hour didn’t. For me this was a dividing line. I had decided that the ability to maintain Q-tips in an open container in the men’s locker room marked the socio-economic separator line between the cheap gyms and the high-class gyms. I’m going to be classist and non-pc here for a minute, but you really do get a better class of people at a more expensive gym. I’m not saying Mecca never had problems—they keep changing towel policies because people were stealing them (in fairness, they were really good towels!)—but when I was at 24 Hour they couldn’t keep soap dispensers on the walls in the men’s locker room because people kept tearing them off. People are animals. Rich people just direct their animal tendencies in more decadent directions than destroying their own gym, or stealing Q-tips and Q-tip dispensers, I think. Considering Pure Austin is half the price of Mecca and “only” $20 more per month more than 24 Hour, I was astounded to find Q-tips. I had assumed there would be none and simply forgot to look for them. I only discovered the Q-tips while taking advantage of the free mouthwash. That almost pushed me over the edge. Q-tips!

On the way out, I passed the girl who gave me the tour. In the almost two hours I’ve been there, I can’t imagine more than four people came in the front door. Yet when I say “bye,” I get the blankest stare, the mutest open-mouth gape imaginable. So unless she has a twin drooling in boredom at the same job (which I seriously considered, the look was so blank), the girl simply didn’t remember talking to be two hours before. At least the girl at Mecca used to pretend to recognize me! These people need lessons in working it. Then again maybe the feeling they’re trying to conjure in the consumer is “refreshingly irrelevant.”

What’s the bottom line? I’m going to do my two weeks. And then I’ll go over and do two weeks at 24 Hour and either decide I can rub elbows with the hoi polloi or that I can front the extra $250 a year for posh surroundings and intact soap dispensers. And Q-tips. Or, I might decide to get hard-core and do a trial at Gold’s Gym. Now that place will put hair on your chest! You know, before they make you wax it off.

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full of Stars?

Yes, this is one of those short posts where I tell you to go read something longish. Hey, it’s a blog; suck it up. In one of those strangely-divergent convergences, old-time (British?) sci-fi author Mick Farren is now writing for the L.A. City Beat weekly on media issues. This week Farren does a sort-of review of the new Battlestar Galactica series while also analyzing the influences of national politics and zeitgeist on the production and consumption of sci-fi and fantasy in this country. I don’t agree 100% with his analysis, but I did find myself nodding quite a bit.

I Am a Spinning Class of One

bikeSo, today was yet another rededication to my fitness and exercise regimen. The difference is that this time I’m actually admitting it to someone other than just myself. Yes you, fair reader.

I have a pretty poor track record for accomplishing anything once I tell people about it, but then I have a pretty poor track record for accomplishing the things I don’t tell anyone I’m doing—you just don’t hear about those. The good news is, anyone who reads this post is either well aware of what a procrastinator and slacker I am or they got here via a google search for porn and aren’t going to give a shit. Okay, I’ll face it, either way they’re probably not going to give a shit.

So, here’s a mini fitness blog entry, summary, manifesto, whatever, or as close as I’m likely to get, for all those who do or don’t care: The only metric I’m worried about right now is weight. I’m at 235 pounds. My target weight is 205, at which point I will see how I feel about it. I’m willing to go lower if necessary, even if it’s just to make 205 my panic weight (the weight, which if I hit it, forces me out of maintenance mode and back into aggressive-loss mode). This is also, coincidently, the weight my doctor wants to see me at. So this will probably also be a logical point at which to get all my other weight-related health stuff checked. I’m not even going to get into waist or other measurements because they’re just too embarrassing, and frankly I don’t care. I know for a fact that if I do everything I have to do to get to my target weight, everything else will fall in line simply because I will have been doing aggressive diet and exercise. You don’t lose 30 pounds by accident—sure, skip a meal, forget to drink water and do something strenuous for a few hours and you can accidentally lose two or three pounds, but not 30.

Okay, so let’s do specifics. I’m back on the low-carb wagon starting yesterday. That’s not as painful or hard-core as it sounds. I can reach something of a mental and physiological balance on this pretty quickly as long as I can keep getting myself to swallow a half a pound of chicken in some form every day. I even managed to run out of and not buy more beer today, so that always helps kick-start the low-carb induction. And then of course there’s eggs and salads and broccoli and nuts. So I’m not starving over here (though, to lose weight, I pretty much literally am starving, in the short term).

In terms of exercise, good weather was my friend for the early part of the week. A four-mile plus walk on Monday and almost an hour of biking today have kick started the cardio. I also did some quick curls and pushups to failure today just to give my upper body something to chew on before it starts getting its ass kicked at…

That’s right, the gym. I know me, and Austin weather, and this streak is not going to continue. And it wouldn’t be enough even if it did. I am going to have to suck it up and re-join a gym, which I’ve been putting off for enough months now to almost be easier to specify in years. I hate the gym. I hate the concept of it, and I inevitably come to hate the fact of it after going for a few months, but every mind game and roll play I’ve run with myself indicates that it is simply the only long-term solution for me. And I mean long-term. Like if I don’t do this, I might die sooner rather than later, and not very happy at that. So, I need to make the rounds and see what I can come up with on that front. I have three options: Powerhouse, 24-Hour and Gold’s. I’ll hit the first two, which are distinctly closer to my house, and see if I can find a plan I like. I used to belong to 24-Hour and quit, so they have something of an uphill battle to win back my loyalty, and yet they are also the devil I know. And I have a feeling they’re going to be cheaper than the ritzy-looking Powerhouse. So let’s say tentatively that I’ll start that search on Thursday, since I’ll at least be getting free workouts out of the deal.

Maybe when I start to have some success at this again I’ll come back with some loftier goals, something that speaks to actual fitness and not just panic weight loss and the battle against decrepitude. But don’t hold your breath. Especially when you’re on the treadmill.

H.S.T. R.I.P.

Hunter S. Thompson always struck me as one of those guys who would check out—either intentionally or accidentally (though given his track record of indestructibility, the latter seems less likely)—rather than fade away. So Sunday night’s news did not come as a total surprise. It hasn’t come out what the initiating problem was, but I’m going to assume there was some kind of chronic pain, suffering or debilitation issue looming in Hunter’s future (or possibly present). It’s tempting to make comparisons—Hemingway, Spalding Gray, Richard Farnsworth—but each of these men made their decision for their own reasons, so no direct comparison is possible or desirable. Yet there are points of obvious similarly, beyond them all being artists who opted to take their own lives, nodes on a scatter plot that at least put these gentlemen in the same socio-emotional quadrant. HST combined the hard-living habits of Hemingway, the experience of a recent brush with mortality and pain that in Gray served to exacerbate a certain ingrained darkness of the soul, and, most directly, Farnsworth, going out on top with the same deliberate finality.

…given the mood of this country, being that a lot of people in the mood to play golf are also in the mood to shoot something…

But that’s all I’m going to say about that, because looking at his last column for ESPN, it’s not realistic to believe that Hunter was in decline. He was still practicing his craft and staying in touch with his friends. He was still digging into, exploiting and reveling in the absurdities of the world we live in. And he had finally made the breakthrough of a lifetime: realizing a grand unification of skeet and golf as a competitive/cooperative sport!

Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

In case you don’t believe HST was a nearly-prescient genius of the modern era, I’ll leave you with his column from 9/12/2001 in which he anticipates with frighteningly perfect clarity the post-9/11 world in which we live. This messy nightmare that’s been appalling half of us for the last 4 years? Hunter foresaw it all, almost down to the letter, within hours. It really makes me wonder what exactly he saw coming next down the pike—personal or global—that made him pull the trigger. It also makes me wonder what it means when a paranoid, theoretically drug-addled gonzo journalist can in 24 hours come up with an entire Republican administration’s playbook for the next eight years. When HST’s knee-jerk hyperbole becomes literal fact, I get worried.

T-Shirts

second amendment, bear armsAh, the urge to just sit and blog and drink coffee all day is strong…

As anyone who knows me knows, the T-shirt is near and dear to (not to mention covering, most days) my heart. Up until today, my favorite T-Shirt site was T-Shirt Hell simply because it’s so dirty and low-class and exploitive (“Abortions Tickle!”). But today I discovered Busted Tees which totally blows T-Shirt Hell out of the water in terms of sheer hilarity and pure punny goodness. Still, if you want to see medium-sized chicks barely wearing extra-small shirts, you can’t beat T-Shirt Hell.

The Coming Cult of Terry O’Quinn

Terry O'QuinnLet me introduce you to one of the coolest and most under-utilized actors in Hollywood: Terry O’Quinn. You don’t know his name, but you do know his face. He’s currently playing the enigmatic John Locke on Lost. He notably played the good bad guy on Millennium, Peter Watts. You’ve also likely seen him in West Wing, Alias and the eminently-funky and short-lived Earth 2. I’m hoping he’s now hooked up with the frat pack after appearing in Old School and will be in more of their projects.

But if I really had my way, this guy would have his own TV show after Lost wraps. Anything where he gets more than three lines a week would be great, but preferably something mysterious and paranoid and way off-center. Joss Whedon, are you listening? Sci-Fi Channel, get out your checkbook.

More Sterling

After my last post, you may be wondering, as I did for a long time, why Bruce Sterling, ostensibly a sci-fi writer, is now a design professor. Apparently Bruce has put some thought into this question as well and answers it in a 4000-word article (that link is to his blog excerpt, but barring link rust the entire article is currently available as a PDF) for Innovation magazine.

If you haven’t kept up with Sterling’s blobject futurism, this is as good a primer as any. What’s most interesting to me, as a sometime computer geek, about this is that Sterling takes the concept of “object-oriented design” from computer science and applies it back to actual objects in the real world. One of the central points of object orientation in programming is that information processing can be though of in terms of the relationships between granular “objects” that contain both data and behavior. That is, a code object is both the data structure for a given piece of information and a collection of all the behaviors, calculations, and outside interactions that information can exhibit or have performed on it. Sterling’s point, I think, is that there no reason the concept of design objects needs to be metaphorical and confined to the sphere of computer science. Blobjects are object-oriented objects in real life. His classic example is the cell phone. While being mostly plastic and electronics, a cell phone actually encapsulates a range of behaviors and interfaces far beyond what will ever be utilized fully by any given user. And we’re not just talking about cell phones being a node on a network. Beyond that there’s a continuum that the cell phone object exists in, from initial design to eventual destruction, and all of that, the entire process, birth to death and everything in between, can be understood as inherent in the blobject. And knowing that, we can design for it, so that not only does the cell phone work, but it also displays quality in a controllable way throughout its entire existence as a blobject. I’m not explaining this very well, so take 20 minutes and read the article.

Herr Doktor Sterling

Why didn’t someone think of chaining Bruce Sterling to a desk and giving him a couple of dozen peons to do his bidding a long time ago? For those who don’t know, Bruce is taking a year in residency as a design instructor at the Art Center College of Design where he will presumably inform the work of a new generation of brilliant yet paranoid design professionals.

This is just one example, and you’ll want to check out his full blog (this link will rust, though) to check out the impressive level of output these slaves… I mean students of his are generating all of a sudden and that he’s posting without credit.

Normally I find this “found items from the future” idea blatantly gimmicky—just look inside the back cover of Wired magazine every month. But in this case I have to respect them for two things: the short timeline and the restraint, which, I suppose, are facets of each other. And because it’s La La Land, and because they’re focusing on media response, the results are heavily weighted toward celebrity and consumerism, which I think is an accurate if obvious projection of our current culture into the future.

A fluke among flounder