Monday, June 30, 2008

Not Food? Not Good

I read through a recipe book last night and put on about four pounds. Maybe I should start reading “Cooking Light,” or something like that.

I think Michael Pollan is right: “Eat food. Not a lot. Mostly plants.” His book, “In Defense of Food,” is an entertaining and quick read. I think he’s hit the nail right square on the head as he hammers the notions of how what we eat went from food and, through some corporate, government-sanctioned slight-of-hand, became what we have come to call nutrients. It really does need to come full-circle back to food. What is food? If a grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, it’s probably not actual food, but is probably a food-like substance that has been refined by some multi-national conglomerate and marketed as something that your body absolutely cannot do without. “And, boy does it taste swell!”

Mr. Pollan wonders if this slow insidious shift from food to nutrients is one of the fundamental causes of America’s obesity epidemic. Hey. I’m not an expert or a particularly learned food maven, but I don’t have to be quite so cautious. In my opinion I don’t think there’s any question about it. When we got away from real food is when we started to get fat. That’s when we started to see an incredible increase in heart-disease, diabetes, and people wearing Levis. Of those three things, only one is positive. If more people wore Levis, I think, the world would be a more relaxed place.

But I digress. Happily. Let’s leave at this: go read Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food.” It’s worth every minute you spend. And while you’re at it go find his other work and read that too. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to become educated in the realm of where our food comes from, what it takes to sustain its growth and delivery, and how it should be looked at in the whole of human society.

Here’s a link to discover more about Michael Pollan’s work:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Shhh! Don't Talk About That Stuff

Among people who know me, I am simply a remarkably dilapidated seventeen year-old. How am I doing at fifty-eight? Not too bad. My health care system tells me that my “numbers” are good, mostly within range, and that my blood pressure is fine. I had the dreaded Sigmoidoscopy and asked if I could keep the video. The answer was no. Then, last year I had the even more dreaded knock-yourself-out-full-meal-deal colonoscopy. I got to sleep through that, which was just fine with me.

This stuff is important. I had a very good friend who woke up one morning, went into the bathroom to study the constitution for a while (I just do a crossword puzzle) only to discover he was seriously bleeding. He drove up to the hospital and was told he had cancer of the colon and was dead six weeks later. He’d had no symptoms until he happened to look down before he flushed the toilet that morning.

Now, really, does anybody really want to talk about this stuff? Hell, no. Apparently, it’s not politically correct. It’s not genteel to discuss bodily functions, fluids, and solid wastes. To quote a good friend: “Erpie pew-pew.” I mean, if you’re in an elevator somewhere and either you or the darling administrative assistant next to you cuts the cheese, drops a Cobalt bomb, or however you want to euphemize passing gas, and the result triggers your gag reflex, you can’t just smile and say: “Whoa. That’s awful!” or “Jeez. Stick a cork in that superfund site!” No. It’s not polite. You can comment on a friend’s gas, but not a stranger’s. I guess it has something to do with embarrassment, yours and the stranger’s. This same reluctance transfers to open discussions about the health and performance of your guts, or anything that involves gooey physical detritus.

I propose that we have a national Talk-About-Your-Guts Day. We would all benefit. If we can save one life by encouraging frank and honest dialog about how to educate people to pay attention to their what-goes-in-and-what-comes-out system, wouldn’t it be worth it?

And the next time you catch yourself idly thinking about a friendship, I think you can be enlightened by answering the following question: are farts funny? If your answer is yes, most likely you have yourself a good friend.

Next time, let’s riff some more on this Political Correctness theme. It’s one of my pet peeves. If you’re going to keep a pet, it’s best to keep it fed, eh?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recovery Time

In the dim and misty past I was something of an athlete and party animal. Both of these activities placed large amounts of stress on my physical person, the protoplasmic envelope in which I exist. I like this envelope. It is certainly limiting and slow compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, but I derive a great deal of pleasure from simply living inside it. I am blessed with a strong and decent machine. I don’t have movie-star looks, but I pass muster and have also been blessed with a confident nature that helps others look past my obvious faults. When I was a young man I was fairly invincible and enjoyed working out with weights and walking long distances. My knees have thanked me to this very day for nurturing an intense loathing of any kind of distance running. I prided myself on being darn near unbeatable in a fifteen yard sprint. At sixteen yards I went from first to last. So I learned to stay with what I was good at.

I remember all of this very well. My wife thinks that I use my prodigious creative talent to enhance my memory, but that’s a story for another day. I went along gracefully through life, thinking that it was perfectly normal to work all day and party all night and then get up and do it again. What’s the big deal? Sure, I might feel a little tiredness as day after a short nap began, but that passed and I grew stronger as the time went on. Serious hangovers were a different matter, of course, but again, those stories are for a different day.

This was life. It went on for years. The future was forever and the past was just the past. No thoughts of old Glory Days came up because I was living the Glory Days and I knew it. Money was scarce, but so what. We were having fun and the future was a bright glow at the start of each day.

Then something strange happened. Intense physical activity had always brought stiffness and the ache of lactic acid in the large muscles, but all you needed to do was stretch, get some blood flowing to those sore muscles and it went away. Nothing to it. But one morning, I don’t remember which one, exactly, but it was there ... yes, one morning the stretching didn’t work. The second stretch didn’t work either. It wasn’t until the third or fourth stretch that things went back to fluid normal. I would imagine that I just shrugged and paid this anomaly no more heed.
Until, of course, this anomaly became a regular occurrence. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I needed to limp a little bit even AFTER a shower. All of a sudden I had to pay attention (always a challenge for me). I started to ask the real athletes I knew about this. Those my age all nodded and shared my puzzlement. Those older just sighed. “Welcome to the real world, kid,” they’d say.

Hmm. Real world? What the hell were they talking about?

It became apparent all too soon. I began to learn about something called Recovery Time. I was a Pitcher on the baseball team in school, a reliever mostly. I threw hard every day. I kept playing Ball after school. My arm was made of steel. Recovery time meant a good night’s sleep. Now, like the professional players, it meant four days of resting it. That made sense because of the enormous stress put on it. But the rest of me was good to go. Wasn’t it? Suddenly, it wasn’t. I started noticing soreness that lasted a full day. Then it became two days. I actually had to work out more carefully and move the target group of muscles around each day. Hell. Nowadays my body goes into shock and I don’t even GET sore for two days and it lasts a week.

Welcome to the real world, kid. This decline leveled off to a plateau that slowly descended as I gained weight and lost muscle mass. I became a working writer, which put my expanding butt in a chair for hours every day and I lost my wind and, slowly, my desire to compete. I “retired” from playing Ball at what is now the frisky age of forty-eight. Things kept popping and straining and ripping loose. These were actual injuries that required medical attention and extended healing periods. My machine had become an adversary instead of a trusted friend. I even had to quit smoking, which is something I will write about in the future.

Waitaminnit! The realization hit me like the hot slap of a flabby forearm. I was getting OLD! How could this be?

Stay tuned for more on this insane revelation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Eyes Have It. Or Not.

The eyes have it. Or not, in my case. Of all the issues I’ve had to learn to deal with as I experience this aging thing, losing my ability to see things clearly, close up, has caused me the most grief. It started out innocently enough. I’d be at a restaurant and suddenly the light would be insufficient and my arms were just not long enough for me to comfortably read the menu. And the typeset … why was the type so small? Unbelievable.

It slowly dawned on me, much to my wife’s delight, that I needed reading glasses, that I was succumbing to the condition called presbyopia, which is a Latin word meaning What Does That Say? At first, I liked the fact that I needed to fish glasses out of my pocket to read what was in my hand. It made me feel studious and smart. It advertised that I knew how to read. Hey look! This stuff is so important that I need to apply extra effort just to read it. Wow. It must be important. It made me feel like I’d joined some exclusive club. Yeah. The Can’t See Shit club is always groping for new members.

In some cases, it is very important to read things, operating instructions on a nuclear submarine, for example. Your restaurant bill too, because what you point to on the menu might be poisonous or worse, like cost over thirty dollars. I mean, how would you know? If you’ve ever been to a fancy joint that publishes no prices on the menu, you know what I’m talking about. If you can’t read the price, it might as well not be there. So I am relieved to fumble for the glasses, put them on, and knowingly study. You can’t be pulling a fast one on me. Nope. I know stuff.

Without the need for glasses to defeat this presbyopia thing, none of this entertaining drama happens. But I tire of drama. Reading isn’t the only thing that goes away with aging eyes. I love working on my motorcycle. I like to feel connected to my Flaming Engine of Death and when I’m trying to ascertain if, say, a gasket is properly aligned, I need to be able to see the sharp edges of the surfaces involved. If I’m in the electrical system, I need to see connections and deal with small screws. Without my glasses I’m helpless.

Okay. Now, I’m starting to lose my patience. It’s one thing to look studious and engage those fantasies of brilliant professorship. It’s entirely another to be completely at a loss while looking sideways at a tiny screw hole as your glasses slip down your nose and you Can’t See Shit. That damn club keeps demanding dues.

I'm learning to compensate. I have glasses in every room in the house, including the bathrooms. I have glasses in my tool chest. I have glasses in my saddlebags, my jackets, all of my vehicles. I’m starting to feel pretty smug. But that only lasts until I experience the unthinkable. I put on my pair of glasses and I slowly realize that I still Can’t See Shit. How can this be? What happened to my glasses? They worked great yesterday. Dread clutches at my heart as I slowly realize that my eyes have decayed beyond the capabilities of the glasses I’ve so meticulously stocked everywhere. What? I need NEW glasses? Sometimes, irony is not pretty or even particularly entertaining. Off to the store I go, looking for glasses that advertise a bigger number. +1.25 just doesn't cut it anymore. Fortunately, I've discovered that there is a great way to recycle glasses that don't work anymore. Just leave them in restaurants, or the library, or the counter at the supermarket. Believe me, some aging boomer will really appreciate it when he or she discovers that their own glasses have mysteriously vanished.

More dues to pay. This Can’t See Shit club is really getting on my nerves now. This impatience with my condition ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s just a pain. Light is certainly a key factor. If I can shine enough light on what I’m trying to see, I almost don’t need the glasses. Some days are better than others. But the bottom line is that I have resigned myself to this dance of augmenting the ability of my meat machine to function at peak performance. So far, as I creep toward sixty, my eyes are the friction point of my aging process. I have yet to experience much of what is supposed to come as I slide out to pasture. My parents, who are vastly amused when they hear me whine about this stuff, have assured me, with no small measure of satisfaction, that my "time is coming." My mother says: "Getting old is not for the squeamish." Oh boy. I wish this felt like Christmas did when I was little.

Next time, I’ll bring up physical recovery time and see what happens. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin Died Yesterday

George Carlin died yesterday. He was not a baby-boomer, but I think he spoke for a lot of boomers. He came of professional age in the Sixties, when things pretended to be wide-open and ripe for change. I think he bagged quite a few of his early riffs from Lenny Bruce, but I don't see that as a bad thing. I see it as standard artistic behavior. Find me a guitar player who says he doesn't steal from everybody and I'll show you a liar, or at the very least, an airhead in denial.

All artists borrow. They (we) can't help it. It's the nature of learning and knowing. Instincts are true and original, usually, but we are all influenced by what we see, hear, and feel. It can be something we want to emulate or something we want to avoid like cats avoid baths. So, George learned from Lenny Bruce and all the other comics of his early times and he applied that knowledge to his own work, his schtick, his life that was all there for his audience to see. Stand-up, more than any other artform, is being naked on stage. It's the ultimate in wanting to be liked and being nearly psychotic to make it happen. This is why comics "kill" and why they "die."

Carlin made me laugh at myself and that is a rare gift. His humor pointed out the weaknesses and the foibles of a broad range of people, but he managed to direct that clarity of view to each individual in his audience. We didn't laugh at another person, we laughed at our own blunders and recognized those same blunders in others. If we paid attention, we learned something.

I'm sad that George Carlin died at 71. He was going to teach me a lot about aging. He was a generation, or so, ahead of me and I was going to pay attention as he developed material that depreciated his own slow falling-apart. I'm really sorry that it fell apart for him too soon. Well, too soon for my taste, anyway. Maybe he welcomed it. I don’t know. I wonder if he passed with that wry, knowing smile on his face.

I guess this means that I'll have to start writing more in this space and attempt to chronicle my own slow entropy into dotage. Stay tuned. Perhaps I will learn something myself. If I do, I’ll be sure to share.