Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pudgy Me 7: Gods and Garbage Men

My week starts at my old gym, the Health and Fitness Center, where for three nights I am “killing” off the past versions of me, the endless images of me’s exercising around me, the gym-geezers and obesity-bees of me, all of whom slowly discovered the price it took to drink from the fountain of youth.  (The one behind the double doors and around the corner from the Men’s Room, where the water shimmers like it is on fire.) 

Once a week, I run on my own, jogging through nearly fifteen miles of back county roads and steep, pine-forest hills, building up stamina for the “crazy man” half-marathon, a race that identifies lunatics like me for the lunatic counting machine to mark down and add up of kooks cooped-up in the area.  This is a race I paid for this past fall in an instantaneous moment of insanity, thinking this would be good for me, not realizing that though I had lost twenty pounds, I hadn’t lost twenty years.  

Now, for the final three days of my week, I am kickboxing in a suburban gym slugging it out with Albert, my mentor from hell who calls himself our instructor. – I am sure Albert would agree with me that “kickboxing” is not what I should call it when I can’t lift my foot high enough to take out an aggressive gopher, let alone a guinea pig attacking me in a parking lot at 2 AM in the morning as I am crawling to my car.  (Damn those Ninja-garbed rodents anyway!)

I have been trying to think of the right word for “kickboxing” for someone – how would you say? – "spry" like me: “shuffle-box?”,  “suck-it-up-box?”, “fling-your-orthopedics-at-it-box?”  Hmmm, I’ll have to come up with something.

Still, the Pudge Man turned seven-days-a-week Terminator-Titan-Warrior is now an Norse god as seen only in Marvel comic books of yesteryear.  You know, like the ones in those metal magazine carousels you could turn at the drug store back when we were kids, back in the back, where comic books, like, Thor, were spinning dreams for kids like me! 

Yes, call me Thor!  I am the Eight-T’s Man: the Torrid Terminator Totally Training to Triumph over my Tubular Travails – Thor!  Yes, yes, yes, that’s me!    

Like Thor, it’s all about exercise.  I have never been much of a dieter – Norse gods don’t diet.  They just don’t.  Not even pudgy ones with thick hammers.  Though I’ve tried this ancient ritual a few times to appease the muttering mortals around me, each time it proved problematical to my heavenly lifestyle. 

Of course, I joined my wife in the healthy heart diet that Karen said worked for her mother and the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet that she said worked for everyone else, and, yes, yes, yes, I too lost enough pounds for her to think I was affected by these human-devised, pedestrian schemes, but given my royalty and my level of contempt for humanoid trash, I avoided many of the other diets that Karen also tried over the years – the ones promoted by high-profile actresses or that focus on a particular food group, such as bits and pieces of rice. 

Overall, it wasn’t hard to observe that none of these diets were successful for Karen, and, even with the ones in which I deemed legitimate enough to participate with her, I put the weight back on afterwards, a sure sign of the diet’s ineffectiveness or the residing evil found throughout the world. 

Two summers ago, way before I realized I was a “gopher-kicking” god on my way to kitchen trash cans, I began to turn-around my weight “problem” – not by dieting at all but by participating in exercise classes. 

Going to the gym on a regular basis, at first, was due mostly to the urging of my daughter who wanted my wife Karen and me to join her in the gym’s nightly aerobics classes. 

Soon we were participating in all of the hour-long classes after work: from “aerobic step” on Mondays and “cross-circuit training” on Tuesdays and Thursdays to “Zumba” on Wednesdays – the three of us joined in them all, including adding to our weekly routine the “instructor’s choice” on Saturday mornings.

To be honest, it wasn’t long before Helen dropped out of our aerobics classes, opting instead to do the “Insanity” workouts in front of the television at home.  She said our classes were too easy; Karen and I, in a huff, decided that Helen simply didn’t like exercising with people with white hair and no teeth, people who happened to be sixty pounds heavier and sixty years her senior. 

Nevertheless, Karen and I found we enjoyed the structure of being in a class outside of our house – and knowing when classes started and ended – just like back in high school – allowed us to define the parameters of our routine each night.

In fact, we often showed up minutes before any night’s given aerobics class, and, then, we left immediately afterward – not touching a cardio- or isometric machine or a single free weight in the gym.  We were like punching the clock for sixty minutes at our very own weight-reduction factory!  And it was working! 

Indeed, just like it had been hypothesized in the research study in which I participated a number of years earlier: an elevated heart rate for at least a half-an-hour four-times-a-week would reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels.  We found, through aerobic classes, it will lower our weight too! 

Most significantly, we saw our weight drop without even mentioning the word “diet."  It was not long before this, unto itself, created its own momentum – a sense of accomplishment and an actual reward: we reveled in trips to the tailors to take in our pants, suits, and jackets when our clothes no longer fit.

We almost couldn’t help but eat better.  In fact, it wasn’t long before the restaurants we loved and provided so many wonderful calories through take-out bags, dropped out of our routine in favor of restaurants with more wholesome menus.  Gone were the pizza and sub shops and the fast-food havens.  

Not that our lives became perfect.  

What we eat continues to hold us back from where we want to be.  

I have been told over-and-over by the physiologists I work with at the health and fitness center that losing three pounds a month is an excellent goal.  Losing more weight than this on any given month is great, of course, but the focus should be on losing three pounds a month. 

For me, the idea of "three-pounds-a-month" seemed easy, something anyone could achieve – especially with thirty days or so in which to do it.  However, over time, I have come to realize that the pace at which one loses weight is actually very slow.  

The more I wanted to continue this three-pound loss each month, the more I was forced to analyze my eating -- it is a "closed system" after all.  

Elementary physics: calories in versus calories out.  Take more in than you lose, you gain weight and the opposite is true too.  ONLY, I discovered in the course of these twenty or so months, the system, itself, is screwed up -- it's turned on its head.  

In truth, it is so much easier to take in calories than to get rid of the little suckers!  

One bad night can take a week of effort to get back to where I was before that night began.  If you're like me, with month-after-month of too many bad nights, ending a month with a net three-pound loss requires "Thor-like" effort.

I have so much to learn about eating.  

Getting a nutritionist to look at what I consume and how often – or, rather, a psychiatrist to determine why – will become critical if I don’t get a grip on this.    

I grew up eating everything on my plate, and if I didn't eat all of the food put in front of me, for instance, my mother would force me to sit at the table until my plate was empty.  I am not blaming my mother or her parenting style for a life of being overweight, but the pattern was established.  I know as an adult I can stop eating anytime I want.  I just don't until my plate is finished.

Spending my teenage years in a restaurant didn't change my habits, nor did it control my impulse to eat as much as I wanted.  In my family's restaurant I could eat salads and soups and homemade breads and desserts with abandon.  Taken with my desire to finish everything on my plate, the combination proved intolerable. 

In my adulthood years, as a father and husband, I came to see myself as the "garbage man."  If Karen didn't finish her meal, she would give it to me to finish.  If leftovers were brought home or remained from some meal that we had had the night or week before, I was the one who made sure it was eaten.  

Even within this current phase of my life, I feel I must make the supreme sacrifice to eat off the bad foods in the pantry or refrigerator, that I am doing myself and Karen a favor by removing these items from some future moment of weakness or temptation.   

A psychiatrist would say, 'Eating everything in the house is a problem.'   

But, Doc, Doc, help me!  Caloric cravings are consuming me.  How can I prep for the half-a-bagel marathon, face Albert in cake boxing, take endless aromatic classes, or fight to drop three pounds of chocolate every month -- with these unsavory thoughts filling my soul?

"You must walk away, son, walk away...

...from your kitchen, your dinner plate, your garbage duties.

You are no longer the Garbage Man but must be Thor to fight this evil."  

Ugh!  But I'm so hungry!    

Losing weight is not for the faint of heart.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pudgy Me 6: Albert from Hell

Sitting in my old jeep in a brightly paved parking lot outside a boxing gym located in a new, brick-and-glass storefront building – one of many, mostly-empty storefronts within a large, postage stamp of a shopping center that has squatted down recently south of town.  

Just spent an hour, along with fifteen other novices, wildly hitting and kicking heavyweight punching bags, like giant, black sausages, hanging from the gym's ceiling.  For sixty minutes our trainer had us torture the black, 250-pound, canvas bags, which bounced and glistened with our sweat, reflected over and over along the mirrored-walls.

Our trainer, a tall, thin, black man named Albert, is intent on breaking us.  Albert has no love for the amateurs in the class, especially me.  I feel his eyes watching me when I enter the gym and his irritation that I am not ready when the class begins, that I have to change out of my dress pants, shirt, and tie before I can wrap the protective tape around my hands and join the others in warm-ups.  

Today, during class, for the two-hundredth time, he has had to jerk me into place, showing me how to stand as a southpaw boxer – I am left-handed much to my confusion and his dismay.  Plus Albert wants me to throw my punches like I mean it – with my entire torso and not just fling my wrists at the bag – and, he says, I need to listen to him and learn to kick before I pop the veins on the top of my foot, or worse, break a toe.  

I am starting to have my doubts about Albert.  I stare at my knuckles; they are red, swollen, and sore.  I have large black and blue welts up and down my shins.  The pads of my feet are killing me, and I have discovered at my age, I can’t squat, I can’t extend my legs to the side in either direction, and I can’t lift my foot higher than a small crumbling curb on a desolate corner. 

I’ve decided.  I’ve got to kill Albert. 

Why I am buying into this abuse?  I guess, nearly two years into this exercise thing, I am no longer Pudge Man, known for my willingness to indulge in all manner of alcoholic and caloric debauchery, but now the newer, slimmed-down, clear-eyed, detoxified version of the notorious me.  Indeed, I am the Seven-T’s Man – a Torrid Terminator Totally Training to Triumph over my Tubular Travails. 

Seven-T’s me has established a weeklong exercise routine consisting of aerobics classes at the Health and Fitness Center, running on my own preparing for a half-marathon, and now, for fun, joining the new boxing gym next to Denny’s and Dunkin' Donut, where Albert supposedly is teaching me and the others kickboxing.

I know from how Albert stares out the large plate-glass windows before class, he doesn’t like it here and he doesn't like me.  He’s old school and out of place in the suburbs.  He doesn’t even like the word “kickboxing.”  He prefers “street fighting,” where anything goes.    

For me, “kickboxing,” is misleading too, especially when I can’t punch with power or lift my foot high and wide enough to kick the bag without losing my balance.  Still, I no longer can worry about mangling unsuspecting muggers.  

I must protect myself before Albert kills me…  

Albert’s mission in life, I have decided, is to destroy anyone in his path, I mean, class, everyone who has a smidgeon of weakness.  

Albert is hard-as-nails.  With short peppery hair and a stone-face countenance, he appears to have weathered a few bouts and damaged a few cells.  Wearing gray slacks, sweatshirt, long white socks and old sneakers, he comes across as the ultimate drill instructor.  He is deliberate in his movement and when he shows me his kick, it lands with a devastatingly loud crack against the bag, as he watches himself in the mirrors on the surrounding walls. 

To Albert, “age,” along with “out-of-shape” and “over-weight,” is simply an “in” into your psyche, an advantage to be exploited over sixty minutes. 

Albert, it says in the brochure, is the gym's boxing instructor.  It doesn’t say tormentor but, in class, his focus is on technique, and we repeat them over and over.  If we do a 'round house' kick into the bag, it's not once, but it's for twenty repetitions, and it's not just the twenty reps we do thumping our swollen legs into the bag, but the twenty reps repeated five times.  

"Again," he mumbles.        

Albert is not loud or verbal; he simply, almost silently, grunts and everyone listens. 

Maybe it’s the rap music reverberating throughout the gym, or the sounds coming from other corners of the facility, where boxers are sparring in a ring or lifting in the free weights area, or maybe it’s the same twenty or so kids I thought were crazy back when I was growing up, learning jujitsu all over again on the matted floor.  Needless to say, I can’t hear shit from the noise and I don’t know “grunt” from “goobly gook,” so, wide-eyed, I watch Albert, whether on the bag or on the floor, to determine what he wants us to do before he grunts something else. 

I’ve learned in calisthenics, Albert’s “ehh,” stands for ‘knees – for running in place five minutes lifting your knees as high as possible; “ehh” also stands for three minutes of ‘burpees,’ – jumping down on the floor, doing a push-up, then jumping back up.  “ehh” can stand for endless jumping jacks, squats, men’s push-ups (god forbid anyone would do a woman’s push-up), sit-ups and leg-lifts too.  Sometimes Albert’s “ehh” takes on complexity, such as, ‘what’s wrong with you people?’ But Albert’s most effective and devastating “ehh,” is when he uses it with a toss of his hand to mean “again… and again… and again…” 

Tonight I couldn’t do the hundreds of repetitions.  Albert came over afterwards and mumbled, “No napping in my class.” 

Sitting in my jeep.  Forget the Seven-Ts.  It's down to this.


I am burned out, worn out, thread bare, and feel my nineties approaching. 

Albert, you crazy, mother-fucking relic.  I'll kill your class tomorrow.