Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Twenty-Five Things That Happen to You at the Gym

As close readers of this blog will remember, I now have a roommate. His name is Glen and he looks basically like this. Sharing my living space with someone has proven less taxing than I worried it would. It’s nice having someone to yell at for kitchen messes and also all of life’s other challenges. Besides, now I don’t have to trick people into coming over in order to have someone walk through my booby traps.

The biggest change that Glen’s roommateship has made in my life, however, is that I now Go to the Gym six days a week. Though I’ve lived within walking distance to a gym since July, I never gave it much thought, mostly because gyms intimidate me. But with my metabolism slowing and my love of nightwine holding on strong, I figured it was a good choice to join up alongside Glen. After all, he would be able to educate me about rules of conduct that had eluded me during previous attempts at Going to the Gym. For example, where in the gym is the proper place to spit one’s chaw?

If you’re like me, the thought of Going to the Gym sounds awful and you probably won’t go until Glen moves in with you. No worries! Now I can share the experience with you, and you can vicariously Go to the Gym through me.

Here, then, is what happens to you at the gym.
  1. You will instantly perceive that everyone else in the gym has more business being there than you do. You are correct. This will never change.
  2. Upon leaving the gym, everyone else still inside will more than likely discuss the fact that you have little business there. They also probably make fun of the dumb way you walk (unverified).
  3. Looking in the direction of people while they’re working out will result in one of several interactions. None of them are appealing. You try harder to avoid looking at people than you will at attempting actual exercise.
  4. You avert your gaze toward a part of the gym where no one currently is, but that space promptly becomes occupied by a butt, usually clad in tight fabric. You are forced to avert your gaze in a new direction until that too becomes a butt (verified).
  5. The gym walls have mirrors on them to maximize the chance you will end up looking at a stranger’s butt. Did you think you were safe, here in this corner? Here’s a butt from across the room, twice reflected into the very spot you thought you could safely look.
  6. Someone looks at you. That’s your fault, however. You’re probably making an ugly exercise face. What’s wrong with your face, you weirdo?
  7. Unsure how to use a given workout machine, you casually watch another gym-goer sit down and use it, but only until he notices you watching, at which point you feel like an ugly weirdo. Seriously, what is wrong with your face?
  8. You work out in a machine that has you facing directly into a mirror, and you watch your face very closely. “What? That looks pretty normal, right?” you will say to yourself. “I don’t see what everyone is finding so awful about my exercise face.” But then someone behind you catches you staring intently at yourself as you work out and you feel terrible about it.
  9. Someone looking in your general direction starts laughing. You tell yourself it’s probably because they’re listening to some comedy podcast on their headphones. That has to be the reason, right? Right?
  10. You realize no one actually is sure how any of the workout machines are supposed to be used. One person just made it up and everyone else has just been copying them. The gym manager isn’t even sure where some of them came from. They just showed up one day. It’s probably a guerilla art installation.
  11. The machines are designed to work out specific muscles, you learn. However, the one muscle that all of them are designed to work out is the one that holds in farts.
  12. It’s everyone’s responsibility to wipe down the machines when done using them. You do this assiduously. You hope the people looking at you notice. “Oh, really cares about hygiene,” you imagine they all conclude. “What a thoughtful guy.”
  13. However, on the occasion that person before you doesn’t wipe down the machine, it’s your responsibility to mutter to yourself as you wipe down their disgusting sweat from all the cushions, even the butt one. You consider telling the manager but do not because you fear reprisal.
  14. You feel an oncoming sneeze. There are people occupying literally every direction you could sneeze into. With no other options, you sneeze into your gym towel — the one you used to wipe down that other guy’s sweat. This is the worst thing that will ever happen to you.
  15. “Is that Paul F. Tompkins?” you think. “That guy on the elliptical looks like Paul F. Tompkins. I really think it’s Paul F. Tompkins.”
  16. You conclude that it is not Paul F. Tompkins because Paul F. Tompkins wouldn’t have been so huffy about answering questions about that one podcast. Also, when you’ve seen Paul F. Tompkins on TV, he didn’t look nearly so sweaty.
  17. Of all the machines in the gym, you find you are are most adept at the thigh abductor, which does not steal your thighs as the name implies but instead hones your ability to squeeze your knees together, Xenia Onatopp-style. You never see other men using these machines. You wonder if they’re for women specifically. You use them anyway.
  18. Someone asks you if you want to “rotate in.” Unsure what he’s proposing, you flee to the other side of the gym.
  19. Two larger men are standing in front of the machine you’re suppose to use. In a frightened baby voice, you ask them, “Are you using this?” and every vestige of your high school self expects them to start pummeling you. They do not — this time.
  20. “What is that smell? Is that me? Is my deodorant failing?” You’ll never know.
  21. In the locker room, you see someone showering with bare feet. You never enter the locker room again.
  22. You struggle to place what the gym music most reminds you of until you realize: the young people’s section of Macy’s, circa 1994.
  23. The gym plays that song that repurposes the chorus from “Zombie” in the worst possible way and you decide, “Yeah, that’s about enough for today.”
  24. Finally, you walk home in your gym shorts, with your little towel flopped over your shoulder. You consider for a minute that the people on the street notice you and think, “Oh, look at him. He is someone who Goes to the Gym.” But then you realize that they’re probably thinking, “What the hell does he do that he has time to go to the gym in the middle of the day?”
  25. You realize you were accidentally signed in to Scruff the entire time. Number of new messages: zero.

Your results may vary.

A funny story, previously:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

American Garnet

I haven’t posted about Steven Universe since late last year, when I was all agog about the pilot. I have been watching, though, and I’ve been liking how the show has slowly built a universe that’s equal parts kaiju fights and beachside campfires.

The show has also offered the world three awesome superheroines: the willowy, Diane Chambers-like Pearl, the brash, Cree Summer-sounding Amethyst and my personal favorite, Garnet, a towering, laconic woman whose stylish glasses hide a third eye, because she’s that rad. She comes off like a cross between Storm and Cyclops — always collected, always with a plan… the glasses, I guess — and I can’t think of another kids’ show that features a character quite like her.

Garnet isn’t big on emoting, especially in comparison to her teammates. This suits her character just fine, but I initially wondered if this arose from the fact that the woman who voices her hasn’t acted all that much. She’s Estelle, who came to fame alongside those other mononymic British singers Adele and Duffy. I didn’t think I was familiar with Estelle’s non-superhero work until I realized she sang “American Boy,” this flirty, upbeat track that seems at odds with Garnet’s stoic personality. I wouldn’t have guessed that the same person could sing that song and play Garnet, but hey — maybe Estelle has acting range after all.

Here’s the weird thing: The version of “American Boy” I have came to me via a mix CD exchange back in 2008, and it seems different from all the versions I’m seeing on iITunes, on YouTube and elsewhere online. The version that became popular features Kanye West rapping alongside Estelle. My version doesn’t. I prefer it. (If there’s an option for a Kanye-less version of anything, I prefer it, generally.) I don’t know if my version is an original mix or retread focusing just on Estelle’s vocals. But because I just couldn’t find it all that easily online, here’s Estelle’s “American Boy,” minus Kanye.

One quick Steven Universe-related postscript: On the show, Steven is a pudgy, irrepressibly imaginative boy who maybe-sorta has a love interest in Connie Maheswaran, a bookish girl-next-door type with overprotective parents. I’d like to think her name is an homage to Connie Souphanousinphone from King of the Hill, the bookish girl-next-door type who also had overprotective parents and who dated Bobby, another pudgy, irrepressibly imaginative boy.

Anyone else see this? I will maybe inquire further to find out if it’s actually a thing.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Four Quick Observations About the Cheers Theme That You Will Probably Disagree With

One: Growing up and being more familiar with the later, Hovian era of the show than the Chambersian era, I always thought the elegantly dressed woman holding up a martini glass was supposed to be Rebecca Howe, retrofied. Today, I know she’s not, since she shows up well before Diane leaves and Rebecca arrives, but I nonetheless can’t unsee Rebecca.

Is it the nose?

Also, how did I watch this show for thirty-two years without realizing the lecherous, zombie-looking drunk grasping Retro Rebecca’s leg in the bottom-right corner? Regardless, what a great visual metaphor for everything wonderful and everything awful about bars.

Two: Does anyone else think that the guy who sings the Cheers theme sounds remarkably like Woody Harrelson?

Again, it’s just a weird coincidence, since Woody doesn’t show up until the fourth season, but I notice the similarity every time I hear the opening credits.

Three: Speaking of the show’s music, the incidental score that leads in from commercials feature this melancholy woodwind tune — oboe? clarinet? flute? I am orchestrally illiterate — that repeatedly makes me think of the first notes from the “game over” music from Final Fantasy VI. (Yes, this is as drilled-down as my geek interests get: a footnote from an old RPG meets the score from an 80s sitcom.)

Four: Who would have thought that time-traveling Macaulay Culkin would have been hiding in the last frame of the opening credits all these years?

Discussion question: Exactly what is the purpose of the old-timey photos and illustrations in the series’ opening credits? Is it to suggest that the bar is time-honored part of American life? Or is it telling us that Cheers was quietly, subtly about time travel this whole time?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Communism as Explained to a Seven-Year-Old in 1989

Adults lie, as a rule, and adults often lie to kids. I realize that many of these lies result from the kids not being ready for greater, larger truths. That’s why storks bring babies until children become old enough to learn that no, actually, they explode out of mommy’s tummy, and that’s why you can’t subtract a larger number from a smaller number until yes, actually, you can by delving into the sick, sad world of negatives.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking back to things teachers told me. I went to Catholic school, and even the best ones present kids with a whole weird set of educational challenges. For example, I had an otherwise good teacher who once explained to the class that the Garden of Eden not only physically existed but also still exists today — we just haven’t found it yet. Isn’t that a weird thing to tell a classroom full of kids to whom you also teach science and history? That there’s a magic garden hiding somewhere in old Mesopotamia land, guarded by an angel wielding a flaming sword?

One of these conversations I can remember especially clearly, because I, a dumb child, took the teacher’s word and subsequently let what she told me linger unchecked, shaping my understanding of communism. Last night, I was watching The Americans — a show where adults lie, as a rule, and where adults often lie to kids. The series shows very little about the Russian spies’ lives before they arrived in the U.S., so an invested viewer like me has to imagine Philip and Elizabeth before they took those names. Even as a college-educated adult who reads the papers and sometimes even books, it turns out, my mental version of Soviet Russia is still informed by what my teacher told me twenty-six years ago.

Here is the conversation, not verbatim because I somehow lost my notes but with the gist intact. I don’t remember what prompted discussion of the Cold War in class. Probably nothing. I was a “My cat’s breath smells like cat food” sort of kid.
Me: What is communism?

The teacher: Communism is how people live in Russia.

Me: But what is it?

The teacher: It’s the way the government works there. It’s different to how it works here.

Me: How is it different?

The teacher: We have more freedom here, and freedom is good.

Me: What can’t they do there?

The teacher: In America, you get to do what you want. In Russia, the people in charge tell you what to do. You never get to decide what you do, because someone is always telling you what to do, every minute of every day. Doesn’t that sound terrible?
[Note: Please observe the irony of a schoolteacher touting American freedom to a child to whom she dictates what to do all day.]
Me: Yes.

The teacher: Also, in Russia, you’re not allowed to own anything. The government owns everything. So if the government decides that you shouldn’t have the books you own, they would take them from you, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Is that something you would like, Drew?
[Note: Please observe the irony in a schoolteacher, who forced books full of math problems on me, explaining how it would be bad if the government showed up and took those books away.]

Me: No, I wouldn’t like that.

The teacher: Also, in Russia, you can’t just go buy anything like you do in America. You have to stand in line to buy it. And you stand in line all day, in the cold. If you wanted to buy a potato, you’d first have to stand in a long line to get a piece of paper that says you can buy a potato, and then after that you would have to a second long line and wait there until it’s your turn to get your potato.

Me: What if you want to buy two potatoes?

The teacher: Then you’d have to wait in the first line all over again.
[Note: Please observe the irony in my teacher’s description of communism also being a somewhat abstracted description of an economic system in which people earn wages to buy goods, just with longer lines.]
The teacher: And the Russians think that the whole world should work like this, and they’d like it if they came here and made us wait in lines to get potatoes. And that’s why we don’t like communism. Do you understand?
I understood what she wanted me to understand, but mostly I just felt saddened by the idea of my mother having to stand in line all day just to get the four potatoes that she, my father, my brother and I would eat. That seemed pretty miserable, and at the time that seemed like reason enough to justify the Cold War. Who would be home to feed the dog if my mom is stuck in the potato lines? Hell, what if the government took the dog away? How unimaginably long would the lines for fish sticks be? What if the government came for my Nintendo? Obviously, this communism stuff was bad news.

This, then, shaped my understanding of communism. I took at class in college on the history of the Cold War, and I’ve read books about communism and life in the Soviet Union. I get how what I learned in second grade was a less than full explanation of how communism works, and I maybe even understand how the full scope of it would have been beyond the understanding of even the most inquisitive seven-year-olds. Still, there’s a part of me that watches The Americans and tries to imagine what Soviet life would have actually entailed and has to catch myself reverting to my 1989 understanding of how communism works. Those connections are hard to shake, it turns out.

I wonder if image it all better if I’d delayed the “What is communism?” conversation until I was smart enough for a bigger, deeper definition. I wonder if this teacher had any idea her explanation would stick so well. And given how a different teacher at the same school thought the Garden of Eden was an extant location that modern humanity had just somehow missed, I also have to wonder how much her actual, adult understanding of communism differed from what she told her class.

Off subject, technically, but also not really: Did you know that the Tetris “Type C” music is an arrangement of an actual composition by Johann Sebastian Bach? I didn’t until today. That’s neat. That’s something, right?

A funny story, previously: