Category Archives: Opinion

Misadventure At Jason’s

Misadventure At Jason’s

Having a horrible experience at a restaurant is a first-world problem; that, I acknowledge. Covid doesn’t factor into my latest mess. Few people working or visiting the eatery in question wore masks yesterday. That’s okay by me. Having survived attempted strangulation by my bowels makes it hard for me to throw stones at external threats beyond my control.

Yes, Tammy, I should have opted for Sam’s rotisserie chicken. : ) Now that I’m out of the hospital, I wanted to enjoy a calorie and flavor-rich simple meal prepared by a restaurant that c-a-n make delicious food. It was to be my first post-surgery restaurant experience. It was late enough past the post-lunch crowd that the most significant impediment would be circumvented. Or so I thought. After realizing that Renzo’s was closed on Sunday, my friend and I immediately agreed on Jason’s Deli. We used the app to simplify the process and paid online. I took a large cash tip with me to reward the employees involved. Curbside pickup would make it easy for me to avoid unnecessary strain and bypass any covid issues. (Not that I’m worried, as so many vaccinated people are getting breath-through cases.) I wasn’t in a hurry, and I left to go pick up the order.

Calling the number on the Curbside pickup sign, I immediately knew that I might have a bad experience. The employee answering the phone lashed out. My response was both surprise and a little laughter. I tried to picture what Hell she’d already experienced by 1 p.m. to motivate her to practice that degree of insult. Avoiding any humorous snark, I answered her as best as I could. The details don’t matter. I called my friend, laughing, telling her what the Jason’s employee had said. Since I work in an environment where customer service often morphs into malicious compliance when an employee gets angry, I easily recognized that the employee in question would have gladly jumped off a building to get out of there. I lowered my expectations and waited.

After 30+ minutes past the initial “order-ready” time, I went inside to the to-go area. I wasn’t upset, just confused. At this point, I was still laughing a little at the unlikely outcome I’d got myself into by choosing Jason’s. I called my friend who was going to share the meal with me. I apologized for laughing. It was so ridiculous I didn’t know how else to respond. I sent a picture of the lop-sided layout; 99% of employees on the dine-in side and one lone guy attempting to keep up with the to-go/curbside/driver end that comprised at least 50% of the business.

People were waiting, frustrated. A lone male employee was manning the entire ‘out’ portion of the long prep bar. He was hustling against piles of half-prepared sandwiches, missing items, and dozens of order tickets thrown and stuck everywhere. A dozen employees were helping dine-in customers get their food quickly.

A couple of food delivery drivers expressed their frustration and walked out. One announced, “Okay. I don’t want any of these orders. I don’t care about the money or the food.” And he left.

Twenty minutes later, I finally got to the to-go register. “Can I speak to a manager?” She looked at me, angry. “No. She’s working the line for dine-in.” And she answered the phone, ignoring me. I stayed in my spot. The woman looked back up to see me and walked off, leaving her spot. Another employee came up a minute later, and I said, “I’d like a refund, no harm and no foul, and thank you.” She rolled her eyes. “We don’t have time to issue refunds. You get what you get.” I’m paraphrasing. “Wait, ma’am, I’m sorry it’s so busy, but I’m tired and stressed. I need a refund.” She walked off.

Customers and delivery drivers watched and listened. For the second time, I thought maybe I was on an episode of “What Would You Do.”

When the first woman came back to the register, she didn’t make eye contact. “Move. I can’t help you. The manager is working the line and can’t come up here.” Stunned, I stepped slightly to the side as the employee helped someone else. I’m omitting things that would make this encounter worse. You can imagine the other words said to me and around me. Each time the phone rang, the workers recoiled and had an epithet to utter.

I waited a few more minutes. Order tickets, half-prepared food, and boxes continued to pile up as the single male to-go person fought against a tide of orders. Another driver said, “Hey, you’re supposed to treat this like a drive-through and process us out. I’ve been here an hour and have orders sitting in my car getting cold/hot/old.” No one listened.

I was sorry for everyone, workers and customers alike.

All the energy and enthusiasm I’d had evaporated. My body just wanted to sit down, even if I had to eat slices of bread for a meal.

I cut through and walked around to the dine-in register, now empty. The lunch rush was well over by then. No one wanted to come to the register. An employee walked up, exasperated. “Can I take your order?” I said, “No, I’m sorry. Look, I need a refund. I’m sorry.” I’m editing this portion, too. The employee, a young female, didn’t quite know how to do it.The long to-go order person walked up, answered the phone, and said, “#$#@ I’m working on it!” before I said anything. He threw a piece of paper at me. It said “$0” on it. It wasn’t a canceled receipt. “Sir, I’m sorry, I need a receipt cancellation, something indicating my order was voided.” Angry stare, followed by angry words. He waved me off, telling me to leave and shut up. Incredulous, I repeated, “Sir, I apologize it’s so hard here, but I need just a second…” He said something bizarre to the caller, held the phone against his chest, and screamed down at the manager working on the prep line, “Come take care of this asshole! He won’t shut up.” He shook his fist in the air in front of me. It was not a polite gesture. I took a breath. I remained standing there, waiting to give it one more try.

The to-go order employee screamed at the manager again. I won’t cite words here, either. Whether you believe me or not, I felt sorry for him. Work shouldn’t push anyone to that point. I’m pretty sure a few people in my position would have thrown a punch.

The manager walked up and said, “It’s always this way.” I said, “The details don’t matter. I just want a refund. I know it’s busy, but your employees have been rude, cursed at me, and treated me and others like we’re not human. I wasn’t in a hurry. I feel bad for everyone. Is this a receipt?” She looked at it. She gave me another explanation.

And I tried to make a human connection: “You know how you never know what someone else is going through? I’ve been respectful, calm, and patient. I waited 30 minutes outside and well over an hour here inside. I apologize that everything is impossible in here, I truly do. Let me show you that we have our own issues.” I lifted my red t-shirt and showed her my long, jagged metal staple wound. “I don’t think I’ll follow-up about this visit, but if I do, please remember that I was polite, didn’t raise my voice, and my only crime was trying to get food and celebrate. I’m so sorry for all of us.” I meant it.

She apologized. I felt terrible for her, the workers, and everyone else who found themselves in an unexpected retail Hell.

I left, feeling like I’d been at Jason’s for the equivalent of an entire afternoon, even though it had been at most two hours. Another Uber driver spoke to me outside. I told him a ten-second recap and wished him well, knowing his afternoon had already crashed. “I’ve got orders in the car, ones I’ve had over an hour.” I smiled. “I’m so sorry. There’s no fix for this.” And there’s not. The corporation won’t staff adequately, and the employees don’t know how to go from incredible anger to communicate the mess effectively.

I drove back to the apartment.

Within a little over 30 minutes later, a local Chinese restaurant delivered a mountain of dishes. I ate like a king. But the mess and melee of Jason’s stayed in my head all afternoon. More than anything, the most significant realization is how a retail encounter put so many people in the position of being lesser than any of us should ever be with one another.

I treated everyone I came into contact with kindness and regard. It was supposed to be a simple meal, one to celebrate being out of the hospital.

Instead, it was a reminder that staffing is too low everywhere – and that it’s easy to use stress as a lever to be hateful.

I’m not sure I can indict Jason’s Deli too harshly. But it now holds the title of worst retail restaurant experience of my life – and that’s quite the feat at my age.

Did I go too far showing the manager my surgery incision? Maybe. But we always hear that we don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life. I put myself into the shoes of every Jason’s Deli employee during and after the mess of yesterday. Except for the manager, none of them imagined why the soft-spoken guy in the red shirt looked so forlorn about humans being unable to stop the madness and reset.

I haven’t processed some of these same lessons from being in the hospital last week. People are stressed, understaffed, and unmanaged. Many of us don’t have adequate coping mechanisms to respond to situations that force us to forget that we’re just momentary flashes of life and need to do better.

Love, X
.

Once In A Lifewhile

Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.

I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.

I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.

My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.

I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.

For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.

Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.

While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.

PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.

.

.

.

.

.

.

I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.

.

.

.

Creepy!

Note: I don’t wear sunglasses. Ever.

Yet, I saw these visor reflective ones and felt compelled to get one. I ordered them before my bowels tried to strangle me to death.

Whether it is by design or not, wearing them gives me the urge to carry a baton and/or skulk around in the periphery bushes of a random property.

Laughing, X

Another Life

I woke up this morning grateful to hear the birds chirping. Even at 2 a.m., when some miscreant biker needlessly revved his motorcycle with a cacophony to awaken the dead, I was happy. To be alive – and to not be confined to the hospital another night. Twice I awoke, worried that I had imagined my discharge or that I was trapped in a Groundhog Day cycle of never-ending hospitalization.

Washington Regional is about to loosen its visitor restrictions again. It was good practice before – and it’s a better practice now: do as much as you can to have someone with your friend or family member as much as possible to be an advocate for their care. With staffing issues and the seemingly impossible task of coordinating complex care and so many moving parts, one of the single best things you can do for your family member is to simply be an eye and advocate. It is possible to be kind to staff while aggressively pursuing good care for your friend or family member. Never apologize for being an advocate for your loved ones; good healthcare workers are humans too and will not resent your participation. And if they do? Trust your instincts.

I learned a lot of lessons while I was in the hospital. Some of them I’ll probably never write about. Though my eyes were open before being a patient, I’ll never be able to relapse back to ignorance about the challenges our healthcare system faces. For those great people who work hard to be both compassionate and medically competent, I can’t say enough to thank them. For the others, my words won’t have a positive impact on the problems. I’ll have to think about how best to translate much of my experience into a helpful narrative; criticism, even well-earned criticism, seldom lands how we want it to. This is true one-on-one, and more so with complex organizations.

I imagine that many of my experiences will find themselves buried inside jokes, mirthful anecdotes, and disguised narratives. Comedy is one of the best means to hide the truth in plain sight. Most great jokes are wrapped around a nugget of truth, no matter how brazen or outlandish. Here’s an inside joke, based on one of my experiences: “She didn’t fall out of bed. She climbed over and sat on the floor from a surprising height.”

For now, it’s Saturday. The breeze is cool and the birds are dive-bombing their food. I’m waiting on laundry to finish because, well, let’s face it: the laundry doesn’t care where you’ve been. It places its demands like every other mundane chore required of us. In a minute, I’ll carefully go down the flight of stairs into the dungeon to retrieve clothes. And I’ll be happy to do it.

Even the Zen masters have a saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Each of us has to find a way to not only put one foot in front of the other without fail but also discover a way to find meaning and joy in the distractions.

I’m good.

I hope y’all are good too. I was reminded how much all of us need other people. Even those with tough exteriors need kind words and soft voices sometimes. Life wouldn’t be worth living without other people. I’ve had enough of Blake, though.

Love, X

P.S. I put a picture of my incision in the comments, so you can skip it if you wish. I’m currently working on a series of false and/or creative explanations for the scar I’ll have. I love scars; they remind us that we survived.
.

.

.

.

Here’s a post from my social media from Friday morning….

It’s a good thing I’ve always had a wild imagination. Though I was allegedly a fall risk, I was left to get up and take care of myself these last few days. It is odd that the room they put me in overlooks my favorite place at the hospital. Below me is the gazebo, facing out toward the rustic farmhouse. It’s always been an escape and meditative spot. I have stood at the window three dozen times in the last two days, remembering how many times I stood at the gazebo. Sometimes watching the sunrise, sometimes waiting. Off to the right, I can observe the building I normally work in and the relentless comings and goings of daily commerce. The hospital is undeniably a business. But it’s powered by people and people need it to be made whole and healed. I am running toward the idea that I will be able to leave today. It’s possible that the ongoing and inefficient bureaucracy of the place might needlessly prevent that. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I’ll be back here to work. The first thing I’m going to do, though, is to walk to the gazebo and look up, to perhaps find the window of the room I laid in. We all need people more than we like to admit. I’m already futurizing because that is optimism in action.

P.S. the surgeon’s nurse ripped off the bandage. The wound is really cool, bordered by an insane number of small staples. It avoided my belly button, something that was on my mind for some reason. I contacted my agent. He was so happy, because an unblemished belly button means that I’ll soon be gracing the underwear pages again.

Love, X.

.

.

.

Here’s a post from my social media from Thursday…

I don’t have a catheter or an ngt tube anymore. (Old friends I never hope to see again…) The IV will be pulled sometime soon too, since I’ve been drinking a river of ice regardless. I haven’t eaten in 68 hours. The irony is that last Friday I started deliberately incorporating other foods into my diet to get my weight up to at least 155 or 160. Did I mention how good the Impossible Whopper was on Saturday? For the last few days I guess it has literally been impossible.

It is such a crazy coincidence that after 11 months of die-hard level commitment to health and healthy eating that something like this unexpectedly slaps me so hard.

I’m starting a clear liquid diet this morning, something that should have happened yesterday. I’ll be polite and skip all of that story for now. PS just because vodka is clear doesn’t mean it’s included in the diet.

I feel terrible for my coworkers, who are already strained from covid and absences. Some of us openly joke about how these kind of surprises and tragedies happen simultaneously. We rarely have enough help to do the job the way it needs to be done. I suspect this may be a universal symptom of our modern times- and the medical field in particular.

I have 2,342 stories already to tell about my incarceration, I mean my hospitalization. I’m glad to be alive to ponder them. But I am leaving here with a first-hand and profound education regarding healthcare. As much as I thought I knew before, this has been a true education.

I hope everything continues to go well and I get out of here. Because this is a bureaucracy, there’s no clear answer or straight path to getting that done.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to engage in a battle of amusement and wit with anybody who comes by. If they get snarky or out of control I usually have a mostly full urinal by the bedside. I’m guessing that it is very aerodynamic.

Thanks to everyone who reached out.

Life can still surprise me.

I hope I can still surprise myself.

.

.

.

Seeing the Grand canyon and running a marathon might be great, but having my catheter yanked out will certainly be more memorable.

.

.

.

.

.

Here’s a post from my social media from Tuesday…

An obstructed bowel jumped up at 3:30 yesterday and put me in the ER. I had emergency surgery early this morning around 1a.m. Worst pain of my life! I didn’t have time to be anxious or scared. PS no, this is not a Photoshop.

.

.

.

My Date With Fast Food

Because I’d dropped to too low of a weight, I decided to have my first full meal at a fast food place: Burger King. I ate an impossible Whopper and fries. I’ve eaten the patty from an impossible burger about once a month, but never the sandwich and especially not french fries. I don’t count calories, but the Impossible Whopper is about 600-800 calories. I love them. (The calories and the burger.)

Most people who skip eating such things for a while say that eating it the first time makes them queasy. Not me. It was delicious. I didn’t feel nauseous. And I don’t feel guilty. I’ve said 1,000 times that I don’t believe that foods are intrinsically healthy vs unhealthy; it’s just quantity and frequency that cause us problems. I’m rounding the corner in a few weeks to making my health plan succeed for a year. I’ve paid a hard price for all of this and don’t want to compound those failures by derailing my success.

Even though I wasn’t hungry, I just ate a healthy meal of fruits, vegetables, and yes, meat. I also drank a V-8 and ate a banana. I drink 1 or two V-8 every day, take fiber, the best multivitamin I can find, and a couple of other supplements that were recommended for someone like me with my activity level.

I was so proud that I’d listened to someone who was telling me to “pull up” on the eating scarcity. Instead of conveying that message, I inadvertently came across as snarky. The dumb lesson is that I communicated with a picture instead of an explanation. I thought, for once, I’d forego torturing someone with my inability to say something simply. 🙂 Yeah, I failed. It turns out, sometimes needless explanations are preferable to succinct ones.

I didn’t eat Burger King to make a point: I ate it because it’s delicious and a great way to eat calories.

I went to Harps over by the campus a little bit ago. I finally bought a package of Oscar Meyer Smokies, which for a lazy vegetarian, are about the best snack item I can imagine.

I also limited myself to 500 pushups today. That’s another success, too.

The people, the noise, the traffic, the joy of people celebrating. I’m not a sports fan, but I was taken with the sheer enthusiasm in all the hubbub. It was so contagious even I’m beginning to believe we could pull off an upset.

What Is Too Thin?

This post is personal. Please forgive me if my tone is harsh; it’s not my intention. Like I always do, I write vaguely at times, use a word or adopt a tone carelessly. Read this with the idea that you’re getting to know me better. If you read it looking for errors or a fight, you’ll of course find motive.

I woke up this morning to find myself weighing 146.9 lbs. I was shocked. I knew my day yesterday had been intense. I walked over 40,000 steps and managed to do 2,500 pushups. Not to mention an insane amount of physical work during the day, too. I’ve always imagined 165-168 as the control setpoint, with 170ish as the upper limit.

I am a little amused that anyone would lecture me by saying, “You’ve lost too much weight.” From my perspective, it is a great compliment. Losing 35% of who you were makes for interesting stories.

I’m sorry you don’t see my weight as normal. That’s a problem.

Not for me. You. 🙂

My cousin is concerned, and rightly so, because she recognizes how easy it is to let a goal turn to obsessive madness. I’m not anorexic or suffering from an eating disorder. There are days when I burn as many calories as an athlete. Work alone is so intensely physical that I look back over the last 16 years and wonder how I managed to be obese so many times. My cousin has earned the right to be the chiding voice in my ear. Her voice is in my head, reminding me to eat a wider variety and more calorie-rich foods in the process.

It was in part due to my cousin that I started doing pushups on June 1st. If you’d told me that I’d do 2,500 in a day 13 weeks later, I would have said, “You’re crazy!” But I did learn an invaluable lesson: there is no upper limit to how many I can do. At the outset, I had to be careful of my right shoulder. Work is intense and taxing. The pushups have largely eliminated the pain. I’m going to do my best to limit myself to 500 a day for a while. Yesterday will be in my head for years, though, because I surprised myself. That can’t be taken away from me when my body finally gets old and surrenders.

In October of last year, I had an epiphany. I saw myself as thin. Explaining the certainty of it doesn’t translate well when I talk about it. While my goal shifted increasingly downward as my vision became a reality, I didn’t plan on going past 170 in my wildest fantasy. While other parts of my life exploded, whatever happened to my head in October didn’t fade. As the months passed, I was amused that people attributed my success to willpower. It wasn’t that. It was clarity and stubbornness. Looking down at the scale and seeing “155” is a fantastic feeling. 146.9 is a bit disconcerting. I’m working on that without succumbing to many bad eating choices: Doritos, thick pizza, cheese, 54 pieces of chocolate, that sort of thing. I eat “unhealthy” food at times. (I hate labeling food as healthy or unhealthy; it’s volume and frequency that are the culprits.)

There are a couple of precursors to my “moment.” In February of last year, I started the process of losing weight, in part due to Covid. Stress took its toll, and I regained most of the weight I lost. Not all of it, thank god. At some point, I replaced the relatively new stove in the house with a bigger, better one to be able to more easily cook batches of healthy food. That drive to finally kick the fat bucket was brewing inside me. I know that reeks of an excuse. In October, my brother Mike died. Thereafter, I thought I had Covid and felt like I was dying. That morning is when the light bulb went off with an explosion in my head.

I often think about what would have happened to me had I not lost the weight. Would I have experienced a health issue? Or died? I know that losing weight during the long stretch of the Covid run saved my bacon on countless days. It let me stop feeling my knees hurt and my back. The converse of that is whether or not the rest of my life would have blown up had I stayed obese. It’s a real question for me. How much did my massive weight loss and attitude change have to do with my marriage imploding? There’s no question that staying so fat was going to cost me a part of my mobility – and perhaps forever. Being so overweight takes away a bit of so many corners of a person’s life. It’s because we gain incrementally and in ways we don’t notice. From there, we realize, “I’m fat. Oh my god.” We choose the hard that we’ve learned rather than embracing the hard of making positive choices.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the feeling of eating healthy and making endless good choices is sublime. It’s a self-reinforcing mandate. This is true for any personal goal.

Today was the lowest weight I’ve hit. I got close Monday night after foolishly running five miles. Upon returning, I had to drink a gallon of water and then attempt to sleep. I think I dreamed about a running river, and that made me nervous for reasons that should be obvious.

For weeks, I’ve been in the low 150s. This week has been a barrage of work, running, walking, and pushups.

I get a lot of compliments. Questions. And some criticism. Some people are waiting for me to balloon back up. When I started, I repeatedly objected with, “Let’s see in a year.” The year is coming fast upon me in October.

One morning, the wife of a friend passed me in the hallway. “You look amazing, X!” We both laughed. Yesterday, someone said, “If you lose any more, you’ll dry up and blow away. You look great.” She lost a lot of weight herself for health reasons not too long ago. There’s rarely a day that passes where someone doesn’t notice that I’m thin. Today, a security guard who resembles me was standing by the elevator and saw that it was ME standing there. He thought I was someone he didn’t know. “You need to tell me your secret and how to do it.” He patted his stomach. “I’ll call you,” he said. He’s going to be disappointed when I tell him the big secret is to choose healthier food and to listen to what his body actually needs. “Keep your mouth closed” is a terrible name for a diet book.

On a recent morning, someone asked me in all seriousness, “How did you do it? You’re not sick, are you? Or did you have the surgery for weight?” I told her that it was simply eating well and that I didn’t have a secret. I told her about my friend Tammy, who managed to do what I did and that she was also about my age- and that if she could, I had nothing except excuses. I indeed started doing pushups on June 1st. But I had already hit 150 by the time I started.

“Just don’t lose any more weight, X.” My coworker meant it in kindness.

I have a couple of people in my life who resent that I lost the weight. It’s a bit bizarre to me, even now. I made it clear when I started that I was a bystander to my transformation. While I did adopt a diet that I experimented with, a big part of what happened was as if it happened to someone else while I observed it. All I can is that obsessively following a system yields results.

I’ve tried to avoid being too evangelical about weight loss. Some people do have medical issues that make it impossible or difficult. For those who’ve been less than enthusiastic about what I’ve done, I attribute it to that odd human proclivity toward pettiness. Watching someone do it renders many objections that it is difficult or impossible to be completely moot. With enough motivation to move from ‘wanting to’ toward ‘making it a reality,’ most people can do it. Anyone who decides that it is a ‘must’ will find a way. Or try. I remember a cartoon from years ago. A man was sitting on the pavement, having stopped halfway through the race. He said, “It’s too much. I can’t run 26 miles.” The next panel showed a man with prosthetic legs racing past. The people with the “sitting on the pavement” mentality often don’t appreciate it when people go racing by, ignoring objections. I used to find myself being that type of person, too.

It’s tough to be around someone who steps into a new motivation. Though I never intended my weight loss to be an insult to anyone else, it did happen. This sort of journey inevitably changes a person. A success in one arena drives them into others. Of course, the person is going to change. Sometimes fundamentally, especially as behaviors become habits and a new way of life. A common complaint in relationships is “You’ve changed.” A trite but true rebuttal to that is, “And you haven’t.” We’re not meant to be static. If you’re in a relationship and one of you will transform themselves, my word of advice is to have frank conversations about it – and go to a counselor if you see that it’s becoming a wedge.

One critic insisted that people were constantly saying how ill I looked. That I am too skinny. Relentlessly adamant. They quoted the anonymous “they” to me. When I’m ready to hire a consultant about my choices, I’ll let them know immediately. IF such people care for me, they will find a way to communicate it to me. Since they didn’t, I have to attribute what ‘they’ allegedly said to a polite conversation with my critics. There’s no crime in honestly talking to someone about their weight if you care about them. The bigger sin is not to do so.

So, of course, despite having the tools to show otherwise, I visited a nutritionist. She said, “Oh baloney!” She agreed that some of it is attributable to the fact that I was obese for so many years and that the change was abrupt and substantial. She looked at my pictures at 252 and 232 and then as I am now. “You’re great, X. If you do add muscle, your BMI will seem off. But it won’t mean you’ve become unhealthy. You have to balance your body against more than a simple BMI. If someone still incorrectly tells you that you are underweight, send them to me. I’d be shocked if they don’t realize how overweight most people tend to be now.”

If I continue to be as active as I am now, muscle mass will increase, resulting in a higher weight without the associated fat content.
I chose 168 as my set point. My job is very physical, and I’ve kept my leisure time activity rate higher than average, too, without going to a gym. I’ve channeled my anxiety into exercise. As the counselor I saw told me, short-term measures are warranted; if they become long-term measures, you’ll have to figure out that, too.

I lost a lot of weight that year, as part of an intense 3-way weight loss bet.

Most of us don’t have a realistic idea of how much we should weigh, nor how many calories we should eat on an average day. I look back at my pictures and shake my head. I missed out on a lot by being so overweight. I can’t get that time back, so it’s on to the next goal of ensuring my habits remain permanent – without risking developing a food issue. They are rare in men who are 54 years old. Food is too damn good and calls me by name like everyone else.

The majority of people around me don’t think, “Ugh, he’s TOO thin and looks terrible.” They think, “X looks normal.” So, if you’re in the minority who feel like I’m too thin, get online or talk to your doctor.

Or get a hobby.

The consensus is overwhelming: I’m at a normal weight, with a buffer of loss and gain comfortably on both sides.

This is how I’m supposed to look, so get over it and be enthusiastic for anyone who can do it. If you love me, of course, you should step in and tell me I’ve got my head up my ass if I continue to lose weight.

To be clear, I’m not talking about my face; whether that’s normal is up for the monkeys to decide.

My weight, though? I’m good. It’s not just my body saying so. It’s science.

In time, people will see this as the new normal. It looks normal, but it feels fantastic to be able to move with agility, walk for miles, do pushups, and run even if I stupidly decide to do so.

There’s always the danger of forgetting the lessons I learned.

One of those lessons is to stop letting critical people get inside my head. They can make fun of my brooches all they want. Just not my weight.

And if I get off track or fail, I proved to myself that my objections and excuses about why I couldn’t do it were all dumb. And that I could do it again. We all fail until we don’t.

No matter who you are, you can do something today. That’s enough, no matter how small. Tomorrow, a little more. The law of increments seldom disappoints.

If you see someone finally get past their excuses? Take the time to applaud. We need it. We’ll return the favor when you succeed.

PS For my cousin: I don’t plan to stay quite this thin. I love you. Please keep an eye on me, though.

Love, x

.

.

Extras…

In Cancun…

Of Burned Food, Shadows, And Gratitude

Y’all signed up for this, so in deference to Ron White, who quipped (paraphrasing), “I know I have the right to remain silent, just not the ability.”

It’s a great thing that I love burned food. I made homemade pizzas (though you wouldn’t like the way I do…). I set Alexa for ten minutes. That’s what I thought I said. Because I mumble worse than a child who got caught pilfering cookies, I evidently said “twenty minutes.” The smoke alarm didn’t go off. I bought one of those new-fangled kinds that gauges the luxury of the residence. Mine evidently thinks I’ll be better off if the place turns to cinders. Though it’s a ‘smart’ device with built-in wifi, it calls 7-11 instead of 911. That’s a joke. I think it’s a joke. Flavor Flav once said, “9-1-1 is a joke in your town.” To that, I’d reply, “Yeah, until you need it.” And all of us eventually do.

Saturday, despite having great conversations with three lovely souls, I found myself doing projects to fill the quiet: colorful ones designed to invade both the interior and exterior of my old apartment. I keep hoping I’ll fill it with enough brightness to drown out the shadows. Don’t get me wrong; I’m so grateful for having my health and sanity. The latter is currently on hiatus.

One of the people I talked to told me that she found herself busy with projects when she was in my situation, filling time with movement and results. She said she could see through the tightly-slitted blinds of my writing that I was experiencing the all-too-human sensation of loneliness, and doubly so given my nature.

It’s not that I’m always alone, far from it. The universes watches me closely, though, and quite often waits to throw a shawl over my enthusiasm precisely when I’m not expecting it.

I got a call yesterday that was both gratifying and emotional; as with such calls, it took me time to process it and look at it from a different perspective. It’s all in my head, of course. That’s how we experience reality, isn’t it? In our own way, cherry-picking the parts that reinforce what we’re thinking. It varies by mood, day, and person. None of us share the same reality because the voice in our head is the overriding narrative that sometimes drowns out the positive things in our lives. Or at least dims it just long enough to doubt ourselves. I envy people whose narrative is overwhelmingly one of gratitude and acceptance. What a superpower they have. Imagine if Superman walked around convincing everyone that they’re worthy. He wouldn’t need to jump tall buildings.

This is all normal – or so I’m told.

Because I’m lucky enough to have seen behind the curtains of people’s lives, I know that normal is just a word in the dictionary. One of the most normal people I know thinks it’s a great idea to shower about once a week. He doesn’t smell bad, so I’m not sure what alchemy or process he uses to “save water and time” by not showering.

It’s the universe’s perverse sense of humor that catches me off guard. No matter how good my morning or day has been, there is always a risk of unexpectedly getting smacked in the head. Sometimes, it brings joy. Sometimes, confusion. The morning gave me a bit of joy seeing the neighborhood, running without stopping, buying something for a project to help someone else out, and talking to great people.

Lord, though, the shadows.

I don’t want anyone to think I’m on happiness auto-pilot. It’s why I tell a couple of my friends that I understand all too well how our minds lay traps for us and that I understand their coping mechanisms. Short-term coping mechanisms are essential. So many of us make them inescapable habits, ones which shut off the rational parts of our lives.

I took a diamond painting of my cat Guino, the one who owns the house I used to live in – and I painted it vivid red. I changed something of the old and made it my own.

I made a runner of felt-backed tiles and put them on the deck outside my apartment. They don’t serve a purpose, except to add color and juxtapose themselves against the faded boards of the landing. I’m sure my pixie Larkma will appreciate the ornate sidewalk of the tiles. (And it tickles me that people will read the last sentence and wonder what in the hell I’m talking about.)

The burned pizzas were delicious. I didn’t plan to burn them but then wonder why I didn’t do it on purpose. No one is here to ask me what in blazes I’m doing in the kitchen.

Notes:
*To the FedEx guy who got excited when I explained how easy it is to change his name, I hope you do. You’re forty and it is ridiculous to not choose a name you’ll love.

*To the bicyclist who went by earlier, wearing bright pink ankle shoes and a hat that looked like it was a spray-painted magician’s hat, more power to you, sir.

*To the neighbor who thinks no one sees that you sometimes hold the leash and let the dog walk onto the landing to pee, you’re wrong. One day soon, as a joke, I’m going to sneak over there and hang a urinal on the railing, and mark it “For Canine Use Only.” This idea pleases me.

*The best pizza recipe in the world: however you want it. I’m constantly preaching that all food is subjective. All of us eat stuff that would make a college freshman retch into his tiny decorative beer box, the one he uses temporarily, albeit for an entire year, as a bathroom trash can. I humbly ask everyone to stop arguing from the perspective that there is a right choice about food choices. Live and let eat, even if you have to wear a blindfold and a clothespin on your nose. Also, both of these devices might make walking around this world more palatable at times.

*The breeze this morning is sublime and filled with humidity from the rain. It’s scented with foliage and the unmistakable aroma of someone’s massive cannabis habit. I’m not sure that sentiment would work well in an Emerson poem. But it works well for a Fayetteville, Arkansas moment.

*A few of my neighbors borrowed a large screen tv to watch the Razorback game. I’m not a fan. I’m a fan of large TVs, but not college football. They are still happy this morning, being able to celebrate their team winning. I would be a hateful bastard to dampen that enthusiasm. I smile, nod, and say, “…and they won by a huge margin.” That’s the extent of my game facts for yesterday. That’s enough, though.

*I never thought about “Hype Man” being a part of several people’s Wikipedia biography pages. I can’t any college that offers a major in “Hype.” I’m irritated about this oversight.

*People sometimes tell me to cool it and stop writing so many dumb jokes and to shut my brain off for a day. The last time I tried that, the City of Fayetteville offered me a job on the Urban Planning Commission based on qualifications.

*I’d plant more ideas in your head, except I definitely don’t want to get in there and water them.

Love, X

A Deceptive Photo For This Post

I spent another afternoon painting everything. Well, not everything. The neighbor’s dog escaped. My quest to fill my life with color is proceeding like the General Lee across an unexpected levee. If that reference is too old for you, try this one: …like an NFL linebacker making his way to the pizza… or a housewife driving into a Target parking lot.

The Covid debate raged around me everywhere. I wish everyone could visit a full ICU-Covid unit and see how incredibly difficult this virus has made everyone’s lives. It’s easy for me to forget that not everyone shares my vantage point. For many people, it’s like imagining a war fought overseas; distant, disconnected. The truth is I find myself doing my part while simultaneously glancing away. Each day that passes, I hope that no one I know or love will need emergency care. The waits are incredible, and the misery is real for everyone, patients and family members. I have my opinion about BB&BBQ, Arkansas football games, and other social gatherings. But no one cares about my earned opinion. Instead of throwing my two cents in, I hope everyone can avoid Covid if possible. And if not, that it does not cut you or your family too profoundly as it lays its fickle finger across your life.

So that you know, I still go out in public. I wear a mask and try to avoid licking my fingers at random times. For me, my most significant exposure to Covid has been inside my allegedly safe bubble at work. Repeatedly. Even if I do everything right, I must work. It doesn’t stress me. It’s not because I fail to understand the risks. It’s because I’m at the mercy of everyone around me. The truth? I always have been. We all are. The sooner we realize it and act like our actions affect everyone around us will be a good day. While we’re at it, let’s make fundamental changes to our social policy and healthcare system so that no one will worry about medical care.

Until then, I’m going to get back to painting.

But I’ll be thinking about y’all and hoping we’ll all be safe. We won’t be. But I’m hoping.

Love, X

Hypocritical Lessons Learned The Hard Way #1

Note: everyone reading this will have at least one gong go off in their heads. I’m not sure why, but a muse settled in my head this afternoon. Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong.
.

The Botany Rule: Love and nurturing are on Maslow’s hierarchy for a reason. If you don’t bring your water bucket and a bit of sunshine to those you love, they will needlessly suffer the absence of that which nourishes; if possible, they’ll find it elsewhere. It isn’t the plant’s fault. Just because we have reason and consciousness should not fool you into thinking that we aren’t wired for intimacy.
.

So much of what ignites us in the minds of others is practiced. Take a moment and tell someone that they’d made your day better. Instead of speaking when motivated by recrimination, find a way to say something positive. People’s ears become deaf to love when criticism fills the air. We have only so many minutes in a day and attention to spare. Choose, rather than react. Sometimes, in silence, hug unexpectedly, and whisper in the midst of shouts.
.
Words fade but attitude invades.
.
The longer you wait to tell someone an uncomfortable truth, the harder it is to be open the next time you want to. Someone who loves you will respond with hurt, but that hurt will be tempered by eventual acceptance. And if not? They have a disparate image of who you are than you do.
.

If you’re in an unequal relationship, and most are, you might as well open yourself and crowd them; the end is as certain as the curtain on Broadway. Take your swing and crowd the plate. Living loosely is a great idea but a terrible way to survive.
.
Rare is the couple in which one prefers to dance and the other to sit. They exist and if you’re in one, relish it if it has lasted. But if your partner won’t dance for fear of looking foolish, they’ve placed appearance and decorum over you.
.
Love is foolish and its demonstration is seldom appreciated by onlookers; those dancing don’t count the eyes or ears observing them.
.
Someone smart said, “Faults are thick where love is thin.” If you find yourself listing grievances, you’ve allowed your inability to honestly communicate to sever a significant part of your intimacy.
.
“Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve” is a great example of something that sounds reasonable while simultaneously belying the fact that we are emotional creatures disguised as thinking adults. Look around. We admire smart people who care enough to not care about how others interpret their sentimentality. Those people feed my soul. I think they do yours, too.
.
“I would love you more IF” is a thought that should warn you that either you need to work on yourself – or the unstated expectations of your relationship.
.
I learned something about myself. If a person can tell me his or her worst secrets, my capacity to love and appreciate them blossoms. If the opposite is the case, it’s very difficult to navigate misgivings as they arise.
.
We protect nothing by failing to reveal who we really are.
.
The best truths are written in dirt. The best voices are broken. And the kindest souls have learned to turn off their judgment when others fail them.
.
Finally, one that is not mine, and I’m sharing it as I found it:
“You sit in sh!t too long, it stops smelling.”

Love, X

Go Home Covid, You’re Drunk

A quick note about our friend Covid, the one who keeps coming home late and drunk.

No matter what anyone tells you, at any given time, someone in your extended circle ‘has’ the virus, even if they are asymptomatic. There is no doubt about this, even if you think you’ve become a hermit. It’s comforting to know that most don’t develop worsening symptoms if they are vaccinated. But you need to know that up to 10% of those vaccinated will get the Delta variant – and a lot more of those unvaccinated will find themselves with it.

You can get inexpensive at-home test kits at your local pharmacy. They are a little less accurate – but that’s why most come in two-packs, so that you can re-test the next day.

I don’t talk about work directly. There’s a reason for that.

Among them: even in the medical field, we’re experiencing a high rate of infection. Not just with the unvaccinated, either. Two people in my inner circle tested positive very recently. I won’t characterize the impact on them personally or on our work circle. Vaccinated people appear to be infectious for a much shorter period than the unvaccinated. Regardless, this virus is akin to a strange version of Russian Roulette. The gun is going off all around me, among vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Since we’re not testing random samples, we only test those whose symptoms draw attention to the possibility they have it; we’re using a threshold that is too high, in my opinion.

So much of this pandemic hinges on other people’s behavior. Much of it cannot be mitigated without destroying how we live.

IF you have a bout of allergies, or a cold, fatigue, or a prolonged headache, I’m going to say something most won’t: it’s likely as not you have the virus. I personally know a LOT of people who’ve initially shrugged it off as “the sniffles,” or a cold, etc.

Likewise, a lot of us won’t have any symptoms at all.

Welcome to our new reality.

Be safe, be kind, and remember that no matter what people say or write on social media, all of us are full of sh!t about being consistent in our beliefs and behavior. At our core, we want our loved ones to be healthy. We’ll avoid trans-fat or bacon and then smoke, or say no to caffeine and then drink moonshine like it’s lemonade. That’s what we do: we excel at contradiction, hypocrisy, and stupidity.

I of course wish everyone would be vaccinated. I do not envy the government or businesses these hard choices as they look toward the overall public health. One of my favorite people in the world is juggling whether to give up a job she’s had for 22 years. I’m not commenting logically – I’m commenting emotionally.

With this virus, though?

Even if you do everything perfectly, it will likely still affect you in the long run.
Vaccinated or not, we are all at each other’s mercy.

I ask each of you to dial back and try to see others as human – and yes, even if we’re looking at each other and mentally calling one another “dumbass.” I can live with that. I want you to live – and live with that, too.

We all wait.

Love, X