Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ten Laps

My body tells me no
But I won't quit, cause I want more
Cause I want more.
     - My Body by Young the Giant

It's fifteen degrees outside as I step into the cold. My feet bounce lightly off the pavement as I jog momentarily in place. My breath mists around me. The gym is a six minute walk away. The sweatshirt I'm wearing does almost nothing to keep the wind out. I pull my hood up and start moving.

With the wind, the temperature is below zero.

The gym doors open and the heating inside mercifully washes over me. My face is red and my nose is running, and when the wind blew my hood down I did nothing to fix it, not wanting to take my hands out of my pockets and expose them to the cold. I close my eyes and wait for the chill that runs through my body to pass. I can see the weight room, sparsely populated, through the back of the staircase in front of me. Not yet. I march up the stairs.

It's time to warm up.

Televisions line the cardio room to keep the people endlessly moving in place from getting bored. The Big Bang Theory is on. It's always on. It doesn't matter what gym you are in, what day you go, or what time you get there, if they have a TV, it will be showing The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon's friends are doing him a great disservice by not helping him seek treatment for his obvious social disorders. Everybody has an mp3 player. Nobody is watching. My iPod broke years ago. I listen to the top 40 hits being run methodically through the sound system.

Ten laps, yesterday, I remind myself. Ten laps. Each time around the blue turf that encircles the cardio room and the basketball court is a tenth of a mile. Yesterday I ran one mile. I was running four before the summer break, I growl in my own head. My gym sneakers are old and worn out. This isn't going to help extend their life. The sole slaps the surface, and I'm off.

My legs pump rhythmically in time with my arms. My breath is steady, my eyes set firmly ahead. With each lap around the treadmills and elliptical machines and stretch mats I glimpse at the others doing the same thing I am. I see who is taking it easy and who is pushing themselves, who is following an ingrained routine and who is pursuing a New Year's Resolution. I'm closing in on one year of working out.

I push through another lap.

My knee is better after taking a week off to let it settle. With every step it had felt like it was about to torque itself out of place. I don't think about it as I keep on moving forward. Ten laps yesterday.

Ahead of me is the CrossFit workout of the day. The names of a dozen workouts I never knew existed before run through my mind. Double under. Single arm snatch. Front squat. Toes-to-bar. Burpee. I have a schedule, normally - shoulder day, arm day, chest day, leg day, back day, rest, repeat. My days are filled with sets and reps. Now I alternate, back and forth, one month of muscle groups, one month of CrossFit, and back again. New veins have formed to carry blood to newly-formed muscle. My hands have grown thick calluses from the days I forget to wear gloves. I picture in my mind what I've always imagined I would look like at 100%. I catch a glimpse of myself in the window as I run past. It looks like I'm at 50.

Nine months ago I was at 0. I keep running.

I remember the years I spent looking in the mirror being unsatisfied with what I saw. I remember the years, very recently, where my weight crossed the threshold of 200. I remember struggling to fit into pants I'd owned for years. I remember how that made me feel. I remember how I felt when my weight dropped almost to 160, when I had to buy all new clothes, when I came back to campus after months away and everyone I ran into remarked on how much weight I'd lost and muscle I'd put on. I remember watching the scale tick steadily upwards, and realizing that it wasn't because I was putting on fat. I'm breathing hard. I've lapped a couple using the walking lane three times already. Ten laps yesterday.

My legs are starting to feel the strain. I ignore them.

I know down in the weight room, there are a going to be half a dozen guys bigger than me, stronger than me, who've been doing this a lot longer and a lot more seriously. Athletes, bodybuilders, or just people like me with more years behind them. They look better, they train harder, people stop and stare at them as they do their sets of deadlifts. They show up in pairs, or teams, and I am alone. I remind myself that I'm not competing against them. I'm not trying to be stronger than them. I'm just trying to be stronger than me.

I'm halfway to ten. I push myself forward.

Day by day, rep by rep, lap by lap. Always get stronger. Never weaker. That was my mantra for months. I felt weaker than I ever had, and I told myself there was only one way I was coming out of it. Better than ever. Every day, go further. Lift more. Work harder. If there's weakness, burn through it. If there's pain, deal with it. If I felt hurt, rest, recover, come back stronger. Always stronger. I didn't see results after a week. I didn't see them after a month. I still don't really know if I see them now. So I work harder. I never give up.

The muscles in my legs are telling me to slow down. I choose not to.

Every day, I make a decision. A decision not to sit in my dorm room on my computer. A decision to change into my gym clothes and walk out the door. Just having the clothes on, making the first decision, spurs me forward. I'm already changed, might as well go, I think. It's cold. I just went yesterday. The workout today looks hard. It'll be crowded. It's late. I've got homework. I have to get up early. I'm tired. I can always go tomorrow. I'll get bored. But I've already changed. Too late to turn back now. So I go, and I go, and I go, until I don't even think about the excuses. Until it's such a regular part of my routine that the gym is now an excuse to take myself away from other things. I made that decision. I made the decision to not have an extra dessert, or to drink a soda, or to have another slice of pizza. I made a decision to not quit.

I'm at seven. I decide to keep going.

There's no goal in mind - there's no endgame. There's no result I'm after that I can get frustrated and quit over because I don't see it right away. There's only this body, and how it looks, and how I want it to look, and the knowledge that this is how it gets there. If I work out as hard as I can today and it doesn't work, then I guess I just need to come back and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. If I mess up one day, if I can't go, if I'm away for some reason and my schedule gets thrown out of whack, the gym doesn't care. The gym will still be there when I get back. If I find I can't lift as much as I could, can't go as far as I used to, then it's time to work myself back to where I was. There is no overall goal. Every day is the goal. Every day is another block in the foundation, and before you know it, the house is halfway built.

Eight. My chest is heavy, my legs hurt. But I ran ten yesterday. Never weaker. I ran ten yesterday.

I think back to my first run. A friend of mine challenged me to run six miles. Forget how long it takes, don't worry if you have to stop and walk for part of it. Just get it done. Six miles. I could barely run one. So I sucked it up, and I did it. All of it. It wasn't fast, it wasn't pretty, but I didn't stop until I did it. Now that I knew I could do it, I knew I could do it again. With every pump of my legs, every ragged breath, every desperate gasp at the water fountain, I got stronger. I left my weaknesses behind.

Nine laps in and I'm still going strong.

You don't set a goal with some artificial deadline.

You don't compete with anybody else.

You just make the decision to do it.

And then you do it.

And you keep doing it, every day, until there's no such thing as not doing it.

You just get stronger.

I hit ten laps. I ran ten laps yesterday.

So today I do eleven.

I forgot my gloves again. I'm going to be burning calluses into my hands. My arms are going to feel like lead after the dumbbell lifts. I've never even done a toes-to-bar and have no idea if I can. There are sit-ups in today's workout. I hate sit-ups.

When the blood is roaring in your ears, when your body feels too heavy to move, when you're staring at the bar perched over you and have no idea how you intend to move that much weight, when you just can't squeeze out one more pull-up, one more sit-up, one more curl, one more push, one more press, one more lap,

That's exactly when you do it.

When you see the weight lift off the bench, when you get your chin over the bar, when you go back in the locker room, strip your shirt off, look in the mirror and think "yeah, this is good," that's what gets you back the next day. And if you can't do those things, then you work until you can.

I go downstairs and do my workout. My body is exhausted and exhilarated at once. It's still fifteen degrees. Walk back in the cold. Drink a protein shake. Get some sleep.

I'm in the best shape of my life.

Tomorrow I'll do twelve.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Best Version of Myself

I am a hopeless romantic. Not a very good one, I've decided lately, but hopeless nonetheless. And as such, I absolutely love chick flicks of all shapes and sizes. Even the movies that I know are going to be completely terrible will fill me with a deeply abiding satisfaction, because the boy has gotten the girl, the girl has gotten the boy, and True Love has reigned supreme. On any given trip to Netflix, you'd better believe I'm stopping by the Romance section first.

Now one of my favorite of all chick flicks is You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks as Joe Fox and Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly in a retelling of the Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around the Corner, which is a retelling of the Miklos Laszlo play, Parfumerie. The story has nabbed hearts for over 70 years, and you would be hard-pressed to convince me that You've Got Mail is not one of the greatest movies to ever grace the face of this wonderful planet. I could probably watch it every time it pops up on TBS and never get tired of it. Upon finishing it, I am always convinced that it is my calling to move to New York City and become a quirky bookstore owner.

So anyways, unaware that they have been corresponding anonymously with each other via email, falling in love one message at a time, Joe and Kathleen are introduced to each other at a party about a third of the way through the movie. It is hate at first sight. (To be fair, Joe is pretty heinous.) Later, he writes to Kathleen about his behavior, asking her,

"Do you ever feel you've become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora's box of all the secret, hateful parts - your arrogance, your spite, your condescension - has sprung open?"

Well, Joe, funny you should ask that. Because I know exactly what you mean.

The last year has not been the easiest for me. I'm doing that thing where I'm growing up and becoming an adult more than ever before, and it has proven a bit of a challenge. I've made some good choices and I've made some bad ones, and the earth has kept turning regardless, as she is wont to do. But through it all, I think I've lost sight of who and what I want to be in this world. 

I like to think, when I look at myself as a whole, that I'm a pretty positive person. I try to be upbeat and optimistic. I try to be friendly to everyone, to exude love and acceptance. I'm outgoing (you know, except for when I'm painfully shy) and goofy and fun-loving. Someone you can rely on for help and support. Someone who is a good friend. A lot of what I want for my life is to live as Christ would have me live. Be good, do good, and love others.

I mean, wasn't that the whole point of this blog in the first place? When we were really in our prime, we were a bunch of twenty-somethings searching for what it means to be a Gentleman in this world. 

But lately, I'm finding that I'm not really living up to that ideal anymore. I'm not completely sure when it happened. I think it was probably a gradual shift, or maybe a number of shifts, in my attitude and reactions that started to become habits in my behavior. I find myself being sullen and irritable more than ever before. I'm judgmental. I let things bother me when they shouldn't. I'll snap at people and pick fights when before I could just let things go. I let myself get awfully cranky sometimes, especially when I'm tired. I'm less appreciative of my great job and the wonderful opportunities God has given me than I should be. I've become listless and apathetic toward my goals and ambitions. And sometimes I'm just sad. Just so sad that the funk seems endless.

And I've hurt people whom I love dearly.

I look at the grand total of my interactions over the past year, and while I doubt anyone would be handing me the Wicked Witch of the West Award 2012, I do wonder if I'm on the road to being the worst version of myself. In the last month or so, I've really taken a hard look at me, and I've realized that behavior that I'm not proud of, behavior that doesn't make me happy, has become much more the norm than the exception to the rule.

And why? What reason do I have to be unhappy? To bring anything but good into the lives of others?

I'll tell you: I don't.

I'm blessed with a pretty great life, and if it isn't only getting better all the time, I have no one to blame but myself. And I think I've played enough of the blame game this year to last a lifetime. 

So it's time for me to make a change - an active one this time. To seek out in myself what I need in my life to make it a force for good.

Now we here at These Gentlemen have written about New Year's Resolutions before. Making them, keeping them, forgetting about them. The whole gamut. But I have purposefully decided not to think about this as a resolution. As something I'm going to strive for in the new year. Resolutions are breakable. Resolutions are often doomed to fail.*

*That website is just something I googled and cannot vouch for AT ALL, but it wouldn't surprise me if the numbers are at least close to being correct. Also, sorry it's such a DOWNER. Geez... 

So instead I'm just going to make it my goal to live as the best version of myself, one day at a time, throughout 2013. And then next year, I'll be better than that. And so on, until bettering myself is the norm and the habit. But it all starts today, and I'm pretty excited to see who today can turn out to be.

With love to all our readers, and best wishes for the New Year,
ali d.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's time for a confession. One I've kept to myself for a long time, but I just can't find a reason to suppress any longer.

I completely love Christmas music. And uh-oh, what do you know -

"Well sure," someone said to me when I told this to them, "it's after Thanksgiving now, it's okay to listen to it."

But that's not what I mean. I love Christmas music. All the time. From New Years Day to New Years Eve. I love just about every kind of Christmas music. I love the old stuff, I love the new stuff, I love Christmas raps and Christmas song parodies. I love the songs about Jesus and the season, and the stuff about Santa and reindeer. About the only songs concerning Christmas or its indices I don't enjoy are "The Christmas Shoes," (maybe the most unnecessary song ever written) and anything wherein Santa is at the beach because that's soooo zany.

A sand snowman? Too wacky for me, Caillat.

No, I can listen to Christmas music with almost the same enthusiasm as I would Guns n' Roses, or Journey, or anything by the Muppets.

This is the greatest thing ever.

Maybe if there was good Hanukkah music out there I could include some of that, but whoever is in charge of our media conspiracy decided that our most popular songs about the holiday would just be lists of famous Jews..

This one keeps getting left out for some reason.

So all I wanted to do today was talk about some of my favorite Christmas songs, and share what you'll hopefully find to be some pretty good renditions of them.. Be warned that this post is going to be pretty video and link-intensive, but I'm sure we'll all have a good time at the end. So grab some hot cocoa, warm yourself by the fire, and, as I know we need it now more than most years, let's all share some holiday cheer.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I don't know how, and I don't know when, but whatever it takes, whatever I have to do, I will make this a country where no parent ever has to worry that their child might not come back when they send them off to school.

I hope you will, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

5 Reasons Joe Biden Won the Vice Presidential Debate

On the eve of the second Presidential debate, or Debate 2: Bate Harder, the results of the Vice Presidential confrontation a few days ago are quickly being forgotten. Here at Hofstra, campus is an absolute maze of news cameras and Secret Service, all focused on the two Presidential candidates. In my opinion, now is the perfect time to refresh our memories as to what exactly happened in the last debate, which people seem to be having trouble deciding who won.

Some very reputable and trustworthy news organizations are touting Paul Ryan as the winner. A number of polls indicate that the public considered it to be a tie. I think a lot of people with those viewpoints don't really know what "debate" means. Here's why it's pretty indisputable that Joe Biden scaled Ryan's harrowing widow's peak to become the clear victor.

5) He Was a "Bully"

A number of people keep pointing out that Biden continually interrupted Ryan, acted condescending by laughing, rolling his eyes, and smirking as the VP candidate spoke. The most overwhelming assessment of these actions were that Biden was "a bully."

So what's a bully, exactly?

A bully is what we call someone we see beating up somebody who can't defend themselves.

I do remember Biden stuffing Ryan's shirt with crud.

Neither of the candidates were completely honest up there, though Ryan did perhaps a bit more stretching of the truth than Biden. Joe did what Obama was not willing to do during the first debate - get up and in Ryan's face when he started lying. The most widely held reason people think Obama lost the first debate despite the fact that Romney told 27 lies in 38 minutes is that the President looked like he was floundering out there. His poise, his demeanor, his tone all bespoke a man who didn't want to be where he was. Romney, on the other hand, went on the attack, and no matter what he said, he looked good saying it.

Now the tables are turned. Biden put up a clear message of "I'm not putting up with any of that bullshit," and hammered back at Ryan on every point the Congressman tried to make. If Biden was a bully, it's because he made Paul Ryan look weak and ineffective by comparison. Detractors latched on to his attitude and confrontational demeanor because it's not like they had a lot of ammunition to hit back with otherwise.

Come to think of it though, Ryan does work out a lot.

4) He Looked Like a Human Being

                                                                               Image Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Paul Ryan is given credit for maintaining his composure and appearing dignified while accepting the beating he received. People have been pointing to his steadfast refusal to blink as a sign that he was doing a better job connecting with the audience. Biden's relaxed posture, eye-rolling, and laughing weren't "Vice Presidential," and so Ryan took that battle.

This is why we can't have nice things.

But if you go back and watch the video, you see a lot of Ryan staring ahead, grim-faced, while Biden enacts more or less the same body language Mitt Romney had in the debate he "won." The only difference being that Biden actually threw in some human emotion and reaction.

The people who want to make this argument are trying to have it both ways. If Obama is stoic and professional, he loses against a more animated and aggressive Mitt Romney. When Ryan is exuding the physical responsiveness of a coma patient whenever he's not speaking and Biden presses the assault, he's a bully and Ryan is "Vice Presidential."

Biden looked like a person who couldn't believe what he was being made to argue against. Ryan looked like he was trying to keep every muscle flexed at once throughout the entire hour and a half.

Even - especially - his face muscles.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Out to the Ballgame

As I mentioned last time, I've wanted to talk about sports for awhile. As baseball season winds down, football season picks up, and hockey season is cancelled, it seemed like a good time to broach the topic. Now, this is normally the territory of fellow Gentleman Max Nova, but as I seem to carrying the banner solo for the time being, I'll step in where he would normally fill the gap.

Besides, he only talks about soccer, and that's lame.

Don't be bringing that noise in here, Max.

This summer I was given a challenge. Follow a sports team. I should clarify; I have "teams," I guess, and like pretty much anybody else they're the teams my family told me to like. My ancestry dates back to New York since the hipsters of the day were telling everybody how New Amsterdam was just so over, so the Giants, the Yankees, and the Rangers have been pretty much all I've ever been required to pay attention to for the sake of familial obligation. Actually, nix the Rangers from the list. No one in my family cares about hockey.

No, for the sake of this challenge, I was given two very specific rules. First, I had to follow a team. Watch their games, learn their players, and keep up with their standings heading into the playoffs. I thought that would be pretty easy; I'd just keep up with the Yankees. Then came the second rule. No Yankees. The Yankees, I was informed, don't count. It's not really being a sports fan if you follow the Bronx Bombers, for reasons I'll get to later (since I didn't understand at first myself).

So at first I thought, "okay, I'm living on Long Island, the heart of Mets territory, I'll root for the Mets." Then I quickly had the follow-up thought "why would I ever, ever do that to myself?" A better candidate immediately came to mind - the boys from my adopted state of Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles. Also, since the Yankees used to be the Orioles, I thought this was a clever work-around of the second stipulation.

Those pinstripes aren't an accident.

Now, the Os have had a fantastic season. At the time of this writing they're still in the playoff race, had just as good a year as the Yankees did, and gave me some really good moments and good stories.

They also made me realize why I will never, ever be a real sports fan.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Texts From My Father

I'm going to give you a brief introduction to my dad. My father is a person who, on the same day he gave me a copy of The True Believer and emphatically insisted I read it, happily displayed the new "Proud Tea Party Member" hat he received at the county fair.

So that pretty much covers everything you need to know for this.

I'd wanted the first time I wrote about Dad for These Gentlemen to be the story of how just this summer we went to a ball game together for the first time. It was going to be part of a larger sports-related post I've been working on for awhile, talking about making a dedicated effort to follow a team this summer, tying it back into my mentioning of the Orioles in my post about Otakon, and making a number of other observations and witticisms. Oh, it was going to be a great post. It'll still come, eventually. After yesterday afternoon happened though, it's taking a back seat.

I woke up yesterday morning to find I'd received a text message from my dad, with the following instructions. "Watch CSPAN2 1030AM this morning, discussion to follow."

My first impulse was immediately to just send back "sorry, don't have TV in the dorm," but for whatever reason, I decided to check CSPAN's website and sure enough, there's a live stream of all their programming. I looked at my schedule for the day. Reading, some volunteer work, and then maybe working on that aforementioned sports post. It was already after 10, nothing I was going to do was going to get started in the next 15 minutes. I waited until 10:30 rolled around and saw that there was some book talk going on, with an author deceptively named John Goodman touting his plan for health care reform. I watched the brief interview, sent my dad a text reading "anyone who says we should open up insurance across state lines is arguing for universal health care and doesn't realize it," and left it at that.

Then, compelled my reasons unknown to me, I kept the stream open. A reflexive groan escaped my lips as the segment ended and the next speaker came on. Dinesh D'Souza, talking about his new book, where he lays out exactly what a second term for Obama would look like. I decided to listen for awhile, but turned it off as soon as he broke out the "you didn't build that" line everybody with any kind of anti-Obama agenda has been ripping out of context for the last month or so. Man, I was glad my dad wanted me to see the book guy and not D'Souza.

So yeah, the next text I got back was "What? Did you see D'Souza?"

Just to sum up, D'Souza's latest argument is that the President has shaped his entire life and ideology through his father, whom he met once, 40 years ago. Not only that, but that his father had a friend who was an anti-colonialist (and Obama never met him at all), and so this friend influenced Barack Sr., who in turn influenced the President, and so now he's a rage-filled anti-American socialist who wants to tear down society. You know, I totally get that from his speeches, I don't see why so many other people don't hear it. The crux of D'Souza's contention comes from the fact that Obama titled the memoir he wrote about Barack Sr. Dreams From My Father. By saying "from" instead of "of," D'Souza posits, he means he's . . . you know what, it's easier at this point to just say D'Souza's entire argument is preposition-based and leave it at that.

What followed was a back-and-forth with my father I found noteworthy enough to record for posterity. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.