Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Three Short Horror Stories Featuring Four-Legged Friends

Since I've started writing and editing writing for money, I've found I've had less time to write just for fun.

(Don't worry, though, blog, I won't neglect you anymore, I promise.)


But back when I was working as a scientist and actually contributing meaningfully to society, I really enjoyed writing short scary stories as a hobby.  I like writing horror stories because, just like constructing a joke, they require a punchline at the end, which can be challenging.

It's been a while since I wrote anything that fits neatly into the traditional horror genre; happily, going back, I was pleased to see that my little hobby stories held up okay.  The following are from two to three years ago.

If you're interested in what I've been doing lately, I did churn out an Iron Man novel called Divergence, which you can read here. You should read it.  Not to brag but I think it's pretty good and so does everyone who has read it.


But wait.   This post was supposed to be about pet-themed horror, not Iron Man.


Without further ado, before I can get distracted again... I present below 3 of my old little just-for-fun horror blurbs.  Enjoy!


THE DAY BAXTER CAME HOME

Someone called to tell me they’d found my dog.

It was a pretty standard phone call. The lady’s voice was mild and unassuming. Her exact words were, “I found your dog.”

Normally I would be ecstatic. I used to get intensely anxious anytime the dog wandered off, imagining him streaking into oncoming traffic in pursuit of a squirrel.

But I didn’t feel ecstatic this time. I felt perplexed and a little unnerved. I knew exactly where my dog was. My dog was buried in the corner of the garden under the mountain ash tree.

“You must have the wrong number,” I say.

“I’m calling the number on the poster.”

Poster? There haven’t been posters in almost three years, since Baxter succumbed to renal failure at the ripe old age of fourteen.

“You must be mistaken,” I say, still not sure how to handle the situation.

“I can send you a photo if you like,” she says. And before I have time to tell her that’s not necessary, and that I don’t even have a dog, she hangs up. I get a picture from her moments later. It’s small on the screen of my phone, but unmistakable. That’s Baxter, all right. Baxter was (is?) a border collie, but I couldn’t have mistaken him for any other border collie. Not in a million years. In the photo, I can clearly see the torn ear he got as a puppy, and the faded red leather collar we bought for him after he snapped the blue one. There’s no questioning the photo. Especially since I was the one who took it, eight years ago. I recognize the bit of rose bush in the corner, the grape Popsicle wrapper at Baxter’s feet. I’m feeling even more confused now. Is this a prank? That photo is in an album at my mother’s house, three states away. To my knowledge it was never shared with anyone, and even if it had been, how would they be able to connect it to me?

The phone rings again and the lady is back. “Are you coming to pick him up?”

“I… I don’t think that’s my dog,” I protest weakly.

She lets out an exasperated noise. “Then I’m taking him to the shelter.” And she hangs up.

What could I do? I couldn’t leave poor, loyal Baxter with a stranger, to be dumped at the pound, wondering where I was and why I wasn’t coming for him. So I went. Of course I went. Wouldn’t you?

I guess I can’t complain much. It took some getting used to, having Baxter around again. He’s mostly unchanged. He accompanied me around the neighborhood to take down the posters that I never put up, the ones with my phone number on them. I guess I like having him back. He still gets up on to my bed at night, though he no longer sleeps (or eats); he just watches me silently, and I try not to think about it too much.


WHAT THE RABBIT WAS WARNING US ABOUT

I woke at 3 am to the familiar sounds of the rabbit thumping around in her hutch. The sound echoed hollowly through the house, making sleep impossible. I kicked Andrew with my foot.

"Your turn," I mumbled. With a groan, he rose and went to her hutch to calm her.

I must have dozed off again, though only for a short time, before I heard more banging. Rabbits thump their back feet as a warning signal when frightened and she'd been at it for over a week every night now. It was getting old.

I rose to soothe her, not bothering to turn on the lights. She was panting heavily in the bottom of her hutch. In the dark, I couldn't see her, but I imagined her eyes were wide and wild. I gave her a few pets and a reassuring word before I stumbled back to bed in the darkened house. In the doorway, I smashed into another figure.

"Sorry, honey," I mumbled, patting Andrew's skin. It was cold and clammy. "It's okay. I took care of it."

I moved past him in the dark and climbed back into bed, where Andrew lay asleep, his breathing soft and even.


MY NEIGHBOR FERNANDO

My neighbour, Fernando, is what you'd call a "cat person." He loves cats. And that's about all he loves. He's always been a loner; I've never interacted with him myself, except for on three occasions when he came over to my house screaming because I was making too much noise (at 9 PM on a Friday).

In short, Fernando hasn't been a good neighbour. He's the kind of guy who would yell at neighbourhood kids to get off his lawn, if he had one. But you can't help but feel like, deep down, there must be some good in him, because every night you see him at the end of the cul-de-sac, feeding his ever-growing colony of stray cats.

Let me be clear: I love cats, but not these cats. They're a nuisance. They have fleas, and they shit in the flowerbeds, and they're an obvious health threat to all the other pets in the neighbourhood. Their population has been steadily growing and now there's about a dozen of them. The cats are mostly feral, but they used to follow Fernando around when he was outside. I say "used to" because lately, they've been avoiding him. There's nothing sadder than seeing Fernando's sagging, miserable posture as he sits on the curb, holding a can of wet cat food, waiting for the cats to come to him. They don't. They give him a wide berth, and have done so ever since the paramedics pulled his cold, bloated body out of his bathtub two weeks ago.

I used to complain about the cats. But now I'm just happy they're here, because they can see him too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hawkeye and Vision: The Best and Worst Avengers

Infinity War comes out this month.

If you don't know what Infinity War is (perhaps you've been in a medically induced coma for the last ten years), Infinity War is the culmination of Marvel's last eighteen movies.


There's over twenty superheroes, including such favorites as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.

Today, I'd like to focus on two of the characters who get a lot of grief.  These characters are not Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor.  These characters are not the ones little kids play, unless they are the chubby kid forced to by the other kids who already took all the good characters.  These characters are not the ones who have much merchandise, and who will likely never have a standalone movie.

I'm talking, of course, about Vision and Hawkeye.


 Here they are fighting, probably over their single fan.

The thing is, I do not like to lump them together.  Because while they have something in common (being the honorary "worst avengers"), they could not be more different.

They historically fit somewhere between this guy and Major Maple Leaf in fan rankings.

Here's the fundamental difference between them.  Vision is the worst.  Hawkeye is the best.

Yeah, that's right.  I said Hawkeye is the best.  And I'm dedicating this blog post to explaining why.


As for Vision, there's a number of reasons he's not well-liked by the fans.  Despite his powers not being especially clearly defined in the movies (phase shifting, shapeshifting, regeneration, project solar rays from his forehead, telekinesis), he's universally agreed to be overpowered.  He also looks like a huge loser and has boring dialogue.  Also, he came out of one of Marvel's arguably least good movies, Age of Ultron.

But my issue with Vision isn't that he's overpowered or not funny or not interesting or any of that.

It's that I don't believe he should be an Avenger in the first place.  He's basically a piece of awful, awful equipment without discernible motivation for his actions.  The only meaningful things he's ever done are picking up Thor's hammer and crippling Rhodey.

Let's address the hammer thing, by the way.  The team trusts him because picking up the hammer is a sign of "worthiness."  However, that applies to sentient beings.

As Steve and Tony point out, you can theoretically put the hammer in an elevator and move it.  
Does this mean all elevators should be Avengers?

So this brings me to the crux of the matter.  Vision isn't a "person."  He's artificial intelligence, like Ultron.  The other Avengers have their motivations: morality, protecting the people they love, not getting killed, et cetera and so forth.  This is basic Game Theory.  Vision is not clearly motivated by a goddamn thing.  He doesn't need to eat or sleep.  He has no need for money.  Vision's motivations are known only to Vision and could change at the snap of a pair of fingers.  Nothing he does makes sense because there's really no reason for him to do anything or have strong opinions about anything.  If the world's destroyed, Vision's gonna be just fine.  Does he even have concepts of mortality or self-preservation?  WHO KNOWS!

At best, Vision is a piece of equipment personified by the Avengers (like Tony's robot, DUMM-E).

Who was more well-liked than Vision by audiences, and whose death in Iron Man 3 was not at all deserved, in my opinion.

Vision is a piece of equipment that permanently crippled and nearly killed one of the team members!

When a piece of equipment does something like that, you get that shit serviced.  I know Vision acted remorseful, but again, we have no idea if his version of "remorse" is at all what we understand it to be.

At the very least he should have been retired but instead they shove him into Avengers Tower with the other most unstable Avenger, Scarlet Witch, and the two of them cook together.  During this time he fails to understand non-objective concepts like "pinches" of ingredients.


Yeah, that's really a guy you want on your superhero team.

The problem with Vision was never that he was over-powered.  It's that we don't understand what the fuck his motivations are.  Why does Vision do anything?  We, the audience, can't relate to him.  Characters like Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk are all over-powered in their own rights.  But they have weaknesses.  They have humanity.  And that's why we love them, and why we will never, ever be able to love the British-accented copy machine that is Vision.

Now.  Speaking of humans...

 

Hawkeye.  Absolutely under-rated and low-key my favorite Avenger after Iron Man.

Ironically, Marvel's marketing team has refused to show Hawkeye in any of the Infinity War promos, creating a sudden upswing in fans' love for him.

 There were 22 covers Infinity War covers and Hawkeye wasn't on any of them.  
This is fan-made.

But I've always loved Hawkeye, since Matt Fraction's 2012 version of Hawkeye.


The thing about Hawkeye is that, at first glance, he appears like the weakest link.


There have been no shortage of jokes at his expense.


This article is pretty funny as well.

Even Clint himself has made jokes about his seeming ineptitude.


But there's a lot more to MCU Clint than meets the eye.

These self-aware jokes bring me to my first of five points about why Hawkeye is so awesome:

UNLIKE THE OTHER AVENGERS, CLINT CARRIES NO BAGGAGE.

On a team of people battling PTSD in every direction, you know who we never see complain much?  Clint.  You've got Steve grappling with personal issues, Tony grappling with personal issues, Bruce and Natasha grappling with personal issues, and Thor grappling with personal issues.  Everyone has a problem with their dad or being mind-controlled or feeling guilty about killing people...

...and then there's Clint, the only apparently emotionally secure Avenger, showing up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to every battle without needing to have a monologue about World War II or a cave in Afghanistan or his anger issues or the Red Room or how his brother is a trickster god.

Nope, Clint clocks in and saves the drama for his mama.

In Captain America: Civil War, Clint refuses to sign the Sokovia Accords off-camera and retires quietly, while Steve grapples with the decision for half the movie, finally deciding that the best course of action is to have a huge fucking temper-tantrum that destabilizes half of Europe probably.


Clint joins Steve's side; later on, during the fight, he asks if he and Natasha are still friends, and another character observes that he's pulling punches.  That's the level of emotional competency we're dealing with here.

Clint is the only Avenger who doesn't need to have an emotional breakdown every movie.  Nope, when he's not avenging, he's going to his kids' band practice and catching up on Breaking Bad.

On a superhero team, you'd really hope everyone would have their shit together.  But only Clint does.  Everyone else is plagued by demons.  Clint?  Clint is plagued by choices when he goes down to Dunkin' Donuts and sees there are two new glazes.

UNLIKE THE OTHER AVENGERS, CLINT CAN FOLLOW ORDERS, LISTEN TO INSTRUCTIONS, AND CARRY OUT PLANS.

On a team of leaders, Clint has the unique position of "follower."  Considering these asshats are supposed to be working together, this is an underappreciated trait.  Thor, Tony, and Steve are all clearly desperate to be seen as the "team leader."

Not Clint.  You point, he shoots.  Clint is secure in his role as "the long-range weapons guy" and has never felt it necessary to get involved in a dick-measuring contest with the rest.

In Age of Ultron when Laura Barton says "I see those guys, those "gods"... I think they [need you]. They're gods, and they need someone to keep them down to Earth."  Putting aside the fact that I think Laura is trying to goad him into an early grave, she has a point.  A team can't be made up of 6 leaders.  You need some followers.  Clint is the glue holding them together; he's got a Coulson-esque role, one we rarely see appreciated except when the other Avengers literally acknowledge it.


UNLIKE THE OTHER AVENGERS, CLINT IS A GOOD AGENT.


Clint often gets described as "the bow and arrow guy."  And that's fine and dandy.  But he's so much more.

He's the guy Fury sent to kill Natasha, who was the KGB's best assassin.  Think about it.  Clint was the man for that job.

Clint's weapon of choice is the bow...


...but he's got a number of other incredible skills.  Hand-to-hand, for example.

We see Clint in Thor 1, where he is helping to guard the hammer and is poised to take a shot at Thor.  (He doesn't because he never gets the order; he confirms there is no order to shoot, more evidence of what a great agent he is.)  We see Clint early on in The Avengers, guarding the Tesseract.  We see Clint hanging out at SHIELD facilities regularly, doing his job.  He's a jack of all trades.  A guy with a whole host of useful spy skills.

Many of his skills are quiet, undercover-style ones,  none of the flashy pageantry of the other dudes.  What are those other dudes trying to prove?  Clint is the Avengers equivalent of a guy secure enough to drive a minivan or a Volkswagen bug.  Tony, on the other hand, is a guy driving a lifted truck with a pair of dangly nuts hanging off the back hitch.

UNLIKE THE OTHER AVENGERS, CLINT IS GODDAMN RELIABLE. 

Sometimes, Tony just... disappears.  (Remember Iron Man 3?)  And sometimes, the Hulk just... needs some time.

You know who shows up to every fucking battle?



That's right.  Clint.  Even the Battle of New York, which he had every reason to sit out because he'd been mind-raped by Loki like 24 hours earlier.  Clint didn't care.  Clint comes and does his job.  He doesn't have time for grand speeches or emotional breakdowns or subplots.  Clint is the only Avenger who goes "welp, time to get to work," and hitches up his bow and goes to get things taken care of.

CLINT IS ON PAR WITH LITERAL GODS.

Fury put together a team of remarkable people.  Geniuses.  Enhanced super-soldiers.  The best of the best.  And one of those people was Clint.

Clint may not be the most powerful Avenger.  But he's an Avenger.

This is like someone winning bronze in the Olympics.  There's a few people better than they are, but goddamn, they are still at the top.

This Tumblr post sums it up nicely:


 With Marvel's promo materials refusing to show any pictures of Clint, there have been some question as to whether or not he's going to show up at all.  (Spoiler: he is.)


I, for one, am delighted to see Clint finally getting some well-deserved attention.  His absence has created a lot of speculation among the fans and a sudden upswing in Hawkeye-related discussions.  Hawkeye's mysterious lack of promo pics is a mystery on par with "where is the final soul stone?"
Most fans believe it's in Wakanda.  It makes sense for the soul stone to be in a country so black that their superhero literally gets his powers from purple drank.

But me, I think its location is obvious.

The soul stone allows the user to control and manipulate souls.  Guess which Avenger seems most in control, has the purest soul, and has captured the hearts and minds of the fans without appearing in a single goddaamn promo?

...that's right, folks.  You heard it here first.

Hawkeye is the soul stone.


Hawkvengers: Clintfinity War will be released worldwide on April 27th.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dieting Works; MLMs Don't

The title is self-explanatory yet shockingly controversial.

Tape measures are not part of a healthy diet despite a lot of stock photos that seem to think otherwise.

I have spoken numerous times in this blog about how breaking my leg two years ago dramatically impacted my life. Impacted it like... like a car to the leg, you might say.

Protip: Do NOT Google "broken leg" for stock images.  So.  Much.  Gore.
Because I am a generous god, here's a picture of a cute cat instead.

After my accident I gained more than thirty pounds.  I went from being in peak physical fitness in 2015 and 2016 to the "unhealthy" BMI category.

I have been lucky to have been in a normal, healthy weight bracket for my whole life.  A large part of this is likely due to my lifelong vegetarianism.  Growing up in a normal (that is, meat-oriented) household, I was eating a third less than my family, and much of what I was missing included fat and protein.  (Protein, by the way, when not converted into energy or muscle naturally converts to fat.  This is basic biochemistry; proteins are just amino acid chains and most of those chains include carbon.  After your body breaks up the amino chains into amino acids and ammonia, which is expelled from the body, it takes any remaining carbon and turns them into glucose.  That's right... sugar.  So don't think that a "protein-rich" diet is magic.  It's not.  You still gotta work out.  You know why the Flintstones looked so good?  It wasn't the paleo diet.  It was having to use their legs every day to power their car.)

"But wait!" you protest.  "BMI isn't an accurate way to measure weight!"

It has its limitations.

Look.  BMI by itself is just a measurement. So is weight. Imagine a person says to you, "I weigh 120 pounds."   If that person is five feet tall, that's perfectly fine. If they're six feet tall, that's not healthy. Likewise, if a person weighs 150 and they're five feet tall, that person is overweight, but at six feet, they would be considered healthy.

So, by itself, BMI is probably about as useful as weight is. It's just a measurement. Devoid of context it's probably not very useful, but that is true of almost ANY measurement.  A lot of people HATE BMI.  These people usually say that "muscle weighs more than fat."  These people are mostly fat, not muscle.


I know of only one "overweight" guy who is truly muscular, and he is literally a professional bodybuilder and stunt man.  So... chill out with the BMI hatred, okay, folks?  For 99% of us, BMI is a fine tool that works just fine.

Speaking of measurements, here's an important PSA for you: calories are just a unit of energy measurement. A "cake calorie" is not any different than a "vegetable calorie." If someone tries to say otherwise, they are wrong.  This is like watching a person insist that 10 pounds of steel is heavier than 10 pounds of feathers.

These two plates have the same number of calories.
34 grams of peanut butter = 328 grams of kiwi = 200 calories

Anywho, now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about my weight.  I recently called my mom to complain about my weight gain.  She asked why I needed to lose weight and I told her because I'd gained over thirty pounds.

"So, what, you weight a hundred and thirty now?" she asked.

I shamefully admitted that, yes, this is literally what had happened.  I had gone from about a hundred to well into the 130s.  Realizing I was on a crash course toward actual overweightness, I decided to make a change.

So what change did I make?

Thrive.

No wait.  I mean Plexus.

No wait.  I meant Herbalife.

No wait.  I meant ItWorks.

No wait.  All of the above are predatory multi-level marketing schemes that don't work.


Only one thing works and that thing is diet and exercise.


Side note about MLMs: MLMs target low-income, poorly educated people, especially women, by turning their insecurities against them. And the people who they end up recruiting (and who end up "selling" for them) are people with the most exploitable insecurities, insecurities that probably get even worse through being in the MLM and distancing family and friend support networks.  I don't know of any normal, secure person who would go around implying others are fat or ugly in order to sell a second-rate product.  It's not a coincidence that these products generally promise a quick fix to financial or weight insecurities.

And I know how people struggle with healthy eating and stuff. Lately I've been binging (see what I did there?) on "My 600-lb. Life" and some people really do have addiction issues with food.

Anyone who calls themselves a "chocoholic" might require an actual intervention for their crippling addiction to chocohol.

That being said, it's weird that so many people can look at themselves, think "gee, I ought to change my lifestyle," and then shell out a ton of money for a "magic shake" that they can see does nothing.  (I mean, wouldn't you notice if you hadn't lost any weight after three months?)

This is also one of the reasons I hate MLMs so much. ItWorks, Plexus, Thrive, Herbalife, and other "health" ones basically promise a quick solution to a real medical problem and prevent the people who fall for it from getting actual help. Ditto essential oils. Like, no, lavender can't cure your PTSD, go see a therapist or join a group or something.


People who have unhealthy relationships with food need to deal with both the eating disorder itself as well as the underlying causes.

Story time!

I recently got one of my tattoos redone and was telling my tattoo artist about how excited I am that I've lost 15 pounds recently and am still losing. (My goal is 30-35 pounds.) I'm feeling really good about myself and really working hard to get in shape and just.... you know, accomplished.

So my artist is a big gal. I couldn't tell you exactly how big but I'm going to say probably high 200-lb. category. Maybe even 300-lb.

She immediately started telling me how she used to have a lot of issues with dieting and how she's "never been healthier" since she gave it up.

Like... I get what she's trying to say, sort of. She's talking about mental health. But the thing is, I feel like both under-eating and over-eating are eating disorders, and both are indicative of a need for mental health intervention.

First of all, I don't believe for a second she was ever conventionally "thin." I think that she's one of those people who skips a meal, complains about hunger pains and how awful dieting is, and then ends up over-eating.  (Which is, again, itself an eating disorder.)


This is not what dieting looks like.  Dieting looks like three whole meals a day with carefully controlled portions.  Dieting, in my opinion, should not involve intense hunger pains.  Perhaps a slightly uncomfortable "but I'm not completely full" feeling, but not pains. 

Regardless, she went on this whole rant about how she was the MOST unhealthy when she was dieting and how much healthier she is now, and I'm sitting there thinking, no, you're clearly overweight, and that isn't healthy. And in terms of mental health, if you're struggling with an eating disorder, GET HELP. The solution to an eating disorder isn't "be fat and be happy about being fat." It's SEEING A THERAPIST.

I don't think people should value themselves based on a number on a scale but honestly, her whole speech about how she's "healthier" now that she no longer diets struck me as utter garbage. And she's said other stuff in the past about having body issues, being bullied as a kid, et cetera. (I mean, she's literally a person who does body mods for a living and has a ton of body mods herself so it seems somewhat obvious to me she's unhappy with her physical appearance.)

 She's the kind of person who I could totally see getting into a weird essential oil MLM.

It was also very discouraging for me.  I've been working my ass off to get in shape and it's PAYING OFF. Virtually no one in my life has said "congratulations." Mostly it's overweight people saying things like, "I can't diet, it's so hard to work out, you don't actually need to get in shape because you're already so good-looking, you should love myself the way you are, etc etc..."

Loving myself is the whole reason for my dieting in the first place.  I love myself enough to want to be the best me.  My body is a temple, damn it!

You know!  Poorly cared for and falling apart!  Possibly cursed!  
A temple!

I'm so frustrated by how the overweight people in my life are reacting to my own weight loss.

If fat people believe in "healthy at any size" and that people should love their bodies REGARDLESS of size then how come my losing weight is so offensive to them?

I think this kind of rejection of my own weight loss is largely (heh) an indication that, deep down, people know that being overweight isn't healthy and that it's for the best to be an active person without a lot of excessive weight bogging you down.

I said it already, but let me say it again, because it bears repeating: food is fuel.  Not therapy.

 Sorry folks.  
It's a bitter pill to swallow.

Here's an easy exercise to determine if you are emotionally eating:

Ask yourself if you are so hungry that you would eat a raw hunk of broccoli, or a carrot, or a cucumber.  If you said "yes," go eat that.  If you said "no," then you are not actually hungry.

 Instead of turning to food for comfort, try booze like the rest of us!
(Disclaimer: do not do this.)
(Also, alcohol has a LOT of calories.)

I have been dieting on a 1,200-calorie-a-day regime and have already lost over ten pounds with ease.  (1,200 calories may sound alarming but keep in mind, I am not that big.  My basal metabolic rate is only 1,500 so I'm on track to lose about a pound every ten days, which is well within reason.)

One of the tools I use is MyFitnessApp, which I like because it has an option where you can scan the barcode of what you're eating.  People tend to grossly underestimate how many calories an item has.

With the exception of vegetables, which are insanely low in calories.  A whole bag of frozen broccoli is less calories than a single glass of wine.  (Wine has a lot of discretionary sugars.)  Vegetables are amazingly good for you because they're dense in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.  Unfortunately, people tend to think they don't like vegetables.

Story time!

 I have a couple of good friends who are self-described "carnivores." They invited me over for a big Thanksgiving meal and I agreed.

Now, I'm a very strict vegetarian, but I'm not a dick about it. For Thanksgiving there's usually a lot of sides I can have, so I wasn't too worried.

I showed up and there were about 3 or 4 dishes there that I could have, as usual, which was great: corn, carrots, green beans, and mashed potatoes.

The mashed potatoes had so much butter in them they were literally unpalatable. The other three vegetable dishes were just frozen vegetables that had been boiled or straight from a can. I had never been so utterly disappointed by Thanksgiving in my life. (Mind you, they were very hospitable and I choked down what I could to be polite but it was all so bland. Except for the potatoes. The potatoes were just straight-up butter.)

The thing that shocked me was that they had no concept that vegetables could be seasoned. You season meat, don't you? You put it in gravy or pour steak sauce on it or whatever, right? Yet to them, vegetables were a food that didn't need preparing whatsoever. Vegetables, to them, come in a can or a bag, and are served lukewarm without any spices. Not even salt. The best dish was the green beans from the can; the stuff that was from a bag (the corn and carrots), that had been boiled, had no flavor. It was just slimy vegetable texture. No actual taste whatsoever. They had literally somehow boiled out all flavor, vitamins, everything. It was basically just fiber, just... raw plantstuff.

 Yum! - no vegan, ever

It became imminently clear to me why they think they hate vegetables.

Vegetables don't have to taste bad.  Here's the world's simplest way to make a bag of unseasoned, frozen vegetables (green beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, okra, et cetera) taste good:
  •  Throw all that shit in a pan. 
  • When it starts to sizzle, add a tiny amount of white vinegar.
  • Splash some soy sauce on there.
  • Season with onion salt, garlic salt, celery salt, and paprika.  Now that shit should look brown.
  • Optional step: add hot sauce.  
Boom.  You're welcome.


By the way, if you are exceptionally lazy and can't be bothered to mix onion and garlic powder together, you can literally buy them pre-mixed in a spice called "Creole Seasoning."  I did this because I am myself exceptionally lazy.

If you're lazy like me, boy do I have good news for you.  The ultimate motivating tool aside from looking ultra sexy megahot is, of course, money.

If you sign up at HealthyWage.com you can actually earn money for losing weight.  I'm poised to convert my 30 extra pounds into $1600 smackaroos.

Smackaroos would be a good cookie name.

In short, my advice for you, whoever you are, is as follows:
  • Eat more vegetables than sugary processed crap.
  • Know what you're eating, and how much.
  • Don't join an MLM.
  • Sign up with MyFitnessApp and HealthyWage instead.
  • Follow through with lifestyle changes to better yourself.
  • Recognize that those changes are hard.  But that you're worth it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From Stadium to Sea: Shambling the Los Angeles Marathon 2018

About two years ago, in 2016, I wrote a post about running the Los Angeles marathon.  One month after that marathon, I broke my leg.

What followed was (and still is) a nightmare recovery period.  If you're wondering how I'm going to relate this back to Marvel, here you go!


Since I attend a lot of conventions, I realized recently that I have pictures of the slow, two-year recovery so far, and that those pictures are all sort of themed and fit together, which is nice.

Anywho, in 2018, I decided to run the marathon again because I thought it made for a nice narrative.

2019: wheelchair.
No, wait...

I can't say it was as nice as the 2016 marathon because, among other things, my leg was fucked up and had to be in a brace and a compression bandage; I was not allowed to put any impact on my leg which meant that I was basically speed-walking instead of properly jogging or running; also, I completely and totally failed to prepare in any way whatsoever.  I mean, we're talking, like, 48 hours before the race, I realized I didn't even own trainers, and I bought a pair less than 24 hours beforehand, at the convention where I was picking up my racing bib.

They're super fly tho.

I tried to take some pictures so that I'd be able to provide a step-by-step (haaa) account of what it's like to mosey a marathon when you refused to train in any meaningful way whatsoever.  Please note that I do not recommend this.

You know the first guy who ever ran a marathon died, right?

 RIP Pheidippides 530 BC - 490 BC

Without further ado, please enjoy my 26-mile journey.


Mile 0: I was feeling delightfully cocky at the beginning of the race.  I'd done this before and I knew what to expect, which was pain, pain, and pain.  I had purchased an appropriate headband which, I hoped, would only get funnier with every mile.



Mile 1: The Los Angeles marathon begins at Dodgers Stadium.  It is so crowded that there is actually very little running for the first quarter-mile; you are simply moving as a herd, waiting for it to thin.  There's a lot of energy, announcers on speakers, music, people cheering, et cetera.  Also there's a guy in a jester's outfit who stands on a box at mile 0.2 with a sign that says, "ONLY 26 MILES TO GO!"

Upon leaving Dodgers Stadium, the race begins on Sunset Blvd., heading south-east and taking a U-turn around mile 3 to snake back up to Sunset heading north-west.



Mile 2: Mile two follows Cesar Chavez Blvd and runs through Chinatown.  It is absolutely my favorite mile because the sights are gorgeous and you are not yet in pain during this leg of the race.  Also the crowd has thinned and you can set your own pace now.  There is often a mini-parade or two on the corners featuring Chinese dragons and people bashing gongs to encourage you.  (Or maybe they are cursing the foolishness of white people who voluntarily agree to run 26 miles; I don't know enough about Chinese culture to say for certain.)




Mile 3: Mile three takes you through the heart of downtown L.A.  This is a great experience because not only are you closing down businesses for a day and trashing the streets with garbage, but you're happily running amidst scores of homeless people who screech such encouragements as "WHO'S CHASIN' YOU?  WHO'S CHASIN' YOU?" and "MY EYES!  I CAN'T SEE MY EYES!"

Seeing the streets littered with little paper cups is absolutely my least favorite part of the marathon.

Discarded clothes are also tossed on the sidewalks, to be gathered up by the homeless or by event coordinators, who wash them and give them back to the homeless.  This is a small bit of good that comes out of the race.  I watched many people pause to offer their windbreakers (no longer needed) to onlooking homeless people.  Also, the homeless cheerfully help themselves to the free bananas, oranges, and Gatorade provided for the runners.  

Passing the courthouse at mile 3.
 

At this mile, you start to see a lot of crowds forming around Port-a-Potty banks, because running makes you have to go.  There are lots of signs along the racetrack that says things like "Wave if you peed yourself a little!" and "It's okay to poop your pants today!"  

This is just one of the many glamorous aspects of hoofing a marathon.

Mile 4: At mile 4 I ironically texted one of my friends, "I regret everything."  At mile 4 you begin to have the slow, dawning realization that you've made a terrible mistake.

Also you pass the Disney Concert Hall!



Mile 5: Miles 5 continues to snake its way through downtown L.A., crossing the 101 freeway and heading north to re-join Sunset Blvd.  This is the part of the race where, if you are bad at math, you say things like, "Wow, I just did a 5K!" and "I'm 1/5th of the way there!"

There were some police cadets sprinting past us.  I resented them for their speed.  They had no racing bibs; they were just exercising with us for a mile for fun, sort of like some of the homeless people from mile 3.

Mile 6: Miles 6 is when you are actually 1/5th of the way into the race and you start seeing people flagging.  God bless this lady, by the way.  Among all the signs that say things like "RUN FASTER, LARD-ASS," this lady was just there to be encouraging.  And with my bum leg I really did appreciate that.

Mile 6 also boasts a 10K marker.  If you're bad at math and missed the 5K marker back at mile 3, it's easy to become confused and think you went from 5 to 10 kilometers in the blink of an eye, giving you a false sense of confidence.



Mile 7: At mile 7, you pass through Echo Park into Silverlake.  Silverlake is a hipster paradise.  Silverlake used to have one of my favorite burger joints, which also hosted drag bingo on Tuesdays, and then closed down; I then unironically stated that I would go to any microbrew in Silverlake that had a vegan burger option.  This is hilarious because Silverlake had 0.3 vegan microbrews per person.

Marathon trash at mile 7.

I passed my motorcycle garage as well as a number of dog boutiques.  Some of the brunch places had remained open, and the flannel-shirted residents sat there stroking their ironic beards and eyeing us curiously.  Along this mile there were lots of casual runners who joined the race temporarily.  

Someone gave me a nutritional bar that was made of figs, egg whites, and nuts.  It tasted okay but it's possible that my judgement was clouded and it actually tasted like mulch.  My pain was at about a 3 or 4.

Mile 8: In the same way Echo Park, a largely residential and recreational area, merges seamlessly into the small business streets of Silverlake, so Silverlake merges seamlessly back into Los Feliz, which is a more residential area, a sort of second Echo Park.  Los Feliz is hilly and by mile 8 you are seriously wondering what in the fuck possessed you to do this.

Los Feliz featured a lot of yuppies sipping Americanos on their terraces, staring down at us, some with cowbells to encourage us but more with a sort of pitying look.  At mile 8 many runners have reduced speed and are looking like crap.


This was labeled "mile 8" in my photo album but I think it looks more like a mile 6.  
Who knows?  I sure didn't.  By ten kilometers I had lost all sense of self.

Mile 9: At mile 9, Sunset Blvd. straightens and you are now heading due west.  The marathon passed the Sunset turn and turned west one block north, on Hollywood, to take us through the most scenic part of Hollywood.  To the right is Griffith Observatory and to the left is a lovely view of the city.


My phone was unable to capture it and I did not want to stop moving for a photo op.

This mile feels easier because the ground has leveled out.  The hills of Echo Park, Silverlake, and Los Feliz give way to the straight and narrow of Hollywood Blvd. and the pavement is smooth.

There's a lot of businesses along the way and plenty to see, and lots of people offering water and food.  Protip: if you're running a marathon, take a cup of water or Gatorade EVERY time it is offered.  If you don't, you will quickly become dehydrated and regret it.  Even with a cup of water every time it's offered, you have probably stopped peeing by this time.  There are no longer lines for the bathrooms; no one is going even though everyone is drinking as much as they can get their hands on.

Mile 10: At mile 10 you feel a real sense of accomplishment because, boy howdy, you're in the double digits now.  Fogged with exhaustion, your brain will say things like, "you're practically halfway there!"  It is lying to you.

Mile 10 took me through Hollywood.  The sign was prominent on my right.


I began seeing some ominous signs that weren't Hollywood ones.  The large blue markers that were at each mile no longer had clocks on them, an indication that I was going a lot slower than I should be.  I attempted to pick up the pace.  I was scooting along at about 4 miles an hour, or a 15/16-mile minute.  This brisk walk was shocking difficult to keep up.  The shortness of my legs and the stiffness of my left knee were in cahoots against me, but I refused to be dissuaded from my goal.

"You don't tell me what to do, body.  I tell me what to do," I scolded it.

Mile 10 takes you through the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Normally filled with tourists and homeless person pee and people trying to scam you into giving them money for their mix tapes, it was now filled with runners, runner person pee, and people trying to scam us into eating their bananas.

Protip: if you eat $200 worth of bananas, marathons are worth it!

Crossing over the 101 freeway again, I spotted a few signs for Scientology.  Back somewhere between mile 9 and 10 we had passed the Scientology Media Productions studio, which made me pick up my pace, at least temporarily.  Shortly after the 101 freeway is the Scientology Museum of Death.  I considered stopping in since I myself felt close to death.

Mile 11: Now in the heart of Hollywood, my marathon experience was turning into a fever dream.  I passed the Pantages theater and kept going, past Hollywood and Vine.


 Unlicensed Mickeys, Minnies, and Spidermen waved at us as we passed them, adding to the surrealness of the world.  The sun was high in the sky by now; it about 11 am and the sun was merciless.

Continuing on, we passed the TCL Chinese Theater, which some of you might remember from Iron Man 3.

Remember Iron Man 3?

 

Having seen the best that Hollywood boulevard had to offer, the route turned south, taking us down a precarious hill.  At the bottom of the hill we once again connected with Sunset and headed west.



Mile 12: At mile 12 my pain was at about a 5.  I felt sore and found myself struggling to main my four-miles-an-hour goal.  There are people in the race carrying large flags that say what minute mile you're at.  I kept pace with the 16-minute-mile guy for a half-mile before falling back; his legs were longer than mine and I realized that it was unrealistic to push myself when I was only halfway through the race.

I did feel a tiny bit of accomplishment knowing I was nearly halfway.  Also, although we were in Hollywood, which is very far north of my own stomping grounds, we were crossing streets familiar to me, such as La Brea.  La Brea and Crenshaw are about ten miles from the beach by my estimation, which meshed perfectly with the "halfway" point.  (My house is halfway between downtown and the beach.)

Fun fact: "La Brea" means "The Tar."  So the La Brea tar pits translates to, "The The Tar Tar pits."

Mile 13: I called Andy and Jack to meet me at the halfway point.  Both of them said, "holy shit," because they had not expected me to make it this far.  I passed mile 13 and continued, calling them to just meet me at the next mile, as I was still going.

They say if you can run a half-marathon, you can run a marathon.  I sincerely hoped that was true.

To my left, large construction diggers scooted around trying to gather up discarded cups.  They were already cleaning up this leg of the race!  I'd fallen behind, badly. 



Mile 14: For the next several miles I was playing leap-frog with the clean-up crew.  Most of the bands playing along the route were packing up their equipment.  There were still lots of people holding signs, though.  Still, having to go around trucks as they cleaned up water stations was depressing.  It was like being at a restaurant when they start putting the chairs up on the tables.

I missed Jack and Andrew again.  My back was screaming between my shoulders.  I considered removing my top but I did not want to discard it because it's my favorite Iron Man tank.

Mile 13 and 14 led me through the Sunset Strip, home of comedy clubs, strip clubs, my old therapy office (I waved as I passed it), and billboards every 2 feet.

I was, at this point, feeling extremely shitty.  I no longer thinking of the finish line, but of "one more mile," left foot right foot, and of meeting the twins, sorely in need of their encouragement.

Mile 15: Mile 15 moves south into West Hollywood.  Jack and Andy finally met up with me.  Both were shocked that I'd gotten so far and were very concerned with my leg.  (It was holding up A-OK in its ankle brace, knee brace, and compression bandage.)  They'd brought Icy Hot and Ibuprofen.  My back, aching for the last two miles, had become close to unbearable.  A half-mile earlier, a tiny Mexican woman had come out and rubbed some Icy Hot onto my back for me.  Jack doled out a few pills and Andrew rubbed my back again as I leaned over a fence.  A few passing runners called to me, "Keep going; you got this!"

Jack tried to convince me to take a ten- minute break but I refused.  Here's the thing: after the first 10 miles, your muscles become hypnotized and you can keep going pretty much infinitely.  But if you stop, if you sit down, you do not get back up.  I knew this and so did he.  Worried I'd hurt myself, he spent a quarter-mile loping beside me, asking me to please consider that my point was proven and I was stronger than a broken leg.  I ignored him. 

Mile 16: Mile 16 marked a transition into an area in Beverly Hills I was familiar with.  We turned onto Burton Way, which is right next to Cedars-Sinai, where Andy works.  This mile followed Doheny Drive.

I would say that this was arguably the hardest mile for me.  I seriously considered dropping out.  My pain was hovering at a 6-7 and I was having trouble lifting my arms.  When I did, to press on my back between my shoulders, I was met with white-hot pain.

Mile 17: Most of the water stops were gone, along with the toilet banks, but I had no interest in water.  I was an automaton, moving forward.  I dragged myself down Rodeo, where the police were in the process of removing roadblocks and re-opening streets, and tourists were getting last-minute pictures of the empty streets and storefronts that were, for once, unblocked by crowds.

My pace had turned into a languid shuffle and I continued to consider dropping out.  We passed the Beverly Hills courthouse and police office, where Andy and I had gotten our marriage license, and went through a small stretch on Wilshire, past several blocks of stores like Saks, Brooks Brothers, Niemann Marcus, Gucci, and Tiffany.

I had proven my point, but damn it, I wanted my medal.  Besides, the Ibuprofen was kicking in and I felt at least a little less pain than before.  Also, I was worried that if I dropped out, I was forever associate my cool new limited-edition sneakers with failure.

I remember that this corner, Wilshire and Santa Monica, was quite close to where I used to work at UCLA.  I considered strongly turning and heading to campus for a pick-up, but then Jack called me to tell me once again to drop out, and spurred on by spite, I continued my death  march.

Mile 18: After two excruciating miles of pain and debating whether or not I'd finish, I got my second wind at mile 18.  We were somewhere in Century City.  Mile 17 was the last marker I had seen.  The rest had been taken down.  At this mile, there were few people left.  Fat people trying to prove that "Healthy At Any Size" is a thing (it's not), people in elaborate costumes or outfits (including a guy in full trival Aztec gear and a firefighter carrying a flag), and people like me, who had suffered injuries and whose completion of the race was uncertain.

 
Mile 19: I was vaguely familiar with this area, in Westwood.  We were very close to UCLA.  My sense of direction was utterly warped and I did not really know where we were, only that the street was Santa Monica.

I was following other "runners" because there was no longer any real "route."   The blinking traffic lights were the only indication that we were still on the right track.  I pulled out my phone and checked the route to make sure I was following it, aware that, from here on out, I was on my own.

Mile 20: As I shuffled past a Starbucks, a lady sitting at a table on the street offered me some water and oranges and told me I was just at mile 20 and I ought to keep going.  Bless this lady.  It was probably past 1 pm and the race was "over."  Most runners had either crossed the finish line already or dropped out.  There were discarded signs along the sidewalk: "Go Eric!" "Kick some Asphalt!"  "Fight on!"

Knowing I was at mile 20, I felt that I could finish.  I called Andrew and told him to meet me at the finish line in two hours, aware that I couldn't possibly be going faster than a walk, even though my movements were run-like.  My knees were no longer bending properly and I could not easily go up and over curbs, but at this point, all runners had been pushed onto the sidewalks by the police, who were opening up the streets again.  We had spent the last two miles passing street sweepers, watching the clean-up process.

I passed the VA at mile 20 and another runner and I, shuffling in place by the stop light, discussed the unfairness of our plight.  We had passed a medical tent being taken down, which was baffling since people at our mile at this time were probably in most need of help.

"I don't know where we are, but we're near the VA.  Probably only like five more miles," he said wearily.  We lost each other the moment the light changed.

Although we were being pushed onto the sidewalk, there were still lots of streets that were closed, and runners shuffled across them in sad little packs, trying to follow a route that was no longer clearly marked.

Mile 21: Mile 21 looped around the southern edge of the Veteran's Park and connected to San Vincente.  Only 5 more miles to go!


Artist's depiction of everyone who was left.

Mile 22: Mile 22 took us through Brentwood, the neighborhood west of Westwood.  I dragged myself past a large golf course and saw my first glimpse of the ocean, which was a welcome sight.  There were sea breezes coming in that were blessedly cool.

The sidewalks now had regular people but they clapped and gave thumbs-up.  Not runners themselves and unconcerned with time, they, like me, saw the merit in finishing and encouraged me not to give up.

Mile 23: At mile 23 I passed several weeping runners sitting down, unable to continue.  For several miles I had been passing these people.  Like me, they were people with a point to prove, and their bodies had simply given out.  Knees and ankles, already wrapped in tape, were no longer weight-baring.  Some had companions with them who were massaging them, trying to help them back up; twice, I saw people supporting their partners' weights in a bizarre three-legged race.  So close to the finish line, I felt terribly for these people.  There but for the grace of God was I.  But I could not stop.  I was trapped in an inertia and was all too aware that the moment I stopped I was done for.  My muscles quivered and at every curb I had to physically pull up my left leg.

I called Andrew again to give him an update: 5K away, but it would take me at least an hour at my pace.  I was now 2 pm and the sun was relentless.

Mile 24: At mile 24 I checked my phone and discovered something useful.  San Vincente ran perpendicular to numbered streets!  Starting with 26th St., the streets provided a useful countdown to the ocean.

Some other runners asked me if I knew how much further it was.  I underestimated badly: probably only one mile, I said.  (It was closer to three.)  I explained that the streets numbered down and then it was a left turn at the ocean.

They were clearly relieved.

Mile 25: I passed 7th St with a sharp, excruciating pain in my left foot.  I guessed it to be a blister than had popped.  From the feel of it, my right foot was covered in blood or serum within my shoe.  Every step was agony.  I was whimpering and grunting as I moved.  The only thing that kept me going was knowing how very, very close I was.  (I still thought I only had a mile.)  My eyes were literally tearing.  My pain was at an 8.

Mile 26: I turned onto Palisades Park, the ocean sparkling brightly.  It was after 3 pm in Santa Monica, more than eight hours since the marathon had begun.  Last year I had remembered a big fair at the finish line, but that was gone.  No one was cheering.  The street was empty, the finish line dissembled, and the after-race fair closing up.  That was it.  My triumph was my own.

Mile 26.2: I followed a path through Palisades Park and spotted a guy wearing a tag that said "Finish Line."  

"...was that the finish line?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

I had crossed it without realizing.  I was told my medal would be shipped to me.  No one congratulated me.  No one clapped.  I kept walking, my right foot screaming with every step as if I was stepped on a nail.  That was it.  I'd done it. 

 
Aftermath:

Day 0: Because the race was over, Andrew had not been allowed to meet me at the finish line.  I walked two blocks to meet him and he put an arm around me to help me to the car.  I was crying a little with pain and also the indignation of being robbed of a celebration.  There had still been stragglers, people crossing at eight-and-a-half hours, and it was these people who had fought the hardest and overcome the most.  For us, the last third of the race had not had any support, physical or emotional, and we had carried through regardless.

We stopped by McDonald's and I got a Shamrock shake.  Apparently they sell these to non-marathon finishers, which I found shocking.  Seems like that might lead to an obesity problem but okay.

Once home, I peeled away my clothes.  My skin was covered in salt as if I'd rolled around in it.  My lips were bleeding.

My left leg had held up surprisingly well, but at the expense of my right leg, which was doing more work.  The issue with my right foot's pain became obvious when I peeled off my sock.

One of my toenails had fallen off.

A blister had formed on two of my toes and on one, the blister was so big that it had pushed under the nail, loosening it like a baby tooth.  The nail wiggled.  I nearly threw up.  Over the next twelve hours, I drained the blister three times, struggling to keep the nailbed covered with a band-aid.

In case you didn't need more reason NOT to run a marathon, be aware that this is a fairly common thing.  You can lose nails.

Day 1 (Monday): I was so stiff that walking was very difficult.  I staggered around like a toddler, holding onto things for support.  I was as weak as a kitten.

Also I discovered I'd forgotten to wear sunscreen; my skin felt too tight and my shoulders, chest, and face were all bright red and hot to the touch.


Day 2 (Tuesday): Still stiff and still sore, but able to get myself off of the couch without needing a medical team to supervise me, I wrote this blog post, reflecting on what I'd learned.
  • Chapstick and sunscreen are a must.
  • Training is a must as well and you are an idiot if you don't do it.
  • Break in your shoes.  Do not buy them the day before and think of the marathon as the break-in event.
  • Marathons are the world's most existential endeavor: you are hurrying to nowhere and you pay a lot of money to do that, and get nothing for it, except for pain.
  • No one should ever run a marathon.
  • Oh God why.
 In conclusion, wow that was awful.  If you run a marathon you absolutely must do it for yourself because, especially if you are slow, old, injured, or out of shape, and finish last, you will be doing it without any fanfare.

You must be driven by your own sense of accomplishment.


However, truthfully, this is the only reason to run a marathon in the first place.  It's the only reason to do anything, really.  To be able to stand up tall and say, "I did it."

...and trust me, as soon as I actually can stand again, I will be doing so with my head held high.