Friday, October 31, 2003

When I actually notice air quality, it's really bad. Let's put it this way: when I lived at USC, I was about 7 miles south of the Hollywood Hills. On a beautiful day they showed up clear as a bell. On a bad smog day, they were a wraith-like apparition. Now I live 4 miles farther north, which is about 3 miles from the mountains. Wednesday morning I couldn't see the mountains. At all. No suggestion they were there. Imagine a heavy fog but that makes you start coughing if you're outdoors for more than 3 minutes at a time. That's what wildfire smoke did here, and I'm at least 20 miles away from the nearest blaze. It's kind of disturbing.

I'm getting out of dodge for part of the weekend--Gourab the Bengali Bengal Fan and I are road-tripping out to Tempe. It kind of makes me ill that Miami-San Diego was free but they expect people to actually pay to see the Cards and the Bungles. Well, maybe they don't actually expect it per se, but it is a pre-condition for seeing the game live. So we're doing it. It could be painful--but chances are it will be less painful than not paying to watch the Steelers. Sigh.

Monday, October 27, 2003

In case anyone was wondering, I am not, in fact, en fuego. Only rich people who can afford houses in the hills normally take the brunt of these things. In this case, it seems that some non-rich people in the inland valleys are taking it on the chin as well. But here in the L.A. Basin, everything is fine. Except, of course, for the 95-degree heat and annoying ongoing strikes. But, you know, I'll take that over fiery death and destruction.

The nice thing, though, is that Santa Ana season is always one of the prettiest times of year in the L.A. Basin, because the winds blow all the smog out to sea, so it's clear as a bell. What would be really cool would be to go walking in the mountains, but, you know, bad times...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Here's a result that should be to the shock and dismay of none:

FWIW, I only watched about 8 episodes of "I Love the '80s Strikes Back" last week. Hal Sparks and Michael Ian Black still amuse, but I think they're starting to run out of good material. If there's a third version, I imagine interviewers asking questions like, "So, where were you when the movie 'Casual Sex?' came out?" "Did you see that one?", and a lot of celebrities going, "Um, it sounds vaguely familiar," or "Don't remember that one" or just, "Huh?!" And it turns out the last one was Andrew Dice Clay, who was actually in "Casual Sex?"

Two highlights of the second version for me:

2. Rick Schoeder saying that the Coreys introduced him to Billy Idol in 1984. Cut to Corey Feldman saying, "I don't remember introducing Ricky Schroeder to Billy Idol, but then I don't remember a lot of things from that year."

1. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on "Benson": Robert Guilliame became the first African-American to star in a really shitty show. That was very important to a black entertainer...who loves shit."

LSAT email came in: 169. A little less than I was hoping for, but still 98th percentile so I can't complain.

I could rant about the Steelers for a while, but I just can't deal with it right now. 2-5 sucks. Instead a random other football observation: Whenever an NFL game gets into a Hail Mary situation, the announcers always go on and on about hoping for a pass interference penalty, and how the game can't end on a defensive penalty. Has anyone ever seen pass interference called in this situation? EVER?!

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A brief history of Joe's weight:
When Joe was in second grade, he weighed 101 pounds. This was discovered a few years ago from some old school record the nature of which he has now forgotten.
When Joe was in fifth grade he played his only year of organized football. Although he was only 9, he played "Mighty Mites", which was for 10- and 11-year-olds. The reasons were twofold--having skipped a grade, he was with his classmates in Mighty Mites. More importantly, "Termites" has a weight limit of 90-something pounds, which he never would have made. Mighty Mites had a weight limit of 111 pounds; Joe made weight for exactly one game and played one uneventful offensive series and an equally uneventful defensive series at tackle.
When Joe started 11th grade he weighed 295 pounds. That January he started lifting for sixth months and doing karate. He got down to 270 pounds, but was back to about 290 by the start of college.
During Joe's first two years of college he had a 19-meal-per-week meal plan with only all-you-can-eat cafeterias available for that meal plan. The less said about this the better.
During the summer after Joe's junior year of college he worked at Kennywood Park. On one 95-degree day he got a mild case of heat exhaustion and went to the hospital as a precaution. At the hospital he stepped on a scale, the upper limit of which was 350 pounds, and he was off the top end of the scale. For no particular reason, he decided in his mind that he weighed 370 pounds and considered that his weight for the next six years, during which time he did not step on a scale.
On June 21, 2000, Joe went to the USC fitness center and sought help. For the next two years he worked with a personal trainer. During the early part of that time he continually stepped on the 350-pound-limit scale with no result.
At some point in May 2002 Joe was taken into the depths of the USC P.E. Building semi-surreptitiously and put on a special scale that indicated his weight at 360 pounds. Joe and trainer Omar guesstimated that Joe had lost 50-60 pounds during the previous two years, which would have put him at a weight he doesn't even want to think about. This number is a total guess, but it seems right.
During the July 2002-August 2003 Beallsvonian Captivity, Joe did not exercise or particularly watch his calories. After the Captivity ended, Joe returned to Southern California and the gym and found that he weighed 361 pounds--a net push, although the relative fat and muscle ratios no doubt changed in very negative ways.
At that time, Joe was given a computerized readout of his projected progress if he follows his program. While Joe knows deep down that these numbers are fairly arbitrary and that the apparent "science" behind them is merely a faux precision for marketing/motivational purposes, seeing on paper a projection that would theoretically lead in 96-to-115 weeks to a 215-pound version of Joe was like a Kuhnian paradigm shift--seeing a whole new world of possibility completely changed his outlook and, truth be told, has been a major reason why he has been able to get up at 5 a.m. every weekday to do the things he has to do.
On October 21, 2003, Joe stepped on the scale after his workout and checked in at 349.75 pounds. There is nothing particularly magical about this number, except that it was verifiable proof that Joe has reached his lowest weight since he was (at the most recent) 20. Joe realizes that the difference between 349.75 and, say, 351 is a good BM and a shave, but nonetheless considers this to be a watershed day in his program.
Joe will re-emerge from Rickeyspeak mode next time, but desperately needed to get this all out and somehow found the third-person slightly less difficult.

Monday, October 20, 2003

There should be a new "memetracker" thingy where John Ashcroft used to be (if only he were so easy to replace in real life). Thanks, DEK.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

In the words of Pee-Wee Herman, connect the dots, la la la-la...

  • Strike 1: The LA mass transit strike has been a major disruption for me. I suppose I'm fortunate relative to many bus riders--I have a car, I just choose to ride the bus for cost and stress reasons. So it's been an inconvenience and an expense to drive last week, and possibly this week and beyond, but I'm sucking it up. At least I'm learning interesting new ways in and out of downtown.
  • Strike 2: The LA grocery strike is a second disruption. Rather than cross the picket lines, I took the chance to do some of my shopping at Whole Foods yesterday. I enjoyed it, though I hope I don't have to do it all the time. It turns out I buy some fairly ridiculous stuff when I go to a place like Whole Foods. Yesterday's trip netted me, among other things, a bag of frozen edamame, a pomegranate, pre-packaged grape leaves, cherry cider, and green tea ice cream. Suffice it to say I normally don't end up with these things when I shop at Ralph's.
  • Why is it that I can never remember whether music and fashion were always the passion, or music and passion were always the fashion?
  • I wanted to buy a papasan chair on Saturday and I checked the phone book for the nearest Cost Plus, where I bought my last one. The yellow pages sent me to The Grove, one of many local examples of New Urbanism, a trend of putting semi-upscale apartments Joe can't afford, semi-upscale retail Joe can't afford, and insufficient parking all in one place. It turns out Cost Plus either was one of those places torn down in order to build The Grove or never existed in the first place and is in the phone book as a cruel hoax. So I got my papasan today in Glendale, but only after wandering around an upscale shopping plaza yesterday feeling out of place and discombobulated--always a fun afternoon.
  • One mitigating factor/silver lining in the Thursday night broadcast of the Yankees and Red Sox--the return of WINGMAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNN!
  • Two of the CDs I got recently from Columbia House were More Best of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits' Used Songs. These were important purchases, because I just didn't have enough CDs that could make Mary Worth advise suicide.
  • No disrespect meant to the stairmaster or Butt Blaster, but I have a new favorite exercise to watch at the gym. This is actually an exercise I occasionally do, but I'm not the one to watch. Here's the exercise: imagine a weight bench parallel to a wall. Sit on the middle of the bench facing the wall with your hands on the bench right next to your sides. Now, supporting your body with your arms, walk your feet out toward the wall until your butt is far enough off the bench to be clear of it. Now, working the triceps, lower and raise your own body weight as if your were raising and lowering it onto...well, whatever one might raise and lower ones body weight onto in this position. Yes, the reverse cowgirl is officially exercise. Seeing a svelte young barely twentysomething doing this at the gym the other day is one of the few things I've seen in my life that literally made my jaw drop.
  • Jefferson (the roommate, if you didn't know) and I have a running joke based, like many of our running jokes, on a Loveline running joke. It is the misuse of the word "figuratively" the opposite of the way people often misuse "literally". Thus if someone might say, "It is literally a million degrees in here," then Jeff and I might say, "It is figuratively 74 degrees in here." Good times.
  • Another of my new CDs is Elvis The #Ones. I can't say that I have a single favorite Elvis song, but I have favorites in caetgories. My favorite young Elvis song is "Don't". My favorite Elvis cove if Mac Davis is "In The Ghetto".. My favorite Elvis song performed to great effect on an annual Johnny Carson Tonight Show anniversary show by Sam Kinison is "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" ("I wonder if, you're lonesome tonight. You know I wonder a lot of things, like are you human or ARE YOU A LIZARD WITH A REALLY NICE HAIRDO!! OH-OHHHHHHHHH!!!!) But the most underrated Elvis song in my book is unquestionably "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such As I". Why isn't this one of his 4 or 5 most famous songs?
  • OK, here's one problem I have with the Elvis, though. It's the song "Teddy Bear". Yes, one problem is that I have to remember not to sing, "I just want to be your Teddy Graham." But the bigger problem is with the chorus:
    "Baby let me be your lovin' teddy bear
    Put a chain aroud my neck and lead me anywhere
    Oh let me be, your teddy bear."

    Here's the question: who treats their teddy bear like Zed treats The Gimp?!?!
  • I watched Auto-Focus last night. That Bob Crane had issues, and they came weekly. Oh, and here's a surprise: Willem Dafoe was totally believable as a really creepy guy.
  • I know I'd be a really bad stand-up comedian, because all I'd ever think up would be bits like this that I know no one else would find funny: So I was thinking about Kenny G and Ali G and wondering if they are related somehow. Maybe by marriage. And I wondered what the "G" stood for. So I looked it up, and it turns out that it's just like Harry Truman. That's right, the "G" stands for "S".
  • Finally, I'd like to leave you with my impression of every Yahoo Personal ad I've read the last two weeks:
    (Insert number between 22 and 33)-year-old girl seeks a smart, funny guy to hang out with. I'm looking for someone who's honest, nice, won't play games, and can hold up their end of the conversation. Looks are unimportant. No, I totally mean it--it's what's on the inside that counts. I want a nice guy. Someone with inner beauty. Someone who reads, like movies, and enjoys quiet nights together. Did I mention looks are unimportant. Just nice. That's all.
    P.S.: No fat guys.


Friday, October 17, 2003

Leave it to Major League Baseball to find the only matchup out of the 4 possible World Series that I had no interest in. Jesus fucking Christ do I hate the Yankees. And my other option is to root for Jeffrey Loria. How is it that I love sports so much, but sports so frequently make me hate life?

Monday, October 13, 2003

Joe reviews things:

  • I've read three baseball books since I've been in L.A., the ubiquitous Moneyball, the timely Autumn Glory, and the excellent Breaking the Slump.
  • Moneyball is, of course, the story of the Oakland A's and baseball's sabermetric revolution. Many people have been writing about this book and for good reason--the story of how actual systematic research is starting to replace conventional wisdom as the tool for evaluating talent is a fascinating and important one to tell. At its heart, this book really says something about ongoing anti-intellectualism in our culture, and how we tend to overvalue "experience" as opposed to analysis and understanding. This is not the book to read if you are looking to learn about sabermetrics itself (I am, FWIW, statistically illiterate myself, but a big believer regardless); for that you should pick up anything ever written by Bill James. But Moneyball is a good read for baseball fans, and has something to say more generally about the culture of sports.
  • Autumn Glory by Louis Masur is a chronology of the 1903 (i.e., first) World Series. To my mind it barely qualifies as a "history", because to my mind history analyzes rather than just trying to present the past. If you want an at-bat by at-bat account of the Series plus some well-worn stories thrown in for color, then this is the book for you. I was disappointed because Masur is a professional historian, but he writes the type of book that journalists and other non-pros tend to write when they dabble in history--long on facts, short on analysis or deeper meaning.
  • Breaking the Slump is the most interesting baseball book I've read in a very long time. Unlike Masur, Charles Alexander is a historian who writes like a historian taking baseball as his canvas to paint a broader picture, rather than writing like a baseball fan dabbling in history. Alexander's book is about baseball and the Great Depression. What Alexander sets out to do is to write a social history of ballplayers--what was it like in the '30s to be a marginal player? a minor leaguer? a star? a Negro Leaguer? Alongside this story we do get the standard narratives--the Gas House Gang, the beginnings of night baseball, the rise of the DiMaggio-era Yankees--and interesting sidelights such as contemporary medical treatments for a sore arm (pulling teeth and tonsilectomies--I'm not making this up), the economics of player-managers, and reports of Lou Gehrig's annually increasing struggles with "lumbago". If you want a book that does an excellent job of contextualizing on-field developments (at a time when there were many interesting ones) with off-the-field events, this would be a great choice.
  • I haven't seen many movies lately, but I did enjoy Lost In Translation. This is not a wacky Bill Murray comedy, and it's also not a film driven by a strong plot. But it's a good looking film, and its does a strong job of subtle things like setting tone and mood. Scarlett Johansson and Murray are an odd pairing of Americans emotionally dazed as they make their way through Tokyo, though at very different places in their lives. Some people will probably be bored by it, but I found it aesthetically interesting and a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
  • I also read Joan Didion's collection of essays After Henry. These essays are primarily from the '80s and deal with national politics as well as California and New York. I find Didion's takes on things continually interesting and often surprising, but inevitably stimulating and worth reading. These were no different. Particularly notable to me was her take on Los Angeles and New York, not in one particular essay but developed over several, about why Los Angeles works and New York doesn't. You may or may not agree her take, but it's a fascinating read.
  • I just got a new introductory shipment of CDs in from Columbia House, because I'm like that boxer who just doesn't know when to retire or that Loveline caller who keeps going back to her beating, cheating boyfriend because she "loves him". But regardless, I have a new pile of CDs. I haven't listened to many of them yet but there are two definite winners so far--Elvis' No. 1s, and The Donnas' "Spend The Night", which I'd call just flat-out balls-out rock and roll if it weren't by a girl group, so that's not real accurate. But it does kick ass.
  • Finally, a couple of weeks ago I re-read The Grapes of Wrath, in an effort to (a) assuage guilt for not reading it in grad school, (b) see if it made more sense to me than it did in 9th grade, and (c) incorporate the phrase "Goddamn Okies" in my vocabulary. Check, check, and check! Oh yeah, and it was also on The List, from which I still have to read 8 books to achieve my stated goal of 50. It didn't count as one of the eight since I'd already read it, but I hoped it would get me back in that mode. We shall see. As for Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath is a tough call for me: I can see its brilliance now, but I also have a problem with the basic underlying message--not politically, since I'm a flaming lefty and all, but with the notion that going back to the land and keeping the family together as opposed to going to the big anonymous city is a particularly good idea. Being a big believer in cosmopolitanism over, say, agrarianism, I can't get behind Steinbeck in that regard. But it remains a powerful social critique nonetheless.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Notes from the gym:

  • The gym plays a strangely eclectic selection of music. 50 Cent is in heavy rotation, but there isn't much other hop-hop. There's a lot of '80s pop and '70s classic rock, and then just a whole lot of random. I was doing a chest exercise the other day and I almost dropped the weight when I heard over the speakers, "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!" Other than me, who else finds the Bay City Rollers to be motivational gym-type music?!
  • My workouts are three "days"--a chest and back day, a legs daym and an arms and abs day. I do each day twice a week. I also put in a stint on the exercise bike each day--originally 35 minutes, but now I'm up to 40. I program the bike for "cardio", which means the bike adjusts resistance to maintain a more or less constant heartrate, based on your age. Right now I claim to be 45 years old--this allows me to maintain a heart rate at aroud 140. I am working my way toward my actual age of 28, which would mean maintaining a heart rate of 154. When I started, I was "60" which meant a heart rate of 126.
  • The reason the bike routine gets stepped up very gradually is that I have big strong legs from the basic act of locomotion when I was so heavy, and this means the resistance has to be pretty high for me to keep my heart rate high. The plus side of this is that I burn a lot of calories--over 500 a sitting if the meter is to be trusted. The downside is that between the 8 and 16 minutes marks I always have an internal monologue about whether this is the day I don't make it through the whole workout. But so far so good, I guess.
  • The parking lot at the gym is free from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but during the day you have to pay. As a gym member you get a passcard that opens the gate, but at 7:10 a.m. it shuts off and you have to pay at the booth. It so happens that my schedule has me finishing up between 7 and 7:20 every morning, so I've always got a mental debate going on about whether I should do that extra set or get to the gate before I have to pay. It adds a fun tension to the workout, and a useful sense of urgency not to dawdle on exercises longer than necessary.
  • For about 10 days the satellite that feeds music to all the clubs in the 24 Hour Fitness chain was malfunctioning, so we had no music at all. Working out in silence is eerie. Instead of a beat you just get a few seconds of silence and then a clank as plates come together somewhere.
  • There's something disheartening about consistently having to remove most of the weight on a machine, and I most consistently have to do this on chest machines. For some reason, I have no chest muscles. Or rather, when I started I had no chest muscles--now I have almost no chest muscles.
    That said, there is a special section of hell reserved for the people who do 1,000 pounds on the leg press machine, and then don't remove any of the plates when they're done. Preparing for my 270-pound presses after those people is actually an exercise in and of itself. Given the chance, I will smite them.
  • The gym is, of course, a voyeuristic as well as a physical experience. I find girls working out very sexy--ok, they're more likely to be fit because they work out, but what I actually mean is the process. Specifically, there is a row of Stairmasters in front of the row of bikes, and a shapely girl on a Stairmaster is a sight to behold--everything that should be nicely accentuated is. The only machine that has anything on the Stairmaster is something called the Butt Blaster. On the butt blaster, the exerciser assumes what for lack of a better term I'll call the doggie-style receiver position. They then take one foot and put it onto a pad that they kick back from their body at about a 45-degree angle. Again, if the person exercising has the figure for it, the effect is downright disarming.
  • Suffice it to say that in Southern California such voyeuristic experiences are common, but also varied. People of every shape, size, race, color, creed--whatever--go to my gym. Sometimes I'll even see a woman of Middle Eastern descent on a cardio machine wearing full head cover and head to toe robes. I'm not sure how one can work on, say, the elliptical machine that way, but they seem to manage. I of course prefer the sports bra and shorts or tights look (to see, not to wear), but to each her own.
  • Not that anyone should, say, take the MCAT based on my knowledge of anatomy and physiology, but my understanding is that when you lose fat and build muscle, you produce less estrogen and more testosterone, and therefore certain drives and whatnot tend to start raging. I don't know if this is true or if having this "knowledge" produces some sort of placebo effect, but looking back on the second half of this entry does nothing to dissuade me of this idea, and it also describes my recent physical state pretty accurately.
  • Yeah, I know, too much information.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

The test seemingly went well yesterday, though it's always hard to say. I didn't bomb it or anything. Since it's probably a matter of where I placed in the first percentile--if my practice scores can be trusted--I guess I can't complain. I wasn't very stressed out at any point on the day of the test, and I realized that a big part of that was that next to Ph.D. qualifying exams, which were 4 day-long essay exams in two weeks, 130 multiple choice questions just wasn't so bad.

In other ways things have been a little rough the last few days. With my LSAT classes ending, I've finally had a little bit of time to breathe, but for whatever reason that has also brought in something of a depressive funk. I'm feeling a bit lonely--when I was here before I was in a structured situation with a lot of colleagues who naturally became friends, and I'm not in that place anymore. So I'm just not connecting with as many people or as often as I'd hoped. I'm also realizing that I'm desperately overdue to find a girlfriend or at least to start dating, but it's been so long since I've been in that place that I feel like I'm starting with no skills at all. I had this awkward flirtation with a woman in one of my classes, but then obviously there are problems there, and I'm just not sure how to start turning affable conversation into something more--and how to read the other person and see if that's a possibility. I think I'll work my way through all of this, but it's made for, as I said, a bit of a funk.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

I'm now down 8 pounds from my initial weight (making me currently as low as I've been since I was 18 or 19), and last Sunday I got a 180 on a practice test. On paper, my life sounds pretty good right now. As it's being lived, it's more of a blur. LSAT classes are done and the test is Saturday; hopefully after a rest-of-weekend bender, we should resume something of a regular publication schedule next week.