Monday, December 31, 2012

Twenty Miles and a Wild Goose Chase

 I hate geese.

Funny, though, for the first forty-seven years of my life, I had no idea I felt this way about those long-necked, feathery bastards.  Until this past Saturday, in fact, I hadn't had much interaction with them at all.

But at around mile 13 of a scheduled 20-mile run, our paths -- literally -- crossed.

There I was cruising down the road, the rockin' sounds of Tom Petty's "Don't Do Me Like That" pumping through my earbuds, when I noticed a trio of geese hanging out near a picnic table alongside Spring Valley Lake.  As I approached, I briefly made eye contact with their leader, a large gray and white guy with a nasty scar on his beak (I may have imagined that part).  Just as I ran by them, they decided to -- I swear I'm not making this up -- go on a full-scale, take-us-to-DEFCON-one, attack on my lower extremities.  Scarbeak began pecking away at my legs while his henchgeese flapped and squawked directly in front of me, blocking my path.  I ran through them, basically, and when Scarbeak continued his frenetic peck-o-rama, I retaliated with a swift kick to his midsection, increased my speed, and finally managed to bug-out just like the remaining MiGs in the movie Top Gun.

And before anyone goes all "animal rights" on me for kicking a goose, let me just say that I'll feel guilty about that particular evasive action when I see some info about an organization called GETHFK . . . Geese for the Ethical Treatment of Human Friggin' Kneecaps.

Moving on.

As I mentioned in passing a minute ago, Saturday was my very first 20-mile run.  This is a huge milestone for me, because in all of my pre-marathon research it says that you shouldn't go any farther than that during your training because, essentially, the last six miles of a marathon are all guts and determination anyway, so there's no point killing yourself before then.  I completed the twenty miles in about 3:45 which means in order to reach my marathon goal of five hours, I just have to do the last 6.2 (a 10K) in an hour-fifteen.  Now, my best 10K so far is 58:20, so at first glance you'd think that it wouldn't be much of a problem.


The 58:20 was running a 10K right out of the gate . . . not AFTER already going twenty miles and feeling like my legs were about to fall off (and it wasn't just because of the friggin' geese).  Still, the marathon's five months away, so I'm starting to think that finishing in five hours is realistic.  And as I've been saying all along, my main goal is just to finish.  Hitting a specific time goal is would just be a bonus.

Saucony Kinvara 3: The Mercedes of Footwear
I also got some great new gear during the holiday season.  First off, my lovely wife Theresa bought me a pair of Saucony Kinvara 3 running shoes, which are beyond comfortable.  Very light-weight, easy-to-see yellow, and much sturdier than the previous pair I'd been running in.  I also got a gift card to REI (an outdoors-type store) from my mom, which I used to pick up a nice running jacket.  It's all about style, right?

Next time: Fartleks.  They're not what you're thinking.

Recent Runs:
12/26/12:  10 miles, 1:47:20
12/28/12:  6.21 miles (10K), 58:54
12/29/12:  20.03 miles, 3:48:34
12/31/12:  6.21 miles (10K), 1:01:39

Countdown to My Next Event = 19 Days
Ontario Mills 10K
Hosted by the Christian Okoye Foundation
Ontario, Ca.
January 19, 2013

Countdown to the Orange County Marathon = 124 Days

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bloody What?

Prior to the October Mud Run
I only got out running three times this week as opposed to the usual four.  A busy schedule combined with a couple days of crummy weather forced me to shorten the schedule, although I did buy a pair of gloves and a beanie and managed to put in a 10K on Friday even though it was chilly and windy.  That is, it was the southern California version of chilly and windy, which means it was below fifty degrees and the wind was blowin'.  Still, the hat and gloves proved useful.

Our topic this week is "Side Effects of Running."  When I started this project, I assumed that there would be an impact on my body.  I expected to pick up a few blisters (I have), sore muscles (definitely), and maybe even a twisted ankle or tweaked knee (minor, but it's happened).  What I did not expect, however, was to finish a run, remove my jacket, and discover two medium-sized blood stains on the nipple region of my shirt.  But lo and behold, after my long run last week, that's exactly what I found.

With about three miles left in that run, I noticed a dull soreness in my chest and thought that perhaps this was the beginning of a mild heart attack.  You're probably asking, as my wife did, "Now Chris.  If you were out running, and your chest started hurting, why did you not stop and call for a ride?"  Reasonable question.  I figured that a heart attack would be a sharp pain, not soreness.  So I continued on my run ignoring the potential warning sign which was the song "Hearts on Fire" playing on my iPod at the time.  Turns out it wasn't a heart attack at all.  It was nipple-chafing.

After seeing the bloody shirt evidence, I immediately went on-line and Googled "bloody nipples running" and here's what I found.  Be advised, this is somewhat graphic and very creepy.

Now, mine weren't nearly that bad.  But you get the idea.  As I soon discovered, chafed nipples are a fairly common occurrence in distance runners.  Fortunately, it's somewhat easy to prevent by using something called Body Glide, which comes in a stick that looks like deodorant and you just apply it to your chi-chis prior to your run.  I did that this morning, and it worked like a charm.

But wow, talk about a few minutes of the willies.  On the bright side, no blisters.

This Week's Runs:

12/11: 4.17 miles, 43:33
12/14: 6.31 miles, 1:06:13
12/16: 18.0 miles, 3:27:07

Countdown to My Next Event = 34 Days

Ontario Mills 10K
Ontario, Ca.
January 19, 2013

Countdown to the Orange County Marathon = 140 Days

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Monday, December 10, 2012

How Do You Say, "Saucony?"

One thing that I quickly found out when I embarked on this running thing is that you can spend a lot of money on gear, gadgets, and garb.  I know, you're thinking, "It's just running.  What do you need besides a decent pair of shoes?"  And it's a legitimate question, because the truth is, you really don't need anything else.

But want is another question entirely.

For example, it turns out that I'm a bit of a clothes freak, and I have this thing about making sure my shorts and shirts aren't mismatched (at least not to a horrible degree).  So naturally, I've gone ahead and picked up Dri-Fit shirts in an array of colors and styles, several pairs of shorts, and a light pullover jacket for cooler mornings.  Also, it turns out that normal cotton socks tend to cause blisters, so I had to get a few pair specific to running.  They're quite comfortable, actually, although they don't come in argyle.

Moving on to technology, among the first things I did once I got a few runs under my drawstring was to download the Nike Plus app for my iPhone.  The app taps into my iTunes app, so I always have an energetic playlist going during my runs.  Also, Nike Plus tracks my time, pace, distance, calories burned, personal records, and the GPS stores the actual course that I ran on any given day.  The information then syncs up with the Nike Plus website, so I have (mostly) accurate data available at all times.  For a sports/statistics nut like me, this is a really cool thing to have. 

But I've also noticed that the Nike Plus app is not entirely accurate.  For example, one afternoon it showed that I ran at a 4:30 mile pace.  While I'd like to believe that was true, it also showed (on the map) that I ran that pace across a lake.  Since I'm not exactly Speedy Jesus, there's clearly a glitch in the program somewhere.

So naturally I had to upgrade to a Garmin Forerunner sports watch.

This does basically the same thing as the Nike app, only without the music.  So now I use both the watch and the app when I run, and it turns out that the Garmin is far more accurate.  Fortunately, there's a "calibrate" feature on the Nike app so I can tweak the Nike distance to match the Garmin distance.

Okay, so now I've had to purchase clothes, an armband for my iPhone, and a watch.  But wait, there's more.

On my longer runs, I definitely need to have water, Gatorade, and energy gels available since there are no "pit stops" in my neighborhood like there are during official races.  To meet this need, I of course went to our local REI store and got what's called a Fuel Belt (kind of sounds like something Speed Racer would have, doesn't it?).  This is more or less a glorified fanny pack with a couple bottles that clip to it.  I fill one bottle with Gatorade (I like the green) and one with water and that usually gets me through 15 or so miles.  The pouch holds about four or five gels.

What are gels?  Glad you asked.

To provide carbs, calories, and energy during a run, and since carrying a plate of spaghetti and meatballs would be messy, runners use a variety of semi-solid supplements.  I've settled on GU Energy Gels, which are pretty much what you'd imagine.  A foil packet filled with flavored goop.  Most of the flavors are pretty good -- Jet Blackberry, Mandarin Orange, Vanilla Bean, etc.  The chocolate, however, leaves something to be desired.  I suck down one of these every four miles or so, for a quick jolt of energy and some quick nutrition.

So now we're at clothes, a watch, an armband for my iPhone, a fuel belt, and a continuous supply of GU.

And now let's talk shoes.

The first pair of actual running shoes I purchased was a pair of New Balances for about 90 bucks.  They were extremely light, kind of comfortable, and when I ran with them, they made the second toe on my left foot turn black and raised a couple of wonderful blisters on the tops of both feet.  Not wanting to end up footless, I did some online research and discovered that the general consensus on "best" brands of running shoes are, in no particular order: Asics, Brooks, and Saucony.

When making my decision, the first question that occurred to me was, "How the hell do you pronounce Saucony?"  The last thing I needed was to walk into Big Five Sporting Goods, ask for a nice pair of size eleven "suck-CONE-ee" running shoes, and have the shoe expert start laughing hysterically.  A bit of web-browsing took me to the correct pronunciation, which is, "SAWK-a-knee."

Glad I looked it up.

After trying on a few pairs of Asics and Brooks, I decided to go with a pair of Saucony Phantoms (which kind of sounds like an Australian soccer team, when you stop to think about it).  And, oh my freaking goodness, what a difference a decent pair of shoes makes.  Suddenly, my feet weren't threatening to go on strike after every run.  Blisters went away, my black toe returned to its normal pasty white color, and I can run long distances in relative comfort.

Next time: Bloody Nipples.  Not the name of a British punk band.

Training runs from the past week:

Tuesday, 12/4, 5AM: 4 miles, 40:31
Thursday, 12/6, 5AM: 5.18 miles, 52:20
Saturday, 12/8, 8AM: 6.21 miles, 58:44
Sunday, 12/9, 7AM: 16.71 miles, 3:01:02

Normally, I wouldn't run on both Saturday and Sunday because I like to have a rest day before and after my long run for the week.  But it's been a very busy week at work, so you do what you gotta do.


Ontario Mills 10K
Christian Okoye Foundation
Ontario, California

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Live and Let Diet

By request, here is an overview of the diet plan I used on my weight loss program.  Bear in mind that I basically created this on my own using bits and pieces of Atkins, and a lot of intuition and common sense (vegetables, good; pizza, bad).  That being said, I am not a doctor.  I can't guarantee that this is the safest way to go about losing weight (though I don't seem to have suffered any negative repercussions -- I was bald and ugly BEFORE I lost weight).  Before starting any dramatic change in your diet, you should probably consult your physician.

That should fulfill my daily dose of hypocrisy.

Also, you should know that I'm sort of unique in that I don't mind eating more or less the same few things every day or week.  I don't need a tremendous amount of variety, which makes it easier for me to stick to a program.  If you're the type who can't stand eating the same foods a few time a week, you might have to be more creative in your planning.

I didn't eliminate carbs, like you pretty much have to do on other programs.  You'll want to make sure that your carbs are "good" ones, though.  Whole grain wheat bread, brown rice, steel cut oatmeal, stuff like that.  White bread is out.  Rolls, cinnamon buns (really?), white rice are no-nos.  Mostly I kept track of calories and kept under 1500 per day.  Also, I was going to the gym five times a week, so that helps burn off quite a bit.  There's a great iPhone app called "My Fitness Pal" that lets you track your food and exercise, and factors in your weight and age to help you stay on target.  Get it.  It is TREMENDOUSLY helpful.

Anyway, here's what I ate.  You'll notice I'm a fan of convenience.  Lots of local and convenient restaurants were part of the program.

For each meal, select just ONE of the options:

- Steel Cut Oatmeal
- Greek Yogurt (Oikos is my favorite, but Chobani isn't bad either)
- Wheat Bagel

- Caesar Salad (low-cal dressing)
- Chef Salad (low-cal dressing)
- Steak and Eggs (from Taco Mi Hacienda which is probably not all that common . . . so you'll have to find a local food joint or make your own.  Very low calorie and filling, one of my favorite choices)
- Subway Club on wheat bread, no cheese, with veggies and mustard only (no mayo, no oil or vinegar)

- Special K Cereal Bar (I highly recommend the chocolatey pretzel flavor)

- Salmon, green beans, small salad
- Steak, broccoli
- Grilled chicken, mixed veggies
- Flame Broiler: Brown rice bowl w/ white meat chicken and green onions
- Chipotle: Burrito bowl w/ brown rice, salsa, corn, and cheese (obviously, suit your own taste here, but avoid the tortillas and go easy on the beans)
- Omelette w/ bacon and low fat cheese

- Almonds
- Pork rinds (I hate them, but my wife made them a fairly regular snack)
- Fruit (not too much though . . . hidden sugars!)

I always made sure to limit carbs to one meal a day.  For example, if I had oatmeal for breakfast, I'd have the salad for lunch, and one of the dinner options without rice.  If I was having Subway for lunch, I made sure to go with yogurt for breakfast and a carbless dinner (omelette, or salmon, etc.).

This is just the basic outline, you can always add your own preferences within these basic guidelines.  Remember, it's mostly about burning more calories than you take in, and avoid the stuff you know you shouldn't be eating anyway.

Cheat Days: We limited ourselves to one "day off" per month to eat whatever we wanted.  What we found is that we didn't want to eat too much.  A couple pieces of pizza, or an In-N-Out burger, usually satisfied the cravings and we were good to go again.

Challenges: I'm not going to lie to you, the first two or three weeks are VERY difficult.  You'll feel hungry quite a bit . . . so drink lots of water.  But then you'll see some results, your body gets used to the change, and it gets a lot easier.  After a couple months, we didn't even want the cheat days anymore.  Besides, you're eating steak, chicken, Subway . . . it's not exactly that "cabbage soup diet" that was all the rage a few years ago.

Exercise: You'll undoubtedly get good results by sticking to a diet plan, but an exercise program will speed up the process.  Experts say that if you have to choose between dieting and exercise, go with a healthy diet.  I'd have to agree with this, because there were a few guys at my gym who were really big when I started, and after almost a year don't look much different.  My guess is that they'll exercise . . . and then go to McDonald's or something.  Still, if you can stick to a diet and even exercise a few days a week (gym, walking, whatever), you'll get better results. 

So while we're at it, here's a sample workout plan (this is before I started the marathon training):

MONDAY: 30 minutes treadmill or elliptical machine, 30-40 minutes weight training (arms/shoulders)
TUESDAY: 30 minutes treadmill or elliptical machine
WEDNESDAY: 30 minutes treadmill or elliptical machine, 30-40 minutes weight training (chest and back)
THURSDAY: 30 minutes treadmill or elliptical machine
SATURDAY: 30 minutes treadmill or elliptical machine, 30-40 minutes weight training (legs and abs)

There are a LOT of different weight training programs to use based on your experience, fitness, and goals.  Go to for sample workouts.

So, um . . . yeah.  That's all there is to it.  I'm not telling you it's easy, and there are no shortcuts.  Just modify things as necessary to fit your lifestyle, and go for it.

Good luck, and if you're about to jump into a diet plan and change your life, I'd love to hear your story!

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Beginning is Always the Hard Part

You may be asking, as I did, why the heck does this guy want to run a marathon, anyway?  It's a fair question.  I've never been into running before, in fact, I've never been all that much into exercise in any form.  I'll play tennis occasionally, but that's about it.  And when my weight was at its highest, well, forget about it.

But here's the thing.

As I've mentioned before, losing weight was a pretty daunting challenge, especially with the amount I had to get rid of.  And once I met my goal, it almost felt like something was missing (besides my enormous gut).  I needed a new focus, a new target, something that would build upon my newfound fitness level.  But what to choose?  As with most meaningful goals, I wanted to do something that seemed extremely difficult, but not ridiculously impossible.  For example, climbing Mt. Everest was completely out of the question.  I'm not a fan of bitter coldness, I don't particularly want to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and travel, and let's face it, I'd probably get killed. 

Crossing the line at the Hesperia Days 5K
So I thought about running.  I could start off with a mile, and gradually increase distance and/or speed.  It seemed like I could work at my own pace, set intermediate goals, and increase my fitness at the same time.  I talked to some people at work who were runners, and a couple of them said, "A half-marathon would be a pretty good goal.  A few months of training and you'd be ready."

Something about a half-marathon as a final goal just didn't sound right to me.  Almost like it was a half-assed commitment.  After all,  Nike's slogan isn't Just Do Some of It.  John F. Kennedy didn't challenge our astronauts to go half way to the moon.  No, if I was going to do this, it was going to be with one giant leap, not merely one small step (rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong).

Which is not to say that I was planning on running a marathon the very next weekend, however.

My mind made up, it was time to put together a course of action.  I did some research online, and the general consensus from the sites I visited ( is a good one) was that a beginner could properly train for a marathon in about four to six months.  Keep in mind that at no point did I have "winning a marathon" in mind, not even a particular finishing time.  All I knew was that most marathons have a time limit, and I had to beat that.  If I came in dead ass last, so be it, as long as I crossed the finish line before they shut the course down.  One website even had a suggested training schedule, including miles per week and how to break that down day by day.  So I adopted a plan that seemed to work with my lifestyle, and went for it.  The first week, it was three miles twice a week, five miles once a week, and then the long Sunday run (six miles).  The next week, the Sunday run increased to seven.  By the time February rolls around, the schedule will be five miles twice a week, eight miles once a week, and fifteen to twenty miles on Sunday.

Slogging through a 5K Mud Run
I started out by running 5K (3.1 miles).   The first few times, I couldn't even run the whole way, I ended up walking for stretches at a time.   By the third time out, though, I managed to eliminate the walking entirely.  From that point on, I determined that no matter how far I planned to run on a given day, I would run the entire distance.  No walking allowed (except to "refuel" with water, Gatorade, or delicious energy gels, which we'll talk more about some other time).

And a funny thing happened.  I'm a competitive guy, so eventually the whole "I can beat my last time" thing came up.  I figured out that I could probably run a 5K in under 30 minutes.  This isn't a particularly impressive mark, by the way.  The world record is fifteen minutes, and most experienced runners can clock in at around twenty.  But I'm trying to be realistic.  And so far, my personal record (or "PR" if you're a running geek) is 28:34.  My other targets are a 10K in under an hour (current PR is 58:20), and a half-marathon in about two hours and fifteen minutes.

As for the marathon, I seriously just want to finish it in one piece.  But I think between five and five and a half hours is realistic.

So far, I'm feeling pretty confident.  Last week I ran five miles on Tuesday, a 10K (6.2 miles) on Wednesday, eight miles on Friday, and fifteen on Sunday.  So now it's just a matter of building up leg strength, and stretching the limits so I can eventually get to the full 26.2 distance by May 5.

Next time, we'll talk about all sorts of really cool running gear, garb, and gadgets.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

A Change of Pace

Hello again, everybody (or whoever's left, anyway).

As you probably don't recall, since I haven't written anything here in about two months, I've been in the process of dropping weight and increasing my fitness.  As of this writing, mission is mostly accomplished.  I've dropped from 295 pounds to 190, and . . . get ready for this . . . have begun training to run in my first marathon.

I know.

Up until now, my only experience with marathons was the Marathon candy bar.  Remember those?  Twisty chocolate and caramel, good for increasing your blood sugar and ripping out fillings at the same time.  But now, we're talking about running 26.2 miles in under the race time limit of seven hours.  After the time expires, apparently, you're on your own to fight traffic and miss out on the post-race medal and free snacks.

Since this whole idea undoubtedly seems absurd to all of you (as it kind of does to me as well), I'm going to try to document the experience as either a glowing testimony to a man who accomplished something he believed to be impossible, or (more likely) as a posthumous warning to others about the dangers of embarking on a really stupid endeavor that's far beyond one's capacity.  Either way, I hope it'll be fun reading.  I'll try to provide updates every week or so, right up to the marathon date.

To fill you in on what you've missed, I am currently signed up for three official events which are as follows:

January 19, 2013: Ontario Mills 10K,  Ontario, California
March 10, 2013: San Diego Half Marathon,  San Diego, California
May 5, 2013:  Orange County Marathon,  Newport Beach, California

Just so you don't think I'm completely out of my mind (not that you'd be wrong, but go with me here), I am in fact training for these events.  Back in September, I began a running program that basically consists of four runs per week.  Three of these are relatively short runs (3-6 miles), and Sundays are reserved for a "long run."  The idea of the long run, according to various online resources, is to increase the distance by a mile or so every week until you get to 20 miles.  The idea here, I suppose, is that once you can run 20 miles, the last 6.2 in a marathon is a matter of will and survival.  Sounds great, doesn't it?

Three months into the program, I'm up to 15 miles for the long run, the most recent of which was yesterday morning.  It's getting easier, but I'm usually sore for a day or so afterward.

So thus begins my weekly (or so) journal of a former fat guy preparing to run a marathon.  This, of course, should not be seen as a "how-to" guide or anything remotely resembling advice on fitness or running (aside from research from more credible sources that I may add along the way).

And as a refresher, here's a reminder of the sorry state I was in less than a year ago, along with a more current shot:

January, 2012
October, 2012

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Shape and Out of My Mind

So now that I've reached my final goal weight, I'm able to do a lot of stupid things that I always had a pretty good excuse not to do when I was fat.  Saying "no" to authentic New York pizza comes immediately to mind.  Not that it's easy to find New York style pizza in Southern California, but I think you get the drift.  Come to think of it, there is a great place about fifty miles from where I live called NYPD (New York Pizza Department) that can whip up an outstanding pepperoni pie (comes in two sizes -- BIG and BIGGA), virtually indistinguishable from the culinary masterpieces available at Ray's Pizza in midtown Manhattan or Mr. Assante's in Green Brook, NJ.

But I'm not here to talk to you about pizza.

No, today we'll be discussing the other ill-advised things the "new and improved" me has decided to subject myself to.  For example, walkjogrunning.

walk-jog-run-ning [wok-jah-GRUN-ning] verb: Moving forward at varying speeds while remaining upright, usually done by someone trying to run full speed but who is not in good enough shape to pull it off.

Every year, our little community has a weekend-long festival, including a parade, carnival, and all sorts of fun events.  There's also a 5K run (jog-walk) for anyone to enter, regardless of age, fitness level, or apparently intelligence.  Well, a bunch of folks from my workplace decided it would be a good idea to sign up as a group and go for it.  So we did.

Now, I know darn well that if I just show up on the morning of September 22nd having not trained even a little bit, take a three-point stance at the starting line and take off down the street, I'm going to look pretty foolish.  Mostly because the 5K run is scheduled for September 15th, but also because I'd probably develop shin splints (whatever those are) sometime during the first half-K.

So naturally I've started "training."  I measured off a 3.1 mile course (that's the real world equivalent of five kilometers (or kilometres) for those of you in Canada (or maybe Europe) and now it seems like I've gone and let the parenthesis get away from me.  Hang on, while I count back.)))


Okay, I measured off a 3.1 mile course and gave it a go.  The first night was heavy on the walking, light on the running, and I turned in a time of 44:28.  Clearly, no one is going to mistake me for Sebastian Coe.  But since then (a week ago) I've been able to get my time down to under 35 minutes, jogging almost the entire way.  So now I'm probably ready for the big day, coming up this weekend.

At least, I should be able to avoid the hospital.

But wait, that's not the only stupid fitness-related endeavor I've signed up for.

Later this week, I'm headed off to glamorous Burbank, California (about a 90-minute drive) to interview for the hit insane television show "Wipeout."

For those of you unfamiliar with this mass-media menagerie of masochistic mayhem, the premise of the show is to take about a dozen unsuspecting saps and run them through a variety of obstacle courses designed to kill them.  From bouncing off gigantic red balls, to getting punched out by a wall of boxing gloves, it's a no-holds-barred one-sided pummeling.  The good news is, if someone manages to survive this gauntlet, they win $50K (or about 30 miles).

My interview (along with my teammate -- we're auditioning for the "Bosses and Employees" episode) is scheduled for this Thursday night.  I've already completed the online questionnaire, which in itself was a blast, so it's on to the "meet the producers" portion of the competition.  Who knows where it will go from there, but it'll be fun to give this a shot.  If I don't get massacred.

And just think, a mere eight months ago I got fatigued just going from the couch to the refrigerator to grab another slice of leftover New York pizza.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Salamander Surprise

When Mike the Whip's mother packed his lunch for school that day, she had no idea that, less than an hour later, he would be adding an amphibian to his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Mike's culinary embellishment wasn't the result of a desire to try new delicacies, it wasn't because he was looking for a unique source of protein, no, Mike shoved a salamander into his PB and J for one reason only.

We dared him to.

Mike the Whip was one of those kids -- every neighborhood has one -- who simply could not refuse a dare.  Whether it was feeling up Debbie Esposito, jumping his Huffy over five trash cans, or swiping a six-pack of Old Milwaukee from the local Stop-N-Shop, if you said, "Hey, Mike, I dare you to . . . " it was one hundred percent guaranteed that The Whip was going to take you up on the challenge.

Paul, Mike, and I were third graders at Parker Elementary, a school named not for the great bebop alto saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, but simply for the street on which it was located.  The three of us walked to and from school every day (yes, kids -- in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways), and since we had little tolerance for boredom or routine, we made a point of never taking the same route twice.  Sometimes we'd walk along Route 28, other times we'd take a series of side streets, and every so often we'd take the "scenic route" through the nearby woods.  The term "attention deficit disorder" wasn't part of the cultural lexicon in those days, but if it had been, we would've been the poster boys.

On the day in question we chose the scenic route, and began the trip by tossing five aluminum cans into the brook to see which one made the trip downstream the fastest.  We dubbed this race the "Indy-can-apolis 500."  Actually, Paul and Mike named it that, voting down my suggestion of "Can-tucky Derby."  Being kids, we didn't consider the ecological ramifications of introducing even more garbage into New Jersey's water supply, even after sitting through Woodsy Owl's "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute" assembly earlier in the year.  We thought Woodsy was kind of a douche, and besides, this was the Indy-can-apolis 500 we were talking about.

So we were strolling alongside the brook, cheering on race leaders Mario Can-dretti and Aluminum Unser (the A&W Root Beer and Orange Crush cans, respectively), when Mike said, "Hey, look, there's a couple salamanders down by the water."

"Yeah, so what?" I asked.

Mike walked down the bank to get a closer look.  "I think they're cool," he said, scooping the black and tan lizardish creature in the palm of his hand.  "Check it out."

Paul and I checked it out, completely disregarding the tin cans racing down the home stretch.  The little bugger must've been a baby, only a couple inches long, half of which was its tail.  And it was slimy.  We passed the salamander back and forth, letting it scurry up and down our arms.  I don't know what put this thought in Paul's head, but out of nowhere he said, "Hey, Mike, I dare you to eat it."

"Eat what?"

"The salamander.  I dare ya."

I know what you're thinking.  That's simply ridiculous.  No way is a kid going to eat a living reptile.  And if we were talking about any other kid, I'd agree with you.  It's crazy, it's stupid, clearly, the potential havoc to one's digestive system would prevent any child from even thinking about such a stunt.

But you never met Mike the Whip.

Mike and I met when we were three years old, and were friends for the next decade.  During that time, there never seemed to be any discernible criteria for what he considered to be food.  It was disturbing, actually.  He'd eat dirt for no particular reason.  On another dare, he swallowed fifty-seven cents in small change (five dimes, a nickel, and two pennies).  He jokingly said later that when he took his next dump, it was two quarters and seven pennies.  And on several occasions Mike's tendency to swear led to the consumption, albeit involuntary, of small pieces of Irish Spring soap.

Eating a salamander wasn't out of the question, is what I'm saying.

Mike took the thing in his hand and looked it over.  "Can I kill it first?"

"Nah, I dare ya to eat it alive," said Paul.

"Okay, fine, but you gotta at least let me put it in my sandwich or something, otherwise I'd probably just cough it up or gag."

"Yeah, Paul," I said.  "That way it'll be easier for him to swallow it whole, like a chunk of food."  And maybe he'll accidentally bite it in half, squirting guts in his mouth, is what I was silently hoping for.  Best friends or not, that would've been awesome.

Mike handed me the salamander and opened his lunch bag.  "I got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I'll stick him in that.  Either of you guys got something for me to wash it down with?"

"I got something in my thermos," Paul said, flipping the latch on his official Scooby Doo lunchbox.  "Apple juice, I think."

"Aw, man," said Mike.  "Apple juice is disgusting."

"Uh, Mike?" I said.  "I'm not trying to be picky here, but you're about to eat a live salamander.  I don't think the juice is gonna be your main problem."

"Yeah, but still, you don't have any Dr. Pepper?"

"Sorry," said Paul.

Mike unwrapped his sandwich, peeled back the top slice of bread, and I placed the salamander on the bed of peanut butter.  He squeezed the bread together, so that only the tip of a tail was poking out.  I can't imagine what the poor salamander was thinking at this point.

"Okay, open up the thermos, I'm gonna need the juice pretty quick."

The next sequence of events is burned in my memory, as vivid as if this all had happened yesterday instead of almost forty years ago.

Mike stared at the sandwich for about thirty seconds, mentally blocking out the fact that he was about to eat a live squiggly-wiggly.  Closing his eyes, he took a bite, making sure to leave plenty of clearance to avoid biting the thing in half.  He stuck out his hand, shaking it frantically -- Paul's cue to hand him the thermos.  Mike took a swig of apple juice, and swallowed the chunk of PBJ and S without chewing.

Time stopped.


In the years that have passed, I've come to the conclusion that this was simply a trick of the imagination.  Surely, the salamander couldn't have survived the trek down Mike's throat into a pool of stomach acid.  Imagination or not, though, Mike was absolutely convinced that he had a live lizard crawling around in his belly.

Which is probably why he violently barfed out everything he'd eaten since pre-school.

Looking down at the yellowish pool of vomit -- bile, chunks of Pop Tart, dead salamander -- Mike shook his head.

"Man, I told you.  Apple juice is disgusting."

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Friday, June 22, 2012

We've Lost a Welterweight Boxer

As I mentioned a couple months ago, I've been on sort of a "blogging hiatus" so I can focus on getting my fat ass into something that resembles "shape." Over the last six months, I've been eating right and going to the gym regularly, and since I've just about reached my fitness goals, I figured I'd go ahead and tell the story.

First, I might as well show you a couple "before" pictures.   I of course realize that no matter my heft, I'm quite a handsome stud of a gentleman. But as you can see from the photos, I was packing on quite a few extra pounds. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when we went to Sea World, a couple of the elephant seals offered to buy me drinks.

Chowder in a bread bowl.  NOT approved.
These are from the last few years, not incredibly recent, but you get the idea. Trust me, I was at least this big back six months ago, when I came to the startling realization that something had to be done.  I had reached a point where I'd just about accepted the fact that I was a fat guy, and I figured what the hell, I'm in my 40's, might as well enjoy life, enjoy food, and be a happy, jolly, unhealthy overweight slug.  So what if  I had to use a breathing machine at night so I didn't snore and choke myself to death in my sleep, that was a mere inconvenience.  We all have our challenges, right?

Sometime around Christmas, I decided to get on the bathroom scale and assess the damage. While the number I was looking at would've definitely gotten me into the finals at the Lumber Liquidators U.S. Open on the Professional Bowlers' Tour, it was not good news when it came to my weight.

So I decided to take action.

Homer Simpson's stunt double?
The first step was to create a diet plan that I could live with, which was going to be a challenge. I'm a big fan of burgers, fries, pizza, nachos, all sorts of stuff that would make the South Beach Diet guy burst into barbecue-scented flames. I knew, obviously, that I'd have to give up all the good stuff, and since I had no desire to simply starve myself, I had to find healthy cuisine that I would sort of enjoy.  Fortunately I don't need a lot of variety in my diet, so once I came up with a menu that seemed workable, the dieting turned out to be fairly easy. Breakfast consists mostly of steel-cut oatmeal with a touch of cinnamon and Sweet and Low. For lunch I'll have a salad, or tuna and cottage cheese, or maybe steak and eggs from a nearby restaurant (Taco Mi Hacienda, to be specific). Occasionally I'll enjoy a six-inch Subway Club on wheat, no cheese, no oil or vinegar. And of course my dinner options are chicken, fish, steak, veggies, an omelette with sausage, or sometimes a brown rice and white meat chicken bowl from Flame Broiler. Snacks? Special K bars, fresh vegetables, and lots of water.

I mix in one "cheat day" per month just for sanity's sake. Let me tell you, there is no food quite so tasty as Cheat Day Pizza.

But as the fitness gurus will tell you, there's more to losing weight than simply eating lawn shavings and gristle. To supplement my new-found healthy eating habits, I joined our local 24-Hour Fitness club. My wife Theresa decided to get on the "get-in-shape bandwagon" with me, so now instead of watching TV and scarfing down Cheetos at night, we go to the gym. I won't bore you with the entire program, but essentially we work out six times a week, for about 90 minutes per visit. We do 30 minutes on the treadmill every night, 30 minutes of weight training four nights a week, 15 minutes in the sauna, and occasionally 15 more minutes on the elliptical machine or stationary bike. At first this routine was exhausting, but as time went on it got easier. Of course, as the weight came off and my muscles grew stronger, the exercising wasn't as difficult. And once you see results, your motivation just sort of snowballs.

Also, I can't say enough about 24-Hour Fitness.  The club in our neighborhood is relatively new, with state-of-the-art exercise equipment, a basketball court, swimming pool, spa, sauna, and a nice selection of fitness classes (Theresa loves Zumba). The staff is terrific, especially those working at the check-in area. They always welcome members with a smile, often remembering the names of the "regulars." Our favorite is a girl named Alicia, who treats me and Theresa like we're her favorite members in the entire club. While we'd like to actually believe that, I'm sure she treats everyone that way. In short, if you're looking to join a gym, I give 24-Hour Fitness an enthusiastic "two biceps up."

And now, the results.

From January 4, 2012 to today (June 22), Theresa and I have lost a combined total of 160 pounds which, to provide some perspective, is fifteen pounds or so more than Sugar Ray Leonard weighed when he fought Roberto Duran for the World Welterweight Championship.

Aside from looking and feeling a hell of a lot better, I no longer need the sleep apnea machine. My blood pressure has returned to normal, and I actually enjoy shopping for clothes at stores that aren't managed by a guy named Omar the Tent-Maker. In short, life is good. Here's a look at what dieting and exercise have done for both of us.

On a sad note, the elephant seals are no longer interested.

Afterthought: If you're like I was, struggling with your weight and your health, I would like to encourage you to take the leap of faith and do something about it.  As I said, this whole process (as of this morning, I've lost exactly 80 pounds) took less than six months.  Yes, it takes commitment and focus (basically, aside from work, getting in shape was pretty much our entire life), but think about it this way.  If you start right now, by Christmas you'll feel like a brand new person.  Six months, people.  Looking back, my only regret is that I didn't do this years ago.

Good luck, and if you decide to go for it, I'd love to hear about your progress.  Feel free to e-mail me at

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Day I Never Thought I'd See

And they didn't even give me a coronary in doing it . . . 6-1 over the New Jersey Devils, the outcome never in doubt.  I've been a Kings fan for 23 years . . . and there have been some pretty bad seasons in there.

As of last night, it's all been worth it.  The Cup in L.A.  Never thought it'd happen.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Three Down . . .

I hesitate to say too much here for fear of jinxing things, but for those of you not keeping up with the Stanley Cup Finals, here's a brief summary of the proceeding so far:

Game 1: Anze Kopitar undresses Martin Brodeur and scores in overtime giving the Kings a 2-1 victory.

Game 2: Despite being outplayed for most of the game, the Kings hang tough and win it in overtime once again, this time on a beautiful goal by Jeff Carter.

Game 3: Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has allowed a ridiculously low 24 goals over the first 17 games of the playoffs and who apparently has Slinkies instead of bones, shuts down the Devils and L.A. cruises to a 4-0 victory.  Seriously, it's like the Kings have an octopus playing goalie for them.

One to go, boys.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Ever Happened To . . . The Little Engine That Could?

It was a beautiful morning in Toyland.  The Slinkies were walking downstairs (alone AND in pairs), the Hungry Hungry Hippos were enjoying a good meal, and the Duncan yo-yos . . . well, the yo-yos weren't doing much of anything because for the most part they're a bunch of lazy bastards.  Meanwhile, on the other side of Mount Whiteman, hundreds of good little boys and girls (and a couple of obnoxious brats whose sense of entitlement was truly disgusting) eagerly awaited the arrival of toys and goodies scheduled for that afternoon.

The train was loaded and ready to go.  As it pulled away from the station, however, Ellsbury the Engine sustained an injury which caused him to grind to a halt.

"Hey, Ellsbury, what the hell's going on up there?" hollered Raggedy Andy.  Andy was an impatient asshole to begin with, and since Raggedy Ann had gone over the mountain a week earlier, he'd been anticipating their reunion with lust in his nether regions.  He was going to loosen her stitching tonight, that was for damn sure.

"I think I snapped a connecting rod!" cried Ellsbury.  "I can't move!"

"Well shit," said Rollo the Clown, snuffing out a Marlboro on the sole of his size 38 Chuck Taylor sneaker.  "Someone get this worthless sack of nuts and bolts off the track while I flag down another engine to take us over the mountain."

A few minutes later, a passenger engine pulled up.

"Hey, bro, how about giving us a lift over the mountain?" asked Rollo.  "Ellsbury crapped out before we even got fifty yards so we're pretty much screwed."

"Piss off, clown, I only pull passenger cars.  You and G.I. Joe can sit out here all night for all I care."

As the passenger engine sped away, Rollo gave him the finger.

A rough-looking freight engine came by next.  Rollo decided to try a more diplomatic approach this time.  "Why, hello there, Mr. Freight Engine.  We seem to be in a bit of a pickle here, as you can see.  Would you mind hooking up to our train here and taking us over the mountain?  We'd be ever so grateful."

"Aaaaaaaaaah!" screamed the freight engine.  Like 99% of the world's population, he was scared to death of clowns because they're friggin' creepy, so he chugged off without looking back.

"I hate it when that happens," muttered Rollo, lighting up another cigarette.  Off in the distance, he noticed a small-but-enthusiastic-looking engine heading their way.  It was Phillip, the train yard rookie.  With all the other engines dispatched to their usual duties, Phillip was the toys' last hope.  Rollo couldn't risk blowing this one.

"Hey, Barbie!" he yelled.  "Get your ass out here!"  He quickly briefed her on the situation.

"No problem, Rollo," said Barbie.  "I'll take care of it."  She adjusted her outfit into "full slut" mode, and stood by the tracks.  Phillip went from 50 MPH to a dead stop in about half a second, sparks spraying from his wheels.

"How YOU doin'?" he said.

Barbie laid it on thick.  "We're in so much trouble," she sobbed.  "Our engine, who isn't nearly as strong or as good-looking as you, he broke down and now we can't get over the mountain.  The good boys and girls won't be getting any toys for a long time if we can't get there.  Do you think you could help us?"

"I think I can," he said, half to himself.

"Oh, I'm SURE you can," purred Barbie.  "You're the best."

Phillip never would have admitted it, especially not to Barbie, but he wasn't sure he could pull this one off.  He was the new engine in town and had never gone over the mountain before, not even alone.  With a fully-loaded train of cargo, Phillip was afraid his crankshaft had made a bet his power supply couldn't cover.  Well, no turning back now, he'd have to give it his best shot.

And faster than you can say "all aboard," they were off.

Phillip kept chanting his confidence-building mantra all the way up the mountain.  "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can . . . "  It wasn't easy, but with maximum effort (and sultry encouragement from STD Barbie, who was painting her nails in the engineer's seat), he made it to the top.  At the summit, he beamed with pride and all the way down he boasted, "I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could."  Phillip had saved the day and when he pulled into the station, the toys disembarked and showed their appreciation by hosing him off and giving him a good scrub.  Barbie polished his smoke stack.

For the next several months, Phillip was the "Big Engine in Train Yard."  He was well-liked by the other locomotives, and they'd taken to calling him "The Little Engine That Could".  His confidence was sky-high, as he was assigned to all the important shipments in a five-county region.  But after a while, Phillip's ego spun out of control and he started acting like he was "all that and a boxcar full of iPads."  That's when the steel-toed boot of reality kicked him square in the ball bearings.

One morning, Phillip was hooked up to fifty cars loaded with brand-new Porsches.  This was, by far, the heaviest and most expensive shipment he'd ever been responsible for. 

"You up for this one, Phil?" asked the train yard captain.

"I think I can, Joe.  I think I can."

"Well, that's good enough for me," replied Joe.

As it turned out, Phillip was wrong.  About halfway up the mountain, he started slowing down.  "I hope I can, I hope I can, I hope I can . . . "

Two minutes later, as he was being dragged backwards down the hill, his screams became even less confident.  "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT!  OH SHIT!  OH SHIT!"

The ensuing damage was reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina if, instead of wind and rain, Katrina had pelted the Gulf region with a torrent of train parts and mangled sports cars.  Carreras burst into flame, Boxsters bounced down the hillside, Phillip himself was pitched into a cow pasture where he landed at the feet of a startled Holstein.

When he returned to the train yard, he was no longer a hero.  He was a laughing stock.

"Hey, look!  Here comes The Cocky Engine That Couldn't!"

"I think he sucks, I think he sucks, I think he sucks!"

Locomotives can be a bunch of assholes when they put their minds to it.

After the Porsche Incident, Phillip's confidence was shaken.  He became irritable, and refused to pull any load that was more than a couple flatcars, preferring instead to transport cargo that was inexpensive and had limited desirability.  Things like throw pillows, lawn furniture, DVD's of "The Office".  Joe the Train Yard Captain grew frustrated with his defiance.

"Come on, Phil," said Joe one day.  "Snap out of it.  Today's run is just a few oil tankers, it'll be easy."

"Leave me the hell alone, Joe.  I'm not going to do it."

"What, are you saying you can't?"

"No.  I think I can.  But I don't want to and you can't make me."

That's how he came to be known as "The Oppositional-Defiant Engine That Wouldn't".

No one has much use for a freight engine with a shitty attitude, so the train company had no choice but to sell Phillip to a local zoo where he spent the rest of his days giving kiddie rides to snot-nosed children eating cotton candy.  Then, in July 2005, a circus act came to town to give a special performance at the very zoo where Phillip worked.  That's when the engine noticed an old friend approaching.

"Rollo, how the hell are you?" asked Phillip.

"Dude, what the fuck?" replied the clown.  "How'd you end up doing this shit?"

Phillip told him the story.

"Damn," said Rollo.  "Isn't this a little humiliating?  You look like a beaten-down pile of garbage.  Have some pride, man, you're better than this."

"You know, I used to feel that way, but the hell with it," said Phillip.  "Right now, I'm just The Apathetic Engine That Doesn't Give a Damn."

Phillip the Freight Engine broke down for good in 2008.  All of his metal parts were recycled, and no one knows for sure what became of him.  But his old friend Rollo has a theory:

"I think he's cans.  I think he's cans.  I think he's cans."[1]

[1]  I apologize.  That's just awful.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Warning: This is a story about my testicles.  Proceed with caution.

Every guy knows the indescribable pain of getting hit square in the nuts.  Doesn't matter if it's a baseball, hockey puck, combatant's knee, wayward paw of an overly-enthusiastic German shepherd, you take a shot to the man-biscuits, you're in a world of hurt.

Let me pause here for a quick disclaimer.  Ladies, I know that at this very minute you're shaking your head and muttering under your breath about how no man will ever understand the pain of child birth.  I'm not disputing this.  I'm not suggesting that a Wiffle bat to the gonads compares in any way to popping a nine-pound bundle of goopy flesh out from between your thighs.  You win, I get it.

Anyway, this isn't a story about me getting hit in the jewels.  I was merely raising a point of reference for guys out there about a pain I felt the other day, similar to how your balls feel about a day and a half after you take a direct shot.  A dull ache, uncomfortable but not excruciating.  This had been going on for a couple days, and since I hadn't suffered any trauma to the groin region recently, I was a bit concerned.  So I figured I'd better give the boys a brief inspection.  To my horror, the right nut felt a bit misshapen.  I'm certainly no doctor, but there's not much question that extra-testicular lumpage can be a symptom of something scary.

So I had Theresa take me to urgent care.  She was surprised, as it normally takes an act of Congress to get me to see a doctor.  But as I said, a wacky juevo is not to be taken lightly.

Dr. Nguyen (pronounced, inexplicably, "Win") inspected the area and asked a few questions.

"Any pain when you urinate?"


"Pus-like discharge?"




"Does it hurt when I do this?"


"Okay, could be a couple of things, we're going to have you go downstairs for an ultrasound."

So I went to the ultrasound room and met Carolyn, the whatever-you-call-someone-who-works-in-the-ultrasound-department.  Without any preamble or light "get to know you" conversation at all, she rigged up a hammock-like contraption using nothing but a common white towel, adjusted a certain object that was blocking her view of Heckle and Jeckle, and took a series of photographs.

"Okay, those look pretty good."

"Why thank you."

"I mean, I don't see any unusual masses or anything."

"Ah.  Well, that's good."

The process took about twenty minutes.  After reassuring me that she didn't think the problem was serious, she sent me on my way.  An orderly came down to wheel me back upstairs, according to his badge, the guy's name was Nick.

"So, how'd it go?" he asked.

"Well, Nick, I must say I'm a little disappointed."

"Why's that?"

"When you brought me down here, I saw a lady who got to keep her ultrasound photos.  Carolyn didn't even ask if I wanted to keep mine.  Seems unfair, doesn't it?"

"Should we go back and ask for them?"

"Nah . . . but maybe it would be funny to have her give mine to the next pregnant woman who comes down.  Tell her she's carrying a pair of pudgy twins."

After about an hour, the ultrasound results came back and Dr. Nguyen told me it was probably just a swollen something-or-other from over-exertion.  I told him I've been going to the gym and lifting weights, and he said that could very well be the cause.  So I'm backing off on that for a while, at least until the pain goes away.

I'm 47, and this was my very first "Holy crap, I think I might have cancer" moment.  I'm happy to say it was a false alarm, but it was still scary.

I thought I was gonna go half-nuts.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Interview With Hannibal Blatch, ACME Company CEO

Hannibal Blatch, ACME CEO
The Acme Company, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the most diverse manufacturing and distribution companies in the world today.  For decades, customers from Alabama to Zimbabwe have looked to Acme for pet supplies (Acme Birdseed), recreation (Acme Jet-Propelled Pogo Stick), novelties (Acme Explosive Tennis Balls) and even for local weather control (Acme Do-it-Yourself Tornado Kit).

Today we're happy to have Acme's long-time CEO Hannibal X. Blatch here with us to talk about his company's history and shed some light on a controversial lawsuit filed against him in the 1970's. 

Knucklehead Humor: Thanks for talking to us today, Mr. Blatch.  Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about your company's history.

Hannibal Blatch: Yeah, sure.  The original owners of Acme were Ron and Josephine Farkle, who started the company in the 30's as a roller skate shop.  You remember those old metal skates that you had to have a special key to adjust the size?  Ron and his sons made the skates, and Jo ran the front of the store.  It really was a mom and pop operation.  They began to expand in the early 40's, adding a variety of other toys like Acme pogo sticks, Acme red wagons, and Acme hula hoops.  Acme's Toy Store grew in popularity and then in the 1952 the business just exploded.

KH: You mean, sales increased dramatically?

HB: No, I mean the factory blew up. See, Ron and Jo's youngest son Frank was into firecrackers and other explosives and was something of a pyromaniac.  He was trying to improve on Acme's original product, the roller skates, by adding external propulsion mechanisms, or as they're more commonly called, rockets.  During initial testing, Frank's first pair of rocket skates exploded upon ignition, blowing the entire Acme factory sky-high. 

KH: My god, was anyone hurt?

HB: Uh, yeah, the guy wearing the skates was Jackson Pollocked all over the floor. 

KH: Okay, changing the subject.  How did you get involved with Acme?

HB: Well, by this point Ron and Jo Farkle had turned the day-to-day operation over to Frank and their other son Martin.  Those two rebuilt the factory pretty much from scratch and decided to make Acme an all-purpose manufacturing and distribution company.  They moved away from toys and expanded into areas like novelties, military gear, hardware, anything you could think of.  I applied for a job in the warehouse and started out literally sweeping floors and stocking shelves.  Martin Farkle took a liking to me, and gradually gave me more responsibility.  From the warehouse I was promoted into the shipping department, then up into the business department, and after Frank passed away in 1962 and Martin retired a year later, the board of directors appointed me CEO. 

KH: So you could say you really did start at the bottom and worked your way to the top.

HB: I think I did just say that, in so many words. 

KH: How did the company evolve under your leadership?

HB: I just followed the course that the Farkle Brothers had set, continuing to expand our product line.  Acme became a household name, featuring products like Acme Roller Skis, Acme Giant Springs, Acme Earthquake Pills, and so on and so forth.  Our product development department was staffed with geniuses from MIT and Caltech, and they came up with some brilliant ideas.  My personal favorite is the Acme Invisible Paint.  One coat of that will render any object completely invisible.  I painted my car with that stuff once, and you should've seen the looks I got on the freeway. 

KH: So is it safe to say that you took the company from being an innocent toy manufacturer to producing a diverse line of dangerous -- some would say lethal -- products?

HB: Lethal?  No, I wouldn't say that our products are . . . wait a minute, you're referring to that stupid legal bullshit from several years back, aren't you?  Wile E. Coyote was a complete buffoon who used our products for purposes other than which they were intended.  There is nothing inherently dangerous about, say, the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes, but if you're going to be stupid enough to attach them to a large boulder, you deserve whatever harm befalls you.  But despite his own colossal stupidity, Coyote decided to sue us anyway.  I'd call it a frivolous waste of time, but unfortunately the courts saw it differently.  Simply put, Wile E. Coyote was a conniving liar, looking to make a buck at Acme's expense. 

KH: Well, that lawsuit put Acme on the front page of every newspaper in the country and cost the company millions.  There must've been some truth to the plaintiff's allegations.

 HB: None whatsoever!  I'm telling you, our stuff is safe.  Just because Wile E. Coyote got hurt while using, or more accurately, misusing Acme products doesn't mean the products themselves are to blame.  Hell, ANYTHING can cause injury in the hands of an idiot.  People spill hot coffee on themselves, but I don't see you getting all up in Maxwell House's face for producing "lethal products."  It's ridiculous.  I challenge you to name even one Acme product whose main purpose is to cause harm. 

KH: The Acme Giant Catapult comes to mind.

HB: Okay, look.  The catapult was a key exhibit in the lawsuit because Mr. Coyote apparently can't read a warning label.  It's right there on the side of the device, "Do not stand directly behind catapult after loading, because if the load is too heavy, the entire catapult may tip over backwards and crush the hell out of you.  The user is advised to stand off to the side of the catapult to ensure his safety."  And anyway, who uses a catapult and a boulder to catch a friggin' roadrunner?  It's ironic, isn't it, that Coyote intended to use the catapult to harm the roadrunner, but it ended up harming Mr. Coyote. 

KH: So you admit that the main function of the catapult is to cause harm.

HB: Maybe when it's used by Mr. Coyote, but history has shown that he can harm himself with pretty much anything.  Rocket skates, anvils, a Christmas package machine, giant rubber bands . . . he's just a world-class injury magnet who doesn't learn from his mistakes.  But to answer your question seriously, the Acme Catapult was never intended to be a weapon.  It's more of a display item. 

KH: What are your personal feelings about Mr. Coyote?

HB: If it weren't for the fact that he screwed us out of millions of dollars, I'd actually feel sorry for the guy.  He was so focused on catching that damn roadrunner that he barely noticed all the physical pain and suffering he caused himself.  In a weird way, that's kind of admirable.  But at the end of the day, he was a liar and a cheat and for that I can't forgive him.  And that's a shame, because he was always our best customer.  No one's done the math, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of the money he won in the lawsuit was money he'd paid to us in the first place.   

KH: Did the lawsuit have any impact on Acme's product line, or on how you do business?

HB: It set us back a bit at first, we had to lay off some employees and streamline our distribution routes, but other than that it was business as usual.  Most of our business now comes from Internet orders, which helps with some of the overhead.  And because our company is so diverse, we're not as susceptible to the current economic downturn.  We'll be fine. 

KH: What do you see for Acme in the future?

HB: Just continuing to do what we do best, provide our customers with a wide selection of top-quality merchandise at competitive prices.  You need birdseed, call Acme.  Running low on axle grease, call Acme.  In the mood for a thrilling ride, who are you going to go to for a jet-propelled unicycle?

KH: Acme?

HB: Damn right.  We've got it all.  That's what ACME stands for, A Company Making Everything.

KH: Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Blatch.  Best of luck to you.

HB: No problem, thanks for having me.


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Monday, March 26, 2012

Fishing With Grandpap

For the gung-ho bass fisherman, there are few places in the U.S. better than Central Florida, specifically Orlando.  There are hundreds of lakes in the area, from the bucket-sized Lake Dot to the expansive Lake Jessup, many of which feature fish camps where anglers can go after an Eden of bass, perch, catfish, and an unmatched variety of panfish.

None of that meant a thing to me out on Lake Silver, however, as I sat in a banged-up aluminum motorboat with my 250-pound grandfather, lightning crackling across the sky and rain pounding down upon us.

"Whassa matter, there, Chris?" Grandpap asked, unlit cigar hanging from his mouth like a wet sponge.  "Yer not gonna let a little rain roon the day, are ya?"

If this was "a little rain" I'd hate to see what Grandpap would call a downpour, but the rain was the least of my worries.  First off, there was the lightning.  My third grade class had recently learned that objects made of metal, fishing boats for example, were excellent conductors of electricity.  I was a nervous kid with more than my share of mortal fears, and being struck by lightning was right up there with fire, roller coasters and, of course, clowns.

"No, Grandpap, I'm fine," I lied, looking down at him.  Grandpap's weight, combined with that of the outboard motor, created an imbalance that left me jacked way up in the air.  I was not "fine", wasn't even in "fine's" area code.  On a scale from one to ten, I was freaking petrified.  My pants were soaking wet, and I assure you it wasn't just from the rain.  I shivered in my bright orange poncho forgetting all about our pursuit of largemouth bass, picturing instead my body getting ravaged by lightning bolts, pitched into the water, and chomped to bits by a strike force of hungry alligators who were undoubtedly gathering off the starboard bow.  All the while Grandpap, I'm sure, would be chastising me because my blood-curdling screams and thrashing around were "skeerin' away all the fish."

We braved the elements, though, (and by "braved" I of course mean there was no way I was going to muster up the courage to ask to go home) and after about half an hour, the monsoon subsided.  We stayed out on the lake until sunset, Grandpap reeling in a string of monstrous bass while I caught six pounds of flotsam and pneumonia.

And that was but one of our many fishing expeditions.

Bill "Grandpap" Knight was my maternal grandfather and, as he was only too happy to tell anyone who would listen (or pretend to), he was the greatest fisherman to ever wield a Fenwick Trigger Stick fiberglass rod.  The only traveling the Knight family ever did was fishing trips, or weekend jaunts up to Suwanee River country north of Gainesville to visit Grandpap's mother (known as Grammy) where they'd all go, yes, fishing.  Everyone in the family fished, not just Grandpap.  The menfolk would fish the river all morning for red-bellies, stumpknocker, shellcracker, bream, and whatever else they could fry up in a cast-iron skillet.  Around noon, the rest of the family would meet them down at the riverbank for a fish fry.  They'd feast on fish, grits, hush puppies, and watermelon fresh from the garden.  As Mom says, true soul food is the food of people making do with whatever's on hand.

I was Grandpap's first grandchild and as such, I learned to fish before I learned to tie my shoes.  I picked up a lot of fishing lingo just by listening to Grandpap, terms like "back-trolling," "crankbait," and "quit throwing stuff into the water." If we're going to be honest about it, though, I never really got the hang of the actual "fishing" part.  While it's true that Grandpap spent many hours on the lake trying to teach me, whether or not I actually learned anything depends on your interpretation.

For example, he taught me to cast the line.  In theory, it was simple.  Pull the trigger on the Zebco 202 reel, bring the rod back over my right shoulder,  then whip it forward and at exactly the right moment release the trigger, sending the baited hook hurtling out into the lake.  Grandpap demonstrated this about ten times, and with a confident, "Awright, now'ts yer turn, give 'er a good fling," he handed me the rod.

I wound up and let it fly.

"Okay, now, next time yer gonna leggo the trigger jes' a little sooner," said Grandpap, calmly dislodging the hook from his left ear.

With practice, my casting skills rose to the level of "not horrible" but that was the extent of it.  And in the many trips we took over the years, I never caught a single thing.  Well, that's not entirely true.  One time, my hook embedded itself in the downy skull of an unlucky mallard and while I thought it should qualify as a legal catch, Grandpap and the Florida State Game Warden had a different opinion.

"Grandpap, look!  I caught a duck!"

"Ya shore did.  Ya usin' live bait or jus' the plain ol' hook?"

Always the sportsman, Grandpap guided the boat over to where the duck was flailing around in the water, unhooked him, and set him free.

"Better let 'im go," he said with a chuckle.  "That one's under the minimum size limit."

Over the years, my brothers went along on the fishing trips as well.  My youngest brother, Bobby, seemed to inherit some of Grandpap's skill.  He always caught a fish or two every time we went out, and Grandpap nicknamed him "Hot Rod."  I wasn't jealous, though.  Sure, my brother was a better fisherman than I was, but he never got to experience the "thrill" of lightning storms or the "prestige" of hooking our grandfather's ear.

Grandpap passed away about ten years ago, leaving a void in the lives of his family, Moose Lodge buddies, billiards rivals, and fishing companions.

But Central Florida became a much safer place for largemouth bass.


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Monday, March 19, 2012

Hi Everyone!

Okay, this is awfully presumptuous of me, but in case you've been wondering, "What ever happened to Knucklehead?" (you know who you are), the answer is:

Nothing, really.

I just haven't had the time to get much writing done.  I've been getting in shape, though.  No, I'm not kidding, I've actually made a commitment to losing weight and getting healthy.  No more In-N-Out Burger (okay, once, on a "cheat day"), and I've been hitting the gym five or six times a week.  And it's working . . . lost 40 pounds since New Year's.  Only 30 more to go to get ready for the cruise in June, at which point, I'm spending a week eating whatever the hell I want to.

So what else?

Work is going well.  I'll spare you the details, but being in a position of leadership is very rewarding, and I'm lucky enough to work with some outstanding people.  I recently finished reading a book entitled "Focus on the  Good Stuff" by Mike Robbins, and it is truly inspirational.  Not only has it impacted how I do my job, but it is also highly applicable everyday life in general.  Check it out on Kindle, or order your copy from Amazon.  Hang on, I'll save you the trouble and give you the link myself.

Here you go.

So, having a week off from work, I thought I'd stop in and say hello to everyone and let you know I haven't just vanished into oblivion yet.  I hope to get back into the writing routine soon, and when that happens you'll be the first to know.  Thanks for hanging in there (assuming you've been coming by often and perusing the pure literary genius that is the Knucklehead archives).

Delusion is really a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Take care,

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Friday, February 24, 2012

What Ever Happened To . . . Thing One and Thing Two?

Mike and Mark Fitzmulligan were identical twins, born in Springfield, Illinois in 1952.  For the most part, the boys' childhood was unremarkable.  They were friendly young men and excellent students, adored by their teachers as well as their peers.  After school, the boys worked part time at the market owned by their parents Henry and Connie, where they stocked shelves, swept the floor, and bagged groceries.  The Fitzmulligan Twins were among the most popular and well-liked kids in all of Springfield, which makes what happened to them even more tragic.

One afternoon in April of 1967,  Mark was manning the checkstand when a suspicious-looking customer entered the market.

"Good morning, sir, welcome to Fitzmulligan's," said Mark.  "Can I help you find anything?"

"Why yes," answered  a six-foot three-inch black and white cat wearing only a red and white hat and bow tie.  "Where do you keep your tuna?"

"Here, let me show you," said Mark, stepping out from behind the counter.  "The canned fish are right over . . ."

That's as far as he got.  Without warning, the cat clubbed the unsuspecting twin over the head with an umbrella, dragged him out to the street, and tossed him into a large wooden box in the bed of a 1962 Ford pickup.  The cat closed the latch on the box trapping Mark inside.  That's when Mike came out of the store, trying to figure out why his brother was no longer working the cash register.

"Excuse me, sir," he said to the cat.  "Did you happen to see my brother?  He's about four-foot two and looks, well, exactly like me."

"Why yes, he's standing right there behind you.  I don't know how you missed him."

Mike fell for it -- hook, line and sinker.  When he turned around, the cat whacked him with the umbrella and loaded him in the box with his twin brother.  The cat climbed into the driver's seat and sped away.

For the next month, the felonious feline subjected the Fitzmulligan twins to various types of physical and mental torture.  He dressed them in identical red jumpsuits, dyed their hair a hideous shade of blue, and fed them nothing but brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts and Jim Beam whiskey.  To dehumanize the twins, the cat referred to them only as Thing One and Thing Two; if the boys dared to call each other by their given names, the umbrella came out and the beatings commenced.  The two Things spent most of their time drunk out of their minds, and the cat only let them out of their box when he wanted to vent his anger, which often included playing a game he called "Hit That Thing".

In addition to being a violent psychopath, the cat was a petty thief and he often took Thing One and Thing Two with him on jobs, one of which has been well documented.

It was a rainy Saturday morning.  Sally and Tommy McCrumm were left at home, just the two of them, while their mother Josie went to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping.  Mrs. McCrumm was a single mother, and while she would have preferred to hire a sitter to look after her children (Tommy, the older of the two, was only eleven), her budget didn't allow for such luxuries.  Most Saturdays this wasn't a problem, as the kids were fairly responsible, but on this particular afternoon some adult supervision would've saved an awful lot of heartache and paperwork later.

As Tommy would explain to the investigating officers, at around 1:25 PM something went "bump", and that bump made them jump.  They looked to see what caused the noise, and that's when they saw him.  They saw him step in on the mat.  They looked, and they saw him, the cat in the hat.  Tommy immediately told the furry intruder to leave the premises, as they weren't allowed to have visitors while their mother was out.  The cat, however, ignored the boy's pleas and began to destroy the family's possessions.  He started with a book, a teapot, a cake, a rake, and most troublesome of all, a glass bowl containing the family goldfish, Mr. Krinklebine.  The cat later claimed that he was merely trying to juggle these items to entertain the children, but Sally insisted, "the cat wasn't juggling at all, he just tossed everything up in the air.  The cake splattered, the coffee cup shattered, and if Tommy hadn't caught the fishbowl, Mr. K was a goner."

As the kids scrambled to clean up the mess, Mr. Krinklebine screamed at the cat, "Get out of here!  You should not be here when their mother is not!"  The cat did, in fact, leave the house at this point, only to return moments later carrying the wooden box containing two things formerly known as Mark and Mike Fitzmulligan.  As usual, the Things were completely hammered, and as a new twist, the cat had laced their morning Pop Tarts with a healthy dose of PCP.  When the cat opened the latch, Thing One and Thing Two shot out of the box like a couple of hyperactive weasels zapped with a cattle prod.  For the next hour and a half, Sally and Tommy McCrumm (and Mr. Krinklebine) experienced a level of chaos unmatched in the entire history of poorly-supervised pre-adolescents.  The cat and the Things flew kites in the house, played tennis, and caused a variety of damage to the floors, walls, and the overall structural integrity of the McCrumm house.  After the drugs wore off and the Things slowed down a bit, Tommy was able to capture them in a net and secure them back inside their box.

By this time, Mrs. McCrumm had finished her shopping and was about to return home.  In a rush, the cat haphazardly straightened up some of the wreckage (though the plumbing and electrical work would require extensive repairs by certified professionals which created a financial hardship for Mrs. McCrumm, since her homeowner's insurance did not cover damage caused by psychotic cats and drug-crazed teenage Things) and fled the scene.

Mrs. McCrumm asked Tommy, "What the hell was going on here?  This place looks like a bomb went off!"  Tommy was an honest kid, so he told his mom an accurate, if watered-down, version of the day's events.  Mrs. McCrumm immediately contacted the authorities, who questioned the children.  Mr. Krinklebine refused to talk to the officers without his attorney present.

Meanwhile, the cat drove away at a breakneck speed and when he turned the corner, the box containing the Things fell off the truck and smashed on the pavement.  Confused and injured, One and Two sat down on the curb where they were soon picked up by the police.  Using information the Things provided, Officer Marvin K. Mooney and his partner were able to track down the cat at his home and launch an investigation.

As it turns out, the hat-wearing cat was much more than a petty thief and vandal.  His real name was Skitch Morris, and the ransacking of the McCrumm home was but the latest (and least disturbing) of the cat's criminal activities.  An extensive search of Morris's home revealed drug paraphernalia, unregistered hand guns, and an extensive collection of underground kitty porn stashed in a closet.  To top it off, buried in the backyard, crime scene investigators found the bodies of three Sneetches who had been brutally murdered a few months earlier.  Apparently, two of the Sneetches had been tortured prior to their deaths because while one Sneetch's belly had not been mutilated, the others had scars upon thars.

Skitch "The Cat in the Hat" Morris was convicted on all charges and sentenced to death.  His execution was carried out on February 7, 1978.

After six months in a drug rehabilitation facility and three more in a mental hospital, Mark and Mike Fitzmulligan returned home to their parents in the summer of 1969.  Though not quite the same as they were before their abduction, both boys were able to return to Geisel High School that September and graduated the following June.  Neither of the twins discussed the details of their ordeal ever again.

After high school, Mike went on to the University of Northern Michigan where he majored in criminal justice.  He served thirty-five years with the Lansing Police Department, and retired in 2009.  He currently lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan with his wife Mitzi.  They have three grown children and seven grandkids.

Mark, on the other hand, spent his time redefining the word "lazy".  Uninterested in attending college and unwilling to look for work, the disturbed twin never moved out of his parents' house.  He sat around all day in his underwear, eating potato chips, drinking root beer, Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper, and any other soft drinks he could find in the refrigerator.  One afternoon in early '71, while completely hopped on pop, Mark stole the keys to his father's '69 Chevy Impala and went for a drive.  He didn't make it very far.  While speeding on the Interstate, Mark lost control of the vehicle and collided with an eighteen-wheeler transporting a shipment of Spaghetti-os to Pittsburgh.  In a gruesome avalanche of twisted steel, burning rubber and neat round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon, the Chevy tumbled down an embankment killing Mark instantly.  The driver of the truck was uninjured, although he could never quite get the smell of tomato sauce out of his trailer.

At the funeral, Mike Fitzmulligan spoke fondly of his twin brother.

"I loved him, man, we were two brothers sharing one soul.  We looked out for each other, we took care of each other, we shared each other's secrets.  As most of you know, we went through a terrible time together, but we were able to put that behind us and move on with our lives.  At least, I thought we had, but it seems now like Marky needed me more than I thought.  I wish I'd been there for him at the end.  That's one Thing I'll never forgive myself for."


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