Friday, March 26, 2010

The dry run, Part II

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It strikes me as a rather happy accident, or possibly no accident at all, that the route I've chosen requires roughly an hour and a quarter to traverse.

Which is the exact amount of time, plus or minus a couple minutes, it used to take to get to this same job from my old apartment up on the 20th story of the Horizon House in Baltimore. Down that slow, rickety elevator, out the door, up Calvert I'd go, presently cutting over to St. Paul to race-walk north for a block or two, Penn Station's grand stone archways already visible up the street, framed by a gantlet of red-brick rowhouses.

And then it was on to the MARC, that lonesome hourlong trip to be made twice each weekday, from Baltimore to D.C. and back, the bulk of these many hours (a year and a half's worth) thoroughly uneventful and numbingly dull: all sleeping or reading or staring out the window at the gray-green swampland the color of uncooked scrapple between the two cities.

And maybe it's no accident people thought that was just as ridiculous a commute as this new idea.

But I've missed it. Like Joan Didion says, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. The stars of our own movies, the protagonists in our own running roman-à-clefs, it's when life becomes static and romanceless that things lose their luster. And what's more romantic than beginning and ending each day in a largely deserted train station in a totally different city from that in which you work? In the spaces between the two — waiting at the depot, waiting on the track, exiting the station into the night air — in the spaces between you see yourself from above; you lose yourself and all your petty petulant workaday worries; for an hour and a quarter you're Don Draper, alone and unknowable, anyone and no one. Tutto e niente. Alive with mystery, things pulse, pregnant with purpose.

So yes, maybe this new effort is a way of regaining that vital buffer between office and home life, of restoring those restorative hours of quiet self-effacing contemplation where work's a distant worry and things slow down and unfurl before you, offering themselves up for your unthinking, childlike attention:

The way the roadway glints in the sun, it's not the matte slab you see from your car, it's pocked with pearl.

The adjacent parks crisscrossed with bike trails, redolent of honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass.

Damon Albarn's voice in your left ear like he's coming in over a land-line a continent away, bringing his disaffected apocalyptic tidings.

That one lamp-pole sliced in half on the Memorial Bridge.

Bikers in neoprene Spandex, bikers in fingertip-cutoff gloves, bikers looking Slavic beneath angular shades.

A spent condom on the asphalt dead-center of the exit to PENTAGON PARKING NORTH.

Damon sing-speaking, Nature's corrupted/In factories far away.

People in cars, people on buses, more bikers. People sipping coffee in the driver's seat, people screaming at co-workers on Bluetooth headsets.

The empty refreshment stand encircled by empty park benches on the lawn just south of the Lincoln Memorial, how it's exactly like you pictured the opening scene in The Master and Margarita.

Honest Abe perched like a god over the Mall, petty tourists striving about under his huge legs.

Cart-side vendors hawking trinkets commemorating various national sadnesses.

Group after squealing group of kids on field trips.

The wall, smaller than you remembered, festooned with wreaths.

Damon saying, Up on melancholy hill/ There's a plastic tree/ Are you here with me?

Friday, March 19, 2010

The dry run, Part I

... Though truth be told that title's a total misnomer, as this, my inaugural five-mile walk from condo to office, was to be neither dry nor a run.

Even at a slackened pace — if not quite leisurely, today's rate of speed was a far cry from my usual clip, which onlookers have likened to that of a meth addict toward the end of a four-day tweak — even slowing things down this good couple notches, I still would've failed the Sure/Unsure test by, oh, about the time I reached the Navy Annex:

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Like I said, I'm a right sweaty bastard. Thing is, today was actually chilly at 8 a.m., when I started this test-walk, cold enough to gnarl the fingers on the hands between which I passed the one-gallon jug of Deer Park I fill from the cooler at work and sometimes take home at the end of the day, which may or may not be in contravention of company rules, it's kind of a gray area — but, oh yeah, so anyway, no more than three minutes in on this nipply morn I was still suffering from sweat down my back like a layer of frost. (And yes, I'm plagiarizing "Trainspotting." Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?)

Point being, I shudder to think what's going to happen if the Orioles pull their usual dog-days swoon.

That said, I have to report that the, er, sudorifery notwithstanding, I quite enjoyed the walk to work. I rag on D.C. a lot — how it's got no skyline, how it's got no native inhabitants, how the inhabitants it does have are oftentimes total tools — and while I don't want to get too misty-eyed and gushy here, suffice it to say that it's tough to beat the view from the hillside just east of the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, where Columbia Pike curls north and crests down toward the Pentagon — a view that includes, in one wide panoramic sweep, the southern boundary of Arlington National Cemetery, row after perfectly spaced row of identical white markers on a sloping verdant bed; the southwest wall of the Pentagon, its new section patching where the plane went in a touch more lightly shaded than the surrounding concrete; and off across the river, of course, the Monument and Capitol beyond, shadows shrouded in the gauzy a.m. sunlight.

Ah, shit, that did get kinda misty-eyed, didn't it?

To be continued ...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Number crunchers

Man, that was a great game, huh? Remember? So damn fun. Plus it taught me my prime numbers (though to this day I'm not sure about 2). I once actually pissed myself midway through class because I didn't want to leave the computer lab during a particularly good run through the Factors level. I'd love to be able to tell you that was way back in third grade, but it was actually junior year of college. No, I'm just kidding. It was third grade. In my defense, I was really drunk.

But that's actually not the game to which this post refers.

Rather, this is where I take a look at the Orioles' team stats from last season, an analysis I should've  by rights conducted before devising my scheme, and either (a) begin to get really, really freaked out about the Punishment Plan or (b) thank my lucky stars things fell so righteously into place.

See, when I put the regimen together, I drew on only the roughest of estimates to conclude that the five negative events would average a total of about 12 per game. I figured O's hitters would get rung up about four times per game and ground into a double play maybe once; the pitchers would walk three guys or so and concede three or four extra base hits; and the fielders would boot a ball just about every other game. Hence the 12 exercises; your average Orioles ballgame would put me through my paces for one set of each.

So what do the numbers bear out? Using 2009 figures — and remember, most experts believe the club will be significantly improved this season — the Orioles averaged:

6.25 K/game
.808 GIDP

3.37 BB and 0.31 HBP
3.72 XBH

.555 E

Total average of negative events per game = 15.013

Not too shabby, huh? Plus, you've got to figure the pitching — benefiting from the addition of vet Kevin Millwood and the experience young bucks like Brian Matusz accreted last year — will hold opponents to fewer doubles and home runs this year; that's where the Orioles were godawful last season.

Comparing the Birds to the Yankees, 2009's World Series winners and thus the gold standard for the league, and limiting the comparison to the above statistical categories, Baltimore actually fared as well or better in every measurement except team fielding and extra base hits.

Problem is, they were much worse in terms of giving up the gapper: An eye-popping 9.5 percent of plate appearances against Baltimore hurlers resulted in a double, triple or home run. That's 604 XBH against. The Yankees? Only 7.7 percent, or 481 XBH against. Yes, the new Yankee Stadium's a better park for pitchers, but that's still a massive disparity.

Point being, let's take a cue from the Yanks and really get behind each other out there:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The 'before' photos

No, I'm not a tease, if that's what you're thinking, Michael Bluth.

Oh, there's a good couple thousand words' worth of (blurry, rather amateurish, cell phone-quality) pictures below, but in the interest of keeping things Safe for Work I thought it'd be best to pad this entry with enough of my own verbiage to keep you, Dear Reader, a security-scroll away from any scandalous shots of Your Humble Narrator in the semi-buff.

Which explains the oddly timed line-breaks and parenthetical insertions.

Just padding.

That's Mike Laws — always looking out for ya.

(Though I do apologize for using the word insertion in a post such as this.)

(And sorry in advance if I spoil anyone's breakfast with my man-panties or general hairiness.)

There, that should do it. On to the photos! (WARNING: You may want to dim the brightness on your monitor or throw on a pair of sunglasses. I'm blindingly pale.)

Now, let me be clear: I'm not in terrible shape going into this project; you're not going to bear witness to anything remotely resembling MTV's "True Life: I Shed a Small Horse," where the intrepid subject forgos liposuction and begins an exercise regimen, modest at first but increasing in intensity, completely turning his life around along the way, and by the end of the show we petty viewers feel really good, having lived vicariously through this amazing overcoming-of-all-tall-obstacles, and the only question left as the credits roll is what to do with all the residual flapping folds of mottled flesh that hang loose like sleeve of wizard.

But yeah, nothing like that here. There was a time in my life, now five years gone, when I cracked the 200-pound ceiling — pretty heavy for me, at 5-foot-9-and-a-half, and the result of a steady diet of beer and Buffalo wings. Here's a picture:

And yes, I did proceed to finish both plates. Anyway, since those sad days I've become obsessed with ice hockey, joining two teams and playing three to four times per week. I also set about on a more sensible diet, one heavy on salad and lean meat and sushi and with very little in the way of anything red or deep-fried (though I'm still a sucker for Wendy's). I weigh in now at 160.

Lest this sound like so much self-congratulating, my point is that I've gotten off to a decent start but seem to have plateau'd — understandable, being as hockey, up till now, has represented the be-all-end-all of strenuous physical activity in my life. Hence, then, the shocking dearth of musculature in the above photos; hence the pectoral muscles, or lack thereof — I've logged countless sweaty hours on the ice, and all I got was the chest of a preteen Korean boy. Worse, playing one sport and nothing but one sport has left me lean and hard and ropy in certain places (the outside of the thighs, the upper abdomen, the shoulders) but still slack and doughy in others (pretty much everywhere else). Hockey, God bless it, has done to my entire body what tennis has done to Rafael Nadal's arms.

So that's another reason behind The Orioles-Fan Punishment Plan: to find that extrinsic motivation for completing the job, as it were, and turning this —

— into this:

Er, minus the swastika ...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A word on the walk

Before getting to the promised Before Picture, I wanted to address those of you who, kindly expressing concern for my safety and/or sanity, wrote on my Facebook wall or IM'd or e-mailed privately to suss out whether I was seriously considering flagellating myself by way of a 4.5-mile walk to work following every Orioles loss in 2010 — and, as a corollary, whether this would eventuate in my hating these formerly beloved Birds by, oh, say, the All-Star break.

Let me rejoin the first query by saying that if you think it's nuts to schlep it from South Arlington to downtown D.C. after each O's loss — and even crazier to rouse oneself at the ass-crack of dawn to do so — well, then it's about to get really bat-shit insane up in here.

Because it turns out this is more like a six-mile trek.

See, on the way to work yesterday (from the comfort of my Civic, I should add), I cased the route Google Maps had suggested for anyone dumb or ignorant enough to proceed by foot from lower Arlington to downtown Washington. Google's helpful caveat — Use caution: This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths — turned out totally spot-on in this case. Not only that; it appeared my best option, if I preferred not to traipse about in the path of oncoming traffic, would be to carve a shortcut across freakin' Arlington National Cemetery. Hmmm ... get smacked by a bus, or trample on the final resting places of fallen national heroes? Thanks, Google!

Long story short, the route's now looking more like this:
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In related news, I'm taking suggestions for the tracksuit/headband ensemble I'll be donning to make these walks. (Anyone who knows me knows I sweat profusely just sitting on my biscuit all day — I don't own an undershirt that's not caked piss-yellow under the arms. So no way am I walking six miles in my work clothes.) I'm thinking a "Royal Tenenbaums"-inspired look with Günther-style shades. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The mission


For those of us who take our sports entirely too seriously, the modes of grief are almost never constructive. It’s a cliché now, and so we dismiss it as hyperbole, but think about how his fellow cave-dwellers might’ve reacted when the first knuckle-dragging sports nut of all time (call him the ur-fan) shook his head, sniffled, cursed the pagan gods and — thinking back on his favorite team’s heartbreaking loss in last night’s game of some unnamed contest that probably looked a lot like modern rugby — grunted something along the lines of How can they do this to me? I live and die with these guys. Taken literally, the second half of that phrase represents a pretty grave threat.

But maybe that’s a bad example, too hypothetical, colored too heavily by a certain series of car-insurance ads that used to be funny but quickly (to invoke another cliché) jumped the shark. So how’s this: One of my very earliest, foggiest memories is of my dad, in what must have been 1988, after what must have been yet another Orioles loss, clicking off the TV and making that disgusted teeth-and-tongue pteh sound and proceeding to throw an empty beer can at the set. (To be perfectly honest I don’t remember whether it was beer or Diet Coke or, you know, Tab, but it’s a better story if I say it was beer.) Possibly this was one of the 21 straight losses with which the O’s had started their monumentally, almost gloriously awful season; possibly it was Loss 21 itself; I can’t rightly say. The point is that this is what losing, lots of losing, can do to an otherwise well-adjusted fan: It can make him act like an out-of-control, wife-beating drunk — even if it is only Tab he’s drinking.


It’s with all this in mind that I decided I’d try a little experiment: what I’m calling the Orioles-Fan Punishment Plan. Rather than sulk with each fresh Orioles loss — rather than sigh and crack another beer every time Miguel Tejada grounds into a double play or pick a fight with the loudmouth Red Sox supporter in front of me at Camden Yards who’s got the gall to boo our relievers for throwing over to first — rather than abuse myself on account of what’s destined to be a .500-or-below team, I’m going to ... um, abuse myself on account of that team. But in a good way.

To wit:

Over the course of the 2010 season, each time any of five negative in-game events occurs, I will perform one set’s worth of a rotating series of exercises. The negative events are:

Pitching events: Baltimore pitcher issues base on balls/hits batsman; concedes extra base hit.

Hitting events: Baltimore batter grounds into double play; strikes out.

Fielding events: Baltimore defender commits error.

The exercises are:

Pushups (20 reps = one set)

Core circuit: Sit-ups (40 reps), recumbent leg lifts (12 reps), recumbent pedal-twists (20 reps)

Plank (hold for 40 seconds)

Swinging shoulder press (10 lbs; 10 reps)

Dumbbell standing press (20 lbs; 10 reps)

Dumbbell lunge (20 lbs; 10 reps per leg)

Dumbbell rotation (20 lbs; 8 reps per side)

Bicep curl (20 lbs; 10 reps per arm)

Forearm curl (20 lbs; 30 reps per arm)

Single-arm dumbbell swing (20 lbs; 10 per arm)

If it seems like I’ve kept the weights and number of reps low, remember that (a) these guys play every night and (b) I’m kind of a pussy. Also, I own no more than a pair of 10- and a pair of 20-pound dumbbells and don’t plan on expanding that collection — and besides, the idea is to keep the exercises reasonably low-impact so as to be able to perform them over and over and over, such as the Orioles’ suckage this season may be.

If you still think I’m going easy on myself, there’s also The Biggie: Following every O’s loss in 2010, I will walk to work, weather permitting.

This is a 4.5-mile walk, per Google Maps, and that’s assuming the route is actually passable by foot — doubtful, given the paucity of sidewalks and/or shoulders on the relevant stretches of Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard. I’ve never, ever walked to work before, so this should be interesting.


Anyway, that’s the idea behind this blog: to chronicle my efforts at channeling what’s ordinarily a negative experience (watching the Orioles) into positive results (a kickass body), and to subject you, Dear Reader, to all the musings, be they brilliant insights or half-formed, half-retarded brain droppings, that chance to drift across my transom.

Next up: A word on my health going into this — with pictures. Be ye fairly warned, womenfolk.