Thursday, May 31, 2007

So Much For Book Learnin' ...

Earlier today I was riffling through a box of childhood papers (pictures, report cards, test scores, and such) looking for a picture of me as a newborn. As I was telling CBD Saturday, I was born with black curly hair. Yeah, I don't know what happened either.

This is the closest picture I could come up with. Not at all curly, but freakishly adorable. So the story goes, the photographer asked my mom, "Lady, you sure you want her hair like that?"

But as long as I was riffling, I looked through my report cards, dating all the way back to first grade. Ah, Mrs. Prinz. I loved her. The main comments all centered around one theme: I talked too much. Me? Really?! I suspect this was less a social exercise and more an attempt to procrastinate and drag others down with me. But I also got a lot of comments about what a joy I was to have in class. Aw.

I have stanine tests from 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 10th grade in that box. My scores were pretty consistent. Early on, I was in the 98th percentile. By high school, I dropped to 96. Such a slacker I was.

And so I was amused to find myself watching "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" tonight. I'd never seen it, but tonight, the contestant screwed up the first question, so his wife, originally there to cheer for him from the audience, was enlisted to take his place. She has a PhD in psychology. She ended up walking away with $175,000. She didn't know the answer to "How many pecks are in a bushel?" and I realized that I didn't, either. Maybe I knew it a long time ago, but that information had long since vanished. The answer, if you don't know either, is 4.

So, apparently, I'm not smarter than a 5th grader, though when I was in 5th grade, I was pretty smart. And I passed the Mensa exam a few years ago. Good thing there were no questions about bushels and pecks.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

'Idiocracy' ...

Seriously, you've got to see it.

Many thanks to Ethan for the recommendation.

Thanks to the gift that is YouTube, you can watch a bit of it here. Yes, it's profane. Yes, it's crude. No, I don't normally cotton to such sophomoric fare, but the social satire is brilliant.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why Sing? ...

So here I am at the latest toll booth on my singing journey and hell if I can find enough answers to this conundrum to raise the gate.

It's taken a long, long time for me to get to this place of recording, of really letting loose in the booth and "letting my style happen," as Dave says. Of course, I'm singing others' songs, but their style is my style. There are only so many styles to go around.

But even though I'm singing others' songs, there's still a level of me in all of them. When Brian and I were working on "Makin' Whoopee," he commented on one of Michelle Pfeiffer's phrases: "She sounds like Bob Dylan." And he was right: there was a mumbled quality to it. It made us laugh. "A lot of shoes!" I sang, in the style of "How does it feel?", with that extra bit of Dylan exaggeration everyone puts on his voice when they mimic him.

I've started posting the songs on the blog and the comments have been really heartwarming. And I've started sharing copies of the songs on CD with a few friends and the comments knock me out. Today, English Teacher Dave wrote, "Next stop for Betty Ku--'I'm Terry Gross and this is Fresh Air.' " Wow. Me on NPR? That'll be the day.

Yesterday, I sent this link to Iva and wrote, in part, "The latest weird thing about this whole singing journey is that I feel narcissistic when I share it with people, but then I think, 'Well, isn't that the point?' Ego is funny that way."

Then tonight, I caught a clip of an Elton John concert on TV and thought, "Well, he's OK with performing for thousands of people."

So what's my damage? Humility? There was a time when I could chalk my hesitancy up to fear of not being good enough, but that fear has a way of evaporating in the presence of people listening to my voice and offering comments like, "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Christ on toast, that is FANTASTIC. You have a stunningly beautiful voice. Wow." (Thanks, Stac.) "Christ on toast." I love that.

But really, what's up with this reluctance? Is it fear that people will say, "Well, who the hell does she think she is, calling all this attention to herself?" Hmm. Yes, actually, I think that's it.

To which the answer seems to be, "Um, she's someone who loves to sing, and others like to listen to her. Why should she stay silent?"

I don't sing for fame and fortune. Clearly. And money is a poor motivator anyway. I sing because I love to sing. I sing because it makes me feel alive. I sing for the expression. I sing because it makes me happy. So maybe that's enough.

I started this whole recording process for Dave, really. I wanted to give him a song for his 50th birthday. And then, once I heard what Brian and I created, I was hooked. We didn't get together again to record for nearly four years, but now that we're back at it, it's like a drug.

But what accounts for the difference between people who sing or play an instrument in their homes, for themselves, and those who join a band or pursue a recording career? I'd be curious to know the motivations of musicians who became famous. I suspect Springsteen didn't originally set out to make millions.

I'm three degrees of separation from Bruce. Maybe Dave can ask Eddie to ask him.

Then again, maybe Dave can just ask Eddie. Eddie knows a few things about fame, being the lead singer of Pearl Jam.

Then again, maybe I should just ask Dave. Dave's in a band. It's local but he loves it. And "local" is my level.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Weekend Update ...

Why is it that Monday holidays don't feel like Mondays, but neither do they feel like Sundays? It's like they exist outside of time. A free space on the bingo card of life.

Friday, I was out with my mom when my phone beeped. But I hadn't heard it ring. I get a lot of calls from "Unavailable" (I just found that funny on a whole 'nother level) so I checked the phone to see if it was more of the same.

But no. It was a text message from College Boyfriend David, asking for my street address, which he has. Or had.

I texted back with the info and asked, "Why? Are you coming to visit?"

Turned out, he was going to be heading right by my house on his way from Point A to Point B and he thought he'd stop by.

You know, because we hadn't seen each other in 7 years. Because he lives four whole hours away. How's that for insanity?

Anyway, I had no plans for Saturday, so sure, I said, come on by.

It was just what I needed, really, the knowledge of an impending visitor. Finally got me to clean the house. Not that I ordinarily live in squalor, but living alone, I don't really care if my coffee table is dusty. Nor, I suspect, would he care if my coffee table was dusty, but, well, we won't get bogged down in a discussion about expectations and appearances.

I went to the grocery store (living alone, I also don't often keep much in the fridge) and remembered that when we dated in college, he loved Haagen Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond, so I bought a pint, because I am the best ex-girlfriend ever.

He arrived around 4, looking exactly the same as the last time I saw him. There's still not a grey hair to be found anywhere in his head of long black wavy hair. He grows it out and the donates it to Locks of Love, year after year. Which is so sweet of him, but also just the tiniest bit of a shame, as he looks amazing with his mane. I've always been a sucker for guys with long hair.

When we dated, we went to a lot of movies. We'd alternate in choosing them. I'd drag him to arty, idependent fare, and he'd drag me to sci-fi, action-y stuff. Saturday, David, being funny, said, "I think it's your turn to pick."

We checked the local theater's listings, and based on the times, our choices were "Spider-Man 3" or "Waitress." I wanted to see both, but figured "Spider-Man" would hold more appeal for him. But David, being David, said he'd see either. (David also walked around to my side of his Humongo Toyota SUV and opened the door for me every time. He's that kind of guy.) I told him that I'd make up my mind by the time we got to the theater.

And when we got to the multiplex, we noticed on the big red board that our options were "Pirates," "Shrek," and "Spider-Man." Three movies. On 12 screens. So much for the listings on the computer.

The next showing of "Pirates" was 45 minutes away, and we didn't know if we could get tickets anyway, so we stuck to the "Spider-Man" plan.

We should have seen "Shrek."

It's not that "Spider-Man" was bad, but, well, it just wasn't as good as the first two. And my God, it felt like it would never end. And there were lots of parents there with young kids. I know this because David and I sat in the first row of seats behind the aisle separating the regular seats from the stadium seats, and all through the movie, parents walked by with their kids, headed to the bathroom. And then there were the people who brought babies. What's that about?

After the movie, back in his Humongo Toyota SUV (it could be a Sequoia), he said, "Well. Usually, after a movie, there's something to talk about." He thought for a moment. "The action sequences were pretty cool."

Yeah. That's about what there is to say for it: The action sequences were pretty cool.

We headed back here and ordered pizza and watched "The Final Cut," a little-known Robin Williams flick. If you haven't seen it, you should. It'll make you think.

After that, we started "One Hour Photo" (it was the Dark Robin Williams Film Festival) and I started falling asleep so I headed off to bed and left him to finish the film. David is one of those people who needs about 3 hours of sleep a night, so I figured he'd be up late.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and realized that the lamp was still on in the guest room and there was TV glow emanating from the TV room. "There's no way he's still watching TV," I said. I peered around the corner into the TV room to find him asleep on the couch, propped up on a couple throw pillows and covered with my afghan. I clicked off the TV and DVD player and went back to bed. Then realized that he must have had his glasses on yet. So I went back to the TV room to take them off of him, which woke him up.

"What are you doing in here?" I asked.

"I fell asleep. I was starting another movie," he said. He was. The "Swimming with Sharks" menu was on the TV when I turned it off.

"Well, you'll be more comfortable in bed," I said. "Come on."

So he went to bed a little after 3 a.m.

And got up at 7:30 a.m.

"No way you got enough sleep," I said. But he seemed perfectly fine. I'd have been a zombie.

We chatted while I had coffee and then he got ready to hit the road. I think we should strive to see each other for more than 18 hours every 7 years.

The remainder of Sunday can be summed up in one word: yardwork.

Today, I invented a pasta salad and shopped for the ingredients, prepped said ingredients, then went to English Teacher Dave's house in Beverly that he shares with his lovely wife Gail for their annual Memorial Day cookout, which is attended by a remarkable contingent of interesting people, all of whom I see this one day a year.

I was worried about the cicadas. I don't do bugs. I mean, I really don't do bugs. So sitting outside, amidst a lot of bugs, is pretty much one of my nightmares. But, I figured, if worse came to worst, I could stay inside. Luckily, the cicadas were kind enough to be heard but not largely seen. I saw a couple but was able to not freak out.

Until PEOPLE STARTED EATING THEM.

Yes, people at the cookout. People I know - people who seem entirely sane in all other aspects of their lives - were eating bugs. Dave was grilling them. At one point, I turned to him and said, "What are you doing to these children?" (Yes, many of the cicada consumers were kids.)

"I'm just a witness," he said.

"You're manning the grill," I said. "You're an enabler."

I went inside. Gail turned to me. "I can't continue to witness the carnage," I said. She was trying to get a grip on all the dishes. I volunteered for the duty, suggesting that she should be enjoying her own party.

That's what we Serbs do at parties, we clean up the kitchens. Especially if the alternative is sitting outside watching people eat large bugs impaled on skewers.

I got home and thought I should go for a walk. And then I realized that the sidewalk wasn't going anywhere. I can walk tomorrow.

Tonight, I'll turn in at a decent hour and hope I don't dream of kids crunching on cicadas.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Beware The Spit Take ...

If you're drinking anything, be sure to swallow it before you watch this.

It has more than 8 million views on YouTube, so clearly a large body of people have already seen it, but until this morning, it had eluded me. Kudos to College Boyfriend David for turning me on to it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

'Seraphim Falls' ...

Sigh.

Liam, Liam, Liam.

Pierce, Pierce, Pierce.

Honestly. Boys. What were you thinking?

It's not just that the movie moves slower than a man without water on a horse without water in the middle of the desert. It's not just that nearly two thirds of the movie plays the same note over and over and over and over: Liam's pissed and he's after Pierce. Pierce is a crafty son of a bitch, so Liam better watch his back. It's not just that Angelica Houston shows up in the third act in a scene that must have made audiences everywhere say, "What the hell?" It's not just that Angie Harmon is onscreen for about 70 seconds. (I wonder what she got paid for 70 seconds ...)

As I just told Doreen, skip this movie and spend the two hours poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick instead. Same difference.

I adore Liam Neeson. His performance in Schindler's List knocked me on my ass. I love Pierce Brosnan. Aside from his hunky roles (yeah, yeah, Bond, but he was great in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair), he really endeared himself to me in The Matador.

Is it every boy's fantasy to make a cowboy movie, to get to carry a gun and ride a horse and wear a hat? Maybe that explains their motivations. Or maybe they were bored. Or maybe their wives told them to get out of their homes and do something.

I was all about this movie when I learned of it. Pierce and Liam in the same movie? That's damn-near movie nirvana for me. I once told Ciaran that he and Liam need to make a movie together.

"Why?" he asked.

"So I can die a happy woman," I replied.

Of course, there's Excalibur, but I want a real Ciaran and Liam movie.

So Pierce and Liam sharing the screen, being all rugged and manly men? Hell yeah.

Except: hell no.

Pierce is part of the commentary track and I was tempted to watch the movie again just to hear what he'd have to say for himself, but I could do something much more productive with those additional two hours. Like cobble my own shoes.

So consider this my public service announcement to the video-renting public: leave this one on the literal or virtual shelf.

Though I will give the movie credit where it's due: There are some gory shots that make you go "OOOF." But it's not bloody "Braveheart" gory, just "Damn, he has good aim" gory.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Matters ...

Last night I went to a wake, today, the funeral. And so my brain is thinking the inevitable thoughts about what matters most.

So much of life is consumed by petty things, feuds that stretch on for years over the smallest infractions. We cross our arms firmly across our chests and refuse to be the party to set aside the anger. Or we attempt a gesture of reconciliation, only to have the olive branch swatted out of our hands.

And then I attend the events of the past two days and see people I haven't seen in nearly 20 years and my mind is focused on the tiniest moments, hugging a long-lost friend of the family and feeling that instant ease wash over me. It's not about saying the right thing, as there is no right thing to say. There is only honesty, a hug, a sympathtic smile, a few kind words: "Your boys are beautiful."

There is a connection to be found in the simplest gestures, reaching forward to hand a Kleenex to someone who is wiping away their tears. There is laughter in the end, a son thanking everyone for coming, reminding us that it's a family tradition that the bar bill exceeds the bill for the food.

And there is comfort in the words of the departed, spoken in his last days: "I've lived a good life. I've had such good conversations with my kids." And there is comfort in the stories from those who were with him, that even in hospice, he continued to make jokes.

Tomorrow, life resumes its normal pace, taking my finger off the Pause button of the last few days and pressing Play. Tomorrow there is work and phone calls and laundry and yard work.

And as the grief subsides, so it seems do the lessons. We go too long without calling a friend. We talk about plans but never make them. We think we have time.

And then we wake up and it's 20 years later and we wonder where the time has gone. And we realize that it's gone by in the blur of every day.

But really, what has us so busy? We can find time to make excuses or we can use that same time to pick up the phone or drop by or mail a card just to say "Hi."

Because sometimes, when we lose someone, we have time to say goodbye. But sometimes, we don't. And regret is always regrettable. And so much of what we regret is avoidable.

He was oh-so-handsome, this family friend. And he lived his life well and honorably. He was loving and kind. And he is missed, which is a simple - yet extraordinary - measure of a man.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chew On This ...

Now that Gilmore girls is off the air (and yes, I did find the season-series-is-it-the-end-or-isn't-it? ending highly unsatisfying, thanks for asking), there's a new Gg in my life. She's a food blogger and cute as a button: gezellig-girl.com.

What's a gezellig, you'd like to know? Well, she's kind enough to explain:

According to Wikipedia, gezellig is one of the most difficult words to translate in the Dutch language. There is no literal equivalent or similar word in English. Gezellig is very colloquial, and is most often used in these contexts: one is with family and/or friends, light is right, people are right, music is right, conversation is right, then the feeling is gezellig.

Her post today is about gum. Yep, gum. Not a food, you're saying. Quite right. But this post was about impulse purchases at the grocery store, and Gg waxed poetic about Orbit's Mint Mojito gum and asked her readers about their impulse purchases. To which I commented:

I like me some Eclipse Polar Ice gum. My friend Dave popped one of the Chiclet-like pieces in his mouth one day and said, "Ooh, violent." So it’s heretofore known as Violent Gum. One day, he said, "My gum’s just not violent enough lately." Turned out he was buying peppermint by mistake.

(Actually, I always have Violent Gum on me, so my checkout line impulse purchase is the occassional issue of Cosmo. It just doesn’t get any trashier and vapid! Who can resist coverline such as "75 Sex Tricks: Warning: They're So Hot, This Magazine Might Burst Into Flames" or "A Kind of Cuddling That Can Bring You Closer to HIm" or "Feel Sexy Naked: Great Confidence Boosters.")

But gum was always the brass ring when I was a kid. Mom could be counted on to relent and let me have a pack of Trident on trips to the grocery store. Pieces of Trident, though, are tiny, and the flavor didn't last. I seem to remember chewing it with my front teeth and feeling like a squirrel.

And then came the advent of Bubble Yum and its half-sibling Bubblicious, which, according to Wikipedia, featured a nacho cheese flavor. Nacho cheese-flavored gum?!

When I was in grade school, Joe the crossing guard used to keep his pockets full of Bazooka Joe, little pink slabs of plastic, basically, that gum. I don't think it was his gum of choice because it was his namesake. I think it was his gum of choice because it was cheap. Or maybe he liked the little cartoons that came wrapped around the plastic slabs.

I just Googled "Bazooka Joe" and clicked on bazookajoe.com.

"I don't want no waiting," says the splash page. Hmm. Not exactly grammatical there, Joe.

Of course, the epitome of cheap gum is Dubble Bubble, whose flavor lasts approximately 12 seconds. It was a Halloween standby when I was a kid. I always ended up with a lot of it from neighborhood houses, and it was probably left over from the previous Halloween. The to-be English major in me was fond of the spelling of Dubble. And getting Dubble Bubble in your Trick-or-Treat bag was preferable to those God-awful black and orange waxed-paper-wrapped peanut butter kisses. I'm pretty sure those could be used as ammuntion but they were always recycled into everyone's candy bowls baskets, the candy dregs for the Trick-or-Treat stragglers or those with enough energy to go around a second time.

A few months ago, I stood in the gum and candy aisle of Target reading the packages of all the gums. It's damn near impossible to find a gum without artificial sweetener these days. Grown-up gum, anyway. So I keep plenty of Violent Gum on hand, even though, as my little niece used to say every time she tried a piece, sure she'd like it, "It's too spicy," and then she'd spit it out in my hand. Violent Gum is an acquired taste.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Almost Actin' Like A Grown-Up ...

Friday night, I met Doreen at her place and we set out in search of drinks. Coco Pazzo was her idea, and a fine idea it was, but alas, when we got to the door, we were greeted by a sign that the restaurant was closed for a private party.

Harumph.

So we wandered into AigreDoux, a restaurant that has gotten raves, thinking we could hang out at the bar and try a couple appetizers (which, frankly, is about all we can afford there). But the bar was rather crowded, so we headed to Kinzie Street Chop House, thinking the third time would be the charm.

And was it ever. In addition to bar stools just waiting for us to fill them, and a lovely bartendress who gave us very nice glasses of Grey Goose on the rocks, the appetizer menu was lovely.

Doreen's not one to pass up calamari, so we ordered that, and I'm not one to pass up mushrooms, so we had to try the mushroom tart with Gorgonzola cream. It wasn't a tart, it was strudel, but holy mother of God, it was delicious. As Doreen pointed out, it hardly needed the Gorgonzola sauce, but it added a nice extra touch of richness.

We hopped in a cab to the Goodman and took our seats for the play, Oedipus Complex, Oedipus Rex as told by a young Sigmund Freud. I kid you not.

The set design was amazing.

The sound design was even more amazing.

Even the costumes were cool.

But the play? Eh, not so much.

The performances were top notch, as they always are at the Goodman, but rather early on in the production, I almost fell victim to the giggle loop. (If you watch Coupling, you know what I'm talking about.) A character was delivering his lines in a peculiar voice and all I could think of was Underdog and Simon Bar Sinister.

It's a good thing Doreen wasn't holding a Tweety Bird PEZ dispenser.

And speaking of Underdog, the live-action version is due out this summer and frankly, it looks incredibly lame. (The dog is, you know, a dog, a dog which looks nothing like Underdog.) But the film's one saving grace may be that Peter Dinklage is playing Simon Bar Sinister, and that might be the best bit of casting in the history of movies. I adore him.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Michael Nouri ...

... had a small role on Brothers & Sisters tonight.

Michael Nouri, one of my childhood crushes, as written about just a couple days ago.

On the show, his character reveals that he's gay.

So there you go: My if-Beth-is-attracted-to-them-that-means-they're-gay m.o. now extends to the televised realm, too.

And please note that that's m.o. as in modus operandi, not mo as in 'mo.

: o )

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Can't Make Myself Go '-pee' ...

Ah, I love the title of this post. There's nothing like potty humor to make you giggle.

Because I'm talking about a syllable in a song, the last syllable, actually, the last pain-in-the-ass syllable of Makin' Whoopee, specifically the rendition performed by Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys. It's a high note, a high, sustained note. I can manage the sustain, it's the high part that's the problem. My voice is very decidedly an alto and the muscles around my vocal chords that make the higher notes possible clearly haven't gotten the necessary workout.

All that aside, I love this song. I love the simple accompaniment, suitable for singing in piano bars everywhere. L.A. Dave would prefer it if I sang this song wearing a slinky dress and opera gloves, but I've told him it ain't gonna happen, so he just imagines it instead.

When Brian and I were listening to this on Saturday, he turned to me and asked, "Were you a Thespian in high school?" As a matter of fact, I was. He likes the way I color some of the words. As Jon Lovitz would say on SNL, "Acting! Thank you!"

By now, you know the drill: It's a work in progress, blah, blah, blah. But it's a fun take. And the next time I'm in the studio, come hell or high water, I'll myself go -pee.



And if you need it, the direct URL is here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Men I've Loved ...

Life has thrown some major curve balls at me the past couple days. I'm tapped out. There's not a blog entry in sight.

But reading Ali's blog tonight brought a smile to my face. I added my two cents immediately, and then recalled a post of my own about those fine gentlemen.

And sitting here, I also recall that I had a big thing for Michael Nouri as Dracula on NBC's "Cliffhangers." (I just looked for a clip on YouTube. I believe I have struck on the one piece of video that's not available on that site.) He's of Lebanese descent. What was I just saying the other day about always having a thing for men from that part of the world? In a scene that will stay with me forever, Michael as Dracula, wearing, if I remember correctly, a white shirt unbuttoned part way, slowly approaches the female lead and says, "I'm in love with you, Mary." Goddammit, I wanted to be Mary.

And because I can remember things from when I was wee much better than I can remember things from 10 minutes ago, another man just flashed through my mind. It took a second to recall his character's name on "General Hospital," but it came to me: Dr. Hardy. John Beradino. Mom used to watch the soap while she'd iron, and I remember thinking he was very handsome.

So, to sum up, as a child I had TV crushes on two doctors, a refined Latin host of an island, and a vampire.

Ladies, your childhood crushes? And gentlemen, was there anyone besides Lynda Carter and her very skimpy Wonder Woman costume who caught your eye?

Update: I just reread this and reazlied how hetero that last paragraph reads. Duh. Girls can have crushes on girls and boys can have crushes on boys. Didn't mean to seem so exclusionary.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Marrying Kind ...

My pal Angela and I have been having an interesting e-mail discussion about marriage and divorce and relationships. Yesterday, she sent this: "The question is then do you WANT to get married? Or are you happy in your singleness with your independence?"

I immediately said, "No, I want to get married."

And then I thought, "Do I really?"

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (Algonquin), there lived a man whom I dated briefly. It was an on-again, off-again kind of thing, mostly off. After a fair stretch of being apart, he got back in touch with me (he'd called it off to begin with when he realized I wanted kids) and we started talking on the phone again. He'd come around and decided he wanted to have kids after all, so long as we had some time for us first.

During one conversation, he said, "OK, so will you sell your house and move in here? Or will I sell my house in move in there? Or will we both sell our houses and buy a place together?"

And I thought, "Whoa, wait a minute there, bub. We should be talking about where we're going to dinner, not who's selling whose house."

Clearly, I wasn't ready to marry him. Never was. Never will be. We had dinner, we both realized that any previous spark was now nothing more than a fleck of ash, and we went our separate ways.

Impossibly, 10 years ago, College Boyfriend David was in town with a friend and while the three of us were poking around Best Buy, the subject of marriage came up.

David wondered why it was we'd never gotten married.

"Well, I don't know how it works in your country," I said with more than a hint of sarcasm in my voice, "but in my country, if a man wants to marry a woman, he asks her."

David looked a bit dumbfounded, as if it had never occurred to him that the only thing standing between us and wedded bliss was the lack of a proposal.

Mom and I were talking about him recently and she laughed and asked, "Beth, are you going to marry him?"

And I said, "No, but leave it to me to end up marrying the guy I dated when I was 19. Leave it to me to take half my life to get my act together."

Then again, I could say "No" to her question because the prospect of marriage wasn't on the table. If the boy ever got around to the whole bended-knee moment, I frankly don't know what my answer would be. It must mean something that we're still in each other's lives all these years later. Especially as I don't stay in touch with any other ex.

Today on Oprah, the audience took a health quiz created by Dr. Oz, one of the most attractive men on the planet. (Had to pause to query him in Wikipedia. He's Turkish. Turkish-American. Born in Cleveland. But there you go: I've always had a thing for men from that part of the world. Turkey, that is. Though I'm sure Cleveland has produced a few stunners, too.) And one of the As to one of the Qs revealed that we should have sex 200 times a year or more. With one partner, not a lot of one-night stands. Orgasms, apparently, are a prescription for a longer, healthier life. Though his point was that having a close, loving bond with someone adds to our longevity.

I laughed out loud and said, to no one there, "Well, I'll be dying young." I'm off the 200-a-year pace by several thousand at this rate. Short of becoming a nymphomaniac, I don't think I can catch up.

So, sure, I'd welcome the close, loving bond with someone, but where would he put his stuff? I'm kidding, of course. We'd merge our lives. But I have gotten very used to having everything the way I want it, to my taste in furniture and paint colors and music. My toilet seat is always down. There are no whiskers in the sink. My TV doesn't have the ESPN logo burned into the lower right corner. Nothing in my home reclines.

I know that the compromises that come with sharing a life are small potatoes compared to the rewards of companionship, but Angela's question really got me to wondering.

Maybe I just haven't met the right man yet. I've met some who are very, very close. I've met others who would be perfect if they weren't married. Or gay.

But so far, all the stars haven't aligned. And maybe they never will. Maybe I'm meant to go through this lifetime alone, to be focused on whatever it is I'm supposed to be focused.

Or maybe he just hasn't found me yet. Because he's a man. And he's bad with directions.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jeffrey Gaines ...

My cousin Patty gets the credit for turning me on to Jeffrey Gaines. Many years ago - more years than seem possible to have passed - she was playing his CD "Somewhat Slightly Dazed" and I was instantly hooked. I bought my own copy as soon as I could.

And then, years later, I bought "Galore." And then, Friday, I bought "Toward the Sun." I was in a CD store. So was "Toward the Sun." There was no way we weren't leaving together. I bought it based on his name alone. I didn't listen to it first. "Jeffrey Gaines" on the cover is recommendation enough for me.

I put it on when I got home and holy mother of God, this album. I dig the others (and there are three others I need to buy), but this album, it just speaks to me on another level.

If you haven't heard his tunes, your musical life is poorer for it. I just checked for him on BMG Music Service and I got this:

We're sorry, there are no Jeffrey Gaines albums available at this time.

Below are similar artists you may enjoy.

Lenny Kravitz


Well, yeah. I guess Gaines has a Kravitz feel, but they're very different artists. Kravitz may be more known, but if someone asked me who has more soul as an artist, I'd easily give the nod to Gaines. Not that I don't dig Lenny. I have a couple of his albums. But come to think of it, I haven't listened to them in ages.

I often wonder about the differences between artists who make a big - though not necessarily sustained - splash and those who continue to produce albums over the long haul. Gaines' eponymous album was released 15 years ago. HIs most recent effort, a live album, was released in 2004. Why does one artist garner the recognition while the other remains less known? Maybe it all comes down to marketing. Or maybe some artists are content with a certain - some would say sane - level of success.

Gaines probably doesn't live in a multimillion-dollar house in Greenwich Village, but I suspect he's not living out of a box, either. His web site mentions that when he tours, he knows what song will open a show, but then he lets his audience help determine the rest of the set, either by the vibe of the group or a suggestion called out from the crowd. I love that. Artists like him don't have huge followings but the fans are loyal and know the music well.

I put "Toward the Sun" on in the car yesterday when I drove Brian home after our session. Brian, being a sound guy, automatically looks at liner notes to see who produced an album, and where, and can divine all sorts of information out of a few names and places, things that mean nothing to me. But sound is what he does - oh so well! - and sound is what he knows, so the players are known to him. Apparently, this album was the product of some industry heavy-hitters.

Check it out the next time you're on iTunes or Amazon. Or look for his discs the next time you're shopping for CDs. His albums aren't overly produced. They're beautiful showcases for his voice and his guitars and his lyrics.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday, In The Booth ...

Brian and I were going to get together this past Monday to record, but he had to reschedule. We planned for Thursday. Thursday arrived and we were both busier than we thought we'd be. So Brian suggested getting together Saturday afternoon. This afternoon. "Don't even call me," he said. "I'll just meet you there at 3 p.m." He had no intention of canceling. Nor did I. So we met up.

I love being in spaces during off hours. There's such a different energy when the halls are dark and all the people are gone.

Brian asked what I wanted to sing today and I decided that since we had a couple songs that were pretty far along, we should polish those up a bit, inch them a bit closer to "done."

We listened to the first cut and he marked where I needed to punch phrases. When we'd marked up the whole track, I went into the booth and sang the bits to be fixed. Bam, bam, bam, bam. I stepped out of the booth and said, "Look at me, nailing everything in one take!"

Yeah, that wouldn't last. By the time we got to the last phrase of the third track of the day, I must have tried it 10 times. And I wasn't in love with any of the takes, but we decided on one for now. Maybe next time, I'll be able to nail it. Today, it was just too falsetto-y for me.

As Brian played back tracks for me today, he turned the volume quite high. I asked him why songs sound better louder. "Psychoacoustics," he said. Get out! There's a word for it?! "What does that mean?" I asked. And he explained about how you perceive sound both with your brain as well as through physical sensations in your body, like feeling bass in your chest. Sure enough, I just looked up the word: "The branch of psychology concerened with the perception of sound and its physiological effects." Cool!

(By the way, yesterday, at long, long, long last, I finally got around to buying a digital camera, so L.A. Dave requested a shot of me in the booth. Brian was kind enough to snap one, through the glass, even, hence the glare. And later, I snapped one of his console, just cuz I like all the pretty lights. That's it, below.)

So, in the spirit of sharing ongoing works in progress, here's a tune from today's session. God bless George Clooney for making "Good Night, and Good Luck.", because if he didn't make the movie, Dianne Reeves wouldn't have recorded the soundtrack, and I wouldn't have fallen in love with these songs and the way she sings them. This cut is the plaintive "Who's Minding the Store?" There are still some things to tweak, but in the immortal words of Paris, "I, like, cry when I listen to it, it's so good."

Not that I actually cry, but I'm proud of it, nonetheless.

(Composer Dave, if you happen to read this post, please don't listen to this cut yet. Seriously. Cross your heart and promise. I'll explain the next time we chat.)


And if you need it, the direct URL is here.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Things We Do For Free ...

Emotionally, I'm pathetic. There's a standing joke among me and my friends - I've probably mentioned before - that I will cry at a well-made commercial for soup. It's like my PMS gene got jammed and I'm prone to welling. Throw a newborn baby into the soup commercial and I'm quite sure I'd pass out sobbing and come to on the floor like a dessicated piece of carrot that rolled under the table and you meant to pick up after dinner but forgot about because, hey, pudding!

But my emotional instability isn't reserved for Kleenex moments. Oh no. I also tend to fall in love at the drop of a hat. Not lustful love - God knows I ain't gettin' any action from that playbook - but the kind of love that really, if you analyzed it, is less love and more intense like, but like is such a watered-down word. Having someone say that they like you doesn't really count for much, because there aren't many categories to begin with. You don't want to hear that someone hates you, and people who are ambivalent toward you wouldn't take the time to tell you anyway, so you're left with like and love, and let's face it, love is the brass ring. Love is the gold medal. Like is second place. Like is the bridesmaid.

Anyway, the point is, it's inadequate to say that I like James Lileks. Read The Bleat and then tell me that you don't love him, too. Tell me you don't love a guy who can start a paragraph riffing about buying clip-on sunglasses at JC Penney and end the paragraph talking about "gigantic-capacity Old Lady Bras" with stops along the way to mention David and Goliath, and hams.

Lileks' latest gig as short-form columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune came to an end today in a move that can best be described as "bone-headed," which is the perfect word for it, which is why someone used that word in the first place. I'm just quoting that person. I wrote to James yesterday to say that it's typical that I just found him this week, now that he's going away, because that always happens to me. If I emit even the slightest favorable vibe about anything, apparently a satellite in orbit over Kazakhstan is programmed to pick up on it and whoosh!, off the market it goes.

So the Strib is reassigning James to the school lunch beat or some such, but thank God or the false idol of your choice (not that I think they're false idols; hey, I don't judge; you wanna worship your hamper, that's fine with me), he'll keep on keepin' on with his web site and the hilarity will continue to spew forth like the sub-premium vodka that he writes about at the top of today's Bleat.

I was poking around his site yesterday - and freaking out when I realized he's the genius behind the Gallery of Regrettable Food - and thinking, "Man, I wish I was a columnist," when I realized that, really, I am. We all are, we people who blog. Every day (or whenever the hell we get around to it), we write about politics or sports or religion or food or cats or religious cats and people read it. Why? We don't know. Probably because it's more fun than whatever it is they're getting paid to do, which they're not doing, because they're reading our blogs instead.

And yet, we write. We eschew other things to write. I just realized that I'm missing World News with Charles Gibson and you all know how much I love me some Charlie.

Luckily, I'm about done here. Wait. Yep, I'm done. Charlie calls.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

'Fast Food Nation' ...

Public service announcement: If you like your fast food and you want to go on liking it, you might want to stop reading now.

It's not just about things that make you go "Ewww" - like cattle being fed dead dogs and cats from animal shelters or that the meat in your single Quarter Pounder or Whopper comes from up to 100 animals ... which makes it kind of hard to keep potential contamination in check ... and there's plenty of potential. Slaughterhouses aren't exactly sterile.

No, Fast Food Nation is more about the business of fast food, how it sprang up from a few hamburger stands in California and now consumes the planet. It's about how the demand for uniform food has enabled big companies to get bigger and make small-time farmers and ranchers a thing of the past. It's about the politicization of the safety of our food - those with a vested interest in the fast-food business should not be the heads of government agencies charged with our food's safety.

It's not what I expected, this book. But Girl mentioned it in a comment recently which reminded me that I had been meaning to read it. The copy at my library was checked out and I didn't want to wait, so I bought a copy at Borders, which is just as well, as now I can loan it to others.

Here are a few high points:

- McDonald's is the biggest player on the fast-food planet, and as such, it can be seen as the biggest villain, but it can also be a hero of sorts. What McDonald's wants, McDonald's gets. So while the FDA might dawdle for years and run up against a lot of Congressional (Republican; sorry, but it's true) resistance in an attempt to establish food-safety standards in slaughterhouses, the minute McDonald's demands compliance from its suppliers, its suppliers comply. And just like that, McDonald's has assurances from its suppliers that they can verify the source of the animals and what those animals have been fed. Handy information, good to know.

- Subway might have a reputation for being a healthier alternative, but when it comes to franchises, it couldn't care less about its franchisees. The head of Subway, Frederick DeLuca, wants to build the biggest fast-food company in the world, and the company with the most stores wins. So Subway doesn't care if you just opened a store. It will allow someone else to open another store a block or two away. Yes, that means your business will fall off. That's your problem.

- The big companies collude to keep their workers from forming unions and try to make the jobs as unskilled as possible so that anyone can do them without training. Restaurants have large staffs so individual shifts can be kept to a minimum number of hours. Low hours = no benefits.

- Taco Bell introduced the "K minus program" in 1989 in an effort to eliminate the kitchens from the stores. Yes, Taco Bell wanted to eliminate the kitchens from its restaurants to cut costs. Pre-cooked beef and beans were reheated on site. But sales fell as Taco Bell's reputation for cheap, bland food grew, as Eric Schlosser writes. The brand's new president, Emil Brolick, mentioned "We are not doing a great job ... in terms of cleanliness in the store." I'd say, given the recent discovery of so many rats running free in a New York Taco Bell.

But not all brands are made from the same mold. Some, the privately held companies, treat their employees well. In-N-Out Burger's starting hourly wage is $10. Managers make up to $80,000 a year. The reasoning goes, fairly treated employees are happy employees.

After all, you don't want your fast food prepared by disgruntled workers. Schlosser writes, "In May of 2000, three teenage employees at Burger King in Scottsville, New York, were arrested for putting spit, urine, and cleaning products such as Easy-Off Oven Cleaner and Comet with Bleach into the food. They had allegedly tampered with the Burger King for eight months, and it was served to thousands of customers, until a fellow employee informed the management."

Still hungry?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Happy Day ...

You've gotta love a mom who stops by your house unannounced just to thrust a bouquet of flowers into your arms, then says, "Happy day!" and turns around and leaves.

Irises are my favorite flower, which makes this bunch extra special.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Singing, The Next ...

On Saturday, I reached a milestone.

I wrote an e-mail to Iva and included a link to my little work in progress.

As I said to him in my note, I realized how far I'd come on my musical journey when I realized that I was willing to share my song with real musicians. My song, my unobsessed-over, not-close-to-perfect song. It's a huge step for me to not only own up to something imperfect but to share it.

Of course, after I hit Send, I had a momentary moment of "Holy crap! I just sent my song to Iva!" But there's no way to take it back, not that I would if I could.

Some might not understand the momentousness of this moment. Allow me to explain:

I've always wanted to sing. For as long as I could remember. For my kindergarten graduation, we sang. Throughout grade school, we sang. For the Christmas programs at church, we sang. I remember being a part of chorus in, what?, fourth grade? And every year from then on until my freshman year of high school. I gave up after that because I hated the teacher. It's hard to pursue something artistic in a hate-filled environment.

But one night, I was in the basement, sitting in front of my brother's stereo, wearing his headphones and singing along. Hearing only the music in my ears, I didn't detect anyone else in the basement until one of my brothers poked his head into the den. For the life of me, I can't remember which brother it was. But I remember what he said: "Oh yeah, that sounds real good."

And that was the night I stopped singing.

I'm sure he just thought he was being funny. Brothers exist to chide their little sisters. But that night, those words dashed my dream. They made me fearful to let anyone hear me sing. Irrational, sure, but a perfectionist's fear is to be found lacking.

Every day, I receive a Daily Inspiration e-mail from Daily Om. Today's message began: "Words carry energy and this gives language its power and its potential to heal or hurt."

I've had little breakthroughs over the years. In my Theater Arts class in high school, each student had to pick a song and perform it, a cappella, as Mr. Sweeney, our teacher, brought in others singing their songs. The exercise was meant to teach us the importance of maintaining our character on stage, how to not be influenced by others actors and their actions. Or, that day, to stay in our song.

I chose the Howard Jones tune Hide and Seek. In retrospect, it wasn't a great choice because of the pace of the song. It's rather slow and there are lots of musical interludes which I needed to listen to in my head so I could sing the right notes at the right times. But at the time, it was a good choice because Tim (our teacher) seemed fascinated by it. Other students only sang a few bars of their songs up front but Tim had me sing a lot of mine. And I did. And I liked that he liked it, if not my voice, at least my choice.

And in college, I sang a little bit for a friend in a dorm room. And when I worked at the Tribune, I sang a few notes for a musical friend one night as I drove him home. Not enough for him to really hear me, not loud enough or long enough. But I did it.

And then I recorded myself one night about five years ago on a microcassette recorder. Note to all would-be singers: Do not record your voice on any such device. You won't be recording yourself in any useful way, and you'll have your hopes crushed like a boot grinding a Marlboro into the earth.

And somewhere in there, I started taking voice classes, hoping they would help me get over my fear of singing in public. They didn't, really.

You know what gets you over your fear of singing in public?

Singing in public.

Which I've done, both as part of the voice class and as part of an open mic.

And it was scary. But it was also fun.

So I've wended my way down this path, past many little obstacles, many of which did not feel so little at the time, and I've continued to put one foot in front of the other, though often at a slow pace. But who's to say what pace is the right one? I was supposed to have a session tonight but Brian had to reschedule until later in the week.

I take it as a good sign that I'm so eager to get back into the booth.

Someday, we'll have this CD finished. And it will be interesting to see what comes next.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

(Almost) Better Than (Eye) Candy ...

So this is what I get for eating dinner at 5 p.m. (Where am I? Boca?) At 10:30 p.m., I am bloody ravenous. But what do I want? With next to nothing in the house, my mind wanders. Happily, having put away half of Fast Food Nation in recent days, I have no yen for anything inside or outside of a bun. Think, Beth. Think.

Cereal. I want cereal. All righty, then. Off to the store.

I don’t spend a lot of time in the cereal aisle anymore. I did pick up a box of Chocolate Crunch Life (something like that) recently and boy, that was bowl after bowl of disappointment. So I wandered into the aisle tonight looking up, because that’s where the grown-up cereals are kept, because grown-ups are taller and less prone to grabbing things and throwing them into the basket. So I’m looking at cereals with lovely photography on the boxes and words like “Select” in the titles when a bright red box catches my eye on the shelf below.

The hell?, as Stacy would say. Fruity Cheerios?! They’re NEW!, says the box. Damn right they’re new! I didn’t notice them the last time I was there when I was naive enough to give Chocolate Crunch Life (something like that) a chance. Then again, Chocolate Crunch Life is on the opposite side of the aisle.

But, as I was saying, Fruity Cheerios! Like Froot Loops, for grown-ups! Right there, smack dab on the front of the box in a call-out:

✔ Flavored With REAL FRUIT JUICE
✔ 25% LESS SUGAR Than the Leading Fruity Cereal
✔ Excellent Source of WHOLE GRAIN

Woo hoo!

The back of the box is all about Fruity Cheerios FUN! Apparently, General Mills thinks that kids will be eating these, too. OK, fine. They can share.

I just had a bowlful with my organic skim milk. Delightful! Slightly less sweet than Froot Loops, but Froot Loops are really just decorative sugar pressed into Os, right?

I’m so pleased. A banner find on a banner day, which was made a banner day by Doreen, because she sent this to me from Vanity Fair:


HELLO! Nice lute, eh?

Seriously, I made it my computer wallpaper. Trudie is inspiration. Sting is eye candy. As Tracy said, "Man, he's hot!"

I’m sure Fruity Cheerios are part of their balanced diet. I mean, where else are they going to get 4% of their daily requirement of phosphorus? Right here, baby. Right here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I'm In Love ...

I've always had a thing for older men. Maybe it's because they're more inclined to be gentlemen. Maybe it's because they're more world-wise. Maybe it's because I'm an old soul.

I've known this man for a long time. Our relationship was casual at first, but in the past year or so, it's really deepened. I realize now just how much respect I have for him, and how vital respect is in a relationship. Trust, too. Trust and respect are two halves of a whole.

And then there's the impish sense of humor - but only when it's called for. Women like men who are funny, but some men try too hard. It takes someone seasoned to know when to turn it off. And it takes someone special, someone secure, to be with you through the bad times, too. Someone who knows just the right things to say.

But most of all, there's that intangible quality, that connection that you simply feel or you don't. You can't manufacture it. But if it's there, it's unmistakable. You can see it in his eyes and you know.

Sometimes, after a painful goodbye, you think you'll never feel this way about any other man. But sometimes, you get lucky.

Yes, I am in love. With Charlie Gibson.

I'm an unabashed news junkie. You can take the girl out of the newspaper, but you can't take the newspaper out of the girl. I start every morning reading news sites and I check them - perhaps a bit compulsively - throughout the day. But when 5:30 rolls around, I stop whatever I'm doing for my date with Charlie.

I was heartbroken when Peter Jennings died. When he signed off, his voice raspy, his illness already advanced, I knew he'd never return to his anchor chair.

Peter was my guidepost on 9/11. I tuned in early and didn't tune out for days. I wrote a note to him after those immediate hours, praising his poise under pressure. He was a true newsman at the helm of a crisis, unwilling to hand over control to another member of his crew.

And I stayed up late into the early morning with him in Novmber 2004, watching the returns, refusing to believe that Bush was headed back to the White House for another term. Surely, if I hung in with him, the tide would turn and I wouldn't have to wake up to such nonsensical news.

But Peter passed away. And Charlie was there, hosting in the morning, anchoring at night. But a legend is not easily replaced. And so ABC tried to fill Peter's unfillable shoes with two very capable journalists, but that didn't last.

And Charlie was there again. This time, he stayed.

I have been entirely faithful to him. Even when the Couric craze reached its fever pitch, I didn't waver. I wasn't one of the millions who tuned in to CBS. I didn't watch Katie on Today so I had no interest in watching her at night.

I love Charlie's broadcast, the thoughtful mix of stories, the interplay between him and the correspondents. I love that his broadcast begins with that authoritative voiceover, "This is World News with Charles Gibson," but everyone calls him Charlie, even himself.

But most of all, I love the way his broadcast ends: "I'm Charlie Gibson, and I hope you had a good day. For everyone here at ABC News, have a good night."

Even his sign-off is sincere.

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Wha? ...

Yesterday, I read that the FDA has appointed a food czar.

Seriously? We never had one?!

Nevermind that it would probably be good to have some general oversight into the food the population is consuming because of the plethora of food-borne illnesses can happen in the most innocent of circumstances, but this administration has been so over the top in the wake of 9/11, ignorning laws in the name of protection, did it ever occur to any of them that terrorists could taint our food supply? And no one was bothering to check?

Not that this all falls on Bush's shoulders. This position should have been created along with the FDA.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Think Different ...

[Note: This was written April 30, posted May 1.]

This morning, plodding away on the treadmill - on the weight-loss setting, no less - I caught a segment on the Today show about a new book, Rethinking Thin, and the first thought I had was, “Uh oh.”

The gist of the book seems to be that some people are just predisposed to be heavy and we should get over our obsession with a state we're not destined to reach. (The book is due in stores on May 8, but in the meantime, you can read an excerpt here.)

You’d think I would have let out a whoop, jumped off the treadmill, grabbed a bag of Oreos with a Cheetos chaser, and plopped my ass on the couch.

Except that I don’t buy what Gina Kolata is selling. (What does it say about my obviously food-focused brain that I read her name and thought, “Hey, like pina colada!”?)

Two-thirds of the population struggles with their weight. I’ve been one of them for most of my life. Most of my life. Not all of my life. I wasn’t an abnormally large baby, I was a healthy 8 pounds. I have pictures of myself as a youngster in which I’m rather thin. Me. Thin. Go figure.

I started putting on weight in grade school. And it’s been a yo-yo struggle ever since. These days, I wear a 14. At my height, I can pull it off, but I know I can be in better shape. Hence the treadmill every morning.

Why I gained weight in the first place is a big question. One, my mom is one of the best cooks on the planet. Two, we ate a lot of beef. Steak was our default dinner if mom was stumped for an idea. Three, well, three is where is starts getting more complex. I remember my father talking to me about losing weight. My father’s never been the paragon of healthy eating, so why it became his job and not my mom’s, I don’t know. Maybe mom had already tried.

What I do remember is that I was promised a new bike - a 10-speed bike - if I lost whatever amount of weight I was expected to lose.

I was in third grade.

And I didn’t, in the end, lose all that was expected of me. But I got the bike anyway. Because, my dad told me, I’d tried. Oh, I'd tried, all right. I remember eating really boring snacks, like melba toast. Who in the history of time has sucessfully lost weight eating melba toast? Seriously.

Thus began the downward spiral of trying to lose weight and failing, and then feeling bad about it.

I was 7.

It’s a crazy ride I’ve been on ever since.

But I’m worried that this book is going to be taken as a free pass for those who are fed up with trying to lose weight. Lots of diets tell us it’s not our fault that we’re heavy. “It’s cortisol!”, they cry. “Because you have too much stress in your life!” “You’ve just been on the wrong diet!,” others say. “Stop eating carbs! For the love of God, stop eating carbs!”

And so people pop pills and eat a lot of steak and hey!, they lose weight. But what about when they stop popping the pills and they want a potato? Assuming they haven’t addressed the underlying stressors in their lives, stress will still make them carry weight. And potatoes, well, they’re just starchy spawns of Satan. And I can't imagine life without 'em.

I truly believe that our natural state is not one of excess weight. I think our bodies are naturally inclined to thinness.

So why ain’t I a size 8?

Because I like food and I don’t really like exercise. And I think that’s true for most of the overweight population. Yes, there are medical explanations - out-of-whack thyroids or edema - that cause people to carry weight or fluids, but I think the mystery for most of us isn’t so mysterious.

When I’m honest with myself, I don’t exercise as much as I should and I don’t eat as well as I should. It’s pretty simple.

Exercise isn’t fun when you’re heavy, and it’s easy to get fed up and quit. Just ask the owner of any health club. Attendance spikes in January and starts to dwindle from there. I’m sure there’s a point where the effects of exercise tip the scales (so to speak) and the rewards become further motivation. But that’s a steep hill to climb and it’s pretty easy to lapse into our lax ways.

And bad food tastes good. We all know we should eat salads and grains and fruit and drink water, but cheeseburgers taste better; when it comes to snacks, cookies are more fun; and to our tastebuds, a Frappuccino will beat a glass of water every time.

But if I exercised regularly and ate what I know I should eat, there’s no way I would stay at my current weight, not that I know my weight. I don’t own a scale. I base everything on how my clothes fit and how I feel.

None of which is to say that we should all strive to be a size 2. But if everyone who wanted to lose weight actually got on a program and stuck with it, a realistic program of real, healthy food and moderate exercise, I think pretty much everyone would lose something.

Diets don’t work. We all know that. We have to make - say it with me - lifestyle changes. But those are hard to make because we’ve spent most of our lives eating the wrong things in the wrong quantities. So we try to be good, and then we get fed up, and we slide back down the slope we’re trying so desperately to climb. That food pyramid is a steep mutha.

So, sure, we should rethink “thin.” We should realize that most of us will never be Size 0 and that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean size 30 is OK, either. It’s not about aesthetics, it’s about health. Our zaftig culture spells heart disease and diabetes and a whole host of ailments. Yes, you can be overweight and be healthy, but you can also lose weight and be healthier.

Does this mean I will never eat another ice cream cone? Hell no. But I know I can eat better than I do. Yes, there’s something to brain chemistry that often overrides willpower, but if I’m honest, I don’t give my willpower much of a chance. I cave pretty quick.

As for me, my quest for fitness is driven partly by a killer family history. Literally. I have heart disease on both sides. One of my dad’s doctors once illustrated my predicament for me. “Fifty percent,” he said, holding out his left hand. “Fifty percent,” he said, holding out his right hand. And then he brought his hands together. “One hundred percent.” Heart disease isn’t an “if” for me. It’s a slam dunk, as George Tenet would say.

But my quest is also driven by curiosity. I once saw a picture of Hilary Swank in Vanity Fair when she was training for “Million Dollar Baby” and I thought, “I wonder what it’s like to live in that body. To live in a body that can do whatever I ask it to do.”

Well, there’s only one way to find out.

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