Saigon, Nha Trang, Hanoi, and Beijing in a few pix

My wife and I spent two weeks in Vietnam and China recently. Below are some images from the trip. The main part of the vacation was in Vietnam. The time in Beijing was a stop off on the way home to visit with our son, his beautiful wife and their adorable two daughters.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

There is almost no semblance of traffic control in Vietnam: no traffic lights (except for the very rare ones on large streets); there are no crosswalks nor indicators for pedestrian crossings. Scooters outnumber cars and trucks 10 to 1. It is controlled chaos. Pedestrians cross streets when it looks safe and the scooters ride around the pedestrians like water around river rocks. Even the sidewalks weren’t safe. Scooterists helped themselves to use what we take for granted as walkways part of the road as well as scooter parking spaces. As fun as the three cities we visited in Vietnam, it took a toll on us. We were exhausted each night when made it back to our hotel. The weather had us in shorts and all I could think of is getting clipped in the calf, chin, or Achilles’s heal by a scooter’s foot peg.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum
Inside the City Museum
Captured U.S. equipment (Bell HU-1 “Huey” and a Northrop F5) outside the museum
Captured Huey
I forgot what this exhibit is about. I’m guessing it is an example of a National Liberation Front rally (aka the Viet Cong.).
Me ‘n Uncle Ho at the Central Post Office
Statue of Minh in front of the Hồ Chí Minh City People’s Committee

My first authentic banh mi. I was worried about eating pork due to African Swine Fever which hit Vietnam back in 2017. Still, I ate pork three times in first two days. I worried about drinking water. This was remedied by always drinking bottled water (assuming the local bottlers were properly filtering their product), and I worried about drinking any iced drinks since it was highly likely the ice came from non-filtered water. As it turned out I drank four drinks with ice in them. So much for being cautious.

We took a Mekong Delta tour where we visited the Tho Xa My Phong; Vinh Trang Pagoda, drank coconut juice right from a coconut with lunch–just like an obvious tourist. We also watched caramel candy being made, visited beehives, and a honey bottling operation.

Buddhist monastery
A failed attempt at messaging a friend in front of a pagoda
Our ride
“Ride the snake…
the snake is long.”

The following day we visited the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden. We skipped the animals. Too depressing. We toured the Palace of Reunification where–before Saigon fell–the building used to house the South Vietnamese President.

Before we set out for another day I watched a little of the Red Sox’ season opener.
Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden.
People etched their names on leaves. Why?
In front of Reunification Palace. This used to be the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace.
Another Huey–this on the Reunification Palace roof
S. Vietnam’s prez had a sweet crib, including a theater!

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is an international vacation spot where English takes a rumble seat to Russian. In fact, most of the non-Vietnamese we heard was Russian. This goes back to the Soviet Union days where Soviets vacationed above the 17th Parallel. After the reunification, Russians started vacationing further south. In some ways, this is their Mexico–a relatively close, cheap, and warm place to kick it. A lot of cigarettes are sold here, sometimes via “cigarette girls” walking the streets. Russians obviously didn’t get the memo on the health hazards of smoking. Russians can pick people like us out–holding hands while crossing the street, sometimes frozen in the middle of the street in fear. One Russian snapped at us mid-crossing, “Cross with confidence!”

Our next stop was the beach resort Nha Trang. This is a view from our hotel balcony.
The first time I ever eaten pho. Messy.
Go ahead, guys, park your rides right in the restaurant.
A lot of seafood
Try crossing the street, I dare ya.
That’s okay, fellas, you can park your scoots on the sidewalk. We’ll walk around.
All restaurants that had menus offered Cyrillic translations
More grilled sea food.
Some stuff just didn’t look appetizing.
Cigarettes–mainly for the Russian customers.
More seafood
… and even more seafood
Yeah, I ate gray meat all right.

These are common images. People sitting or lying on their scooters. The guy on the left is one of many Grab riders–Asia’s answer to Uber. There are supposed to be Grab taxis, but all we saw were scooters. The picture on the right was taken in Saigon.

I was enjoying vacation so much I forgot politics and political podcasts and just deleted my alerts. As of this posting, I’m still not listening to most of them. It feels nice. The whole time we were in Vietnam and Beijing Sacramento was experiencing some serious rainfall. I’m glad we got the rain and even happier that I dodged it.

A word about Vietnam (and as I would find out later) Beijing napkins. They don’t offer very big ones–very skimpy ones, to be honest. However, every meal comes with a wet nap. I would open them right away and place them on my lap which was awkward–especially when we were in Saigon and Nha Trang since I wore shorts and could feel my shorts getting damp as I ate.


The first 24 hours in Hanoi were fun. Our hotel was near St. Joseph’s Cathedral. I had hot and iced Vietnamese coffee quite often while I was Vietnam. The fourth and fifth images below are from a walking street food tour we took on the second night. The pho was good, but I didn’t feel well after eating the meat in it. For our last stop we had Vietnamese coffee with a whisked egg yolk in it. It was the best coffee I had the whole trip, but thinks didn’t feel so good in my gut by this time. A couple of hours later I was tossing everything up I had that day and then some. I spend our last day in Vietnam retching and praying this all would be over by the time I got to the airport. It was, but that was a horrible 24 hours.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral located in the old quarter of Hanoi. This was taken from our hotel room.
I drank a lot of coffee in Vietnam, but after I got sick I stopped.I have only had a couple of cups in the last three weeks. I don’t blame coffee for becoming violently ill, but the naturally acid taste reminds me of that night. I’ve been drinking tea ever since.
Was this the culprit?
I really hope it wasn’t this. I really want to try Vietnamese Egg Coffee (or Cà Phê Trứng) again.


On our first night in Beijing we saw people throwing paper on little fires on the sidewalk. The next day and throughout the rest of our stay, we saw these chalk circles on the sidewalk–sites where the burning events occurred. Peter said people were burning fake money (Joss paper). It had something to do with sending the money up to their recently departed, I think. Peter said to not step inside any of the many circles we would come across. We obliged.
Family portrait: the artist portrayed Peter as Chinese!
Bin Man and baby Zora. We didn’t see enough of Peter’s beautiful bride. She was on a project at work much of the time.
The Chinese like to feed you and Bin Man and Peter were gracious hosts.
Peter and Alanis.
Grandpa with his daughter and granddaughters.
ZiZi, the very cute and obedient family dog.

Here are more of Alanis. (I guess the secret is out, I’m a proud grandfather.) The last one is of Alanis and Grandpa, Bin Man’s father.

Only a couple of things left to do before leaving Beijing for home:

Leave a note for my friend Dave from Tienanmen Square and . . .
dub my eldest granddaughter China’s No. 1 Oakland A’s fan.

Funny thing is, Peter had a concern about me walking around Tiananmen Square with a sheet of paper with words on it–as if it could be interpreted as a protest sign to someone of authority that doesn’t read English. Seconds after raising the harmless sign for the picture, I was confronted by someone from–I think–the People’s Liberation Army, but he just wanted me to move along and was quite polite about it. I shuddered later thinking it could have been someone pushing me into a paddy wagon!

More room on the way back. Us fat guys need it!

The Two-Block BurgerWalk–Mexican Style

This is the side door. More on this below.

When I was regularly reviewing burgers in the Sacramento area on this site I found at least three restaurants that served some of the best burgers in town that were easily within walking distance from my office. Esquire Grill and Grange made excellent burgers, but the best burger in the neighborhood was from Ella’s; an exquisite specimen made from Wagyu beef, Gruyere, and topped with a sunny-side up egg! All of the above were, and I imagine still are, nice places to eat where the burger will run you from $15 to $20. I don’t spend that much on lunch anymore nor do I eat much beef–it’s easier on the digestive system and on the planet to stick with poultry and veggies. On the occasions when I eat out, I take it easy on my wallet. One place that is more practical and yet very good is La Cosecha: a patio-style Mexican restaurant in Cesar Chavez Plaza here in Downtown Sacramento. Its main customers during the week appear to be civil servants, like myself, on lunch breaks, but from its impressive website, La Cosecha is also open for dinners and weekend brunch, so this only shows what a homebody I am. La Cosecha, or in English “The Harvest,” is impressive considering its small footprint and funky design on the west side of Cesar Chavez Plaza.

The place used to be called Cafe Soleil and it had less of a restaurant, more of a taco stand feel: line out the door because the food was good and the understaffed crew seemed unorganized. The windows and glass doors were covered in pastel-colored copy paper that featured the latest new and scratched menu items. Some of these signs were misspelled and often used unnecessary quotation marks that only gave the place charm. I don’t remember what kept bringing me back, the excellent breakfast burritos or the unintentionally humorous signage.

When the owner died after a long bout with cancer, her partner took over, but could not make it work and Cafe Soleil closed in or around early 2015. This was mostly due to renovations the City was doing to the plaza that made it difficult for the restaurant to attract customers with construction signs and fencing perpetually around. After Cafe Soleil closed the structure remained vacant for a couple of years and the eves of the building became a respite for the homeless that claimed the plaza after hours and on the weekends.

When the building reopened as La Cosecha in May of 2017, it was with a consistent menu, a full wait and kitchen staff and inviting details that made it look less like a taco stand and more like a sit-down restaurant. The only thing quirky I noticed about the place is how customers were discouraged to use the convenient side doors near the to-go window herding them through the front door even if they wanted to pick up an order. It’s a little confusing, but not a big deal.

La Cosecha’s menu features a lot of great sounding stuff. If I don’t watch it I’ll be camped here every lunch until I have tried all the dishes. Also, their Saturday/Sunday Brunch items make me want to get up early on the weekends and make the trek. Normally, though I stick with either their fish or chicken tacos. On this day; however, I wanted to try a torta and found just below the two tortas entries, a hamburger. I had to check it out–GI tract and environment be damned! I’ve been to run-down Mexican drive-ins that have called their hamburger a torta, but I believe that is a misnomer. La Cosecha clearly makes the distinction on their menu. So, in the spirit of honest labeling, I am having today, the Mexico City Burger.

The Mexico City Burger with fries.

The Mexico City Burger (CDMX) is an eight ounce beef patty, topped with melted cheese, mild poblano chile peppers, pickled onions, arugula, Cosecha’s special sauces on a large sesame seed bun. The poblano and the pickled onions give the Mexico City Burger a one-of-a-kind taste. I can’t say it ranks with any of the burgers I listed at the top of this post, but it is also about four dollars cheaper and a very different experience. The melted (or Fundido) cheese also gives the burger a festive taste–like nachos on a burger. This is not the kind of dish you want to order on a first date–it is messy with each bite the molten cheese pulls apart so that you often have to use your other hand to manage the stringy cheese. As for the arugula, well that’s just the chef’s damn good taste! Oh yeah and the waitress and Google helped me with the trailing parenthetical acronym: CDMX stands for Ciudad de Mexico or Mexico City. Thanks, waitress!

The fries aren’t bad, but lack the character of the main event: plain, but crispy steak fries where I was hoping for some Mexican seasoning or some other element that made them stand out. The dish is served with a ramekin of ketchup and a steak knife. I didn’t need the ketchup, but as I struggled with the molten cheese I knew I should have used the knife! I was grateful the bun held up and didn’t disintegrate as so many buns do when handling these kinds of ingredients.

As I write, this I can tell I am jonesing for some more La Cosecha. This burger is worth a reprise, but there are so many other things to check out: Carnitas De La Plaza, Tijuana Caesar Salad, and maybe one (or both) of the two real tortas. Buen provecho!

Some lunchers at the bar of La Cosecha.

America & taxes

Chomsky on how backward America is when it comes to taxes.

“I would like to electrocute everyone who uses the word ‘fair’ in connection with income tax policies.” — William F. Buckley, Jr.

’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes – The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock

Maybe it is because America fought a war over taxes that taxation has such a bad rap in this country. The only thing I hate about taxes are is annually preparing them. Personally, I don’t mind paying my fair share of income tax or gas tax or tax for other goods and services. I never have minded this seemingly Un-American duty. When I gazed upon the stub of my very first check from Taco Bell, I truly believed the funds pulled out of my gross pay was going to something worthwhile and/or necessary.

My introduction to the “evils” of taxation came when I voted in my second election. It was 1978 and Proposition 13 was the biggest item on the ballot. Prop 13 was the property tax revolt initiative introduced by Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann that radically changed California tax code–many people would later say for the worst. Though I recall my father, a Democrat at the time, was a big supporter of the initiative. I was neither aware of the damage the passage of the measure would reap down the road nor why the voter referendum was so popular. (Though many years later my father would say that property taxes were out of the control and Prop 13 fixed the problem.) I assume there was truth in that, but around the time the initiative was placed on the ballot, my father was on his way to becoming a Reagan Democrat and then a full-blown Rush Limbaugh-listening Republican so he may have also been on his way to being more fiscally conservative.

I am guessing I parroted my father’s ballot choices on many of the candidates and initiates on the 1976 and 1978 ballots. Sometime before the polls opened in those two elections my Dad, Mom, and I would sit down at the dinner table with our sample ballots and my Dad would give his reasons why he was voting for what candidate and for what initiative. I remember him stressing how we should all vote for the same things or we would be “canceling out” each other’s votes. My Mom would always tell me later with a wink that she was going to vote for whomever and whatever she wanted. Still, I didn’t understand anything about property taxes only that I didn’t pay for them. I also didn’t understand where the tax money went. Over the years I would figure it out with law enforcement and fire departments experiencing budget cuts, with people being thrown out of the apartments due to no rent control, and the State has to resort to the lottery to prop up our depressed schools. Wealthy neighborhoods were able to supplement their State education funds with local taxes that bolstered neighborhood public schools. The creation of charter schools also helped the affluent districts while negatively affecting depressed districts. Schools in depressed areas have to depend mostly on State taxes that Proposition 13 gutted. The long-coming teachers strike in Los Angeles is an example of counties taking back some of the monies lost due to Prop 13 and charter schools in rich school districts. The teachers tentative got back more nurses, more counselors, got more middle-school and high-school librarians and the teachers received a 6% raise. Will this raise taxes in Los Angeles County? I can’t see how it wouldn’t, but we are talking about our future. First Chicago, then West Virginia, then Oklahoma, now L.A. with strike talk happening in Denver and Oakland. We are seeing a reckoning a long time coming. Hopefully, this trend will ultimately affect the entire K-12 public schools in the U.S.

I learned another lesson on how fickle Americans can be when it comes to taxes and what taxes can buy or save on a local level. A couple of years after I most likely followed my father’s lead and voted Yes on Proposition 13 I became an employee of Tower Theatre–one of the last classic movie palaces in Sacramento at a time these kinds of theaters where closing down across America and video rental shops like Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Redbox were on the rise. While working as part of the floor staff I would hear older patrons go on about The Alhambra–a true movie palace that harkened back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. When it fell into disrepair in the early 1970’s Safeway Stores purchased the property and building to develop one of their supermarkets on the site. As Matias Bombal, local cinema impresario explained the doomed theater’s fate in a letter to the editors of Sacramento News and Review dated March 28, 2004:

“The blow was not delivered by Safeway, but by the people of Sacramento. Safeway Stores, upon hearing the tremendous public outcry of its potential destruction, offered the building and property back to the City of Sacramento for exactly what they paid for it. A special bond measure election was held to raise money to buy the property, and Sacramentans, likely not interested in additional taxes at that time, voted against it. With no acceptance by the City or any private party to buy the Alhambra, Safeway proceeded with their development.”

Safeway had the new store’s entrance designed in a vague homage to the movie palace’s front and it retained the water fountain now in the south side of the parking lot, but for many, these were hollow gestures. Now people pine about the long-gone movie palace, but I always wonder if some of the people bellyaching about the theater’s demise long for it, but not the tax that would have saved it from the wrecking ball. Apparently, at the time most people were watching their wallets and not the big silver screen.

I spent most of my adult years a political junkie, I spent most of the 1990s politically out of it while my wife and I raised a family. It was in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush I jolted back into politics especially when Bush doled out a huge tax cut for the rich and started two wars on a credit card. Before he left office when would me deep in debt. I became even more in tune with politics in the 2008 presidential election. Around that time, I recall all kinds of chicken little comments revolving around candidate Barack Obama, the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Besides the dog whistle racism, there were the fears that he was a socialist. While I hadn’t become a Democratic Socialist yet, I knew Obama was not a socialist–far from it. I recall an interview with the now disgraced Bill O’Reilly. The host’s opening comment went something like, “You’re a big tax-the-rich guy.” I looked up the video on YouTube and was reminded of Obama’s reply, “[chuckling] Just you, Bill.” I recall remembering that O’Reilly was the highest paid TV announcer of the time. Only a handful of primetime anchors make anything close to that amount, but the amount of money seemed ridiculous. (I will come back to this point later.) Why do the networks pay out that much for a talking head? It’s not as if they are professional athletes. (And don’t get me started on how much athletes get paid.)

As it turned out Obama really wasn’t that big of a “tax-the-rich guy.” True, taxes did increase a little to pay for the huge Affordable Care Act, but that wasn’t much compared to all the right-wing hype. Obama followed the Clinton centralist Democrat playbook, fiscally being about as center-right as any president since Reagan. Now, only social issues separated the two parties. Obama’s cabinet was a who’s-who in neoliberalism: Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner, Tom Perez, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel. Still, it was all the birthers, dog-whistle politics, and the unfounded “weak on Putin” crap that pissed me off. What is wrong with being a tax the rich guy, anyway (even if you’re not)?

It was Obama’s (and let’s not forget W’s) decision to bail out the banks with taxpayer money that helped birth the Tea Party movement. Or at least that is what most people like me believe. We know now that, unlike the later Occupy Wallstreet movement, the Tea Party movement was mostly Astroturfed, or as the historian, Thomas Frank put it: “Never has there been a phonier, more transparent bid to mislead an angry public. Supposedly a protest against bank bailouts, it was actually launched from among the futures traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange—and then backed to the hilt by Beltway libertarians looking for a way to distance themselves from the badly damaged Republican brand.”

I didn’t like the Tea Party movement, but I was too busy at the time feeling betrayed by Obama and Democrats. I felt the party had lost its political courage. When the catastrophic 2010 midterms came around and the recession deepened I was ready to leave the party. I was looking for someone to believe in. Barack Obama did more to push me to the left–the real left than anything else. I hadn’t read The Nation since my college days. I began reading it every week now. I found some hope in its pages or maybe all it did was rile me up. I was introduced to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)–I immediately became a member. I also discovered Bernie Sanders and his newly published book The Speech, the transcript of a nearly nine-hour filibuster by the Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont in December of 2010.

The filibuster was so inspiring that the volume of viewers watching the now historic speech on C-SPAN crashed the Senate server. Sanders had been around for years and I found articles in The Nation that went back to the days he was the radical Mayor of Burlington, but he was brand new to me thanks to the myopic mainstream press. Bernie was a member of the DSA. I also liked how he went after corporations and the ultra-rich. I bought and read The Speech in a record time for me. Then, I sought out the C-SPAN video of the filibuster, downloaded it on to my PC and watched it–mesmerized–over two nights late into those evenings. For me, Sanders was the voice crying out from the neoliberal wilderness (though I didn’t know what “neoliberalism” meant at the time). After reading the book and watching the filibuster, I began spending more time on YouTube looking for more of Sanders speeches and interviews. To be honest I really don’t remember when I found the video below of Elizabeth Warren that reiterated what I have thought about taxes for quite some time now. It appears to have been taped in the Bush years, but I think I found it later. I’m not sure now. It predates Warren, the U.S. Senator. Perhaps it was when she was an Obama appointee. Whatever its release time Warren’s take on taxes is spot on.

Elizabeth Warren broke the internet with this foggy-looking video.

Later, during Bernie’s 2016 presidential run I heard conservative friends and associates complain that Bernie wanted to give away “free stuff.” I pointed out that the “free stuff” they were referring to were critical in getting the economy and the poor and middle-class prosperous again, but all they saw were higher taxes. My retort was higher taxes for whom? Not us! This “free stuff” was to help educate and assist the people who keep the economy rolling like Elizabeth says in the video. It is frustrating how so many people–especially conservative, but mainline Democrats, too–think a healthy economy has absolutely nothing to do with taxation that keeps public services firing on all eight. When the attacks on Sanders’ “free stuff” were less abusive, they tended to be patronizing: an otherwise very intelligent, conservative, woman who works in a cubicle near me was so concerned that all these millennials were cheering for Bernie and all the things he promised (e.g. free public college education, college debt forgiveness, Medicare for all, paid family and medical leave, creating a jobs program, $15 an hour minimum wage, strengthening and expanding Social Security, et al.) with no way of generating the revenue to pay for these these things except through raising taxes. I kept my mouth shut. I knew the answer. Sanders had laid out how these services would be funded, but the mainstream press and especially Fox News (which I assumed this otherwise smart woman was getting her news spoon fed to her conveniently left out the part of Sanders’ plan. Bernie has explained how these programs would be funded, I could send this link to anyone who thinks these ideas are foolish, but it is far worse to think we should stay the course and what the middle class continues to shrink. When Sanders wasn’t speaking about this “free stuff” he wanted to give away to undeserving citizens who were strapped with debt or sinking below the poverty line he was talking about corporate taxation, taxes on Wall Street speculation, estate taxes, and other taxes that made the candidate the target for smears by the DNC, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the nearly every other mainstream media outlet.

The best things that came out of Bernie 2016 were the progressive political action organizations Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and Justice Democrats, and one of the candidate’s organizers: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez ran and defeated the ten-term incumbent Congressman, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley for the New York’s 14th Congressional District. From there she easily defeated her Republican opponent in the general in 2018 and at age 29 became the youngest woman to be elected into the Congress. As a freshman Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC) would float the idea of a progressive marginal Federal income tax to Anderson Cooper on CBS’ 60 Minutes. A kind of tax rate we have not seen in this country since the 1970s. AOC told Cooper, “If you look at our tax rates back in the ’60s when you had a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let’s say, from zero to $75,000 maybe ten percent or 15 percent, et cetera. But once you get to, like, the tippy tops–on your 10 millionth dollar–sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That does not mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.” That last sentence is critical since Cooper suggested AOC is a “radical.” This from a man who makes $12 million annually. Fox News’ Sean Hannity was outraged by AOC’s suggestion and misquoted her tax idea multiple times to Fox’s angry, white middle-class viewers. By the way, Hannity is reported to pull down a ridiculous $36 million a year.

AOC on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Above AOC explains–again–how a marginal tax rate works, this time on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The graph below is a visual history of how this country taxed the rich. Things went all to hell when Reagan took office. After AOC floated the marginal tax reform, I found two of my favorite podcast hosts talking about it. Jeremy Scahill on Intercepted brought up the subject of marginal tax rates with Stephanie Kelton, the popular economist and adviser to the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. Listen here at the 31:40 mark. Also, Richard Wolff talked about it on his January 23, 2019 installment of Economic Update. Pick up Prof. Wolff’s discussion about tax reform at the 15:28 mark. But most remarkable was Jamelle Bouie’s piece in the Op-Ed section of January 28, 2019, New York Times. Bouie’s writes how inequality has highly negative consequences on society and that AOC’s marginal tax reform idea, Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan, as well as many of Sanders ideas are gaining traction because the fact that “trickle-down” economics has never worked, that a healthy middle-class is what creates jobs by purchasing good and services which in turn creates more demand that results in jobs growth and higher wages. Since Occupy Wall Street and especially since the Sanders campaign and the wake of activism that has followed more people are figuring this out.

On a personal note, I don’t think anyone in my family (with the possible exception of my two sons) sees the world the way I do. My brother is a wealthy fiscal conservative. When my father was alive we used to argue over politics until we both come to the conclusion that neither of us is going to change the other’s mind so we stopped. The last political exchange we ever had, I think, had to do with a draconian budget proposal by Paul Ryan. My dad liked it and wanted to know what I thought. I just now qualified it as “draconian” so the reader knows how I felt about it. Still, I held my tongue and said something like I don’t know much about it and the subject was dropped. The last time I tortured a family member with my politics it was about income taxes and my mom was the victim. She told me that an affluent family we have known for years moved to Nevada because the income taxes were more favorable. I knew it was none of my damn business, but it just rubbed me the wrong–a well off couple spending virtually their entire lives in California enjoying all that the state has to offer–much of it due to taxes. Then move across the border. I know that’s not as bad as millionaire tax shelters, offshore accounts, et al, but it still–emotionally if not intelligently–rubbed me the wrong way. I made some comment that I bet they could handle paying the State taxes considering what they got out of the State over the years. It was a dumb argument, I know. I just got turned off how a wealthy family who I assume are pretty much set for life wants more. My mom snapped at me about how it was their money and they could do what they want with it. I shut my mouth at this point and salvaged our lunch date.

Every once in a while, I run into David, a lobbyist for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association motoring his way to the Capitol on his electric wheelchair. David is a fellow Christian. We met through a Bible study I used to attend at the State Capitol and it is mainly because of this connection I say hello and ask how he’s doing whenever I see him. I feel a little shame that I have a bad taste in my mouth whenever we exchange hellos. It’s an especially bad feeling because he is a perfectly well-mannered individual and if you asked him about me I am sure he would say that while he doesn’t really know me very well there is absolutely no animus between us. But for me, that’s not completely true. Back when we were in the Capitol Bible study he would make a comment every occasionally that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was about the homeless problem or welfare. A better person–a better Christian–might confess his ill feelings and then hope the two would talk and pray it out, but I hold my tongue and just stew in it. I know he wouldn’t say anything stone cold about people less fortunate than us, but I’m pretty sure he would say or may actually have said something like “the State shouldn’t be responsible for the homeless, people below the rising poverty line–the church needs to step up.” (The church–as if it was a monolithic entity with a large budget and enough service workers to pull off these needed services so conservatives who don’t want their tax dollars going to the destitute can sleep at night knowing “The Church” is at work–regardless of they are putting any scratch in Sunday’s offering plate. Then again, maybe it’s my prejudice against his lobby firm he works for. I seem to think of Howard fucking Jarvis every time I see David motoring towards the Capitol or his office. As long as I envision depressed and overcrowded schools with overworked and underpaid teachers, Howard Jarvis pops into my head.

When I see David in his wheelchair riding from his office to the Capitol or back, or drinking a latte at Oblivion Comics and Coffee I have the opportunity to talk politics, but I envision him sounding like one of those anti-gas tax initiative commercials or telling me how the California Lottery is filling the gap his crappy Prop 13 created. (He’s younger than me by well over 20 years. He wasn’t born when the tax initiate made it on the ballot.) Yeah, I know, I need to let this go. It’s a free country, right? Not only that, we’re supposed to be hermanos en Cristo, for Cristo sake. Still, I marvel how people don’t want to pay for anything that just might help the community at large and especially the less fortunate if it means forking out some of their own earnings.

Taxes, especially fair income taxes, estate, taxes in the form of offshore penalties, taxes on capital gains, and dividends taxes can be great equalizers. And, yes, I do believe you can have too much money regardless of what you do for a living. Though there are plenty of rich people who would disagree with me. Enter billionaire Howard Schutz of Starbucks fame, who thinks he can make America great again by running as an independent centrist and hopefully defeating all the Democrats that are now jumping on the progressive tax bandwagon. President-hopeful Starbucks calls the tax ideas of AOC and Warren “punitive.” No shit Schultzy, you’re a fucking billionaire! Any truly progressive tax plan is going to make Daddy Starbucks feel like he’s been kicked in the balls every April 15. And downstream the least of us will see improvements. I’m all for that! If you ask U.S. Senator (and possible presidential-hopeful) from Ohio, Sherrod Brown he would call Schultz a “total idiot.” or as Robert Wright in his The Mindful Resistance Newsletter (January 27-February 2, 2019) said it a bit more decorously “If you’re a billionaire, and you live in a country that’s in the throes of a populist revolt on both the left and the right, and the country is being run by a guy who figured being a billionaire qualified him for the White House and is now widely loathed, maybe you should sit this one out.”

I know everyone has a right to their own opinion, but whenever someone like Schultz or one of those grossly over-paid news commentators or one of the mouthpieces of the Koch Brothers, the Walton family, or Sheldon Adelson offer their two bits about taxes and economics it rings so utterly self-serving considering these are the people who have the most to lose while their fellow citizens living in abject poverty just may benefit from a more progressive tax plan. I seriously doubt David, the low-tax lobbyist I see occasionally, would agree. Perhaps one day I’ll broach the subject the next time we run into each other in Oblivion and maybe even talk over cappuccinos. I could ask how his wheelchair handles the potholes of California streets only to find that he was not happy how Prop 13 played out. I’d sip my cappuccino feeling like a dick, ah, but a tax-the-rich democratic socialist dick!

Running Backwards: Me, Fitness, & Weight Loss

Con-vic-tion /kan’vikSH(e)n/noun
2a : a strong persuasion or belief

X \’eks\
5: an unknown quantity                                     

It was on a mid-October Sunday afternoon when I came up with the hair-brain idea. I texted my wife, who was running errands at the time, that I was going for a bike ride. She replied that she wanted to accompany me. I said okay, but for reasons revealed below, I really wanted to do this ride alone. When we were gearing up to ride, she asked where we were going. I told her to the gym and that I wanted to pick up the shoes I had stored in my locker. She didn’t ask why so I thought I dodged a bullet. At the gym, she hung out in front, guarding our bikes while I went inside. When I came out with the neon blue, new-looking running shoes, she asked why I wanted to take them home. (I guess I didn’t dodge that bullet after all.) I told her I was thinking of taking up running. The faintest of smiles shot across her face before she said something about how I should keep them at the club and get back into doing the Breakfast Club (a three-day, early morning, interval exercise class I wrote about in an earlier post). I didn’t want to argue and she graciously let it pass. I’m sure she doubted this running thing would last. It never started. Read on.

As I publish this post, I haven’t run in these shoes even one yard. Back when I was a junior gym rat, my trainer advised me that in between nights of interval training in the weight room (also known as burst circuits) I should fit in time for a cardio workout. Never having a problem throwing money at new interests, I just had to get respectable, if not top-end running shoes. While sitting in a fitting chair at the local Fleet Feet in Sacramento, Al, a sixty-something, mustachioed man with matching salt and pepper hair, talked to me about running. An ex-police officer who sold shoes part-time in his retirement, Al told me he had been a runner his whole life and now was helping his wife recover from a hip replacement. He introduced me to interval running. Interval running is running or jogging mixed in with walking or “recovery time,” as it is called by runners. I told the ex-cop, as he adeptly maneuvered his shoehorn behind my heel to nestle my Fred Flintstone foot (short, broad, and flat) into the mid-range priced running shoe that I plan to run two minutes on the treadmill followed by one minute of walking. You see after I heard his tale of running one minute and resting six I figured, I don’t have a new hip to break in so I’ll do a two/one jam. Al, probably noticing my less than an athletic frame, questioned my ratio. Then, after he found out I haven’t run since my annual high school Six Minute Run/Walk PE evaluation in my senior year, he strongly urged that I employ a less aggressive run/recovery formula. Naah. What does a svelte ex-cop who has been running daily for years know about running?

So with my brand new ASICS Conviction X running shoes on my dogs, I started hitting the treadmill. I felt I was making progress, though I did have to ease up on the run to walk ratio. I’m not sure what I ended up doing: maybe two minutes jogging (never running) and two minutes walking in recovery mode. About three weeks into my weekly routine (interval training with weights on Mondays and Fridays with the treadmill on Wednesdays) my right hip began to hurt during my jog. I ignored it. It got worse. Then I changed my run/recovery formula to the ex-cops’ wife’s bum hip formula. It still hurt. What’s worse, it began to bother me long after I stepped off the treadmill. The pain subsided while riding my bike home nor did it hurt during my time in the weight room. Eventually; however, it became a constant pain: on my bike, in the weight room, and at my desk at work. It even started affecting my sleep–feeling the sharp pain whenever I rolled over. I finally switched over to a recumbent bike where all of the bikes faced sports bar-size screens of Fox News. (I have always known my gym was a conservative bastion. My only solace is that my headphones were connected to my iPod Shuffle and not tuned to the TVs.) Finally, the pain subsided.

Shortly after I switched from the treadmill to the recumbent bike, my wife and I were binge-watching the entire six seasons of The Sopranos that had become available on Netflix. In the last few episodes of the final season, my lower back began to hurt–badly. The pain most likely came from laying on a lumpy couch for hours many nights in a row. My doctor put me on Vicodin and ordered an MRI. When the results came back, it revealed I had Degenerative Disk Disease. My gym rat days were over. To be honest, I didn’t have to give up the recumbent bike, but I just couldn’t sit on those things, looking up at Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity anymore, even if their voices were muted. My doctor referred me to a Physical Therapist.

It was serendipitous that the PT I was referred to was a member of my health club–we recognized each other immediately. She recommended a yoga class offered at our club which was taught by Amanda, a teacher who specialized in Restorative Yoga. Amanda also had worked with the PT modeling postures for photos the PT gave to her patients to do at home. As for my new neon ASICS running shoes, I stuffed them in the back of my gym locker to shine only on my water bottle and gym clothes. For four and a half years, I exclusively practiced yoga, shunning my neo blue, “Rhyno Skin” shoes for my black flip-flops until November of 2017 when I started the Breakfast Club workouts previously mentioned. At first, I thought this early morning routine to be High-Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT), but I was mistaken. It was just another form of interval training. It only seemed high intensity because I was in such poor shape.

I used to tell people that yoga saved my life. And I believe practicing the ancient art has kept me limber and that has helped manage my Degenerative Disk Disease. I rarely have back pain, my posture has improved, and I usually catch myself whenever I began to slouch. Still, yoga has done very little if anything for me cardio-vascularly speaking. Also, the practice has done virtually nothing in the way of toning my flabby body or give me something even faintly looking like a six-pack. (My eating habits get credit for what looks more like a keg.) The Breakfast Club workouts were three days a week at 6:30 in the morning. It was not sustainable for many reasons: it was too early, especially in the winter; while it was definitely a sweat-inducing workout, I never felt I was building my muscles–I rarely felt sore the next morning like I did when I was doing burst circuits. When I dropped that class, I also decided to switch my yoga classes on Tuesday and Thursday for two Power Pump classes on those same evenings. My barely-worn shoes got a new job; they gave me support while I was swinging dumbbells and kettle weights with women young enough to be my daughters. So, once again, I felt out of place, but it was a healthy workout and better than the Breakfast Club routine. Still, I didn’t like that the Thursday class had a revolving set of uninspiring instructors. The Tuesday night instructor was great, but I missed the Vinyasa yoga class I dumped that night for this one. Ultimately, I ended up returning to the yoga classes and I stuffed my new-looking shoes back into my locker. I would think about those shoes whenever I stepped on the scale. Yoga has benefited me in manifold ways, but I don’t burn many calories on Tuesday and Thursday nights, an hour at a time. Because of this and my poor eating habits, I have gained all the weight I lost when I was doing interval weight training twice a week and interval running on the treadmill in between.

Thinking about putting my new shoes to work some months ago, I thought about riding the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (American River Bike Trail) to progressively longer and longer lengths on days off. One night (conveniently, when it was too late to go on a ride) I thought about getting an early start on that coming Saturday and riding the six-mile Sacramento River Bike Trail then continue to ride the entire thirty-two mile American River Trail to Folsom and back. I then rethought the idea and told my wife I wanted to try to ride about half that length. She looked at me as if I said to her I wanted to climb Everest. The thing is I trust her opinion over my own when it comes to my enthusiasm for bike riding and my ability to execute this or most kinds of exercise regimes. To wax the tired trope: she knows me better than I know myself. Also, I have seen my wife patch an inner tube as if she was in a pit crew at the Indy 500. I’ve heard her talk about having to do the same thing on the road more than once. I only tried it one time in the parking lot of a local Target and the damn thing leaked. From that day forward whenever I get a flat I walk the bike home–calling my office that I would be late then the house to see if someone can drive me and my lame bicycle home or to work. Getting stuck six or sixteen miles away from home on the American River Bike Trail with a flat gives me serious pause. At least I would have comfortable, nice looking shoes to hoof it back home. Maybe long-distance bike riding isn’t the solution. My poor reader is probably bored stiff by now, but writing this stuff out makes me see the absurdity some of these ideas are.

Aside from exercising more, I need to cut down on my caloric intake. In September, I began seeing online ads for something called Huel: a meal replacement shake. (The name, by the way, is a portmanteau for “human fuel.”) In early October, I started taking the product ads seriously, checking what real people on YouTube and WordPress had to say about it. I first dipped my toe in the meal replacement shake world by consulting my supplements pusher, Gabriel. He didn’t know what Huel was. He discouraged me from going the meal replacement route and suggested a diet consisting of more frequent, smaller meals on smaller plates–“perspective is everything,” as is often said. He also encouraged a healthy, filling shake near the end of the workday so I wouldn’t overeat when I got home, at the dinner table, or indulge in late-night snacking (probably my three worst diet killers). He then set me up with some healthy shakes packets and shaker–all free. I felt guilty that I was sure I was going to go with Huel despite his advice and generosity.

Huel is not necessarily a diet shake like SlimFast and the packs Gabriel gave me. That’s the main reason I continued to look into the product: I wasn’t looking for one of those bogus “miracle diets.” I just wanted to get away from the vicious cycle of skipping breakfast, having bakery goods for my morning break, then eating out for lunch. (The morning break was such a predictable ritual that the baristas at my favorite coffee house often plated a chocolate croissant before I arrived at the register.) While the personalities on YouTube reviewing Huel say they lost weight or hoped to lose weight, the marketers at the company are not selling the product as a weight loss solution. Check out this video it’s only one example of the company’s approach. Still, I wanted to use the product as part of my exercise and diet plan. The Plan has six elements:

  1. Continue to commute to work and back on my bike–rain or shine–being aware of my travel time and trying to beat my best time
  2. Consume Huel almost exclusively at work
  3. Show restraint when I’m at home before, during, and after dinners
  4. Continue to practice yoga on Tuesday and Thursday nights
  5. Try not to binge on weekends and holidays
  6. Find an additional, more strenuous, form of exercise and stick with it

That was and continues to be the plan. To be honest looking back on this plan three months after drafting it, Bullet Points 1 and 4 are no-brainers. “Continue” are the key words in those points. I’ve been doing these for a while–I might as well create bullet points to continue to breathing, talking, walking, and sleeping each day. Bullet Point 2 is also easy to keep, at least at this point, even though I have fallen off the wagon from time to time. Bullet Points 3 and 5 are the most difficult challenges here and Bulletin Point 6 is huge–I haven’t begun that one.

I re-downloaded my Lose It! application to my smartphone to help with the diet portions of the plan. I had used this program before with great success: I went from 222 to 198 pounds. Then I started gaining weight again. I initially blamed the weight gain on my father being terminally ill: I was spending more time at my parent’s house where I did not mind my intake and family members and friends would bring food. My mom and I would do lunch once a week then, too. I would buy the old trope that people gain weight when they are under stress. The only problem with that is I eat more when I am happy or between sad and happy–that gray void I am usually in. When my dad passed logic dictated I should have started losing weight again, but I didn’t. I doubt stress had anything to do with it. I’ve been on this rollercoaster before: dropping below 200 the first time I was on Weight Watchers about ten years ago. There was nothing magical about the Lose It! app when I started gaining weight. Where I once was watching the food I was about to eat, reviewing the calories with the help of the app so I wouldn’t go over, all I was doing now was performing a postmortem on my diet the day after going over my assigned caloric intake.

After I gained back all the weight I initially lost, I deleted the application from my phone (the weight graph and daily calorie count were too depressing to view). All this time, whether I was diligently riding to work on my bike–regardless of the weather–and doing yoga or more intense exercising I was always eating as if I had a tapeworm. Through all of this, I religiously stepped on the balance beam scale once a week at my gym. Of the men at my gym who weigh themselves, I am one of the few that weigh 200 pounds or heavier. I easily deduce this from having to move the large counterweight off the “150” notch to the “200” before sliding the lighter weight across the 50-hash marked beam to my current “fatness.” My wife thinks it’s inconsiderate not to “zero out” the scale when you are finished with it. At least it gives me a goal, though I am not working too hard to achieve it: being like the rest of the sub-200 members.

During the first week of this new diet, while the Huel was in route, I drank Gabriel’s complementary shakes for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday and never donned my neon-blue shoes to start on Bullet Point 6. I knew that one was going to be the hardest part of this new plan. As far as the breakfast/lunch meal replacement thing, that idea came from a fellow blogger. He drank Huel only on the weekdays because he didn’t want to prepare meals. From the blogger’s pictures, he looked like he was in good shape though he said that he had lost some unwanted weight thanks to Huel. I didn’t see a Huel diet working for me at home. The idea of making a shake in a kitchen with the aromas of baked potatoes, mac & cheese, my wife’s pizza, and pre-made/fast food was a mountain I could not scale, even if it certainly would have spared me a lot of calories. Breakfasts and lunches at work were the most convenient times to Huel it, though it wasn’t the most critical times during the week–if my fat could talk it would say things like: “Hi, I’m that huge chunk of brioche and butter Jack had when he got home from work.”
“Hello, I’m the second, giant slice of sweet potato pie Daddy jammed down his gullet when no one was looking, because if no one saw him, my calories don’t count.” “Greetings, my name is Chicken Garlic Gourmet Pizza–Large Slice #5 my brain had after everyone else told him he should stop two slices ago.”

This is what you get with a subscription order: two bags of powder, a shaker, two scoops, an introduction pamphlet that includes a couple of recipes, tips, and plenty of pix of beautiful millennials enjoying their Huel shakes that makes me feel old. Oh yeah, you get a t-shirt, too!

If I were to execute this plan, it meant having the bags of mix delivered to my work and possibly having to endure the smirks and cracks from the big warehouse guys who would be signing for the deliveries. Also, I would have to field questions from everyone walking by the break room as I play with my powder in the morning and lunchtime. As it turned out I was spared any teasing or questioning. No one really cared about my mystery powder or poked fun at the fat guy making the shakes. I dodged some karma. It was not so long ago my morbidly obese ex-boss, Fernando, used to have SlimFasts for breakfast and lunch each day along with an item of fruit. I remember the fruit well. From time to time when I was heating one of my Weight Watcher SmartOnes, he would tsk-tsk my choice of lunch telling me I was not going to lose weight with high-sodium TV dinners. “Jack, you need to eat fruit!” the plus-size boss would stress that last word while shaking one of his plus-size citruses in my face just to get his point across. Despite all the SlimFasts he chugged he never slimmed–fast or in slow motion.

My first shipment of Huel came in on the last Monday morning in October. When I created my initial lunch shake, it was using three scoops of the grind, which is the standard recipe. I immediately cut down the recipe to two scoops per meal. That would save me about 170 calories a meal. As for the taste: the oats is the first thing that hit me. My guess is that’s what’s supposed to make you feel full when you’re finished. I didn’t feel like I was going to hurl my Huel, but I did feel like the shake had topped me off and there was no more room for my chocolate croissant.

I commented in an earlier post that I had read Ron Roll’s book Finding Ultra and that it nearly inspired me to take exercise more seriously, not just commuting on my bike and practicing yoga. Along with training, Roll wrote a lot about diet. I started looking into plant-based foods that were easier to maintain. That’s where my Huel diet came from. I don’t need a Vitamix or a Blendtec for these meals. (Though it is fair to say you can make more tantalizing and nutritious shakes with a blender than with the shaker–adding raw fruit, legumes, and vegetables to your powder that a shaker will not render drinkable.) The main ingredients in Huel are flaxseed, brown rice, pea protein, sunflower, oats, and MCTs (medium-chain triglyceride) from Coconut. There are no animal products in the ingredients, it’s all “plant power,” to quote Roll. I am sure; however, Roll would never recommend food ground into powder. My friend Angus, a gym rat and paleo dieter, seemed to approve of the ingredients in Huel. We sat in his truck one night before a Bible study discussing my latest diet. He looked up the product on his phone. He seemed impressed, but he wasn’t won over.

But is consuming Huel for weekday breakfasts and lunches sustainable as a diet? I hate to be negative, but probably no. (And bullshit, Jack, you love being negative.) Still, I consider my Huel diet a jump start, something I am going to ride out as long as I can until I find something to replace it. My wife already has come up with a sound replacement for my breakfast shakes, but weekday lunches are a more significant challenge. I can change my Huel subscription as my diet changes. I have plenty of time to figure out what I am going to do. 

Thanks to Huel’s online Forum, I can connect with hundreds of fellow “Huelers.” I’ve received plenty of recipe suggestions. Since hooking up with the message board and getting some recipes, I’ve tried Huel with a shot of espresso, Huel with leftover coffee, Huel with instant coffee, Huel with instant cocoa mix, Huel with instant apple cider mix and applesauce. Many of these recipes I have replaced water for almond milk. Thanks to Huel’s Facebook page I found out you can bake with Huel, but I haven’t hauled any of the magic mixtures back home to try making cookies, pancakes, or whatever. Huel also offers Flavor Boosts: Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Strawberry, Mocha, Apple Cinnamon, Caramel, Chai, Banana, and Cappuccino. I bought the Cappuccino flavor boost that mixes with my Vanilla powder. It made my shakes taste a little like my favorite espresso drink. I also have Banana which I like and I just received Mocha, but I haven’t tried it as of this writing. I plan to order Strawberry soon, but all of them sound interesting. Many of these Flavor Boosts used to be only available in the UK. Huel-UK–where the product originates–has even more products including Huel bars and Huel granola. If these products become available while I am still on this diet, I will definitely check them out.

There are some negatives about the Huel diet. Huel has a bad rep for giving the Hueler horrible-smelling farts. Since I’m used to my brand I was worried this would be a game changer, but I haven’t had any problems in that area. My farts smell just fine, thank you! What did initially change in that general department is the regularity. I spent the first 30 years of my life shitting only two to four times a week and I have the hemorrhoids to show for the irregularity. My friend and fellow blogger Chip mentioned in one of his posts of a kid who refrained from shitting for a whole week. I think I’ve done that! When I got married, I became as regular as the rising sun. I didn’t have to go first thing in the morning like my father and I think my brother has to go, but if I miss a day, I’m not happy. When I started my Huel diet, everything stopped down there for the first couple of days. This, for the most part, runs counter to most Huelers’ experience. Maybe the first day had nothing to do with Huel; I had had a shitload, eh-hem, of Halloween candy the night before. On Shittless Day 2, I was on the Huel Forum wanting answers. For the Huel peeps that were stopped up, Chia seeds solved the problem. On Day 3–with an order of Chia seeds on the way–the damn broke. (Jesus and did it break! I’m glad institutional plumbing was under me when I testing my building’s flush!) Now two teaspoons of Chia seeds go in my morning Huel and everything is back to normal. Aah, regularity: it’s the thing that replaces sex in oldsters like me.

But what about the big question: has Huel worked as a diet method for this blogger? I was encouraged to lose eight pounds in the first two months, averaging about a pound a week. While this appears to be a success story, I’ve been down this road before, so I wasn’t optimistic. This weight loss, I am sure, is coming from switching to Huel, but as I stated earlier, the Huel part of my diet makes up less than half of my twenty-one weekly meals and that’s not counting snacks. In the skirmishes known as my work meals, Huel has definitely taken the hill, but the battle royale at home is far more treacherous, with sweet hazards and fast and convenient food booby traps everywhere. My willpower is tested more often on my home turf then at my M-F, 8 to 5. If I don’t stay true to Bullet Points Three and Five of the plan, the Huel part of the program will be meaningless.

Leading up to my Week 5 weigh in I was logging daily caloric overages due mostly to over-eating during dinners and postmeridian-hour snacking: I was losing weight despite what I was consuming at home. Also, I attended a doctor’s appointment where the specialist noted my body mass index had me defined as “Obese.” Instead of the usual reply of “I know, I know” I wasted her time by telling her I am drinking meal replacement shakes for half of my meals and, at that time, had lost six pounds. I was talking to the back of her head as she concentrated on a recent sleep study results then turned to face me, giving me one of those perfunctory smiles and said, “That was probably excess water.” (Read: the weight loss will end soon and you will have to knock off the Snickers, Fatso.)

I survived the long Hueless four-day Thanksgiving period with the pitfalls of stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato pie. Considering I maintained the same weight is an impressive feat. I credit scrutinizing my food options while logging what I ate on the smartphone app. Since I started with Huel, I have had planned Hueless breakfasts and lunches. In some of those instances, I consumed fewer calories in a meal than what is in a Huel shake. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of cases where I just broke down: bagel or donut mornings at work. Damn that Tan, Gracie, and Jackie, being generous leaders. Huel now has premade shakes. Why don’t they just buy a dozen of those and cram them into a pink box?

Without seriously following Bullet Points 3 and 5, I still needed to address Bullet Point 6: “Find an additional, more strenuous, form of exercise and stick with it.” The Breakfast Club didn’t pan out, nor did the Power Pump classes. The idea of running turned out to be a bitter joke and the more I think about it, the less appealing weekend bike trips look. Still, would if I went riding with a group of people. Maybe that would encourage me. Also, would if I could never get a flat on a bike. Would if I never had to keep my bike tuned up. Would if, unlike my commute–where I rarely push myself–this ride came with a trainer telling me “You’re sandbaggin’ it Jocko, pick up the pace!” Most important, would if I can use my neon-blue ASICS’; would if the “X” in Conviction X equaled indoor cycling! My gym has an indoor cycle program with Stages Indoor Cycles–presumably the best available–not that it matters to me. I have been thinking about taking an early Saturday morning spin on my bike, now I can take a spin class using someone else’s bike. Well, the first two Saturdays started with me turning off the alarm I had set explicitly for this workout and falling back asleep until my dog woke me up. The third time I did it, barely.

I was miserable freezing my ass off on the scooter ride to the club early Saturday morning–a bad omen for doing this thing every Saturday morning through the winter. At the club, I dressed down donning the blue shoes and made my way to the spin room. I was just checking the operation out this time. I didn’t know if my saddle was too high or too low. I fidgeted with the toe clips pedals; the kind my wife always encouraged me to replace my standard platforms with: “You only generate power one way with platforms; you use an additional set of muscles with toe clips.” I also see people filing in wearing cleats, whipping out toolkits from their gym bags and switching the toe clips on the spin bikes for egg beaters–the kind my wife uses on her road bikes. What a hassle! The most significant change to get used to from my hybrid commuter is the big blue screw between my legs that determined the resistance. (I wished these things had gears like a regular bike.) I only rode the indoor cycle for half an hour then quit. I didn’t feel like working out that day but just wanted to ease into this new workout. I never returned to the class–at least as of this writing: Bullet Point 6 is so far a non-starter.

As of this writing, I weight 223. That’s only a few pounds less than when I started this latest stab at a diet at the beginning of October, but a couple of pounds more than my lowest weight in these fourteen weeks. Oh but wait, it gets far worse. Did I tell you, dear reader, that I have been tracking my weight since January of 2013? When I stepped on the scale at that time, I weighed 222. In the six years of dieting, I’ve gained one pound. If you excluded 2014 when I dropped to under 200 I’ve my dieting has a colossal failure. Christmas 2018 was no different than any other Christmas–I ate enough gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, dip and chips, appetizers, sweet potato pie, chocolate cake, and ice cream to stuff an adult bison. The week after Christmas wasn’t much different. Is it really my job to hoover up all the remaining Nestle Toll House milk chocolate morsels, Reese’s peanut butter chips, and my wife’s rejected Christmas cookies? Apparently yes. What makes this year different from any other? It is no different. I guess I’ll end up just like the rest of the fat tourists in my club who sign up for the new year with the hope that they will lose weight. Of course, they will fade away soon enough and I will once again have more space around my locker to spread out. The only difference is I have the club membership with a weight room, four studios choked with spin bikes, elliptical machines, treadmills, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, pilate reformers, an Olympic-size swimming pool, three handball quarts, a full basketball quart and a group exercise schedule that provides options for just about anyone who can afford the membership. All of that and my many diet gimmicks and I gain a pound over five years. Not quite a Subway guy success story.

On New Year’s Eve at work, I received a text message from my old friend, Simone. She wished me a Happy Birthday. (It’s my 61st, and thank you very much!) She also bugged me about challenging a work classification consolidation that seems more like a demotion for me despite my Human Resources leads waxing on how great it is for all of us. Finally getting her to change the depressing subject she told me she had registered for the Shamrock’n Half Marathon.–an annual running event she does each year ever since she beat cancer. For some crazy reason she got me to sign up, but I opted for the 5K instead of the main event. I’m sure I’ll be walking most of the way, but I’ll call it “recovery time” so I don’t sound like a lazy ass. The race is in three months and as long as my fat ass is in this chair typing away, I can keep telling myself I can do some practice runs without really doing anything to prep myself. The 5K cost me only $44 and I get a green t-shirt out of it. Shortly after signing up for the 5K I received an email from an associate at work about SacFit a Sacramento running and walking club that includes a good friend from work who has run whole marathons so I doubt I would be keeping up with him. That email led me to look up Fleet Feet’s No Boundaries— another running and walking club that meets up in Land Park, close to where I live. (And hey, from the pix on the website it looks like I get a blue t-shirt out of it.) I sent No Boundaries an email (because that is so easy) to look into membership. I’ve looked into the Fleet Feet club before and have received a warm response inviting me to come out to Land Park on a given Saturday only to sleep in, turning off the alarm I was so solemn to abide when I set it the night before just like the night before that Saturday morning spin class. All this running talk is probably just a bunch of shit. If I am not bullshitting myself and my reader this time, I may write a post about training for and running a 5K.

I either do this running thing or maybe try a HIIT class–there’s one on Wednesday nights that I have been mulling over. Or just dump the last bullet point in my plan. Maybe the “X” in Conviction X equals zero–at least when it comes to strenuous exercise. If I don’t do the HIIT class I’ll keep the shoes in my closet until I’m inspired to address Bullet Point Six again and stick with my Huel shakes and beg my fat brain to take it easy on the snacks and go easy on the Hueless meals. Show some Conviction, for X sake!

At publication, the current location of my ASICS trainers: on the bottom of my shoe cubby in my closet at home. It’s tempting to call them my new “tennies” and wear them to work and when I walk the dog. I’m afraid if I do that all will be lost. So, for now, they stay there until I get some well, you know–Con-vic-tion.

Big head. Balding big head. Overweight with a balding big head. Overweight with a balding and graying big head: My life in a few unflattering pictures

As a toddler, I might as well have worn a hat that said, “C-Section Baby” to remove all doubt from anyone who cast their eyes upon my giant head and thought, “How did mom birth that kid?” On second thought, I would have to wear a T-shirt–they wouldn’t be able to find a hat large enough for my gargantuan grape. My small mouth only accentuated the problem. Growing and keeping my hair longish helped for a while until I began to lose it. Then, after I got married, I began to gain weight followed by my receding hair graying. So the images below are not intended to impress. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I suppose.

Is this 1963? Close. That is me on the left next to my sister, Michele. It is amazing my neck could suspend that gigantic head!


gatta post this one
The early 60s. After my grandfather got the donkey and told my brother to get off of it, we settled down and watched 8mm home movies on my forehead.


Two hopelessly square conservatives and one swingin’ progressive in or around 1966.


1967 3rd Grade
1968, Third Grade class picture. I nearly flunked out of this one–as I actually did First Grade. I hate to say it, but I credit my promotion to Fourth Grade to my teacher’s serious car accident. Mrs. Pickett was replaced by a long-term temp who had more patience with me. Geez, look at me! I was a hot mess.


jr hi
Eighth Grade yearbook pic, I think. Check out the wave in those bangs!


Sometime in the mid-70s, we saw Rich Little at a casino in South Shore or Reno, Nevada. Rich Little inspired me to become an impressionist, but like everything else, once I found out it took a lot of practice and hard work, I dumped it. Leasure suits? Good God! Were my brother and I feigning senior citizens?

Because my father built boats for a living, I spent a lot of time on the Sacramento River in the mid-1970s. This pic might be from Folsom Lake, though. What a ham!


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1977 trip to Alcopoco, Mexico. Here my brother and sister and I pose for a picture.


Senior Year Homecoming. I rarely went to school dances. I was as out of step with my schoolmates–and my date–as that leisure suit was in the fashion of the day. I should have seen it coming! Sorry, Jerri.


I spent two seasons trying to shoot pheasants from the sky. On the last day of the 1977 season, we bagged three drakes. I never hunted after that. I don’t mind eating fowl; I didn’t like the feeling I got standing over mortally wondered birds lamely flapping their broken wings, then having the unenviable task of breaking their necks.


This 1979 lad is beginning to bald, but can still rock a Calvin Klien oxford, Newman jeans, and a YSL belt.


Party time after hours at the Tower Theatre. The year is 1985 because that was the release year of “Cocoon.” That’s me on the ground, my boss Gerry above me, my best friend and fellow floor staffer, Paul on the couch. Randy and Anne are the attractive lovebirds. They met at the Tower, fell in love, got married, and became successful in the film business in SoCal.


This photo appeared in the now-defunct Sacramento Union in the mid-1980s. It was the main image in an article by Mick Martin about college students opting to stay home. (And, presumably, leave the housework to their mothers.) The picture was a big hit with the ladies. You missed a spot, Mom.


Paul, Judi, Jack 198512
I think this was taken in 1985 during my one-year relationship with Judi. My best friend, Paul is on the left. I don’t know what party we all went to that required name tags.


Tower Gang '86
1986: The end of my five-year stint as part of the Tower Theatre floor staff. I got a job working for the State of California. When I was put on furlough, I came back and worked for a couple of months. This photo was one of the last nights working with the old crew.


In 1987 one epoch came to a close, and another one began. I graduated from California State University, Sacramento. (The Ten Year Plan.) Here I am with my mentor William A. Dorman. The new epoch started within a month of posing for this photograph: I got married.

peteI’m not sure if this was taken in 1987 or 1988 since I lived with my future wife and her kid, Peter, for a year. Call it a test drive. Of course, it worked out swimmingly. This is one for the images from a photo booth at either the Pizza Hut or the Time Zone arcade across the street in Old Sacramento. I spent countless hours and quarters on Peter at the Time Zone. First Pizza Hut then, when Ely was a toddler Chuck E. Cheese’s. I was once a pizza snob before this time in my life. Now, it was whatever Peter and later Peter and Ely wanted no matter how shitty the pizza. Parenthood.

In 1988 we bought our first house. Here I am amusing my father (kneeling) and my father-in-law with my sophisticated jocularity while we installed tiles in our new kitchen.


Then came Ely. I think this was when I started to gain the weight. A lot of time resting, followed by eating, then more resting.


12-23-2008 09;26;29PM
1989, I suppose. Ely is young enough to ride on my back. I don’t know where we are, but I like the look on Ely’s face, asking himself what the heck is his big brother Peter is doing.


Christmas 1989, I think. I’m trying to figure out my kids’ Christmas toys.


sutters fort
So in 1992 I messed up and didn’t do any of the parental hours I was supposed to perform during Peter’s Magnet school year. I was told I could make it up by spending the night at Sutter’s Fort with my kid and his classmates (and other slacking parents). We had to rough it: wear period-looking clothes, even sleeping on the ground at night. It’s strange hearing total strangers fart in their sleeping bags! My job was the class photographer. See that twine around my neck? Below it dangles a period Asahi Pentax K-mount SLR with a 55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Very rustic! This is one of my many pre-smartphone selfies. They did that back in the day, no?


19xx w DC trip
In 1994/5 my wife and I took separate vacations. She went to Chicago and came back an ardent Cubs fan to this day. I went to the D.C. area where I stayed with our friend Mad Dog and became a passionate hockey fan–for well, about two years. (I’m not good at sticking with things.) I saw all the Smithsonian museums, and on the weekend Mad Dog and I  went to Gettysburg and Baltimore where we took in an Orioles game at the beautiful Camden Yards, John Water’s old apartment complex, and visited Edgar Allen Poe’s monument.


another meth problem
My brother and I have always had to share birthday parties since our dates are only about two weeks apart. I used to think that was a ripoff. Since my youngest son, Ely, has a birthday within a month of my brother and me, my mother makes a big deal of celebrating “The Keaton Kids” birthdays together. I like the idea and other family members’ birthdays are celebrated in a like manner. Here is one of the dozens of Keaton Kids Birthday Cake Blowout pix my wife religiously takes. This one is from the late 1990s. Ely’s big brother, Peter on the right. Since his birthday is near Thanksgiving we celebrate his with Tommy Turkey’s death day.


unknown 2
At the cabin owned by my parents and brother and his wife sometime in the 1990s. That’s my dad in the background probably saying something like, “Cut that selfy shit out!”


Jack & Peter
Not sure when this was taken, the early 00s, I suppose. I’m either in mid-laugh, mid-fart, or just trying to pull my now gigantic ass out of the chair. This time was also Peter’s long, unkempt, “What’s a rubber band?” hair phase.


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We’re at the in-laws here, Peter, Grandma Peggy, Ely, Grandpa Bob, and me. This was probably taken in the mid-00s.


Martial-arts leaves grabbing in 2006. My all-time favorite pet, Casey is giving himself a bath on the hood of my neighbor’s Beemer in the background. I miss Casey.


2007 Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I remember thinking. Boy, am I going to lose weight in Mexico! Last time I was there (1977) I got a severe case of dysentery and things aren’t supposed to be much better as far as the water goes. As it turned out, we stayed at an all-inclusive resort that had it’s own water filtration system. Outside of the resort, I drank nothing but cerveza and diet soda, so I ate like a pig and hit my all-time high in weight: 235!


We took an Alaskan cruise in 2008. Best vacation I’ve ever had. The cruise part wasn’t all that great. Like the previous year in Mexico, I pigged out on the ship. What else do you do on a cruise? It was all the ports of call that made the trip fantastic. I’m not a hiker, but this glacier hike was great! To all readers of this post: Go on a glacier hike quick and remember to take plenty of pictures so you can tell your grandkids what they were like.


This one hurts. Yes, there was a time I liked Obama, and I believed in all that Hope and Change shit. The wife and I had left a restaurant in East Sacramento and noticed an Obama 2008 campaign office near our parked car with this standee inside. There was a short line for people wanting to pose with this chunk of cardboard. The time was obviously magical for more people than just me. Then the man was elected, and he called in the arsonists to put out the fire!


I took this selfie in 2009. I was in a church in Elk Grove, California and about to join a Bible study session. In the 1980s the right wing hijacked patriotism, the flag, the National Anthem, everything short of apple pie. I never had a flag to put out on Flag Day, but after all this shit I never wanted to be misunderstood! So, no flag on Flag Day or July 4th. Also, conservative churches began to associate themselves with the Republican Party and its candidates. I found this flag hanging in a hallway near the room where the study was being held. What’s a flag doing in a church? Where does it say to worship Ceasar? This selfie was intended to be slightly irreverent–as if to say, “This the way I salute the flag, my fellow Christians!” But after posting it on Facebook, a few of my conservative friends dished out some patriotic tripe. “Hell yeah! America!” and the strange, “All you need now is a cowboy hat, and you’re Toby Keith!” Huh?


Me and my wife’s little mistake. We are cat people, but in 2009 Ely, her baby boy moved in with his girlfriend. I suppose my wife felt she needed a replacement–something more responsive than a cat. Enter Vivian, somewhat equal parts labrador, beagle, “Canine from Hell.” We were not prepared for this kind of dog. Nor were the two trainers who kicked my wife and her unruly dog out of each of their training classes. My wife says she will cry hard when Vivian dies. Then, after a respectable time of mourning passes and we’ve vacuumed the last hair of dog from the property, she’s going to get a litter of kittens and become “That crazy old lady with all the cats.”


Keaton Boat Group, Stockton Ski Club, 2009. I’m in the floppy hat talking with Dennis Payton, a long-time family friend. My dad is in his boat. For decades we never had a boat of our own, always taking demonstration models and clients’ boats out for family outings on the Sacramento River. In his retirement, my dad bought a used Keaton from someone who most likely bought it from my dad. Then he modified it into a fishing boat with the ability to troll. Still, he complained he had to settle for a small block. We’re talking about fishing, and my dad still wanted to go fast! I miss him dearly.


2010: The Year of the Scooter. I got a Vespa GT 200L in 2010. I launched the blog BurgerScoot and rode around town reviewing burger joints and dipping my toes into the local scooter subculture. Turns out you really should know how to cook if you want to write decent, informed reviews on restaurant food. Alton Brown, I am not. I had fun and officially ditched a diet that I was unofficially failing. I discovered food trucks around this time. MY GOD, FOOD TRUCKS! Here I’m at REI where Krush Burger (nee Mini Burger) parked.


In 2011 we vacationed in London, Oxford, Bath, and Paris. All fascinating places, especially London which I won’t mind seeing again, but I have found over the years that I like to stay close. Close like North America. Is Hawaii considered North America? What about Iceland? I’d want to go to those two places, too. Wait, Ireland, and Scotland! Oh, the Scandinavian countries, also…


Springsteen at The Jewel, Oakland, CA., 2012.  Thanks to Annie and her brother Karl!


One of the most exciting finds in recent years here in Sacramento is The Moon Lecture Series hosted by St. Mark’s Unified Methodist Church. St. Mark’s is a progressive-minded church and the Moon Lectures, which occur during the last four months of each year, features some of the most interesting progressive voices in the country. I have seen Morris Dees, Chris Hedges, Angela Davis, Michele Norris, and recently Jim Wallis (see below). I am very sorry I have missed past guests like Rev. William J Barber II, Amy Goodman, and Daniel Ellsberg.  Here I am with Advocate Dees, co-founder of the monumental Southern Poverty Law Center, doing my very best Jimi Hendrix impression.


In 2014 I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a terminal illness–you’ve got it until your bones shatter like glass or you die of some other age-related disease, or you get hit by a truck. The closest thing to an Rx for the condition is staying limber. My physical therapist recommended yoga. It was one of the two most important pieces of advise I have received in my advancing years. The other being “Lose at least fifty pounds.” I’ve taken the first piece of advice very seriously and am struggling with the second piece.


2015 Rogers Centre Toronto
In 2015 we vacationed in Toronto. It is a beautiful city. Here I’m in the CN Tower. By the scowl on my face, you would think I knew that the A’s would get their collective ass handed to them by the Blue Jays later that evening. No, that’s how I usually look. If you get a chance, visit Toronto and don’t miss taking in a game at the Rogers Centre. It’s a great ballpark, even if the otherwise amiable people of Toronto turn into complete assholes when they are in that massive stadium!


2016 A's v Pirates
2016: A’s host the Pirates. Guess who won?


Late in 2016 my mom and I saw Anthony Bourdain in San Francisco. It was a fun night. The chef turned author, TV personality, and activist along the way was funny, crude, and gracious. I realize this addition may come off as obligatory after hearing of the man’s death especially considering I never watched his shows on a regular basis. Still, his Kitchen Confidential is one book that I think of every time I walk into a restaurant, glance at a menu, take a slice of complimentary bread, and use the restaurant’s bathroom. Bourdain has been called one of the greatest storytellers of our time and one of the most influential cultural figures of his age.


Last year Mom took me to a Giants vs Nationals game. One condition, though: I couldn’t wear my A’s colors. I couldn’t abide by wearing anything with the Giants on it, so I met her halfway and bought a River Cats cap. The Sacramento River Cats is our local AAA team and, alas, a Giants affiliate, so purchasing and wearing the headgear stung a bit. When I pulled the cap out of the shipping box, I frantically perused it to ensure it didn’t have any Giants markings or that “Stronger Together” bullshit slogan on it. I enjoyed the crab sandwich, a dugout-clearing fight, the Nat’s shutting out the home team, and the excellent company!


Mom's 85th 1a
June 23, 2018: My mother’s 85th birthday party at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats. My mom popped for a corporate suite! Sweet…
Another Moon Lecture at St. Mark’s Unified Methodist Church in Sacramento. This one on
November 2, 2018, with Jim Wallis: preacher, activist, founding editor of the independent news and faith magazine Sojourners. Wallis is also the author of many books including his latest America’s Original Sin. I went with my co-worker and friend, Tom. I think he liked the political activism of the man but wasn’t crazy about the Christianity part. To me, Wallis embodies the best of both worlds, and as you can see by the selfie, he’s quite a sport! Chris Hedges wasn’t so amiable when I asked for a picture together here a few years back.

You cried yesterday, I’m crying now

Thanks for your vote, ma’am. I’m crying now that Beto lost to a truly horrible U.S. Senator. More tears for Andrew Gillum’s loss to a bigot in the Florida Gubernatorial race. Stacey Abrams may lose to a complete asshole in the Georgia Gubernatorial.

Most of the Dems that won in the less-than-tidal “Blue Wave” are Centrists. Most politicos are now saying the only one who can defeat Trump is one more neoliberal Democrat like Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden. Jesus, how depressing! Anyway, thanks for this, David Doel. You and Naomi Klein are two of my favorite people from The Great White North.

I know there are some positive Firsts from the 2018 Midterms. AOC’s win now seems anti-climatic after her stunning win over Joe Crowley in June. I guess I’m too morbid to list them, so click here for news that is mostly good if you are a liberal.

Little Free Library Founder Todd Bol Dies

Little Free Library Founder Todd Bol

Has anyone who is reading this post ever seen a Little Free Library? I have! In Sacramento, there’s one on Second Avenue that I have passed on my way to my church and there’s one I just discover before publishing this post that is walking distance from my home. Though I admit I have never used one I love the idea. Below is a short obituary from WCCO/CBS Minnesota. Below that is an interesting short article of the Little Free Library from Mother Jones.

A Wisconsin entrepreneur whose little libraries made a big impact all over the world has died. Todd Bol created the first Little Free Library in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009.

via ‘He Was Truly A Lot Of Fun’: Brother Remembers Little Free Library Founder — WCCO | CBS Minnesota

Here’s the one from Mother Jones:

Also, here’s the Little Free Library link:

Happy Reading!