An update from an old post about my weight, diet, and yoga practice

On March 19, 2017, I posted a 192-word blurb about the struggle I was going through at the time: laziness and overeating vs. practicing yoga and eating healthier. Unfortunately, I gave the post the uninspiring title “Battle Royale.” Also, I was unaware that the title is from a book that bares little resemblance to my personal struggle. Still, just as I was too lazy to develop a better title, I was too numb to apply myself to a healthier lifestyle. So here’s the original post with an update below. It’s not pretty, dear readers. 

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than three years. It started as an Rx by a physical therapist back in 2013, who said there’s no cure for my degenerative disk disease. But practicing yoga would keep me off ibuprofen and the occasional opioid when my back pain pops up from now until the final solution to the problem—death. She was right–barring the stiffness from binge-watching streaming TV shows on a lumpy couch, I’m pretty much always limber thanks to four hours of yoga a week.

Still, I grapple with my health: my laziness and gluttony versus my life on the mat and occasionally stringing together a few days of successfully dieting. It is a mortal struggle. Since I spend more hours doing the two things that are killing me than those that benefit me, it is a losing war—all of this on the battlefield of Time–the ultimate killer.

It’s all about what element will conquer my body on a given day. This day, Sunday, May 19, 2017, goes to the Axis of Evil: an hour of TV, way too much ice cream late in the evening, and just the plain fact that I have much fewer days on this planet than the days behind me. Tomorrow is another fight.

Update August 2021: I’d love to report that things have improved over the last four and a half years, but that would be a lie. Thanks to the pandemic and my laziness, I now only practice yoga two hours a week. And because I no longer commute to work five days a week, fifty-five miles of bicycling has been cut down to less than twenty miles of walking. Finally, I’m stiffer and fatter than I have ever been.

My practice has been brutal. First, being out of shape has made my practice difficult. Also, my two yoga teachers: Heather on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Brenda on Wednesdays with an on-again, off-again Sunday practice lead by a revolving door of teachers, is now down to one teacher on Mondays and Thursdays. Of course, I have no excuse not practicing alone using YouTube, but it is extremely tough getting motivated—I need somewhere to be at a specific time on a particular day.

If I were a true yogi, I would consider myself lucky that my Tuesdays and Thursdays yoga teacher is Robert Lozano—considered by many yoga teachers to be one of the best in the Sacramento area. I can tell that he is special, even if he wants the class to do too many balance postures. Unfortunately, thanks to a seizure disorder suppressed by narcotics in combination with a lazy eye, I cannot perform Eagle Pose, Warrior 3, Mountain Pose, any pose where the practitioner is supposed to balance on one foot. I get so frustrated when we go through a series of these postures that I cannot do that I often wish there was an adjacent juice bar I could belly up to, sit down, have a Mean Green, and yell to Robert, “It’s okay, I’ll catch up with you when both feet are back on the hard maple!”

But, of course, I’m a baby.

Ironically, I just started the book Anodea Judith’s Chakra Yoga. I recently finished her excellent book on the Chakra System Wheels of Life and wanted to check out a yoga routine that directly addressed the Chakra System. How I plan on sticking to a home routine lead by a book when I have never been able to stick with routines on YouTube or DVDs by Seane Corn or Rodney Yee will be a steep hill to climb.

Perhaps I will re-post this piece in late 2024/early 2025 with another update. Maybe that update will be optimistic, sunny. I can only hope the man doing the typing will be eating better, working out more, and not complaining about the yoga teacher leading the classes he should be so grateful to attend.

Perhaps I should take advice from this disturbingly sexy Buddha with big ears.

Namaste.

Christopher and the Ergonomic Chairs

Christopher parked his Nissan Sentra in the company’s CFO spot—walked into the empty building, and took his place at the Information Desk of the vacant building.

He checked and routed yesterday’s mail, checked and routed yesterday’s email and voicemails, and checked his email and schedule–nothing was for him.

It was March of 2020, and he was grateful that the company didn’t lay him off or request that he work from home–he had a laptop, but his cheap apartment did not have Wi-Fi; anyway, it was nice to get away from his annoying roommate who yelled why he Zoomed.

Most days, he brought a sack lunch; then, after his sandwich, he would belt out show tunes to the dozens of empty ergonomic chairs in the call center.

By March of 2021, the routine was getting old, and he craved human connection.

In May, the company was working in the building at half capacity; Christopher lost his convenient parking spot to his boss, and he had to stop singing to the ergonomic chairs; some of its occupants may not like Broadway songs.

Returning to the Movie Theater

Godzilla vs. Kong — ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

As everyone knows by now, movie theaters are opening up with limited seating. There are two BIG films I want to see on the big screen: Jon M. Chu‘s In the Heights, which will be released sometime this summer, and Godzilla vs. Kong, which is currently playing! I need to get off my ass and see it before it closes, and I end up watching it on my not-so-big home TV like what usually happens.

You wouldn’t know it if you tracked my movie theater attendance, but I do like the “theater experience.” I’m just lazy. I stall, and films seem to close faster than they used to. (I’m referring to decades ago when I used to work in a movie house, and checking what was playing in other theaters was a daily thing for my roommate and me.

I don’t care that much about “going to the movies” as I used to these days. Still, after a year of having no other choice but to watch films on my TV or my tablet, I’m itching for some dangerously over-buttered popcorn, a ridiculously over-priced and oversized diuretic drink, and some movable seats n front of a big screen.

This innovation in film presentation has created a new rating system: how often do I lose interest in the film and start playing with the adjustments on my comfy adjustable chair throughout the film. Naturally, this value system runs counter to the Star System—the more I fidget, the worse the movie. Godfather Part II might receive 0 Fidgets, whereas Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace would get 10 Fidgets. Bad news for Phantom Menace. Of course, the film could really stink, then it becomes interesting or unintentionally humorous. Consider Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, and many of the Toho classics, including the films including Godzilla and the other Tokyo destroyers from Monster Island–they were High Cheese at its best. I guess I’m putting too much into this Fidget rating system thing.

Until I figure out what to post next, enjoy this film review by my fellow WordPress blogger, Assholes Watching Movies by clicking on the link below the photo. You can also view the trailer below if you haven’t seen it already. I’ll leave you with my updated Siskel & Ebert’s closing line from Sneak Previews, “Save me a recliner seat that doesn’t squeak!”

COVID-19 Shots

First Shot

I thought I had longer to wait. I wasn’t in the tier to receive my COVID-19 vaccination. But my wife persisted because I suffer from complex partial seizures–that are completely surprised by meds (still knocking on wood for over 50 years) and, I guess, becomes I’m almost 65. While not morbidly obese, I am obese, and I don’t have Stage 4 Kidney Disease. I do struggle to keep my Creatinine levels down and a bunch of other things. (Hey, I’ve said too much already to my snoring readers.) Anyway, in a text message to my doctor, I requested that she bump me up the list. She did not reply. Instead, I received a “pick a day to get vaccinated” sign-up message. Perhaps it was a combination of my age, my multiple health issues, and that we were only days away from April 1 when just about everyone would be able to get vaccinated that I got bumped.

When I arrived at a Scottish Rite Masonic Center here in Sacramento, a woman at a long folding table politely questioned me on how I received clearance for getting vaccinated: “You don’t look like you’re 65.” “Why, thank you, ma’am. Believe it or not, I’m 63.” “Get out of town! You don’t look a day past 57.” “Why, thank you. You know I still get carded here and there,” batting my eyes. And you are not morbidly obese!” “You know, they say obese is the new morbidly obese.”

Joking aside, she asked me why I was getting a shot this early, but after she looked at the order, she just pointed to the entrance to the shot factory.

COVID-19 has given Big Pharma a respite from all the negative press. In early 2020 the news was all about how fast pharmaceutical companies could get us here. Considering before Project Warm Speed have us multiple vaccines within one year, the vaccine for Mumps held the record for most rapid development to implementation, and that was four years. Imagine if we had to wait until early 2024! It looks like I’m getting Pfizer’s.

I expected the wait to belong, but it moved fast.

Marc, a travel nurse, administered my shot. How come it always looks like I’m half asleep?

Done. Now to get in line and sign up for my next shot. Hmm, the young woman in front of me reminds me of my wife when we were dating back in the 1980s.

After the shot, you need to hang out for 15 minutes if you have an allergic reaction. I didn’t, and my wife, my son, and I went out for brunch.

Second Shot

Not very many pix, I know. I took more, but all the photos were as uninspiring as the one above.

I also was pretty lazy about asking questions of the nurse who gave me the shot. Also, she did it half the time Marc did it, and I didn’t feel the prick. If it wasn’t for a sore are for the next two days, I would have sworn she didn’t give me a shot at all.

The common symptoms from the second shot are typically signs that the vaccine has triggered a response by the immune system: i.e., you feel sick. Out of my mother, father- and mother-in-law, my mother-in-law’s caregiver, and my wife, only my father-in-law and I skated through the second shot; everyone else felt sick after the second jab. Only a sore arm that kept me out of the following night’s yoga class was the only adverse effect.

Return to Normalcy

Just kidding, you know it is far from normal, but things are looking up. Starting on April 1, in California, vaccinations were opened up for everyone 16 and older. While walking through a tent encampment on his way to a studio where he would lead a class, my yoga teacher was pulled into line. He received his J&J “One & Done” vaccine even when he confessed to the health care workers he was not part of the homeless. (My Buddhist yoga teacher kind of looks like he could blend in with the tent city inhabitance.) They believed him but had enough shots to go around.

A day after the sourness subsided, I was at the pharmacy picking up some non-COVID-related meds and thought I would visit one of my all-time favorite hamburger joints. I covered Scott’s Burger Shack when this site was almost entirely about reviewing hamburgers. When most restaurants were either out of business, closed, or doing take-out and delivery only in the thick of the pandemic.

I still had some burgers, but far fewer and far between. On this day, I thought I would at least pretend we were back to normal. I still ordered my Fatboy with bacon and cheese, fries, and a Coke with my mask on and practicing social distancing.

I sat on one of Scott’s three emblematic blue park benches. Now, the center bench was taped off–another sign of these COVID times. As I ate the burger, I recalled from previous visits what you get when you “dine-in” at Scott’s: the mariachi music coming from El Novillero Mexican restaurant across the street, the harmony of open-pipe hotrods backfiring on the street just feet away, the blue picnic bench, which always felt like I was sitting on fresh paint. It was all still there, except the blue bench was no longer sticky. I guess enough fat asses have peeled off the last coat. Your welcome!

Observations From the Mat #7: My New Folding Yoga Mat From Hell

This post is the source for a Six Sentence Stories creative writing challenge. The following, however, is all the painful truth.

A little over a year ago, before COVID-19 shut down my gym, I bought a folding mat. I needed a mat that could fit in my cramped locker. The idea was genius: a mat that folded up into a fraction of its full dimensions–both width as well as length. I wouldn’t have to carry my rolled-up mat to my yoga classes.

This whole portability thing needs a little explaining because yoga mats are by design portable. So, what is the problem with bringing my mat to class, you might ask. Usually, I ride to work on my bicycle. If I don’t ride my bike, I either ride my scooter or on very rare occasions I take a city bus–I don’t drive a car. From my work, I ride to my gym, where I attend evening yoga classes. Carrying my mat is a hassle. It’s also a nuisance storing the mat in my cubicle at work only to lug the mat to my class then haul it back home in the evening after class.

Since I started yoga back in 2014, I always used the mats the gym provides. As a neophyte to yoga, the mats the gym supplied didn’t bother me, but over time, I noticed how worn the mats were and saw how my fellow, more experienced students brought their mats. Those mats always looked much better and cleaner. (I also noticed how most yoga students were also younger and in better shape so I guess there was some symmetry going on there.) I put up with the worn, gross mats until one day I found a solution to my problem: a yoga mat that folds up.

So when I saw that Gaiam made a folding “travel” mat, I was all in. Gaiam even proudly displayed that the mat was two millimeters thick, I mean in large font: 2mm. (The only thing missing was an exclamation point.) As if they were saying, “Beat that, Manduka!” Now, mind you, fellow yogis and yoginis, I’m an idiot when it comes to the metric system, so I ignored the telltale sign of the pain to come. I mean, how thick is “2mm” if it can fold up?

So imagine how surprised my 62-year-old knees felt when I executed my first kneeling pose, and my knees felt like they were balancing on golf balls. It was at this moment I understood just how thin two millimeters of PVC is. I felt like I could have settled for a roll of my wife’s culinary parchment paper, and my knees wouldn’t have felt the difference. The parchment paper roll would have stored even easier–leaving room for a big tub of BENGAY cream. The pain in my knees immediately negated the Zen I felt just 15 minutes earlier when I verified my brand new mat did indeed fit in my tiny locker when it was folded up.

I had practiced on Marquee Sade’s yoga mat a few times before the gym closed, but I had forgotten the number it did on my knees. When the gym opened for a brief time, management had moved blocks, straps, and the old worn mats out to the make-shift yoga studio. With the gear and extra mats available, I could make my cruel mat tolerable by placing an old cushy mat under and across the center of my mat, so my knees got the additional support, and my feet did not—which is how I preferred it. Of course, I could double up the 2mm mat whenever executing kneeling postures, but that set me behind the teacher’s tempo.

With the club reopened and the yoga classes still in the basketball quart, the gear was nowhere to be found, including the old gross, but cushy mats. Me and my knees were on our own. During the year that I was sheltering in place, I rarely practiced yoga despite having thousands of hours of free and reasonably priced yoga classes online. I had forgotten entirely about the foldup mat in the months I was away from the gym and yoga classes. I had forgotten the pain, I had forgotten how to execute some asanas, but I hadn’t forgotten how to eat and my daily walks included a pit stop at Barrio’s, a bakery. So, I gained weight and lost a lot of the flexibility I gained when I was practicing yoga three days a week.

When I made my less-than-triumphant return to the reopened gym, the yoga classes were, once again, being held in the basketball quart to ensure social distancing, but it was not the same experience for me. Now, at least fifteen pounds heavier than I usually am, I am out of practice, and the extra weight makes the asanas (yoga postures) even harder to achieve and hold. Also, long gone was Heather, the closest thing I ever had to a yoga guru. Robert teaches the two classes I now attend. Robert is considered one of Sacramento’s best teachers. And while his teachings are sound, it is not the same. This fat older man wants his old teacher back! It doesn’t help me that Robert does not teach a gentler version of Hatha Yoga but has to offer me modifications and does so often and to my frustration and embarrassment.

I miss Heather. But don’t mistake those tears on my 2mm Gaiam travel yoga mat for longing. I’m crying for my poor tortured knees!

Jack’s introduction to the metric system: “What’s 2 mm, Master?” “Ah, my Fat One, kneel on this mat for three minutes and you will know exactly what 2mm is.”

ShoeShining Optimism

Looking through the Pennysaver, Jack found the shop where he used to have his shoes repaired before COVID-19 turned his city into a ghost town had reopened.

Besides shoe repairs, Ben, the owner, was back to shining shoes! Wouldn’t it be nice to step up on the shoeshine stand and have Ben shine his oxfords?

Jack usually shined his shoes. These days, working from home, slippers were the office footwear, but today, he would dress for work and visit Ben. The shop’s reopening was a sign of brighter times ahead, and Jack wasn’t going to ignore this auspicious moment.

The Best Books I Read in 2020

What a horrible year! While I’d like to be optimistic about 2021, I don’t
see things getting any better soon. Before the first week of the new year was
behind us, we had our nation’s capitol attacked by terrorists egged on by the sitting
president. The failing rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines and the grim fact that America
keeps getting sicker from the pandemic does not bod well for 2021. But enough
of that rot! Like 2019’s list, most of these books in this post were not published last year. Only four came out in 2020 (and two in 2019). One thing about 2020: sheltering in place gave me more time to read. It also led to me exploring subjects I rarely dip my toes
in: erotica and pandemics/epidemics.

So, out of the forty books I read/listened to this year, the following were my favorites. Let me know what you think.

NONFICTION

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry, 2004

Why not? It seemed like everyone else read it last year. If you haven’t, check it out. Barry painstakingly sets up the medical/scientific world before the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. As the reader would expect, there isn’t a drop of humor or fun in this book. Reading it during what most experts called the “first wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic made for a sobering experience–the initial outbreak of the Spanish Flu was relatively tame compared to the second wave. The name of the Flu is a misnomer. The Flu had been around for a few months–mainly in military installations where there was overpopulation thanks to World War I propaganda. The first known outbreak occurred in an over-populated military base in Kansas. Most Western nations enforced a media blackout except for Spain, where the news of the sickness first made headlines in Madrid in late-May 1918.

For me, the book becomes less interesting in the last part, where Barry focused in on the scientists and their lives and challenges–it is way too technical for someone who dodged Algebra in college and spent his days in his high school science class ogling his pretty lab partner. Aside from that caveat, it is a fascinating and timely read.

Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas, 2018

I read this book when Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer were still in the running as Democratic Presidential hopefuls. (Howard Schultz, thankfully, had unceremoniously bailed out.) It was fortunate that I discovered this gem while listening to Bloomberg and Steyer tell America that they are the remedy to America’s woes. Most US citizens can see right through their crap–they are the problem, not the solution. Giridharadas’ brilliant book lays this all out beautifully.

The idea goes something like this: the Kochs, Bezos, Buffets, Bloombergs, and Zuckerbergs of America make billions of dollars off the backs of regular tax-paying people. They undervalue and–whenever possible–underpay their workers. They avoid taxes by moving corporate addresses to places like Ireland and the Netherlands and moving operations to places like China and Vietnam. All of this offshoring is at the American workers and taxpayers’ expense. Then, after these oligarchs have made all this money, these multimillionaire tax dodgers create foundations to give back in the form of hospital wings, art galleries, theaters, and university libraries. The new hospital wings, etc., are win-wins: the foundation makes it easy on the billionaire’s pocketbook, and Pops gets to use a shiny new dialysis machine to visit three times per week.

The more YouTube videos I see of this author, the more intense my man crush is for Giridharadas. (Now, if I could only consign that impossible last name to my failing memory!) But I’m doing a poor job explaining the idea behind this great book. Check out the author explaining it below. Winner Take All was my favorite read (in both nonfiction and fiction) of 2020.

 

The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism by Thomas Frank, 2020

Another winner from the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas and Listen Liberal. I like Frank because he–like me–is a Democrat frustrated that his party has sold out to corporate interests. Frank speaks for me when I can’t find the words for my disappointment, criticism, and rage over my party’s corporate takeover. (He’s also a lot more knowledgeable on the subject, which helps!) The awkward title is an homage, of sorts, to Carl Sandburg’s populist poem The People, Yes, which Frank often references in his book.

The author gives the reader a brief history of authentic populism and the short-lived People’s Party (1892 to 1909). It was a party made up mostly of farmers, but it also had many industrial workers. One of the fascinating things about the party is that it was multi-racial less than forty years after the Civil War.

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman, 2019

For over 300 years, Western society has lived by a Hobbesian way of thinking of human nature. While philosophers have challenged these ideas (most notably Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke), John Hobbes’s theories are still with us today. Rutger Bregman takes up Rousseau’s mantle in this fine book. He supports his ideas with real-life examples of hope and reveals flaws in instances that would have reinforced the Hobbesian view.

Ever since I saw Bregman’s fifteen-minute Ted Talk and read his excellent book Utopia for Realists, I have been a fan. I was not disappointed with his latest effort. In Humankind, Bregman sets out to prove that we are hardwired for kindness instead of violence and geared toward cooperation rather than competition. The Dutch historian provides a new perspective on the past 200,000 years of human history. He refutes the Hobbesian view of the nature of the life of humans as being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Instead, Bregman supports the idea of man’s nature as kind, generous, and cooperative.

He criticizes others like Nobel Prize laureate William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Through the author’s own words, Golding was an abusive, alcoholic person who had a miserable childhood and was critical of the 1960s and reflected on World War II and the Holocaust and his tragic childhood. Bregman also provides real-life evidence that children marooned on an island would work together to create a benevolent society rather than the one in Golding’s Best Seller. He also debunks Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, and he revisits the tragic 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York would later be called the “bystander effect.” The book’s centerpiece is the inspiring story of twin brothers (one a general in the right-wing Afrikaner People’s Front) and the other (who worked for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa) together and worked with Nelson Mandela to create peace in South Africa. An inspiring read during a time when President Trump was failing to address the deadly pandemic.

The Americans by Robert Frank, 1958

I’ve flipped through The Americans many times in various libraries since my college years, but not until now have I studied it. I wanted to review the book again thanks to an article in The Daily, a weekday podcast I religiously listen to by the New York Times. The podcast re-released a 2015 article by Nicholas Dawidoff called The Man Who Saw America. I also finally read the Forward, which is written by Jack Kerouac.

The book is a collection of photographs taken during the 1950s as the Swiss photographer traveled around America, capturing the diversity of what made this country. The project didn’t start as a critique of America, but once Frank began looking at the effects of urbanization and Jim Crow, Frank’s lens couldn’t lie. It also didn’t help to spend an evening in jail simply because he had photographic equipment on him, and he had the accent of a “commie.”

Ultimately, The Americans is an unsettling work that peels the veneer from idyllic Americana to reveal the country’s problematic contradictions. No wonder the book was unappreciated when first released in the US. No one had ever taken pictures like that before. It was an honest depiction of America–warts and all. Frank told Dawidoff, “I photographed people who were held back, who never could step over a certain line,” and “my sympathies were with people who struggled. There was also my mistrust of people who made the rules.” The author captured these images years before Selma, Vietnam, and Stonewall.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found out by reading the Times’ piece that Bruce Springsteen is a huge fan of the book, using it for songwriting inspiration. “The photographs are still shocking,” Springsteen told Dawidoff. “Making it created an entire American identity–that single book. To me, it’s Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited–the visual equivalent of that record. It’s an 83-picture book that has 27,000 pictures in it. That’s why Highway 61 Revisited is powerful. It’s nine songs with 12,000 songs in them.”

People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent by Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2019

In the past, I have steered clear of reading books by intellectuals like Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz. Still, I braved reading this book thanks to the title and positive book reviews from writers I trusted. Stiglitz is a former economist for the World Bank and recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and the John Bates Clark Medal. Despite his serious creds, he has written and relatively easy book for someone like me to read and understand.

I read People, Power, and Profits when the COVID-19 pandemic was picking up steam. It became depressingly appropriate as I continued reading it as unemployment skyrocketed and the economy tanked. The absence of a robust social safety net can be seen by anyone not living in a gated community, but during a time when unemployment jumps to 12 percent and the people most affected are the ones who weren’t doing all that well before the novel coronavirus hit. I got overwhelmed by Stiglitz’s research at times, but People, Power, and Profits are worth soldiering through the dense parts for all the other inspirational segments.

Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports by Dave Zirin, 2007

If you believe in social justice and enjoy sports, you’ll love Dave Zirin’s writing, the sports editor for The Nation Magazine, and the host of the podcast Edge of Sports. Like his previous book, What’s My Name, Fool?, Welcome to the Terrordome is about politics, racism, and justice in college, Olympic, and professional sports. The book covers subjects like Major League Baseball’s colonial view of players from the Caribbean in general and the Dominican Republic, specifically. His piece on the great Roberto Clemente is excellent. Zirin wrote a story of the memorial at San Jose State University honoring Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ expression of Black Power in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. His rebuttal to performance-enhancing drugs is very interesting and changed my opinions of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Lance Armstrong, and others. For the uninitiated, like me: The book’s title comes from a song by the hip-hop group Public Enemy. The group’s leader, Chuck D, wrote the Foreword to this book.

Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City by Heather Ann Thompson, 2001

The author of the brilliant and bloody Blood in the Water, about the 1971 Attica prison uprising, has written a detailed account of post-World War II Detroit: white flight, police brutality, civic unrest, and shop floor rebellion, labor decline, the African American struggles for full equality and equal justice under the law, and the frustration with entrenched discrimination and the lack of meaningful remedies to achieve equal justice even after President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society liberal policies were implemented. Thompson’s book is the retelling of events and individuals, including James Johnson, Jr. (pictured on the cover of the edition I read). In 1971, he murdered two foremen and another worker at a Chrysler plant after years of racial discrimination in Detroit’s auto industry.

Henry & June: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1932 by Anaïs Nin, 1986

Reading erotic literature was a product of shelter in place, a heatwave, and just being old. I read Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, the first three books of Red Phoenix’s Dominant/submissive series Brie’s Submission, and re-read The Story of O (which I originally read back in the 1980s). Of the remaining few titles in my erotic to-read list were my favorite: two short books by Anaïs Nin: Delta of Venus (see below) this memoir and a couple of other titles I just may read in 2021.

Henry & June is about the year-long love affair Nin had with the American author Henry Miller and a dalliance she had with his wife, June. The stories of Miller’s sexual conquests are legendary. Here, Nin makes him out as a sexual animal with a voracious appetite. There is no judgment in Nin’s prose–she loved and desired him. It has been years since I read Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, so I might be wrong when I say I am surprised how loving and passionate Miller treated Nin. Perhaps it’s only in his writing that he becomes crude. Maybe I will take a chance and read Tropic of Capricorn this year. Regardless, Henry & June is a beautifully written, intimate account of one woman’s sexual awakening and the pain that comes with it.

The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain by David Shenk, 2006

I re-discovered this book while going through my stacks, looking for the few remaining books on chess I might have. I had just finished the brilliant Netflix limited series The Queen’s Gambit and wanted to get back into the game. I was glad I didn’t donate this one when I quit chess the last time and started thinning my collection. There are other more thorough books on the game, but David Shenk’s is a concise little gem.

The book’s title comes from a specific friendly game between two masters Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, on June 21, 1851, in London, during a break of the first international tournament. Shenk interweaves the chess game with significant chess evolution from India’s origins, its development in Arabia, and its rebirth in the West to the modern game we play today. A must-read for all chess players, even a patzer like me.

The Vespa: Style and Passion by Valerio Boni, Stefano Cordara, 2020

The Vespa: Style and Passion is another big coffee table book on one of my favorite subjects. I’ve got two already taking up a lot of shelf space. The Vespa: Style and Passion is about the history of the Vespa. It features all the models rolled out of Piaggio from the 1946 98 to the 2018 electric Elettrica and Elettrica X, all of them beautifully photographed. Besides the gorgeous scooter pix, there are chapters on how Piaggio got started, how the Vespa came about, and marketing, rallies and racing, and Vespa in the film industry (most notably how Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn got around in Roman Holiday). The book is too big and clumsy to curl up with, but that’s part of the point–the size (9.95 x 1.15 x 11.95 inches!) allows the viewer to see the beauty with more detail of the Vespa.

FICTION

Circe by Madeline Miller, 2018

I’ve had this book in my library for nearly two years and finally got around to reading it last year. I was not aware that the Greek goddess Circe is in Homer’s epic poem is the same character in this book, or if I did, I completely forgot about it. It was fortunate that I decided to read this beautifully written novel right after I finished Homer’s epic poem. Madeline Miller had won a half-dozen awards for this work and a good reason. Circe is at once thrilling, touching, and evocative.

The book spans hundreds of years, so the reader gets a short, subjective mythology lesson. Time slows down halfway through the novel when Odysseus lands on the island of Aeaea, where Circe’s father, Helios, has banished her for practicing witchcraft.

Miller’s beautiful prose makes Circe one of those books you don’t want to end. I think Odd Billy Todd, Sharp Objects, Normal People, and Circe were the four best novels I read in 2020, but Miller’s gem was by far the best written. Perhaps I might read her other award-winning novel, The Song of Achilles, soon.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, 2005

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden, disappeared. While the family believes she either accidentally drowned in the nearby river or ran away, her aged uncle is certain his niece was murdered but wants proof. He hires Mikael Blomkvist; an investigative journalist recently sued for libel. Blomkvist hires Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year-old, pierced and tattooed research expert and hacker. As they drill down into the Vanger family history, they discover iniquity after iniquity running through the Vanger family and in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo enough to read Larsson’s sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007). The subsequent efforts did not hold me in rapt attention, as did the first one. Larsson planned a ten-novel series with the characters antihero Lisbeth Salander and the journalist Mikael Blomkvist but died before publishing any of them. The finished books were all published posthumously.

Odd Billy Todd by N. C. Reed, 2014

In the spirit of these pandemic times, I wanted to read a post-apocalyptic novel that didn’t feature zombies. Something that could happen if a virus like the current novel coronavirus or the Spanish Flu broke out, but was far deadlier than anything the modern world has experienced. Odd Billy Todd turned out to be the ticket. The author focuses on a small rural area–the farms and small towns in and around Cedar Bend, Tennessee, wiped out by a pandemic. Our protagonist is a young man in his 20s who is developmentally disabled. His parents died in the plague, along with most people in the area. Because of his father’s vigilance (bordering on paranoia), Billy is left with plenty of handguns, long guns, ammo, a library of survival books, and how-to manuals (complete with copious notes in the margins helping Billy understand the texts better). Living on a farm, he has chickens and cows to sustain him. Billy thrives and begins to reach out to other survivors offering his assistance and surplus. He becomes the unlikely Alpha of a new community borne from the ashes of a terrible plague the has wiped out 95 percent of the world’s population.

Billy helps his neighbors, and together, they try to help others. Soon, Billy and his neighbors have run-ins with packs of wild dogs, an African lion released from a zoo, and both rag-tag and highly-organized bands of raiders, stripping towns of supplies, killing men, raping women, and capturing children.

Billy’s growing community saves women and children and is discriminate in adding men who can benefit their community. The book has moments of violence and tenderness. At times, it reminded me of the TV series The Walking Dead, sans the zombies. This story would make an excellent limited TV series.

Normal People by Sally Rooney, 2018

Usually, I don’t particularly appreciate reading the source material of a beloved film or television series: I’ve already defined the characters in my head. Exceptions to this personal rule are the movies High Fidelity and The World According to Garp. In 2020 I added two more to this rule, The Queen’s Gambit (see below) and this novel.

The story is about Connell, a high school soccer star, and Marianne, a lonely outcast. Connell takes a liking to Marianne, and they begin a secret relationship, initially based exclusively on sex. It develops into a more prosperous, more complex relationship over the years as they graduate from high school and are both accepted to the prestigious Trinity College in Dublin.

Not to take anything away from Sally Rooney’s beautiful novel about class, first love, and friendship, but perhaps I loved this book so much because I was already drawn to the principal characters in the superlative TV series. Either way, this was a great read. I liked the ended of the book a little more than the TV series.

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans is the story of Tessa, the only surviving victim of a serial killer. The sixteen-year-old was left for dead in a ditch with a strangled college student and a scattering of unidentified bones and covered in Black-eyed Susan flowers. Now 34, with a daughter, Tessa has to face the consequences of the sketchy testimony she gave at her accused killer’s trial. And this being Texas—America’s capital for capital punishment, she does not have much time until the convicted killer will be executed. Still, Tessa remembers nothing about the attack, her assailant, or how Tessa came to be in the ditch. She now works with a group of Texas lawyers dedicated to turning over unjust verdicts that believe the man on death row for the Black-eyed Susans murders is innocent.

The lawyers and her psychiatrist don’t know that Tessa is hiding a secret. For years, she’s stumbled across Black-eyed Susans planted in unique places. Is the real killer still out there, taunting her? Black-Eyed Susans is an excellent suspense mystery novel that kept me listening to this audiobook during the morning, on my afternoon walks, and into the late evenings.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, 2018

Where the Crawdads Sing is a tale about Kya, a young girl abandoned by her mother and father, and growing up alone in North Carolina’s marshes. Kya dodging social workers, Census Bureau workers, and anyone else that threatened to pull her from the rundown shack in the marshland that she calls home. In her solitude, she becomes one with her marsh surroundings and finds beauty in what most locals consider ugly swamplands. There’s a murder and a love story. The story sucked me in and held me to the end, which has an exciting twist. Full disclosure, my wife, who reads a lot more fiction than I, read it and saw the ending coming a mile away. I still liked the book and am excited that Daisy Edgar-Jones from the Normal People limited series is slated to play Kya.

The Odyssey by Homer, trans. Emily Wilson; 8th Century BCE, trans. 2017

I attempted to read The Iliad and The Odyssey last year. That wasn’t the first time I tried to read The Iliad, but when I failed yet again to finish it, I decided to hang it up. Instead, I listened to CliffsNotes on the classic and watched Netflix’s Season 1 of Troy: Fall of a City and called it a day. That’s the best I could muster. I did, however, read The Odyssey. It must have been the fact that The Odyssey is an action epic poem: Odysseus struggling for ten years to make it home after the sack of Troy.

The Odyssey delivers. There’s sex: The goddess Calypso makes Odysseus her boy toy for a year on her island. Similarly, the warrior spends a year on the island where the nymph Circe was banished. (See my entry of Madeline Miller’s novel for a modern take on that affair.) And there’s our hero, who overcomes divine and natural forces, battling storms and near-death encounters with a cyclops, a cannibal, sirens, and a six-headed beast. Great stuff! I hope to read Virgil’s The Aeneid this year to keep with my at least one classic piece of literature a year.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, 1990

As a student of Journalism and History in college in the ’80s, I read a lot of nonfiction books on the Vietnam War: Bloods, Dear America, Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History (chief source for the Ken Burns PBS series), and my favorite, Michael Herr’s Dispatches. And there were all those films on the subject. So, for years, I was tired of the subject matter. If it weren’t for the multiple bumps the thirty-year-old book received from a few disparate sources last year, I might not have read the book.

And that would have been a pity. The Things They Carried is an excellent work of historical fiction that contains semi-autobiographical elements. (O’Brien served in the Army and was in Vietnam 1969-70.) The Things They Carried reads like a memoir, and the book’s voice and the other characters are vibrant and clear that I forgot early on that I was reading a work of fiction.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, 2006

I’m so glad my friend Mathieu turned me on to Gillian Flynn. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Gone Girl (my favorite Flynn novel). I also liked Dark Places. Sharp Objects is about a troubled reporter given the assignment to return to her hometown, Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the unsolved murder of a girl and another’s disappearance. She moves into her childhood home with her neurotic, hypochondriac mother, disengaged stepfather, and vicious teenage half-sister and begins her investigation. The deeper she digs, the darker the story becomes.

You (Book 1) by Caroline Kepnes, 2018

I am usually turned off by book series; whenever I see “Book 1,” that’s usually my queue to keep scrolling, but the Netflix series looks compelling, so I decided to check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. You is driven by the delusional internal dialogue of Joe Goldberg, an employee of a modest bookstore in the East Village who becomes obsessed with Beck, a pretty blonde who walks into the store one afternoon. The novel gets creepier as Joe finds ways to possess the unassuming young woman.

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, 2003

Along with Sally Rooney’s Normal People, The Queen’s Gambit is another novel that made a brilliant TV series. By now, the title is nearly a household name among streaming TV viewers. But for those who do not have Netflix or who haven’t read Tevis’ excellent novel. The Queen’s Gambit is the story about a brilliant orphan named Beth Harmon who learns chess from the orphanage’s janitor, who spots genius in the introverted girl. Along with her prodigious skills, she develops a severe substance abuse problem. The drama pivots between her genius and her addition. It’s a remarkable novel by the writer who brought us some excellent books: The Hustler and The Color of Money.

 

Honorable Mentions

Richard D. Wolff’s The Sickness is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself (2020) is a compilation of transcripts from his podcasts and essays published mostly during the pandemic. Whether you are watching Wolff on YouTube, listening to his podcasts, or reading his published works, Wolff is one of the most clear-headed critics of capitalism. In The Sickness is the System, he shows us how our for-profit health care system was doomed to fail us during a pandemic, with our without Donald Trump’s bumbling.

I was excited to start The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon by William M. Adler, 1994, about Joseph Hillström, the Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The book is heavy on the details of Hill’s unjust arrest, trial, and execution and too light on the rest of his story, but I praise the author’s research.

Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (1968) is the first book by Hunter S. Thompson that I have read since I graduated from college back in 1987 when I read his legendary Fear & Loathing in Los Vegas. In Hell’s Angels, Thompson follows the famous outlaw motorcycle club based in the Bay Area for two years. He participated in their exploits. The arrangement was tenuous, at best, and ultimately lead to the author being beaten up by some of the “one-percenters.” Thompson was an extraordinary writer with remarkable insight.

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan, 2020. The famous food author tells us the history of caffeine–mostly by way of the two most popular delivery systems: coffee and tea. He explains how caffeine has changed the course of human history. The stimulant contributed to the winning and losing of the American Civil War (the US Army had plenty of coffee, the Confederacy didn’t). And caffeine greased the wheels of the Industrial Revolution. (With the advent of indoor lighting and the minute hand, labor moved indoors; swing and night shifts were created. The coffee (and tea in the British Empire) break was born to combat the body’s natural circadian rhythms.

Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus (1969) is a collection of fifteen short stories of passion, sensual self-discovery, seduction, and liberation in pre-World War II Paris. Despite living in a country that looks down on erotica as sinful, Nin writes about the subject with such beauty, innocence, and fun that this American reader can’t help but blush from time to time.

Observations From the Mat #6: Returning to Yoga Classes During COVID-19

After a three-month-long order from Governor Gavin Newsom to close all gyms in California, the governor lifted the closure order on June 15. Though I only practiced yoga once at home during that time, I still felt wary about going to any place where there might be a lot of people breathing hard in a small room. During the second week of the reopening, I had to get back on the horse, even if I didn’t feel entirely comfortable doing so. My wife jumped right in and reported to me how things are at the club with the group exercise schedule pared back quite a bit. In the meantime, I found a video on the club’s Facebook page explaining how the gym is addressing reopening during this time of COVID-19.

So, on the second Thursday after the reopening, I attended one of the new yoga classes offered. There are new rules that give the gym a less than warm feel to it. Still, the staff is as friendly as ever, even if you can’t see their smiles under their PPE.

A sign of the times.

When I arrived, I immediately noticed social distancing sandwich boards and other cautionary signage, a closed-down snack bar, and a friendly masked face behind the front desk that was barricaded with end tables against it to ensure I kept my distance. The nice young woman did walk up close enough to take my temperature with an infrared thermometer, though. I tried to surrender my membership card per procedure, but the young woman pointed to the scanner at the corner of the desk. It was now the member’s job to scan in their card. The lobby was as vacant of people as my office, where most of us are now working from home. I currently work once a week to perform tasks I can’t do remotely.)

Damn, I forgot my combination!

I approached the locker room wondering how the social distancing was going to work there. But if the lobby seemed sparsely populated, the men’s locker room was virtually empty, which is nice because I recall many times being uncomfortably packed into the locker areas and the showers. I’m still emotionally scarred over the time I was trying to open my locker with someone’s penis inches away from my face.

When I got my locker open after having to get the combination from the front desk, I noticed a giant hole in my mesh laundry bag with my boxer briefs halfway out of the bag. My gym shorts and shirt were gone. The standard procedure when this happens is to go to the laundry room and have someone from Housekeeping help me find my stuff in their dauntingly large bank baskets full of wayward sports garments, but my class was starting soon. I’m glad I keep two sets of gym clothes in my locker.

I dress down, put my mask back on, and head for the yoga studio all the while wondering if I will have to wear my mask during yoga. Breath is a big part of yoga, and, when I can remember, I practice Ujjayi breathing when I practice. That could lead to a very hot mask during practice. (If you want to know what Ujjayi breath, or and some aptly call it, “Darth Vader breathing,” check out one of my favorite teachers show you how it’s done.)

Entering the yoga studio, I find a bunch of Stages indoor bikes in the room. I check the group exercise bike studio and notice it now only has about half of the bikes, and they are all six feet apart. My yoga studio is now a stock room. (I would later find out another group exercise studio, as well as the once busy elliptical exercise room, had both suffered a similar fate.) Where will I be practicing yoga tonight? It turns all of the group exercise classes in these COVID-19 days are taking place in—the basketball court.

The popular online yoga site Do You Yoga offers “8 Ways Your Surroundings Can Make (or Break) Your Yoga Session.” Here they are in my own words with my comments on how the new place measured up:

  • The Right Temperature. I’ve practiced in a studio that was too hot. Well, a couple of times, then management brought in this massive fan, the teacher turned off the music, and we practiced to what sounded like a being in a hanger with a running P-52. As for the court, the temperature was about right. PASS
  • The Right Lighting. Standing at the door to the gymnasium watching two guys. dribbling and shooting hoops, I was at once struck by how tranquil this environment wasn’t; the lighting way too bright., but it was perfect for shooting some hoops! FAIL
  • Aromatherapy. As for this element, I usually don’t care too much for how a place smells, just that it doesn’t, but if there were a bunch of sweating basketball players finishing league play it would have failed at this element miserably. I have only attended one class where a teacher, with an exotic scent, visited every student during Shavasana and rubbed the necks and shoulders of each student with eucalyptus oil. I could see how aroma could benefit a practice. I’ll give the room a PASS on the aromatherapy.
  • Peace & Quiet. I couldn’t meditate before the class: the cacophony of two arrhythmic bouncing balls and the THUUUNNNGs of the vibrating basketball rims ruined any chance of preparing for the practice. “That’s it,” said a fellow practitioner as she abruptly ended her pre-session warm-up. “I can’t take the basketballs!” and left, returning just when the class started. But, to be fair, when the class started, I did experience “peace and quiet.” I’ll give it a weak PASS
  • Neat & Clean. A “neat and clean” environment was debatable, It was clean, but the towels, sanitizing spray bottles, and stacked steps and raisers (used for other classes here) made it seem more like a basketball court/storage area during a viral outbreak) Another weak PASS
  • An Inspirational Place. The place did not fill me with “inspiration,” it’s a regulation NCAA/NBA 94’ x 50’ basketball court with about ten feet extra past the sidelines and baselines, not a yoga studio, which usually fills me with inspiration. FAIL
  • Enough Personal Space. While there was plenty of “personal space,” the 6-feet markers for the mats did not make the experience intimate. But “intimate” was not a criterion, so PASS.
  • Appropriate Music. Appropriate music is more critical than someone not into yoga might think. I’ve attended classes with teachers who believe somehow MC Yogi is suitable for a yoga session. (Yeah, I know the rapper is a yogi, and I enjoy his music, but that doesn’t make his music appropriate for practice. My first class back at the club had no music, which was better than the wrong music. The second class featured music and was low enough for me to hear the teacher in the cavernous space. PASS

Therefore, the new “yoga studio” gets a barely passing grade on the Do You Yoga’s test with a 75 percent. Not great, but we’re talking about exceptional times, and my health club is not exclusively a yoga studio. I’ll have to make do with what they can offer its members. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if dedicated yoga studios have either gone out of business or cut back on their services.

We rolled out our mats over the designated spots—no chance of accidentally touching a fellow practitioner during a supine trunk rotation. Moments when you inadvertently play handzies with the student next to you were now geographically out of the question. After we warmed up, we executed a seated spinal stretch to the left. That’s when I noticed there are ten other members spread out so far that one of them was near the opposing goal line. There was one of the club’s trainers taking in the class at the free-throw line (Center), another two at opposite sides of the three-point line (Guards), another near the far baseline across from me. (That would make us both Forwards, I guess.) And five more near the mid court line and back on the opposing goal line. When I stretch the opposite way, I saw the barrel of basketballs near the door where we came in, and at once, I thought, “We have enough bodies in this gym for a pickup game!” Meditation didn’t go out the window; I never even began to go down the mindfulness path. Looking back on it now, I could have used “Alley-oop” as a mantra.

My favorite teacher, Heather, who used to teach classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, was not present. Nor was she on the schedule. Heather bailed early–a week before the club closed three months ago. In her place, now was Robert. Many yoga students and teachers have told me that Robert is one of the best yoga teachers in Sacramento, and I have practiced with more than one teacher who calls him either mentor or teacher.

He had a class at this club before the shutdown, but I had only attended it a couple of times. Many yoga peeps have told me that anyone can walk into a yoga studio never having practiced and do a session of Power Yoga or advanced Vinyasa Yoga–you just go at your own pace. But I have tried practicing in advanced classes and found it too frustrating, having to take multiple breaks and feeling as if every eye is on me–the loser (though know no one is looking at me; “no judgments” is a common motto with most, if not all yoga teachers). Still, I find trying to practice yoga above my abilities quite the opposite of beneficial and not blissful or inspirational. Anyway, Robert’s pre-COVID-19 class was too advanced for me.

For anyone who reads this blog, they might remember Robert as the kind teacher who was leading the class where I cut a loud fart. I don’t know if he recognized me as the guy who fouled his practice. Still, he did make an effort to talk to me after the class just like he hung around the front door of the club, post poot, possibly to catch me and tell me I was doing a good job [Read: “Don’t worry, Grandpa Sphincter, that’s your Root Chakra, tooting its appreciation for your practice!]. That embarrassing moment was so long ago I only hope Robert forgot about it.

One of the many amenities found in a high-end club like this one is that the establishment provides mats, blocks, rollers, straps, and as many towels as you need (or don’t need, but feel so entitled to use anyway). But these days of the novel coronavirus, the club, like everywhere else, is practicing “contactless” service, so it expects members to bring their mats. Thankfully, the front desk keeps a few mats for dullards like me. I’ve always wanted a folding mat but had only frivolous reasons to invest in one. I finally broke down and bought one, and yes, it is quite portable, but the two milometer-thickness kills my knees!

On my way out, I spoke with Housekeeping to see if my missing gym shorts and shirt were in the laundry room. My items appear to be lost; casualties to the three-month closure and a worn-out laundry bag. They gave me a new bag, but I’ll need to bring more duds.

That’s my yoga practice in a basketball court story. As I post this, COVID-19 cases have spiked in California. Governor Newsom is shutting down bars and restaurants–again. I’m guessing gyms will soon follow. (Though here’s an NPR story about how to work out as long as your gym stays open.) Perhaps I need to start a home practice, though I have mentioned on this blog countless times how undisciplined I am about following through. Just think, Jocko, you could build your own yoga space! Use the “8 Ways Your Surroundings Can Make (or Break) Your Yoga Session.” and your copy of the glossy coffee-table book Yoga At Home: Inspiration for Creating Your Home Practice by Linda Sparrowe as guidelines. I could even rub my shoulders and neck with eucalyptus oil. If only I knew how to, I shut up my chronically barking dog I might achieve zen in the middle of a pandemic!

Burger Patch and Scooter Parts

Burger Patch and my perpetual (failing) diet

This blog started out in part to investigate hamburgers from Sacramento restaurants, bar & grills, and food trucks. That part didn’t last–dieting got in the way. I’ve been trying to lose weight and to cut back (way back) on beef and dairy. This is in part for my health and also for ecological reasons. “Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss acid rain, and deforestation. Nowhere is the impact more apparent than climate change—livestock farming contributes 18 percent of humans produce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” (Source: “Five Ways the Meat on Your Plate is Killing the Planet” from The Conversation.com) The other part of the original project—checking out local scooter culture, scooter clubs, and run and rallies–was actually a much bigger failure. I’m a reclusive guy, so I didn’t know what I was thinking trying to rub elbows with fellow scooterists. I always ended up in the corner alone during meetups, rallies, and runs. Anyway, scooterists drink like fish–I’m, for the most part, a teetotaler. In the end, I guess I was just excited I had a scooter and initially, couldn’t be happy with just the ride.

Anyway, I don’t miss Royal Bastard Scooter Club events, and I especially don’t mind riding clear of the Vespa Club of Sacramento. The dieting part is far more challenging. And as far as beef and dairy goes–I’ve been far more successful in cutting back on beef than avoiding dairy. (Me likey Half & Half in the morning joe and cheese on just about everything.) One little victory on the cutting back on beef and all other animal-based food, for that matter, is drinking Huel shakes for weekday lunches. I started out drinking the environmentally-friendly shakes for both breakfast and lunch at work. I wrote about it here. Alas, that didn’t last long, but I am back on track, when it comes to most lunches during the work week. I am also interested in vegetarian and vegan alternatives to dairy and all kinds of meat. I still love hamburgers, but often choose a restaurant’s veggie burger alternative to the beef burger. (I know it’s blasphemy from the guy who started this blog writing about Squeezeburgers and Fatboys.) When I started seeing ads for a place called Burger Patch, I wrote down the address without reading the whole advertisement. A week later, I had my poor vegetarian-curious son driving me around Midtown Sacramento, trying to find the phantom place. As it turned out, Burger Patch had no established address at that time but had pop-up events in different locations for about the first two years. I didn’t know that at the time and just gave up–until recently. Last August, Burger Patch opened a brick & mortar joint at 2301 K Street. It took me a while, but I finally checked this place out.

Patch Burger alternative hamburger offers are “Patch Burger,” “Double Patch Burger,” and the “BBQ Patch Burger.” (I know, they’ve got to do something with those names. In that context, they sound less to do with a garden and more to do with how you fix a flat on your bike.) They also offer three alternative chicken items called “Chick’n”: “The Ranch,” the “Crispy BBQ Ranch” (I’ll be back to check out that last one.) and “chick’n” tenders option called “A Bunch.” I ordered the “Patch Burger” and added “Hickory Smoked Strips”–there alternative to bacon. (As if there ever could be an alternative to bacon.)

But I digress.

I also switched out their standard bun for “Pushkin’s GF Bun,” just because I was curious what gluten-free bread tastes like. The bun is from the locally famous Pushkin’s Bakery, a wheat/gluten and dairy-free bakery here in the Sacramento Area. When I asked for the Pushkin’s GF Bun, the young woman taking my order asked if I had an intolerance to gluten. When I said, “Alas, I can eat anything, and that’s my problem,” she laughed, but I followed with why she asked. She said something to do with cross-contamination. Presumably, my order would have been handled with special care if I would have answered in the affirmative, but I didn’t need the special treatment and there was a line forming behind me, anyway.

The instance reminded me of when I used to take my dinner breaks with my work partner, Dawna, at the nearby McDonald’s back in the mid-1980s. I initially thought she agreed with my and our co-worker, Bobby, on Mickey Dee’s because it was the fastest place to get our food. (We only had 30-minute find a restaurant, order, eat, and get back to the grind.) Dawna would order her Big Mac without ketchup and her fries without salt. The kitchen–designed to make food in advance to serve more customers in less time–came to a screeching halt to make a fresh Big Mac and drop a special basket of fries in the fryer just for Dawna. She would watch the minimum-wage workers like a hawk preparing her food special to ensure they made it to her specifications and made them fresh. This alone was annoying–it’s fast food, for fucks sake, Dawna! But after she got her dinner, she proceeded to salt up her fries and squirted ketchup on her burger. I suppose I could have had the folks at Burger Patch dawn their hazmat suits to make my burger special, while the line behind me got longer, but I only wanted to find out what a gluten-free hamburger bun tastes like. I liked it.

I also ordered a “Shovel of Spuds.” One hundred percent vegan, fried in non-GMO rice oil. The “house blend” of herbs they finish the fries off with making this one of the best orders of fries I have had in quite a while. Vegan or not, fries are fries, fatso, but I can’t help myself. Speaking of fatso, I had a Vanilla Bean, “Earth Quake Shake.” This vegan shake is made with cashew, soy, and almond kinds of alternative milk, and is the equal to most dairy-based shakes I have had. It is also 100 percent vegan and also not a low-calorie item, just a feel-good-about-yourself-and-the-planet shake. And that’s the thing about vegetarian and vegan foods–just a walk through the isles of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and you can see this shit isn’t exactly Jenny Craig.

But how did the burger taste, Jockomo?

I thought the tomato, and the lettuce tasted fresh, the grilled onions and the melted cheese also added to the burger’s good taste, but the Hickory Smoked Strips simply do not replace bacon, but what are you going to do? I’m trying to live a little cleaner and reduce my carbon footprint. I’m trying, Greta, really I am, but it is hard. The Hickory Smoked Strips are optional, so I suggest you skip them. The Patch Burger also comes with “Patch Sauce”–a slightly spicy version of Thousand Island Dressing. The little bit of heat gives it the burger a distinctive taste. Strangely, the Beyond Burger patty was dry.

What should I expect, the patty to have the consistency of a beef patty? I guess so, I’m at a hamburger joint, right? The only other beef (eh-hm) I had with the burger is how the whole thing fell apart about halfway into eating it. I’m not talking about how a bun will disintegrate while you’re eating a burger due to a combination of a poor bun, too much sauce, and a juicy patty. There weren’t any juices, and the Patch Sauce and the melted cheese didn’t seem to contribute to the breakdown. Was this an end-user issue? Maybe. Only a return visit will determine that. I think it was the patty’s dryness that was the main reason for the breakdown.

How does the Patch Burger compare to Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper”?

Well, aside from all the elements around the Impossible Foods patty, I liked it over the Patch Burger’s Beyond Meat patty, but everything else about the Patch Burger was superior to Burger King’s meatless offering. Too, Burger Patch’s Shovel of Spuds and milkshake were better than Burger King’s, by far. Also, if you check out head-to-head taste tests on YouTube, you’ll see it is–for the most part–a tossup when it comes to taste and juiciness, so I’m betting someone was asleep at the grill when my burger was being prepared.

A final note about the Burger Patch. Make sure to check out their excellent website: https://www.theburgerpatch.com/ They have promising items, not on the limited take-out menu. Also, if you’re a progressive like me, you’ll appreciate their commitment to sustainability. Also, take a look at their Patch Match page where each month, Burger Patch selects a charity and donates a portion of every burger sold. Another reason to patronize this burger joint. If I was rating burgers like I used to, I would give them a pass and try a Patch Burger a second time. Who knows, maybe they will have changed the burger’s name by then!

scooter repairs

It was tune-up time for my Vespa GT 200 L. Which means taking my ride into the shop. I have no idea how to work on engines short of filling them up with gas and adding/changing the oil. This job required more work, so I took my Vespino to Scooter City. Mike, the mechanic, said it would take an afternoon to complete, but when I told him to check a growling noise I experience most times I accelerate from an idle that put a question mark at the end of the estimated time of completion.

This sound was not consistent: I would hear it, and then it faded away, and other times, I wouldn’t hear it at all. I reported this to my old mechanic. He slapped a strip of duct tape across the front of the frame and the center panel because I assumed the sound was coming from the front of the scooter instead of the engine. The tape didn’t stop the growling. I put up with that sound for a few years—crossing my fingers all the way.

Me working on my ride with a torque wrench. Ha! Just kidding! I lifted this from the good folks at ScooterWest.com, but the scooter is my model and my Portofino green color. Check out the drive belt. I’ve seen one of those up close! What or where the “Bellville nut” nut is, is a complete mystery to me.

The source of the growling (or what might have been the source) ended up being significant, and I was glad I told Mike about it. When he opened up the crankcase, he found dust, rust, and severe wear. Ultimately, the drive belt, rollers, guides, the o ring, the Bellville nut, idler pulley, and pulley bolt had to be replaced. What are these parts, and how do they work in the Vespa GT 200’s Leader engine? Short of the drive belt, I don’t know. That’s why I pay a mechanic. As per law, the shop gave me the replaced parts, and I could tell there was some serious wear—the drive belt looked like it would snap at any time and the idler pulley (I think that’s what it was) sounded as if it was the primary noisemaker, and when I tried to spin it with my fingers, the sound it made was as if it would break any moment. The bag of worn parts was a photo op missed, but, as usual, whenever a mechanic gives me the replaced parts, I always play with the shit as if I have some idea how the stuff works, then leave it on the counter asking the shop to dispose of the bag of junk.

Out of the garage, my Vespa felt tight and smooth, but a day later, the growling came back, but it was a faint sound, and it wasn’t as frequent. I have no idea what all of this means. Maybe I should have been a master mechanic like my old man, or the late venerated Vespa sage, Rolf Soltau. Nah, I am sure it will be alright. Anyway, I’ve mastered the art of operating my Vespino with fingers crossed on both hands!

Ha, what do you know! I went to ScooterWest.com and this was on their home page–my drive belt!

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.

tahoe
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.

 

TBT1
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!

1970so

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?

1975
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!

 

mx 77
1977 trip to Alcopoco, Mexico. Here my brother and sister and I pose for a picture.

 

homecoming
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.

 

1976
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.

 

1980
This 1979 lad is beginning to bald, but can still rock a Calvin Klien oxford, Newman jeans, and a YSL belt.

 

1984
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.

 

1980sa
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.

 

dorman
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.

1989
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.

 

ely
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.

 

1990
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.

 

unknown 1
We’re at the in-laws here, Peter, Grandma Peggy, Ely, Grandpa Bob, and me. This was probably taken in the mid-00s.

 

2006
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
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!

 

8
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.

 

Photo_101108_001
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!

 

Flag
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?

 

Photo_080409_002
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.”

 

IMG_0728
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.

 

cd712-img_0139
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.

 

Boring
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…

 

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

 

IMG_1705
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.

 

3b30e-yoga2bsitting1
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?

 

IMG_0808
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.

 

2017
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.