Yellow Flicker Beat

list_38328RCI used to play drums for a marching drum corps, but not the sexy tenor drum, or the staccato rhythmic snare. The drum they gave me to play was the bass, the largest drum with the biggest sound, and the only reason it didn’t go to someone else was because I was big enough to walk with it without falling over. That’s a good reason.

The beats were easy to learn, too. There was one big BOOM, followed by one beat of silence, then another big BOOM, and it repeated ad nauseum. They were so easy because they were so boring. I would sit in the big chair during practice time with the huge drum between my legs, twirl the stick between BOOMs, and put some oomph into it, but I was so bored.

It was especially difficult toting around that bass drum when right next to me were the tenors. Boy, how I wanted to be a tenor. They had these cool straps that didn’t cut into their shoulders. In fact, their straps were across just one shoulder so they looked cool, like I imagined professionals in a real drum corps looked. And they had two drumsticks that flew through the air as they tapped out their swift beat to my steady one.

Don’t even get me started on the snares. Where the tenors were speedy, and their sticks began to blur at times, the snares were sneaky, the patter of their beat like rain coming down on a tin roof. They were like soldiers at the back of our drum line, tapping out a kind of primitive Morse code, and yet it all worked. You know, except for me and that huge bass that was like an anchor around my neck.

On rare occasions we would have a wacky day at drum corps practice where we would each take on a drum that wasn’t our own. Then we would go through each series of drum beats (they were complicated for everyone else but me, normally), from 1 through 4, and see if we could get through each series without any mistakes. I prided myself on taking a different drum during those times and making sure I wasn’t the one who messed up. Maybe deep in the back of my mind I hoped the corps leaders would see my prowess with different drums and make the switch permanent.

It never happened. But on some level I guess that was okay. I mean, without me and the solid backbeat I set for everyone else the rest of the beat would meander instead of stick in rhythm. If it wasn’t for me and that dreadfully heavy bass there would have been no drum corps, and that ended up being good enough for me eventually. Of course by then some of the others had grown bigger and could have handled the drum. But it was mine along with the beat. Along with the beat.

Sam

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How Many Steps

24 active minutes? Hmmmm.

I can’t recall the last time I voluntarily weighed myself. It was probably at a doctor’s office visit last year or thereabouts, and you can see how memorable it was for me. It helped that the nurse read off my weight in kilograms because I could pretend I had no idea what that translated to in pounds. Sometimes it’s a good thing not to know. Believe me. But I do remember that the doctor said I was carrying around an extra 15 pounds above my ideal weight (whatever that means). She mentioned cardio, and whatnot, but at the time I wasn’t really up for listening to her.

I wasn’t really up for listening to her because I suffer from That’s-the-way-it-used-to-be syndrome, a common ailment of no-longer-young men everywhere. When I was a teenager it didn’t really matter what I ate. My weight was going to stay exactly the same. In fact, I could lose weight just by thinking about it back then. And that carried over into my early 20s, but by the time I got to be around 26 or 27 the gods of metabolism began taking away what they had given me. To this day I still curse their names.

It was around 26 or 27 that my metabolism began to slow, but I didn’t take much notice at first. At first it was easy to put down the small weight gain as a “fluctuation,” an outlier that would soon correct itself and everything would be back on course. I kept eating my weight in food, sure that things would return to “normal” sooner rather than later. Before I knew it my clothes became difficult to zip up, to button down, and to slither into. I was in disbelief, thinking it was the clothes that had somehow shrunk, that it had nothing to do with my own expanding physique.

Eventually, though, I couldn’t fool myself anymore. So I set a regimen for myself. But like most guys who stretched out in puberty and didn’t have to worry about trying to lose weight for a good 10 years, I had absolutely no idea what to do to accomplish my goal of dropping 10 pounds (4.53 kilograms) over the course of my 28th summer. In lieu of actual knowledge about it, I went to the tried and true: smaller portion size, and exercise. I cut my meal portions in half (even though I felt like I was starving), and I started walking around the neighborhood daily.

That lasted for approximately four weeks.

By that time, of course, I was starting to see results, so I thought I was good to go. And by “go” I mean everything going back to my normal no exercise, large portion size self. And of course within a couple of weeks I was not only back to my 10 pounds over my ideal weight, but I was an extra 5 pounds in the opposite direction. Uh oh. That was 10 years ago, and in the intervening time I have been off and on when it comes to adjusting my diet and getting physically fit. For a while I went to spinning class. For a time I walked religiously on the treadmill. I even cut out daily snacks for a small amount of time.

Yet my weight still fluctuates, going from close to the ideal to between 10-15 pounds over. I can feel it in the way it redistributes itself when I spend too much energy on any one activity. Like when I walk down the street for more than one block. Something isn’t right about that. That’s why now, 10 years after my initial experiment in weight loss and positive fitness, I’m getting down and dirty with it again. This time it’s for real (I feel like I’m doing a trailer for Expendables 4 or something).

So I got myself a FitBit. You know, it’s one of those things that tracks the number of steps you take every day. You set goals for yourself and it tallies up the numbers while you walk and exercise daily. I’m one of those people who believe in the concrete. I like to watch the numbers climb higher while I’m walking. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile instead of “just walking.” The FitBit app tells me I should try for 10,000 steps a day, so I’m actually going for 10,000 steps a day. It’s like a competition against myself, and those were always the best kind.

We’ll see how long it keeps my interest. I’m hoping for a long time. You know, because I’ve still got that pesky 10 pounds or so over my ideal weight that I must shed before the next bathing suit season.

Sam

Locker Room Blues

lockers closeI don’t necessarily like swimming. And it’s not just the swimming itself (although that is a small part of it), but more so the time spent in the locker room before and after. I haven’t always been a fan of locker rooms, which is a feeling that goes back to what most would call junior high. An anxiety was born then that I guess I never got over, even though I sometimes I pretend I have… until something happens that brings it all back.

It was the first day of seventh grade, and our class was going to take trips to the YMCA once a week that school year, or at least that’s what Mr. Jones was telling us before I tuned out. You see, seventh grade was the year my voice started to change. It was subtle at first, the squeaking of the mouse becoming the croak of the bullfrog, and it often split when I was in the most public of situations, but my voice wasn’t the larger problem. That belonged to the rest of the changes.

I had been a chunky child, and by chunky I mean pretty hefty in the middle. It wasn’t something I particularly noticed, but it was particularly noticeable by others. Because of it I had been called many names, not the least of which were about both my belly and my chest. For some reason when the weight is “lying heavy” it distributes itself in certain ways. For me it had the added bonus of giving me a larger than average chest, or what some chose to call “man breasts.” Can you imagine: a preteen boy and the teasing I routinely got whenever I wore t-shirts?

So I was dying for a growth spurt, something that would stretch me out and hopefully deal with those man breasts, and with the ridicule that accompanied them. And after my freshman year of high school it finally kicked in, that much-awaited growth spurt, and I shot up over 8 inches over the course of the summer and fall. But perhaps the worst thing happened as a result. My belly disappeared, but my man breasts stuck around. At least when I was large all around I had an excuse for them.

I cried myself to sleep many times during that winter after my growth spurt because I knew spring would come, and I couldn’t keep hiding under sweaters much longer. But then spring came, and summer after, and it seemed like no one was really concerned, as if the only thing that mattered was that I had gotten so much taller. People stopped calling me names, and things improved in my social life, but to me I was still that kid, the one who was always ridiculed for what I honestly couldn’t help physically. And in some ways I still feel that way, so many years later.

Which brings me back to the locker room. I was in one yesterday, after my family went swimming, and I still had a touch of self-consciousness regarding my body. I have it every single time I find myself in that most vulnerable of situations. I looked around before dropping my towel, to make sure no one was watching, to make sure no one was pointing and laughing. And no one was. They were all intent on their own selves, and they were paying me absolutely no mind.

Maybe at some point I’ll stop thinking about it. Maybe pigs will actually fly someday. But these locker room blues have to play themselves out before a blessed silence will come.

Sam

Autumn Leaves

She smells of autumn leaves
Like packed earth and promises
Left in the tepid sun to dry
Driven by the possibility of more
As if eternity were tomorrow
And she was born yesterday
But life is just afternoon shadows
Made up of what she cannot have
Indian summer and daydreams
The memory of consequence
Tucked safely underneath
A kaleidoscope of color
Beneath a cloudy October sky
Like a child tucked in at night
By perfect love and circumstance

She smells of autumn leaves
Newly fallen from barren trees
Desperate to rise again
Yet destined to fade away
As surely as summer’s malaise.

Sam
In the face of approaching winter.

The Trouble With Skrillex

She always judges his musical choices, but she can’t seem to help herself. He just happens to pick such dumb bands, and then he sings their pitiful lyrics at high volume, and apparently on repeat, until she can’t handle it anymore and flies into a rage. It’s a rage aimed more at his choice than at the music itself. You see, she doesn’t think she can be with a guy who has such poor taste in music. It’s the one thing at which she considers herself a purist, and as time moves along she finds herself judging him more and more for it.

Of course it doesn’t help that she grew up listening to bubble gum pop, like Britney Spears and ’98 Degrees. She finally broke free from its stranglehold, and she told herself she was never going back, not for anyone. Not ever. But it’s tearing her apart because she likes everything else about him. He’s considerate, funny, built like a Greek God (she’s not saying which one), and passionate about life. These are all things she prizes highly, and they make her want to give him a pass on the music.. if he would just stop singing it.

And he doesn’t even just sing bubble gum pop either. It’s not just Hannah Montana and Carly Rae Jepsen. It’s the rap music, the death metal, and the dubstep. She knew absolutely nothing about dubstep until he brought over the latest Skrillex CD and it was just four words over and over and over again, set to a driving beat that also kept repeating. He cranked up the volume and screamed along with every one of those four words over and over and over again until she had gone numb. She banned Skrillex from being played around her without headphones. But he kept screaming it, which was maybe even worse.

Her own tastes have changed over the years. She likes to think they’re more refined, but in reality she’s merely traded in the glitz of pop for the mellowed out adult contemporary her parents used to love. Sometimes she finds herself wondering if she’s simply gotten old and forgot to let herself know, but other times she thinks she has matured and he has yet to catch up. She’s tried playing some Will Young and some Celine Dion for him, but he always gets this blank look on his face, like he doesn’t know what to make of it, like his body is still there but his brain is somewhere in Wonderland.

She realizes it won’t work, this tiptoeing around each other that they do, because she knows that as surely as she judges him for his music he is also judging her for hers. And somewhere down the line, when her heart has healed, and when the Celine Dion love songs are finally deeply imprinted on her brain, that’s when she’ll move on. That’s when she’ll hopefully find someone she can sing with, someone who will know her songs by heart.

Sam

Driving Blind

cellplateNormally I am as road-oriented as possible when I’m in the car. My eyes are on traffic patterns, traffic signals, other vehicles, and the glory that is the asphalt itself. But this morning, for some reason, on my commute to work, I started people-watching. I doubt I’ll do that again.

Now, I understand that there are professionals on the road who have places to go and things to do. And I get that in this crazy world we live in more and more people rely on multitasking to get things accomplished. I too am a solid multitasker (not as good as I used to be in my younger years, but still adequate enough), but when I see someone driving with a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee in one hand (the hand that’s also coincidentally the only one on the wheel), and a phone in the other, I start to worry.

This guy was probably around 25 years old, wearing a pinstripe suit (are those still in style?), and a silk tie. He was driving some type of small Nissan car, had a watch the size of a small marsupial, and seemed more intent on his texting adventures than his coffee drinking. His eyes were definitely not on the road, and his car was definitely not entirely in his lane. I kept my eye on him until his car was safely past mine, then shook my head.

No less than three or four minutes later I saw a woman (probably around 35) doing something very similar, except instead of having a cup of coffee in her hand, both hands were on her phone (which was balanced on the steering wheel) and she was texting furiously, apparently afraid the words wouldn’t get to their destination fast enough. Her eyes kept flitting back and forth between the road ahead and the phone below. I found myself wondering what would have happened if the phone suddenly slipped from her hands. I could imagine her dropping the wheel to fish it out from the depths. She too passed, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe it’s best not to know what other motorists are doing while they commute to and from wherever. Perhaps it would keep me saner to pretend they’re all as conscientious as I am, with my hands always at 3 and 9 o’clock on the wheel, with my phone calmly charging itself in my cup holder, and with eyes on the road ahead. But now that I know what others are doing around me, how can I keep myself from studying every other driver as they pass and freaking out in the process?

I long for the days when the only distractions in the car were children asking if we were there yet.

Sam

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