The Gym Rant, Part II

I’m back with more ravings about the gym. Don’t get me wrong–I love the gym. But I spend a lot of time there, so I’ve developed certain likes and dislikes, even prejudices.  Many of these are just personal to me.  They might not bother a so-called “normal” person.  That matters not, of course.  What matters–as always–is me.  If you’re interested in things that bother you, I suggest you write about them yourself.


Your beastly author

A few months ago, I posted thoughts on a few things that bother me at the gym. Since then, I’ve thought of others. Here goes:


Every time I go in the locker room, there is a naked guy. Oh, it’s not the same naked guy. If it were, I’d make a formal complaint. It’ll be some dude, and he’ll be naked.  The locker really is a public area (public, not pubic).  The public–me included–is present.  How about covering up?

Put on a towel. Better yet–your damn clothes. You can towel off back by the showers. No one–NO. ONE.–wants to see you towelling your ass. This is especially true if we non-naked folks are sitting.  Oh, do you want to sit down naked guy? Put on your damn clothes first or lay down a towel. We don’t want your ass matter on everything.  I’m sure I speak for everyone on that point.

Hey, here’s another problem. Don’t talk to me. You’re naked. You want to talk? Here’s what I have to say: “Put your g **damn clothes on!” That’s the same thing I’d say to a dinner guest or co-worker under similar circumstances.  Simply put, I am incapable of engaging in casual conversation with naked people, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Do you really need to bend over? Then, you damn well need to cover up. Getting naked in front of strangers is weird enough, but bending over? Unless you’re planning on tucking bucks, that ain’t gonna fly. Stop.  And see the comment above about the rest of us sitting.  Please.

Finally, you would think that folks who parade around naked would probably have enviable physiques.  Nope.  It’s like a nude beach.  The people who do this have every reason in the world to wear many, many layers of clothing.

Until we join the 21st century and embrace my plan for non-sexist, unisex locker rooms, I’m not backing down on this one.  And, if I do back down, don’t worry–I’ll wear a towel.


If you go to a gym long enough, someone will ask you to spot him.  If you’ve ever lifted weights you know what that means.  If you haven’t, I’m sure it sounds vaguely obscene, but it isn’t.

Here’s how it works.  Someone is lifting, usually the bench press.  He is working with weights that are just slightly too heavy.  He needs a boost to get going. So, you spot him.  On the bench press, this means you hold the weights to give him just a little more lift to get going. Sometimes, the spotter needs to stand there for the whole set, you know, just in case the weights come crashing down on the lifter.

Spotting is considered a courtesy at the gym.  It’s kind of like holding the door for someone.  I don’t mind doing it on occasion, but really that’s not why I’m at the gym.  I would, of course, like to point out a couple of things to keep in mind.

If you weigh, say, 300 pounds and are benching let’s say 400 pounds, you might need someone of similar girth to help you.  I’m 50 years old.  I weigh 160 pounds.  I’m in pretty good shape.  In fact, for my age, I’m in excellent shape.  It’s a solid 160.  This does not mean, however, that I am the appropriate person to spot someone benching 2 1/2 times my weight.  If you start to give out and the weight is coming down, what can I really do for you?  Perhaps I can hang on to the weights and crash down on top of you.  Maybe I can throw myself between the weights and your body to cushion the blow.  That’s about it.  If you are a behemoth of some sort, bring another of your massive ilk with you.  You guys can put on those big leather lifting belts and spot each other.  Trust me, it’s a better plan.

Also, if you need spotting for your entire set, it’s possible you’re using too much weight or you need a permanent assistant.  I’m there to work out, not be your spotting manservant.

With those qualifiers, I’ll spot you, just not too often.  If you bug me too much, I could just drop the weights on you  anyway.


Maybe this guy is just at my gym, but I don’t think so.  He uses dietary supplements.  He asks me if I use supplements.  “Do you use creatine?”  “Do you load?” “What kind of protein do you use?” “Do you use a T booster?”  The list is endless.  He’s like a drug dealer.  He wants to know what you’re doing and then tries to get you to do something else.

My gym’s Supplement Guy doesn’t look like he uses any supplements, but he does.  He’ll tell me I need more supplements so that I can look the Michelin Men who work out at the gym.  I’ve told him, gently, that some of those guys are using REAL supplements, nothing you can buy at GNC.  He doesn’t care.  He needs to tell me what he uses.  What he uses certainly doesn’t work, but he doesn’t care.

Supplement Guy bothers me and not just because I don’t care for idle chatter at the gym.  I’m in far better shape than he is.  He has no business suggesting I do what he’s doing.  In fact, he should do what I’m doing.  Maybe that’s why he asks, but I don’t think that’s it.


We all reach a certain age where people become curious about our age.  I guess.  I’ve been asked on several occasions at the gym about how old I am.  Why?  It’s possibly because I am an Adonis of some sort.  That’s doubtful.  I think it’s because I’m there almost every day, and some folks are fascinated that an aging fellow like me would do that.  There’s one guy at our gym a lot older that I am–20 years at least.  I’ll admit that I want to ask how old he is.  Even though I’ve known this guy a long time, I still won’t ask his age.  It just seems awkward.

It’s not an awkward subject for some people.  They’ll ask without hesitation.  Sometimes, this can be misconstrued.  I will believe I’m being flattered.  A while back, I was approached by a comely lass who couldn’t have been more than 25 years old (at my age, I can’t really tell–she was no more than 40 for sure).  Here’s the conversation:

HER:  “Excuse, me.  I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how old are you?”

ME:  “49”

HER:  “Do you use a personal trainer?”

[Now, it’s clear that she has seen something she likes. I still got it!]:

ME:    “Well, no.”

[This is 100% ME, baby!]

HER:  “Oh, I just wondered.  My dad is 46, and I’ve been trying to get him to get in shape.  I thought I’d ask if you used someone here.  Thank you , sir.”

ME: [sigh] You’re welcome.

Oh, well.

Here’s another one:

Young Man:  “Hey, how old are you?”

ME:  “50”

Young Man:  “Wow.  No wonder you’re here all the time.  It must be hard to stay in shape when you get older.”

That passes for a compliment in some cultures, I’m sure.  Here’s the deal.   Unless you’re older than I am, don’t ask me how old I am.  It’s not really relevant to anything other than your morbid curiosity.  I will say this, however, to these youngsters.  Check in when you’re 50.  It IS hard to stay in shape at my advanced age.  It’s called OLD MAN STRONG!


I suffer from some genetic anomaly which results in my having oddly feminine-looking legs.  I know this, because I’ve been told so on many occasions.  Usually, someone will say:  “I wish my legs looked like yours.”  That someone is always a woman.

I’ve worked on my legs.  I’ve lifted with them, run miles and miles–they’ve never changed.  They get no bigger or smaller.  That’s just how it is.  I also lack superfluous body hair.  I like to think of it as advanced evolution.  My ancestors crawled out the primordial ooze a little bit ahead of yours.  This only adds to the girlishness of my legs.


My penchant for sitting like this certainly doesn’t help with the girlishness of my legs.

I don’t need to hear this anymore.  If you see a man with girly legs at the gym, it is probably me.  Don’t tell me.  I know it’s a compliment, but it doesn’t come across that way.


My gym used to have cubbies.  You know, the little cubbie holes like elementary school kids use to store their stuff.  They were great.  They were in the work out area, and you could just toss your coat and car keys in one and be done.

This past year, my gym was sold to a large, national gym chain.  Overall, this is a good thing.  Whether it was the economy or just poor management, the gym had slipped some.   Equipment was in disrepair and cleaning was poor.  Plus, our gym’s owners had been subject to many complaints over their business practices.  It was probably a good time for a change, but it came at a price.

The price was our cubbies.  Why?  No one seems to know.  If the workers at the gym know, they aren’t telling.  Oh, we tried to protest, but it was to no avail.  Corporate America often ignores the little man.  Now, even if it’s just a light jacket, we must use the lockers.  Not only does this expose us to naked people, but we also must hang out in the stench of the locker room.  Do we need locks now?  So far, no.  At some point, they’ll probably force that on us, too.  Frankly, I thought my stuff was more secure out in the open where I could see it–in my precious cubbie.


Despite our begging, the cubbies are no more.

So, the cubbies are gone, and I’m none too pleased about it.  Sure, there was the time someone took my car keys, but they returned them several hours later.  And, yes, someone took my lifting gloves once.  I consider this a small price to pay for the convenience.  Oh, well, I’m glad I had the foresight to take pictures of them before they were gone.


Even this last ditch appeal to the Christmas spirit failed.

You might have read this and thought “He hates the gym. Why does he go?”  No, no, no.  I love the gym. That’s why these little imperfections bother me.  It’s just like with my children.  I dearly love them all, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have traits which make me curse them.  Much like the gym, I’ve spent quite a bit of money on them and gotten much enjoyment out of it, but they can and should do better.  I would blog about them, but the Draconian “rules” of the so-called child welfare authorities prevent that.

I could go on about such things as people working out in jeans or couples who hog up machines for 30 minutes at a time, but I think I’ll stop.  By the way, I just got back from the gym.  I’m pleased to report that I remain clothed the entire time.

© 2013

The Way of Te’o

I’ve never had a fake girlfriend.  Oh, I may have dated someone I thought was my girlfriend, but that’s not quite the same, is it?  (Turns out she was several people’s girlfriend, but that’s another story). Of course, almost every man has had someone he wished was his girlfriend.  Men don’t really talk about that, because it’s unmanly, but trust me it’s true.  There’s really nothing wrong with that unless you start believing that she’s your real girlfriend.  Then, she becomes your pretend girlfriend.  That’s when restraining orders start getting served on you.

Until a few days ago, only football fans knew the name Manti Te’o.  Now, just about everyone knows his name.  Why?  He has a fake girlfriend.  Or should I say “had?”  You see, she died of leukemia, but not really.  She fake died, which fake people can do.  Te’o says he’s the victim of hoax. Made up girlfriend. Made up love.  Made up death.  If so, there are some sick puppies out there who are definitely NOT Manti Te’o fans.

Te’o is a football player for the University of Notre Dame.  He is Hawaiian.  I know this because of the random apostrophe in his name.  He’s a linebacker and an excellent one at that.  He is also a famous football player–so famous that he was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.  It’s easy to be a famous football player at Notre Dame, but winning the Heisman Trophy makes someone really famous.  Ask Johnny Manziel.  He beat out Te’o for the Heisman.  A year ago, no one had ever heard of him.  Now, he’s called Johnny Football and dates a model.   She’s a real person or so it seems.  I’ve seen pictures of her.  Then again, Te’o saw pictures of his girl friend, too.


Johnny Football’s girl. Heisman winners date real girls.

It is beyond my abilities to unravel the Te’o mystery.  Here’s what I know.  It was widely reported that his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day last September.  Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to this, other than to note that it was bad deal.  Sports media beat it to death (forgive me for that).  I heard it about it every time I watched Notre Dame play, which was a lot because all their games are on TV.   Somehow, these deaths inspired Te’o to play better.  On January 16, 2013,–sort of a snarky sports gossip site–ran a story that the girlfriend didn’t exist and not just because she was dead.  She wasn’t real.

Notre Dame’s athletic director held a press conference where he, too, said she wasn’t real.  Te’o was the victim of a hoax.  The AD cried, because Te’o will never “trust” again.  He didn’t say that Te’o would never love again, but that’s possible, too.  Te’o has weighed in and agreed that he is a victim. Now, he claims that it was just an Internet relationship.  They never met, but he loved her.  Okay.

As more details pour out about this, it is all very confusing.  Now, Te’o and his school claim that it was all an Internet relationship–that the two never actually met.  What did Te’o know and when did he know it?  Why did he keep quiet if, as he claims, he knew it was a hoax on December 6, 2012?  It’s a bizarre story.

Naturally, the whole weird tale got me thinking about me.  What if I had a fake Internet girlfriend?  Could I have one?  What would it be like?  What would we do?  I don’t think I would do well with a fake girlfriend for a number of reasons:

  • I had a difficult time getting along with real girlfriends.  Fake ones probably are no different.
  • I try to keep this blog PG-13.  Enough said about that.
  • Te’o said he talked to her on the phone for 8 hours a day.  I can’t imagine anyone having anything to say that I could listen to for 8 hours.  The first 8 hour phone call, and I’m out.
  • I would like to actually see my girlfriend on occasion.  Call me weird.
  • I’m not an All-American football player, so I might be exactly the kind of guy who would need to date someone on the Internet.  Regardless, at some point, I’m at least going to Google her name.
  • One of the best things about a girlfriend, as I recall, is that they smell good and nice to touch.  Without that, I’d lose interest.
  • If a beautiful woman contacted me on the Internet and said she was interested in me, I would immediately assume it was a scam.  It’s not like I ever had that problem in real life.
  • I’m married and have been for some time.  Fake girlfriends probably don’t go over any better than real ones.
  • I’m sure a fake girlfriend would eventually want a fake marriage.
  • Fake divorce would follow a fake marriage, but I’m sure the fake wife would still get half my stuff.

My fake girlfriend is happy when she gets to work on my car.

So, I’m out of the fake girlfriend game.  That’s a good thing, I suppose, but it doesn’t stop me from pondering about how this could happen to someone.  If you’ve seen the documentary Catfish, you know it can happen.  I will confess, though, that some of the scenes in Catfish seem contrived to me.  Maybe not. Maybe this kind of stuff is just so weird that it’s unbelievable.

Common sense seems to be one’s best protection.  Here are some things that should be red flags:

  • Your girlfriend’s Facebook profile lists Hogwarts as her high school.
  • She lists Manti Te’o as a reference on her resume.
  • She calls with her condolences when your grandmother dies–and while she’s in a coma herself.
  • She claims to be a cheerleader at Faber College.
  • Every time you want to get together, she is either in a bad car wreck or has leukemia.
  • She says she’ll “just die” if you don’t win the Heisman, then she does.
  • She’s smokin’ hot, but trolls the Internet looking for a boyfriend.

These are just a few things which come to mind.  More importantly, though, is how to tell if someone else has a fake girlfriend.  In Te’o’s case it’s pretty easy now.  What’s not so easy is trying to sort out the truth from the fiction now.  I don’t know this young man and doubt that I will ever meet him.  But I’m a lawyer, and I know a thing or two about lying.  No, not me lying–other people.

When someone lies, it’s like looking at someone with a go-funny eye.  At first, you’re not quite sure what’s up, but something is off.  Then, you get it–“he’s got a go-funny eye!”  That’s how a lie works.  You hear it, and it’s not quite right.  Something is off about it, but you’re not sure what.  It might take some digging, but you can figure it out if you have time and patience.

As a father of three sons, I also know a thing or two about lying.  (That’s right.  Your kids will lie to you.  Sorry to bust your bubble).  As I write this, my sons are 20, 17 and 10.  I’ve learned to challenge anything that sounds the least bit implausible.  For example, a few months ago, one of my sons claimed that he was robbed of ten dollars outside his school.  Was I terrified?  No, because I didn’t believe it.  I had him come to my office and explain the story in detail.  Go-funny eye.  The time line made no sense.  Why would they steal $10 but not his phone?  He swore it was true, until several hours later when he admitted he lied.  He needed $10.  Why go to such lengths for $10?  How should I know?  I’m his father, not his psychiatrist.

I suspect that Te’o is in the same position. He’s telling a story now that just doesn’t fit.  Someone pulled one over on him.  Instead of facing the embarrassment of that, he perpetuated it.   If he did, he lied.  Something about the “he’s just a victim” story sounds wrong.  Not all of it–parts of it are no doubt true.  There are parts that just don’t sound right.  Go-funny eye.

Men my age like to call college age men “boys” or “kids.”  Te’o isn’t a kid.  He’s a grown man.  If he perpetuated this story after he knew it was a hoax, he is responsible for that.  It seems that no one at Notre Dame challenged Te’o on his story. Certainly, none of the journalists who swooned over his tale of woe did.  Maybe he just thought he’d get away with it.  Usually, that’s the point of a lie.

Like I said, he’s a grown man–with a fake girlfriend.  The more cynical of us note that defensive players don’t win the Heisman.  Maybe pulling at heart-strings would help.  Now, he’s the butt of jokes (I’ve come up with some good ones myself) and a media onslaught.  Of course, Te’o may be telling the truth.  If so, truth is again stranger than fiction.

© 2012

Why I Loved Carnivals

Last night, I saw a lady at the store who looked like a carnival performer I once saw.  When I was young, I loved carnivals.  REAL carnivals.  I’m not talking about something your church does as a fundraiser and calls it a carnival.  I’m also not talking about a circus.  A circus is a completely different thing.  A carnival is, well, a carnival.  Cotton candy; funnel cakes; rickety dangerous rides; sketchy employees; rigged games; cheap prizes; rough, flinty women; side shows; and a land armada of trailers where the workers live.  A carnival rolls from town to town spreading joy and not a small amount of trepidation when it arrives.

I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky.  We had carnivals, usually at least once a year.  The Guthrie Shows was the big one.  The Shriners sponsored it.  It would set up in the parking lot of one of the local high schools for a week.  Ray Guthrie was from Middlesboro, Kentucky and would roll his carnival all around Southeastern Kentucky.  We loved it.  There was also Myers Midway–excellent, too.

I’ve written before about how wrestling brought out the real Harlan Countians.  The carnival brought our everyone.  It created a vast melting pot of our small corner of Kentucky.  You could see people from Holmes Mill to Pathfork at the carnival.  When I was in high school, some friends and I stood in line for a ride behind some stereotypical Harlan Countians.  Trying to get a rise out of them, we began to complain loudly about how bored we were and shouldn’t have vacationed in Harlan.  A woman turned around, cigarette in the corner of her mouth, and said:  “Who sent you here fer a vacation?  All we have here are back stabbins, back shootins and cooooold-blooded killins!”  She wasn’t from the Chamber of Commerce.

When I went to college, I would still go to carnivals, albeit not quite the same as in Harlan.  Lexington, Kentucky has the yearly Lions Bluegrass Fair.  It has evolved into more of a state fair atmosphere over the years, but–in the 1980’s–it was pure carnival.  It was the Guthrie Shows on steroids.  Good stuff.

Why the love of carnivals?  Let’s see…


As most folks know, carnival workers are called carnies.  They are a singular subculture.  They have a grizzled, dangerous look about them.  They set up the carnival, operate the rides and run the games.  It’s not a carnival without the carnies.

They often have missing digits or limbs.  This doesn’t stop them from doing their jobs, of course.  They’ll pull the lever to start the Tilt-A-Whirl with that one good arm with a smoke dangling from their lips.  Sometimes, they’ll have an eye missing.  Do they wear patches or buy glass eyes?  Of course, not.  They just leave a gaping hole or simply sew the eye shut.  They’re carnies.  I saw a carny with a lame arm.  He just had it strapped to his side.  You don’t see that outside the midway.

Carnies fascinate me.  What is life like for them?  They live in their trailers at the carnival.   I imagine them drinking rot gut whiskey and playing cards far into the night, perhaps stabbing someone.  The romance of it all is intriguing, but it probably sucks..


My Dad’s Uncle Jay was a carny for many years.  Jay’s wife, Aunt Ruth, was a fortune teller.  They were true carnies. I believe they may even have lived in Gibsonton, Florida at one point.  Gibsonton is famed as the Winter home of carnies and sideshow performers.  Such luminaries as Lobster Boy and Percilla the Monkey Girl called it home.

Jay was a barker.  The barker is the guy who yells at you when you walk across the midway trying to get you to waste your money on something.  After he retired, Jay came back to Harlan for a visit.  As luck would have it, a carnival was in town.  Jay went to the carnival and ended up staying there a week.  Carnies all know each other.

My parents once visited Jay and Ruth in Florida.  They were told that Jay’s house had a “big palm” in the front yard, as one might expect in Florida.  As my parents drove down the street, they spotted it.  Yes, it was big palm–a hand identifying the home of Madame Ruth, Fortune Teller.  True carnies.

Once Ruth was trying to find Jay who was, apparently, wont to disappear on occasion.  She came to my Granny’s house demanding to know his whereabouts.  Granny responded with:  “Why don’t you look in your crystal ball?!?!”  Granny wasn’t impressed with carnies.


I grew up in Loyall, Kentucky, which had a bit of a carny flavor to it.  No, it’s not because the residents looked like carnies, although a few surely did.  It’s because there was a family in town that owned and repaired carnival rides.  One member of that family was my younger brother’s baby sitter.

The patriarch of the clan was “Hoss,” a man whose girth no doubt led to his nickname.  He had rides and parts of rides all over his yard.  For a brief time, he even had a small Ferris Wheel.  My little brother loved that house.  The best days at the baby sitter were when he would come home and say “I played with Hoss today.”  Hoss also had an even more imposing son called “Mighty Moe,” but that’s a story for another time.

When I was small, that house was a wonder to me.  Why did they have all those rides in their yard?  I thought they were part of a carnival.  I was a tad disappointed when I found out they were just regular people.


Real carnivals had side shows or, as they were called in less politically correct times, Freak Shows.  I know that we’re not supposed to call people freaks.  It’s just not good form anymore.  That is, however, what they were called.  I didn’t come up with the term, so don’t assail me for using it here.


You don’t see this much anymore

Sonograms and evolving human decency have largely destroyed the Freak Show as an art form.  Modern medicine has also played a part in limiting the numbers of qualified entertainers.  Surely, the Elephant Man and the Mule-Faced Woman would receive at least some rudimentary medical care before their conditions became acute.  In days past, these unfortunate folks had little else to do but turn to the world of side shows.  It’s not like they could work in service industries.

If you want a good look at this bygone world, rent Tod Browning’s classic film, Freaks, made in 1932.  It stars real sideshow performers such as Prince Randian The Living Torso, Johnny Eck The Half Boy, Josephine Joseph and Zip The Pinhead.  It was so disturbing at the time that Browning had difficulty even finding theaters to show it.  It was banned entirely in England.


Prince Randian and Johnny Eck, stars of Tod Browning’s Freaks

I will confess that I have attended several freak shows.  This is nothing of which to be proud, but it’s true.  I’ve seen many of the typical freaks, such as Blockheads.  A Blockhead is a person who will push a nail straight into his face just beneath his nostril.  It’s gross, but anyone can do it if he or she is will to poke a hole in their face.  It’s more of trick than it is pure freakiness.


Typical Human Blockhead in Action

Here are my personal Freak Show highlights:

Helga The German Giantess

I saw Helga at a carnival in Lexington, Kentucky.  She was billed as The World’s Largest Woman.  The sign claimed that she was OVER 7 FEET TALL!!  I was with a couple of friends, and we were intrigued.  We paid our money and were led to a dingy tent where Helga sat on a shabby throne.  She wore a long, black dress and a tiara.  I’m not sure how old she was, but I would have put her in her late fifties.  It’s really hard to say what with her being a giantess and all.

She held court and prattled on about her adventures.   Then, she stood up.  I don’t know if she was really seven feet tall (they cleverly had her sit on an elevated stage), but she was big.  REALLY big.  Maybe 6’8″ and a good three bills.  She asked for a volunteer from the audience.  There were 6 or 7 people in the tent and some young fellow raised his hand.

The volunteer made her look even bigger, because she was about a foot taller than he was.  She held out one of her gargantuan hands and ask him to hold it.  My friends and I squirmed at the thought of it.  On her hand, she had a ring with a large fake diamond (I say fake, because if it had been real, I doubt she would have been toiling in a Freak Show).  He took her hand with all the enthusiasm of someone meeting a leper.  Helga then boomed:  “MAKE A WISH!!”  Then, she took a step back and hiked her dress up to her navel.  The giantess wore not a stitch of under-clothing.  She dropped her dress and said “DID YOUR WISH COME TRUE?!?!”  For some reason, this terrified us, and my friends and I fled from the tent.

More disturbing was that one of my friends kept saying we should go look for her trailer.  We said “no” and slowly backed away from him.


I saw her in Harlan when I was a kid.  She sat on the floor of a tent, chained to a post.  She held a baby doll in one hand and drooled.   The story was that she had been a normal college girl until a “bad trip” turned her into the LSD Freak.  Now, she was a dangerous lunatic who had to be chained up.  The barker said that if she escaped she would kill everyone.  I didn’t believe that, because her condition appeared more catatonic than psychotic.

Now, she wasn’t a real freak, not in the classic sense.  She was probably the wife or daughter of one of the carnies, but she disturbed me.  Why?  Because I wondered–even as a kid–about what kind of bad turn one’s life could take for that to be your job.  The Elephant Man had little choice in regard to his profession, but this was something else entirely.

I felt sorry for her and the whole lot of them.  But, I never forgot it.  So, it must have been a good show.


As noted above, Blockheads aren’t really freaks.  They’re just people willing to do something weird.  Like a sword swallower (which I’ve also seen, by the way).  I’ve seen several Blockheads, but one stands out.

Again, I was kid, maybe 10 or 11.  This guy was billed as “The Human Blockhead.”  He came through the back of the tent and was an unimpressive sight.  He might have weighed 130 pounds.  He was pale and somewhat unhealthy-looking, perhaps the pallor of someone who lives in a trailer behind a carnival.

The Blockhead disinterestedly pushed a nail into his face.  People gasped.  Then, he breathed some fire.  Ho hum.  He walked in box of broken glass with an apathy that made me think he really wouldn’t care if his feet got shredded.  He laid on a bed of nails.  Yawn.  Then, he did it.

A couple of guys set up two folding chairs while The Blockhead lay in the dirty floor. The two men picked him up.  He was stiff as a board.  They placed the back of his head on one chair and his heels on the other.  He was still perfectly straight.  A cinder block was placed on his stomach.  He didn’t budge.  This was an impressive feat of strength.  THEN, one of the guys picked up a sledgehammer and–BOOM!–smashed the block!  The Blockhead just bounced up and back down like a steel beam. He was still perfectly balanced on the two chairs.  The guys picked him up and laid him back in the floor.  He stood up, took a bow and left with the same apparent ennui with which he entered.

I was there, and I saw it.  It wasn’t a trick.  They smashed a freakin’ cinder block with a sledgehammer on his stomach! I don’t know how he did it, but he did.  I hope The Blockhead went on to bigger and better things.  I doubt it, but I hope so.


I can’t discuss carnivals without mentioning the food.  Corndogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy, snow cones and all manner of other food you wouldn’t eat anywhere else.  Everything that can be deep-fried is deep-fried.  And it’s all good.

There are still carnivals, although they are somewhat sanitized now.  Oh, you’ll still see a two-headed calf or dwarf on occasion.  There might even be babies in jars somewhere out there (Truthfully, I hope this one has been permanently eliminated).  You might even see a blockhead.  They still have all the crooked games on the midway, but I was never a fan of the games, anyway.  Some folks still have freak shows, like The Jim Rose Circus.  For the most part, though, the carnivals have lost their flavor.

Carnies remain the same–sketchy, dangerous and forbidding, but the rides seem safer.  I guess decades of litigation took care of that.  I haven’t been to a carnival in years, but I don’t think I can top what I’ve already seen.  Why try?

© 2013

The Flu Blues

I don’t have the flu–at least not yet.  My wife does.  So does my 10-year-old son.  My other sons–17 and 19–also don’t have it.  My 17-year-old rarely leaves the basement and, when he does, it is usually out the back door.  I find this habit both annoying and disquieting, but now I embrace it as preventative health care.  My oldest son is home from college on Christmas break.  If he can avoid the spreading virus for the next 24 hours, he will be on his way back to Pittsburgh.  He attends Carnegie Mellon University, the alma mater of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol, John Forbes Nash and Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  His academic rigors can ill afford to be interrupted by disease.  On my advice, he is staying away from his childhood home except to pack his belongings and flee.

How bad is this flu?  Pretty bad.  My 10-year-old, normally an energetic cuss, has been rendered almost immobile.  My wife, too, has been felled, for the time being at least.  The good news is that the horrid virus has not diminished her ability to bark orders.  Thus, our home will continue to run like a well-oiled machine.

I now face a conundrum. My office is less than two miles from home, making it an oasis from the disease around me.  I must, of course, occasionally visit them while they are sick.  How can I make enough of an appearance to still be engaged as the titular head of the household, yet protect myself as any sane person would?

Before proceeding, you should know that the flu fascinates me a bit.  Several years ago I read The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry.  It is an excellent book about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.  THAT was a bad flu, killing in the neighborhood of 40 million people, including 600,000 in one month in the U.S. Since then, I’ve read a lot of material about the flu.  If I wanted to appear brainy, I could rant about various flu strains, antigen drift, corona virus and other minutia.  But it all comes down to this:  The flu comes in many forms, changes constantly, is highly contagious and incurable.  The good news, as Barry notes in his book, is that–even its deadlier forms–it’s just the flu.  It won’t kill you.  Probably.  Now, if you’re elderly, it can lead to pneumonia which no old person wants.  Bad stuff there.  Much worse than the flu.

How do you know if you have the flu?  Oh, there are many symptoms.  Here is a simple test:  Are you coughing like you have Black Lung and do you feel like crap?  If so, you may have the flu.

Even though I won’t pretend to be a doctor, I do want to clarify something.  There is no stomach flu.  There are viruses which will cause unimaginable gastrointestinal disruption and strip you of your dignity.  You can be like I was about year ago.  Start feeling a little weird in your stomach and then–BOOM!–puking pizza through your nose for an hour.  But, that’s not the flu.  Could be a virus. Maybe it’s bacteria, i.e., food poisoning.  Just don’t call it the flu.  The flu is the flu.  If you say you have the stomach flu, it makes as much sense as saying you have a facial hernia.

Anyway, back to me (as if we ever left that topic to begin with).  Once the disease hit, I had to think fast to protect myself.  I considered several options before settling on one:


Like any animal, fight or flight is my reaction to terror.  In this case, flight is the only reasonable option.  My initial plan was to get a room at the Hampton Inn across the highway from my home.  It’s close to my office and home.  I could stay there until the trouble passes, plus feign immediate availability for the sick.

I love Hampton Inn, by the way.  I travel a fair amount for work to many places that don’t have 5 Star Hotels.  Most areas do, however, have a Hampton Inn.  They are all pretty much the same.  Nice, clean rooms, pool, exercise room and free breakfast.  Good deal.

My wife shot down my running away plan.  I simply asked, “How bad would it be if I got me a room over at the Hampton and just brought you all stuff when you need it?”  Her answer:  “Very bad [cough, cough, cough].”


I have a friend who will occasionally come up with an idea for something.  He will call these ideas “Plan Q.”  Why?  I don’t know.  I considered calling this Plan Q, but–while a fine fellow–he is a litigious sort who would likely take umbrage at this.  So, I call this Plan B.

Here are the steps of Plan B:

1.  Wife and Son retreat to the master bedroom of our home on the second floor (now called the “Phlegm Chamber”),  It has a queen-sized bed, television, sofa, ample books and a bathroom.  In keeping with today’s lingo, we will call these wretched souls the “Ratchet.”

2.  Dry foodstuffs, MREs, liquids, medicine and supplies will have been previously stocked in the Phlegm Chamber.  This will include, but not be limited to, Theraflu, Tamiflu, Kleenex, NyQuil, Advil, Tylenol, magazines, newspapers and a legal pad in case they want to draw.

3.  Once the Ratchet are safely ensconced, duct tape will place along the door facing.  This will ensure that the deadly miasma produced by their constant breathing and coughing will remain contained within the Phlegm Chamber, unable to escape to the rest of the house, now known as the “Clean Zone.”

4.  Cell phones will be provided to allow text messaging and limited phone calls to me.  I will guarantee a response within two to three hours of any message left with me, unless I am napping.  In that case, I may respond the next day, if at all.

5.  The Ratchet will not be allowed in the Clean Zone until they have gone 24 hours without a fever.  This is a bit of gamble, because I’m not insane enough to check their temperatures myself.  However, if they venture out while still feverish, I’m sure there’s some app for constantly monitoring a rectal thermometer.  If not, I’ll get my egghead kid at Carnegie Mellon to invent one.

6.  Once the Ratchet are able to leave the Phlegm Chamber, they will immediately visit a doctor to confirm that they are no longer contagious.  Once this is confirmed in writing, they are free to venture about the Clean Zone wearing appropriate surgical masks until all coughing has subsided.  Since the Clean Zone is likely to be a bit messy, the Ratchet are then expected to help straighten up a bit.

The problem with Plan B, despite its ingenious detail, is that it requires cooperation from the Ratchet.  Thus far, that cooperation has been lacking.


The name Howard Hughes likely doesn’t mean much to young folks.  To people of a certain age, like me, his name conjures up the image of fabulous wealth, daring adventure and, of course, crippling lunacy.

Hughes made fortunes in the tool, film and aviation industries.  He once declared that his goal was to be the greatest golfer, pilot and film maker on Earth and the richest man in the world.  Except for golf, he could at various times have laid claim to all those titles.

When Hughes was in his 50’s, he developed, at the very least, serious obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Eventually, he retreated to one of his hotels, sitting in the dark, naked, watching the film Ice Station Zebra over and over.  He was so obsessed with germs that he wouldn’t wearing clothes or even bathe.  He covered his body in Kleenex and put the empty boxes on his feet.  His hair grew to his shoulders and beard to his chest.  He collected his bodily waste in jars.  He hired a staff of Mormons to serve him, because he believed them to be clean.  He had a good point about that.

A dramatic recreation of Howard Hughes's last days.

A dramatic recreation of Howard Hughes’s last days.

I’ve thought about adopting Hughes’s lifestyle, at least until the plague passes.  But, I’ll have to pass.  First, I’m concerned that I would quickly become enamored of living the life of a billionaire and not be able to return to my Regular Joe existence.  Second, being naked bothers me, especially in front of Mormons.  Finally, although it sounds like it would be effective defense against influenza, I suspect that I might expose myself to other equally deadly germs.


I’m left with an all-out defensive effort to protect myself.  Here are my tools:

  • MASKS:  I am wearing a surgical mask at all times.  Two, on occasion.  The downside is that I’ve discovered that I have foul breath.  My breathing also fogs up my reading glasses.

Your author fends off sure death.

  • GLOVES:  I’m wearing latex gloves.  That’s right–latex.  I don’t have a latex allergy.  Or a gluten allergy, either.  In fact, if they made latex gloves infused with gluten, I’d wear them just to prove what a bad ass I am.
  • HAND WASHING:  I’m washing my hands every minute or so–even with gloves on.  My skin is now like that of radiation burn victim, but I’m germ free.
  • LOOK, DON’T TOUCH:  This is simple.  Don’t touch anything. If you have to touch, use your elbows or feet.  The one exception is the remote control, of course.  You can scrub it with bleach and it’s as good as new.
  • BOILING:  Boil things.  You’d be surprised at how many things can be boiled.  Food, for example.  Toothbrushes. Shoes.  Some clothes.  Your hands.  When in doubt, boil it.  Caveat: It doesn’t work well with electronic devices.
  • MEDICINE:  Take all manner of medication.  If the Ratchet have prescriptions, take those.  Buy your own.  Just keep taking them.  Yes, the flu is incurable–as far as we know.  You might hit the right combination and win a Nobel Prize to boot.

This last plan, like many good ones, was born of desperation.  Yet, it has been remarkably effective so far.  Of course, the germs are everywhere, stalking me, crawling on me.  I am certain that all of this will ultimately fail me.  What now?  I wonder if Ice Station Zebra is on Blu-Ray?

© 2013

How To Stay Married: Secrets of a Married Man

I’ve been married for almost 25 years.  That’s almost half my life.  Arguably, marriage has consumed the best half of my life.  That said, I’ve had a long, happy marriage.

People often ask me:  What is the key to a successful marriage?  Okay, that’s a lie.  No one asks me that.  Ever.  Not once.  I wonder why.  People ask me about other things.  What’s it like to be a lawyer?  How are your kids?  What’s wrong with you?  I’ve answered these and many other questions, usually truthfully.

I’ve always believed that the most annoying advice is the kind you don’t want.  Maybe marriage is like that.  Folks just don’t want to hear about it.  It’s probably because they are either happy themselves and need no advice or they are miserable and hate people who aren’t.  Surely, young, single people want advice.  I doubt it.  When I was young and single, I knew most everything, especially when it came to the opposite sex.  What could some old guy tell me? He doesn’t know that I’m in love and that’s all that matters.  Fools.

People write books about marriage.  I’ve seen them, but I’ve never read one.  There are marriage counselors. Marriage therapists. If you belong to church, you can talk to your minister about your marriage.  Even Catholic priests–who have vowed to God never to marry–counsel couples before and after they marry.  Yes, there is much advice.  Add me to the list of experts.  The difference is that I have a quarter century of inexplicable success backing me up.

Much advice is useless.   A chimp could tell you–if he could talk–that things such as infidelity, violence and disappearing for days at a time can break any marriage.  Those things set the bar far too low.  Marriage requires many more subtle precautions to flourish.


This is also known as “out-kicking your coverage.”  Marry a woman who is more attractive than you.  Of course, what I mean is that she is more appealing to the opposite sex than you are.  Why?  Isn’t the conventional wisdom that an ugly woman is likely to be more faithful?  I call B.S. on that one.

At some point in your marriage (probably a day or two into it), patience will be important.  Very important.  If you are about to say or do something untoward, one look at your ridiculously beautiful wife will make you pause and think: “Whoa!  I need to be careful.  There’s no way I can duplicate this deal.”  Those pauses are one of the key components of staying married.

Let’s say you look like Brad Pitt.  It’s almost certain you are prettier than every woman you’ve ever met. Not only are you irresistible to women, most men find you attractive, too.  The first time your wife does something stupid–like lose the remote–you are likely to explode, thinking:  “Why did I marry this hag?  She can’t even keep track of the remote!”  I’m certain that’s why Brad and Jennifer Aniston split.  As beautiful as she is–and she IS, by God–can anyone, male or female, honestly say that he or she is prettier than Brad?  I guarantee you Brad doesn’t think so.  Nor should he.

Personally, I married WAY up.  My wife has even become prettier over the years, while I’ve simply aged.  I’m a troll compared to her.  When I introduce her to people for the first time, the typical response is:  “This is your wife?”  I once overheard someone talking about me, and she said:  “Have seen his wife?  She is really pretty.  Really.”  Shocking.

Conversely, when she introduces me to people, they get a look of pity on their faces, as though they just met that kid from the movie, Mask.  They all assume I am incredibly wealthy, but I’m not.

This works well in our marriage.  Sometimes, I’ll be about to say something about the remote or her cooking and then I’ll catch a glimpse of her.  I’ll still say something, but I try to take the edge off it.  I’m simply not going to be able to duplicate my success.

I’m not suggesting that marrying up is easy.  Few worthwhile things are.  It takes work, and–in my case–alcohol.  Attractive women are no different from ALL men.  They often exercise poor judgment under the influence of strong drink.  Use this to your advantage.  Of course, you may be incredibly wealthy.  If so, this is no problem.

You may think that an attractive woman married to a physically repellant man is more likely to stray.  I guess that’s possible, but it beats the hell out of looking at an ugly woman all the time.  Also, remember that it is all relative.  If you are an extremely ugly man, you can marry up by marrying a plain or even homely woman.  The point is–aim high.  It works.


As noted above, a brief pause before speaking can make the difference between a long marriage and an annulment on your honeymoon.  Here are examples:

WIFE:  Let’s go see my parents tomorrow.

HUSBAND: For God’s sake, we just saw them two days ago!  My parents are dead, but yours are some kind of immortals!  I don’t get it.  Maybe it’s because they are Hell beasts….

By responding immediately, this man has made a critical mistake.  He has spoken his mind on a subject of great sensitivity.  The better, more reasoned response goes like this:

HUSBAND:  It seems like forever since we’ve seen Mom and Dad.  Let’s go today.  We should cherish our time with them.

By pausing just for a moment, this husband’s ludicrous response has prevented marital discord. This type of answer has the added benefit of possibly preventing the visit.  How, you ask?  Simple.  When the wife sees the husband enthusiastically embrace this suggestion, she is likely to cancel the visit altogether and focus on a request the husband may dislike, such as yard work.  Even if you can’t muster such an impressive response, you can always choke out a simple:  “Yes, dear” or “Whatever you say.”  These responses, while not preferable, are always good in pinch.


I have a White Noise app for my phone.  It’s great.  I go to bed before everyone in my house, but this doesn’t stop the other residents from being quite loud.  This app allows me to turn on “white noise” to drown out the mad cacophony.

You can do the same thing with your wife.  Once you’ve been married for a while, you may hear the same things over and over.  For instance, you may leave towels in the floor or be incapable of properly folding them.  If so, you are likely to hear about these shortcomings many, many times.  One approach is to say something like:  “For the love of God, would you just shut the hell up about those [expletive deleted] towels?!?!  Honest to God, I can’t take it anymore!”  Honesty, despite its value in general, is definitely not the best policy.

With practice, you can turn up the white noise in your own brain to filter out such offending exchanges.  Personally, I am unable to properly use a sink.  I splatter water on the fixtures or even the mirror.  No matter how I try or how much I wipe it up, it’s still no good.  I have trained my brain to deal with it.  If am asked this question:  “Did you use the sink in hall?”  all I hear after that is the soothing buzz of white noise.

Men have a well-deserved reputation of being poor listeners.  You will be reminded of this.  DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP.  If you become a better listener, it is a recipe for disaster, for you will then listen to the very things which threaten marital harmony.  It is better to properly condemned for one flaw than to pay heed to many things best left unsaid.


Sure, your enjoyed your single days.  You lived as you wished.  You had friends.  It was a good time.

Think again.  Your old life was useless.  When you get married, get rid of every piece of furniture you owned as a single man.  If you don’t, your wife will begin a systematic purging.  Just get it over with.  Same goes for your clothes.

You will be asked about girls you dated.  You hated them.  All of them.  They were horrible people.  Unattractive, too.  They may have been sluts.  I don’t care if you dated Kate Upton, never even hint to your wife that she was the least bit appealing.  It is best to humbly express regret for your poor judgment.

Your friends were idiots.  Your wife may actually like some of them, so you can still like those few.  The rest of them are fools.  Plain and simple.  Stay away from them. Your wife is now your best friend.  If not, she’s likely to be your only friend after a while.

What does it say about you that you dated worthless women and your friends were all idiots?  Nothing good, my friend.  Your wife saved you.  You should appreciate that.

When you took your marital vows, you abandoned your old life.  Keep it that way.


This one is simple.  Stay married, unless you just can’t do it anymore.  That’s what we’ve done.  I can assure that I annoy my wife.  I know that I enrage her on occasion.  I’m sure she does all the same things I suggested above.  If not, she should (Expect the marry up part.  She’s screwed on that one).  My best advice would be to marry my wife, but you can’t.

I hope this has been helpful.  If not, hey, I’m no expert on any marriage but mine.

When I told my wife that I was starting a blog, she responded by saying “One of those things full of trivial [expletive deleted] that no one wants to read?”  Thus, I think it is unlikely that she’ll read this.  On the off chance she does, please read the following important disclaimer:

The foregoing is meant only as general advice and any reliance upon it is at your own peril, as I do not know your wife nor do I know if you are a jackass or anything.  More importantly, any resemblance between the above scenarios and my own wife’s behavior are mere coincidences.  She would never do anything of the sort described.  Plus, I listen to everything she says, because she is always right.  And she really is very pretty.

© 2013