Of Bath Nights, Listening to Albums in Sequence (Not on SHUFFLE) and Water Wars. 

As anyone who knows me knows, two nights of every week are just me and my minions (Nicole works). And it just so happens that those nights, most weeks = Bath nights. Back in the day, bath nights were… well? A bit stressful. But then one night–as water flew everywhere, #NatNatBoo cried about having water in her eyes and Cara… well, was just her typical, dramatic self–it dawned on me how I could make the experience better for everyone. Not just for the girls but for me as well. That realization?

Music. I would play music. 

There was no “Hoops Hysteria Playlist” or playlist entitled “If ENDWORLD Had A Soundtrack…” this was pre-playlists. Pre-Spotify. Basically I just plugged my iPod Classic into its Sonos base, picked an album and hit PLAY. Never shuffle… oh no. Not in a world pre-playlists and pre-Spotify. Back then (and still occasionally, despite my proclivity toward selecting a random playlist on Spotify and hitting SHUFFLE) I didn’t mix it up. If I wanted to mix it up I put on one of my old mix tapes. No. I grew up listening to albums. WHOLE albums in sequence from start to finish. 

There’s a lot to be said for that. It’s really the only way to understand the artistic progression that the singer or band intended. Case in point? Well sh*t. Pick an album. “Tommy” by The Who. “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. “Sergeant Pepper” by The Beatles. The order of the music is integral to appreciating the album as a whole. Who wants to listen to “Us And Them” and then “Breathe?” NO! “Us And Them” needs to be followed by “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage” and finally, “Eclipse.” It’s how Roger Waters and David Gilmour intended it. And it’s one of the most incredible four song sequences in the history of music. Still not as good as the shorter and more poignant “Golden Slumber Suite” from “Abbey Road” but masterful in a different way. And that’s not just the opinion of a reformed Wacky Weed smoker. There’s a reason why “Dark Side Of The Moon” is one of the biggest selling albums of all time, even to this day, 40+ years after it first came out. 

But I digress. Sh*t, when do I ever not? My reason for writing this summer-like evening in April, a few days away from Easter is not to talk about music. Well, at least not directly. In truth? It was my decision tonight, on yet another bath night to listen to an album from start to finish and that album? The one I chose? “Ten Summoner’s Tales” by Sting. The girls haven’t really listened to a lot of Sting and in truth? I haven’t in years. But tonight it just felt… right. I don’t know why. Sometimes intuition defies explanation. Anywhos, I made it through the first two songs–“If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” and “Love Is Stronger Than Justice”–but the third song on the album in sequence was the one that caught my attention. I’ll give you three guesses as to which one it is. Feel free to list them in the comments section though admittedly, I’ll reveal it long before you get there so why bother? Ready? Here goes. Better to just embed it, I think. That way you get the full affect.


Yes. “Fields Of Gold.” A classic ballad circa 1993 that many of you reading this (or in my case WRITING this) likely danced to. Or kissed to. Or did… other things that I won’t go into here to. Those memories are yours and mine alone and should remain that way. This isn’t about, as I used to say “getting schazzy.” I found myself listening to the lyrics as the children went about their bedtime routine and my mind? It went back. Time travel? It’s a funny thing. It’s not just Science Fiction… the topic of “Doctor Who” and selected episodes and cinematic treatments of “Star Trek.” Anyone can travel back in time in their mind if the stimuli are there. The smell of rose perfume. The sight of a parking structure in a town far detached from the one you lay your head in now. The touch of silk, brushing against your hand. And the sound. The sound of a song from your childhood that takes you back… 

Back…

Back to the Summer of… was it 1994 or 1995? I honestly can’t remember. My gut is telling me 1995 but it MAY HAVE BEEN 1994. Anyone that can confirm the actual year please do so at the end in the comments section. Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter when it was. It was summer and I was younger. Yes, much younger than I am tonight. My grey hair was… prevalant (sh*t, I started going gray in high school) but not over abundant. I was still beardless. Yes, me: Beardless. There was a time when my face was as hairless as a baby’s bottom. My gut lacked the sag it has at almost 42, a sag that remains apparent despite almost six straight weeks of working out. I knew nothing of marriage or children. I knew of college, working two jobs to pay for it and my bedroom at home on good old Maple Street in J-Town. And Wacky Weed… I can’t forget that. That may have been when I developed my deep appreciation for “Dark Side Of The Moon,” sarcasm totally intended. 

Those summers… those days of youth “upon the fields of Barley” were much, much simpler. Days and nights… social gatherings were dominated by two things: Alcohol and water guns. Specifically, Super Soakers. That was the time of the great Montgomery County Super Soaker Arms Race. It’s difficult to say when it started. One day, someone simply showed up at someone’s house with a water gun and the rest? History. A blur of one person buying a bigger gun than the next person and doing everything in his or her power to “out soak” everyone else. The result? Two successive summers of Water Wars. Water War I was nothing special–five or six of us on a rainy night on my friend Matt’s country property. I can’t remember if I won or lost that night. Matt and I were always on opposing teams and he was good. REALLY good, so I probably lost. The guy had the mentality of a military man despite the fact that the closest he, and for that matter I ever came to actual military action before Water War I was a late night viewing of “Aliens.” Water War I was, for the most part, unmemorable. I couldn’t even tell you who was on my team. But the next year… Water War II? Well sh*t. That engagement was epic. And it all started with a decision. THE decision by Matt and I to team up for the first time against all would-be challengers. 

Our team was small. We liked it that way. Matt, myself, his then-girlfriend-now-wife Caren and our friend Heather. The opposing team was a hodgepodge of friends both past and present… roughly eight or nine participants total. The site of the battle? Pennypack Park in Huntington Valley on a mid-summer afternoon. It was a neutral site and thus of advantage to no one. But Matt and I had done our homework. We’d scouted the park beforehand… devised our attack plan. Smaller and faster. “Hit and run” back to our hidden basecamp where we had stashed everything from backup Super Soakers to water balloons and gallon jugs of water. When the afternoon of the battle rolled around it was 80 degrees, humid and sunny. And we were ready. 

Or at least we thought we were. The early stages of the engagement didn’t quite go according to our plan. Heather went down early, the victim of a well-thrown water balloon by our friend and wilderness guru Ed. That left eight or nine people against three. But we were able to rally and even the numbers. When Caren was finally taken out some 45 minutes or so after the battle started the only participants left were Matt and myself on one team, and our friends Alex and the aforementioned wilderness guru Ed on the other. The final confrontation took place in shadow–as thunderheads massed in the sky overhead–on a narrow dirt path bordered on either side by heavy undergrowth. I remember charging downhill toward Alex and Ed, dodging water balloons and soaking streams the whole way. Sadly? I was unprepared for the exposed tree root that lay in my path halfway down the slope and with a scream and an audible “click,” I went down face first in the muck, my ankle screaming in pain. 

To this day I don’t know if I sprained it or not. I was not one for seeking medical attention back in those days. But I remember that it hurt. A LOT. I remember the water balloon that hit and exploded upon my chest. It had been thrown before I went down. The good news? Matt managed to flank our opponents while they were distracted, take them both out and ensure victory for our side a moment later. The bad? I could barely walk for about a week. But the pain was tempered by the thrill of victory. We’d done it! An unholy alliance = An epic victory. And in hindsight? That partnership between Matt and I that afternoon… that moment when we set aside our competitive history and finally teamed up was likely the catalyst that started one of the greatest friendships of my life. Booyakasha, Mattias. RESPECT. 

Shortly after we left the park the sky opened up. It rained all the way from Pennypack to our dinner in Abington. We ate as friends after competing all afternoon and I remember it being one of the greatest meals of my life despite my throbbing ankle. Those people? The ones that participated in Water War II? They were and thankfully remain my friends… my family to this day. Perhaps that is why the memory is so vivid, even after 20+ years. We’re I to think hard enough… we’re the stimuli right, I’d likely be able to remember exactly what I ate that night. But it’s late and let’s face it: Memories DO have limits, especially at almost 42 years old. But what I remember? It’s like Sting sings in “Fields Of Gold.”

Many years have passed, since those summer days, upon the fields of Barley. See the children run, as the sun goes down, among the fields of gold. You’ll remember me, when the West Wind moves, upon the fields of Barley. You can tell the sun, in his jealous sky, when we walked in fields of gold. When we walked in fields of gold. When we walked in fields of gold. 

Do I miss those days? Of course. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. Would I give anything to have that afternoon back for a moment? Well, not anything. I mean sh*t: I like a lot of what I have now. And I’m fortunate to still know many of the people who were there with me that afternoon so at the least, we can relive it and our other adventures–and oh BOY did we have a couple; I’ll write more of them another time–when we’re together, now with our partners, watching our own children run and play as the sun goes down. Sting’s fields of gold? They’re a state of mind. One that gets passed down from generation to generation. I still look forward to the day when I buy my own daughters their first Super Soakers. Maybe they’ll one day team with Caren and Matt’s children in Water War III. Who knows? Time travel into the past via memory is possible but time travel into the future? Sadly we can’t go there yet. But we can mentor them… teach them… revel in watching our children experience all that we experienced. We can teach them to not just hit SHUFFLE on their own iPod and iPad iTunes or Spotify playlists but instead, listen to an album as it was intended to be listened to. After all, “Going To California” SHOULD lead into “When The Levee Breaks,” not into “Black Dog,” right? 

The point of this whole piece of Mental Flatulence friends and foes? Never lose sight of where you came from. Never forget who you were 20+ years ago, happily charging down a narrow, dirt path in a park a long ways away from the place you lay your head in currently. That person? You can always get him or her back. He or she may be forgotten in the stress of bath night or the sadness of a sometimes mundane, routine existence and that’s okay. But you are more than just the you you see in the mirror every day. You’re that person too, but you’re also the Super Soaker toting pre-adult with a less saggy stomach and a touch less white hair “up top,” reveling in what feels like an endless summer day, “upon the fields of Barley.” 

G’night, all. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. 

F. 

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#HoopsHysteriaHereICome: A Post-Mortem

Well? We lost. Best to get that out of the way right away. Team 2nd To None put up a good fight but in the end? It simply wasn’t enough to beat a really good Kindergarten team, otherwise known as the Kinder Brawlers. Final score: Kinder Brawlers 48, 2nd To None 37. For my part tonight was pretty active. I put up a number of shots  (didn’t sink any). And I also fouled someone for the first time all tournament. It was unintentional and in truth? It was a pretty weak call, IMO. But I’m not the ref so I guess I’m kind’a forced to accept it. Afterwards, we all shook hands, took our team photos–I’ll be sure to post mine when I get it–settled into watch the actual championship game which was won by Team Lucky 7s (props 7th Grade!) And thereafter headed out to the bar to drink away all of our aches and pains. It along with the two Advil Liqui-Gels I popped seems to be working… for now. I am confident that tomorrow morning will be a different story though. 

Still, the pain in my limbs is a good pain. It’s an accomplished pain. I’ll gladly trade a day of rest for what I just completed. Four games in six days? Maybe not a lot to some but to this guy, who five weeks ago couldn’t run more than 10 seconds without his heart pounding out of his chest? The fact that I successfully completed three five minute shifts tonight when I couldn’t finish one, even on Sunday of this week says something. Simply put? I’m on my way. I’ve said all along that this journey would continue and it will. Hoops Hysteria was never the end. Sh*t, friends, I have every intention of getting up tomorrow morning and running. A closer observance of my condition reveals that that might not be the best idea. I guess I’ll wing it and see how I feel in the AM. If I wake up and I can move I’ll run. Thankfully it’s a short one–only 1.67 miles. But if I wake up and am unable to stand up? Well, I guess I’ll just pop on the tube and watch “Sportscenter” or something. Just to be safe, maybe I should put the bottle of Advil next to my bed. Hold on…

There. Now I’m ready for whatever eventuality I am faced with in the morning. 

So here I am at the end of #HoopsHysteriaHereICome. It became #HoopsHysteriaHereIAm and now? Now it’s #HoopsHysteriaThereItWent. The champions of both the Gold and Silver Brackets have been crowned. My not-yet-washed jersey/t-shirt (we were winning, guys; I wasn’t going to f’up the ju-ju) is in the wash. My team… well, some of them may be still at the bar though me? I’m home. Freshly showered, lying in bed and typing this little blog entry/piece of Mental Flatulence while I still have a smidgen of energy left. It’s tough to focus on a retrospective when your brain and body are fried from exertion. Right now? I feel like I could sleep for a day. I probably won’t but have I earned it? Meh. I don’t think so. The work’s not yet done, peeps. This week… this tournament that I impulsively decided to join a full year ahead of schedule due to some well-timed… um… insinuation from my oldest minion? Sure it was a start but it’s not… well, “it.” That’s not my end game. Honestly? I don’t really have a cap on how far I’m going to take this. My sister Katie, who has been a bastion of support and encouragement for me for the last five weeks (booyakasha sis… respect) is running not a 5K but 15K in the next few weeks. 15K? That’s like… 3.1 miles times 3 or… over 9 miles? Nine miles? I can’t even imagine that right now. 2.1 gives me agita. But she’s doing it, and she followed a similar path to the one that I’m following presently. As I’ve said before and others have said to me, the first step? It’s really the toughest. Opting to make a change like the one she went through and the one I’m going through… it takes determination. The will to be like Mike, just do it and not give up. It also takes a healthy sense of humor because damn man or woman, I must be out of my f*cking mind. I’m X-amount of pounds. I haven’t lived a lifestyle like this since I was a kid, playing pick-up basketball, baseball and football in Billy Ring’s back yard. But after a few times you laugh about it. You chuckle at yourself because when you started a few weeks go on that level track around the corner from your house that you couldn’t run more than 10 seconds on…  when you picked up a basketball for the first time in a decade and Air Ball’d your first J… 

“Shoot the J… SHOOT IT…”

When you were winded after 14 minutes on the elliptical (in two shifts, no less… go fig)… when everything was still in front of you you had no fracking idea that you’d actually succeed. But you did. You took a risk and it worked out. It could have gone the other way… you could have ended up in the hospital from a heart attack but you didn’t. And hopefully you never will. Why? 

Simple, and this one comes courtesy of my Mom, who has also been a bastion of support throughout this process  (booyakasha, Mom… respect). I mentioned it in blog entry/piece of Mental Flatulence number one (the one about getting healthy at 42 in case you forgot it): Remember always that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. Those are some incredible words to live by. They’ve become my personal mantra these last few weeks and will remain said mantra in the weeks and months to come. 

I could go on citing everyone that’s helped me in some way, shape or form throughout this process too date. Nicole for helping me deal with my early training blister issue, buying me baby aspirin, taping up my legs with kinetic tape after each game and allowing me to go out and briskly walk/jog/run on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday every week. My minions for cheering me on and constantly telling me that they are proud of me. My friends and family for doing the same. You for reading… I could continue but I think… I hope you get the point. Booyakasha to you all… respect. Thanks for… well? For just being you. For being interested. I hope now that #HoopsHysteriaHereICome became #HoopsHysteriaHereIAm and has now become #HoopsHysteriaThereItWent that you’ll stick with me. I’ve got a lot more to do and write but maybe… just maybe I’ll take a break from the later for a few. Kind’a let my brain recharge along with my body. Stop the endless parade of selfies… you get the point. Sh*t I’m tired. My words are starting to jumble so I think I’ll just call it. Time to sleep. 

G’night, all. Pleasant dreams. #ContentedSleepHereICome 

F. 

#HoopsHysteriaHereIAm: A Mid-Week Retrospective

Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening friends, foes and fellow inhabitants of this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Yes, it’s me again, arriving unexpectedly with a mid-week update on #HoopsHysteriaHereICome. As most, if not all of you have figured out per the new hashtag in the title of this blog entry/piece of Mental Flatulence #HoopsHysteriaHereICome has officially become #HoopsHysteriaHereIAm. Yes folks, I’m knee-deep in jump shots, rebounds and steals presently. In fact tonight? It’s actually my first day or night sans basketball since… oh, last Saturday. Per my Couch To 5k regiment, it’s actually a run night. But I’m imposing a bit of a hold on my runs, at least for the moment. Common sense outweighs the need to keep up with the program presently… it’ll be waiting for me at the end of the week and admittedly? I can’t wait to get back “into the zone.” I miss my solitary trots around Broomall, Pennsylvania. My last run–last Saturday, the day before the tournament started–was actually my best run too date. 2.05 total miles run at a 17:14 minutes per mile clip. And just because I can’t resist a gratuitous selfie: 

Hashtag ENDORPHINS. Yes sirs and madams, that smile is the smile of someone riding a natural high. A side-by-side comparison of this pic and the pic I took of myself after my first workout shows a tremendous difference. It wasn’t just the loss of the bedraggled Rocky Training in Siberia beard. There’s something different in my face, now. I know what it is, too. Life, man. In the above pic, I look alive. Yep. Hello, old friend. I missed you. 

But I digress. I mentioned common sense before. And common sense dictates that I rest. I played basketball Sunday afternoon, Monday night and last night. A grand total of about 15-20 minutes per game. And how did we do or rather, how are we doing? Team 2nd To None? As those of you that have been keeping up with me on social media likely know, we lost our first game by three points, 52-49. It was a heartbreaker and most, if not all of us thought that we’d be playing one more game–Monday night–and no more. Well? Monday night’s game rolled around and guess what? We won! 33-21. We lived to play another game last night and guess what? Yep. We won again! 42-25. And before we knew it? We were slated to play in the Silver Bracket, i.e. the consolation bracket championship on Friday night! Our reward? Two nights off. A bye of sorts. Our opponent is yet to be determined… we’ll know tomorrow night (tonight is an “off” night for the tourney and hence a self-imposed “off” night for me) but the “who” doesn’t matter. What matters is that what I thought was going to be a two night foray into the world of amateur 30 and 40 somethings playing basketball has turned into… a bit of a marathon. Three games in three days after not playing in 20 or so years? Common f*cking sense. My legs hurt and my shins are on fire… not as much now as they were last night but if I want to be fresh for Friday night? I need to take a night off. So I am. I’ll make up my run tomorrow night. And I figured it was as good a time as any to update you. 

So the big question is: How do I feel? I’ve gotten that a lot this week. In truth? I feel… a myriad of things. Physically I am tired. There’s no way around it. But it’s a good kind of tired. An accomplished tired. Not an I Just Worked My Posterior Off Filling Jobs All Day With Nary A Thank You To Show For It tired. It’s an I Did It tired. I f*cking made it. #HoopsHysteriaHereIAm. I’ve survived. Whatever happens now is secondary to that. Sure I want us to win on Friday night but if we don’t? Well sh*t. As Cara said to me on Sunday afternoon when I was bummed about losing, “you did your best. I’m proud of you.” I’ve got to tell you friends and foes, hearing that from my daughter is better than any trophy or championship. Believe that. And since I can’t resist a gratuitous… well, this one isn’t a selfie. It’s courtesy of Nicole but in truth? It sums up this experience… this journey that I’ve been on over the last month plus perfectly. It encapsulates everything from the “why,” i.e. why I’m doing this to the “where,” to the “what,” as in what I was training for… well, you likely get the point. Or you will in a sec: 

That smile on my face? The all-natural grin of a Dad who knows that he made his daughter proud. You see guys and gals, it’s not about how many points you scored or how many rebounds you got. It’s not about how many times you fouled someone or got called for a lane violation. It’s not about how many times a bunch of 3rd Graders heckled you with an “Air Ball” chant. In truth? I’ve experienced all of the above this week and I’ve loved every. Single. Fracking. Minute of it. Because in the end it comes down to a look. The look on your kid’s face that says you’re more than just a black spot on the couch in the living room. You’re my Dad. And you rock. 

So what now? Where do I go from here? Obviously Friday night beckons… Team 2nd To None’s shot at consolation glory and I promise you that I will publish a post-game update, regardless of the outcome. But after that? Well y’all, I’m already looking forward. “Look into the future where will you be… space between lives whatever will you see?” So goes a song that once upon a time… ’cause all good stories begin as such… was as synonymous with me as anything. It still applies. I’ve mentioned a little bit about what’s next before this. I’ll get more into it in the coming days and weeks. I hope that you’ll continue to follow me on this journey because I promise: The next stop takes it to a whole other level. Time to ramp it up to 11. Or, in this case, 3.1. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. 

Would you like to know more? “Spoilers, sweeties.” You will. One last thing before I return to my self-imposed night of rest. Thank you. Thank you, thank you and thank you. To everyone that has been following #HoopsHysteriaHereICome and #HoopsHysteriaHereIAm. You’ve been… well? Really freaking awesome. I mean that. From the bottom of my heart and soul. Your words of encouragement, tips and the like have added to the natural high that this has been, is and will be. You are… well? You’re my peeps. You are. 

And you rock. Believe that. 

F. 

#HoopsHysteriaHereICome: An Update

This may be the first time I’ve started a blog entry with a hashtag. Said hashtag has become… somewhat synonymous with me over the last three and a half weeks. Whether you’ve been following my journey from couch potato to very, very amateur basketball player or not (a journey which has been marked by a copious number of post-workout pictures posted to social media… well, copious for me; I’ve never been a big selfie guy) you know what I’m doing. You know why I’m doing it (see my previous blog entry for the “why” if you need a refresher). I’ve talked about the “why” and highlighted a handful of personal goals achieved (the most recent was the sub-18 minute mile) too date. What I haven’t talked about, and what has become… an interesting topic to ruminate upon while I walk briskly/jog/run, my Hoops Hysteria Playlist blaring in my ears is the psychological side of it. And let me tell you, friends: There is definitely a psychological component to this process. 

Last night as I was endeavoring to break the 18-minute mile I started thinking about “Forrest Gump.” Really? Yes, really. Do you remember (sh*t, how can you not?) the scene in the movie where Forrest just starts running? Yep. I thought you might. The way he explains it when asked is that he just felt like running. But what he’s doing… running from coast-to-coast over and over again means something different to everyone. Maybe he is just running to run. Maybe he’s doing it for world peace. Whatever the case he’s doing it and it speaks to others… others who join him for their own, assorted reasons. So I asked myself–as “Highway To the Danger Zone” came on my playlist–what it means to me. Again, I know superficially why I’m doing this: #HoopsHysteriaHereICome. But I realized… I realize that it goes deeper than that. 

In truth? I don’t think I’ve been happy with myself for a while. Shocking, right? Me, the guy who always seemed/seems so self-assured… not happy? Don’t get me wrong, y’all: I’m not miserable or depressed… at least I don’t think I am. I don’t know. Maybe I am and maybe I’m not. I know I used to smile more. For a while there? I wasn’t smiling much. But since I started doing this? That smile has started to creep back onto my face. Not always but from time-to-time, and almost always after I finish my brisk walk/jog/run. Those selfies? I’m smiling in most of them and that grin? It’s not fake. I feel good again. Healthier. More in control than I’ve been in a long time and right now? I need that. I think we all do. We all need to find something that gives us confidence in ourselves because life? It’s got an uncanny way of wresting control from us if we let it and when we least expect it. For the most part? My focus is back. And I keep thinking (usually in Forrest Gump’s voice; feel free to read this next part in his accent if you’d like) that for the first time in a long time… here, on the cusp of 42? I’m alive again.

You did, didn’t you? Read it in his voice. Hee hee. You’re Forrest, Forrest Gump. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. 

So that covers the psychological angle: Mentality. Knowing again that I can and I will succeed. When I started this process three and a half weeks ago and clocked my 20:44 (or was it 20:43? Sh*t… I can’t remember… maybe I need to go re-read my previous blog entry) minute mile I thought, oh crap… this is going to be a long, long road. I mentioned other goals in my previous blog entry… that much I remember and one of them? Run a 5K of course. But not just participate in one. Achieve a sub-13 minute mile (13 minutes is apparently the average mile run by a first time… um… 5K’er). And yesterday? I made it to 17:44. I crushed 18 minutes and made it my b*tch. And then it hit me… 

I’m almost halfway there. In three and a half weeks. How the f*ck did that happen? No idea. But it did. I’m here. And now I know that I can do it. I’m not saying I’m going to run the Firecracker 5K here in Broomall in July, but something this Fall? Most definitely. Why not? It’s all about mentality. Believing… knowing that I can and I will succeed. This is the first time I’ve felt that way about something in a very long time. Our first Hoops Hysteria game is this upcoming Sunday at 2:15 PM. We play the Sixth Grade and I know that as hard as I’ve prepared for this–I’ve literally taken maybe four days off, i.e. days sans exercise since I started training–we may lose in the first round. I hope that doesn’t happen but if it does? Will I consider this endeavor… this journey that I’ve been on a failure and go back to smoking a half a pack of cigarettes a day and sitting mindlessly on my couch every night exhausted and watching “Chopped” or “Carnival Eats?” The answer to that question is simple and resounding: NO. That me is behind me now. People talk about the new me all the time. It’s a gul’darned cliché. I try to avoid clichés but in this case? F*ck it. This is the new me. And if you don’t like it? Well, that’s your prerogative. Don’t worry ’cause I still like you. 

Hand-in-hand with the psychological,  and something else that I’ve been ruminating on as I briskly walk/jog/run is the physical. When I first started doing this? I really didn’t see much of a difference. Weight, shape… all were consistent with what I’ve grown used to over the years. It wasn’t until last week leading into this that I legitimately looked in the mirror and thought, holy crap. I look different. And I’m seeing it more and more now. Maybe this part is semi-psychological too. I mean, I’ve only dropped 10 pounds and when you get to be my level of… portly (to put it mildly) 10 pounds doesn’t really amount to much. At least it didn’t before. But now? For the first time in a long time I can see it. I’ve still got a ways to go until the difference is really, really palpable but it’s there now. And that in and of itself is incentive to keep going, even after #HoopsHysteriaHereICome becomes #HoopsHysteriaThereItWent. Because quite frankly? I think I’ve been portly long enough. I’m good with a slight bit of portliness but only a smidgen. Yes. I think a smidgen is acceptable. 

That said #HoopsHysteriaHereICome is quickly coming to a close and I think now is as good a time as any to sum up… well, my Road To Hoops Hysteria. I may not have another chance to write between now and tip-off on Sunday so… What have I gained? Lost? Well? I’m healthier. That’s first and foremost. 20:44 minutes per mile down to 17:44 minutes per mile speaks for itself. And there are other metrics that I’m looking at that I won’t bore you with here; all of them are steadily improving. But I’ve also got an improved mentality and outlook and a slightly improved appearance to boot. All of these things add up to one, indispensable conclusion: This may have been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself in my almost 42 year existence on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Again, I’m not bragging. Nor am I preaching. This isn’t a sermon about changing your life. Like I said err… wrote last time be you. But if you feel unhappy with yourself… if you’re having difficulty smiling… if you want to get up, leave “Chopped” and “Carnival Eats” behind you (don’t worry… they’ll be on when you get back) and take the step that I took and you’re hesitant to do so for whatever reason don’t be. Please. Be like Mike and just do it. You can. And you will  succeed. I promise. And if you need a brisk walking/jogging/running buddy hit me up. I’ll make myself available. 

Booyakasha. Respect. 

F. 

In Which I Ruminate On Why, At 42, I’ve Finally Decided to Get In Shape (HINT: It’s Not Just About Playing Basketball)

Good Evening fellow denizens of this, my subjective universe. Or maybe I should say Good Morning or Good Afternoon. I guess it all depends on when and for that matter where you are reading this. It’s evening here in Broomall, Pennsylvania but it’s still late afternoon out west in California. Heck, it’s mid-afternoon in Hawaii and across the mighty Pacific in Japan? Well, you get the point. Instead of wasting more time on this I’ll just say Good BLANK. BLANK = Insert time of day or night here. 

And we’re off. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. Please stick with me. I promise this is going somehwere. 

Rather than continue to ramble on incessantly I think, for once, I’ll hop right to the point. As many reading this know, a few weeks ago I made… a pretty monumental decision. Monumental by my standards. For some, said decision would have been as significant as a nightly BM but for me? It represented a turning point in my life less extraordinary. At 42 and a half years old I decided that it was time. Time to get in shape. Time to stop being a dark spot on the couch in my living room good for nothing nightly but watching television and thinking about how g’damn tired I am all the time. It was time to stop gasping for air at the top of a single staircase… time to walk around Broomall with my minions and play Pokemon GO without sweating and breathing heavily within 300 feet of my house. Time for my heart to stop jackhammering like a teenager’s on prom night from the slightest exertion (sadly, not my comparison; I’ve got to give that one to The Bruce, i.e. Bruce Campbell. Booyakasha, Ash. Respect). Time to get healthy. 

I think that the decision to do it is the first big hurdle. There are others along the way but actually committing to it? That’s the tough part. For me, it’s all about a couple of things. Short term? It’s about representing my oldest minion’s Second Grade class at Saint Annie’s in Broomall in their annual Hoops Hysteria Tournament. The basic concept? Each class has a “team” made up of parents, siblings and teachers that enters and plays in a Round Robin tourney for a week. Eventually, teams are eliminated one-by-one until such time as only two teams… two class representations remain. Those two square off on Friday night for the Hoops Hysteria Championship. Winner take all, loser go home. It’s all about pride. Bragging rights for a year and last year while watching from the stands I hatched the idea to… consider doing it. I didn’t think I’d be doing it the following year but here I am. I started training with four weeks and some change until the first game. I’m now about a week and a half in and how has it gone? How am I feeling? I’ll get to that in a bit. This part is about motivation and playing for Team Second Grade was my first. But there were others. 

Getting in shape… getting healthy is in and of itself motivation. One year ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Not a lot of people know that and if you didn’t before now? Well, now you do. It was a rude awakening for me. No more sugar… a daily regiment of meds… testing my blood sugar every day. Life literally changed for me overnight and what happened? Well, I promptly lost 30+ pounds from the meds and the lack of sugar but the weight loss–which has tailed off since–was only a part of the treatment. One thing was missing: Exercise. I knew that that was the next step and I vowed to do it. It only took me… oh, about a year to start. 

Being there for my kids as they get older? That’s a motivating factor too. I’ll not lie (why bother now? ‘Might as well come clean about everything), leading up to the decision to do this I had to few… irregularities. Rapid heart rate while resting… the occasional “twinge” of uncomfort in my shoulders or once or twice, my chest. Light headedness, the inability to catch my breath… you know the drill. Nothing overly concerning or consistent but the symptoms were there. And I knew it. And I knew it was pointing to something I didn’t want to go through and I didn’t want my loved ones to go through. There was only one solution and that solution was to get healthy. To get in shape. Second verse same as the first. Are you sensing a pattern? I hope so ’cause one is intended. 

I could go on and on about motivation. Motivations. There are others. Everything from sleeping better at night to losing weight to… well, other things which I will not go into in this PG, bordering on PG-13 piece of Mental Flatulence. But I’m sure you get the point. You need to be motivated. Change is never easy and the change I was staring at was… extreme. Again, extreme by my standards. Some of you might think it as extreme as the decision about which television show to watch on a Wednesday night: “Expedition Unknown” or “Cooks and Cons.” For the record? Josh Gates for the f*cking win. It’s not that I don’t like Jeff Zakarian but come on: “Expedition” is like “Indiana Jones” lite. With geeky comedy. It’s my joint, yo. Check it out if you haven’t yet. Spoiler Alert: He never finds anything. But it’s cool to watch him try. 

Bottom line? It was more than just downloading a Couch to 5K app for my phone and starting to run. Hurdle Number Two was endurance and waking up muscles that hadn’t been used consistently for a long, long time. Cue my elliptical which had been sitting in my basement, collecting dust for years. Not anymore. Sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts and lifting. Oh lifting weights. How I missed you (sarcasm slightly intended). I had to quit smoking, too. Yep, I’ve been a smoker for years and the only way to do it and do it right, I knew, was do the unthinkable: Go cold turkey. And I did. It’s been over a week and a half since my last smoke and let me tell you something friends: It makes a world of difference. Within 24 hours of my last cigarette I could breathe better. I was on my way to the next hurdle: Hitting the streets and getting my brisk walk/jog on. 

I started about 48 hours in on a level walking track around the corner from my house. I jogged for a grand total of about 10 seconds before I had to stop. The stats from that workout? 1.47 miles. 30:28 duration. 2.8 MPH average speed. 20:43 P/MILE average pace. Here’s a pic of me and my minions afterwards: 

What this adorable shot (adorable because of the girls; I look like a f*cking beast) doesn’t show you is the Godzilla-sized blister that opened up and subsequently popped on my left heel during. Said blister almost sidelined me but after some quick thinking and a number of attempted and failed remedies, said blister healed up and I didn’t miss a beat. 

I’ve been out six times since. And tonight? This is what I logged: 1.47 miles. 28:16 duration. 3.1 MPH average speed with a max speed of 7.0 MPH. 18:54 P/MILE average pace. My blister? Gone. And since I’m sharing pics:

That my friends is the face of someone who is jacked up on Endorphins. Most importantly though? I’m not on a track anymore. I’m on the streets. With hills. And while I’m still only running/jogging about 20-25% of the time… well, it’s a bit longer than 10 seconds now. It’s in increments but hey: Baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a week and a half. 

Why am I sharing this with you? Disclaimer: I’m not bragging. No g’damn way. An 18:54 mile is not something to brag about. Any self-respecting veteran runner would laugh at me and then leave me huffing and puffing in their dust.  Furthermore, I’m not preaching. This isn’t me, standing on top of a soap box telling you that you need to do what I’m doing. Hell no. Be you. But if you’ve been ruminating on getting in shape and you’re concerned that your heart won’t be able to hack it, or you won’t be able to keep up with it I’ve got breaking news for you, straight from the Proverbial Wormhole of Existence newsroom: You can. It’s all about heart and determination. Find your motivation. Whether it’s the desire to play in a basketball tournament at your kid’s school or to run a 5K… whether you want to be able to walk around town and play Pokemon GO without sweating profusely or just be able to make it up the stairs without gasping for breath at the top you can do it. Deciding to do it is the biggest hurdle. Get past it and thereafter take them one at a time. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve realized that once Hoops Hysteria ends this process that I’ve started? It won’t. I have new goals now and over time, I’ll reveal them. But not now. Now it’s partly about playing basketball but that’s not it. It’s about getting in shape. For the minions. And for me. 

Remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. In short? You are a Godzilla-sized beast and you can do whatever the f*ck you put your mind to. So get to it. And I’ll see you out there. 

Booyakasha. Respect. And Good BLANK. Winky emoticon. Smiley face. 

F. 

In Which I Ruminate On How 2016 Took A Barb Wire Wrapped Louisville Slugger To My Childhood (And Why 2017 Can’t Be Any Worse… Can It?)

Hello fellow denizens of my subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. It’s been too long. How’s your 2016 going?

Yep. I went there. 

2016… the year that took a barb wire wrapped Louisville Slugger to my childhood. Why barb wire wrapped? Because Negan, i.e. the current and IMO worst ever, most evil villain on “The Walking Dead” TV show who is also the current and IMO worst ever, most evil villain in the comic book that the show is based on. That is all. I equate that statement–“because Negan”–to my current mentality with only a few days left to go in this cursed 365 day cycle of sunrises and sunsets: Because 2016

Never in my 41 plus year life on this side of the aforementioned proverbial wormhole of existence has there been a year like this. I remember a conversation or two back in my collegiate and post-collegiate days about which passing of one of my childhood icons would affect me the most. I remember a bevy of answers from my brethren. But for me? The answer was simple. Musician? Hands down: Prince. Actor or actress? Easy: Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher. Guess what guys? Two of the three above mentioned icons are now gone. Hashtag RIPPrince, hashtag RIPCarrieFisher. Thank God Harrison’s still kicking else I’d be curled up in a fetal position on my bed, unable to face the world outside my bedroom. Good thing I moved the PS4 up there, huh? Sarcasm…

Ah f*ck it. You get the point. Because 2016. 

But it doesn’t end there, friends, Romans, countrymen and women. Oh no. The passing of Prince and Carrie Fisher from this realm to the next would be enough to sum up this year in one word: Sh*tty. It would be the equivalent of that first swing of Lucille Negan hit you-know-who with. You know: The one that popped you-know-who’s left eyeball out of its socket. But 2016? It’s been a full on bludgeoning that resulted in… well, if you know “The Walking Dead” you know what I’m getting at. No need to make you vomit up the last of the Christmas cookies or the leftover ham from Christmas dinner that you consumed earlier this afternoon recalling the vision of what was left of poor you-know-who after Negan was done with him/her. 

Consider the following list of celebrities that we lost this year. More specifically though? The ones that my generation lost because frankly (no pun intended), and not to take anything away from anyone else that’s suffering this has been an ESPECIALLY bad year for the 35-45 demographic. 

In chronological order, then:

David Bowie

Alan Rickman

Glenn Frey

Abe Vigoda

Dave Mirra

Vanity

George Gaynes

Harper Lee

Tony Burton 

George Kennedy

Nancy Reagan

George Martin

Keith Emerson

Frank Sinatra Jr.

Phife Dawg

Garry Shandling

Doris Roberts

Chyna

Prince

Muhammad Ali

Gordie Howe

Anton Yelchin

Pat Summitt

Elie Weisel

Garry Marshall

David Huddleston 

Kenny Baker

Gene Wilder

W. P. Kinsella

Arnold Palmer

Janet Reno

Leonard Cohen

Florence Henderson

John Glenn

Alan Thicke

Zsa Zsa Gabor

George Michael

Richard Adams

Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds

Vera Rubin

And those are only a handful of names. There’s probably double… hell, TRIPLE that but I focused on the names of the celebs… the icons that passed this year that held the most significance for me. I remember dancing to George Michael’s “Father Figure” at a Seventh Grade Dance. Florence Henderson and Alan Thicke, i.e. Mrs. Brady and Mr. Seaver (respectively) were the TV parents of my youth. W. P. Kinsella? The man behind arguably my all time favorite movie, “Field of Dreams.” Kenny Baker? R2 f*cking D2. Muhammad Ali? Simply “The Greatest.” Gene Wilder? Willie Wonka and Victor Frankenstein (pronounced “frahn-ken-steen”). I could go on and on but I won’t. Because I’m beat tired. And emotional. Because 2016. 

I just read that list of names to my wife, who is a half a decade younger than me (but still a member of that 35-45 demo) and in a number of cases, she punctuated the reading of a name with “old,” or something similar. And she’s right. But here’s MY point: There are days where my childhood growing up on that little street in “J-Town,” Pennsylvania seems only a day or two behind me. And back then? These celebs… these icons were not old. They were young. Inviolate. Immortal. But they weren’t. They’re gone now. And I find myself sitting here at 10:27 PM on Wednesday the 28th of December, 20f*cking16 passing this rambling piece of Mental Flatulence with a shocked look on my face. Kind of how Rick Grimes looked both in the comic and on the TV show as Negan killed one of his closest friends in cold blood. In truth? I’ve got nothing. Because? Because 2016. 

To be frank (pun intended this time), I’m not blind to what’s happening. I mean, I GET it. I do. I’m getting older and by association, everyone around me is also getting older. Time IS a fickle bitch, John Locke (booyakasha, “LOST.” Respect) and there’s no stopping it’s relentless march forward. I mean sh*t, I blinked and I was 41. That’s how it feels some days. And the way that 2016 has unfolded with ruthless, lifetaking precision drives that point home HARD. It’s not that we’ve lost more icons this year than in other years. It’s that I’VE lost more icons that have direct significance for ME and my contemporaries than we have in previous years. And as much as I’d like to say that 2017 is going to be better in truth? I can’t. I can HOPE it will be better but it would really be little more than a brief respite from the inevitable. I know… reluctantly… that the upcoming years are going to suck for the celebs… the icons of my childhood. I only hope that Harrison Ford holds out long enough to make a new “Indiana Jones” movie that washes the taste of “Crystal Skulls” out of my mouth. 

So what do I… what do WE, the children of the late 1970s, the 1980s and early 1990s do? How do we reconcile the depressing fact that this is going to continue to happen with greater frequency moving forward with our desire to live a happy existence on this, or ANY side of the proverbial wormhole of existence? I see two answers to that question… two possibilities. The first? We can simply forget that we’re getting older, embrace the mentality of an early 20 something year old (despite the fact that our bodies are, for the most part, NOT 20 something bodies) complete with endless selfies, naked Snapchatting, swiping left or right, “text-speak” and emojiis, embrace a handful of NEW, younger icons and pray that our bodies hold up. Survey says? Nah. But that’s just me. 

And the second? We can accept who and what we are at this juncture in our respective lives as reflective of the aging politicians, athletes, musicians, actors and actresses we grew up with complete with the flaws, ailments and white/grey hair that comes with it and simply try to be the best, healthiest and happiest 35-45 year olds that we can be. For our families and for ourselves. This advice is something I REALLY need to think about this frosty night on the cusp of a New Year. 2017 is going to be a year of change on a number of fronts here, there and everywhere. It needs to be a year of change for me personally, as well. But that fellow sh*theads? That’s another blog entry… another piece of Mental Flatulence for another time. Not tonight. Hashtag friedandemotional. Hashtag because2016. 

For the moment? I think I’m going to close it out for the night the same way I opened it up. Because Negan. Fans of the comic book know this next part and fans of the TV show hopefully WILL know it within a few months. Despite how bleak things look right now there’s a little teeny, tiny bit of hope on the horizon. I’m 41 years old and looking forward to taking an incendiary torch to 2016 in a few days. I’m ready for 2017, for better OR for worse (I certainly hope its the former). This? This is the halfway point for us 35-45 somethings, friends. We’ve made it this far. Our legacy… what we will go to our graves being known for lies ahead and not behind us. Will our legacies be the equivalent of Prince’s legacy? Carrie Fisher’s? I certainly hope so. That spark of genius exists within all of us, we just need to kindle it into a flame, and not take a barb wire wrapped Louisville Slugger to it. Because?

Because hope. 

Good Night, fellow sh*theads. Duty calls. It’s name is “Final Fantasy XV.” Good thing I moved the PS4 upstairs, huh?

Remembering the Mayor of Maple Street

In life, some individuals loom larger than others. Politicians, athletes, actors and actresses, authors… all seem at times inaccessible. Even in those moments when you are fortunate enough to meet one they appear larger than life. They might come across as the friendliest person you’ve ever encountered when you’re standing face-to-face with them but there’s always something about them that seems unattainable. You ask yourself “how could I ever be friends with this person?” In my own personal experience I’ve encountered everyone from Bruce Willis to the former Governor of Maryland and once-Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley. In both… in all cases we shook hands, chatted a bit and then went about our own separate ways. But even then—when my hand was clamped firmly in theirs—I felt separate. Not equal. That’s what celebrity is, I guess. Separate. Not equal. A chance encounter. You have an impact on each other’s lives briefly but thereafter? It’s over. Remembered only as “that time when,” or “remember when,” in the years to come.

That’s an adult’s perspective. A 41 year old Madchronicler’s take on celebrity. But as a child? That’s different. As a child celebrity is redefined. Sure the above mentioned, public figures remain celebs but there are others when you’re a child. Not just movie stars and sports heroes but parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, teachers and even neighbors. Before age and adulthood take a hold of you and you realize that your world is much, much bigger than the little town or towns that you grew up in there are people… celebrities that represent something greater. People that you look up to. People that you want to be like. And those people? One in particular? He is the reason why I’m writing this long-overdue piece of Mental Flatulence tonight.

You may have heard of him. Maybe not. But I want to tell you about him. Why? Because a person’s impact is not always measured by the size of his bank account or how many people know her name. Growing up in a once-little, now larger than life town on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (thanks to an actor named Bradley Cooper and a sitcom called “The Goldbergs”) called Jenkintown, there was this guy. “The Mayor of Maple Street” we called him. His was the most recognizable face on my street save for the faces of the family I lived with in my little twin house. This was likely due to his almost constant presence upon his porch, looking out over the droves of children that ran laughing, screaming and sometimes crying up and down the street. His street. Maple Street was Mister Ring’s community and he oversaw the goings on there with the firmness of a leader and the gentleness of a friend. His booming voice was a daily reminder that it was dinnertime and his shrill whistle signaled the end of the day—oft times after nine or 10 at night.

Calling us all home.

And we children? We heeded. We didn’t question. Because Mister Ring? He was larger than life. He was the celebrity on our street and around town. Everyone knew him. From the Hungerfords and the Parkers on Cedar Street to the Scharnikows and the McCreavys on Hillside Avenue. “Alley Kids” and Publics, Catholics and those who were somewhere in between… he was familiar to all. And as it happened I was doubly fortunate, for Mister Ring was one of my best friend’s Dads. He was also the coach of my Basketball team. My Baseball team. My Soccer team. The guy basically taught me how to play every sport that I dabbled in as a kid. I was never really that good at any of them but what I could do I learned from him.

I also learned how to win and lose graciously. You hear so many stories these days of coaches getting into altercations with referees and other parents. Not Mister Ring. Nope. Whether we won or lost he was as steady a presence on the sideline as any. Everything we did was a teaching experience. Not just sports either. Life. Anyone that knew me back in those days knew that I was a… well, I was a bit of an odd bird. Not very athletic; a bit of a clutz. No lie: I was a bit of a pansy at times, too. I cried a lot. What can I say? I was and remain an emotional guy. I’m a writer slash artist for God’s sake. It comes with the territory.

Those times when I was down on myself because of something someone had said or done… when I missed a foul shot or struck out or when someone called me a name and I broke down Mister Ring? He never smacked me across the face verbally or physically. Never told me to “man up.” No. He calmed me down with that same old, steady presence of his. He convinced me to “try again” or “don’t let the little things get to you.” And do you know what? I did. Maybe not so much at first. At first I was a bit reluctant to listen but as I got older I wised up. Looking back now I realize that a lot of the serenity I experience daily, i.e. my ability to “let shit slide” came from him. I should thank him for that. In truth? There’s a lot I should thank him for.

Sadly, I cannot do that in person now. I found out yesterday afternoon as I was home with my girls for All Saint’s Day that Mister Ring is no longer with us. Big Bill Ring (not to be confused with his son Little Bill) passed away on Monday night. He was 70 years old.

It seems almost unrealistic to think that someone who was such a force in my early life is no longer with us. I’ve been grappling with this for the last 24 plus hours. When my sister told me the news I’ll not lie: I teared up. I’ve watched a number of people pass this year but for some reason this one hit me the hardest. I now know why. Because when I was a kid, he loomed larger than everyone else. Even my own mother (sorry Mom). He was a politician and an athlete. Not an actor, though amazingly enough as I grew into my teens and started to gravitate away from athletics and more towards the artistic—acting, writing et cetera—he was one of my biggest supporters.

High school ended and college happened. I spent the first couple of years of my education at home and Little Bill went away. Mister Ring? He was still there, even then, hanging out on his porch and watching over the new generation of kids that ran laughing, screaming and crying up and down our street and the old generation of kids turned pre-adults studying for or embarking upon their careers. We talked a lot. Then I went away to school and left home for good. But when I graduated and came home to visit? He was always there. Always on his porch. Inquiring about me and my life. My job. My prospects. A few years later when he met my girlfriend Nicole I remember being a bit nervous. Would he like her? Strange, I know. And then my girlfriend became my wife and I remember him congratulating me when I told him. I remember my oldest daughter Cara being a bit nervous the first time she saw him. “He’s so big Daddy” she told me after I introduced her.

In truth? He was. Definitely larger than life. Definitely a celebrity. Funny that in my later years I grew to almost the same height as him but I can imagine what that must have been like for her, looking up at this towering behemoth of a man with a booming but passive voice. Because once upon a time I was her. Looking up at him. Looking up to him. The Mayor of Maple Street. Gone but never forgotten, even by someone that hasn’t lived on Maple Street in over 20 years. Before celebrity put Jenkintown, Pennsylvania on the map there was “J-Town” and that shrill whistle that signaled the end of the day.

Calling us all home.

God Bless you Mister Ring. Rest in Peace. And thank you.