Mount Judgemore

Perhaps this is no great insight. Perhaps my assertion will cause you to think, “Uhhhh…yeah! I’ve known that forever.” But…I’d certainly been in the dark until about 10 minutes ago. Sometimes insight is like a dimmer switch, gradually moving from opaque to transparent, and sometimes it’s like a toggle switch, the shift fairly immediate from “off” to “on.” And then, like this time, sometimes it almost takes your breath away with the abruptness and strength of the realization. Walking to the restroom at my favorite coffee shop, I rudely cut between…head down and shoulders square, overcome with bitter sarcasm…the “indiscriminately & perpetually chatty loud-voiced guy” and the employee to which he was giving an unadulterated ear-beating. I walked in the restroom, locked the door, and BAM! It stopped me, literally (no hyperbole, no euphemism), in my tracks.

Okay…so here it is:

The very people I harshly judge, and their personality traits, are the traits that I worry about and harshly judge in myself. Basically, it’s my self-loathing projected onto another human. I cannot view a person who reminds me of myself at my worst with even a modicum of dispassion or, ideally, compassion. It’s zero-to-hate in less than 1 second. For them. And certainly for me.

In the opening paragraph, above, exist several of my largest societal frustrations, call them my social-pet-peeve “Mount Rushmore,” and as my very recent insight would indicate, four of my most prominent character flaws on which I can’t seem to get a good handle.

1. Person who rudely walks between conversations or otherwise blindly forces interruptions without excusing him/herself (MYSELF) or even giving visual regard.

2. Person who chats up anyone, anywhere, at any time, and for entirely too long a period, dominating a one-sided conversation with his/her (MY) pious righteousness.

3. Person who talks entirely too loudly in public spaces, as if the world must be interested in his/her (MY) drivel. “Look at me! Listen to me! Like and accept me!”

4. Person who harshly judges another person without knowing the other person’s back-story, context, experiences, or reasons for breaking whatever unspoken (SELF CREATED) social rule has been broken. *Addendum* Anyone who consistently places people in judgmental, discriminatory, limiting boxes to make sense of the world. (For as much as I despise being categorized, I am generally the Chief Pigeon-Holer in Charge.)

Like Johnny Depp across his multitude of quirky roles, each of those carved faces on my Mount Judgemore (Judge MORE) is simply me with some clever (…now that I think about it, actually not clever at all…) disguise that, apparently until recently, I never saw as me. I’ve been looking at a mirror this entire time, wearing my enamel down with each clench, each grind, each gnash of supreme courtliness.

And here’s the emotional tightrope I now walk. (Warning: I’m going to stretch this tightrope analogy to the point of perhaps breaking, but my brain won’t let go of it. Please stick with me.) Fall off the left side, and I judge you harshly. (This is what I did to the guy as described back in the first paragraph.) So there I was leaning far left, harshly judging another. And the over-compensation? Generally, I feel guilt or get some karmic rebound that forces me to look deeply at myself, my behaviors and thoughts. So I lean far right…and I end up hating myself. (Yes, hating. Again, no hyperbole.) And then, I get caught up in anxiety, worry, and self-doubt and tumble off the wire and into depression. How do I stay on the rope? Better yet, how do I just get off the fucking highwire, because I really don’t love heights and I’ve had a fear of plummeting my entire life. Sure, there’s some amount of excitement being up there. At times, I’m funny as hell. At times, I’m calm and aware and able to toe the line. However, I’m just as often, if not more often, mean as hell. A little shit. A douche of Massengillian proportions. I’m just as often anxious, frenetic, and entirely unaware of my impact on the world and people around me.

So really, finding solid ground makes the most sense. The problem is that I always end up back on that high wire. It’s so difficult to break free of the cognitive and emotional patterns which have controlled my reactions and behaviors across my life. But here I’ll start another journey. I’ll attempt to change the direction of control permanently.

I’m deeply grateful for the insight.

Also…I’m open to suggestions.

-G

120503_Exp_Scream-EX.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

(The Scream. Perhaps there’s a deeper reason why this is one of my favorite pieces of art?)

mmm…Beer Tasting

On this episode of the D2D podcast, you’ll find ample joy, laughter, anecdote…and beer. Pay close attention for all of the mentions of delicious food and drink (links provided below), and please support all of the amazing people and places mentioned in this podcast. Really, it’s all incredibly good stuff.

In preparation for judging the “Battle of the Brewz” at The Commons at Franklin, Greg purchased several bottles of disparate brew types, nuzzled in next to Jen and the recorder with clean beer goblets and several printed tutorials on beer tasting (…check out ratebeer.com, craftbeer.com, and beeradvocate.com…), and let the not-entirely-perfect pours commence. (Note: The competing breweries were North Country and Timber Creek. The other judges were from Lavery. These fine establishments and people will be featured in next week’s D2D pod!)

First up was Southern Tier 2XPRESSO (…yinz guys gawt expresso? How baht a mawkeeawdoh? It was ruhl good!…). Actually, I’ll let the folks at Southern Tier do the talking, “Our 2XSTOUT is considered by many to be a perfect milk stout. We started with that in mind, and added espresso beans and lemon peels for a true Italian style pick-me-up. The result is a stout so black, so rich, so creamy, it’d be at home in a café along a cobblestone street in some neighborhood in Rome. Yet, it’s beer.”

Greg’s assessment: I love this. It’s ruhl good! Jen’s assessment: [contemplative pause] I don’t dislike it. (Note: This is high praise from Jen for a stout.)

Next was Belgian Coast IPA by Green Flash (California, USA) and St. Frau Blucher…uh, Feuillie (Le Roeulx, Belgium), which was an entirely different beast than the dark, bitter, minimally bubbly beer with which we began. Bottle conditioned, amber, with a stiff head that did not dissipate (…that’s what she said…), and incredibly lively in the glass. As with most Belgian style IPAs we’ve tried, this one leaned heavily Belgian rather than finding the balance for which we’re consistently searching in this sort of fermented mash-up. Jen loves big hops with big fragrances (e.g. grapefruit, flowers) and big alcohol. Greg loves…well shit, Greg would drink anything…but Greg does love a good Belgian, and ultimately that is what this looked, smelled, and tasted like.

So again, Greg’s assessment: I love this. It’s ruhl good! Jen’s assessment: I like it. [contemplative pause] It’s definitely sweeter than the previous beer. (Note: Jen plucked out the distinct sour cherry flavor which was entirely welcome by both of us. She also shares, in the podcast, that our tour and tasting at Brewery Ommegang, last year, opened her mind and palate to the complexity, variety, and joy of Belgians. Plus, she has an Einsteinian palate. It makes Greg extremely jealous.)

We then dove into the topic of barbeque, and the fact that native Pittsburgher, all around awesome human being, and culinary sorcerer Kevin Sousa and his restaurant, Union Pig and Chicken, are making smoked meats that would convert a vegan Buddhist and cause PETAs entire executive board to literally dive into a vat of his barbeque. (Additionally, you’ll find exceptional fried chicken, southern-style sides with a Sousa-the-sorcerer twist, craft beer, cocktails, and an extensive whiskey selection…as if one couldn’t love this man any more.)

Greg’s Assessment: I mean, holy shit. Really. And not just the brisket and pork, but also the chicken. I’ve never experienced a piece of chicken quite like the breast I encountered there, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel so amazed and satisfied. Just go there. Like fucking now. Go. Jen’s Assessment: Yeah, ditto that.

And for a little levity, we discuss a young Italian boy’s disdain of uncomfortable mittens and a well-meaning Grandmother’s ability to condition children with Autism to utterly fear the words, “I love you.” Oh, and Kate plays the role of Foley artist, providing a background of shaking spray paint cans (…listen for it, it makes me smile every time I hear it…), intrusive squeaks, and jingle bells.

How can you resist?!

tasting sheet image

(The tasting sheet from linguistic hell!!)

A Slurring of Drunks

I’m a tour guide at a local whiskey and spirits distillery. It’s fantastic…the touring and the spirits. I was also a tour guide while at the University of Pittsburgh. I love local history, and Western Pennsylvania has plenty of it. I find great joy in connecting history to the present, drawing threads across the years to understand why we are where we are, why we do what we do, and how shit evolved into greater or lesser (…generally greater…) degrees of shittiness. Also, I’m a social creature, a story-teller, and a person who generally loves people. But…this isn’t a tour, and my intention isn’t to prattle on about my illustrious, verbose, backwards-walking past. It’s about what drives me to drink, and hopefully what compels you to read this.

Today, it’s bachelor and bachelorette parties. Now, at first glance, the following seems like an amazing and quite appropriate experience for a soon-to-be-married person and his/her friends, and particularly appealing for a modern hipster ethic: Tour a contemporary microbrewery, distillery, or winery. Take in the local history and learn a bit about how grains, sugars, and fruits ferment, become alcohol, and, with a little human ingenuity, pack a punch that allows even the shyest of beings to quickly find their drunken confidence. Then, sample fresh, delicious booze, often served by the brewer, vintner, or distiller. Right?! Seems amazing. But think about this…you’ll be cavorting about with a drunken gaggle (…would it be a “gaggle” of drunks? A case? A flight? Perhaps a slurring?…) of your closest friends, sporting matching Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts, or sipping gin and juice out of plastic penis straws, perhaps looking to flirt your way through your final weekend of bachelor(ette)hood. Point is, it’ll be all about you, and all about your friends. You’ll be loud, you’ll be intrusive, you’ll be drunk (…which will simply amplify and exaggerate said loudness and intrusiveness…), and all of it will be justified as a rite of passage in contemporary American culture. So ask yourself this question…Do I really, really want to spend an hour or more of my party-day walking through a factory, exclusively focusing on a tour guide yammering about the historic implications of whiskey and taxation in the late 18th century or how spent grains are fed to local cows, comparing the copper pot still to the continuous/column still, being guided through a beer tasting seminar, then exiting through the gift shop? I’ll answer that for you. No. No you don’t. But more specifically, no you can’t. Not that you can’t come. You can, of course. And you’ll be welcomed with open arms, open bottles, and a cash bar. You are physically and financially able. But you cannot temporarily disable the insular, private-joke-laden, smart-phone and schedule-addled, “Isn’t there a strip, nay, gentlemen’s club nearby?” (…yes, there is…), pervasively jovial and oblivious-to-everybody-around-you vibe that will impact the energy of, get this, EVERYBODY around you. So no…a tour is not for you. (And stand-up comedy? Also, not really for you. A nice cabaret show? NO!) When you’re at a stand-up or cabaret show, it’s about the performer, the ENTIRE audience, and the context of the club. When you’re on a tour, it’s about the tour guide, the ENTIRE group, and the accepted context of a guided tour. When you’re in a bachelor(ette) party, it’s about anything BUT anyone else. And that’s okay. (For one day. Maybe on your birthday too. On a day when you’re feeling incredibly shitty? Sure. But…please don’t live your life as if there’s nobody else around you; as if your behavior doesn’t impact others. I digress. That’s for another post.) But, it’s really not okay on a tour.

A tour?!

Think about it. Who the fuck wants to take a tour on the one day you’re allowed to walk around with actual double-headed dildos flopping around your head, when you’re encouraged to drink publicly and unabashedly, soliciting hugs, kisses, and body-signatures from strangers…and generally have people laugh, smile, and congratulate you for it? I don’t. And…you don’t. Really, you don’t. Even if you’re the one guy (…or gal…) attempting to make up for the behavior and limited attention span of your 6 friends by asking too many questions, nodding vehemently as if I were the Dalai Lama offering words of spiritual actualization, and laughing a bit too heartily at my “bung-hole” joke or malted barley anecdote. [Yes, the plug for the barrel is a bung and the hole into which it goes is a bung hole. Beavis would have loved a whiskey tour. Again, I digress…] Actually, particularly for you. (I have been that guy…and it’s a really shitty, uncomfortable position to be in. You’ll also end up being the one to leave a shockingly large tip that you really hadn’t intended to give. And you’ll feel obliged chat-up the tour guide for an awkward amount of time at the end of the ordeal.)

Go to the brewery’s/distillery’s/winery’s bar. Drink a few fancy cocktails or try the Merlot. (Paul Giamatti will not chastise you.) And…move on with the plan. Come back for the tour later. Then you can have a great time twice rather than one subpar experience that didn’t quite meet expectations and you don’t remember anyway.

Cheers.

-G

Del Drunka

(Two Del Drunkas…or would it be Drunk Ducas?)

Bible Buttocks

In this episode of the Driven 2 Drink podcast, Greg remembers that George Thorogood needs 4 minutes to get to the chorus of, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” (…but only after listening to the song for 4 minutes.) Please feel free to also listen…or fast forward to the 4 minute mark!

We also find out that Jen, while not a booze snob, has a super refined and accurate palate; while Greg’s palate, unlike his highbrow, smarty-pants demeanor, has the fidelity of a late 19th century phonograph (…or this damn podcast. Thanks for listening. I’ll purchase microphones soon. Promise. K? K. Try the fish.) We also discuss vascular dudes at the gym (…think He-Man figurine on top with Waldo on bottom…) and a tattoo so egregious it became the title of this post. We love having you with us, and hope you love having us with you.

He Man

(By the power of Greyskull…)

Za Waldo

(…why the hell are my legs so skinny!?)

I’m agnostic, but I’m not confused.

The closest concept to how I would describe myself is “agnostic.” It’s the spirit of: I don’t know (but I really want to figure it out). A dear friend of mine, Oliver, once described to me that he would invite any person into his house, would entertain any conversation with any person…as long as that person was willing to honestly admit, “I might be wrong.” (For me, particularly when I’m feeling passionate, being wrong is always a strong possibility.) I’ve also claimed myself a Truth-seeker, capitalizing “Truth” and clinging to the monotheistic Catholocism with which I was loosely raised but obviously courses through my genes and psyche. “Truth,” with a capital T…recognizing, perhaps just hoping, that there is an ultimate truth beyond, ‘You’re born. You live. You die. That’s it. Hope you enjoyed the fish.’

I could be a complete shit-head as a child.  Impossible to wrangle. (I know that comes as a HUGE surprise to those who know me best.) I questioned and railed against authority at every opportunity. In Kindergarten, we used to have large beads of various shapes and colors to create patterns on strings. We were required to look at a piece of paper that indicated a 5-7 bead pattern (…thinking about that now, it was excessively challenging to expect a 5 year old to memorize such a lengthy pattern incorporating both color and shape…), then turn it upside down and make the pattern. I have a clear memory of experiencing the Kindergarten-equivalent of the thought, “Why should I do this?! I know the pattern. Why do I need to hide the card?!” So I peeked. And I ended up in the “cloak room.” I found myself in the far corner of the coat closet, buried among toddlers’ jackets, years of dust and floor wax, and warming egg-salad sandwiches…and I ended up there often. It was the kid-in-the-corner-with-the-dunce-cap equivalent. This was 1979. But instead of a dunce cap, it was more of a “shut-up-kid” cap. I remember another occasion while waiting to use the restrooms. The teacher, Mrs. King (…quite the appropriate name both in her demeanor and the fact that she looked more like a gluttonous male royal than a “missus.” At least, my memory has turned her into an Orc-ish creature of Tolkienesque proportions…) absolutely forbade the girls from going in the boys’ room and vice versa. Again, I have a distinct memory of the thought, “Why can’t I go in there? What’s so special?” So I went in. There were no urinals. That was weird. And it smelled better. And it was better lit. Very bright. Overall an upgrade. “Greg! Get out here…” And there I found myself again in the sweater-armpits of uncleansed classmates staring at a wall with chipping, unquestionably lead-based, paint. I got pissed once that Mrs. King wasn’t being fair (…This comes up a lot in my life. My deciding something isn’t fair and then making a rash decision rather than stopping to think before acting. I know, it’s forgivable in a 5 year old…not so much at 40…) and I took my anger out on some unsuspecting girl sitting near me. I poured my chocolate milk on her head. Seemed like that would make everything fair. Turns out all it did was land me back in the closet.

In Catholic school, which I attended from first through fourth grade after having received a full scholarship (…more like scholarshit…), I did the same thing. But, being of the final generation who still had nuns as both teachers and principal, that behavior really didn’t fly. Soon enough, as I lay on the floor after having been punched in the head by Sister Mary Masochist, with her whistle or key poking through the knuckled fingers for an added explosion of pain, I was dreaming of the cloak room. I would have done anything to smother my face in the lice-ridden winter caps and shit-stained snow pants of my classmates. The Catholics didn’t do the cloak room. No, they tried to literally beat the hell out of you. The principle, Sister Agatha Christie, had a wooden paddle with holes drilled in it. And, she’d dip it in water just before beating your bare ass if you did something particularly un-Catholic. (Fortunately, Agatha Christie took a liking to me and actually protected me. Mary Masochist always popped me when no-one was looking and so she was able to perpetuate whatever child-torture fantasy she’d created without being caught.)

It is not my intention to tell a relapsed Catholic tale, of which there are millions in the world. It is my intention to explore the fact that an agnostic resided within me apparently from the start. The experiences at St. Keiran’s did not fashion an agnostic. Rather, an agnostic simply didn’t get along in a world where folks didn’t feel the need to explain themselves. The first true phrase I ever spoke was reportedly, “Un-tow Day-weez fow ah tsit.” (For those not versed in the dialect of a toddler with a speech disorder, that’s: Uncle Jerry’s full of shit.) Well, so was Mrs. King and Mary Masochist.

To where can I trace this? My Mother is a very good candidate. Her Catholic school story goes something like this: (And no, this is not a recycled George Carlin bit. It really happened. As did the George Carlin bits. That’s the beauty of great comedy…it is born of real-life tragedy in a brain just twisted enough to laugh in its face. It’s born of a smart-ass poking holes in dogma.)

[Josie raises her hand]
Sister: Yes, Josie
Josie: Sister, how did Mary have Jesus if she never had sex?
Sister: To the office, young lady!!
[In the office, Josie gets beaten]

It’s a legitimate question, really.

Interestingly enough, I am a fairly rigid rule follower. I don’t break laws…even unjust and/or inequitable laws. I’ll rail. I’ll complain. I’ll stew internally. I’ll arrive at a panic attack. But I’ve never been able to bring myself to actually protest, to conscientiously object. It’s a terrible burden, really. I have the spirit of an angry revolutionary crusader with the demeanor and behavior of an anxious, worrying, nebbish intellectual. The guilt-ridden Catholic lives in constant disharmony with the agnostic. A very close friend recently wrote to me about my, “fierce ambivalence,” and that about captures it.

I don’t know.

I might be wrong.

(L. Ron Hubbard might’ve been right. I’ve pretty much ruled him out, along with just about every other systemized, dogmatized, mythical, allegorical religious sect, but…)

I’m constantly searching for truth, in the myriad and mysterious ways it exists, presents, and transforms itself. I appreciate your willingness to share your experiences and your understanding of truth. I really want to hear about your facts, analyses, and opinions. But please…recognize the difference between the three. I’ll try to do the same.

-G

Maggie's Farm Rum
Maggie’s Farm Rum, about which I am decidedly NOT agnostic. I believe in the rum. And the rum is good.

Black (Sabbath) Friday

Heyoooooh!

On this episode of the D2D podcast, recorded on Black Friday, 2014, your humble and appreciative hosts discuss the wonder that is Troegs Brewing Company and their five-star, knock-your-socks-off snack bar; the pitfalls and travails of the Pittsburgh Turkey Trot, both human and canine; and all manner of douche-baggery. Additionally, Jen finally unleashes her frustrations and taps into her “inner-Greg,” which then opens the door for yet another comical Greg-rant. We love and appreciate you.

My Year of Living NFL-less

Two hundred years ago, our drunk and incensed ancestral yinzers tarred and feathered, punched, burned, and shot tax collectors and politicians, inciting the whiskey rebellion and causing, for the first and only time in American history, the president himself, George Washington, to lead a militia of approximately 13,000 troops against his own people.

Several days ago, scads of black-and-gold adorned yinzers, also drunk and incensed…verbally tarred and feathered, punched, and beat the shit out of Baltimore Ravens fans after they watched a similarly clad football team lose to a differently clad football team; causing, for likely the hundredth time in the past ten years, thousands of cops to begrudgingly collect overtime attempting to wrangle said yinzers and respond to increased domestic abuse allegations.

The thread is long, soaked in booze, coated in emotional instability, devoid of logic and intelligence, and ultimately unbroken.

And yes…I know, yinzer European mutts like myself (German, Scots-Irish, Italian) should not throw stones in glass houses (“hah-sez”), n’at. However, the facts are the facts.

I’ve been in precisely two Steelers bars outside of Pittsburgh. One in Atlanta and one in Baltimore. If you want to experience the worst that humanity has to offer, go to a Steelers bar in a city that has an NFL franchise. (Notably, this includes Pittsburgh!) There, everything is taken personally because…well, shit, everything is given personally, from creative “Yo’ Mamma” quips, idle threats, non-idle threats, manhood challenges, and all manner of pissing matches. We’re bad enough as it is, we historically opinionated and passionate Pittsburghers, but pump us full of ice-cold fermented piss (“Ahrn City”) and bring up Ben Roethlisberger’s character flaws as he slams onto the turf for the 14th time in the first half, and my how things can escalate quickly.

For most of my life, I was “that guy.” Pittsburgh sports teams were not just playing games, they were providing the lynch pin to my emotional stability. I was superstitious to an extreme that either makes perfect sense to you or causes you to shake your head in utter disbelief. I thought my decisions impacted the outcome of games. Really. I thought that. I’m a smart person, fairly logical for the most part, a skeptic by nature. However…if I need to remove the sweatshirt I haven’t washed since the last Steelers’ loss, turn it inside out and lay it on the floor along with four of my friends so that we emulate the five wide receiver set, Kordell Stewart’s place on the floor containing a right-side-out jersey because likely that “worked” at some point earlier in the game, and thus send just enough juju to Neil O’Donnell to influence a seven-point red-zone series…well, I guess I just need to do that, don’t I?!

And it wasn’t just football. In fact, one of the lowest points of my late teens/early 20’s occurred on a baseball field. Twenty-two years ago, in game seven of the National League Championship Series, bottom of the ninth inning, Pirates up 2-1, men on second and third, after Barry Bonds (…who, at that time, looked like a human being and not fucking human bobble head…) flipped-off to Andy Van Slyke who had smartly encouraged Bonds to play shallower, Francisco Cabrera hit a ball that lives in Pittsburgh sports infamy. Of course, Bonds was out of position. Of course, Sid “the second slowest man in baseball” Bream was waved in from second. Bream slid under the imperfect throw from Barry Bonds and beat the swipe-tag of Mike “the slowest man in baseball” LaVallier. With that, I stood in front of the television for at least 15 minutes. Silent. Shocked. In disbelief. For fifteen fucking minutes. (That’s not a short period of time to stand like a slack-jawed moron.) Mouth agape. My entire week was ruined.

It’s just not healthy to have this kind of relationship with a game. With an outfit. With a bunch of athletes making gobs of cash to play a game so that the owners of said athletes and outfits can sell me merchandise and overpriced tickets and cable packages while pocketing billions upon billions of dollars. As we numbly stand there, credit card bills looming because of the third jersey we HAD TO HAVE, and emotionally deflated because those guys in purple and black played the game better than these guys in black and yellow. We watch the commercials with somber piano music as serious-faced men implore, “No more.” They beg me to stop beating my wife…when I’ve never hit a woman in my life. The league and leadership (…including the Rooneys, you M-Fers…) that consistently ignored domestic abuse and selectively punished domestic abusers is now spending millions of dollars to point fingers at me and raise awareness of domestic abuse?! Please, just stop it with the insincere awareness raising. Just stop beating YOUR wives.

I digress.

This year, I decided “No more.” No more NFL. I disconnected not only from the NFL but from all collegiate and professional sports, and I gained countless hours of time and emotional calm. I did this to gain perspective, to help myself, and to snip the umbilical cord that connected me to an industry that I no longer support. And in return, I’ve hung out with my wife and step-daughter more, written and read more, run and stretched and exercised more, listened to interesting podcasts and watched content that has provided laughs, insights, and entertainment. I’m calmer and happier. And perhaps soon I’ll find joy in socializing with friends and acquaintances while drinking a beer and watching a Steelers game. But for now, no more.

-G

Spiked Smoothies

(Spiked Smoothies, Because…Because Spiked Smoothies!)

Appreciation, Self-Deprecation, and Night Ranger

Oy, wait, you’re listen…(ha-ha-ha)…Okay? Alright. K? Alright. (Throat clear) You are listening to Driven 2 Drink (Driven 2 Drink)…SHORTS! From WGCD (D? Yes.), and Jen P.R.

Hi. This is Gregory Del Duca. (And this is Jennifer Del Duca.)

On today’s episode of Driven 2 Drink, we discuss our amazement and appreciation that you are spending time with us weekly, Greg finds out some things about himself, we shower love unconditionally upon Mike and Aunt Penny as we drink Margaritas infused with a marvelous Grand Marnier (Signature Collection #2, Raspberry Peach) provided by Ilyssa and Marc, and we close with a classic rock ballad (“Motorin’!!!).

[If you didn’t catch it, we love Radiolab, and if you don’t know about it you should really acquaint yourself with THAT podcast. It is breathtaking and captivating and enlightening and flawlessly produced. In other words, NOTHING like this. Also, you’ll understand that first paragraph (above) and perhaps even be amused.]


(One additional person we love and appreciate like a hippie commune sister-wife; at the House of 1000 Beers, a place we frequent and appreciate; behind a wall of Southern Tier Pumking and Warlock, which we consume unabashedly. And appreciate.)

New Year Resolution – Burying My Inner Fat Kid

One might imagine that a 5 foot, 10 inch, 170 pound, physically fit 40-year-old man could not possibly have body dysmorphia issues. One would be dead wrong, at least as it pertains to this 40-year-old man.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1999 – 2002. During my time in Kenya I ran my first marathon. I did almost nothing for 26 months but wake, run, teach, play soccer, and eat whatever the kids ate. That generally consisted of no-fat, no-salt, no-flavor beans-and-maize…occasionally with kale greens and, when they were in season, avocados. Oh, and lots of weevils. I guarantee I’ve consumed more weevils than Anthony Bourdain or any Fear Factor couple. I spent approximately 1 weekend per month in Nairobi where I essentially had a cheat weekend of embarrassingly epic proportions. Embarrassing because I likely spent, on food, in just two days, the amount that an average Kenyan family earned across several months. I ran my first marathon in 2001, and at that time I weighed somewhere in the vicinity of 150 pounds. Likely I’d dipped into the 140’s at some point. And still, when I looked in the mirror…I saw the fat. I noticed only the belly flab. It didn’t help that Kenyans, and in particular the lower-income Kenyans with and among whom I lived, were particularly lean and regularly mentioned how I was “fat.” Keep in mind that to these students and to most Kenyans, “fat” was a compliment, a goal, a badge of honor and a God-given blessing. To be “fat” was to be healthy (…without Malaria, parasitic diarrhea, or AIDS…) and to be rich; rich enough to be fat. To me and my distorted perception, however, this just drove home the point. Even at the height of cardiovascular fitness, with lean and defined musculature, and likely a startlingly low percentage body fat…I was still just a pudgy fuck. (And then I had to contend with the guilt that I wanted to be leaner for all the wrong reasons among a community attempting to move in the opposite direction for all the right reasons.)

I’ve come, lately, to have a fairly healthy relationship with food. I didn’t start there.

My grandmother, my “Nanny,” helped raise me and was the primary source of my early obesity, other than my never-ending hunger and cavernous stomach. She cooked. I ate. (…and ate, and ate, and ate…) As soon as I had teeth, desire, and my own voice, I was drinking coffee with cream and sugar (…paper bag brown with a candy bar inside, as my dear friend JD used to say…), eating fried wingdings by the dozen, sucking down sausage gravy (…look that shit up online. It’s absolutely delicious, but yikes…) and bacon-fat-infused dishes, inhaling chicken and dumplings, cobblers, and whatever I could shove down my maw. We didn’t use butter as much as we used lard. Except when we were out of lard. Then we used a bucket of Crisco. And when we were out of Crisco, we used butter. (The circle of cardiovascular annihalation. Less Lion King and more Burger King.) Nanny even gave me Alka-Seltzer when I had acid reflux or a sour stomach. (I still have a fond, reminiscent taste for the lemony bubbly stuff.) And I grew fat.

No. Not fat. My Mom and Grandmother had many euphemisms to pull the covers over that word. My favorites remain “husky” and “big boned.” I remember the first time I was utterly ashamed pulling up those “husky” jeans…the year I realized that “big boned” just meant fat-assed. It was like the moment one realizes Santa Clause doesn’t exist. (Notably, I figured that out the year my Step-Dad had me leave Santa a chipped ham and mayo sandwich and a Heineken instead of milk and cookies.) Except, this realization weighed on me. (Literally!)

I remained some degree of doughy until approximately 9th grade. And it all changed quickly. My Mom tends towards hyperbole (“I saw…thee…BEST movie ever.” “That was the absolute…WORST service I’ve ever experienced.”), but Josie later shared she believed I had an eating disorder that year. I can see how. In the matter of months I went from potato bug to praying mantis. Stick thin. And I didn’t rid myself of the massive Italian afro (…call that a “dagofro”…) or the clownish Sally Jesse Raphael glasses for some time. I was a sight. Skinny angular face, HUGE glasses, a wave of thick black mulletesque Sicilian hair sitting atop my head like perpetual bunny ears at which all could laugh. (There is photographic evidence of this. I’ll scan and share at some point. I recall some sort of patterned, obnoxious, rayon sweater as well.)

But in my eyes…I was never satisfied with my body. Through weight gain and weight loss, veganism and Atkins-like protein fervor, yoga and running and straight-up body lifting…I traveled through my 20’s and 30’s never satisfied. Even today…I only see the muffin top above my jeans and belt that…NOBODY else sees. I only lament the fact that I can’t see the 6 pack that, for fuck’s sake, SHOULD be visible. I’m slowly coming to a realistic, healthy perception. I also acknowledge every legitimate eye roll, every deserved, “Come on,” or even, “Oh, fuck you,” when I even hint at my self-perception. But, I have to talk about it…and I don’t talk about it to garner attention or compliments. That’s annoying and gross, I know. That’s not where my head is. I really want to figure it out, and I want to enjoy life and the carbon vessel I’ve been given for this ride, be it husky or not. Perhaps I should start by hugging my inner fat kid and not burying him.

-G

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(My inner Hulk, ready to kick the ass of my inner fat kid!)